Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Get stoned and do what's cool

Enrique Tierno Galván

My trusty Lonely Planet guide tells me that when Spain emerged from dictatorship in the late 70s, Spaniards "emerged onto the streets with all the zeal of ex-convent schoolgirls." And Franco clearly had a few issues - for instance, he slept with the finger of Santa Teresa by his bedside. So, naturally, with his passing, Spaniards turned their backs on religion and started living the good life - with madrileños at the forefront.

Enrique Tierno Galván, a socialist and a former professor, became mayor of Madrid in 1979 and the title of this post is what he publicly exhorted madrileños to do. Thus began la movida madrileña, and in the opinion of Lonely Planet, 30+ years later, it's still going strong.

I had only one night for Madrid. My plane landed at 8:30 in the evening, and I was scheduled to catch a train out of Madrid at 9 the next morning. Which didn't leave me a lot of time, but it was a Saturday and from what I'd read, most folks would just be getting out of bed by that time, in preparation for a full night ahead. So, theoretically, there was plenty I could do.

But, practically, 14 hours in an airplane, something I'm not used to, had taken a lot out of me. The other thing was that while I was previously reasonably confident in my Spanish, I turned all jelly-kneed at having to speak Spanish to real, live Spaniards. It was a complete mental breakdown. It was like Warne when he came up against Sidhu in '98. I couldn't get a word out. Just telling the receptionist at the place where I was staying that I was going out and would be back pretty late was a half-an-hour skit-and-dance.

On the way from the airport to the hotel, I'd spotted a magnificent neighbourhood, bathed in golden light and immaculately beautiful - a Spanish El Dorado. My first plans had included checking it out (briefly googling for Magnificent Neighbourhoods Within Two Kilometres of Rohan's Hostal leads me to suspect that it was the Plaza Mayor), and then maybe catching a late-night movie.

What I ended up doing was walking rather vaguely a couple of times around the block where I was staying and feeling rather intimidated. For dinner, reasoning that the Spaniards would know best, I tried to pick the busiest place I could spot. This turned out to be the rather pompously named Museo del Jamón. Jamón, by the way, bears no resemblance to the similarly spelled Indian sweet. This one is ham.

Unfortunately, the menu was all Spanish. I spotted something called the menu de noche - even I could understand that - and pointed toward it. The waiter asked me for preferences. I indicated with the universally-understood shrug-and-open-arms that I didn't care, and he could bring me what he pleased. This turned out to be melons with slices of ham draped on top of them. Rather odd combo for an Indian tongue. And I had no clue how to eat it. Do I eat the ham first and then bite into the melon? Or do I try and eat them both at the same time? But if so, how do I cut it? The skin of the melon is rather hard and not the easiest to cut. All in all, many questions and no answers. I placed my problems before the waiter as best as I could. He turned around furtively, to see if his manager was watching, and deciding that he wasn't, quickly cut up my food for me. Very nice bloke. The next dish that came over was some version of chicken in a gravy. Even I knew what to do with that.

Dinner done, I decided to call it a night, and set the alarm for the early train the next day. The trouble was, I forgot about DST and woke up an hour later than I should have. In the end, huffing and puffing my way to the station, I caught the train with about 4 seconds to spare.

All in all, I must admit, not my finest day. Enrique Tierno Galván doesn't sound like a hard man, but even he would probably shake his head in disapproval. I didn't get stoned and not a single thing I did would qualify as cool. But the rest of my trip still awaits, and I will try my best to shape up and give you, my readers, something rather more interesting than this.

The Trip

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