Thursday 12 August 2010

Devilish Deeds, Bare Boobs and a Threat to Children.

I was in the Retiro park last weekend and got stung. Not by some fierce flying insect, but by a waiter. For a small beer and two coke lights I was charged €8:50.

For your information this was the terrace bar closest to the statue of the fallen angel. Obviously evil intent still lurks in that part of Madrid. You have been warned.

This practise has a name here. It’s called, “Making your August”, and is a perverse, but time-honoured tradition. The locals, who know better, and that should have included me by now, would not have paid those prices, but they have all escaped to the beaches of the costas leaving Madrid seemingly populated by naïve tourists who don’t know the normal cost.

Perhaps the fact that I was with two visiting guiris didn’t help. However, the same order repeated an hour later at a bar near the lake brought an asking price of just €5:50.

I live and learn.

I received a plaintive message this morning from a friend who is the only worker left in her office. Normally staffed by a good dozen people, she had been left alone all week. The message read, “Am I the only one left in Madrid?”. To which I replied, “No, I am here too – Lunch?”

Two hours later saw us seated in a Chinese restaurant where I learnt a new phrase: “Ropa Viejo”. The meal I ate was called “Ropa Viejo de pato”, which translated means “Old clothes of Duck”! My friend laughed when I translated it, but it was my landlady who cleared up the puzzle. “Ropa Viejo” when applied to food means “left-overs”. At least in her family, but I doubt the restaurant was serving left over duck from the day before – or perhaps they were.

Why we ate Chinese was the result of another Madrid tradition. One that I alluded to in my last post. Just about every other restaurant in the area around her office was closed. We know as we wasted twenty minutes in search of Spanish cuisine and gave up.

Of course, if every office is being run by a skeleton staff like my friends, then there’s little point in the places that feed the working masses staying open. If it’s a family run place, as so many of them are, then they may as well zoom off to the playas like their customers.

But it’s definitely a negative for those of us who are here, even if we can get a seat on the metro and cross the road without looking because there’s hardly any traffic, except the tumbleweeds that roll along Gran Via!(I made that up, but you get the point.)

A student commented last week, before she too jetted off to the beach, that Madrid resembled scenes from the wonderful movie, Abre los Ojos or from its terrible Hollywood remake, Vanilla Sky. Made doubly terrible by starring Tom Cruise.

Which reminds me: Have you seen his latest film? It’s called Knight and Day, as that is the name of the two main protagonists – the other played by Cameron Diaz – and shown here in Spain as Dia y Noche, which must confuse Spanish audiences as A, they keep the same names in the dubbed version, and B, “Knight” in Spanish is “hidalgo” and not “noche”.

But I digress. Anyway, some of it was filmed in Seville, so it has been promoted here almost as a Spanish film, which as the Spanish scenes take up about the last fifteen minutes it most certainly is not, and the fact that they have the San Fermin running of the bulls of Pamplona taking place though (what looks like, but I’m not sure) the narrow alleyways of Macarena barrio must make the natives cringe with embarrassment.

If you have seen it you know what I mean and if you haven’t, save your money. It’s terrible.

With all my students out of town I have taken advantage of designing new and devious ways to continue to torture, er, to teach them on their return in September. This has meant long hours at the computer interspersed with visits to the Bar Elizabeth. In an attempt to improve my Spanish listening, my Achilles heel in my efforts to communicate with the locals, I have had the TV on, incessantly pouring out hour after hour of the language. It seems to be working. I understand more than I thought possible.

However, from time to time I am surprised by what appears on this hitherto unseen daytime television. Used to British TV with its 9pm “water-shed”, before which nothing that might be inappropriate for children can be shown, I was amazed to suddenly find myself hearing a group of women discussing a sexual lubricant. This was an ad that was repeated many times through the day. At 3:30 one afternoon came an ad for Durex condoms and the lovely Patricia Conde appearing to insert a tampon in a spot for Tampax. Occasionally I would get a glimpse of real bare boobs courtesy of a plastic surgery clinic.

It would seem the producers of day-time TV know what will appeal to their audience of bored housewives. Every second spot seems to be proclaiming the benefits of a cream or potion that will eliminate cellulite, diminish wrinkles and devices to exercise the fat away without ever leaving the comfort of the sofa.

But what amazed me early one morning was an interviewer on one of the Mediterranean beaches talking with topless sunbathers, who made no attempt to cover up. I wonder if their neighbours or work colleagues were watching!

Of course this is all in the name of my self edification, but I think this was a boob or two too far.

But there are already signs that this summer interregnum will come to an end. Today I watched while workmen posted a new advertisement on the walls of my metro station. “Vuelve a escuela”, return to school, it proclaimed above a 10% discount off school uniforms offer from El Corte Inglés. Soon kids’ hearts will fall at the sight of similar ads from all the other school supply shops. It really does rub it in.

But when that wonderful day arrives, the restaurants will be open and the noise in the apartment I share with three teenagers will be considerably reduced.



  1. hahahaha! I love how you hated Knight and Day. I think I have good taste in movies, but sometimes I just want a feel-good silly movie and Knight and Day was one of them. I liked it! And I enjoy your insights on the running of the bull scene.

  2. I think the words for leftovers are similar in catalan, it made us chuckle in class!

  3. First at all, i've been reading your blog during a couple of months and as a spaniard living in Madrid i find it very interesting.

    The meal is called ropa vieja (not viejo) and Is made with the left-overs from the cocido meat, but for example I like more the ropa vieja than the cocido meat so I prefer cook it directly in this way.

    It isn't wrong translate knight as hidalgo, but nobody use that word, I will use caballero (medieval) instead.

  4. Hey there, interesting post! I really wouldn't want to see a commercial with a women inserting a tampon...good grief, even the impression of thank you! I also wanted to take a moment to congratulate you on being named one of the top ten Spain blogs by I have enjoyed looking at all the other blogs they listed. The only ones I recognized are yours and Ademas...Postcards from the Land of No Spice. Their are some pretty good ones. Congrats again...

  5. @Ashleigh. Thanks for pointing that out. I had no idea someone had compiled a top ten list. I am proud to be number four. For others who might want to see the other Spain Blogs then go to

  6. I think I had better start watching some daytime TV....only to improve my Spanish of course!

  7. Well, you say about adverts about going back to school here. After all, they go to school second week of September (I think) My husband went to London last week and saw in a pub a notice to book your Christmas dinner!