Monday, August 15, 2016

Keeping it Veal

My boyfriend and I recently returned to Spain for a couple weeks after a short first visit back in December. He’s got a work project developing over there and had a few business meetings. I was tagging along for the ride. I basically hadn’t given this trip any thought once the flights were booked. His Spanish colleague was booking our hotel. I didn’t even know where exactly in Spain we were going. The only details I had were: somewhere along the northwest coast in the region of Galicia. So naturally, I assumed we were headed to a small fishing village with a hotel, a café and a bar, and maybe a beach due to the close proximity of the ocean.

We ended up in a place called Cangas de Morrazo and it was considerably larger than the remote town I had envisioned. However, it was breathtakingly beautiful, sunny and hot. We were off to a good start. After checking in at the hotel and having the requisite nap after losing six hours on the way over from Canada, we decided to venture out for sustenance of the food and beverage kind. It was approximately 5:30 pm. We were hungry, thirsty, and although partially rested, I still felt like I had been run over by a truck due to jet lag. How hard could it be to find to find a restaurant?  

Lesson number one: the Spanish take what is called a “siesta” ranging anywhere between 1:30 pm and 5:30 pm. Some businesses close for the duration and others, such as restaurants, serve alcohol and light snacks but no food… not until about 9 pm or later. That’s right: don’t even think about dinner until around 9:30 pm, and even that’s on the early side. Tired and desperate, we finally found a patio and resigned ourselves to deriving much needed calories from beer. Luckily, they’re very generous with the snacks when you’re drinking so we feasted on olives, peanuts and roasted corn nibblies. Also, the beer was cold and delicious.

The Spanish, it seems, are generally on a later schedule. As a non-morning person, this suited me just fine, and I believe, also proves a theory I have that Spain is in the wrong time zone. They should be in the same zone as Great Britain and Portugal, and yet they’re an hour ahead. I believe an entire culture was built around this mistake. The sun rises and sets later, and dinner doesn’t usually wrap up until midnight. I would even venture, based on this map, that at least half of France is also in the wrong time zone.

While exploring a local tourist site with my boyfriend's Spanish colleague and his wife, I asked about the whole time zone thing, and it immediately sparked an animated discussion among a group of nearby visitors. Of course, they were all speaking Spanish so I didn’t understand a word but I could tell I’d caused some controversy, and my work here was done.

After a few days, a daily schedule was emerging: breakfast, beach, lunch at beach, chill time at hotel, dinner, bed. The biggest decision we had to make on any given day was which beach to go to since there were plenty to choose from. 

Yeah, this is a little bit of alright.

Of course, we had to limit our exposure to the Spanish summer sun for the first few days, having nearly translucent, white skin. I was somewhat troubled when, upon returning from our first beach venture and contemplating a shower, the boyfriend says to me: “Go wash the cancer off.” Even slathered in SPF 60 sunblock, returning from that first day on the beach, my skin was eerily red. In response to my boyfriend’s inquiry about the exact shade of crimson, I replied: “It’s not of emergency room proportions but it is aesthetically troubling.” However, with repeated daily exposure to harmful UV rays, my pasty white Canadian skin was browning like a finely basted Christmas turkey.  

Lesson number two: when ordering seafood in Galicia, be aware that you will get the whole enchilada, including the face. After a sojourn on yet another pristine beach, we stumbled onto an elegant restaurant, and as luck would have it, they had a patio. So, we plunked our sandy asses down and ordered some beer and food. When the waitress said “prawns”, I immediately thought: “Hey, that’s shrimp. I love shrimp. I’ll have shrimp.” So I ordered the shrimp. This is what I got: 

As you can see, that’s an entire animal: face, shell, spindly little legs. I was Anthony Bourdain-ing it in parts known to most, but not to me. I’m not (yet) a vegetarian or vegan but trying to eat something that still has little beady eyes staring at me is almost enough to turn me into a full-fledged herbivore. Below is the prawn refuse I generated once I'd extracted the edible meat. Well, edible according to me:

After a few days, we also noticed something was different about this place. Apart from the Shell gas station, there was no corporate presence whatsoever. No Golden Arches, no Forever 21, no forced homogeny of the masses. We were surrounded by small, local businesses and completely immersed in another culture. No double Quarter Pounder with cheese to soothe my homesickness; no retail therapy at whatever hipster-poser chain store is hot right now. I felt this lack of Western influence was also apparent in the people, who were very relaxed and comfortable with themselves. I saw plenty of bare boobs in two weeks, and I can honestly say not one of them was fake. These were real people on the beach, and bikinis weren’t just reserved for skinny model-types.

Lesson number three: there were only the two lessons mentioned above.

Apart from not speaking a word of Spanish, I felt at home here. The people were friendly and welcoming, and I knew we had truly begun integrating when the boyfriend turned to me one evening and said: “ Well, it’s bedtime, so it must be time for dinner.” We made it our mission to do as little as possible, every day. We went from sitting on our asses in our hotel room, to lying on our asses on the beach, to sitting on our asses on patios and in restaurants, moving as little as possible while slowly fattening up. We were keeping it veal.

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