Posts Tagged ‘Alfredos Barbacoa’

And so, fourteen years after leaving Spain, I return home to my beloved Madrid. My exile is over. There are two main reasons to explain my homecoming: a personal and a professional:

The first is family. My mom is 85 years old and not getting any younger, health issues start popping up with more and more frequency, her hearing is diminishing. So I decided to be with her. She lives in a big old apartment downtown and it is wonderful to have breakfast with her, help her with the cleaning and maintenance of the apartment and hang out with her throughout the day. My sister lives nearby with her three great kids who are growing up so fast (13, 11 and 7). Last week I went to my nephew’s soccer game and it was marvelous to see him score two goals. My oldest niece and god-daughter is just starting her teenage years and I am happy to be here to support her. As for the little one, the other day she was dropped off at home with an eye infection that kept her away from school, so I took her with me for my coffee and errands and we had a blast!

Just like family there are friends, old friends, real friends, friends that I have missed, friends that listen, that help you, that make you laugh, friends that are not afraid to call you out. And last, but not least, as the great late Robin Williams as psychologist Sean says to Will (Matt Damon) in the awesome Good Will Hunting: “I gotta see about a girl.”

The second and also important reason is a professional one, a pedagogical one. Over the years I have gotten tired of the narrow American definition of success, and of teaching in schools that thrive and endorse this way of life implicitly and explicitly. I have been fortunate to teach at schools like Seacrest and Walnut Hill, where the emphasis was much more on the humanistic development of the child. Even “pressure cooker” schools like Buckingham Browne and Nichols in Boston had a solid notion of a quality of life not necessarily related to money or the rat race. I believe that everybody in a school, (and in any community for that matter) students and teachers, benefit from playing, from hanging out, from conversation. Maybe as I get older I value quiet, and time, I believe in the beauty of conversation, of enjoying a chat and a coffee. We have the scientific evidence that happiness is not based on your SAT scores.

So I grabbed my bag and came home.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WordPress, the platform that hosts this blog has recently updated their software, making it easier to see the posts I have written. I was surprised to see that I cite Zog’s often but have never had a dedicated post. Here it is.

The reason I have not written about Zog’s before is that it is my hideaway, my cocoon, an extension of my living room, and I did not want to blow my hideaway, expose my little secret, or God forbid, bring in droves of tourists, camera in hand. But last fall when the Romance Studies Department could not find a suitable venue for their Pre-Halloween Halloween party, I sacrificed my closely guarded secrecy of Zog’s to offer it as a venue. Our department’s Social co-Chair Jordan organized a great party. Normally I do not participate in these activities (see below, under Sartre) but, since I was the facilitator of the venue I had no choice but to go. I just dusted my old Sheikh outfit (that my dad bought in Jeddah in the 70s when he met King Fahd. So now that my whole department knows about my watering hole, I guess there is little left to lose.

When I first moved to Chapel Hill in that distant June of 2012. I quickly had to stake my territory, run some recon ops, and establish myself. There were (are) two bars around the corner from my cottage, one on top of the other. The ground level bar had big windows, and a glossy, wannabe fancy air about it. Zog’s was literally an open (yellow) door with some creaky wooden stairs leading up to the bar. The choice was obvious. I have never regretted it. Of course I have had to go to other bars in Chapel Hill for social obligations, but I always go back to Zog’s. Most memorably, my dear friend Stjepan, before moving to Japan asked me to go to his favorite bar, a well-known Franklin Street purveyor of libations. Yes it was a pretty place, with an impressive bar, but it was, how can I say? Fratastic? The last thing I want is to have to drink surrounded by the kids I teach all day long, or a bunch of posers, or to pay more than I should for a refreshment. You guessed, I have never gone back to that joint.

At the end of the day it is not so much about the quality of the drinks – especially if it is only a Tanqueray and tonic when it is hot, or a neat Maker’s Mark the rest of the time (IMHO the best value in Bourbon) , or the music, or the atmosphere, although all those things matter, you can get used to different styles. It is always about the people. In this case awesome owner Mandey and her little brother James, and the rest of the staff, Michael, Reese, Josh and Jedd. I love them all. Top, top human beings, nice people, caring, funny, professional, and very good at their jobs!

Unfortunately I only go a couple of times a week, and I mostly read, but I have had some nice conversations, especially with James, as we share a passion for orchestral music. With Jedd I chat about Jung, spirituality and other silly stuff. With Josh we mostly talk about comedic techniques, with Reese we talk history, archaeology and love. And with Mandey, I can pour my heart out while she pours me a drink! Of course I also chat with other established regulars, Jeff – who has a drink named in his honor: the “Electric Jeff” – although I would rather drink sewer water than that neon green drink. The darts league people on Thursday nights, and a few other regulars.

It is a bit of a rule that I always go after shows, concerts, plays, etc. I need the time to digest whatever I have seen or heard and Zog’s is the perfect venue for that. Of course they have two pool tables, darts, fine cigars and a ton of local art for sale, occasional bands, they are dog friendly, cat friendly, even bunny rabbit friendly. But I go because it is my favorite bar.

Although I do not agree with everything Jean Paul Sartre said, I do agree with him in that “L’enfer, c’est les autres” which has been loosely translated as “hell is other people”. (Those who know me even a little bit, know that I am mostly against translations). So unless I am going to have a decent conversation, I would rather just read and drink.

With my nephew Jimmy

With my nephew Jimmy

Victor working hard

Victor working hard

The Valencia Crew

The Valencia Crew

Blessed with friends

Blessed with friends

Alfredo's

Alfredo’s

Preparing my trip w Alfredo and Pipe

Preparing my trip w Alfredo and Pipe

Alfredo's

Alfredo’s

Meta Photo

Meta Photo

My über trendy sister’s boyfriend, told me about Alfredo’s in the mid-eighties but I never got to go until 1990 when I moved back to Madrid from Boston. I would have lunch there with my office mates every Friday: “Fridays is Freddy’s” was our war cry. These lunches would include Alfredo’s legendary burgers and a lot of beer and bourbon. Needless to say Friday afternoons back at the office were not very productive. That was my first contact with Alfredo, and as Rick would tell Chief Inspector Renault in Casablanca: it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Alfredo, an American living in Madrid and me, a Spaniard that had grown up in America.

Alfredo’s Barbacoa is an authentic – and by that I mean authentic, burger joint in Madrid. The burgers are from the best Northern Spanish cows, (the awesome steaks come from American Heifers bred in Denmark), the meat is cooked on an oak charcoal grill, and that makes all the difference. The coleslaw is a touch sweet and even hard-core Alabamians swear by it. There is Miller and Bud, (and Jack and SoCo), the decor is full on Americana, with the odd Spanish reference thrown in for reality’s sake. The TV is always showing rodeo shows, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks or nowadays Taylor Swift. The dining public goes from the prince of Spain and the odd assorted celeb, to full Spanish families for weekend lunches, working lunch executives, Americans that treasure Alfredo’s like the gem it is, all sorts of party groups and of course the die- hards.

With time I got to know Alfredo’s family, all the wait staff, the cooks, everybody. When I moved to my bachelor pad in the mid-nineties I lived literally around the block from Alfredo’s so it almost became my dining room. Some nights when the joint would close Alfredo and I would go out and hit the bars, fortunately we occasionally still do!

My relationship continues with Alfredo, his son-in-law Victor and the rest of the family and staff: I would host most of my company’s important meals there including client and vendor meetings, even my dealer convention was hosted there. Tracy and I held our Spanish wedding party there, we even dressed up in our wedding outfits! My little sister Rocky hosted a dinner with all my friends the first Christmas that I came back after a year in Boston. My friends from Valencia always go there for a meal when they are in town. I hosted University alumni reunions. I always took my students there when they good homesick of American food.  And of course I go there as often as I can, alone or with friends. Last week I treated my sister and her lovely family!

So Alfredo and his (now) three restaurants are an important part of my life in Madrid, it is my favorite restaurant, my go to restaurant and more importantly I feel like family there.

Maria's First Communion!

Maria’s First Communion!

It's all their fault!!

It’s all their fault!!

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

Biblioteca Nacional Madrid

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

18th C. Padre Isla manuscript

"Uptown" Madrid

“Uptown” Madrid

Alfredo's Barbacoa

Alfredo’s Barbacoa

Niece and Nephew

Niece and Nephew

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

Home of 10 Champions leagues!!

It has been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Madrid. It has been intense, full of family: my sister was here from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and my niece had her first communion. Being home also means that my way of life is totally different and I also have a physical and temporal distance from the end of the academic year at Carolina.

My way of life is different in that I go from living a fairly monastic life alone, dedicated to reading, to a life full of family and friends. The food is fortunately different and better, the coffee and the wine are far better, and I live in downtown Madrid as opposed to downtown Chapel Hill, which, as much as I love it, is a glorified village. Last Sunday was my niece (and goddaughter’s) first communion, and we had a very nice celebratory lunch with all the family. As I was at the buffet serving myself, a very nice lady in her horseback riding gear (the lunch was at a riding club) introduced herself. She was my ex-wife’s old massage therapist from when we used to live in Madrid ten years ago! It was a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, so I just chuckled to myself and carried on. I have also visited with family, taken my nieces and nephew out to lunch to Alfredo’s Barbacoa, my favorite burger joint. I have had lunch with dear friends and enjoyed some brief escapes around town, including my favorite bar Del Diego, and some favorite book stores.

Although my exams are over, I now have to prepare the prospectus for my thesis, which means… more reading, this time in my specialization area as I formulate the core of my thesis. When I arrived, I already had books waiting for me that I had ordered to be delivered here for the summer, I also had a chance to renew my library card. My library is a bit special as it is the National Library which is only a twenty-minute walk from here. It is the equivalent of the Library of Congress, only older. I have the privilege of walking over every morning and reading original 18th C manuscripts! Speaking of bumping into people, the other day at the library I shared a reading desk with Margaret Greer, a Professor of Golden Age Spanish Lit. at Duke. Unfortunately I was not wearing my Carolina blue, although we did have a nice chat – yes, we whispered. I am excited and looking forward to making some progress on the prospectus front so I can have a rough draft by the end of the summer…

Reviewing my teaching of this past year, (see previous blog post) my dear friend John Jenner: philosopher, connoisseur, MMA fighter, bon vivant, gourmet and gourmand explained it best when he valued my being pushed out of my comfort zone in order to do precisely this, to revisit my teaching. You gotta love friends that tell it like it is!

Besides the enriching experience of teaching, the other benefit of being a teacher is the holidays it comes with. No, we don’t make bank, but not even French government employees get our kind of time off. So after unwinding in Chapel Hill and going on a nice ride with Rocinante (see previous posts) I jumped “the pond” to visit my family in Madrid.

I know I am not original when I say that cities are like people, at least my relationship with them is similar. My relationship with Madrid is that of an old friend and lover. We know each other’s dirty little secrets, but we respect each other like the old friends we are. So coming to Madrid is always special.

One of the first visits I do is to Patxi Navarro. A dear, dear friend from my financial services days. We share a twenty three year friendship. Together we founded the Asociacion A. de Amantes del Escorial since we are both passionate about that monastery/palace/school/village. It is always great to catch up and hear about his life. Another obligatory meeting is with Andrea, another dear college friend who has been there through thick and thin, we had a nice lunch at a neighbourhood “menu” restaurant. A third key friend and one that deserves extra credit when I see him is Felipe Pérez de Madrid, “Pipe”, “The Pipe”, as he is from Valencia. We had a quick coffee in between trains for him, just enough to make sure everything is ok and have a quick laugh. Gracias amigo.

After a few days in town, I was blessed with the visit of Mark Miller and Matthieu, two of my dearest, closest and best friends. We went to university together, Matthieu was a groomsman in my first wedding and Best Man at my second wedding, where Mark was the usher. I had not seen Matthieu since celebrating New Year’s ’08 in NY when Mark, the most gracious and generous host, arranged a spectacular party. Since he is in NY I have had the chance to see Mark more regularly, but not since moving to Chapel Hill.

We spent three days together, eating, walking around the city, drinking, smoking cigars, eating, walking around the city, drinking and smoking cigars. We had paella, roast lamb, jamón, tortilla, garlic shrimp, lots of tapas, wine and coffee. We went to my favorite places, including Del Diego where we met comedian Leo Harlem! It was fantastic to catch up, to share some of the secrets of my old friend Madrid with some of my other old friends, to have a good laugh, good discussions, reminisce and talk about our futures.

Besides the enriching experience of teaching, another benefit of being a teacher is meeting students that eventually become friends. Two days after Mark and Matthieu left, I reunited with Jenny whom I had not seen in a year and a half. Since she graduated from Walnut Hill and I went to see her dance at Mount Holyoke. She is spending the summer in Valencia and came to Madrid for the weekend. We had burgers at my favorite restaurant in Madrid, Alfredos Barbacoa and it was great to catch up, have a good laugh, a good discussion, reminisce and talk about our futures.

My visits to Madrid are few, far between and shorter than I would like them to be, so I never get to see all my friends and family. But one morning coffee I always have is with my godmother Isabel, “Isita”, she is brilliant, funny and wonderful and her advice is always spot on, prejudice free and caring. I love her.

So in one week in Madrid: I reunited with the city, the oldest of friends, I reunited with old, university friends and with new friends – and with my godmother.

Tapa

Tapa

Casa Botín

Casa Botín

Tapas

Tapas

Comedian Leo Harlem

Comedian Leo Harlem

Fernando jr. and Fernando del Diego

Fernando jr. and Fernando del Diego

Del Diego

Del Diego

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Julieta en Alfredos

Julieta en Alfredos

Here is to friends, I salute you.

Photo creds: Mark Miller (except Julieta)