C is for Comida en La Misión – Madrid.

Last Saturday while I was still in Madrid, I went to La Misión for lunch.

This restaurant is part of the group of restaurants (I don’t want to say “chain” because it might give you the wrong impression) which includes El Recuerdo and El Olvido (translated as The Memory and The Ommission, though olvido has a much more poetic connotation than its English counterpart). http://www.lamision.es/mision.htm

This is the second time I visit this restaurant and I can really recommend it for a special occasion. It’s not cheap, but the food is of fantastic quality and not overpriced at all. The wine is also decently priced and the desserts, at 2.75 EURO, are a delicious bargain!

My main reason for writing about this place however, is the little piece of text that accompanies the bill. I was so impressed by it that I just had to tell you about it. I don’t want to publish it on the net as the restaurant might not want it to be of public domain, but I have “booed” about it through the Audioboo platform. I’ve recorded it in Spanish and then attempted a simultaneous translation of it.

Here is the link, for your pleasure. Enjoy!

Link to Podcast about Gratitude and La Misión.

C is for Cesta de Navidad

La Cesta de Navidad – the Christmas hamper.

The way in which businesses thank their employees at the end of the year. The way in which businesses remind their clients that they exist. From large boxes full of drink, food and sweets to the more trendy fruit baskets or luscious boxes of expensive chocolates. I wonder what’s going on this year…

If you are curious as to what’s inside a Spanish Christmas hamper, have a look at the one Graham Hunt from Houses for Sale in Spain got this year…

C is for Cervantes

C has to be for Cervantes in the same way as S would have to be for William Shakespeare if I was writing the A to Z of British Culture.

For Cervantes has become an icon representing high-quality Spanish literature, to the point that the organisation dedicated to promoting the study of Spanish and Spain’s culture does so under his name, the Instituto Cervantes.

The works of Cervantes are comparable to those of Shakespeare in both quality and quantity, and both writers died on the same day, 22 April 1616, a remarkable coincidence.

In 1571, Cervantes fought in a battle in Lepanto against the Turks and was severely wounded. His injuries left him with a paralysed left arm, which in turn earned him the label of “el manco de Lepanto” a rhyming phrase which means “the one-armed man of Lepanto”.

Cervantes is best known for his novel Don Quixote. (I won’t go into any detail here about this book, as you can easily find information about it somewhere else, including a post on my personal blog and a few lines in the chapter Q is for Quijote of The A to Z of Spanish Culture.) He also wrote a collection of “exemplary novels”, (the novelas ejemplares) which included Rinconete y Cortadillo, set in Seville and featuring two rascals who gave the novel its name.


Rinconete y Cortadillo by Antonio Muñoz Dergrain

Rinconete y Cortadillo are a pair of pícaros. The closest words in English are probably “rascals” or “rogues”. The word comes from “picaresca” which is a genre in Spanish literature but also refers to an aspect of society known as picaresca española. This is the ability to use your intelligence to con instead of to work. In Cervantes’ novel it’s reflected in the way the two teenagers con and steal from those around them. In modern days, you can see it in the way people slyly skip the queue, ask you for a donation for a charity that doesn’t exist or pocket the tips that someone else left for your grumpy waiter. These acts could also be labeled as petty theft or fraud, but the fact that all of them often come under the label of picaresca española says something about society’s history in Spain.

Cervantes, like all great artists, managed to capture the essence of  society, the underlying thrill of doing things just a little bit beyond written and unwritten laws. Sure, these pícaros were just trying to survive, pretty much like the Lazarillo de Tormes tricked all his masters to ensure his survival, food and a bit of comfort. (The Lazarillo de Tormes, the blind-man’s guide from Tormes, is the protagonist of the first novela picaresca, called by the same name.) The underworld they inhabit was also found outside Spain and reflected in other works of literature, like Oliver Twist. It’s interesting that, even though the two characters were well into their teens, they are often depicted in illustrations as young boys. Are their actions more palatable if we think of them as children?

Rinconete y Cortadillo was placed in the public’s eye before it was edited, as it made its first appearance in the first part of Don Quijote as the inn-keeper gives the novel to the priest. Was Cervantes the first person to create a spin-off?

C is for Calabaza Ruperta

Doing a little bit more research for The A to Z of Spanish Culture, I came across a website dedicated to the t.v. gameshow: “Un, Dos, Tres”.

If you are of a certain age, and lived in Spain at the end of the last century, you might have spent many a Friday night watching Un, Dos, Tres. I personally remember Peruvian presenter Kiko Ledgard and then, more lucidly as I was just a little bit older, Cuban Mayra Gomez Kemp. (Interesting that both presenters weren’t Spanish.) She lasted as presenter until 1988, when the programme stopped. (Later, a new generation of presenters took over – luckily for me, I had already left the U.K.)

Many were also the different “mascotas”, my favourite being the pumpkin Ruperta, the very first mascot who also reappeared in the latest versions of the programme. This mascot injected the show with a little bit of irony, as participants could win these pumpkins, the calabaza Ruperta. They were the worst prize in the show. In Spanish there is a saying which means “piss off” involving these calabazas: “Que te den calabazas,” which literally means “I hope they give you pumpkins”.

Plenty of merchandising was released in parallel to this show, including the numerous “cromos”, kind of sticker/cards that were sold to children to collect. When I was 13, I collected many of these cromos (or were they bubblegum wraps?) featuring the second mascot, La Bota Clotilde (below), with the hope of taking my classmates on a viaje de fin de curso, end of year trip.

I never won, of course, I never win anything.

I remember the couples in the Un, Dos, Tres often won an “Apartamento en Torrevieja” and they used to be “amigos y residentes en Madrid“, when “amigos” also meant “sleeping together but not in a proper relationship so we’d better just say we are friends”. Many humorists became famous throughout Spain thanks to this programme, my personal favourites being Bigote Arrocet and Beatriz Carvajal (who was actually already well established as an actress) as the prostitute who was always jealous of “la pelos”.

So, it’s 40 years since this programme first appeared on Spanish T.V. Definitely worth a mention on this A to Z of Spanish Culture blog, even if it shows my age.


Photos and inspiration from




C is for Coche

The highway. That place where you can let your passions run free as you press the accelerator and enjoy the open space.

The Spanish love travelling by car. They use the car to go everywhere. To travel into the city, to get through the city, to get out of the city. A shame, because public transport tends to work rather well. The tube system in Madrid, for example, is fantastic – it’s clean, it runs on time and the carriages have air conditioning in the summer. The train system too can be quite impressive, especially if you are used to travelling in the UK. The carriages are comfortable and the network enjoys some high-speed lines. Though not affordable to everyone the high-velocity train (AVE) and those that use its tracks can save you a lot of time.

Traffic in Spanish cities tends to be as bad as in most European countries. Each city copes as best as it can, sometimes by adopting social norms which make everyone’s lives easier.

For example, in Valencia (which by the way also has a decent public transport system), parking spaces are very scarce. As a result, it is very common to find cars double-parked and sometimes, triple-parked. The valencianos have come up with a way of this being acceptable: double park, but don’t use your handbrake. In this way, if another car wants to leave and you are blocking their way, they can just push your car a bit until they have enough room to get out. Not bad.

Unfortunately, the transport network does not reach every town in Spain and so, the Spanish prefer to travel by car. Friday afternoons are a particularly bad time to leave a city, as everyone seems to be in a rush to escape for the weekend. (Avoid leaving a city around 2pm on a Friday afternoon.) The same goes for the evening before any public holiday.

If you decide to leave the city at the same time as everyone else to make the absolute most of your holiday, you will get stuck for hours in a traffic jam (embotellamiento) or travel en caravana at dangerously high speeds. Travelling en caravana often means driving dangerously fast and dangerously close to other cars. If at any moment anyone has to break, it will lead to the an accident en cadena (in a chain) accidents, common especially in bad weather.

As a result, the beginning and end of every holiday period operación salida (operation: exit) and operación retorno (operation: return) tend to be marked by images of smashed cars on TV and the latest number of fatalities on the road. The only silver lining to this very dark cloud is that as a result, the number of organs available for transplant is quite high. In Spain, you need to opt OUT of the transplant registry if you don’t want to donate your organs when you die.

In 2010, 1,730 people died on the road, but luckily, this number is falling every year as the roads and cars get better. The road system has improved much in Spain over the last 30 years, even to the point that it is rare not to find improvement works on your way when you travel. A journey by car from Madrid to Valencia used to take about 7 hours and can now be done in 3.5. The cars you see on the road are quite decent too. The maximum speed on the highway was reduced in 2011 from 120km per hour, to 110, apparently to reduce petrol consumption. The speed limit was then raised again to 120 km/hr as the traffic police refused to fine those who broke it.

For many years, alcohol seemed to be the car’s best friend. The fact that people drove didn’t seem to deter them from drinking. In the 80s, the artist Stevie Wonder headed the campaign, “Si bebes, no conduscas” (“If you drink, don’t drive.” It should be “conduZcas”, but Stevie turned the ‘z’ into an ‘s’.) I’m not sure it made a difference. Afterwards, the government’s driving campaigns got more and more hard-hitting, to the point that it sometimes becomes unbearable to watch them.

The time when I did notice a change in attitude to drinking and driving was in around 2010, when the government introduced a points system which meant it became easier to lose your licence if you broke the law. Suddenly everyone was drinking less and respecting the speed limit.

Alcohol is still a problem on the Spanish roads and so, every now and then, especially around Christmas time, the traffic police will set out to carry a control de alcoholemia. Police cars will subtly station themselves in street corners to see if they can catch anyone driving in a dangerous manner. So, if it’s your first time driving in Madrid, don’t be tempted to blend in by turning where it’s not permitted or accelerating when the light turns red at a junction – you might get caught by a strategically placed camera or policeman lurking round the corner in their car.

C is for Casi, Casi

“Casi, casi”… almost.

It’s a lovely expression.

Today I’m using to say that we are about to welcome the Fallas in Valencia.

As a preview, (kind 0f) I wanted to let you know about a book I came across the other day. I haven’t read it yet but it will go on my Wish List. It is a thriller (I love thrillers) set in Valencia, during the Fallas. It has a bull in the title, which immediately made me think of Pamplona and the San Fermines, but it’s set near the Mediterranean instead.

“Or the Bull Kills You” is the humorous title of Jason Webster’s thriller.

If you are planning to visit Valencia next week for the Fallas, this might get you in the mood… or kill the mood completely.

C is for Colón.

Can you spot Colón? (Colombus.)

He discovered America 519 years ago today. Can you spot him in his own plaza, in Madrid?

The 12th October is a national holiday in Spain, so if you are thinking of visiting the country on that day, be warned, all the shops will be closed!

So, happy Día de la Hispanidad, everyone. And Happy Saint’s Day to all those called Pilar – and thanks to all of those who remembered that I go by that same name!

In the spirit of the A to Z book, I’ll expand (a bit) on Colón.

Colón is also a very popular detergent in Spain – it’s even got its own song!

Quiero ser un bote de Colón
Y salir anunciado por la televisión.

Sung by the kings of the Movida, Alaska y los Pegamoides.

(For more on La Movida, see the A to Z’s chapter M is for Movida, coming soon…., find out when by clicking here.)

If you are talking about Colombus, make sure that you accent the word, or else you will be talking about his colon.

(Apologies for the slightly odd writing style today – I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to take the day off, being exiled and everything…)