"Just those five?" he chuckled with mock consternation, "You'll be left hungry with just those five!"
"OK, OK," I smiled, holding my hands up in defence, "put five more in."
The local fishmonger in his blue apron plopped another handful of fresh, shining little sardines into the newspaper cone and wrapped it up with a twirl.
"Vale, so that's €1.14 then," he said, leaning over a veritable marine cemetery of colours.
"Christ that's cheap," I hissed under my breath, "adios!"
Those little sardines were decapitated, gutted, splashed with lemon juice, rolled in flour and chunky salt, and laid in a boiling bed of olive oil for a couple of minutes either side. Golden and crispy. Bones and all and served with a lemon. The snack of all snacks.
* * * *
“That’s a lot of tomato.”
“Yup, a whole perfect kilogram…sliced,” I surveyed my knife’s handiwork, “I don’t think your blender’s big enough.”
Salmorejo – the stockier but simpler cousin of the famous gazpacho – is an unexpectedly tasty cold tomato soup made from a whizzed up purée of tomatoes, a little garlic, crusty bread, oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. To finish, when pooling nicely in a bowl, add chopped jamón serrano and some hard-boiled egg.
It bubbled over the lid of the little blender, unaccustomed to such a tomato fiasco.
“Right, I’m splitting it.”
Two batches, totted up with water for consistency and a little salt. Healthy, clean-tasting, and occasionally violent on the breath. Too much garlic.
* * * *
So Roque was on the phone for me in the police department. Bureaucratic nonsense to get a case number before sitting down to meet a real human being.
“Sí, they took his bag. It had his jacket, some teaching materials, a copy of his book, keys for his flat, keys for his work, his ipod and his passport,” he rolled his eyes at me, “no the bag isn’t mine…it’s my friend’s…I’m speaking to avoid translation problems…fine…what’s your name please?..just what’s your name?” Roque hung up the phone on the officer. “It has to be ‘you’ phoning because it was your bag stolen.”
“Why did you ask for the person’s name?” I enquired.
“Now, when I ring back pretending to be you, if it’s the same person I’ll hang up!”
He repeated the process with more success.
“My name? Luke Darracott”
“My parents’ names?” He looked at me.
“BRIAN, ANN,” I mouthed silently.
“Brian and Ann”
“CALLE DE LINNEO,” I mouthed again.
“Calle Pirineo,” he said confidently. I sniggered and sweated at the same time. That’s absolutely not my address. On a little chitty I wrote ‘If you have the chance again, it’s ‘de Linneo’ not ‘Pirineo’. Roque covered the receiver with his hand and almost, just almost, cracked up.
Then came some slightly less stressful ones: date of birth, occupation, what had happened to the bag. The pencil and paper system was useful.
Roque then snorted quite audibly, stopped himself and then ‘mmhmm-ed’ into the phone. He wedged the terminal between his shoulder and ear and started writing me a message:
She said, ‘either there’s a delay on the line or you are speaking strangely.’
It worked. We sat down for five minutes and were seen to by a very amiable policeman.
“Apart from your passport is there any identification in the bag, or anything with your name on it? I think a book was mentioned?”
“Oh yes. There’s a book I wrote”
“So you’re the author?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I paused to let my ego deflate, “would be funny if I got my stuff back because somebody found my book”
The policeman smiled.
Whoever has my bag is either going to learn about Spain or, depending on their tastes, get a free lesson in question formation.
* * * *
“Cheers everyone. And to our victory!”
The glasses chinked as we pondered our prize with hungry intent. Four green bottles of cold amber Alhambra beers and a plate of tapas: piece of bread, covered in a tapenade-style paste and topped with a prawn. Some olives were gleefully scattered at their base.
“My arse hurts”
“Yeah, mine too,” I pondered the possible after-effects, “but it’ll be like steel covered in velvet in no time”
Our bikes were propped up against a little tree in a darling quiet square of Madrid. No locks. We had just ridden 40km and felt like kings. No one would dare steal a bike from such pantheon figures. We allowed the wet patches in the small of the back and armpits to cool and dry a little. Milky light was trickling down through the leaves leaving a dappled patchwork of dripped luminous puddles on the ground.
“Next time we should do the whole route…” somebody said with a weary confidence.
The anillo verde. The great cycle route around Madrid. 64km in total, adding another 10km for entry and exit. I could explain the route, but what would be the point unless you know the city. You pass suburbs and intriguing residential and business areas one minute and sweeping vistas to the mountains and hills the next.
Burnt faces. Burnt arses. Burnt calories. But interest and love for the city were both phoenixed by the experience. So much to offer.
“I’m going to need a long, long bath…”
* * * *
SMS (sent 6 Nov 14:15): Mate. I am up La Pedriza mountain in Manzanares el Real. You like views…this would blow your mind. Mountains all around me and a view to Madrid!! Boom.
Despite my message lacking the apt floridity to put into words the genuine beauty of the place where I was sitting at that moment, I think Matt would have respected the frankness.
As Manzanares the town ends, the mountains just begin. It sounds airy-fairy, but I say it literally. House, house, house, town, town, car park, barrier, mountains, paths, nature, eagles. The transition is instant. Little paths then snake off and filter into forests and up inclines as the tendrils for serious trekking and Sunday strolling spill away from civilization. Views that could kill you for their grandeur are mixed in with terrain that also can if you don’t give it enough respect. I didn’t. But I seem to be a pro at going ‘off-piste’. Ten minutes of grappling and rock climbing and skin-ripping later and I re-joined the ‘path’.
And then the summit. The reason for the text to Matt. Madrid sat far-off in its high-altitude plain; the four ‘torres’ poking up into the sky next to the distinctive and jauntily crooked Caixa towers. The town, nestled like a sleeping cat by the lake. And peaks and peaks and peaks.
SMS (send 7 Nov 15:44): I’m sad I missed it. I’ve just bought spanking ‘North Face’ trainers, perfect for mountains.
Along with the purchase of a walking routes book it seems I’ll be back to the hills, this time not alone.