I’ll admit to being a little bit down tonight when it came time to go hunting and gathering for dinner. We’d been inside pretty much the whole day, and I was ready to go outside around 6 to see what the last of this rain storm was up to. The sky was clearing up a bit so we went off to Mercado San Miguel for a glass of wine and a small portion of paella as a snack. As always the place was mobbed but we managed to find a table with one chair, so I planted MLW there and then waded my way to the counter at the wine bar and then the paella place. It’s so much work to solve the most basic desires in that place but once settled you can enjoy your drink and food and muse about the humanity that is passing by in close quarters.
One thing about Spain and its confounding time zone is that even at 7 or 8PM it still looks like broad daylight. And all because Franco wanted to be chummy with his fellow dictators Hitler and Mussolini in 1940. He wanted to be the westernmost strong point in a Fascist Triangle that overlaid all of Europe and he made the time change permanent in 1942 to align with German occupied territories. Why Spain never went back is beyond me, but let’s just say that with Daylight Saving thrown into the mix you might think you’re in Oslo rather than Madrid on the Summer Solstice. What it means to us of course is dinner can’t really be considered until close to 9PM lest we be lumped with all American senior citizens, known for their favorite Early Bird specials at the local buffet.
After decided that we really didn’t want to stuff ourselves on hors oeuvres at San Miguel we went down the hill to Arenal and up that street to Corte Ingles (one more time) to flesh out the rest of the “Streets of Madrid” magnets that we love so much. Just about every street corner in the city has a wonderful ceramic street sign embedded into the walls of the buildings that form the intersection. All of them have a story, some obvious, many obscure. But they’re all very interesting and we try to collect the ones that represent places we’ve been to, and those that we like. We started with Calle de las Huertas originally and we’ve built our little collection from there. We bought 6 more tonight and I used my cool Corte Ingles Tax-Free Shopper’s Card to erase the VAT and when we went outside it was raining. Again.
Killing another hour was easy enough and back out we went at 8 pm. I was hoping to go to one of our favorite restaurants, Los Madroños , for our favorite Madrid specialty – Delicias Baccalao – breaded cod fritters served with madrone sauce. Like our favorite African restaurant, we always make it a point to eat here at an outside table. But tonight it was cold and wet and when we arrived it wasn’t obvious that they were even using the outside tables. So, we went inside and ended up having one of those truly great unexpected experiences.
Coming in the door, the woman behind the bar smiled and asked us if we wanted to eat. They sat us at a table by the bar - the place was busy with locals. One waiter spread a linen table cloth on our shopworn table and another came to take our order. We ordered wine and beer and grilled mushrooms and the Delicias. Being inside was a completely different experience than being outside where we normally sit. It was like having dinner in your favorite little neighborhood tavern, instead of being one of a million tourists looking to find some shade and smoke some cigarettes while eating. And I think the staff treated us like friends, instead of customers. It was subtle, but our interactions were far less businesslike and a bit friendlier. Like we belonged. The mushrooms came out first, no idea what species, big slices gently sautéed in butter and garlic and graced with small chunks of Iberico ham. The fritters came out next and they were every bit as wonderful as we expected them to be. When it came time to leave, MLW asked for the bill and when I paid, I told the waiter that every year we come here just for this specific meal. That brought big smiles and Spanish commentary and a toast on the house – little soft serve ice cream cones dipped in dark chocolate and filled with Madrone liqueur.
When we left MLW thanked the gal behind the bar and one of the waiters thanked me, reaching out to shake my hand. I did so and patted him on the shoulder and went out the door.
We needed a bottle of water so we ducked into a bodega just up the street. Run by a Chinese of course. He looked at me and said $1.40 in English while carrying on a conversation with another patron in Spanish. When it was my turn to pay, I looked him in the eye and told him, in Chinese, that his Spanish was really good. He laughed out loud and turned to his wife and said (in Chinese) “This one speaks Chinese!” I replied that I was a Dong Bei Ren, a northeasterner and that I lived in Dalian. That got me another laugh and we got a hearty “zaijian!” as we walked out the door.
I guess sometimes it doesn’t pay to write off the day until it’s really over. We had a day of weather down time that turned into a couple of memorable encounters, a great meal and some good laughs. Sometimes those clouds really do have silver linings.