- Hide menu

The Welshman of Madrid

‘I’m sure you’ve noticed, but we eat late in Madrid.’ The Welshman’s words came back to me as we crossed Gran Via at around eight o’clock in the evening. We were on our way to meet him for drinks, dinner and what we hoped would be a sampling of the local nightlife. I was already starving.

I knew of the city’s tendencies towards the nocturnal: families with small children out well into the early hours, pre-dinner drinks unheard of before eight, and dancing before two a terrible faux pas. Indeed, I’d even heard it rumoured that the statues of the gothic kings lining the Plaza de Oriente come alive at night, if only to stretch their legs. But long days spent lingering at the Prado or walking to Las Ventas had so far prevented us from staying out past eleven. I was ready for bed.

The gothic kings that line the plaza.

The gothic kings that line the plaza.

On the southern side of Plaza Mayor we found the apartment of the Welshman, decorated in elegant homage to his first and greatest afición: el mundo del toros, the world of the bulls. Prints from the 19th-century bullfighting magazine La Lidia, colourfully depicting scenes of near-fatal confrontation, hung on every wall of his salon, while in one dimly-lit corner, conspicuously out of sight, were two much less colourful, though, in my eyes, far more valuable, prints from Goya’s La Tauromaquia. Nearing eighty, the Welshman has been living the life of an expatriate in Spain since the early 1960s. And what a life it seemed to be.

To say I remembered much of dinner would be an overstatement. The Welshman, gifted with stories and generous with wine, kept us happily intoxicated on both. It wasn’t long before I transitioned to water purely to keep things straight in my head for he spoke with such authority across a broad range of topics that it became difficult to tell where history ended and his own personal history began. I have it on good authority that our 78 year-old friend served under General Montgomery, possibly after or at the end of or near the end of the Second World War where, at around six years of age, he may or may not have been involved with the enigma machine, but he most certainly did install the first computer in a commercial environment and, somewhere along the way—probably at a bull ring in Spain—met Orson Welles.

What is clear in my head is his third (or perhaps fourth or fifth) afición, which was confessed to us at our last stop for the night, a quiet little cervezeria, what he described as “a working man’s bar”. ‘So-and-so frequents the posh place across the street,’ he said, ‘but the coffee here is so much better: fuerte, and cheaper.’ It resembled an American roadside diner in Spanish translation. Long and narrow with a counter running the length of it, the mustards and ketchups had been replaced with bowls of complimentary tapas and legs of dried jamón hanging from the ceiling. After pouring us a round of vino tinto, the bartender returned to the back of the bar to hang off the coffee machine and watch a Spanish-dubbed version of From Dusk till Dawn. As the discernible curves of Salma Hayek slid across the screen, the Welshman, now frequently lapsing into Spanish himself, happily discussed with us the sex appeal of Frida Kahlo before segueing on to Kate Moss and his other (sixth? seventh?) afición: fashion. ‘I love fashion. I just love fashion,’ he said. ‘I don’t see the shows as much as I used to, but I love what the young women are wearing these days. I’m sure you’ve seen them wearing the tights beneath their short shorts?’

By three, the roller doors were being brought down around us, despite requests from the Welshman for one more. ‘Una mas, por favor!’ We bade farewell amidst declarations of eternal friendship and friendly jabs at one another’s rugby teams. ‘Fuck Australia!’ the Welshman yelled out patriotically from across the street, unstable on his feet but arms raised victoriously above his head.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>