It was late evening when I checked into my hotel in Madrid. I had flown in from London Heathrow and was staying near the Nuevos Ministerios metro station. It was my first visit to Madrid. I had recently been given the additional responsibility of my company’s international business, which included a minority shareholding in a small Spanish recruitment company, and I was looking forward to once more having the opportunity of operating in a Spanish environment.
I had two meetings arranged for the next day, the first not until lunchtime, so I settled down in my hotel room, wine glass in hand, to watch some television and attempt to tune my ear to the Castellano of Madrid. Flicking through the channels, I stumbled on a concert, that seemed to have just begun, and the music of many guitars, the raucous singing, the rhythms, the relentless beat, held my attention for the next more than an hour. It was like a mix of flamenco and salsa. It was a group known as The Gypsy Kings..
I had never heard of them before then, despite my enthusiasm for most things Latin. The next morning I called in at a nearby Corte Inglés, to see if they had a copy of a Gypsy Kings recording, and I was not disappointed. The salesman told me that they were the current rage in Spain, but that they were not from Spain,but from the French south-west. There were two brothers and several other cousins and that their parents were gypsies who had fled Catalonia during the 1930s Spanish Civil War. They sang flamenco and salsa with an Andalusian accent. I still have my original purchase.
My lunch appointment was most interesting. My host was a consultant, who wanted to be considered as a junior partner in international projects that we undertook from time to time, and where we might have need of Spanish market expertise. He was not comfortable in English, but we managed to converse in Spanish, with no obvious problems.
The owner of the restaurant was a friend of my host, and when he was taking the order, he suggested that I try his speciality. ‘Por qué no’ is a response that has got me into trouble many times, and this was to be no exception. The dish came in a wooden bowl with a top, and when I removed the latter, the contents heaved and wriggled. They were baby eels from Bilbao. I was assured that they were well cooked and it was the cooler air that caused them to contract and move when not alive, just like the huge rattlesnake that I once killed in California, that roamed around the yard for at least half- an-hour after I had chopped it in half. But that is another story for another day.
After the lunch – by then it was nearly five o’clock, I walked over to the nearby office of our recruitment consultancy, to meet with Antonio ‘Tony’ Ares de Paz, the main shareholder. Tony proved to be a most charming man, aristocratic, and with faultless English, albeit with a heavy Spanish underlay. During the Spanish Civil War, his father had moved his family to the relative safety of Mexico City. I could not swear to it, but I believe that he said that after their exile, he did not see his father again.
Later in the evening, Tony and his wife picked me up at my hotel and took to his club on Gran Via, or Broadway as Tony called it, and from there to an intimate restaurant near the Royal Palace, and my introduction to Pata Negra, the revered ham of the free range black pigs, mostly reared in the western Spanish provinces of Extremadura and Cáceres. and fed on acorns and olives.
After the meal, the owner offered to show me the tunnel in the basement, that the randy royal males used to use in order to slip out of the palace for a night of debauchery. Of course, the tunnel was blocked with a locked door. I never did get a straight answer as to if the then-royal-family still used the tunnel.
I felt quite tired when I finally got back to my hotel room. Two large meals, a lot of wine, and stimulating conversation; my mind was in a whirl.
And the music of The Gypsy Kings and Volare was still throbbing in my head.
It was the end of the first of very many visits to Spain to come.
Life felt good that night.