Thursday, January 6, 2011

'Ears to Spain

Our last evening together after 13 wonderful days in Spain will be the most memorable. “The ear incident” will go down in history as one of our most bonding moments.

Throughout our trip, this man child of mine, 22 years old now, impressed me with his sense of adventure, flexibility, tolerance and open mindedness. It surprises me to write any of these adjectives in describing my son, as a few years ago these words probably would not have been on my list to describe Andy. He has been away at college for almost four years now. While he usually stayed with me during holiday and summer breaks, like most kids (or men? Or what term do you use?) his age, our together time was often a meal or trip to the store together, squeezed between our mutually separate social engagements with friends. Since I have been living in the United Arab Emerites for the last six months our contact has gotten even sparser. Coordinating a call by Skype or check in by email requires intentional action on both of our parts, and frankly, life, and a twelve hour difference in time zone plus difference in the days each of our resident countries considers weekends, tends to make communication less spontaneous or frequent. So I was delighted to experience, over a prolonged period of close interaction, the man he is becoming.

Our days together in Spain were a wonderful chance to reconnect. The start was slightly off balance as Andy, fresh out of finals at college, fell asleep during his connection time in Philadelphia and missed his connecting flight. But once there, he dusted off his elementary school Spanish lessons, opened up those not recently used mental files from his World history and humanities classes, dug into his dusty knowledge of ethnic cuisine and showed me what a well rounded, interesting human being he is. We stood side by side rubbing our chins in front of great masterpieces by French and Spanish Impressionist artists. Muttered under the radar “they call this art?” standing in front of huge canvases with a dot or stripe that passed for great “modern art.” We shuffled through huge cathedrals, looking up at the spires and frescos and collectively gasped in awe. We strolled through parks, taking in incredible building architecture and turned together towards statues and street lamps and remarked how impressive it all was. We hopped on trains, he helping his mother lift luggage to upper racks. I watched with pride as he offered his strong back to other ladies on the train travelling alone to help them lift their luggage as well. The locals appreciated his awkward attempts at Spanish. He told of the interesting people he had talked to in the airports and in the bars he went out to a few evenings without his mother, until he got all his money stolen in Barcelona by a pick pocket at night and decided staying in was maybe better for now. He was tolerant (but maybe not gracious) about my snoring which can be problematic for a light sleeper like him, especially when sharing a hotel room or small apartment flat. I was sleeping lightly too (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree) especially because I was trying not to disturb him, but I guess when I did fall asleep it wasn’t quietly!

Our last few days in Madrid I was feeling the dread of saying goodbye looming ahead. We also were running low on cash. You already know what happened to Andy’s. And I had lost my ATM card in Seville. We found that Andy’s ATM card was not forwarned of his trip to Spain and so was not forthcoming at the machines. I gave up trying to get hold of an international operator as it seemed impossible to get any operator that would try to understand my poor Spanish or pretend to speak English to get me the help we needed to call the bank collect. So we counted our Euros, used Visa as much as possible and stressed a little on that front rather than having our thoughts around the pending separation.

After checking out of our Madrid flat and spending several hours at the Rene Sofia Museum of Modern Art, we used our squandered Euros to catch a bus to the airport and another bus to the hotel in Barajas, a short ride from the airport. Because of the cash shortage I had not been able to buy the ham and other pork products I wanted to bring back to the UAE so we found the local supermarket with a “We take Visa” sign in the window and filled our basket with the hams and sausages, Spanish sweets for Andy to take home, and snack items for me to send him with on the plane, because despite the years and independence, he is still my little boy and I want him to have food with him when he travels. When we got to the counter at the grocery store the checker ran the Visa card “Ee sais declinnnneded.” I had just used the card at the hotel so know it was working just fine. But she tried again. No luck. Andy stayed with the stuff while I ran back to the hotel to get my back up Visa card. Alas it was also “ee sais declinnneded” as well. Nothing to make you feel like an irresponsible adult than that message….even when you know it is not your doing. At this point Andy was hungry and we were still hours from being able to show up at a respectable hour at a Spanish restaurant (they eat out late like most of the world). We went to the hotel room and with quite a bit of further surfing on the internet and false starts I found a way to get an international operator who would call my credit card company. On the line with them she confirmed there was no problem with the card and deduced it was the store’s problem. So she helped me figure out my pin number for the Visa to get cash from the ATM (and a disgustingly high interest rate) and we got enough cash for the groceries and to pay for dinner out as well. After returning triumphantly from the store, with our regathered items, we headed out for dinner.

The tapas bar/taverna/restaurant was the same place I had gone the night I stayed in the same hotel when I had waited for Andy’s arrival two weeks earlier. It sits in the corner of the town square, just a block from the hotel. It is a place where the locals hang out, and the only English we hear spoken is our own. The waiters few words they know enables them to serve their occasional English speaking patrons. I was happy to see that the Christmas decorations I had seen on my first visit were still there, now, a few days after Christmas, as I had told Andy about the cute little Santa’s hats they had on assorted booze bottles on the shelves behind the bar.

This was our last evening together and we decided, especially with cash now in hand, that we should share good food together and drink as much as we needed to get through one last loud snoring night together. The waiter had brought a nice plate of delicious bright green olives to go along with our first beers. I love that in most taverns in Spain the waiter will provide a small dish of something extra. “Complimentario” they say, as they place a dish of olives, or cheese croquettes, or creamy garlicy boiled potatoes in front of you. Andy and I started through the menu. We decided to go one dish at a time, in order to string out the evening and give us more chance to visit and drink together for our last supper.

First we shared lightly breaded and fried wild mushrooms with a camembert cream on the side. “Champinones” con crema camembert. That one wasn’t too hard. Then a salad of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Maybe not the best season to order it but it’s something Andy and I often made at home so it was good to eat that together. On our third glass of beer now and contemplating the main course, where our Spanish is really struggling, another waiter nearby looks at us, sweeps in and takes our Spanish menu and gives us one that has been translated into English. We thought that would take the fun out of it, but then start to read through and laugh at the mistakes in the translation. They have consistently typed “wiht” for with. There are tenderloins of kangaroo. Really? There are “baby somethings” and other miscellaneous misspellings and descriptions that even in English make no sense. In the main courses list we find “griddled ear” and laugh about what must have been lost in the translation there. It’s probably rabbit (hare) or boar, either of which we are game to try. When I ask the waiter about it he says “ah yes, griddled ‘air (rhymes with hare). Very good.” And so we place an order for one.

Soon he arrives with our fourth beers and a plate piled high of what looks and smells like chunks of fried pork with a cut fresh lemon on the side.

Andy pops a bite into his mouth. “Hot” he muffles out. Then he starts to chew. “Weird. Fatty. Crunchy.” He gets a funny look on his face and takes his fork to the platter and starts poking around. I’ve also popped a piece into my mouth. It is indeed fatty and crunchy. Though tasty. Good pork tasty. But as I am chewing it dawns on me what I have done. Upon close inspection we see that it is indeed ears. Pigs ears. There are tips, and cross sections, and even the parts that swirl around where it goes into the head. I feel sick. We spit our mouthfuls into our napkins simultaneously. And chug on our beers. We are looking at each other. And then we laugh. A good falling off our chairs laugh. A sick, un unh we did not do that laugh.

But then we are contemplative. What do we do now? We have this huge pile of pig ear that we must get rid of. In retrospect I don’t understand why we felt this way, but at the time the mission was to get rid of it instead of leaving it untouched. I think we didn’t want to admit that we didn’t understand what we were doing. We did ask for “griddled ear” after all. And I’m sure it was very good griddled ear. For someone who eats ear. But not for us.

We both take our napkins (paper thank goodness) and scoop large quantities into them, leaving a respectably small layer of leftover bits swimming in the fat on the platter. But then what? I take the tail of the scarf I have wrapped around my neck and wrap it around my hand with the ball of ear bits enclosed. I excuse myself and walk through the restaurant, past the waiters who are hanging at the top of the stairs, down the stairs where thankfully there are no people waiting for the ladies. Outside the ladies room is a small wastebasket. I drop my ear bomb, go in wash up and return to the table.

Now it is Andy’s turn. He has no scarf or purse to hide his ear bomb in. The waiters are standing near the top of the stairs and so I am surprised when he stands up like he is going to head to the bathroom. Instead, he looks around; takes three steps over to the fireplace by my side; and stuffs the ear bomb into one of the stockings innocently hung from the mantle as decoration.

I am stunned.


“Oh no you didn’t” I say. Oh yes he did.

“Now we have to pay in cash.” And so we did. We wrapped up the evening with conversations about how we could not return to this restaurant and probably this town ever again. Whether he would run out and ditch me if we got caught (he assures me he would, the bastard). I nearly fall off the chair when he innocently makes the comment, after thinking about how we haven’t been very nice “we should leave a big tip.” That gets us going on a whole round of sayings about our trip. “We traveled the lobe together.” “Ears to us.” “We should have a glass of swine. White swine.” We are quite entertained with ourselves.

We have to order tiramisu and coffee. Must get the taste of pork ears out of our mouth. And then we have to call it a night. Our adventure is coming to an end. Planes to catch early in the morning. And we need to leave before we give ourselves away. You know. Just in case they do a stocking inspection or something.

1 comment:

KelleyM said...

LOVE IT!!!!! And I can so relate to the fun it is watching your boy become a viable - and even exceptional - human being. You've much to be proud of! It sounds like you had a great trip.