Saturday, 23 February 2008

A Bar for Every Body

Okay, people. I don´t ordinarily hang around in bars, but in Spain bars are different. 

There are several different kinds of bars, sometimes all on the same plaza in the same tiny town. 

One will be the quiet bar, where the ladies meet on Wednesday evenings to play cards and drink chocolate milk, or the men gather for vermouths after Mass on Sunday afternoon. These places often have decent quality booze, even a few imported exotics like Campari or Bourbon or gin. There´s usually a TV up in the corner, but it´s turned down, and tuned to a Formula 1 race or the Tour de France... something involving people and machines going around and around or up and down a track or field of some kind.  The tapas -- free bar snacks you get with every drink -- are usually generous and fresh and very nice. In Sahagún Bar Luis is one of these ´classy´places. Josefina, our ghastly Middle Class landlady is often seen there. 

There´s the lowdown working-class Manly Men kind of bar. Bar Europa, in the same building where we live in Sahagún, fits into this class. When we leave early each morning for Moratinos there are usually several contractors´trucks and vans parked out there. The grill makes the block redolent of bacon and eggs. Inside the well-lit flourescent interior a line of men sit hunched over the bar, sipping their morning brandies or cafe con leches, smoking, scanning the newspapers, or shouting at one another about whatever Spanish builders shout about. Aside from the barmaid I have never seen a woman in there. 

One door down, however, is the Temple Irish Pub, another world entirely. This is, for the most part, a Family Bar. It´s here, later in the day, we down a pint of Guinness or Murphy´s and watch a pay-per-view football match on a big screen. There are almost always several small children chasing each other from table to table, whining, or running toy cars up the barstools and across the patron´s backsides. No one seems to mind, and the children do not seem to suffer unduly. Their parents buy them juice or chips.  Patrick and I were in there on Fat Tuesday, when all the kiddies dress up in costumes -- a sort of Spanish trick-or-treat night. We sipped our lagers while Superman and Skeletor tickled one another senseless over at the end of the bar, under the big neon sign that says "Guinness Is Good For You." 

(I don´t think that is unhealthy, except for the fact that there are no trash bins in Spanish bars. The patrons throw their cigarette butts, napkins, and toothpicks on the floor, and the barkeep sweeps them against the bar rail through the day... by sundown you don´t wanna be wearing sandals in there.) 

In Sahagún we also have the Bar Deportivo, a wonderful old-fashioned "Old Man" bar.  It´s presided-over by Javier, a jolly fat man, who has not changed the décor since about 1968... mirrored walls, beige Naugahyde upholstery on silver-tone Space Age chairs (with only a few spots of duct tape now and then, where someone´s cigarette got out of hand.) This is THE place to go to watch Barcelona football matches, or bullfights broadcast live from Seville or Madrid. They make their own vermouth there,  and Javi´s wife makes excellent tapas. Twice a week there´s a fresh floral arrangement on the bar -- Javi´s daughter owns the flower shop down the street. (I have reason to believe Javi is also a bookie, but I´m not saying for sure.) Paddy and I like the Deportivo, but it tends to get very smoky, and sometimes I think they frown on women in there, especially when a game is going badly and the men really want to cut loose and swear. 

(The Deportivo is around the corner from the big church of St. Lawrence, headquarters of the big Semana Santa Confraternity of the Precious Blood. Last Easter Sunday we stepped inside and found the place full of black hooded figures, sipping vermouth before the big procession started. Surreal. Then I recognized Leandro, our plumber, and Esther, one of our neighbors, among the penitentes. Now I think it might be kinda cool to be a penitente. I shall put that on my list of things to do.)  

Alcohol is not limited to bars in Spain. You can also get a drink at any given cafeteria, club, restaurant, truck stop, snack bar, roadside vending machine, or hotel lobby. It´s just part of the scene around here. No big deal. (I am still trying to divine the differences between Cafes, Cafeterias, Bars, Restaurants, and Ventas. Some have dining rooms, some serve breakfast, some sandwiches or tapas only, others just a limited daily menu... some just have drinks, and never bothered taking down the old sign that says "Food." Someday I will understand it all.)

...I don´t know what the stats say about alcoholism in Spain, but at least in my experience, visible drunkenness is quite rare.  You get the occasional happy shouting joker in the street at 2 a.m., and the red-faced dancin´fool at the disco bar or the fiesta, but never have I seen anyone passed-out on a sidewalk or taking a swing at his buddies. It just ain´t done. 

The two daytime ubiquities in this part of Spain are the Caña, a small glass of draft beer, and the Tinto, a glass of local wine.  They´re the standard, cheap fare in every bar every place, dispensed from unlabeled bottles or taps dripping with condensation. Both are usually very good, refreshing, and cheaper than water.  They´re Good For You.  Drink up.

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