Friday, August 21, 2015

Day 1: Arrive Madrid : Paul Parris's Paella Passion

If you are not aware already, Paul and I are going to walk a section of the St James Way, aka Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  As we do this, we will be known as peregrinos, or pilgrims. The Way is broken up into stages and generally takes about 33 days-one day for each year in the life of Christ. Paul, our recent retiree, does have the luxury of that sort of time off, but I feel lucky to get the time off I have---about 13 days short of necessary time.  So we are going to do this over more than one  trip. This time, it is O Cebriero to Santiago de Compostela. And we are doing it the easy way--we will walk about 14 miles a day and a car service will move our luggage. This is called SLACKER PILGRIMAGE. That' us! Slackers.

 So in the spirit of true slackerdom, we landed after a 8 hour flight from Atlanta. After flying 18 hours to Johannesburg earlier this year, it seemed like a walk in the park. We had great flight attendants. The Columbian/Lebanese steward who served Paul coffee and said, "Be careful. This coffee is hot--like your flight attendant and the tray table isn't very straight--like your flight attendant."
In the true spirit of the Way (and we haven't arrived yet to the starting point), you stay with fellow pilgrims at the hostel. We are staying at the Hilton. Since I am a gold member, we got an upgraded room. Slackers indeed.
Here is my fellow slacker pilgrim, Paul Parris who is about to enjoy a nap (much needed on the overnight flight) on this comfy bed.
 It' s an atrium style hotel. Here you see the dining room below and the elevator shaft. Thanks to HOTWIRE, we got a great deal too.
 After a couple of hours of zzzzzz, Paul and I decided to saunter into Madrid for a meal. Seriously, it's pretty hot here at the moment, so anything faster than a saunter would probably have a bad outcome. We were pretty impressed with the cleanliness and efficiency of the train service here.
 This will come as ZERO surprise to anyone who knows Paul, but somehow our route to the restaurant took us past this vinyl record store. He assures me, "An absolute coincidence." Of course, they had an incredibly obscure jazz album by Catalan artist Tete Monteliu, a pianist. Of course, he bought it. I told him he could distinguish himself as the slacker pilgrim who carried a Tete Monteliu vinyl record across the St.James Way--but that wouldn't be very slacker, so he shipped it home.

 From there, we walked to the church of Santa Gema. We did this for two reasons: (1) This is the 4th anniversary of my mother's pilgrimage to heaven. We took a few minutes to share a memory of her. Paul's memory was that she was always incredibly sweet to him. She was an occasional eye-batting flirt, though :)  Mine was that she spent a lot of time going to church. She died on a Sunday in the late afternoon, about 5:30pm which was the time she always left for evening services. An apropos exit. My mother was a very memorable character and I am glad we took those moments to share a story on her would-be 90th birthday.  (2) We have a very dear friend, Tommy Dean aka Two Pie Tommy (but that's another journey and another story) who recently was diagnosed with lung cancer and is fighting his way through the battle. We are going to dedicate our pilgrimage to him. We sent one up for him and Lisa and will plan to do this regularly during this trip as we will pass many churches. In fact, you have to get your pilgrim passport stamped several times daily in a church to prove you really walked the St James Way and be an official pilgrim. So Tommy is going to get a lot of positive energy sent his way. And hopefully, something miraculous as well.
 From the church, we walked into a fairly nondescript residential area called Chamartin to a tiny restaurant with 7 tables called Casa Benigna.  This is  a family run restaurant well of the beaten path famous for paella (or the old word for it, patella--which means kneecap!) The owner, Norberto, meets you at the door for the welcome. He and his mama started the restaurant. He is a French trained chef and said he ran it since 1990. At first, he cooked in the classical French way, but said one day, he told his mama, "No more technique. Just paella." So he smokes the rice in juniper wood for 72 hours and concentrates on making the best paella in Madrid. We started our meal with some very simple tapas--potato chips, fresh veggies, and olive oil and a house made basalmic vinegar. YUM. Then he brought us the above picture almond and garlic soup. It was served cold.
 Norberto's wife is Norwegian, so in her honor, he juniper smokes salmon. This stuff was amazing. He says he has a tri-level smoker at his house. He calls the chambers Paradiso, Purgatorio, and Inferno. We don't know which level this one got smoked in, but it was definitely paradiso on the taste buds.
 We didn't use out menu.We just told Norberto to bring us a paella of choice. He said, "I think you should have two, one from the sea and one from the mountain." He had a large series of different sized  paella pans and he has these made for his restaurant from copper and chrome. Above you see the seafood/lobster paella. The rice was basmati. You can tell he smokes the rice.
 This one was my favorite: Venison paella. This used a really good short grain rice much like risotto.
 Paul thought any paella looks and tastes better with him in the picture. Maybe he's right? This gives you a really nice look at Norberto's copper specialty pans. He heats the paella over an open fire in the kitchen and this shows that it is thick and doesn't fall out of the pan. Mine does :(.Oh well.
And could there be a more fitting end to Paul's paella passion than a tiny cup of espresso.

Overall, a lovely meal in Madrid, a good start to our pilgrimage and a few moments to reflect on our incredible good fortune. Paul often says love is a state of grace. Our first day was a state of grace as well.

Since the Camino is meant to be a spiritual experience, Paul and I brought a book of meditations so I will close each day with a word about that. Today's meditation, was on Ulysses, the book by James Joyce. It takes place on a single day, June 16, 1904 in Dublin, where the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, a Jew amongst Catholics, conducts his day. Paul's reflection is that while up until the time of Joyce, most writer's wrote about lives that seemed to be defined by social classes and predetermination and that Joyce wrote about life as a journey with nothing predetermined. My thoughts about it are that Leopold Bloom went about his day being a tiny hero to everyone who crossed his path...just by living an ordinary life.  So we are inspired to conduct our journey with an open mind and much gratitude. 
Maybe in that way at least, we won't be slackers!

Paul's Ponderings:

Our flight from Atlanta was pretty benign and then we ended up at Casa Benigna....go figure.   Regardless, after a 16 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg earlier this year, 8 hours seems simple.  Our best dining in Barcelona last year was "local" and we decided to try that theme this year. Casa Benigna was a fabulous example of that type of dining -- seven tables, an engaged owner, great food focused on a particular regional type of food (pealla).  A good tip is it is located in a side street in an area outside of town, which turned out to be accurate.  Overall, a slow day due to travel and sleep once we arrived, but satisfying.  Tomorrow, the real trip begins, likely with a trip to Segovia...we shall see.  We have had almost no time off this year, so we are so glad to be here and off to three weeks of adventure!

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