Friday, March 11, 2011

another wonderful day in madrid...

What a day!
The Reina Sofia in the morning. Seeing Picasso's Guernica up close - a special event. Such marvellous contemporary art held there...

Since I had a troublesome and sleepless night, I only possessed the energy to see one museo today. Despite this, I still managed to experience another fascinating day observing the Spaniards and the way they go about their daily business.

I spent last night reading the Madrid guide which was given to me with my Madrid Cultura card. In it, I spotted a restaurant not far from the Plaza Mayor that is one of the oldest in the city. Botín was apparently a regular haunt of Earnest Hemingway's. As such, I knew I had to see it.

Situated on the Calle Cuchilleros (The Street of the People with Knives), it's a mutli-level historical establishment. At the time I was inspecting the outside, the owner happened to be walking past and asked me if I needed help. I explained that I had heard of the resturant's reputation, and wanted to know more about the place that Hemingway frequented.

To my surprise, the owner was happy to show me through the place, even though it was still closed. He explained to me that he and his two brothers owned the restaurant, and that their family had owned it for generations since it opened in 1725.

Wow! It had existed before the official discovery of Australia in 1788! Again, this fact blew my mind.

I was told that Hemingway enjoyed having the suckling pig, which still featured on the menu. Of course, this wasn't a selling point for me, as I have never been able to stomach pig of any kind since my father died. But, to dine in the same place as Hemingway? I was keen, regardless.

The restaurant was cosy. It reminded me of an old English B&B, with old, worn wooden floors, brick and stone walls, and exposed timber beams lining the ceiling. I was more than happy to make a dinner reservation for 8pm this evening.

I am still getting used to the eating times in Spain. To give you an idea of a typical day here at the beginning of Spring... I set my alarm clock for 7am, and the sun still hasn't risen. I go to the floyer of the hotel in the morning for my buffet breakfast at about 8am.... where I can have cereal, croissants and breads of all kinds, fruit, yoghurt, and traditional Spanish tortilla, a potato omelette. The Spanish like to eat this omelette with jamon cerrano, smoked ham, and other meats. I cannot eat so much meat first thing in the morning, so I politely stick to my coffee and cereal, venturing towards a small sample of the tortilla if I can accommodate it.

Even though I have not personally witnessed it, the Spaniards like to have a siesta in the afternoon. As a result, the shops are open until late every evening, and the city's agog with people around 8-9pm, when dinner is starting.

It's quite interesting. When I am starting to wind down for the day, Madrid comes alive and people are everywhere, just starting their evening's activities: having dinner, tapas, coffees. The routine heavily relies on socialising and coming together for a meal, unlike anything I have witnessed in Australia. People of ALL ages are out and about, and they happily mix at various establishments. It's not as segregated as in Australia, where the young go to certain places at night, and the older citizens frequent other places, and mainly during the day and early evening.

So, I was surprised this evening to find thst I had to have an afternoon nap in order to even be able to contemplate having dinner at 8pm. Dinner was always done and dusted by the time 7pm rolled around.

I went to Botín at 8pm, as I had booked this morning. (8pm is when they open for dinner - I was one of their first customers.) I was escorted to my table on the 2nd floor and was given a menu in English. So many yummy things to choose from - I decided on a veal escalope and a small jug of sangria.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge sangria fan, and am always seeking a fine example of it in the restaurants of Melbourne. Truth be told, I thought I had found it in Acland Street, St Kilda. Tonight, I was proven wrong.

I had the most fantastic, indescribably delicious sangria to accompany my dinner! I was so impressed with it, I asked the waiter for the recipe - I wanted a repeat performance when I returned home. He provided me with it, happily.

My escalope was divine... such a wonderful feast for the taste-buds, followed by rice pudding, the kind of which I haven't had the pleasure of having since I was a child. (My grandmother used to make the best rice pudding - or so I thought until this evening.)

After dinner concluded at 10pm, I decided to walk back to my hotel, as there were still many shops open, and people everywhere. It was a great excuse to people-watch. I enjoy observing how the Spaniards interact with one another, their body language, the pleasure they obviously take in being out and in being alive. There is an indescribable, intangible passion for living life to the fullest in these people.

It'd be great if the Australians could take a leaf out of their book. Our lifestyle seems so rigid and routine in comparison. I'm sure it has to do with our history as well. Today, as I mentioned, I also visited the Reina Sofia... and in it, I saw a photographic axhibition of Spain and its people taken during the times of Franco. I saw the first Lumiere films documenting the amiable meetings between Franco and Hitler, contrasted with films showing little Spanish children being branded as they were being concentrated by the government of the time. It was quite a shock to see such confronting visuals, the like of which I have not witnessed before.

I saw posters of protest to Franco's dictatorship, government propaganda, encouraging the masses to behave in certain ways and to support the ethos of the regime. I also saw photos of the aftermath of such a regime - it was amazing to see the Gran Via, the street on which my hotel is located, in ruins, with rubble all around, and people digging through the devastation to find loved ones, or any traces of the lives they had lost.

When I saw the Spanish people socialising later that night in the Plaza, I started to wonder if it was this history that made them the way they are - savouring special moments with friends and loved ones, living their regular lives to the maximum.

Food for thought... I will keep watching and observing.

Hasta luego amigos!


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