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August 27, 2010

Que les vaya bien?

I’m in Segovia now, sitting under the aqueduct.

Last night I had dinner at El Candido, a place everyone who has ever been to Spain recommended. "You have to get the cochinillo," they commanded. Cochinillo is Spanish for "best meal of your life." Synonym: roasted piglet.

True, a 'Segoviana' I asked for directions told me to skip that tourist trap and go to Jose Maria -- apparently, the source of the more authentic piglet -- but for once, I wanted the tourist trap. I wanted to have the premium meal under the silvery arches. I wanted the mariachis, the white table cloth and the cliches, every one of them.

Turns out the mariachis were actually a string quartet and the diners were almost all Spanish. As for the piglet: There are many things that can be described with words and many things that should be, and generally those categories overlap. This experience is neither.

All I will say is that my dinner felt like a sacred anatomy lesson, because pulling up the crispy skin, pushing away a layer of fat with the tip of my knife, picking apart the miniature ribcage and separating each muscle from the rest was a reminder of how perfectly living beings are put together, and how easily they can come apart. Every sinew, every capillary of that dead beast was sacrificed for my sensory pleasure, and for that, 18 hours later I continue to feel a burden of responsibility and gratitude. I am not saying this lightly. I took a life, and I’m deeply grateful for, and respectful of, that baby pig's final gasp.

As for askings: There have been several in Segovia. Here are three favorites.

Hotel upgrade?

I asked my hotel’s front desk manager if she could upgrade my room to one with a view, because I read online that the top floor offers a stunning panorama. She said no, but offerend to let me see the room she wanted to me to take.

I went upstairs, walked to the window and saw the “non-view”: from a pair of balconies that opened onto the street, I watched townsfolk and tourists bustling below, a dozen or more balconies on the building across the way and, about 50 feet to the left, the sunlit Plaza Mayor. If this wasn’t a view, I'm not sure what was.

“I’ll take the room,” I told her, downstairs. “But I don’t understand. What view does the other room have?”

“La sierra,” she answered softly, as if this were the name of a prayer. (The mountainside.)

In that case, I'm glad she didn't give me the upgrade!

Fulfill your credit card promise?

When trying to pay for a tasty but overpriced salad, I begged the waitress to please take my credit card. They had a sign loud and proud that they accept Visa and Mastercard, but she protested.

"I don't know, we have a minimum," she said. "I'll have to ask my boss."

"Yes! Please do."

Two minutes and 12.50 euros later, she swiped my card and it was a done deal.

Que les vaya bien?

When we part ways, people keep telling me: "Que te vaya bien." It's a thoughtful way to end conversations with a tourist you'll probably never see again. A wish for the best.

But I was curious if the plural would be le, or les: Que les vaya bien?

I turned to a lady sitting next to me at a cafe and asked.

Predictably, that turned into a conversation about her life, the granddaughter who is coming to town to see her, and her son's apartment a few blocks away, and my nifty little laptop, and how I like Spain, and Mr. A's line of work.

"What kind of work do you -- or did you -- do?" I asked.

"Me! I had 11 children!! I got married at 22 and that settled it!"

She was giddy as she said this, and I remembered that for her generation and in her culture, a woman was only worth what her husband could earn and the notion of work must have been shameful at worst, inconvenient at best...

Yay, progress.

Yay, women who work, women who stay home, women who have that choice.

Yay, women who ask.
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