Thursday, April 5, 2018

Apologies, Elderly Cows, and Bar Tabs

As I mentioned in a previous post, my DNA test shows my ancestry is less than one percent Spanish.  Somehow, the people here in León seem to sense this.

A few days ago, I was at one of my favorite tapas bars, Jamón Jamón (Ham Ham), enjoying an excellent glass of local red wine and a crusty white bread topped with an amazing Spanish ham, chorizo, and manchego cheese.  Holy week was not yet over and crowds were everywhere.  Inside the bar, people stood shoulder to shoulder.  I elected to move outside where there was a shelf against the window for patrons to place their drinks and plates of food.  Usually the space around the shelf is also crowded, but today I found myself alone in the outdoor space, with people rushing through the streets around me.

Jamón Jamón serves only one thing for tapas:  crusty bread with Spanish ham, chorizo, and manchego cheese.  (You can click on photographs in this blog for a larger view.  Use the "esc" or "escape" key to exit to a normal view.

For €1.30 ($1.60) you can have a glass of wine and tapas.

It was not long before I heard a commotion and looked around to see a young husband and wife with two small, extremely unruly children pushing my way.  It seemed that the husband's sworn duty was to be totally oblivious to everything going on around him, while the wife grabbed at the children's shirt collars and flailing arms, screaming, "No! Juan Pablo, no!  Javier! No!

Jamón Jamón is a popular destination on the tapas circuit in León.

In a split second, I placed my glass of wine on the shelf and braced myself for the inevitable impact. Sure enough, despite my attempt to move out of the way, the wife, who was bent over trying to control the children, backed into me.  She rapidly turned and looked up at me in horror.  The apology immediately followed, "Sorry!  Sorry!," she said with true remorse.

"No te preocupes. Estoy bien,"  ("Don't worry. I'm fine,") I immediately said as she turned again, crying, "Juan Pablo. Javier!  No!"  The father was looking around with his hands behind his back as if he were waiting for a bus.

Instantly, I was aware that something was wrong.  What had I done?  I hadn't uttered a word before she slammed into me.  Why had she apologized to me in English?  When I wasn't looking had someone secretly stenciled my forehead with text that said, "American. Please speak English!?"

I've had similar incidents happen to me at other times during my travels.  I've been over much of the world, and in some places, I'm obviously a tourist and elicit communication in English, or sometimes in sign language. But here, I thought, if I don't speak with my American accent, surely I will blend in.  Whatever the case, I decided not to dwell on it, and to put it aside so that I could enjoy the last couple of days of Holy Week.

I missed being with my family and friends back in Illinois on Easter Sunday.  I knew that they had enjoyed a wonderful Easter dinner with many traditional dishes, including my favorite: lamb.

On the Tuesday following Easter, my mother-in-law's cousin, Tomasina, invited my mother-in-law, María Rosa; my niece, Sofía with her fiancé, Ronnie; and me to a late lunch. (Lunches in Spain are always very late.)  We entered a very nice restaurant and were soon seated at a table next to a window.

After a few minutes, a waiter appeared and started placing menus in front of us.  I was last. "And a menu in English, for you, sir," he intoned.

I was stunned. How had he known?  I didn't say anything, but looked at him suspiciously.

Seconds later we were talking about other things and I let it slide.  But I must say that the menu in English was a mixed blessing.  Not only did I not know what everything was on the Spanish menu, I had trouble with the English menu, also.  We decided on roasted vegetables and morcilla (a Spanish blood sausage that is delicious, despite what it sounds like)  for a first course.  Then I started looking at the main courses.  After fish were the meats, with beef first on the list.

It was when I got to the third offering that I knew I wouldn't be having beef that afternoon.  "Carne roja de añojo deshuesada..."  The English translation was: "Deboned red meat from elderly cows..."

A picture formed in my head. I could see ancient and decrepit bovines tottering around a pasture waiting to die; the moment they dropped, someone would cart them off to be deboned and placed on a table before us. After getting the image out of my mind, I continued down the menu until I found the leg of lamb. That was my choice, and an excellent one, at that.  It wasn't a substitute for lamb at home, but it made things better.

A leg of lamb with potatoes, a roasted pepper, and salad.  It was far better than eating elderly cows.

A couple of days later, my mother-in-law and I stopped at one of the nearby restaurant/bars for a drink and tapas before lunch, as we often do. (Remember that lunch is late in the afternoon; it's not like we start pounding down drinks at 9 a.m.)  When we were ready to leave, I stepped up to the bar to pay.  The bar tender held up three fingers.  "Three Euros," he said in a heavy Spanish accent.

I sort of see myself as Indiana Jones describes his friend and colleague, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot,) in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)The Nazis realize that Brody has the journal page revealing the location of the Holy Grail.  Jones defiantly explains why the bad guys will never catch Brody.

 In truth, I think my case lies somewhere between the first and second scenes of the clip.

I keep looking in the mirror to see if something has been stenciled on my forehead, but so far, I haven't found it.

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