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It's been ten years since last I was in Spain. That time I was passing through quickly on my way to Africa. I have hazy memories of wide open spaces, one grand building, and the small hostel my friend Eliza and I stayed at in Madrid. Oh, and I remember the overnight train rides.
It's evening when I begin my trip from the Philadelphia airport to Madrid. I'm excited and nervous. I don't like take offs and landings so I'm trying to keep my mind occupied before we leave. I think of food, which always calms me. I imagine making my favorite Swedish lemon cake. I take myself through each step of the process, beating each egg by hand. We're off and before I even realize it the sun is setting and coloring the picture on the television screen in front of me.

Madrid is dry and hot when I arrive with rain predicted later in the day. I'm staying in an apartment right off of Calle de Cava Baja, one of the best known restaurant streets in the city. In the evening when I lean out of my window I see throngs of people starting their nightly tapeo.

Calle Cava Baja during the day

Across from my bedroom window is a bright yellow building with blue shutters (the Swedish flag!, I think). In the morning the yellow of the building will reflect the sun and wake me, tonight it's a luminous reminder of Madrid and Spain, where buildings and people seem more brightly colored. I think of my aunt in India who can't understand the Western penchant for black clothing. She would love the red and yellow buildings and brightly colored scarves and shoes of the Spanish women. Even the men seem more daring, a bit more bohemian than their northern neighbors.

I sit down on the couch and start to read a magazine on Spanish food that a traveler has left behind. There are descriptions of anchovies and red onions and patatas bravas (my favorite!) and Spanish red wine. How can I resist?

I walk directly across the street to see what they have; reluctant to step too far from my apartment and not be able to find my way back in my jet-lagged state, but equally unwilling to try too many restaurants before my friend Emily arrives. This restaurant serves small pieces of sausage and cheese with my glass of wine. I have read that this is how tapas started—as a way to keep people from getting intoxicated while standing at the bar. The sausage is dry and sharp and salty. Unexpectedly it is delicious with the Rioja I am sampling. The cheese is a typical manchego cured in oil. It's slick and soft. I speak only a slight bit of Spanish but the Rioja has made me brave and I ask my server what she likes best about Madrid. "Su gente," she says. It's people.

The next day my friend Emily arrives bearing the Guide Routard as a gift. We're comparing guide books and intent on visiting not just the revered sights of Madrid (the Reina Sofia, the Thyssen, and of course the Prado) but also the small alleyways. And the food, I say, the food is the culture.

After walking through the Paseo del Arte and the Passeo del Prado and taking a small circuit through the Lavapies neighborhood, both of us thoroughly impressed by the greenery in Madrid and its walkability, we are ready for food.

We stop at a small terrace near the art area but just far enough away, we think, to be cheaper. We are greeted by a languid waitress who initially forgets our order. The food finally comes; small toasts with various toppings and a side tomato salad. I am not impressed. That is, until I sample the first tomato. Ooooh the olive oil, I squeal. Our food journey through Madrid has started.

Views: 321

Comment by Doris M on August 30, 2007 at 4:40pm
Lotta, this is so beautifully written and your photos are great. I love your way of viewing the world - and the Spanish food!!
Comment by Lotta Rao on August 30, 2007 at 6:50pm
Wow, Doris. Thank you! Such a compliment especially considering your beautiful pictures and blogs. I really enjoyed reading your posts on Alsace.
Comment by Marlene Hench on August 31, 2007 at 2:44am
Lotta, what a nice blog. You are making me hungry! I love your style of writing. You just must write more!
Comment by Bill Kover on August 31, 2007 at 5:25am
You paint pictures in my mind with your beautiful writing.
Comment by Marilee Taussig on August 31, 2007 at 8:17am
May I say that the length, and inclusion of pictures is JUST right! Kind of a tapas size blog post. (not to mention the delectable writing and subject matter.)

I think I always write too much. I am trying to learn to write and the divide up into bite-size portions for blog posting.
Comment by Sue Ann on August 31, 2007 at 2:03pm
Wonderful description, Lotta, as always! It makes me want to learn Spanish and throw away my black clothes. (Well, maybe I won't go that far, but you get my meaning). :) As always, food writing makes me hungry and long for lazy days and good conversation.
Comment by Lotta Rao on August 31, 2007 at 2:25pm
Thanks so much for all the comments. This is my first time blogging--how lucky that it's to such a nice crowd! I'll be posting more next week at some point.
Comment by Hal Taussig on August 31, 2007 at 3:17pm
I am pleased to be able to tell folks at Untours Cafe what I have told you personally, Lotta. I am proud to have you on our team--the newest member of that team, as a matter of fact. As I told you I am proud to have someone with such a rich cultural background, someone whose father was born and raised in India, whose mother is Swedish, who was herself raised in Denmark, and who has lived in France, Germany and the U.S. Wow! Just writing all of that makes me breathless. And now I discover that you are also an excellent writer.

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