It was 20 hours from the time we awoke in San Francisco on Thursday morning to our next prone position in Madrid. Taking into account the mandated starts, stops, curious pauses, and fluid movements, our crossing nine time zones in just over twice as many hours did not seem either inefficient or onerous. SFO->JFK->MAD, arriving at our hotel at 10:30 a.m. local time. The Hostal Dulcinea—aptly situated on Calle Cervantes, the street where The Man lived and died—is Centro Madrid, only a few blocks from the Museo de Prado, and convenient to all the oldest parts of the city.
Our room is small by any U.S. standard; the bed, very comfortable, nearly fills the room. The bathroom is new and clean. A single window opens into an air shaft of eight identical windows on each of six similar floors. The room rate is 42 Euros. An exceptional bargain, this is completely adequate for travelers who plan to occupy the room primarily for horizontalizing.
Because we are committed to an immediate victory over jet-lag, a 90-minute nap refreshes us, and we are up at noon, walking randomly because we trust the gods to introduce us to oddity, adventure, and activity. One-half block later, we are at the entry to an extraordinarily vibrant church. Hundreds of parishioners are queued up for blessing or communion or consecration. The line flows in at a pace that would match the filing of mourners past an open coffin. We marvel at the throng of Friday lunchtime faithful, and I point to a cerveceria at our backs. Pork of all stripes, hunks of octopus, shrimp in rank and file, and various dead fish on ice dress the window. Inside, about a dozen patrons, mostly male, mostly smoking, half-fill the establishment. We think we may be hungry, so we enter and sit at a window table. In truth, neither of us is sure our bodies are emitting any reliable indication of anything, but the people-watching is excellent and at this point in our trip, with our tabulae still very rasa, any vantage offers massive input.
There are no tourists in the cerveceria. Ann, a Spanish major some years ago, gets us a menu, but only one-third of the items are immediately translatable by her decades-diminished memory, our inadequate dictionary (soon to be renamed “ridictionary”), and Steve’s inflated confidence in Latin root-words.
Ann selects gambas, an on-the-blackboard special. We are convinced that it will be some kind of shrimp, and by the smells wafting through us, served with garlic. Steve reviews the menu several times, and when the waitress approaches a second time, chooses mojama de átun. Tuna—but we are uncertain because bonita is featured several times on the menu, and bonita is, we think, a Pacific tuna, so…?
Ann’s gambas arrives: shrimp as expected, accompanied by a smallish glass of local beer. Steve deftly signals for an order of bread, his Mexican accent passing unnoticed or unmentioned through the communications barrier, and lunch is begun. We are soon up to our first knuckles in shrimp drippings, grinning at each other, commenting that the line of non-mourners seems to be no shorter than before, but the completos are now exiting the church from a door directly across the street from the cerveceria‘s entrance.. .and now there is not an empty table. Steve’s mojama arrives. It is a single plate of sliced, dried tuna covered with whole, raw almonds. It is extraordinarily flavorful, salty, and quite satisfying. By the close of the meal we have decided that it is named for the Prophet Mojama, so the Moors must have brought this dish to Spain.
The bill (23 Euros) is paid. Hours later our guidebook reveals that the Spanish rarely tip at restaurants and never more than 5%. Our 12% tip at the cerveceria (we were still figuring out the coinage) and the earlier morning 20% tip to the cabbie who brought us from the airport now seem grotesquely American.