Today, all day, we Madrid. At first glance, the few days in the capital at the very end of MP and Janet’s travels seemed tacked on to me, a necessary breather within immediate proximity to both their flight and my return to my SnotBeasts/students. Yet upon our arrival yesterday, I find myself filled with an enormous energy – I am in my city again. I know these streets, and they know me; we convene. MP has some big must-do Spanish Cultural Experiences sketched out as well, but I’m jazzed simply to be able to maplessly navigate again. Give me six more months and I’ll print up Experta Madrileña business cards.
After severely needed Z’s, MP and Janet make their way over to the Bilbao metro stop a stone’s throw from my front door. I emerge and beamingly brag about my new ‘hood, deciding that Plaza Olavide is absolutely the best possible coffeespot. Whilst caffienating, I fantasize re: plaza-side piso, fountain streaming just outside my bay window. Someday.
Oh yeah, it’s Easter! Spain, heavily Catholic in history, will have none of the Bunny/eggs business, but the end of Semana Santa is definitely an important family time, and the streets they are a-bustle. In anticipation of high demand, MP’s reserved a 2.30 PM lunch at Botín, touted by Guinness as the world’s longest-running restaurant. This gives us a healthy several-hour spread of meandering time, and we tour our way down the commercial mayday of Fuencarral, the roar of Gran Via taxis, the FNAC and Corte Ingles monoliths in Plaza Callao, and the living statues kicking it in the Plaza Mayor sunshine.
I am feeling cocky-confident about my intimate directional knowledge of the city and am choosing the streets I know the least, such that I might learn something along the way as well. And hey! We run smack-dab into an artisanal market near Plaza Mayor, replete with jewelry ranging from rainbowed clay cube earrings to all sorts of exquisite silver pieces. We have a look-see and make a selection of purchases. However, our time runs ever-short, and we must persevere south towards our destination.
After some harried navigational confusion on my part – the place is just to the side of Plaza Mayor to the north of the La Latina tapas run on c/ Cava Baja, precisely the area where I never go – we locate Botín a fashionable three minutes late. We’re ushered past a whole suckling pig being whisked by on a platter and shown to a windowside table. Nice seats, but MP’s in the know and asks for the cellar – the oldest part of the restaurant. We filter down what feels like a secret staircase and into a brick-lined chamber. It FEELS old.
Botin offers a full carta for those who might opt for a lettuce and tomato salad, but the house specialty is the cochinillo – the piggy friend that we spied upstairs. The suggested menu includes it, plus wine, gazpacho, and ice cream. Done.
I realize I’ve never had the infamous cold Spanish soup before in the country, and contemplate whether or not I ought to buy a blender such that it becomes readily available in my own kitchen. Then I taste Botin’s version and decide just to come back here, all the time, every chance I get. Serious tomato-garlic goodness, the strength and freshness of the flavors underlined by the chilly temperature. I devour it.
The main event is, of course, the cochinillo, which for the three of us comes pre-separated into smoky hunks (darn). The skin is unbelievably crispy; one’s tastebuds are wracked with guilty pleasure with each bite.
As though that weren’t enough, the menu finishes with ice cream. MP and Janet opt for chocolate while the photographer goes for the more aesthetically appealing caramel; however, it turns out to be far too candyesque for her easily satisfied sweet tooth.
On the other hand, as it melts, it reminds us of Gaudí.
The lucky laughing lunching ladies.
Bellies engorged, we windingly navigate our way back to the artisan market from before, where Janet picks up the perfect elongated silver pendant necklace. The scent of afternoon cafe con leche is heavy in the air, and I direct us the long way to Plaza Santa Ana in the Huertas barrio, where we dodge a mini-downpour beneath the 5J umbrellas.
Siesta time is inevitable. I blog, knowing I need to bring our Etxebarri experience to the world.
Nighttime brings us to our one and only artistic cultural event of the trip: a flamenco show at the famed Corral de la Morería. It’s possible to reserve a dinner and a show option if desired, but MP correctly predicts that the cochinillo will be more than enough to tide us over. We’re ushered, thus, to rather gnarly seats behind two columns in the back of the room, perhaps as a little hint from the place that they make a fine paella.
We compensate with cava, partitioned out into cutesy single-serve bottles.
The moment the dancers enter the stage, however, snark gets set aside. The frenetically controlled gestures, accented by insistently coordinated claps and whoops and throaty warbles, bring me back to the sublime show in Sevilla this New Year’s Eve.
That said, it’s clearly not as transcendent as the Sevilla show – the seats certainly don’t help, and I’m stunned by the incredible persistence of chatty tourists who find the guitar solos are convenient moments to discuss the finer details of the weather. It’s a side effect of having dinner and a show, for sure; in Sevilla, audience seating formed an open square directly around the barely-elevated stage, insisting upon full immersion in the spectacle, in a way requiring implicit participation in the mere act of viewing. Here, in Madrid, there is distance, and not just between us and the stage.
Still – it is flamenco, the dancers are incredibly talented, and their craft is riveting. It’s good especially to be able to share this with Janet, who might otherwise have had the impression that all Spaniards do all day is munch grilled sea cucumber (see, they also play with castanets).
When we emerge, the cathedral is lit up just across the way. I rarely come to this part of town, and for the umpteenth time this trip, it hits me again how lucky I am to live here, how much I am exactly where I want to be. My city is beautiful, rich, engaging, exciting. I plan to savor the heck out of the final day running around it with MP and Janet, but there’s a loud part of me already clamoring to delve back into my daily life, even deeper this time. To involve myself in my new piso, to put together my “Talking about photography” unit for my second-years, to go out at night and merge with the throngs and trip giddily over the cobblestones.