Thursday, October 25, 2007

Palatial Martinis

 id=We touched the two glasses as they stood side by side on the bar. They were coldly beaded. Outside the curtained window was the summer heat of Madrid.* (EH)

I suppose that when any bar has been the haunt or any city the stomping grounds of a larger-than-life persona (LTLP), that place - for weal or woe - has been indelibly stamped w
ith the spirit of that LTLP. Some places capitalize on it embrace it; others try (often vainly) to exorcise the unwanted spectre from their premises altogether. Spain is no exception to this pithy little truism I just pulled out of my ass, and I probably need not say that the LTLP in question is none other than Ernest Hemingway. Although I just did.

For the record, I'm more than a little fond of his writing although I admit that most of my coevals aren't:
Hemingway! Pshaw! curling up their sneer-prone lips at the mere mention of his name. Arguably, Hemingway's works haven't terribly aged well and sneer-prone lips modern readers often forget that his simplicity of style or economy of thought or bipolar disorder, was a cyclonic breath of fresh air in the 1920s. But, whether you love or hate him - and I suspect that I would have despised Hemingway-the-Man - there's no denying that he was a LTLP. And if he had questionable taste in outdoor sporting events and hairstyles (he would eventually adopt a 'comb-over"), he certainly knew a good martini when he saw - or drank - one.

Hemingway arrived in Madrid some 84 years ago and, so he could be in the thick of things, stayed around the corner from our apartment on San Jeronimo in a pension much frequented by matadors. This was the beginning of his love affair with Spain and King Midas-like, he gilded for both posterity and for the nobs who feel compelled to embark on Hemingway Pilgrimages, the bars and c
ervecerías of Madrid. The Cervecería Alemana, El Sobrino Botín (the world's oldest restaurant - they have a certificate to prove it), and the Chicote - to name but a few - are among the most notable and well-visited stations of the cross watering holes along the Hemingway Trail. And to toss another truism at your feet (from the slightly more reputable Newton rather than me): for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not surprisingly then, there are bars in Madrid that go to great pains to distance themselves from Hemingway - including hanging "Hemingway never ate here" banners from their doorways.

Which brings me to the Westin Palace Hotel which, during Hemingway's time was not a Westin hotel at all but in my ti
me lamentably is. The excellence of the Palace Bar - and its martinis - were praised and captured in print for posterity in The Sun Also Rises*. And although we don't count ourselves among the nobs who feel compelled to embark on Hemingway-pilgrimages, Señor Gato Gringo and I were of the firm opinion that when our friend and fellow gin id= & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N. came to visit last month - himself a martini enthusiast - an afternoon with a $6,000 (give or take) martini in the Palace Bar was a must. Nor were we disappointed.

As we sat sipping the driest martinis known to humankind,
admiring the rather pretty stained glass dome in the cupola (right), for a few hours we were transported to another world: not Hemingway's world but a world of opulence and privilege which would, barring unforeseen circumstances, have to last us a lifetime. A few hours during which, I might add, we nursed those martinis - not because they were astonishingly sublime (although they were) but because we couldn't afford or at least justify another round. Shall I order 3 more drinks or shall mother have her hip replacement surgery this year? At least the waiter frequently freshened our bowls of olives and nuts.

When the bill came which I had injudiciously offered to cover, it became immediately apparent that I would have to nip to a bank machine as
I seldom keep $18,000 (plus tip) on my person. As Mr. N and Señor G.G. contemplated stealing various bits of furnishings from the rotunda and waxed poetically about the quality of the hand towels in the gilded men's room, I repaired to the lobby and asked a hotel employee where I could find an ATM. I will show you, he said. Follow me. And off he went with me in hot pursuit. He passed through the front door of the hotel and nimbly began to weave his way through the Plaza de Las Cortes' traffic with me yelling You could've just told me! Although I didn't yell it, I just thought it (loudly) to myself and tried to not feel like the biggest nob in the world as he stood guard beside me at the ATM and escorted me back to the hotel lobby.

Did Ernest Hemingway receive service on this scale? In spite of the fact that ATMs had yet to be invented, I'm certain that he did -
LTLP's and Nobel Prize winners often do get fussed over - but at that moment I didn't really care one way or the other. After all, it's not every day that you can while away an afternoon sipping $6,000 martinis. And besides, I was too busy feeling a tad churlish for having stolen the oversized hand towels from the ladies' room for Mr. N.

Addendum: Thanks and/or apologies to Knarf in the City who did not authorize the use of this, his photograph but, if you recall Knarf, it was my martini in the photo.


Me and my camera said...

Holy Shit!

Mom needs hip replacement surgery?

Why am I always the last to know?

BTW, no probs using the photo, which is indeed on our Urban Caravan site anyway, so I think we're (you and Mr. Gato and I) co-owners in any event.

I recall that was taken in Halifax, at the Shoe Store? Was that the name of the place? Economy Shoes?

Something like that...

Annie said...

It's quite funny that you wrote this, because I just started reading The Sun Also Rises yesterday. Incidentally, it is the copy that you gave me before you and Mr. G.G. (then known as Mr. C in R) left for Morocco. In fact, it still has your name inscribed inside the front cover along with a stamp of omething which I cannot readily identify.

You must have transatlantically sensed that I was reading it! Are you perhaps psychic?

La Gatita Gringa said...

Annie: Am I psychic? Have you never seen my other blog "The Amazing Gatita Gringa?"

Knarf: You were unhappy with the scan of "La Gatita Gringa's Martini" and we removed it. It is awaiting its reintroduction by means of a new scan.

Me and my camera said...

You're right, it's gone from The Site. I forgot. Now I remember.

I think the scan will have to wait for some time, being as I don't have a scanner...

Di Mackey said...

Exquisite Sunday morning reading ...

Eileen said...

Very interesting post! So how much are these prices equivalent to in U.S. dollars, or Morccan dirhams?

Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas

Catherine Miehm said...

How many martinis does it take to answer this:
What does a Hemingway?

La Gatita Gringa said...

Eileen: Hmmm, I seem to think that the 3 martinis were just a smidgen over 45 euros = $65 US = $62 Canadian = 510 Moroccan dirhams.

Cath: How much does a Hemingway? If Margaux and Mariel were/are any indication, not much.