La Venencia: Sherry, Hemingway, 1930s Spain

As I’m a tremendous fan of fun facts, a fun fact about Madrid is that it’s got the most bars per capita when weighed against any other European country. Another fun fact is that the Korean peninsula drinks more alcohol per capita than any other country in the world. It’s a shame I’m not even close to being an alcoholic.

A third fun fact is that I love historical places and artifacts. I’ve always felt that way, from the time I leaned over the velvet rope in 8th grade to sneakily touch the Liberty Bell during a school trip to Washington DC and Philadelphia. The idea of touching something that really historic people touched, or for the sake of Madrid, sitting where Ernest Hemingway once imbibed while getting the scoop on the war makes the history lover in me really excited.

That being said, I’m guilty of feeling quite sedentary and saying I want to explore Spain more than I actually get around to exploring it. It’s one of those things I can’t stand about my Spanish self, but so it is. However, this attitude has a tendency to shift whenever a visitor comes knocking on my door from afar. Luckily it happens sorta kinda often. I can go on and on about how Spain and I just never hit it off, but I do love to show it off to my visitors. Plus, there’s still so much I need to see, of which I have a growing list that I need to get around to checking off during these last few months.

One of those places on my list of must-visits was La Venencia, an unassuming bar established over 70 years ago, circa the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The fun facts keep coming – it also happened to be a local hangout of Don Ernesto, as Hemingway was referred by the Spanish. La Venencia is like a little time capsule, and with one foot in the door, you are immediately transported to a time of bygones, of Republican soldiers sipping the one drink the pub sells – sherry, while divulging information to Mr. Hemingway.

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During Veny’s visit I dragged her to the bar at the top of my list, and I got a bit day lit while drinking both glasses of sherry that I ordered for the two of us. Knowing nothing about sherry (or jerez), I ordered one of each – a manzanilla and a palo cortado, served with a tapa of deliciously herbed green olives, and a side of dialogue with the others in the bar after asking the bartender “cual es la mas mejor?” Yes, I asked which is the more best, yes my Spanish sucks, and yes I got people talking with me – intrigued why two clueless girls stumbled into a sherry bar.

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Our tab was written on the wooden bar with chalk just before sneaking this picture, disobeying the ‘no photos’ rule which has been long standing since wartime when Republican soldiers didn’t want their photos taken, for fear of being outed by fascist spies. After having a good laugh at my poor Español, the guy standing next to us asked how I found out about this place, wanted to know which sherry I preferred (the manzanilla was fruitier, while the palo cortado grew a little hair on the chest – I enjoyed both as time went on), and told me he has been a long time regular and believes La Venencia to be the most authentic bar in the city.

As if the ambience of the wooden bar, wooden tables, barrels of fermenting sherry, antique cash register, and decades old posters weren’t enough, a couple guys sitting behind us had a bottle of the manzanilla and a plate of machego that they offered us a taste of – unaware that I had ordered a glass already. I loved feeling like a visitor being urged to experience the bar’s offerings to the fullest. On the opposite end of the bar, as we veered our sights to the right, just to the left of the entrance, sat three older gentlemen looking as if they’d been posted there since the ’30s and hadn’t moved since. I sometimes have a bit of a staring problem, and think one may have noticed our gawking which I don’t think he enjoyed, but I was enthralled.

If you’re in Madrid and fancy a bit of history, are looking to try something a little bit different, something a lotta bit Spanish, and stumble into one of Hemingway’s many stumbling-grounds, I urge you to pop into La Venencia.

La Venencia – Calle de Echegaray 7, Madrid, Spain

Have you ever visited La Venencia? Have you ever visited an age-old watering hole that granted you a different side of the city you were in? Let me know in the comments!

 

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It’s Hard Not To Compare

It’s been about a month and a half since I peninsula hopped. I know I haven’t written too much about it so far, and I’m not sure why that is, but it may be because I don’t feel like I’ve settled just yet. My heart is still wheeling for Korea, and I’d say all around I don’t have the feels I initially got when I began life in Koko.

I can’t stop comparing things, which I know is totally normal given the whirlwind I bestowed upon myself, but I also feel like maybe it’s hindering my enjoyment of Spain. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying myself – because I am. It’s just taking a little longer to wrap my heart around the continent that was my favorite just 4 years ago, before Asia and the family I made there stole it.

I guess this is what homesickness feels like. Just whack when it’s for your 2nd home and not the 1st.

In an effort to make this more than a sap story, I have taken mental, and when applicable, pictoral notes, of those noticeable differences between the 2 peninsulas that have had the great pleasure of hosting my American ass.

Because comparing is inevitable, here we go.

1. Drunk Ajussi vs. Señors Who Siesta

It is by no means a rarity in Korea to find a ‘salary man’ in his glittery tie passed out in his own vomit whilst molesting the trash laden curb, or passed out in the fetal position in a corner, or basking in his glory on a subway bench at nearly any time of the day.

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Or in his case, traditional ajussi garb.

In Spain this is nonexistent. Instead, you’ll find a gentlemen fully dressed to the nines having his afternoon siesta in the middle of the hustle bustle of the city center on a park bench.

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2. Ajummas vs. Señoras In Pearls

Ajummas are a breed all their own. They don’t care what they throw on in the morning (unless it involves hiking a mountain), and I’m convinced do not own mirrors and/or have someone to veto the clashing patterns they’ve got draped. When they hit a certain age, the only hairdo is one of tightly coifed curls, and their elbows can kill.

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My eyes!

The señoras in pearls are women who have not given up on life, and will go down looking their best. Perfectly tailored dress sets, strings of pearls around their necks and dazzling their ears, and the best designed hand bags to boot! Please note that this element of putting oneself together translates to the señors as well.

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Arguing the proper marrying age of a young woman. I’m officially on the shelf in case you were curious.

3. Early Bird Special Plus Round 2, 3, Noraebang vs. Tapas Then Dinner Whenever

I had never eaten dinner as early as I did than while living in Korea. School would finish at 4:40pm and then the whole faculty was off to dinner together en masse. We’d sit down for Round 1 around 5pm and everyone was prepared to get smashed. After a couple hours and a couple drunk falls by the maintenance man, or principal, we’d move onto Round 2 at some hof. I usually tried to duck out around this time. But if I stuck around, that would ultimately lead to noraebanging the night away.

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Germ swapping builds a strong immune system, and is good for health.

The Spanish will eat tapas at the time when we Americans would typically eat dinner (or really anytime), around 7-8pm, and dinner no earlier than 9pm. That’s even pushing it. I have come home on multiple occasions to a roommate cooking dinner at 11pm. Don’t they know that shit sits in your stomach and makes you fat?! Both enjoy their food though, there is zero arguing of that.

Tiny bites of bomb.

Never thought I’d crave mushrooms as much as I do whilst looking at this photo.

4. Korean School vs. Out Of Control Spanish School

Of course, the reason I am allowed to legally live here, duh. I must admit, even though this is only my 2nd teaching gig and I was in Korea 3 years longer than I have been in Spain, no one has anything on Korean kids. Maybe I’m biased, but then so I am, but they just latched onto my heart so much quicker. Maybe it’s because I was so novel to them. Whatever it is, Korean kiddos, even at their worst, are FAR more obedient and attentive to authority figures than Spanish kiddos. And that’s just the kids.

The teachers do NOT know how to discipline the students here and spend the majority of class talking over the kids because they don’t quiet them down. I work in a bilingual school, so all subjects are taught in English. They’re little, so obviously they aren’t going to understand everything and every direction being thrown at them. Yet, I have co-teachers who bark at the kids and expect them to understand everything right away. I have never experienced such coldness from teachers to children, or kids so out of control off their rockers. It’s like a vicious circle of non-discipline, shouting, students running around throwing pencils in class, crawling on the floor, and of course nothing getting done. I teach only 16 hours a week, and am in the biggest hurry to get out of that school when I’m done. By this time in Korea I had already sold my heart over for a 2nd year, Spain on the other hand, I’m majorly leaning towards negatory.

I will say though that the differences in schools are very telling of the cultures and how completely opposite they are of one another. Koreans strive to be the top of the tops and get into the best university possible, while the ability to finish school at 16 years old in Spain is a welcomed one.  Not to mention, I can’t help but notice how impassioned Spaniards are. While I hate the shouting with a passion, emotions and creativity run wild in the Spanish classroom, something that is 110% lacking, in Korea. You win and you lose I suppose.

Since I'm not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here's a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child's photobooth ride.

Since I’m not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here’s a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child’s photobooth ride.

5. Table Staples

Seeing the staples on any given country’s table is so fascinating to me. I was thinking about this the other day, how I guess in America it would be salt & pepper, maybe some ketchup and mustard. In Korea you’ve got one of the millions of kimchis and gochujang on every single table you sit down at.  Which also makes my mouth water and my mind explode with the notion that I have not stuffed kimchi in my face in over a month. It’s tragic really.

Well in Spain you’ve got extra virgin olive oil and what I missed with tremendous abandon for 3 years, balsamic vinegar, on nearly every table. If not balsamic, you’ve at least got oil and some other kind of vinegar. But it is ever-present and they slather that shit on every piece of jamon or pan con tomate they devour.

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Since you know what oil & vinegar look like, this is a sampling of snack time my first day on the job. Chocolate cake with sprinkles for breakfast.

6. Cafés Of Every Theme vs. Cafeterias

I could step out of my apartment in Korea and find a million cafes in every direction I turned, and they’d be of any theme imaginable. It was perhaps one of my hands down favorite things about Korea and something that that country reigns supreme in. Café culture in Korea is TOP.OF.THE.POPS. While some of my best cups of coffee were definitely not had in Korea, the best slices of cake were. HELLO HACKNEY DARK BABY AND FRANK’S RAINBOW CREAM ROLL CAKE. And anything Earl Grey flavored, because they have it.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Café culture in Spain isn’t so prominent, and that’s probably because Spaniards are a little more adventurous in their outings with other individuals. While the coffee is a million eons beyond Korea, the experience is lightyears different, and not really my style. I LOVE sitting in a cafe with my computer typing away, and so far that experience has been pretty hard to replicate. Most caféterias are bar style and you order a cafe con leche from the bar and drink it standing up alongside others who are also at the bar. They’re also not a very grab-your-coffee-to-go type of people.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be up the street from me.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be just around the river bend from me.

7. American English vs. British English

This is a bizarre as all hell thing people! It’s adorable slash makes me feel a little heeby jeeby inside. Hearing little Spanish babies speak in British accents might be one of the most precious things I have ever willfully exposed myself to, and hearing a 1st grader ask me everyday “Teacher, where’s my rubber?” will never cease to make me cackle with dirty abandon inside.

That aside, while my co-teachers encourage telling the students what we’d say in America, I find it to be hardly enforced. It’s merely brushed over, probably because it won’t be on the Cambridge Exams. Needless to say, I miss teaching American English, even if the kiddos thought every black person on the TV was Obama.

Well, there you’ve got it! Did you like that British English I just threw at you?! I thought you would. These are just a month’s worth of immediate observations that have tipped my senses. I hope I didn’t come off as so unbearably whiney about my new life in España, I’m trying here people! Now let me know about your experiences in your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th homes. What things really shocked your pants off, or merely stood out to you?