Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chinchon and Spanish Sunday lunch

Our excursion today was to the village of Chinchon, located just south of Madrid, set in an arid, rocky landscape, covered with olive groves and red poppies. The three-story central plaza, lined by balconies, dates back to the 15th and 16th century. The town itself is even older. Because the plaza is so typical in the traditional sense, it is often used to film movies. It’s home to a wine and anis festival in the spring and a garlic festival in October. On occasion, when bullfights are held, they close off the plaza and use it as a bullfighting ring.

We walked down the narrow streets, lined by old white buildings and dark, ancient balconies. We saw a pastry chef working on his creations through a large window. Most bakeries advertised leche frita, or fried milk, a special type of sweet treat. There were several hotels, though being Sunday, most of the shops were closed. Our friend said the main industries are the production of alcohol (anis, wine and lemon liquor) and garlic. Chinchon garlic supplies all of Spain. There is also a lot of unemployment, so villages like Chinchon appreciate the weekend visitors from Madrid.

Just as we reached the bottom of the downhill road and entered the central plaza to admire the view, we saw a police officer, and then a motorcycle. Then another, and another, and another. A whole line of motorcycles filed into the medieval central plaza, one following the next. The sounds of their engines filled the air. I was expecting something along the lines of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Were they going to do wheelies in the plaza, jump off their bikes and do a dance?

They just filled the plaza with their bikes, got off, appeared to enjoy the attention and the photo-taking by the spectators, strolled around a bit and went into the bars lining the plaza, then continued on their way about a half hour later. We sat at an outdoor table, enjoying a drink and the scenery.

We also discovered the ethnological museum, which was open on Sundays and was very well done, though it could have used a tour guide. “This made me somehow nostalgic,” our friend David said, upon seeing the objects he remembered his parents and grandparents using.

As it was our friend’s birthday today, everyone gathered at a restaurant for lunch. They seated us at a long table under the trees and lined up bottles of wine and water. The grandparents ordered a variety of appetizers to share – sausage, croquetas, beans, salads, empanadas. The bread was served warm and was the lightest, airiest, most delicious bread I’ve had so far in Spain. This particular place, Arboleda (Avda. De Aragon 361, 28022 Madrid; Nacional 2 Salida 11, Puente de San Fernando, Tel: 91 747 46 31), is known for pork chuletas, so almost everyone ordered that, though I took sea bass. This was followed by flan with cream or ice cream and tea. A leisurely 3.5 hour meal, during which the family relaxed and chatted, the favorite uncle taught the toddlers to throw food and to throw sand, and no one commented. The birthday girl was regaled with gifts of beautiful clothing, an adult with a recent birthday was given a remote control helicopter, and the children were given gifts just because they are children and the grandparents give them gifts almost daily.

It’s hard work to spend so much time eating, so we came home to rest for the remainder of the evening.

I haven’t been this unstressed for quite a while – no deadlines, not much to think about, not a whole lot of reason to check email or to spend much time online. Life is good in Espana and I’m relearning how to accept and enjoy some down time. In just a little while, we’ll begin a four day bike trip in what will likely be intense heat. Then I’ll be back to trying to achieve a goal – but while enjoying plenty of Spanish-style rest stops.

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