In this era of digital cameras and unending retakes, I hope I don’t sound too old when I say that sometimes I miss the days of a 24- or 36-exposure roll of film. It limited the amount of time we spent taking pictures on a vacation, and also taught us to save each snapshot for something truly spectacular or eye-catching.
One February, 15 years ago, as young, recently married resident doctors studying in the U.S., my wife and I desperately needed a holiday. We looked up the cheapest tickets to Europe and landed up in Spain. We’d decided to spend a week with nothing more than a backpack, duffle, and our brand-new digital camera. Almost a decade and a half after that trip, my daughter recently came upon an album of 250 photographs of that trip on the computer. It gave me a few moments to drift back in time.
As I looked through what seemed like an endless stream of pictures, I found Seville’s La Giralda tower, the glorious Alhambra in Granada, along with the train that took us there. There were pictures of La Sagrada Familia church, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, and La Pedrera, his phenomenally constructed building with images of the superb design in the sample apartment. We had pictures from the Fundació Joan Miró and of the Guernica, Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece. Finally, we had pictures of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and the Reina Sofia, Del Prado, and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. All wonderful images that allowed me to relive a wonderful vacation I’d taken with my best friend and companion.
Over the years, we have discussed this trip many times and never once looked at the photos. In those conversations we never alluded to any of these wonderful and famous things we saw. Our conversations are always about the night in Seville when we stepped out at midnight looking for some “authentic” flamenco, only to land up in an empty bar called La Carbonara. And we went back the next night, even later, only to find “Sabrina” from an American school, visiting and performing Bharatanatyam. Everyone was having a blast at that hour and so did we.
To this day, I can taste the food from the small Mediterranean dive at the bottom of the Alhambra where we had the most divine hummus with “picante” harissa. I recall how we’d rushed back down from the Alhambra just to make sure we’d get a second round before catching our train back to Barcelona.
I still yearn for that almost gelatinously thick, hot chocolate from Carrer Petritxol, the hot chocolate street behind the Cathedral in Barcelona. It was a ritual for us to dunk pieces of a pale yellow sponge cake into it and savour the sweetness.
We’d follow that up with freshly squeezed orange juice and café con leche (milky coffee) at Central Café, before beginning our day in Barcelona.
Few nights out have been as much fun as we had sitting at a bar in Mikel Etxea off Las Ramblas, chatting with Isabella, a waitress who spoke no English, and we no Spanish. We downed litres of sangria, ate platefuls of the Spanish tapas dish of chilli peppers, pimientos del Padrón, while we helped her sell heaps of rather bland bottled mushrooms to customers as “tipico Espana” (typical Spanish).
No wine has ever really matched up to the cheap Rioja we bought from the local market and consumed with some locally produced blue cheese as we sat in our “hostal” room, which allegedly was once a brothel frequented by Picasso.
I think I’d like to do that trip again, maybe ten years from now when we celebrate our 25th anniversary. But this time around, I know I won’t bother with a camera. You’ll find us at Carrer Petritxol drinking hot chocolate, and at a bar off the Rambla, chomping pimientos del Padrón, chatting up people with whom we share no common language.
Appeared in the March 2016 issue as “Midnight Memories”.