“Me encantan las gambas a la plancha…”, she was tweeting like a swallow while withdrawing its plate. I was distant and didn’t know why I was there. Where exactly? “Mercado de San Miguel” was the name. I arrived there by chance, just following a dream. ( Gi.Co.)
Let’s start in order. I came upon Madrid on a spring day: the sun was high, there was a sweet breeze, and in my heart I had the hostile desire to visit Velàzquez, the great Baroque portrait painter.
I didn’t queue to get inside the Prado museum. Quick I dove into those rooms, to find again the peace of tradition. I was longing to see those clowns and dwarfs: Pablo de Valladolid, or the Taliban and disarming eyes of the Don Cristobal de Castañeda y Pernía portrait, named the Barbarossa. Or how to hold a proud paintbrush and together the unbearable upset that Infanta Margarita expresses in the great masterpiece “Las meninas”?
Yes, tradition can upset. Stop, I decide to go out. While thinking I walk along the Paseo of El Prado. Insolent enough I get into the CaixaForum, a post-modern art gallery, free just like all modern things which are vile and miserable. What I find is an unexpected exhibition: shots of a century by Jacques Henri Lartigue, a master of photography, a genius of the fleeting moments.
Looking that world that does not change, but that is not anachronistic, pierce my heart and catch the sight of a mysterious woman: she has a nice hat, a pale and lightweight dress. She looks at those pictures with existential melancholy, which I am so in love with. Does she know about me? No, at all; cold, unapprochable and for this reason even more desirable. I will call her Florette, like the young wife of my photographer Cupid. By this time subjugated, I only take care of her. Suddenly, she decides to go out. She crosses the big street, with her long naked legs. I follow her like a thief. She gets into the Royal Botanic garden and stops enchanted by a meadow of Red Matador tulips, straight like Don Quixote’s mills.
I have just read the label of a Chinese palm, which is adorable like my mysterious lady: trachycarpus fortunei. I remember the words of the apocryphal Gospel of the kind of Matthew: “I would love, if it would be possible, to collect the fruits of this palm”. My lurin woman attracts me like a moth in the heart of the ancient Madrid.
She turns towards a square and stops in front of a building made of wrought iron and glass, a monument of modernism and new ideas of almost a century ago, reminiscence of the Les Halles market in Paris.
There is a sign, Mercado de San Miguel, and the bottom floor has a large window full of fruits, vegetables, fish, bread. A place to get together and walk, first of all. Here it looks like you can go shopping every day and taste something in the several shops and store houses.
Florette gets inside, among the crowd that let her pass through, caressed by a golden light, that crosses the high aisles. She stops at a desk and tastes some olive skewers and boquerones en vinagre, fresh anchovies marinaded in white vinegar.
Standing, in front of another “bodega”, she whispers something, she drinks a cold Manzanilla on tap, a sherry with something a bit salty that is irresistible. Chased by my look, has the ritual of tapas: sips and smiles. The party carries on, Florette takes off her hat and loose her brown hair. Then, it looks like she claims something to a huge and smiling chef, who disappears behind a desk of fresh fish. Cooking straight away, he brings Florette a dish of grilled prawns, hot and seasoned with salt and some parsley. “Me encantan las gambas a la plancha …”, were her words, while she turned and looked at me smiling, with her dark eyes. She really stared at me. And I thought about what Ernest Hemingway wrote once during a hot Summer in 1929, here in Madrid: “There isn’t any cure for anything in life”.
Mercado de San Miguel
Plaza Oriente, 3 – 28013 Madrid, Spagna