Spain Love Fest.....
This is the last night of our trip. I am trying to not weep......but my liver and wallet need a long break. Eighteen Michelin stars in 20 days....plus a bunch of unsung hero restaurants and bars.
We are still completely puzzled why Spain.....or at least Basque country..... works so much better than the US. San Sebastian itself is a marvel. Packed full of boutiques, bars, restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, art galleries; the streets are mostly paved in marble, which is polished daily by little trucks with brushes. There are tons of little dogs, who are so well behaved they don´t use leashes....they sit outside the shops waiting patiently. They also poop wherever they feel like it....because the little truck will be by before long to sweep up.
The streets are full of little old ladies and men, grannies and moms pushing strollers, guys making deliveries, engineers, shopgirls. Haven´t seen many lawyers.....can only recall one office in all of San Sabby. And medicial care is free, so not so many doctors. Hmmmm. Oh, and housing is subsidized. Oh, and education is free.....even college. Oh, and the public transport is almost free. Oh, and there is a six hour work day: three hours from 10 to one, then three more from four or so till seven.
Still, it doesn´t look like Moscow on the Biscay. You have never seen so many fur coats in your life. Pamela Anderson can never come here.....she would lose it before she ever got to the foie gras that is served in every bar, along with the $125 per kilo ham. There are tons of people rich enough to support the eighteen Michelin stars within 10 km of downtown.....at $300-500 a pop for two with wine. There is a huge opera hall......art galleries everywhere. I don´t get it.
Picture Carmel having sex with Monterey and all the parking garages are underground. Throw in downtown Santa Cruz and Los Gatos......and multiply by two to get to 186,000 people. Oh, and two bums, no crackheads, no homeless......the worst housing is brand new apartment buildings by good architects.
Amanda cannot hang tough with the twice a day food thing, so usually at night I go out on my own and walk around and eat......and, well....drink a bit. "Just leave me the bottle, sonny and save yourself the work......."
Last night I was walking over to the Boys Bar, as we call it: La Cuchara de San Telmo. It is way back against the mountain at the end of the Parte Vieja....the old quarter. Well, the old quarter is only not quite 200 years old since the English burned the place to the ground in 1814....except for the only crappy alley where this bar is. On the way over I walked through one of the big squares near the alley.....no traffic allowed in most of the city, by the way...and heard singing. Across the way was a big group of folks gathered around a flute and a guitar. They were reading from sheet music handed out by the band, and sing Basque rebel songs and folksongs. Average age.......65 at least, even counting all the grandkids scattered in the group. This went on for an hour, with the group ever changing, and lots of smiles and hugs.
I can´t picture this happening in Carmel. First the arrest for the music and lack of permits and blocked traffic.....then no one would be uncool enough to stop, and there of course would be no grandkids out for a stroll at 8pm with Grannie and Gramps....that is what au pairs are for! Oh, and it was 1 degree above zero.
I went around the corner and ran into an ETA bake sale on a tiny little street. The folks running the sale: 50-60 year old women. I spent 50 bucks....keep the change, ladies.
The Boys Bar was packed as usual. Picture a place run by Brendan and a gnarlier buddy. If you don´t know Brendan.....picture a professional soccer player with a bad attitude. They like me, because I have a worse attitude, and have that Bushit t-shirt. It has a fifteen foot bar in a ten foot wide room with a tiny kitchen at the end. The Boys peer out at the crowd, and the beautiful fat bartender shouts out orders over the din. I had a plate of foie, a leg of confit of rabbit with prunes and figs and applesauce, a pepper stuffed with squid stuffed with onion, a duck breast, a plate of risotto, and some roasted part of something fourlegged and milk fed. And a bottle of new Rioja. Total cost: $25. And all the plates were presented with gorgeous new wave sauces, crisped spinach, purple crispy potatoes.....I left a $5 tip and they ran a big bell, cuz you are not expected to ever tip.
Then across the bridge to Aloña Berri.....the high end pintxos bar. I stopped in at the bakery.....it was only 10pm, so the place was still packed with grannies in fur drinking coffee from little china cups and eating tiny pastries. Picture Patisserie Boissiere on crack, filled up with every pensioner in Carmel. I got Amanda some fruit jellies made on the spot for 7 euros. Good dog, Mikey.
Aloña Berri makes the Boys Bar seem like the Cachagua Store compared to Manresa in Los Gatos. Everything is perfect.....and everyone is wearing furs. They drink from beautiful stemmed glasses. Here I had another stuffed squid; a spot prawn wrapped in filo with avocado oil; a complicated dish involving a cube of risotto, a sheet of isomalt, sprouts, a skewer of more squid over a shot glass of a cider escabeche; my favorite, a paper thin sheet of grilled mango bundled around cream and more foie; a millefois of pigeon and......foie; another kind of millefois with two kinds of roast peppers, sardine......and foie; a trial dish of theirs of the meat from the roasted ribs of milk fed lamb......I was kinda full, tiny glass of Cava with each of course. I asked the owner for a dessert to go for Amanda. He made me a plate of a little of each of their six desserts and wrapped it beautifully in foil......on a real plate: English china. Total cost $25.
On the walk home I was tripping on my night, a little overwhelmed. I noticed a plunk plunk noise that almost kept rhythm with my footsteps on the marble streets. I looked down.
It was my tears hitting the foil on Amanda´s plate of desserts.......