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La Viña Loca III:
Buscaba un Piso, y Entonces Encontré un Piso

August 26 2000

So there we were, just where you left us, walking through the narrow streets of old Cádiz, the soundtrack an unintelligible stream of Spanish from the charming Mercedes Rodriguez, estate agent and motormouth.
The Xenophobes Guide to the Spanish states that, when meeting an acquaintance in the street, Spanish etiquette awards many more brownie points for stopping and having a long chat than it deducts for making oneself late for an appointment. As the other person is probably doing likewise, to be on time one would only mean twiddling one’s thumbs at the rendezvous. Thus, when a passing woman said hello and began what seemed to be an exchange of recent (extended) family history, I wondered on what day we would reach the flat. I was introduced to Doña Marie but didn’t catch what as.
Fortunately both women were equally adept at speed talking and managed a download of information that would shame a 56k modem so we were soon on our way. Mercedes informed me that Marie had just been freshly painted and owned a property that had an Irishman in it every two weeks — or something like that.

Lubet and the sea from my roof
     click here for more By now we were in the barrio of La Viña. This corner of the near-island of Cádiz had once been given over to the cultivation of the fruitful grape, hence the name. As the population expanded it was inevitably developed but, the guidebook tells us, thanks to its proximity to the gale-tossed ocean and its distance from the new port (a walk of anything from twenty minutes to three weeks depending on how many encounters one has on the way), it was used for low-cost, working-class housing. Throughout the 18th Century it expanded towards the centre of town across what must have been very small fields. What is patently true is that it did so “whilst conserving its peculiar character”. While the houses are still generally low-rise, compared to the four and five storey “bourgeois palaces” of the 17th Century centre, the streets are considerably wider. But that’s enough travelogue, as Ed. would say.
In one of those deceptively spacious streets, Mercedes stopped outside a large metal door and rang a bell.
And we waited.
And rang the bell again.
And waited again.
Mercedes said something about the bar on the corner, whereupon, as if by magic, it disgorged a middle aged caballero, ruggedly handsome, his balding pate ringed with distinguished and well-groomed silver hair, the open neck of his shirt revealing more of the same sprouting manfully from his tanned and rugged chest (sorry about that, but he might read these things one day).
He was introduced as Don Ramón, the owner of the place. He let us in and led us up a flight of stairs and through an iron gate onto a balcony which surrounded the whitewashed courtyard. At the far corner of this was a door, through which we finally entered la casucha. There was a faint smell of paint and it finally dawned on me that the Marie we had met earlier was Mrs Ramón and the flat in which we now stood was the recipient of a paint job in the two weeks since the previous, Irish occupant had departed.

The place is small, fundamentally a rectangle of about three metres by twelve, divided into five rooms. The kitchen and bathroom cluster round the small entrance area, from which one enters the salon, which leads into the single bedroom, which leads into the master bedroom, which leads, via a window and a sudden plummet, into the looking the other way down Lubet
     click here for more street known as Pericon de Cádiz. Picking myself up and staggering back round the corner, while making a mental note to control my excitement, I returned to examine the contents of this fully furnished dream-home.
As well as the other necessary fittings, including bidet, the bathroom has a shower fitted over a bath in which a two year old child could stretch out in comfort. The kitchen has a fridge-freezer and a small area for cooking, preparing and washing up after food. There is a four-ring hob and a Junkers-Bosch boiler for hot water, both of which run off bottled gas (available from the bar downstairs) and enough room to swing half a cat.
The living room has a three-seater sofa, a dining table which can be extended to take up the whole space available and a useful and decorative wall unit which MFI would not be ashamed to sell in the UK. As well as the rather obvious beds, the dormitorios contained spacious wardrobes, bedside tables and one rather handy little desk, from which these scintillating pearls of wisdom are now sent out to an unsuspecting world. The wardrobes contained linen and towels and, though the single bedding was obviously intended for a teenage boy with a fondness for sport, at 50,000 Spanish Potatoes (£200) per month, it was quite tempting to go ahead.

When we returned to the agents it was still only 8pm and most of the shops were still open. Given the language barrier (I nearly said the sound barrier), there was some concern when it came to talking turkey and signing unintelligible documents. But exasperation is the mother of inspiration and Paco Benitez suddenly hit on the idea of writing everything down, reasoning that, given time and my trusty Collins Gem dictionary, I could make a good guess at what was going on. He was at least half right.
In this way he told me that the flat would be available for a ten month lease (to take it, no doubt, to the end of the financial year) and might be available for a further year after that. They would need one month’s rent as a deposit, the rent to the end of May in advance, a fee for arranging the contract and a wax impression of Florence Nightingale’s teeth (that reference thrown in for the benefit of any readers of similar age to the author). This meant about £500 would be required to start the ball rolling and no, they did not take tarjetas de créditos. I told them the dosh could be ready in three days with repeated visits to holes in walls but that I would have a yea or nay answer for them before Tuesday’s siesta, if they could let me see a copy of what would need signing. They wrote that this was fine but that if anybody else came along in the meantime with the dosh or a Spanish chequebook — very good price — so near the beach — popular time of year for flat hunting — if you ever want to see your teddy bear in one piece again, Señor … ah, estate agents. It’s nice to know that some things are the same the whole world over. No, that’s not fair. I never met an English estate agent that didn’t make me want to go and wash my hands in strong detergent straight afterwards but these two were really likeable — and they might read these articles one day before renewal time. Anyway, whenever I pass the office they wave and say Hola before disappearing indoors amid howls of laughter.

I announced my intention to return to the hotel that night and sleep on it. This was not strictly true. I returned, via La Viña, the beach and a bar or two; but far from sleeping on it, lay awake and agonised about it, aided and abetted by the copulating woman, the consumptive concierge and his nattering family. Anyone who has bought or rented property will recognise the problem. How often, when one moves in, is it a source of wonder that one could ever have overlooked the huge damp patch on the bedroom ceiling, the army firing range and all-night disco next door or the native American burial ground in the cellar …
I lay there agonising over what I might have let myself in for. It was no good telling myself that nothing could be done until tomorrow or that I had not committed myself to anything at this stage. I was on tenterhooks, as must you be, gentle reader, until the tale continues at some later date.

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