That day at the Prado we had taken a break and had our first shot at the churros we had heard so much about. Churros and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate there is much closer to pudding than a drink. It was decent but not remarkable and the churros were almost inedible. What stood out more than anything was the institutional cafeteria look of this place in the bowels of the great gallery.
While we sat and looked at the other people there, we talked a little about something we had been noticing, blacks in painting. C had noticed in the palace in Warsaw two paintings, each with a mixed couple (black woman/white man and the opposite in the other painting) and each subtly disturbing, and all through the Prado we had seen black figures here and there, always just one, as part of family or court gatherings and wondered if it reflected the times (from about 1300 onward) or whether it was more to symbolic purpose. (If we manage to locate images of the Warsaw paintings i’ll post them).
Most of the rest of the day was spent walking under the unceasingly drippy sky past amazing ironwork that seemed to festoon every building (every balcony had wrought iron, heavy and strong). We saw the first of the many homeless we would see there, many of them with dogs. One large black woman had a spot right under a big sign that said Madrid. This too was the city, a Madrid of this woman who seemed to display her one unshod and sockless fat foot as though it said all there was to say about her and about life.
Eventually that evening (after looking into many different windows judging food , prices and smokiness) we ended up in a nice little place with a friendly Asian man behind the counter (as in many countries, Asians were common in the restaurants in Spain). We had the menu del dia. It varies from place to place but suffice to say you can stuff yourself and get mildly drunk for a very reasonable price. Its supposed to be the lunch special but more and more places have it as an all day option. Kind of like happy hour has evolved to a rather meaningless concept except for how much money is involved.
Years ago in Mexico on Isla Mujeres I remember walking down the beach and seeing happy hour at one bar from 12 to 1 then at the bar next to it, from 11 to 1 and eventually a particularly time challenged establishment where the difference between hour and day was not a point of contention. Happy Day (and it was).
We were able to get pan y tomatas, a set of ribs, chorizo, and something else and about 3 glasses of very good red wine (Rioja) and 2 con leches each for about $20 each. One thing that was hard to get used to was the local fashion of just dropping all small garbage around your feet. Streets were clean, the counters were clean but the floors of the eateries looked like hell. And it is one taboo we just couldn’t break. There was a woman sitting to my left (we were all up at the counter) who was eating and smoking and seemed to find something every minute or so to crumple up and throw down (the foil from her cigarettes, the bunched napkin, bits of food). As gross as it seemed, there is a kind of logic to it; just sweep up later.
And then it was just a happy stumble back, a few sheets to the wind, through the narrow winding streets, past the boisterous crowds that seemed everywhere, past the ham palaces (and that is another story), to our little 7th floor damp apartment.