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foreign correspondence: Tapas Dancing


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Just about every culture seems to have that "place where everybody knows your name"; in the UK, it's the pub; in North America, it's the corner bar; in Italy, it's the coffee shop. In Spain, it's the tapas bar.

Imagine a cafeteria showing off stuff that is 'way beyond even what the cover of "Gourmet" magazing can muster. Combine this with a friendly (i.e., full of and connected with friends) atmosphere and your choice of refreshing beverages, and you have the makings for a cultural institution.

The Spanish may skimp on breakfast (a croissant, coffee, and orange juice is a mid-morning snack IMHO), and eat a late lunch, but once the sun goes down (and beyond that), they get ready to do things right.

You sit down at the bar (or walk beside it) and marvel and gawk at what's before you. Little bread things with strange and colourful stuff on them; seafood *galore*, including more kinds of shellfish (and shellfish done more ways) than I could imagine; vegetables, etc.

Behind the counter is a sea of activity whose frenzy and coordination is something to marvel at. There's the exciting hum of the staff yammering at each other, the expected voices of the customers talking to each other and pointing at what they want, and the general background hum you get at a corner meeting place.

The only minor trick is actually ordering; in North America, we take a pretty passive view, and wait for one of the friendly and helpful wait staff to come and take our order.

Doing that in a tapas bar results in starvation and/or thirst. You have to speak up and get their attention, because if you don't, they'll be off somewhere else in microseconds, dealing with other customers or the rest of the commotion going on behind the bar.

Once you do get to order, the fun begins. The stuff behind the bar doesn't even have tags; one gets the feeling they have a base set of dishes and make up the rest based on what came in to the market that day. Seafood abounds, as does stuff on bread, vegetables, olives, and on and on.

And it's all good. A tapas bar is the ideal place to get over any misconceptions/hatred/queasiness you may have about a particular food product, especially because you can order what seem like mere forkfuls at a time. And, of course, knock it back with your choice of wine, beer, sherry, whisky, coffee, etc.

You don't even have to know Spanish. As with the Japanese ¨"robotoyaki" cooking/bar style, you can get by just by pointing at what's behind the counter, or at what the guy next to you is having.

And the best part is that, because you're not ordering much (like a whole meal, as we do in North America), you can finish your snack, down the dregs of your drink, and head out the door and down the block to the next one...

Or, so I've heard...


BRAD (Barcelona Reports About Dining)

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Eminently Cool Thing of the Day: I was at a small tapas bar (there aren't really any large ones), having a beer (for less than US$1), and noticed two things. First, the bar's entrance opened up into a little square, and people from the bar (and other establishments, and those just hanging around) had spilled out into the open space, as often happens at house parties when people start occupying the back yard. There were people sitting in chairs, people sitting on steps, people standing around, a guy with a guitar, etc.

Second, there was a guy coming through the square with a video camera, which I noticed because it was around 8pm, and dark, so his light gave him away.

A few steps behind the camera guy, a just-married couple were parading throught the square, to the enthusiastic cheers of the onlookers. They had obviously got married at one of the many old churches that abound in this part of old Barcelona, and were nervously and excitedly showing themselves off.

It was doubly cool (eminently cool, and eminating cool), and shows how Europeans don't seem to have the same sense of borders that North Americans do. In N.A. (at least, in Ontario), a bar/restaurant with a patio has to have a fence/chain around it, and wedding pictures are taken at the church, and then later at the reception, with a quick transfer between the two, the couple safely ensconsed in a limo behind tinted glass, cut off from the eyes of the world around them.

In Europe, bars open up onto squares, and you can stroll around with your beverage of choice, and happy couples stroll around, showing themselves to the community (not just select bits of it) as a couple for the first time.

It also shows how Spider Robinson's phrase, "Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased" holds true. The people at the bar made you feel good; the happy couple *radiated* happiness, and it was infectious. They may not have realized it, but they alone made my coming to Barcelona worthwhile.



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