Thursday, May 01, 2014

A Spanish Tale


A Spanish Tale

Down the side of the Basilica of Santa María in Pontevedra are a couple of rough-hewn wooden doors, well and truly closed. Above them is a couple of short, sad, rusty chains, from which there used to hang a sign saying O Cortello. Or 'The Pigsty' in Galician. Until it closed 3 years ago, this was the entrance to my favourite tapas bar.

The Backcloth

As its name suggests, it was a pretty rustic place. The tables and benches were formed - 'carved' would be too pretentious a word - from varnished slabs of tree trunks, sliced in half. The owner was one Agostín, an ebullient cove from Murcia and the cook was his wife, María. Whenever I ate there with friends or visitors, the bill - after a lot of pointless figuring by Agostín on a pad - would always come out at exactly 10 euros a head, regardless of what we'd eaten or drunk. And, on more than one occasion when I was there with my daughters, Agostín would close the place early (at 10pm) and then serenade them on his guitar. In the early days, when their Spanish was not yet good, the lyrics could be quite salacious. But, anyway, I digress. 

The Event

One rainy midday around 10 years ago, I took refuge in the Pigsty to have a glass of wine and some tapas. When I came to pay, I found I had nothing in my wallet. Embarrassed, I asked Agostín if I could do so the next day, when I came back to town. He agreed, of course, but then went to the till and came back with a €20 note, which he held out to me. When I asked why, he said no one should walk abroad with nothing in his pocket. I tried to resist but he would have none of it

At midday the next day, I reappeared in the bar and proffered money to Agostín - my bill from the previous day plus the 20€. "What's this?" he demanded in an angry tone. Confused, I muttered that it was what I owed him. "Have you come in especially to give me this?" he asked in a still angrier tone. Even more confused, I replied that I had. "Don't you think I trusted you to come in whenever?" he more or less spat out. To which I had no reply beyond "No, of course not".

I left the bar rather sheepishly, not knowing why this conversation had taken place. Over time, I came to realise that doing the (British) right thing had been to do the (Spanish) wrong thing.

Agostín had trusted me implicitly and, in a country where trust is rather thin on the ground, this was an honour. My going in the next day had insulted him by suggesting I thought he hadn't really trusted me. Nor honoured me. Worse, that I thought he'd been lying to say "Come in whenever".

At least, that's what I think was going on. If anyone has an alternative explanation, I'd welcome hearing it. Unless it's from that ageing old cynic down in Portugal, Alfie Mittington. Or his mate, Mr. P. Missler of Santiago.

6 comments:

Lucy Watson said...

This is just delightful, Colin. Xx

Anonymous said...

Hello Colin,

Delightful anecdote. I've had the pleasure of experiencing similar events during my pre-teen years. This story transported me back 50 years and reminded me of my family.

Que aproveche!

Jorge
SF Bay area

Alfred B. Mittington said...


Don't you understand it, you silly old Liverputian? The man wanted you to pay him back with your body!

Uncynical Alfred

Colin Davies said...

Thank-you, Lucy and Jorge. Bugger off, Alfie.

James Atkinson said...

I found that very touching, and something that would never happen in the UK or even Ireland.

Rob in Madrid said...

Colin, a very nice story. Reading it on a sunny day here in Madrid. I just asked my Spanish wife what she thought was going on and her take on it was that it had more to do with Agustín being eccentric than any cross-cultural confusion. She followed up with the observation that "strange people lurk around basilicas in Galicia", which I felt was rather to miss the point.

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