[For an explanation of what’s going on here, you might read Incognito ergo sum.]
I am reasonably pleased with the title of this piece—though I have to concede that it doesn’t come anywhere close to Dorothy Parker’s brilliant “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”—not least because there are surprisingly many bars in Albarracín, some of which I have managed to see. I say “managed to see” in part because my work schedule leaves me only limited time for bar-crawling, and in part because the bars here are closed surprisingly often, especially for Spain.
Being a town that depends heavily on weekend tourism, it makes sense that many bar owners close down mid-week. But the funny thing is that on the weekend, when the bars open, the majority of the clientele consists of locals, with a few tourists scattered here and there. I’m not sure what the locals do for their bar-related needs during the week, but perhaps they just go to the restaurants, of which there is also a surprising number, most of them including a bar. Now that I stop to count, if you wanted to go and have, say, a draft beer here in Albarracín, there are around twenty places you could go, provided that they’re open. Not bad for a town of a thousand inhabitants!
One of my favorite bars in town is the Molino del Gato, which is an old mill on the river that has been done up in a very nice blend of modern and medieval. You can watch the water rush through the old millstone channel through a sheet of plexiglass built into the floor. It’s very cool. It’s also positioned at the nexus of the old part of town and the newer part (what the postmaster described to me as la parte moderna, and then laughed a little at his phrasing), so it’s ideal for both tourists and locals.
My other favorite bar is Aben Racín, a tiny place right on the plaza mayor which is owned by a very nice fellow named Luis, whose father owned the bar before him, and who explained to me that nothing in the bar has changed over the last several decades. This is not hard to believe when looking at the worn bar and crooked tables, the whitewashed walls—complemented by one that is raw stone, the side of the mountain—and the cryptic old implements of wood and iron hanging on the walls, testifying to the sorts of things the earliest patrons of the bar probably spent the rest of their time doing.
There are also a couple of really nice young fellows who work at the bar (both named Carlos, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage), with whom I have spent quite some time chatting and people-watching. After a week or two here, I have started to develop a sketchy sense of the social networks and human traffic here: the owner of that bar lives in that house, the young man who works at that restaurant goes to that bar after work, the man hanging out and smoking on the corner owns the charcutería, the woman at the tobacconist’s has two children who play in the square, etc. I can only imagine the complexity of people’s knowledge of each other in a place like this after ten years, or twenty, or forty. So people-watching in the bars here is surely a multi-layered activity. I also enjoy watching the tourists, some of whom like to chat with strangers, and some of whom sit huddled defensively in a corner.
The other night there was a middle-aged couple in the bar—Spanish, but from out of town—who orderd two little liqueurs and sat there looking a bit nervous, I thought. After a while they started smooching, which I thought was kind of cute for a middle-aged couple. They left after an hour or so. Then the next day I saw the woman walking around town doing tourist activities—with another man. I got the impression that this one, talking on his mobile phone and ignoring her, was the husband. Intrigues in the tiny tourist town!
Because my work schedule requires me to get up at 8 o’clock, I can’t stay at the bars too late. But even so, I was highly amused one night to emerge from the bar and find that there was nobody at all in the main square—except four cats! This is funny because there’s an expression in Spanish, había cuatro gatos, which means “the place was deserted”. That gave me something to smile about as I made my way home to bed.
Posted by: Gregory