Madrid: English Immersion

Spain and Portugal 057

“The Louisiana law gonna get you Amos. It ain’t legal huntin’ alligator down in the swamp boy!”

For some reason the Jerry Reed song  Amos Moses provided me with just the right amount of courage I needed to venture into the streets of Madrid. I sang it happily to myself as I exited my hostel to throngs of Europeans on the busy sidewalks, hundreds of car horns honking on the streets, and police sirens screaming from every direction. Fear is seldom a part of my vocabulary. With Amos Moses, the famous alligator wrestler, as my muse, I was sure of my ability to communicate with Spaniards without knowing one word of Spanish. Never mind the fact that Amos Moses was a figment of Reed’s prolific imagination. If Amos’ could survive being tied up by a rope and thrown into the Louisiana Bayou by his father, to be used for bait for catching alligators, I could survive this simple task.

Some of my earliest memories as a child were to listen to my uncles, farm boys from the deep East Texas piney woods, as they sat around the roaring fire on Christmas Eve, trying to outdo each other in telling tall tales. The subjects most often were which of their coon hounds had treed the largest possum and which brother had caught the biggest catfish from the Trinity River.

The first line of the Dave Carter song Crocodile Man  is “Momma raised me on riddles and trances, fat-back, channel cat, lily-white lies, all wrapped up in a jim-crack fancy. I never met Poppa, I never asked why.” I was fortunate to have known my father; otherwise, Carter’s song is a true picture of my life in the rural South.  My mother, a Texas girl born and raised, would pile crunchy catfish on heaping platters accompanied by giant glasses of sweetened iced tea. Then we would end our meal with the yummiest chocolate fried pies on God’s green earth.

Catfish were abundant!  They were so bountiful that our neighbor, who spent most of his existence fishing in the Leon River, would hang catfish heads (each weighing about five pounds) from the branches of the tree in his front yard. He was not especially fond of children and this kept them at bay. Like our neighbor, we ate our catfish deep-fried and surrounded by crispy hush puppies filled with onion. Being quite some distance from the Atlantic meant that seafood was rarely on our table. Therefore, fresh seafood did not become one of our staple foods. In fact, the smell alone makes me nauseous. That cool November morning, as I stood looking at the huge city of Madrid, I realized that my close proximity to the Mediterranean had put me in a precarious position.  I knew that the kind of food that I ate would be illusive, to say the very least.

My first task was to find lunch.  As a traveler who watches her budget closely, I always carry breakfast bars and instant coffee for my morning meal. It is simple strategies such as this one that allows me to save money so that I can splurge later on something special while shopping at fun places such as Desigual.  Also, cutting corners, which is not difficult for a Southern girl taught early in life to be frugal, allows savings to build up. Then, when housesitting or volunteer opportunities arise, a stash is ready and waiting to see me happily on my way.

My first problem arose the moment I entered the market at Plaza Mayor. All the delicacies, so beautifully and enticingly  arranged, were everywhere. However, of all the available choices, I could not make a decision for all the signs were in Spanish. Pulpo a la Gallega ( which I later discovered to be Galician Octopus) and Gambas Ajillo (which I later discovered to be Garlic Prawns), were only a few of the hundreds of unknown foods that assaulted my senses. Then I saw him, the creature that convinced me that no amount of threats would force me to ever again to consider eating seafood. The thing of children’s nightmares!

This is Not a Catfish!

Yikes! This is Not a Catfish!

 

The two Spaniards who stood in front of the creature seemed to be discussing purchasing him. I politely asked, in English of course, if they would step aside and allow me to take my picture. I envisioned myself making a huge amount of money selling my photo to National Geographic, for I had never seen anything so evil looking in my life. The young man and woman, who seem extremely intent upon sipping their wine, graciously moved aside and allowed me to photograph my masterpiece.

Dejected, and fearing starvation, I wandered up and down the isles. Then I saw the answers to a Southern’s prayer – Jamon Iberico. Although the two words are not in my vocabulary, instinct guides one who is in trouble. I held out a handful of money and the young lady selected the appropriate Euro. I could hear my Granny’s sweet voice in the heavenly choir, singing, “The South’s Gonna Rise Again.” Nothing has ever tasted as good as that ham sandwich. My life was saved and I had won the battle. I had purchased the best food in the market without uttering a word of Spanish.

Market in Plaza Mayor

Market in Plaza Mayor

 

Happy and content, I spent the remainder of the day sightseeing and fulfilling my dream. After all, it was my very first trip to Europe! Of all the places I visited during my stay, Madrid was the most fascinating. Historic sites reminiscent of Medieval times, gorgeous architecture,  and plazas filled with Europeans were around every corner. Yet, the most impressive of all were the Spanish people, who in their actions, their speech, and their facial expressions exuded a joy that somehow seems to be missing in the lives of so many Americans. I would find in the days to come, when I arrived at Diverbo’s Pueblo Ingles venue, that these were some of the happiest people I have ever known. The awesome people I meet, the incredible stories I hear, and the ability to travel worldwide on a budget! Ah, those are the makings of A Pilgrim’s Parable.

Gypsy Ladies on the Streets of Madrid

Gypsy Ladies on the Streets of Madrid

 

My day ended as beautifully as it had begun. Even after two lovely gypsy ladies chased me down the street, laughing as they attempted to get me to give them all my Euros. As Madrid drifted into twilight and the stars started to appear above me, I made my way back to my hostel, singing.

Now Amos Moses was a Cajun.
He lived by his self in the swamp.
He hunted alligator for livin.
He just knock ’em in the head with a stump.
The Lousisana law gonna get you Amos!
It ain’t legal huntin alligator down in the swamp boy!

About forty-five minutes southeast of Thibodeaux, Lousisiana
Lived a man called Doc Milsap and his pretty wife Hanna.
Well they raised up a son who could eat up his weight in groceries.
Named him after a man of the cloth.
Called him Amos Moses.

Typical Madrid Architecture

Typical Madrid Architecture

Shopping at Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Shopping at Plaza Mayor in Madrid

 

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