This last Saturday found me following a well-worn trail, one taken by countless hordes of Spanish consumers: the inexpensive furniture pilgrimage out to one of Madrid's 'burbs, Alcorcón. The pilgrimage to Ikea. A trip on the metro, followed by rides on two different buses. All to get me to an enormous store 30-40 minutes outside of the city for a couple of hours' worth of trawling for chairs, lamps, etc. Shuffling along with hordes of Spaniards through two enormous floors of household STUFF, finally emerging out in the late summer sunlight (along with hordes of Spaniards), blinking in semi-stunned fashion, arms full of STUFF, feeling like I'd just spent two hours in a blender.
The weird part: grueling though it was, I'd do it again. And may, this coming week.
I'd never set foot in an Ikea store before this, though the company and I had a brief, gratifying mail-order flirtation a couple of years back, stateside. One that began when I encountered a chair at a yard sale, an extremely comfortable bentwood, slingback-style item. I parked myself in it, found it to be seductively comfortable, so much so that I found myself handing over $20, wrestling the chair into my car, dragging it up two flights of narrow stairs into my apartment. Where with time it became clear that this chair had been a steal, one of the most inspired uses of a $20 bill I'd ever made.
A few months later, an Ikea catalogue mysteriously showed up in the mail. I flipped idly through it, unenthused, until I found myself staring at my yard-sale chair. My wonderful $20 yard-sale find, sitting in someone else's living room. Whereupon I immediately ordered another. One that had never become intimate with another human's hind quarters prior to mine. And when it arrived -- white, inviting, radiantly clean and new -- I pulled it out of the packaging, put it together, sat myself carefully down in it. And found me totally seduced, to the point that I hardly ever used the yard-sale chair again, probably breaking its bentwood heart. (I got a matching footstool with the new one -- an excellent move that greatly enhanced my lounging hours.)
There are many things about my new piso that feel great. Some of the furnishings, however, were not designed with human comfort in mind. Especially furnishings meant for hosting the human butt. Hence I traveled to Ikea with an eye toward finding some slightly butt-friendlier items. And what did I find? That same bentwood, slingback chair. As comfortable as ever, and less than half the price than its catalogue counterpart in the States. Less than half the price. Waiting patiently for me, thousands of miles from northern Vermont, where its brethern (or sistern) are currently lounging about. Naturally, I and my butt were thrilled at this discovery and spent a fair amount of time reacquainting ourselves with this piece of designing genius.
It's an odd phenomenon, Ikea. My best friend once talked about going to a store somewhere in southern New York/northern New Jersey. He told me he found it depressing, that everything looked cheap, shabby. And I saw some of that during this recent Ikea field trip. But I also saw a furniture that I would happily buy and use, especially if I were part of a couple outfitting a new home. In a case like that, I suspect I'd lobby my sweetie re: buying a bunch of it.
The crowd at the store in Alcorcón seemed to consist almost exclusively of Spanish couples and families, the exception being me, the token single male. (Sniffle.) Couplehood and families seem so important to Spaniards, something that nearly always strikes me as endearing. I think they may do it better here than it's done in the States, but then maybe it's just that they haven't traveled as far as the States has re: women moving out into the workforce and experiencing their own freedom, with some of the repercussions that's had on the social structure. That's underway here, but is still a relatively recent development. It'll be interesting to see how they do with it, what kind of effect it will have. Three or four months back, the cover story for the Sunday magazine of the lefty newspaper El País was entitled "Who Needs A Husband?", featuring profiles of a number of successful Spanish careerwomen who'd chosen to remain single. This may not seem like a major deal to someone from the States, or at least to someone from the northeast U.S. or the west coast, but it's a serious change in the societal paradigm here.
They're beautiful, by the way, Spanish females. Interesting, lovely, all that. I saw a woman a few days back whose walk -- whose simple act of walking -- was so graceful, so relaxed and lovely, that for a moment it literally stopped me in my tracks.
But I digress. When Ikea spat me out into the intense late-afternoon sunlight, my hands and arms were full of STUFF I had to wrestle in and out of buses and the metro. A small price to pay for getting it all into the new space where it all looks absolutely bitchen.
As I was in Ikea on Saturday afternoon, when the place was heaving with Spaniards out to spend bunches of cash, there was no opportunity to latch onto a salesperson and flog them with my still-limited Spanish to the point that we could arrange for the purchase and delivery of actual furniture, STUFF I can't haul onto buses. We'll see if I get back out there this week to attempt that.
In the meantime, the moving life continues. Later this morning, the landlord of my current place will show up, we'll go through the piso together prior to me getting out of here. A process that will, if all goes well, be boring and uneventful.