Recommended wine for today’s entry: Cabre & Sabate semi-dry Cava. This was a staple in our fridge for the Spain odyssey: sold at the Mercadona (grocery chain) for less than 2 Euros (about $2.80 American). Hard to pass up! And while it has bubbles, it lacks the sweetness of champagne. I plan to search for it at my local liquor store — will advise if I can find it!
We spent 13 days in Spain — the first 8 in a small city on the Mediterranean, south of Barcelona. It is called Villanova and it is absolutely charming. If there were other tourists there, we didn’t recognize them as such. Of course, maybe they were simply not as inappropriate, bumbling and dangerous as the Griswolds. Or us.
I will say, we wasted NO time presenting ourselves as the freakshow American family who were renting on Calle Don Miguel de Cabayo. After a refreshing little 5 1/2 hour nap, we got all gussied up and went walking up the Principal Rambla — the main avenue — in search of some vittles, I reckon. We thought we were over the jet lag.
As we approached the beach, looking at the pictures of food posted by all the menus at about a million little cafes, bars and restaurants, we discussed the fact everyone recommended we try paella at some point.
It wouldn’t be wise, though, we decided. It’s expensive for one thing. Oh, and our oldest daughter is a vegetarian who eats no meat or fish, so she’s out. I don’t eat meat and I avoid seafood in Europe because in one single trip to Rome, I ordered shrimp three different times, gagged when their little faces were still attached, and never ate a single bite of it. Well, I’m no dummy and I finally figured out that they are just a little too graphic for me over there. So, with a mental image of the promised “baby squid,” I agreed that I had no need to sample paella. Our youngest daughter was in Spain last summer and vehemently declared that paella was “absolutely the most disgusting thing she had ever tasted.” I might point out that this child was raised on my cooking and that statement is saying a LOT.
That left my husband, who said he wanted to try it, but he wasn’t very hungry tonight.
Finally we found a restaurant that suited us. Right on the beach, filled with locals. We used hand gestures that might have landed four planes and eventually discerned that we were to seat ourselves.
When the waiter approached, I used my very best Spanish to ask for a wine list. Well, I said “vino” and then he came back with the BIGGEST bottle of wine I’d ever seen. Before hyperventilating, I saw that it was just a clever wine list that didn’t include any wines by the glass. Jet lag or no jet lag, I couldn’t drink a bottle by myself. At least not if I had to parade back up the posh avenue later.
“Cuatro Estrellas, por favor,” I said, clearly and distinctly with my super-cool Spanish accent that I got from listening to Sofia Vergara on Modern Family. Estrella is a really good beer from the Catalunya region of Spain. The waiter repeated it: Cuatro ayeyiyiI’mtalkingsofastyoucan’tevenseemymouthmovecanyou?
Si, I answered confidently. We were entrenched. Totally.
My husband didn’t think the waiter knew what I’d said. So I sneered at him and told him he was stupid and I’d had like 12 years of Spanish that ended just a short 30 years ago and I think I can order four beers. Geez, give me some credit.
While we waited for our beers, we took in the surroundings. The owner of the place, a jovial looking fellow, periodically came out and slapped the backs and shook the hands of all his pals at surrounding tables. Our feelings were a little hurt, but we, like the Griswolds, figured our day would come.
Then my daughter peed in the men’s room. Come on, it’s a foreign country. Give her a break. No, it didn’t say hombre and mujer. It had a picture of someone in a dress and someone in trousers. So when the whole bar watched her proceed with full confidence into the trousered door, there was a bit of chatter. Me? Of course I knew where to go. I just didn’t remember that it was a sliding door and when I went to leave, I yanked and pushed and yanked and pushed, causing quite a clamor, I might add. So when I went by all the drunken sots (OK, they weren’t) sitting at the bar, there was a bit more chatter.
Where was the beer when you need it? Still no sign. Someone did come though and very efficiently set our table with brightly colored paper placemats. Ha! No one else had THOSE. We speculated that our visit from the owner was certainly only moments away.
The waiter came back and we stumbled through our orders: two vegetal sandwiches for the vegetarians, and bikini sandwiches (ham & cheese) for the meat eaters. Oh, and we had to try something from the tapas menu — potatas fritas, fried chunks of potato with a spicy aoili sauce. OK, and a plate of olives too. So what if we looked like gluttonous Americans. And we were too thirsty to care what we looked like. Maybe, we told each other, maybe they bring the drinks with the food. Here. In Spain. Maybe.
But then our food came it was awesome except for three things:
- the vegetable sandwich had no vegetables and was, in fact, a tuna salad sandwich;
- my daughter doesn’t eat fish; and
- we still didn’t have any beers.
So we caught the waiter again and ordered another sandwich — just queso y pan, we emphasized. No atun (tuna), no carne (meat), no pesce (fish). Just cheese and bread. And WAIT — can we have our cuatro cervesas? Por favor.
Finally, our waiter approached, carrying a tray with sandwich #5 and CUATRO ESTRELLAS!! We were gleeful. And trailing behind him? Right! The owner!
…He was carrying two of the CUATRO PAELLAS that were coming to our table. Yes, sixty dollars worth the paellas. What are the freakin’ chances that the only beer I knew rhymed with the expensive, labor-intensive dish?
You have never seen four people shake their heads faster and with more conviction.
It’s blurry, but here’s one of my daughters’ reactions:
Hmm. A rather inauspicious beginning, I guess. I was actually more astonished that they actually thought that four normal-sized humans sat down and ordered: 4 HUGE paellas, 5 sandwiches, fried potatoes and a trough of olives. With no liquids.
Somos perdedores. We are losers. And there’s more … but I’ll save that for another day.