Our Spanish tour is on its last legs. Soon, it’ll be hummus and ancient history in Jerusalem in lieu of siestas and tapas. I’ve got two months left here, and you can bet I’ll be savoring my favorite Spanish things during that time. Here’s what I’ll miss most when I leave:
1. Cheap (and Good) Wine
There’s so much to say about Spanish wine. It’s good, especially the tempranillos from the Ribera del Duero region, which, in my opinion, are more rich and mellow than the tangy (and more well-known) Riojas. It’s cheap: A glass of wine at a restaurant or bar will generally set you back about 3 euros. That’s pretty much one-third of the price of a glass of wine in the states, which means you should drink three times as much wine while in Spain. It’s math. As for whites: There’s nothing like a fruity Rueda (or three) on a hot, sunny day. While wines from France and Italy are more coveted, I think Spain could be an apt competitor. That is if it had any interest in doing so. Spain doesn’t do a great job of marketing its bounty: It produces more olive oil than any country but you wouldn’t know it from the way Italy carries on. And in 2014, Spain actually exported more wine than both France and Italy, but much of it was bulk wine (not bottled) which nets Spain just a teensy little profit.
2. Vermouth on Tap
I love me a nice glass of vermouth, or vermut, as the Spaniards call it. In the States, vermouth isn’t given much consideration; it’s merely something you splash into a martini. But in Spain, it’s a popular apertif and many bars have it on tap (vermut de grifo). Vermouth is red or white wine that’s been fortified (made stronger) and flavored with botanicals such as herbs, barks, flowers, and spices. Sometimes it reminds me of a slightly bitter and less sweet Dr. Pepper; other vermouth carry a hint of cinnamon or vanilla. They tend to taste a little medicinal, but as someone who has considered adding a splash of Nyquil to a cocktail, I don’t mind it. The best vermouth is on tap, served over ice, with a little wedge of orange and an olive.
3. Living Across From Museo Sorrolla
Madrid is home to some impressive museums – The Prado, the Reina Sofia, the Thyssen-Bornemisza. And they are all great and worth multiple visits. But the homiest and most charming of Madrid’s museums is the relatively tiny Museo Sorolla, and I’m lucky enough to live across the street from it. It’s the former home/studio of Spanish impressionist Joaquin Sorolla, who painted light-filled beach scenes and lovingly serene portraits of his wife and children. The painting Joquain Sorolla was working on before he died in the 1920s is still propped on his easel, surrounded by his brushes. I love looking out my window and seeing the yellow mansion with the orange tree growing in front and hearing the bubbling fountain in the Andalusian-style garden. For those days when I’m feeling uninspired sitting at my dining room table, I will look out the window at Sorolla’s house and think of all the inspiration that went on just across the street a century ago.
4. Retiro Park
Retiro Park is city park perfection. It’s perfect for runs, for strolls, for picnics. It’s rose garden is a marvel, it’s man-made lake is oh-so-pretty, and the perfectly manicured stretch leading to the Prado museum is one of the best views in the city. It has ample grass, tall trees, streams, bridges, musicians, cafes, a turtle-filled pond, and wonderful old massive glass greenhouse that houses temporary exhibitions curated by the Reina Sofia. All of it: Perfection.
5. Spain is for All Ages
Drinks, museums, parks: These are all great. But my favorite thing about Spain – a thing that touches me deeply rather than just refreshes or amuses me – is that people of all ages are respected in Spanish society.
On a typical day, I’ll leave my apartment and there will be several well-heeled old people moving down the sidewalk with their canes at a speed that is just a click above standing still. If they can’t make it down the sidewalk themselves, they’ll have a much younger family member or caretaker supporting them for their walk.
I often pass groups of old ladies enjoying huge gin and tonics mid-day at an outdoor bar and I imagine they have been meeting up once a week for the past 50 years.
Across from our house, in front of the Museo Sorolla, an old man reads the newspaper while his dog either sits at his feet, or on the bench with him.
For some of these folks, it’s probably a lot of effort to get out there and it would be easier to stay inside. But the Spanish take seriously the expression that life is lived on the streets.
Kids too, have a respected place in Spanish society. There is a square near by house in which little kids play on a playground, older kids kick around a soccer ball, and moms and dads watch from benches or from behind their beers at one of the cafes that face the playground (yep, this is totally okay here). Teenagers meet here after school to chat and eat snacks. Dapper old men sit on the benches (or in their wheelchairs) and watch the ladies of all ages walk by.
Little kids also eat out at restaurants for hours-long lunches with their families. When they get restless, they sometimes run around the restaurant and other diners don’t seem annoyed by this, rather, diners smile at them and engage them because Spaniards love babies and little kids more than anything (except maybe, for dogs, which are also allowed in many restaurants). When there’s a crying baby around, it’s much more common to see strangers try to make funny faces and baby noises to cheer the baby up rather than roll their eyes or wonder out loud who brings a baby into a bar or restaurant.
Whether you’re a baby, child, or an elderly person, you have a place here in Madrid. This fact has moved me repeatedly, perhaps because in the United States, there seem to be special places for kids (schools, playgrounds, waterparks, fun zones), places for old people (in front of the TV, in retirement homes, in nursing homes) and places for everyone else, and the overlap is disturbingly rare.
I once asked Mr. Dame in Spain’s grandfather how life in his Boca Raton retirement community was and he said “It’s not right, keeping all the old people together like that.” I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’m his age, but I do know that seeing old people living their lives on the streets has brought me much joy during my time in Madrid.
So that’s my list. From the beverages to the way of life, I’ll certainly miss Madrid (and all of Spain, really).
To savoring Spain,
The Dame in Spain