Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Soup in my Fly

I don’t want to sound pathetic here, but – has anybody written a guide to good Spanish hospital cafeterias? Probably not, since there aren’t any. Good ones, I mean.
Well, I suppose they’re not so bad really, if you don’t mind the slight feeling of not wanting to touch anything in case you catch some foul lurgy Unknown to Science. Some of one’s fellow customers leave a bit to be desired as well, with various holes, crevices, bandages, missing bits and strange bubbling sounds all in disturbing evidence at the next table.
I’m an old hand at hospitals, having been – as a ‘compañero’ – in most of the clinics, wards, waiting rooms, operating theatres and cafeterias of the Nation’s crop of hospitals, excluding, of course, the ones in Catalonia and the islands.
I used to take my step-mother (a person straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale) to the hospitals on regular occasions, often as she needed her stomach pumping after a good suicide attempt; or, at least, if I’d somehow slept through the drama, I used to have to go and pick her up. One time, after a long night of reading War and Peace on the hospital sofa, at a time when the cafeterias still had ashtrays and sold brandy, she appeared in the doorway attached to a drip and after a quick transaction at the counter, came and sat with me at the table and drank her brandy at the same time as the serum gurgled through the tube into her arm. I believe I had the cheese sandwich…
In the old days, before some busybody changed the rules, hospital cafeterias sold booze. In fact, the old hospital in Huercal Overa had the cheapest gin and tonic in the province and all the nearby Brits would do their drinking there. You could, of course, still smoke there until 2002.
I was in the new Huercal Overa hospital the other day (the old one fell down) and a Spanish friend called to say he would be passing through and to meet in the caff. When he got there he said that we should try the ‘other side’ – where the doctors go, as it would be more comfortable. We went in and ordered two brandies. ‘Sorry’ said the waitress, ‘we are only allowed to sell beer and wine now… and anyway… are you two doctors?’
‘Yes’, we said together… ‘Bring a bottle of red’.
Hospital canteens are always – at least in my experience – ‘self-service’ and you can pick up your sopa, tomato flavoured goo and soggy pudding all in one go, together with a Mahou: paying at the checkout. There may not be a TV or any horrible muzac but the assembled diners will certainly put enough noise out to keep even the most jaded person agreeably deafened.
In one canteen in Madrid I know quite well, they do a good pork n’ cheese bun at the bar and another in Murcia offers a nice line in morcilla.
If you can, find a hospital near a good bar/restaurant rather than with one. The exercise does you good and the food’ll probably be better.

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