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Spanish Nights

by Jennifer Garner

June 8,2009

I met some Charlotte friends in Madrid recently and we quickly had to adjust to the Spanish way of life. The idea of working until 1:00 and then taking a long lunch followed by a nap and not going back to work until 5:00 is antithetical to the whole American work ethic. The American tourists stand out right away, trying to shop at 3:00 and wanting to dine at 6:00, Dios mio! It took a little adjustment, but we soon were napping in the afternoon and eating at 11:00 like the locals. From our flat, we would just wander out each night to a new culinary adventure. 

Like the Italians, the Spanish have a wonderful love of life and you can observe this every night as they take to the streets, “la Passeggiata.” About 9:00 you wander down the cobblestones and find a crowded tapas bar where you order a drink and an assortment of small plates to share. Even with our high school grasp of Spanish we were able to order a bountiful selection of ham and cheese and olives. How is it that olives have so much more flavor there? The tartness when you first bite into them recedes while the rich silkiness of the olive oil remains in your mouth. The variety of dried and smoked hams crowd a whole page of the menu and one can easily make a meal of those with a wedge of Manchego cheese and a slice of hearty bread. 

We finally ordered dinner at 12:30 one night and were brought the most amazing rib eye steak prepared with roasted red peppers. Another night it was avocados stuffed with crab and marinated pork on crusty bread. Both were so delicious we ordered another of each! That is the beauty of tapas, everyone gets to try a bite of each dish and you can sample so much more from a menu with these small delicacies crowed around the table. Lovely marzipan and chocolate assortments finish off the meal before your party moves on to the next crowded taverna for a mojito or cervaca. 

You can’t help but feel part of the crowd in the close, warm atmosphere with the sounds of enthusiastic Spanish all around. The beautiful dark haired women and the men with their deep liquid brown eyes put you at ease and draw you into their world of camaraderie. No one is talking about work or the falling markets, only the beauty of the sea and who wants to go Bilbao that weekend. The women are baring shoulders despite the spring chill and wearing ridiculously high heels for cobblestone street navigation. The men seem to wear a pink scarf in a self-assured way that few Charlotte bankers could pull off. The wine, warmth and enthusiasm carry me away in the night and I am ready to quit my job and move to Madrid and live among these happy, well fed, beautiful people. 

After the tapas we wander back to the bar beside our flat that has the popular furry Ugg boots for sale in the window and is always heaving with people. We were never local enough to figure out why the only item for sale in a bar were winter boots, and we never got past the bouncer managing the never ending line to get in to the secret smoky place. We stumble home at 3:00 am and fall into bed with the sounds of the bar wafting up the airshaft.

As I write this from the cold and damp of London in the spring, I put on the CD of Spanish guitar music and recall those warm heady nights in Madrid and think could I really live there? The late night dining, the ridiculous high heels, the sexy shoulder baring dresses, that is the way artists and writers live. The crowded smoky bar is where Hemingway hung out before he ran with the bulls in Pamplona, but could I do it? Is it the alluring attraction of the other, the people and culture so different from your own, the warm beguiling brown eyes that beckon to you across the hot, thumping room? Maybe I could.

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