Sunday 29 October 2006

Madrid Part 2

It was hot Saturday afternoon and, under the sun’s glare, the alcohol seeping through my sweat glands was bubbling on my skin. I could have flambéed a pancake on my forearms. Fortunately the terrace of our lunch spot was fully taken and we were forced to seek shelter indoors.

The glare of the waiter as we all traipsed in was as potent as the sun’s. By the end of lunch, though, he was laughing a little and taking pleasure in mimicking Sophia’s Portuguese pronunciation of six and my Argentinean pronunciation of vanilla.

Back out in the square, Javier informed us of an occasion when a hotel on one side of it had a certain room curtain left open in the early evening so that all could see in. It would, however, be inappropriate for me to repeat the details of the allegation.

OJ and Thomas went on a recce mission to see if the said hotel - now fully refurbished - had a roof terrace on which to enjoy a siesta. Thomas came back first and informed us it opened at 9pm. A few minutes later OJ reported that there were people on the terrace and so we headed up.

Greg made full use of the new white cushions to catch a nap, while Paul went to order some champagne. A lot later, 3 bottles arrived. And only a few minutes after we’d filled our glasses and taken the obligatory photos, the bar manager told us to leave and go back downstairs because the terrace was closed. Roland was quick to point out that we’d enjoyed the best part of the afternoon up there and the sun was starting to dip.

So we continued to drink champagne in the bar downstairs. Then caipirinhas. Then around 9pm we headed to another little tapas place for a couple of beers and some pre-dinner ham and cheese. I got to learn a little more about the business activities of my future classmates. Ivica is an equipment manager for the Croatian U19s women’s football team, specialising in balls. Thomas is an undertaker. Jonathan, in fact, is a vicar from Orkney, preaching in Ireland; or was it Irish vicar on a mission in Orkney? Paul, meanwhile, is an air steward for a defunct airline. So it was that I, a fashion photographer for plus-size catalogues, was now feeling at ease amidst this company.

Our dinner appointment was set at 10.30pm, nice and early to give us time to enjoy the nightlife later. Javier had once again pulled strings to obtain a booking for 21 at a restaurant that is such good value and good quality that reservations are not taken. You simply have to turn up and queue.

Finally, sitting down to dinner together, at three tables, I knew to expect a good, intellectual debate about pertinent economic issues. And so it was. Jorge, a madrileno who works in Zurich, joined the group now at this happy hour and was clearly drawn-in by Greg’s instincts for online enterprise. His ideas on interactivity and the use of avatars is surely ground-breaking. For some, it might even make the earth move.

So then, back up to the roof terrace to drink mojitos and watch the clocks go back an hour at 3am. Then, as it was starting to freshen up a little, we set off to a basement bar led by Jorge, where Thomas demonstrated his negotiating skills to get us in without queuing. Well, to be precise, some went back to the hotel, others to the bar and the rest remained with OJ’s compatriots.

The basement was packed full of young revellers plus the man with the widest grin in the world flinging his arms manically on the stage. It was some feat of engineering, surely, that kept his limbs attached to his meagre body as he flailed wildly. Still, nice to see young people turned out immaculately in a suit and tie of an evening. Perhaps he was connected with the man from Brazil that Paul had once met.

A Heineken later, it was time to savour a more upmarket place and so we waddled off to the Palacio Gaviria. Thank you to Ming Teck for supplying the photo with the name so that at least I know the name of one of the places we visited during the weekend. Well, some more dancing and a couple of drinks later, it was time to head back to the hotel. Another 7am finish.

I felt fine when I got up at 11am, joining Ivica and Thomas for coffee downstairs. After checking out, we then joined Javier, Alison, Bianca, Jonathan and, later, Ming Teck and Paul in the Parque Retiro for a drink of water in the shade. This is a really fun park, with lots of activity: puppet shows for kids; shiatsu specialists; rowing boats on the little lake and cafés offering drinks at reasonable prices.

After the rest had gone, Ivica, Ming Teck and I went to find lunch. A veritable feast of ham, cheese, salad, tomato bread etc and a couple of bottles of wine. With just enough time, we grabbed a taxi to the hotel, picked up our stuff and headed on to the airport to catch our flights to different European destinations.