The Cava hits the bottom of the glass for the third time and I know I’m in trouble. I can’t say no though.
‘In Spain, with this, there’s no such thing as no,’ says my happy host, putting the bottle back in the ice bucket. It’s 11:30 and I’m sat on a bar stool in the middle of an underground fish market, surrounded by bonitos, sardines, tuna and, well, fish guts.
I’m in Santa Cruz’s vast and colourful municipal market and really only came to look at the extraordinary stalls. After raising an eyebrow at the comprehensive fruterias, panaderias and herboristerias above, I headed below to the fish.
An early morning world
‘Come, come!’ A woman grabbed my arm and pointed at the unshelled prawns behind glass by her feet.
‘You must eat everything! You must, it’s so good!’ Adds a Russian woman, wide eyed and sincere.
‘Oh the king crab! The king crab, it’s delicious I promise I promise,’ says the woman gripping my arm.
The man behind the stainless steel fish bar grins a George Clooney grin. These women don’t work for him, instead, their eyes have a light glaze to them. A Champagne glaze.
We sit down and order two glasses of the cheapest sparkling wine – it’s a little much to be ordering actual Champagne. Surrounded by Canarians ordering their fresh fish, it seems odd to be drinking but nobody raises an eyebrow.
‘The king crab,’ says the man behind the bar, ‘the fishermen sail to Russia to catch it, cook it and freeze it on the way back then I can sell it for a lot of money. It’s a good business eh?’
A group of four turn up looking a little worse for wear and drag themselves up onto barstools. The barman rolls his eyes at us before pouring the group glasses of Cava. They’re perhaps in their late twenties and have distracted red eyes and spills down their fronts.
‘These guys,’ says the barman returning to us, ‘I think they went out last night and never went home. They’ve been here since 10am! Drunk people eh? It’s a problem with my business. I’m glad you two are here, you rescue me from them,’ he says, topping up our glasses despite our protestations. Off to my left, a moray eel corpse is staring me down.
The woman who initially grabbed my arm has, I realise, also been here for a while and probably has consumed around a bottle. She comes over to us and talks quickly in a confusing mixture of
Spanish and English. When I tell her we sailed here, she begins to cry.
She tells us how when she was a girl, her father had a boat. The rest, I couldn’t say; her words becoming less and less coherent. We looked on nodding and smiling at the appropriate moments, body language and intonation are universal.
Eventually she high fives us and goes back to her drunken companion. We return to our drinks and finish them off, handing over the €3 we owe.
‘Ah thank you,’ says the barman, pouring us yet more, ‘here’s a little more though, you rescue me from these drunks, it’s good to have you.’ I’m very aware that the last time I ate was four hours ago but the more he tops up my glass, the less I care.
There’s always a party somewhere
He’s summoned over to the non-stop party people and returns momentarily, ‘this girl, she wants to know if you’re as pale as her,’ he says to me. I look over at her and she smiles at me blearily.
‘More so,’ I say, ‘I’m tanned at the moment!’ He translates it back to her and they both laugh. ‘Normally I’m like this,’ I add, pointing at the pure white cupboard doors.
‘You should see her ass!’ says my beloved boyfriend, eliciting guffaws from the barman. The girl says something in Spanish and he translates.
‘She says her ass is whiter than her arms!’ Great minds. ‘She says you are beautiful, you have perfect skin, perfect and pale like her,’ he says. I laugh and thank her.
‘Hey but what about us!’ says my boyfriend, pointing to his sun-darkened skin and the deep brown of the barman’s.
‘Aye but we are men. She doesn’t like men, she likes women,’ he says, shrugging.
It’s somehow well after noon and we manage to finish our drinks while the barman is restocking the ice. If we don’t leave now, we too will be drunks. We say thanks and goodbye and he waves, ‘thank you, see you soon!’ I’m already in love with this bizarre Champagne bar in the middle of a busy fish market.
We emerge from the underground to be blinded by the sun. I’m surprised to find my Spanish has improved immeasurably and have an overwhelming urge to run through the chaotic marketplace. We buy a kilo of Yerba mate, two almond cakes and head out into the city to find a street cafe capable of recovering our sobriety.