Madrid, the bear and the tree

May 16th, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »
The tree is a strawberry tree (whereas I thought strawberries grew on bushes). That may explain the size...

The tree is a strawberry tree (whereas I thought strawberries grew on bushes). That may explain the size...

Apparently, the symbol of Madrid is a bear and a tree.

Based on a cursory glance, nothing is out of the ordinary. There’s a bear, and it’s climbing a tree. Here’s the thing though: the bear is bigger than the tree. The tree is scarcely taller than the bear, and on further review more closely resembles broccoli than a tree. The bear, on the other hand, appears to be confused: “That’s it?” he wonders, “I really thought there would be more to it.”

We started the day on the later side, and our first priority was getting to El Rastro — a Sunday-only open air market referred to as a “must see” in all of our guide books — before it closed at 3 PM. We got directions and made our way south and west towards the market, but once we arrived, we were sure that we were in the wrong place. Where the guide books said “open air market”, we found a flea market. Since we were not in the market for a socket set or some 30-year-old Spanish porn (“I think that’s used porn” Karen astutely observed), we beat a hasty retreat back toward the Plaza Mayor, and grabbed lunch in one of the plazas along the way.

Karen had been complaining about the lack of fruits and vegetables in Spain, so she ordered a salad — the only salad on the menu — and we sat back with beers and watched the people. When our food arrived, we realized that our definition of salad was far too narrow. We had assumed that a salad would include vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, etc., but if I wanted to order the salad we received in the States, I would say: “Can you bring us a giant plate of potato salad, with some ham and peas in it, and then throw some saffron and olives on top? Extra mayo.” Needless to say, Karen went to town on the olives (leaving much of the mayo-potato disaster), and I munched contently on my fried calamari, which is one of two national dishes (the other being fried potato nuggets in “spicy” brava sauce, which is actually super mild; this country has no tolerance for spicy foods).

We went back to the Plaza Mayor, which was lovely and warm in the sunshine. It reminded me of a college quadrangle, but with shops, cobblestones, and a plethora of street performers. Even in a country with so many options for small plates, every other group of people was chowing down on McDonald’s. Apparently, Burger King, Starbucks, and KFC are all getting serious market share here. (On a related note, we have also enjoyed the over-literal translations of American movies: we almost went to see “Noche Loca” – real title: Date Night, literally “Crazy Night”.

In the evening we met up with Jared and his girlfriend Adrianna, Jared being a friend of Karen’s cousin (they are the ones with us below the bear and the tree). They took us to a classy tapas joint, specializing in pinchas (small portions on toast), which was delicious. We enjoyed speaking English, and even met a very nice guy from Atlanta at a neighboring table who had been running an American car importing company in Spain for 10 years. Afterward, we had a few rounds of caipirinhas at a different place, and we learned that Lance Armstrong doesn’t like to be far from his bikes (whether or not he is able to ride them), and that the president of Venezuela is a jerk.

After we said goodbye to Jared and Adrianna, we had another drink at a bar that was playing good music, and we were reminded exactly how lovely it is to not have to worry about getting stabbed with a lit cigarette at a bar in New York (answer: very lovely). We also learned that, regardless of any language barriers, the Black Eyed Peas are universal. Fergie is right: tonight was a good night.

On our way back to the hotel, we ran into at least two groups of Americans. One group was outside the only Irish pub in the city, while the other was taking pictures next to the bear and the tree. The latter group were three young guys from San Diego who apparently played professional soccer in the South of Spain in a minor league. Other than Americans and locals imploring us to go into their bars, the streets were empty. All the locals had gone to bed. Yesterday, Madrid was the bear; today, it was the tree.

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