Thursday, 26 March 2009

City Guides Redeemed

It's not like we owe anything to Madrid, exactly. I mean, we both pay our taxes (or will do in Theo's case when the Spanish system finds time to sign him up), we both contribute our euros to the city's economy in various ways, we integrate with the locals and we are both providing a much-demanded service, English lessons. So why did I feel like I needed to apologise for showing the city in a less-than-entirely favourable light after receiving our first guests from home? I did indeed apologise to my mother and godmother, who bore the brunt of our (unintentionally) rather sparse hospitality on that occasion. It's a bit more difficult to say sorry to a city. Where do you start? With the mayor, perhaps?

In our defence, Theo and I couldn't really help the fact that we were working for much of the duration of our first guests' sojourn - their stay was during the week and like most people, that's when we're busy earning our crust. And it was just bad luck that the same week caught both of us in a state of illness and attendant tiredness, crotchetyness and low energy levels.

I suppose, having been living in the city for six-or-so weeks by then, we should have been able to offer more inspiring suggestions for outings and certainly should have had a few special bars and restaurants up our sleeves. But much of our time since arriving in Madrid had been spent working, recovering from working, sorting out the necessary bureaucracy and being ill. Thus, our tour guiding was at best, somewhat patchy. And that's putting it mildly.

Our one attempt to show our guests a bit of the "real" Madrid went spectacularly wrong when our short stroll to the trendy and accessible La Latina area took a wrong turn and became a hike through the mean streets of Lavapies. The latter is a fairly popular area with those seeking an authentic city expererience, but isn't really the right place to take your respected (or even disrespected) elders for a nice glass of sherry. Something about the skulking groups of shifty-eyed, baseball-capped young men hovering in the semi-deserted alleys, I think.

The wonderful San Gines chocolateria, with its cups of thick, dark, sweet nectar and stacks of churros helped improve our guests' impressions of Madrid a little, but I fear by then, the city had rather lost its shine. A shame. Madrid, as I have mentioned before, is not as pretty, impressive or antiquitous as other Spanish cities, but it has a lot to offer in terms of culture and buzz. As salesmen, we were simply inadequate to the task of showing it off at its best (especially as I am a woman).

So it was with relief as well as delight that we observed our two most recent guests fall in love both with Madrid and its people (natives and extranjeros). They chose the "puente" for their visit - a Thursday public holiday which leads many to take Friday off as well (puente is Spanish for bridge) so consequently, Theo and I were far more available to offer company, as well as food and lodgings (our previous guests had stayed in a hotel, which was definitely a better option for them - as elders and betters, I don't think the sofa and foam-mattress on the lounge floor would have been acceptable). Also, we were both in rude health and spirits AND we'd had a chance to make a few finds when it came to places where we could take visitors, so we were able to play host with a lot more confidence. Various of our Madrid pals, as well as a visiting phalanx of Valencianos, came up trumps with an exuberant, nattery Anglo-Spanish mix of open-armed welcome, which helped show Madrid in its warmest, most sparkly light. To cap it all, both our friends were hit on by members of the opposite sex - and nothing beats a good flirtation for making some top-notch holiday memories.

In summary, you win some, you lose some. In this case, it's one-all. Madrid, I hope you accept the apology.

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