You may remember – I’ve certainly mentioned it on here before, and probably elsewhere – that one of the principal reasons for choosing to study Spanish at the K2 language school here in Cádiz was not just its general location in the heart of the old part of the city but its specific location in a medium-sized square where I imagined myself sipping a morning coffee prior to the lessons and then a celebratory end-of-day beverage to mark another industrious and successful day in the language classroom. Few things in life turn out to be as good or even better than you hoped, but during the last four weeks in Cádiz, my dreams of doing the coffee and beer sipping morning, sometimes noon and usually night here in the Plaza Mentidero have come to fruition in grand style. It’s a wonderful place.
This is no tourist trap, far from it. It is a haven for locals and for students at the university, which has buildings nearby. There’s a bread shop staffed by two women who, knowing I’m a student of Spanish, always enunciate their words, never slip into English and often make a point of teaching me a new word for a particular item in their shop. This morning it was a ‘Napolitana‘, I think. Then there’s the ‘Todo a 1€‘ shop which doesn’t sell ‘Todo a 1€‘. I like that; what rebels! There’s also the ‘Caramelandia‘ which is strategically placed so as to capture the hoardes of primary school children streaming through the square in the early afternoon. It also, curiously, has a ‘teléfono publico’. This seems so incongruous a thing to advertise that I can only imagine that it is a sign to the locals that the sweet shop is just a front for nefarious activities is the back room. Or perhaps they just have a public telephone. The Skull Tattoo shop offers both tattoos and piercings. The locals seem to be no more or less tattooed or pierced that the rest of Spain but the shop is always busy. Perhaps they too have a ‘teléfono publico‘. Just opposite is the shop selling industrial workwear. Clothes are made from cloth or textiles (who said this website wasn’t informative?) and the person who gave the place its name must surely still have a smug smile on their face: ‘TexSymbol‘. Genius.
There are five other establishments in the plaza; they are all bars. Five of the 138,000 in Spain – more than the combined number of bars in Britain, France and Germany according to the book I have just been reading. I’ve only made use of two of them. The ‘Bar Garabato‘ has friendly staff and usually provides our break time coffees during the school day. For 5€ they advertise a two tapas and one beer deal. The more observant patrons will notice that tapas dishes on the menu cost 2€ and that there’s a chalk board in the window advertising cerveza for 1€. They clearly got the guy from TexSymbol in to devise their marketing strategy.
But the place in which I feel most at home is the El Serrallo…
…which, according to my detailed and extensive research (someone told me in Twitter this morning), means ‘harem‘, a “…forbidden place, sacrosanct, sanctum…”. It provides me every morning with a strong black ‘café solo’ and a value tumbler of beer in the evening. From both inside the bar and out I’ve been watching it carefully for the past month; I think I’ve just about worked it out and it is Cádiz’s answer to Les Deux Moulins in Amélie….
It’s run by two guys who I suspect are brothers as the both seem to be in charge and if you squint they look almost similar. There’s an age difference of about ten years but their father is the eminence grise of the establishment. He’s there every morning but doesn’t speak. Why, I’m not sure but he surveys the bar, nods sagely when regulars enter and very occasionally when his sons are busy helps out in the most minimal of ways. I’m not saying that he should, after all he is in his eighties, but he is almost definitely the big boss. I have yet to work out the marital status of the older brother but the younger one has a broken marriage, perhaps. Every morning the mother of his two children brings them into the bar and they run up to their dad for a hug. His alleged ex-wife is pleasant but no discussion takes place let along any hugging. There are two women who work in the bar and their shifts cross over during the middle of the day. Both are in their mid to late twenties but only one has a boyfriend who might have a family connection to the two brothers. More observation is required. As far as the clientele goes I’m not, of course, the only regular. There’s a PE teacher looking type who reads the newspaper at one of the tables each morning. The only thing that makes me think that perhaps he’s not a PE teacher is the existence of the newspaper. Then there’s the drunk. He’s an amiable drunk from what I can see, but he’s a drunk. I have even spotted him smoking in the back room. He’s ignored by the staff and regulars. He’s happy being drunk, doesn’t cause a problem for the others and is, I suppose, a regular source of income for the bar. A bit like a walking, well stumbling, daily standing order. There are others, many others all of whom are fascinating characters to spy upon. The final character I shall mention however is a chap who turns up in the morning – I suspect he’s a foreigner – stumbles over his order and sits tapping on his phone or his tablet computer. He occasionally writes in a notebook pretending to be Ernest Hemingway. He’s often back in the evening sipping a beer, perhaps two. Strange chap. I really can’t work him out.
What a great little place!