The closest I ever came (or have come as of now, I should say) to living in a commune was when I lived in the large 6th floor apartment at Cava de San Miguel, number 8. It came at the tail end of my time living in that city, from 1989 to 1990. Still in a haze after the death of my mother, I had decided to return to see the Madrid Experiment to its conclusion, whatever that might prove to be. I was not the same person who had left a few months earlier, to see my mother through the process of illness and death. The weight of my loss changed the way I walked, the way I talked -- my very countenance was different.
One day our good friend, Amador Lopez, came running into the apartment of another friend who was kind enough to let me crash until I could find a place. (Susan and I had found a rather sterile furnished apartment in a stodgy part of town just before I'd gotten the call that my mother had cancer. The landlord took a hard line against our proposal to break the lease at first. He then looked me in the eyes, as if checking for signs that I had created this horrible lie. His face softened, and he wished us luck. I still wonder what he saw in my eyes.) Amador was out of breath, which was not unusual; he was someone with boundless energy, often forgoing elevators for flights of stairs. Finally, after some effort, he was able to tell us about "un piso cojonudo que se alquila" -- an amazing flat for rent -- in the ancient part of the city, just across from the Plaza Mayor, and, perhaps more importantly, half a block away from our favorite bar, La Escondida.
The three of us secured the apartment, and although it needed massive amounts of work, it was an incredible find. Five bedrooms, one bathroom, and a view of the clay-tiled rooftops of the zona antigua de Madrid. I don't remember the price, but it was affordable. After snatching up the two back bedrooms that flanked the ornate "salon" for ourselves, we filled the rest of the flat with an international cast of characters -- a classmate of Amador's from the Universidad Autonoma named Mayte was our first, and most constant, roommate. Mayte was shy and studious but with a sly sense of humor. I liked her because she was sweet and patient with my sometimes shaky Spanish and because she laughed at all my jokes.
I think Kathy Hart, now married to Amador and mother of two gorgeous children, was a tenant there for a while, before moving in with Kata, one of a crew of Germans we befriended at the time, who were themselves often found at Cava de San Miguel. Kathy and I formed a strong bond around writing and reading, and through her I met Max Terry, who rented a room in the apartment, as well. Max was a writer, and I enjoyed staying up late and drinking with him, talking about books, sharing our writing, and smoking too many cigarettes. Susan's good friend, Anna Cassina -- a filmmaker from Milan, Italy -- also lived with us for a time. What I remember most about Anna is her infectious laugh. It made you want to make her laugh, and Susan certainly did that. The two of them spent a lot of time laughing. A LOT. There was also a somewhat crazy redhead from Denmark who lived there named Roset. Roset wasn't unpleasant, but she often seemed to be off in her own world. Kind of "ethereal" I guess you'd say.
My tenure at Cava de San Miguel was short, as I soon came to see my choice of returning to Madrid to have been in error. My family needed me, and the relationship with Susan came to a close. I stayed there until the summer of 1990, spent that summer traveling and making mischief on my own, before returning to life in the States that fall. The way memory works, I'm sure I'd be surprised to know exactly how brief my time in that apartment was. In my mind, it feels like I lived an entire lifetime there. Eventually we were all replaced, one by one, by other tenants, as we all went on to the rest of our lives, away from that incredible commune. In retrospect, I did some important healing in that flat, and got enough strength to go back to my country and begin my adult life there.
I'm happy to say that I am still in contact (thanks to the miracle of the "Interweb") with most of the people mentioned above, and I even got to show my wife and two children the building last February (see photo, above). Who knows? Maybe there will be a Cava de San Miguel reunion some time in the future. I'd certainly do my best to make it.