Matt St. John is a writer and author living in San Francisco. His works have appeared in publications like Vice, El Pais, the East Bay Express, and more.

Piso Hunting in Madrid.

Piso Hunting in Madrid.

I'm sipping coffee on the couch, the setting sun spilling into the room like orange juice on the floor. 

The coffee is to wake me up from a light siesta, which was brought on by someone playing guitar in the plaza below.

Unfortunately, I wasn't napping out of relaxation. In fact, the couch, the balcony, the soft roar of people drinking and eating in the plaza below. None of that is mine. 

I'm just crashing with a friend.

I was napping out of exhaustion from looking for a balcony to call my own.

I've found a few, but not all of them fit perfectly into my day-dream.

At one apartment, me and about fifteen other piso hunters — piso is Spanish for flat — were crowded around one such balcony. Unfortunately, instead of opening up to a bustling, Spanish plaza, down below lay...well, a dump.  

Me and another dude looked out at the plastic bottles and broken furniture below; we were still considering the trash heap as an option. 

It's amazing what you can justify for a good location.

But that was early in the hunt, the first place I saw. I was six days younger then, a lifetime in the piso search. At night, I used to dream of friends, puppies, and the occasional zombie apocalypse. 

Now I dream of big living rooms and close metros, and my nightmares consist of roommates who put empty containers back in the refrigerator. 

When I meet someone, I don't care about the normal stuff anymore, where they work or what kind of music they like. I just want to know how much their deposit was, and how far they have to walk to reach the nearest grocery store.

I was in a friend's room the other day, head-cocked and chin held in deep thought, not listening to a word anyone was saying. I was just calculating square meters against the price of the room. 

The friend noticed and decided to give me a tour (the bathroom was a little small, but the big bedroom windows let in a ton of natural light).

It occupies the totality of my mind, not just because I must have a roof over my head. Looking for a place to live isn't just about survival.

It's much more subconscious than that, more like a hippy-dippy, vision board than a straight-forward shopping list. Do I see myself writing my novel at that desk, or having an afternoon coffee with that roommate? 

With piso hunting, there is the reality and there is the dream. Some things are non-negotiable, and some you can budge on.

But a place that feels right — in that new-aged, intangible way — is worth waiting for.

And at least I have a balcony to nap by in the mean time.


If you like what you read, check out this illustrated list of the differences between Spain and the United States. You can see that here.

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