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The Night of the Octopus
So what didn't we like about Spain? Two things. The first was cigarette smoke. Between trips to the Continent, I tend to forget about the way Europeans smoke.
The situation, I am happy to report, is improving. You cannot smoke on the Metro or on buses, and after February 2005 you will not be able to smoke on trains.
Fancy restaurants are not too bad, because people don't smoke so much when they are eating. But cafes and tapas bars are hopeless. Since the weather was fine, we coped by sitting outside wherever possible, carefully checking the wind direction before we chose our seats.
The other thing we didn't like was, surprize, tapas. Oh, we had some we liked. But on the whole we found the tapas thing a bit of a tourist trap.
Much of the food is fried and salty. But the great danger is the quantity, especially if you don't speak much Spanish.
After we got back, Craig was talking to a friend who spent quite a bit of time in Spain. Concurring on the subject of tapas, the friend said, "If you're not careful you can end up with a big plate octopus."
Funny he should say that. It's exactly what happened to me.
I only wanted a little taste of the gambas, but the waiter insisted that another dish (where the tapas were displayed) was excellent, not be missed. It looked like some kind of seafood salad from where I sat, at the other end of the bar and on the other side of a dense cloud of cigarette smoke. So I said okay.
A few minutes later he put a heaping dinner plate of octopus in front of me. He had heated it up for me, so I didn't make him take it back. Craig wouldn't help.
It was tasty and obviously very fresh. But it was also very salty. Mainly, it was too much. I could barely dent it.
What's the matter with it? cried the barman, upset at seeing so much left on the plate. Don't you like it? This in Spanish. I saw my waiter slink into the kitchen.
Muy bueno, I assured him, es mucho. Demasiado.
Por que? he insisted. Why don't you eat it? It's a waste. It's mucho dinero ($15 euros!), like it was his problem.
I wanted to say por que es esto un plato suficiente para cuatros personas, but I was in my guest-in-a-foreign-country mode, so I simply said es mi error.
He offered us free drinks of some ghastly sweet liqueur and wanted to shake hands. Fine. But that was it for me with tapas for a while.
NOVEMBER 2004: SPAIN
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