Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Culture & Lifestyle: Spaniards Eat Late

 id=But first the weather ...

September was warm, October was warmer, and if the portents can be trusted and everything augurs well, November will be warmer still. And because it's November and it possibly should be a little nippier in Madrid, the majority of Madrileños are bundled up against the cold in scarves, parkas or fur-lined ski jackets, and very tall & menacing leather boots. But the fact remains that it's November 6th and the temperature outside my window is a balmy 22 ° C.

Perhaps the winter outerwear is to appease the Seasonal Fashion God. It's November for Christ's sake. Twenty-degree temperatures be damned, I'm wearing my new winter clothes and the rabbit fur that lines my hood will just have to absorb the perspiration forming on my forehead. Or maybe people truly are cold. This being my first autumn/winter in Madrid, I haven't a clue.

Sadly, I did forsake my flip-flops around the end of September. And although it has rarely gotten colder than 17 ° C, the temperature does dip down at night. So we have made adjustments and concessions - beyond the flip-flops - and have begun closing our windows against the cold night air. This revolutionary decision has had two immediate consequences, one of which we did not anticipate. One: we were warmer (anticipated). Two: we could no longer hear our neighbours (unanticipated).

Our apartment looks inwards into a central courtyard, a 'view' shared by a dozen or so other flats; consequently during warm weather when all of our collective windows are open, we are all voyeurs or auditeurs of sorts. The yappy little dog, the old woman who's hard of hearing, and the workers who are renovating the apartment across the way have all passed through our windows and become fixtures in our home. But more than the eardrum-piercing television volumes, the incessant hammering and the yappy little dog, it is our neighbours' dining habits that have, at least in open-window weather, become our greatest cross to bear.

Spaniards eat late. This is a fact. Armed with the certain knowledge that Spaniards eat late, Señor Gato Gringo and I were pretty confident when, seven years ago, we first visited Spain. Spaniards eat late, we said knowingly to each other. We will have to make allowances. Odds are we even threw in some pithy little comment like when in Rome... Having arrived late in Seville on our first evening, we ate late. We had gone native without any fuss at all. Huzzah! Odds are we were pretty smug about it too.

Our second night in Córdoba was another matter. After a full day of travelling and traipsing about town, we were hungry. It was 6:00.
Spaniards eat late, we knowingly said to each other. We have to make allowances. By 7:00 I thought I was going to lose consciousness. By 8:00 I did. So we repaired to the first restaurant which showed signs of life (there was one only), La Gran Muralla de China. There we had what can only be described as a Sino-Hispanic meal: egg rolls, sweet & sour chicken, a bottle of rioja and flan for dessert. And perhaps because we were the only patrons in the restaurant, the service was excellent. Just as we were preparing to leave, real live people began to filter in - real live people who at 9:00 were apologizing to the waiters for arriving so early. Spaniards eat late.

Our neighbours routinely begin dinner preparations around 9:30. Not eat dinner, prepare it. So three hours after
Señor G.G. and I enjoyed our seitan cutlets and are well on the way to digesting them, it begins. First: The Chopping. The Chopping of onions and garlic and peppers. Chop chop chop. We hear a dozen Samurai warriors piercing the night with their blades. Next: The Wafting. The Wafting of onions and garlic and peppers as they hit the hot oil. The Wafting of anything that once was part of a pig.

It smells so good we want to weep. Dinner is still at least an hour away for our neighbours but we - who
enjoyed our seitan cutlets three hours ago - are salivating and weeping in unison. This is too much moisture for us to bear so with rumbling stomachs and tear-stained faces we go upstairs. It is our bedtime. Shortly after Señor G.G. turns out the light, we hear the clinking of cutlery and the scraping of chairs as our neighbours finally sit down to table.

Spaniards eat late, we say knowingly to each other, burying our faces into our pillows. Our efforts to block facial orifices fail miserably. It smells so good we continue weeping. We console each other with the uncertain certainty that our neighbours are all developing dyspepsia, are rapidly gaining weight, and/or are experiencing freak periods of unsightly bloating.

But now our windows are closed and we don't have to hear The Chopping or smell The Wafting.
Spaniards eat late and, the simple truth of it is, we will never be able to go native.


Me and my camera said...

What of their other meals?

What time to they eat breakfast? Lunch?

Do they have some sort of late afternoon light repast, sort of the Spaniard equivalent of English Tea?

La Gatita Gringa said...

Two breakfasts: when one gets up and then @ 11:00. Lunch is between 2-4.

Di Mackey said...

I was jealous as I laughed reading this ...

I love Spanish life, Gert and I almost cried when we returned to Belgian life after a week in Salamanca.

Sometimes, in Turkey, I used to wonder if one of those women who cook would adopt me ... heavy sigh.

La Gatita Gringa said...

I wholeheartedly agree WW but I just can't get my salivary glands and my internal clock in sync.