Marty’s photo of the day #3527: The following excerpt from my newly published sixth book, “Hits, Heathens, and Hippos: Stories from an Agent, Activist, and Adventurer,” takes place in Cangas de Onís, Spain:
Once we finished our excellent meal, the man from behind the bar walked over and introduced himself as Angel, one of the restaurant’s owners. He looked about thirty-five years old and had a round face that complemented his receding hairline. Having noticed the invisible “We are Americans” signs on our backs, he wanted to welcome us to Spain and find out what part of the United States we came from.
After several days of conversing only between ourselves, Deb and I relished the opportunity to speak with someone different. Angel spoke excellent English, a skill he had learned while visiting England and traveling as a professional kayaker.
Deb commented to Angel, “Once we got out of Madrid, we fell in love with Spain. It’s much different from what we expected.”
“We’re not like the big cities,” he said. “Everyone expects us to be all about ‘toro, toro,’ but that’s not us.”
Throughout the evening, Angel had been serving special drinks to his patrons. He’d hold an unlabeled three-quarter-liter bottle far above his head and pour the golden liquid so it just caught the edge of a tilted glass held below his waist. Each pour was enough for one drink, and each drink was swallowed in a single gulp. After serving a round, he’d leave the bottle on the table or the bar until summoned back for a refill.
“What are you pouring for everyone?” I asked.
“Sidra natural, a traditional Asturias drink made from fermented apples.”
Although the two of us had already consumed a bottle of Spanish wine and an after-dinner drink, we couldn’t resist a taste. “A glass for each of us, please,” I said.
Angel opened a bottle and performed a showy pour. After Deb and I each downed a glass, he ducked behind the bar, brought out an English translation of the book Asturias, flipped to the proper page, and handed it to me. “To pour the culines (cider glasses) requires great expertise, but all Asturians claim they are experts,” it said.
“Is there a reason for the tall pour?” I asked.
“Sidra natural is not a high-quality drink. The pour adds effervescence.”
I liked sidra natural. It had a refreshing, semi-sweet, sour apple taste with a bite. Even so, one pour was plenty. We had drunk more than enough alcohol for the night.
As our mostly full bottle sat in front of us, I looked around and noticed that all the other customers had finished their bottles. If we didn’t do the same, would it be offensive, like butter or ketchup? We couldn’t take the chance. When in Spain . . .
Next came the biggest surprise of the evening. Since I had already paid for our meal, the bill for the sidra natural came separately. How much do you think a bottle of the local special, complete with ten show-pours, would be worth? In some countries you might expect to pay twenty-five, perhaps even fifty euros. But here in Spain, the entire drink and show package cost only two euros ($2.36 U.S.).
I never get sloppy drunk, but I occasionally get happily intoxicated. When Deb and I left El Molin, we were both feeling extremely happy. Since it was almost eleven o’clock, we planned to head directly to our hotel. Then we noticed that most of the stores were still open for business. What could be more fun than inebriated late-night shopping with a nearly empty charge card?
We strolled down the main street and ended up in one of the town’s less-tacky gift stores. Shopping primarily for relatives, we picked up various items and soon found ourselves by the stuffed animal shelves.
“What about this for Fiona?” I asked, holding up a large stuffed bull.
“Great idea! She’ll love that,” Deb said.
“Wait! This one’s softer,” I said as I rubbed my cheek against the animal’s plush fabric.
The bulls were perfectly huggable—understuffed, as if a child had carried them around for years. I decided testing just two bulls wouldn’t be enough. With Deb laughing and the store clerk straining her neck to keep an eye on us, I applied the cheek test to every bull on the shelf. “This one’s very nice. Oh, this one’s even better. I wanna buy one for myself, too. Can I? Can I?”
“They’re fifty euros apiece! But I suppose if you really want one, you can have one.”
Regrettably, I had a flash of maturity. I put down the bull I had selected for myself and carried the gift bull—the softest one in the store—to the counter.
Before long we had a healthy pile of gifts. When the clerk realized we weren’t going to break or steal anything, she warmed up to us and began laughing. As she rang us up, I added more items to the pile. “Wait! I didn’t buy anything for myself. How ’bout a CD, so we have something to listen to in the car? Better yet, how ’bout two?”
We carried our gifts back to the hotel, laughing all the way.
***You can read the rest of the story in “Hits, Heathens, and Hippos,” available here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VHP6N2F