Sunday, January 13, 2008

Getting out there

Yesterday was fun.

I rolled out of bed and phoned Customer Service at Telefonica. After listening to thirty seconds of my not-awake-yet-and –can-barely-speak-my-own-language-let-alone-yours Spanish, the agent asked, “¿Inglés, Francés o Alemán?” (Note: she wasn’t sure which language I spoke, but she knew it wasn’t Spanish.) and put me through to an English speaker, who dealt with my request politely, patiently and efficiently. Muchas gracias!

Then I pootled off (Cold! Wow!) for one of the last sessions of my excellent part-time course on teaching English to Young Learners. I was really tired, and not really with it, but didn’t want to miss a thing – and it was worth it. Two seminars and a cup of coffee, and it was 1 o’clock, and Habibi was waiting outside.

First stop: recreational trip to a Correos (post office). There are loads of post offices, and they’re open twelve hours a day, at least six days a week. There’s always a queue of course, and it may be long and winding, but as you arrive, you address the question “El ultimo?” to the air, and people wave you towards the last person in the queue. Very civilised. Some people chat, some blank out, others produce books and read. It’s quietly sociable, the staff are behind a long counter rather than a Perspex screen, and as queueing experiences go, it’s fairly painless.

Next: Mercado de Barceló, which I’d noticed across the road on a previous Correos visit. Mercados are big covered food markets, always on two floors. The Madrid ones are not handsome like the wonderful 19th Century Mercado Central in Valencia,
but they’re just as full of good things!

We bought some fruit and veg, then I spotted the market café and dragged Habibi over (literally) for a sit down. We sat on high stools at the no-frills counter and ordered a vino tinto (Spanish red table wine, served cold) and cerveza and I picked a tapas of fat, inch-long chorizo sausages. Later we asked to sample the calamares al tinto (squid in its own ink). We liked the chorizos so much (and I’m not generally a fan) that we later bought some and had Spanish sausageand mash with red cabbage for lunch to day. As for the calamares – it was ok, basically squid in a moderately salty paste – but I wouldn’t rush out and buy it that way, except to use in a winter fish stew.

The two women who ran the café were good-humoured and efficient, and it was good just to sit and chat and watch people come and go (always one of my favourite activities). Across the way, a woman at a greengrocer’s stall got really indignant about something – not sure what – and ranted on for absolutely ages before giving up and going on her way, whereupon the stallholders and the other dozen or so customers all looked at one another, shrugged, and carried on. Over at the café we had all enjoyed the show. “Qué pasa?” I asked. The woman laughed: “Nada!”
Lunch and a show: €2.90.

There's a demolition site where our neighborhood Mercado used to be. I don't know what's planned there, but this is what's on the drawing board for Mercado de Barceló.

We dropped our shopping off at home, and I went into zombie mode for an hour or so while Habibi read the Guardian on the terrace. It was a beautiful bright clear day, and the square was full of the gossipy overflow from the various bars, all making the most of the warm sun with their ‘Vermut’ or cerveza and tapas.

I’m reading Carol Drinkwater’s The Olive Route at the moment, the chapters on Lebanon, Syria and – now – Turkey. This is the third of her books that I’ve read, and they are very good, once she settles down to what she has to say. Her first chapters always grate on me, but once she hits her stride, moving beyond the fragrant excesses of poetic description and reflection, she has the ability to take you with her, and show you people and places as she sees them. I swear I can smell the landscapes she describes, with their wild fig trees, the Mediterranean garrigue, the goats and – so often – the smell of crushed olives. She definitely rewards perseverance - and I will be buying her other book!

And with my nose in a good book, I’m again making serious progress with H’baba’s 18th-birthday scarf. I know he’s 20 now, but it’s at least doubled in length in the last couple of months – I’m over half way now - and I expect that it’ll be cold again by the time I finish it……………..

So then we went out for a wander into the city centre. The sun had disappeared and before long the day turned bitterly cold again - too cold to be outdoors for no reason - but I really wanted to go somewhere big and lively, not a cosy little bar. I wanted company and variety. It was getting urgent – Habibi’s face had gone an interesting violet shade, and I felt compelled to check my frozen nose every few minutes just to make sure it hadn’t fallen off – so it was a relief to find ourselves outside two Irish bars - O’Connell Street and Dubliners – both crowded and showing football (somebody versus Newcastle). O’Connell’s was incredibly full, and smokey. So was Dubliners, but we found two seats at the bar, and settled in.

Now what? Working evenings does put the mockers on your social life, and I really really really did not want to go home and read, or watch a DVD, or knit; and I absolutely did not want to walk around a gallery or museum – however magnificent – and look at things. It was the weekend. I wanted to do something. With people.

But what? This is January and we’re spent up after Christmas, so it had to be cheap. Damn! No theatre this month, and I want to see Pinocchio – we saw some of the characters and scenery in the Cabalgada de los Reyes and I want to see that show,

but you know…. eating, heating, phone bill… all that mundane stuff… really should take priority! Also, with our limited free time and even more limited Spanish, we don’t know many people. There are bars and clubs of course, but did I mention that we’re 50?! Whatever - getting wrecked just doesn’t do it for me. What else do people do at the weekend?!

There was a copy of InMadrid on a shelf with an ad for JandJbooksand coffee which indicated all sorts of interesting social stuff as well as shelves and shelves of second-hand books. I like the Petra secondhand bookshop, on C. Campomanes, just off Pl. del Opera, which is a shabby little warren of delights, with a reading room at the back, full of squishy seating, good on a rainy afternoon. OK. Let’s take a look at J&J's. And then we can go home. Thanks Habibi….

Metro to Noviciado. Round the corner onto C. Espiritu Santu. We walked into what appeared to be Spain’s smokiest bar, and walked out. Through the haze, I’d seen a corner unit and a revolving wire stand of books, some occasional tables, a dozen people in lively conversation, and a staircase going down to a basement.
Was this a bookshop? - I asked the man who followed us out. Oh yes, it was.
Were there books downstairs? Yes. Thousands.

Habibi and I looked at each other: deep breaths, imaginary breathing gear. In and down.

Coo! Books: thousands of them, and doorways leading to more – three rooms in all, stacked to the ceiling. This will do nicely. About 20 minutes later, Habibi went back up to the bar with his two paperbacks, and I went up a little later with two reduced price hardbacks (€2 each) a talking book (€6.50) and a pop-up Nutcracker Suite proscenium arch theatre kit (€4). Habibi was talking with two women, one Australian and one English, and I joined them.

We had such an enjoyable evening, talking about all sorts of things over a couple of glasses of wine. Smoke? What smoke? When ‘Pauline’ switched to moccachino she was handed an enormous cup and saucer with a great creamy swirl on top – beautiful! It was twenty to midnight when we got home…….. Wild night out at the second-hand bookshop!


dubaibilly said...

Oh now that sounds good - doesn't sound at all like House of Prose (which I am sure you remember well). Sounds like a lovely place - interesting, when we were in SA over Christmas I went into a couple of bookshops and they had reading areas where people seemed just to sit and read a book they fancied! These were new books! Wouldn't happen here!

MamaDuck said...

Oh I don't know. Have you been into that upstairs bookshop at MoE? There's a Starbucks at the back where you might try it!

Keefieboy said...

The Duck forgot to mention - this basement is full of books in Ingrish. With the best will in the world, it will be a few years before I can read a book in Spanish, so this is just, like wow!

We will be back...