Friday, September 11, 2009

Oviedo: we sleep on park benches and a barman pours our cider on the floor!

We arrive and, without somewhere to stay, we went in search of a safe place to lay down our sleeping bags and fall asleep. This "lack of somewhere to stay" was as much by design as anything, a deliberate sabotage to our plans so we could experience sleeping rough and also to give me something to write about here!
First we tried the lobby of a nearby bank, where admittance is allowed during the night to use the cashpoints, or to fall asleep, but one person had beaten us to it and was safely setup behind the double glazing for many more hours to come. It was midnight, and we were on the outside of the glass, and it was cold. We scanned around, looking for a park, but everywhere we saw was quite small and well lit, or had rather sinister looking sprinkler heads that we found difficult to trust. A mad dash into a hostel to haggle with them over prices, we were a bit sick with sleeping rough after the journey down, yielded nothing coming, so we went back to one of the parks and, taking it in turns for one of us to "keep watch", we attempted slumber. But the cold and the noises of the night meant that Waseem, first up to sleep and a very light sleeper, failed to do so, so we went in search of somewhere quieter and, vainly, warmer. A long hungry straggle through the town, though, yielded nothing - none of the other banks had places where the cash points were on the inside. The situation was bleak and there was no possibility of negotiation, the sun would only come around again when it was ready. So the hours were whiled first on a park bench near the bus station (where I slept like a log and Waseem, well, didn't) and then, when the centrally heated bus station opened at about 6am, we moved our "beds" into it and I slept handsomely with Waseem also getting a few winks. It is a real advantage to sleeping rough if you are also good at sleeping, but even still I only got about 5 hours. By 11am, we had done all of the prostrating, sleeping and sham-sleeping that we we were possibly capable of and, because we had done rather a lot of that now, it was time to put a stop to it and get on with the day.
So we slouched over to the cathedral, part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route which terminates several hundred kilometres to the west of here in Santiago, and sat around like dazed hermits at all the trafficking people in and out until Kristina, our host, arrived at 3pm.
Kristina, alternately friendly and short, was another of Waseem's friend from UCLan in the previous year, and was our chirpy host for the next 2 nights as we regained our strength and with Xavier, her boyfriend, saw a little of the Asturian nightlife.
One street she showed us was named Cider Avenue (or Avenia Sidera), cider being a regional delicacy here. "Great!" I said, "I like alcohol and the drinking of it. Can you show us some of your cider?" So we went in one of the cider bars, elsewhere from this street as it happened, and were amazed at the style of pouring it.
The cider was completely flat in the bottle, and so the barman, in ceremonial fashion, would hold the bottle high above his head and pour it into a glass held down by his hip, introducing gastronomically necessary bubbles into it while all the while staring off blankly into space as if he he was really very bored and that this was really very easy. Of course, at any moment he might drop some of the precious stuff, or pour it down himself in sticky-staining rivulets, but I think the purpose of his expression was to show his nonchalant confidence that in his hands this was not going to happen. But spill it, to my English eyed disbelief, he did! Luxuriously! Straight and unapologetically onto the floor! Sacrilege! This would never happen in England! But the drink, served out in it now-bubbly glory, a third-filling the large glasses, was very tastey and had surely benefited from the pounding pouring technique, the sweet bubbles tickling the palette. Yes, I would say that the delicacy is in the pouring too!
And everyone was enjoying a drink, even the waiter was getting in on the act in the high altitude pouring method, this time standing at special pouring-booths out amongst the tables, looking very much like urinals made from halved-beer barrels, at which the especially portly man in his pristine whites stood to pour, his belly an excellent counterpoint for balancing to the pouring arm craned up and above his head's central balancing sensors, staring off into the distance, looking for a ship arriving from Tahiti it must be presumed from his expression (he was certainly not losing any sweat over the perfect transferal of paid commodities between bottle and glass!).
And then, to round the experience off, the bar was actually built like a long urinal, with a liquid drainage canal running along its length, and you were invited to discard your dregs (had you got any, I being an English drinker hadn't, having loudly and unceremoniously sucked my dregs out in a moral riposte against alcohol wastage) into it, again with a look of lordly aplomb, if you could muster it (I was almost crying at this point). By the second drink (half of it poured onto the floor by the blind and non-present barman) I was getting into the spirit of it all, straight away downing my drink (as was the custom) but leaving a hefty amount in mine (about half of it!) to gayly throw it straight back down the front of the bar! Brilliant fun! And of course, unlike the English reasons for drinking, this was more done for its community binding ritual and once I had left my desires for "getting pissed" along with my smelly mackintosh at the coat stand, I was appropriately tickled by this terrific novelty (if a little harrowed!) and would happily do it more often given the chance. But a warning to you, only practice drink chucking in a chucking-friendly establishment, always asking the barman first and don't bring alcoholic friends with you. It would be just too cruel!

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