Madrid Stories

Liz Nash, the darling of the waiters, finds a gourmet supermarket and sees an English actress outshine her Spanish co-star

Like all those still in town these dog days, I am rediscovering my neighbourhood. With the usual haunts closed for the summer, I have to venture further afield for somewhere to eat, drink and shop.

Café Manolo, a local favourite, does most of its business with MPs and spin-doctors by day, and operetta enthusiasts in the evening. With Parliament at one end of the street and the theatre at the other both closed for the summer, Manolo's has been shuttered and silent for so many weeks that its curlicued brass lettering is starting to tarnish.

The equally traditional Sanabria round the corner is closed for renovation. Regulars here include the legions of labourers who interminably dig up and repave the streets, widening them, narrowing them and excavating car parks; Parliament's armed guards; the occasional priest; and teenagers descending blearily from cheap hostels in pursuit of breakfast.

Bafflingly, even the hostels are "closed for the holidays". The quiet is so intense that when a couple strolled beneath my window their ringing conversation made me jump, and I stepped on to the balcony and glared at them.

So it's up the hill, past Starbucks-alikes thronged with tourists, accordion-players and an enterprising Canadian squatting in the sun with "I was robbed" written on a piece of cardboard. My newspaper kiosk is closed, necessitating another detour – until I penetrate those streets behind Puerta del Sol alive with Chinese 24-hour stores, sex shops and prostitutes seeking shade in the doorways of emporia selling religious statues and devotional tracts.

One, slender and anxious, has a coat over her arm and two small dogs on a lead. Another, plump and frumpy, sits on a bollard, indolently flopping a fat scarlet purse from side to side in the lambent midday heat, in the most arresting alfresco display of erotica I've seen.

Here, in clattering bars whose windows are daubed with jaunty vermilion shrimps, you get decent coffee, and the waiters are courteous, because they know that a client won in August is a client for life.

Then I make the greatest discovery of all: Lidl, the cut-price German supermarket. It has luxuries rarely obtainable in corner shops. Smoked salmon, good brown bread, Roquefort, crème fraîche, tomatoes on the vine, exotic juices, virgin olive oil, Viennese pastries – all are carelessly strewn about and unbelievably cheap. It's well worth the yomp through streets churned to rubble.

Moroccans, pensioners and dreadlocked hippies load up their trolleys. A jittery man clutching a whisky bottle asks to jump the queue. How come prosperous arty types, supposedly recolonising the city's seedy heart, haven't found this treasure trove? I suppose the posh folk are all away on holiday.

* * *

Among those working in Madrid this August are Emma Thompson and Antonio Banderas, completing a thriller directed by Christopher Hampton about Argentina during the dictatorship. Madrilenos who packed into their recent press conference were thrilled to hear Emma answering all the questions directed to her in reasonably fluent Spanish, which she claimed to have learnt in three days, five years ago.

"What elegance, what courtesy," radio chat show hosts raved about the Oscar-winning actress many Spaniards thought was a typically chilly, intimidating British female. La Thompson, laughing and informal, exuded more fluttery luvvieness than the solemn Tony Flags (as her co-star's name translates) on whom she called occasionally for help. "I am ... determined?" she said, quizzically turning to him at one point. "Determinado," he offered. She went on: "... determinada", adding the feminine ending, a glint in her eye.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test