During our 2-night stay, we made a couple of visits into the town of Soria itself.
Our first visit, or should I say our thirst visit, was when the clock struck beer o’clock during our investigation of the Riu Duero. We wandered up into town in search of the main square, usually called Plaza mayor. Here, one is usually guaranteed to find a bar or three. Soria presented us with what seemed like a tangled web of streets and squares, which proved more of a challenge than normal, but eventually, by rewinding the steps of a man carrying some bread, we found it; sure enough, Plaza mayor. There were, indeed a few bars along one edge and tables in the middle. We chose a small side table with two high chairs outside one bar playing good ol’ rock music, music as it should be. Normally I’m not a fan of intrusive music at restaurants or bars but here, with the sun out and locals wandering past, it felt fine.
The barman was genial, too. My by now much practiced “dos cañas” swung into action again but the barman was canny, he could see I was thirsty and queried the size of my drink. “¿Cana o muy grande?”, or some such. Oh go for it, “un caña y un muy grande”, otherwise I’ll be back in here in little more than 10 seconds. I seem to recollect from our trip to Andalucia last year, that they call the muy grandes, tankes, which seems related to tankard. Whatever they call it, he instructed an assistant to grab an ice cold larger glass from the freezer. What a civilized country. I returned to Francine where we supped congenially and watched Spain pass by. The barman beckoned me over through the window open to the street and presented me with a plate of what I suspect was sepia [cuttlefish] rather than calamar [squid]. Excellent; we’re back in the land of tapas.
Round two: Francine fancied a rosado. I returned to the bar with two empty glasses. The barman had changed but at least he waited to hear what I would order, unlike the chap in Darocca. There were various tapas on the bar, too. One of them looked like a slice of belly pork, about 1cm thick, well cooked and with a tantalizingly crispy skin. I asked for one and he made cutting signs with his hand accompanied by a questioning look. Who needs language? Yes, go ahead, cortado por favor. Very tasty it was, too. [We learned later that this seems to have been a Soria speciality.]
We did drag ourselves away eventually and walked further, where we found another square almost filled with restaurant/bar tables being well used in the sunshine. I nearly said “doing brisk trade” but that might imply being rushed and, of course, nobody was rushing; that would be very un-Spanish. [Ignore the crane on the skyline.]
A little further still, we found the municipal park, a restful green space in Soria’s tangle of streets. Whereas ignoring the cranes on the skyline is fine, ignoring the Storks on this skyline is not fine. [That was an attempted avian pun – crane/stork. Just sayin’.] Quite commonly over much of Spain, White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) build their huge nests (a.k.a. tangle of twigs) on various bits of roofs but they seem particularly attracted to church towers. Maybe that’s just because they tend to be the higher buildings; I’m sure Storks are too sensible to have religion. Here’s one with a chick in the nest. You really don’t want to have to clean up the bird mess from these characters.
On our first evening, we’d taken the easy option and eaten in the hotel restaurant. Now we’d discovered an easier route down the back of the hill on which the parador stood, into plaza mayor. Cognisant of the fact that timing might be an issue – late Spanish dining, and all that – on our second evening we thought we might go down and try and find a spot of local Spanish culture. If it didn’t work, there was always the parador, which began serving at 20:30.
Local Spanish culture was exactly what we got, thoug hcertainly not the culture we expected. We continued beyond our lunchtime bar to another which we’d spotted nearer the municipal park. We got a couple of beers and stood at one of the bar’s tall tables, designed for leaning on, just outside the serving port. Now, we’d already seen that TVs are a popular bar/restaurant accessory in Spain. We saw them at restaurants both in La Mancha and Valencia. The programme of choice had always been football/soccer. I missed out on the field sport gene so I’m happy to ignore it. This bar had two TVs facing outwards to the square. Was soccer being shown? No. What was being shown, then? Bullfighting from Madrid, that’s what.
Now we were in the realms of the uncomfortable. We’ve seen a rather tame – I’m tempted to say harmless – French version of bull fighting practiced in Provence where young packages of human testosterone rush around the bull ring trying to snatch favours from the horns of a bull before leaping to safety over a barrier. Their mens’ actions seem to taunt the bull slightly, hence its chasing them, but nothing more. We’d even witnessed a sort of Spanish tame version during the local fiesta in Jalón, though here, the whole point seemed to be to taunt the magnificent creature and then run to safety. This, I found more distasteful. Flaming favours were sometimes mounted on some poor bull’s horns to make things more spectacular but this year, we read, that this practice is being stopped. Here, though, was the real Spanish bullfighting, to the death and on TV. At one point, we caught an image of a dead bull (or dying – it still seemed to be twitching, though that could’ve been either the movement or nerves) being dragged from the ring by four horsemen.
Francine couldn’t watch and I don’t blame her. I’d never seen it before, knew little about it, and morbid curiosity made me stare a while, followed by snatching the odd glance. There were several (6-ish) men dressed in gaudy matador costumes carrying pink, yes pink, capes. What happened to red? I have a feeling that all but one were there as a distraction to the hapless bull, which began as a magnificent creature. It didn’t seem to move particularly fast, more sort of nudging through the cape as the matador side-stepped, forming what he presumably regarded as macho shapes with his body. It seemed neither particularly dangerous nor skilful, from an ignorant foreign spectator’s point of view. The most sickening part of the performance in my eyes was another macho mounted on an armoured horse. The horse looked most like a knight’s jousting horse with an armoured skirt all around it. This man, I think a picador, carried a long lance and every now and then – I know not what the signal or trigger was – he would ride up to the bull and jam his lance into the poor creature’s shoulder muscles, between the shoulder blades, his whole body weight acting down through the lance, thus weakening the bull and, of course, causing it untold pain. (Here’s a picture of what I mean – don’t look if you don’t want to.) This picador would then retire and the so-called fight would continue.
I did see one moment where several other bovines (sex unknown) entered the ring, seemingly to shepherd the main bull out, So, apparently not every bull gets dispatched. As a result of a couple of audience shots, I began to wonder if this was something like Caesar at the Roman games; some bigwig giving the thumbs up or thumbs down depending upon performance. Whilst that may be way off the mark as an assumption, that’s certainly what this debacle resembles, a gladiatorial contest in the Roman Colosseum. This degrading Spanish version is perhaps even less evenly matched than that of the Romans, not that I’ve witnessed gladiators, of course, but the dice here were quite clearly heavily loaded against the bull.
Two words spring to mind to describe Spanish bullfighting: barbaric and abhorrent. What a great subject for a TV show. We’re supposed to be more civilized than that, these days, are we not?
I wonder how much longer such bullfighting will be allowed to continue? Probably a distressingly long time, as deeply ingrained in the Spanish culture as messing with bulls is. There may be moves in the right direction, though. Jalón is stopping the flaming favours and I noticed from these TV shots that the audience seating was nowhere near full in Madrid, though maybe it never is/was. I’ve no wish to watch further to learn any more. We’d finished our beer and had had more than enough. Unenthusiastically, appetite diminished, we went in search of food.
We sat down at a restaurant in plaza mayor and ordered a couple of glasses of soothing vino. When in doubt, drink. We perused a menu which looked expensive, particularly by Spanish standards. Curious, given that we were not in a high tourist area. Then we discovered that service commenced at 21:00. Here we go again. We paid for our wine and wandered back up the hill to the parador where we could dine in relative luxury and 30 minutes earlier. Besides, the walk might help our degraded appetites, though I certainly wouldn’t be ordering the rabo de toro again this evening.
So, there’re two things I dislike about Spain: dinner time and bullfighting. At least my originally theoretical dislike of the latter was now based on some minor amount of knowledge.