Complete instructions on how to travel through Spain staying well-fed and in love.
Take the 4 train to Prosperidad in the northeast part of the city. The apartment you rented won’t be ready. There will be dishes in the sink, towels on the bathroom floor and unmade beds. Notice how this place, with its cream tile, utilitarian faucet, and brass door handles is a bizarre hybrid of hotel and home. Your wife will ignore this. She’ll want you to go downstairs and tell the guy in the office “Hey, pendejo! Give us a clean room—one with a big bed.” Tell her “don’t worry. I’ll fix this,” and get the hell out of there.
When the room is clean your wife will relax a bit. Head out to the Chinese convenience store you passed on the way in. Buy two cans of Mahou, a package of Serrano ham, and a baguette. Split the loaf with a pocket knife on a bench in the neighborhood square next to the yellow playground, across from Jonny’s Liquor. Stack the slices of pork on top of each other. Take two bites off the sandwich and pass it over to your wife. Watch the crumbs sprinkle down the front of her shirt. Sip your beer and take the sandwich back from your wife.
Ask one of the fathers where the supermarket is. It’s been a long time since eleventh grade Spanish and his words will race right by you. Say “vale, vale, vale,” like you understand, but watch his hands. They will direct you down the street and to the left. Tell your wife you’ll meet her back at the apartment. Walk down the street in search of groceries, humoring yourself with half-crazed hunter/gatherer scenarios (“Gimmie that tortilla, mujer!”) followed by feelings of innate disconnect from Modern Society. Nod to the young-ish black guy selling zines outside the store. Head straight to the beer aisle. Avoid the cheap eggs. Stand around the seafood counter to see what type of gambas the other housewives are buying. Pick up a box of granola bars. When you get home, slip one into your wife’s purse when she isn’t looking. She could strangle a bear when her blood sugar is low.
Wake up at 10 AM. Fry four eggs in a ruined nonstick pan. Take yesterday’s half-loaf of bread out of the freezer and grill it in the frying pan. There will be a small table by the kitchen. Eat on the brown leather sofa in the living room. Watch Heidi, Girl of the Alps (A childhood program of hers), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (A childhood program of yours), and then whatever comes on after that. Eventually that sci-fi show will come on and you’ll say something like “let’s grab a coffee from that cafeteria on the corner.” Your wife will go to put her face on. Pick up the money she left for you on the table. As you walk out the door, the bathroom will smell of Jean Paul Gaultier. Realize that this scent will forever stick with you like a rerun.
The cafeteria will be occupied by either 4 or 6 customers, but the waiter will ignore you initially. Show him that you mean business. Step up to the counter and order a menu. Don’t open it. Leave it on the counter and demand two espressos. “Con leche y azúcar.” Sit down at a table by the window. As you wait for the espressos, talk about the similarities you notice between this cafeteria and ‘your’ café in Paris. “They drink beer in the mornings here too,” you’ll say, “but only while standing at the counter.” She will acknowledge this connection and say “remember our café in Vienna, how they served the coffee on a silver platter with a tiny glass of water?”
You will remember Vienna for another reason. It’s where you lifted that 26-year-old magazine, part of an exhibit at the —– Museum, stuffing it into your pocket when the curator’s back was turned. Later, at the pizzeria, she was dumbfounded when you pulled it out to get your wallet. “Did you…steal the exhibit?” She demanded that you return it, but ultimately you walked like two strangers on streets lined with baroque buildings, the city seeming too elegant for arguing. Do not mention this. Pull a napkin out of the dispenser and say “of course I remember. That silver platter was a nice touch.”
When the espressos arrive, talk about your plans of walking the streets without a map. “We can track our progress by subway maps to get a feel for the city,” you will say. “And check into a bar every so often for a cerveza,” she’ll say. Drain your espresso and walk back up to the counter. Ask for la cuenta and pay with the largest bill in your pocket. The waiter will slap down your change on the counter in a way that makes you feel ‘macho.’ Hold the door open for your wife and take the Metro to the city center and see what happens.
You will not be near a good-enough restaurant when your wife gets hungry. She might say “where the hell are we?” or “I’m freezing!” but she will not come right out and say “I’m hungry.” She will expect you to read her mind, because, after four years of marriage, you ought to know. Say “want to grab dinner?” and she will glare at you. This sudden onset of tension will rattle you. A tiny voice may rise up and say please her. Mention the granola bar you slipped into her purse, but it will be too late.
“I don’t want that shit,” she’ll say. Look for a restaurant, but do not find one right away. Notice that this feels contradictory: Yes, she is your wife, and yes, you are financially dependent on her; however, a stubborn, primitive urge will present itself and compel you to find The Perfect Restaurant.
Make a left off Gran Vía, away from the neon lights and fusion joints serving all-you-can-eat spaghetti and tapas. She will keep her silence for a while, but after finding yourself walking down a restaurant barren street, her blood sugar will get the best of her. Unlike Paris and Vienna – cities which are women – Madrid is a man. And men should know how to find a restaurant.
She will question your navigational capabilities, and soon the argument will escalate, encompass other issues. “You don’t work! The least you could do is plan a vacation!” The locals passing by will take great pleasure in this. When she resorts to name calling, restate your intentions. “I guess I’ll just make a restaurant appear out of thin air!” Consider the ambivalence of being attracted to her in this very moment.
You will spot the perfect restaurant on a one-way street overlooking a wooded square. Sit down at the last open table on the sidewalk. She will open the menu and say “ooh, albondigas,” and after ordering you will sit back in your chair and relax.
When the meatballs and chicken arrive, smile to the waiter and say “gracias.” Your wife will look beautiful under the streetlamp. Talk about Guernica, and that crazy-ass lady at Plaza de España, the one who danced up to the mariachi band and put on the guitarist’s sombrero.
“She was singing louder than they were,” she’ll say. You’ll want to profess your concerns: arguments like these might one day bring this beautiful journey to a screeching halt. But not now—not on vacation. Sop up some gravy with a piece of bread. After dinner, she will joke about how silly that argument had been. Repeat the names she called you, exhaling them pompously, as if they contained tremendous gravity. Listen to her laugh, and the way she slides her chair closer to yours, like young lovers do, is almost more than you can stand.