Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 28th: Why we travel, part eleventy.

We spent the better part of Sunday trying to figure out the washing machine. Before that though we took a hike to El Rastro, Europe’s largest flea market. But before that, we had to figure out how to get across Calle Mayor without disrupting the Madrid Marathon. It turned out to be a day of this and that, a mishmash of interesting stuff.

We awoke to the sounds of helicopters go hovering overhead and figured it was just another demonstration. Only when we walked up the street did we discover that we were on the route of the marathon. Trying to get across through a never ending stream of runners was tough, but we finally found a window and scooted through the throng, hopefully without disrupting anyone’s pace. We popped into Mercado San Miguel of the off chance of finding some coffee but the bar was three deep and frankly I burned up all my interest in jostling during my years in China. We left and headed downhill to the flea market and spent the next couple of hours roaming up and down without buying. It was a great place for early morning people watching but none of the wares were appealing today. I already have enough Palestina scarves to last a lifetime and nothing else was jumping out at us. We headed back up to the Plaza Mayor and took a spin through the Sunday coin and stamp market before stopping in a local place for chocolate and churros. It’s interesting how each chocolateria produces a different product. Sometimes it’s thick like pudding, other times thinner and sweet. This time it was on the thin side but it retained that dark chocolate flavor, it ranked among the best we’ve had.

The afternoon was devoted (once again) to trying to make the washing machine work. I did one load that came out okay, but got sucked into an multi-hour slugfest when I tried to re-wash some clothes I did the other day, that came out smelling like soap. I finally figured out where the soap was supposed to go, and ran a cycle or two but the result was the same – the rinse water was foamy as heck. I finally gave up after I got it down to being mostly water, spun them out and put them on the rack to dry. Thankfully it was the last load of the trip.

Later in the afternoon we went out for a walk on Calle Arenal, stopping in some shoe stores and an electronics place that was like Best Buy squared. There was a live concert going on in the foyer that was being loudly broadcast throughout the store. We shopped cameras a bit, checked out the various Nespresso offerings and then went back out and down the street to the Corte Ingles bookstore where My Lovely Wife bought an English language book to get her through the trip home. By then it was time for dinner so we decided to reprise the other night and eat at Elmandela, the African place down the block.

Our pals from the other night, Jose and Aba were surprised and glad to see us and we got the same window table as last time. I opted for a big beer from Cameroon figuring I’d stay in style. My Lovely Wife, vino tinto de la casa. There were a few locals in the place eating tapas and drinking tea, and a few more guests arrived while we waited for our food. I had a chicked stew with plantains and vegetables that I topped with a few scoops of the same screamingly hot chile sauce I’d had on my peanut stew the other night. My Lovely Wife had grilled fish, West African style that arrived on a bed of fried plantains, head and all. We dug in and were not disappointed, the food was excellent. Jose had Aba bring a wine bucket to keep my beer cold and her continuously filled my glass, the bottle delicately wrapped in a white napkin as though it was the best bottle of white Rioja in the house. We visited a bit with Aba, talking about the weather which had taken an unfortunately cold turn during the day.

A couple of young men carrying instruments wandered in while we were eating. Aba told us that they were the floor show, two musicians from Guinea. They set up and started to play forlorn songs from their homeland, one on an instrument built from a large pumpkin called a Kora and the other doing percussion on a half a gourd and a tiny symbol. What a really nice and unexpected treat. The place continued to fill up with more people from the neighborhood, all of whom knew each other. We listened and shared a piece of chocolate cake and sampled some coffee liquor the Aba had brought by. It was getting pretty loud and crowded and late so we asked for the check and bid our adieus, telling Aba and Jose that we would return next year. They were both very glad we’d come by and wished us safe travels. As we left I went over to the musicians, now on break, told them I’d enjoyed their music and slipped the singer a 10.

What a great night – food, music, some fleeting friendship. Yet another “why we travel” moment from a simple dinner and a restaurant chosen for no reason other than I liked their menu a year ago.

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