By Robin Graham
The people either side of me are grinning. The barman is laughing. I had already been waiting here for some time, hemmed in on all sides by the tell-tale, claustrophobic crush of any Spanish bar that has earned its stripes with a local clientele. Above me old posters for bull fighting fixtures, flamenco concerts and ferias – the walls covered to the ceiling with them and old photos of fading celebrity. I’m in the back room and the bar staff – who generate at least as much noise as their uproarious customers – are around the corner out front. It’s a good ten minutes before one of them gets round to me but I don’t mind; I’m glad to be here.
La Viña is the best barrio in Cádiz and Casa Manteca is the best bar in La Viña. These narrow streets are a warren of working class homes, flamenco clubs and seafood stop-ins. Every spring they find themselves at the epicentre of the city’s all encompassing Carnaval (second only in scale to Rio’s). A heaving mass of dance, drink and debauchery; the ground a kaleidoscope of confetti and the crowds a shifting sea of mask and costume – clown, sailor, prawn, princess, death.
At this time of year (the winter months and early spring) the erizos (sea urchins) are in season and a stall is set up on the corner outside the bar. For a couple of euros you can have a few of them hacked open for you and tuck in to their delicious gonads. I’ve come inside though for the speciality of the house; chicharrones, or slices of pressed pork dressed with lemon. I also want some jamón de bellota, or acorn fed Spanish cured ham.
I have made the apparently hilarious mistake of pronouncing the double ‘l’ in bellota rather than substituting it for the customary Spanish ‘y’, so I’m waiting for the barman to stop laughing.
Any minute now.
Robin Graham lives in Tarifa. Read more of his work at www.alotofwind.com