I think that egg alone maxed out my daily sodium allowance, Ethan thought. The salad was huge. Adorned with slices of red pepper, chunks of tomato that weren’t so much cut into the bowl, but ripped into slices, dropped onto the iceberg lettuce as per gravity’s law. Flaked tuna. And a sliced hard boiled egg that was so salty it had to have been soaking in brine.
Spanish lunch is the largest meal of the day, normally, and the restaurant was packed. Catering to the American’s wishes and internal timing of his stomach, which was still not calibrated to GMT, the company headed out slightly before the lunch-time rush, scoring a choice of seats. Barely 20 k north of Madrid, the restaurant had an Italian feel to it, but the boar’s head mounted on the wall directly up and in front of the American and the large, bronze Shiva to his right didn’t exactly tie the room together but a ciascuno il suo.
The half-eaten salad was soon replaced with a steak that was grilled only slightly longer than the time it took for the poor beast’s last moo to echo in the butcher’s shop. Bulbous pustules of fat surrounded the entire filet reminding Ethan of a Mother Goose nursery rhyme read to him as a boy, sitting on his mother’s lap, in his seashore-blue room, both miles and years removed from Iberia. The seasoning on the steak made all in the world right.
The flight was as easy and comfortable as coach would allow. Getting through customs, always easy on the European continent, and into a taxi took all of two minutes. The American always enjoyed that initial drive from the airport when visiting a new city. He liked to compare and contrast the differences of these views from those that were familiar to him.
The trip into Madrid wasn’t too different from any other large International city with a healthy highway system. Older brick apartment complexes gave way to newer glass business towers. Airy condos with gated gardens quickly became studio flats. Graffiti tagged colorful names on any and every barrier or wall within an arm’s length. The late March sun was out and bright in the blue sky and felt good on his face that for the past eight hours was subjected to US Airways’ recycled air.
Then it was into the hotel, out of those travel-weary clothes, up with the window and down with the café con leche.
The Musea de Prado was beautiful and reminded him much more of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as opposed to the Met or the British Museum. Long galleries with tall ceilings worthy of the Louvre led into smaller rooms where the intimateness within captured that unique European aversion to showering.
Velasquez and Goya were the rock star attractions, but the works of Raphael, Bosch, and Van der Wyck, along with the Prado’s solo Caravaggio, were the indie sensations, which is really par for course when concerning Caravaggio. Give me a large art museum in any country, and my time will be well occupied, was Ethan’s confession.
For an international city, the lack of spoken English was remarkably absent. Perhaps Spanish machismo was to blame. Ethan’s three years of high school Spanish thirteen years back came of no help. Two years, actually. The third year was forced upon him with the allure of joining the Spanish Honor Society, which, according to rumor and counselor pressure, was a gold star on all Permanent Records that colleges take note of. He had wanted to take the school’s only journalism class and the teacher begged him to fulfill his final open elective with that near-elite course. But the allure of that Gold Star – on his Permanent Record! – was one of the final times matters of the head took the place over matters of the heart. That is until entering the Corporate World, where the matters of the heart are scoffed at, disallowed, and buried right there along with high school dreams, guilty pleasures, and hanging out at diners until one-in-the-morning on a week night. And as for that Gold Star? There was no such thing. Upon learning that the Spanish Honor Society held as much weight for college recruiters as remembering the terms of office for every President from Wilson to W or viewing every film nominated for that year’s top Academy Awards, he soon gave up on any such achievement. Too much memorization to be expected for a high school senior.
The Corporate World and all its imprisonments, however, was responsible for this Spanish voyage and 5-star hotel accommodations. And, high-school guidance counselors notwithstanding, Ethan knew how to write. A BA in Journalism with a minor in English Studies soon had him fast-tracked through the Indie mag publishers out by Pershing Square to a brief stint with the LA Times and now smack in the land of weekly high-gloss floppies complete with deadlines and directors, shareholders and solicitors.
This steak ain’t half bad he thought and chowed down. A full belly and a glass of Heineken, Ethan turned to the group that he was visiting: a contingent of writers, editors and salespeople from the weekly MAP Madrid. They were still eating. Their conversations drifting between English for the American to overhear and their native tongue, which was as foreign as the green dip sitting in a stainless steel bowl to his left. Ethan stealthily reached his hand into his right jacket pocket, and tapped his Blackberry to life before gazing down. The top of his email queue informed him there was another death. The game was still in play.