Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence Day

It's funny. You can just tell when a holiday is afoot. Everyone has a little skip in their step; is a bit more forgiving; and is cutting out of work early. The sun shines brighter; the sky is bluer; and the birds chirp more loudly. In the States, I know people are getting out their flags and preparing for a July Fourth barbeque. But as I walked around Madrid today, you could sense we were also on the verge of a celebration. 

Indeed. While my friends and family in the States will be donning their red, white and blue and jockeying for a good spot to watch the fireworks, more than two million people (gay, straight, and undecided) will descend upon Madrid to participate in or watch Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride). In 2005, Spain's government and parliament approved some very progressive laws supporting gay marriage and anti-discrimination. As a result, Madrid's been the favored spot to host this celebration in Spain and all of Europe. In fact, Orgullo Gay has been the largest party in Europe for the last four years running. 

The main attraction (the parade) will take place on July 4th. The procession begins at 6 PM in Independence Square and moves north to Chueca ("chu-eck-a"), a West Hollywood-meets-Soho neighborhood, where a major party will rock well into the night. It's legendary. This week, I've been staying at a hotel in a different part of town, but am moving tomorrow to an apartment in Chueca for the next month. I think I'll have quite a welcoming committee, although it seems unlikely much sleep will be coming my way on Independence Day. 

But things definitely got underway tonight. While Dublin may have its pub-crawls or the U.S. its bar-hopping, Madrileños enjoy the tapeo. With the Spanish practice of eating tapas (appetizers) before a fashionably late dinner, each bar (tasca) gains a reputation for its rendition and people move from bar to bar tasting a bite and enjoying a drink. The streets were teeming with people. Unlike the States when you feel you're caught in a maddening mob scene, there is something strangely peaceful yet joyful to be amidst the ocean of people in Madrid. I decided to stop into Casa Alberto, one of the oldest tascas in my neighborhood. It first opened its doors in 1827 and has thrived ever since. Filled with bullfighting memorabilia and reproductions of El Greco and Goya, you squeeze in to find a spot along the bar, which offers a generous view of the tapas, such as fried squid, mussels in a vinaigrette dressing, or ham and cheese croquettes. 

You'll find no questionable dish of beer nuts, which has been "double dipped" in God knows how many times. Typically you receive a dish of Spanish olives or a few slices of chorizo and cheese when you sit down. Tonight I received a lovely pincho (the Spanish version of the amuse bouche) of cornichon, pepper and anchovy to whet my appetite. 

With the heat and saltiness, it was the perfect foil to my cold caña (a draught beer). Upon the suggestion of my new friends/bar-mates (from Germany, Turkey, Holland and Spain. ¡Que global! ), I ordered a tapa comprised of potatoes, chorizo and grilled peppers known as pimientos de Padrón

These tiny green peppers (roughly the size of a jalapeño) hail from a medieval town in the Galicia region and are often a tapa by themselves. Sauteed until blistered in olive oil and then lightly salted, you'll find them sweet with a delicate flesh. You eat the whole pepper except for the stem, but eating them is considered a culinary form of Russian roulette. Approximately one in ten peppers is hot enough to keep you humble. It all made for a tasty night of eating, drinking and merrymaking, which pretty much sums up Orgullo Gay

It's already July 4th here in Spain, so as I turn in for the night, know I'm wishing everyone back home a Happy Independence Day! 

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