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La Viña Loca II:
Me Llaman 'el Buscador'

date 2000

Twas on the Monday morning that the loony came to call,
He wants to live in Cádiz, have we owt that’s cheap and small?

There’s an inmobiliaria on San Francisco, just down the road from the hotel. Four-bedroom apartments were advertised in the window for as little as ten million pesetas which is around forty thousand pounds. There were unfurnished apartments of similar size for under three hundred pounds a month. There was a one-bedroom attic with roof terrace for under ten grand — already sold. Compare that to London prices and weep yourself senseless.
The charming estate agent said she had no furnished properties to rent and thought it unlikely that anybody else would either, except for the months of July to September, when wealthy Madrillenos come here to get away from the forty-five degree heat of Madrid and Gaditanos go to Iceland to get away from the thirty-five degree heat of Cádiz and rents shoot up accordingly. She gave me her card and advised me to get in touch regularly: I assume this was to see what properties might come in, rather than some Spanish courtship ritual.
Well the plan was to be here, barring romantic miracles which don’t happen outside Hollywood movies, a lot more than three stifling months and particularly for Carnaval 2001 and that isn't until next February. Much more will be said on this event but for now suffice it to say that Gaditanos reckon that the people of Rio don’t know how to party. A guy who’s been to both told me that Cádiz is certainly different. “The trouble is,” he added, “that an outsider can get the feeling that six million people are sharing a brilliant joke and they aren’t letting you in on it.” Well, I’ve felt that about life for the last forty-odd years, so I can probably cope.
As has already been explained, at this point I lacked all conviction about wanting to be here at all, so the dispiriting prognosis was quite welcome. My first avowed intent had been to go unfurnished but that was conveniently forgotten as I walked down the road thinking, “Oh, what a shame, I’ll just try a few more then give up.”
And indeed, a few more said much the same thing, though none seemed so keen to keep in touch. But by the time my aching feet got me round to Women’s Hospital Street (Calle Hospital de Mujeres) the idea was forming that perhaps I should bite the bullet after all (not my favourite tapas, your actual bullet, but a change from calamares) and look at unfurnished apartamentos. At least that meant my time could be occupied looking at furniture shops and pricing beds and tourist-skin hearth rugs before revisiting all the bloody estate agents and then giving up.
But then, in the window of Paco Benitez’ little office, was what looked like an interesting and affordable furnished 3-bedroom place off the Plaza Mina (a very pleasant square in a nice area).
Curse my incomplete education and complete myopia. Only the kitchen was furnished. Once again, but with slightly less dishonesty this time, I put on my disappointed face and rose to leave (that is: I rose to leave, having put on my disappointed face. I did not put on a disappointed rose, though it is a rather poignant image, you must agree). But Sr. Benitez’ associate, Mercedes Rodriguez, who compensated for speaking clearer Spanish than most Gaditanos by speaking it at an even more incredible speed, probably told me to wait while she went into the back office. She then asked Paco if what sounded like Lavinia’s place was still available and he said he’d ring the owners to see. “Could you come back after siesta — after six pm? Well, not too soon after six pm …” Not really knowing what was going on, I went and sat on the beach for five hours of bikini inspection.
La Viña rang loud bells but it wasn’t a street on the handy tourist map. At seven thirty, when they said it was available, had two bedrooms and came fully furnished for 50,000ptas (£200) a month , I asked nervously what the street was again and could she spend more than a picosecond saying it this time? Might it be in the new part of town or over in San Fernando (fill in your own “last train” jokes, readers of more advanced years). She didn’t answer but gestured to me to follow her.
As we went down the street, to the sound of Mercedes’ turbo-charged chatter, on foot and further into the old town, my fears were allayed. I managed to understand that the flat was on the top floor, wherever else it might be. And there was the added advantage for me, she thought, of a student living in the flat below who was either English or American.
Oh no. I wanted to avoid Limeys, to mix only with Spaniards, to learn the lingo, to go pretentiously native. But at that stage, I hadn’t seen those swimming pool eyes …

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