Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 2. Madrid

With only four hours of sleep Gustav and I headed for the Frankfurt airport, first to seek a much needed cup of coffee, and then for me to embark on the next leg of my trip. The flight left at 7:50 am, and by 10:30 we had landed in Madrid. This city has the best metro connection possible between airport and city, so by 11:30 am I was already walking down the streets of the southern suburbs, headed for the house of my friends Maria Eugenia and Juan Ley Pozo. They both work at a private clinic, Juan as a doctor and Maria Eugenia as a medical technician, so they would not be home at this time of the day, but Juan’s parents would be waiting for me.

As I walked from the metro to their house I reflected on the old saying that Madrid has “nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno”. The weather was cold and menacing. The wind chilled you to the bone and the dark clouds were ready to let go. So much for sunny Spain! But the weather forecast is good, and tomorrow we should see the sun reappear, and northern Spain should be mild and sunny for the rest of the week. Hope springs eternal!

When I got home I was received by Estrella and Armando with the same love and kindness they have always lavished on me. Juan and I met in Germany 20 odd years ago, when we were both guests of the Von Humboldt Foundation, but I only met his parents 15 years ago, when the whole family emigrated from Cuba to establish themselves in Spain. Estrella is now 88 years old, and is a typical Cuban woman, talkative and very charming. Armando, for his part, is now 104 years old, and claims to be deaf and nearly blind (none of this is strictly true; he has simply perfected the art of selective hearing and of smiling beatifically to the world around him). I love to talk with them, because they are full of wonderful stories. This time Armando started reminiscing about his early years in China. He and his family lived in a small riverine village near Canton, and were very poor, so when he was a young lad (16 years old, I believe), he left his family and emigrated to Cuba, where over the years he worked just every trade imaginable. At the end he settled to be a photographer. He must have been a pretty suave Chinaman, because at age 40 he hooked Estrella (I vaguely remember he made a home-movie of their honeymoon trip, and she was quite a looker at the time), and the rest, as they say, is history.

All along during the story telling we were having lunch (a delicious Chinese fried rice prepared by Armando), and they kept pressing more and more food unto my plate, until at the end I had to throw the towel and roll out away from the table. I wanted to have a nap, but thought it would be better to first take a stroll around the neighborhood. What fun it is to wander through a foreign city, and to be fascinated by every store front. And from fascination to fascination I ended standing in front of a hairdressing school, and on a whim went in to have my hair cut. The charming receptionist asked if I wanted to have a student or a teacher do the cutting. “A student, of course. If they don’t practice they will never get good at it”. I was shown to the chair of a young, petite woman, who very professionally isolated my head from the rest of my anatomy, and who was practicing cutting hair with scissors rather than mechanized clippers. She did a great job, now and then interrupted by her master teacher, who corrected her posture, told her not to start at the center but on the side, and taught her the techniques at her disposal for cutting around the ear or halve the length of the hair on top. I was extremely satisfied with my hair cut, and left behind me a self-assured smiling student.

Back at the apartment I took a nap, worked on this blog, and waited the arrival of Juan and Maria Eugenia. They finally made it home around 8 pm, and at that time, tired from a long day at work, Maria Eugenia started to produce a culinary masterpiece: Migas!

According to Juan, this is a poor man’s dish, done with pieces of old, dry bread, maybe with a bit of bacon for flavor. Maria Eugenia stepped up the dish about it by adding pieces of chistorra (a very thin sausage). Preparation is conceptually simple. First you cook the bacon and chistorra over a hot fire, with some olive oil so the thing will not burn. Once cooked you add salt and powder of red pepper. While this is going on, in a separate pan you heat more olive oil, and fry on it the bread, which has been broken into small, quarter-inch pieces. After the bread starts browning add the contents of the other pan, mix together, and voila your migas are ready. It is a salty dish, so you want to eat it with fresh grapes to balance the flavor.

The talk after dinner meandered lazily around old memories, vacation tales (Juan, Maria Eugenia, and their son Juan Armando visited the western US last August, and cannot say enough about the beauty of California and the National Parks of the west), the current economic crisis, and advice about what not to miss while following the Camino de Santiago (Jacob’s Way). There is nothing as pleasant as visiting with old friends!

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