Monday, July 22, 2019

Pilrims' Progress

Santiago is my kind of town and I'm finding out all the reasons why with each day that passes.

And that's despite it being the end point for religious pilgrims for thousands of years, which a heathen like me couldn't care less about. I would guess that most of the hundreds of pilgrims we've seen showing up in the square in bright, matching t-shirts, walking sticks in hand, did not walk all those kilometers to be cured by the remains of St. James buried here as pilgrims once did.

All I know is, they make it to the square after walking or cycling, collapse in the square and then find a place to sing group songs while quaffing beer and eating everything in sight. Most of them remove their shoes and not a few begin picking at scabs and blisters on their feet, looking grateful to be off their barking dogs.

Speaking of, part of the appeal to this beautiful place is hoofing around it.

Lots of walking this hilly, holy city means that I don't need to start my day with a walk because it's built into everything we do. Like visiting Santiago Cathedral - currently under renovation, which is actually pretty cool to see - the Galician Contemporary Art Museum (very ICA-like with no permanent collection but some fascinating art tied to asylum/refugees/immigration), untold convents, monasteries and plazas (Plaza de Cervantes being a particular favorite).

But woman can not live by pilgrimages and art alone.

Santiago is known for its octopus and you can't swing a dead cat (side note: we saw a man riding a bike with a cat in the basket, its paws on the front of the basket as if it were following the master's route as he pedaled) without hitting a restaurant/bar with a window full of octopus (and often, other assorted live sea creatures).

The preferred Galician preparation is octopus a la gallega - after beating and cooking, coins of local octopus tentacles get a bath of olive oil, coarse sea salt and sweet and spicy paprika, only to be served on a wooden plate - that is so tender and delicious we can't be the only people who could eat it daily.

Needless to say, sopping up the flavored oil with the fabulous Spanish crusty bread only adds to the appeal.

Without even meaning to, we returned to Abastos 2.0, site of our fabulous first night dinner, the very next day for lunch. It's not that we were moonshine-addled idiots who couldn't recall where they'd been 12 hours earlier, but that we'd been unaware then that the restaurant also had an outdoor outpost just across the street.

It wasn't until we found stools at a counter built for two (not an easy accomplishment at 2:00 when hordes of hungry locals and tourists are looking for a lunch spot) that our French waiter (who also spoke Spanish, Galician, Italian and some English) solved the mystery of where we'd landed.

Knowing that meant we didn't need to look at any stinkin' menu.

So from there, we put ourselves in his more than capable hands, requesting no more than a bottle of Albarino and whatever he thought we needed to taste. With a shaded perch and the hustle and bustle of the Saturday market just around the corner, we sat back and ignored the madding crowds while he kept us fed.

First up were oysters from the north Atlantic, significant not just because they were briny enough for my taste, but because the man who'd sworn off eating oysters 20 years ago after a bad experience joined me in slurping bivalves.

Relationship milestone right there.

Next came Sea Bream ceviche tasting like it was not long out of the water and dressed so lightly as not to change that. Scored sections of pickled mackerel met crusty bread for what is undoubtedly a frequent meal in seaport towns, hearty and flavorful.

As much a fan of seafood as I am, I had never had langoustinos in the shell, so picking the lobster-like meat (albeit in much smaller amounts)  from the tiny, spiny shells added to the pleasure of eating the sweet meat. A couple at a nearby table watched us for tips on how to do it before being brave enough to attack their own.

And just like the night before, when we wanted  a sweet ending to a stellar lmeal, our affable server came back with cannolis, the only echo of the night before beyond the incredibly high quality of every bite we put in our eager mouths.

But we're not just mouths, constantly feeding, either.

Like in Madrid, street music is everywhere, but the unlikeliest of all is bagpipes. Except for after dinner, which means after 11 or midnight, we've yet to walk through a long arch near the Cathedral without passing by a bagpiper or two taking advantage of the acoustics in the tunnel-like space and blowing their hearts out. A big music stage in one of the plazas has a band almost every night and crowds of all ages gather to listen under the stars.

The walk to the Contemporary Art Museum  also took us to a former convent's grounds and gardens where flowers I didn't recognize bloomed, a stone aqueduct and fountain attested to the centuries they'd carried water and we had a sublime view of Santiago from above.

I could finish by saying "wish you were here" except I've got everything I need already here.

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