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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Meandering About Madrid - Page 5

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One Last Market

      It was our last full day in Spain, so it was time to fit in a little bit of shopping for everyone back home. It was Sunday, and we knew what that meant: the busiest and liveliest day of the week at El Rastro.


      El Rastro is Madrid’s most famous street market, and it has been filling the streets for more than 400 years. Located in one of the city’s oldest working-class neighborhoods, this “trail” is full of kiosks, booths, and street vendors selling everything from homemade puppets and toys to designer sunglasses and purses. There were artists selling original paintings, others selling etchings and lithographs, and still others selling souvenirs, such as fans and t-shirts and statues and decorative plates. It was just a little too crowded for our taste. I would recommend visiting El Rasto on a Saturday, when it’s a little less busy. Then, perhaps, you can walk along the street at a comfortable pace and look at what’s for sale. We found ourselves spending most of our time trying to fight the crowd, attempting to pass people clogging the way as they stopped behind others who were looking at goods. There was a lot of pushing and dodging. It felt like we were in the middle of a mosh pit.

Expat Readers in Madrid

      Sunday evening, I had a gig. As part of my book tour for Tracks: A Novel in Stories, I had a reading and social lined up at a bookstore in Madrid that specialized in English-language books. So after we had a nice meal between Plaza Mayor and Peurta del Sol (steak and paella), we headed for Calle del Espiritu Santo for J & J Coffee and Books.

Tracks Reading In Madrid      

      Perhaps “J & J Beer and Books” would be a more fitting name. The establishment, with a highly literary crowd, seemed as much bar as bookstore.  Patrons sat around partaking in lively discussions about everything from football to literature. That was a good thing. J & J Books is a popular bookstore in Madrid specializing in English-language books. They’re also known for their Friday quiz night, two-for-one happy hour specials and reading events. As one local I talked with observed, “they draw people in with books and then keep them for a while with beer and wine and conversation.”


When we arrived, the crowd was as lively as you might expect at a neighborhood bar—people talking (European) football and books and travel, and politics, seated at the long bar and at tables and chairs beyond it. The manager and staff kept us supplied with house beer, wine, and cocktails. When the time came, the manager stood behind the bar and introduced me. I was given a place of honor behind the beer tap. From there, I read “Idle Chatter,” a story from Tracks. The conversing crowd became attentive, and during dramatic pauses in my reading it had grown so quiet that you could hear a drop of beer splash against the bar. After my reading, which lasted about half an hour, I was warmly received by my audience. Was it coincidence that my story about a person who values small talk was followed by hours of enjoyable small talk? 


      We talked about my book, my writing process, my visit to Spain and other travels. We talked about their favorite books and their writing. About why they lived in Madrid (most of them were originally from England, Ireland, Scotland or the United States) and their own travels. It was a good time.

A bit of wisdom picked up during the conversation: “What’s for you won’t go by you.” A bit of insight on Spanish literature: “Don Quixote was a jerk!”

I discovered after my invitation to read, that J and J was written up in a several guide books on Madrid and Spain. They were even written up in the New York Times. Visit J & J Books and Coffee at their website, 


      You can catch a podcast of what I read to them. A few weeks later, I read the story again on Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR. Find the audio reading of “Idle Chatter” at I sold out of all the books I brought with me, and signed a good number of them. It was a fine way to cap our visit.

Late Night Tapas

      It was dark out by the time we left J & J Books. Almost as dark as it had been when we arrived in Madrid. We headed back to Plaza Mayor for one last serving of tapas and wine. Then we stopped in at our favorite pub for one last Spanish wine. There wouldn’t be time to stop for coffee at one of our favorite breakfast spots. Our flight was leaving early in the morning and we needed to be there a couple hours early. We needed to catch the bus a good hour before that. This meant getting up around three in the morning. And we still had to pack.


      So, full of tapas and topped off with red wine, we returned to our room at Hotel Santandar, spoke a few moments with our newfound friend, the front desk clerk from Cuba, and went to our room to pack and prepare for our return to the United States.


      I’m no expert on Madrid, having spent less than a week in Spain’s capitol. But the limited days we spent meandering around Madrid were packed from pre-dawn to post-dusk with exciting visits and enjoyable experiences. Whether we were talking to locals or sharing fiction with expats, touring palaces or steeping in the black paintings of Goya, the adventures did not cease. Our visit lasted long enough to let me know that I need to return when I have more time to get lost in the twisted side streets, be mesmerized in a museum, or to relax in a plaza café with a pinch of 1866 and a plate of tapas. Rain or shine, I’ll be passing through the gateway of the sun again one day soon.

©Eric D. Goodman is a full-time writer and editor who loves to travel.  His novel in stories, Tracks, was published by Atticus Books (Summer 2011) and won the 2012 Gold Medal for Best Fiction in the Mid-Atlantic Region from the Independent Publishers Book Awards. It follows a passenger train full of travelers as these strangers touch one another in unexpected ways. He’s also the author of the childrens' book, Flightless Goose.  Eric's work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, Pedestal Magazine, Writers Weekly, The Potomac, Barrelhouse, JMWW, Scribble, Slow Trains, and New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers, among others. His second novel, Womb, is currently with his agent. Visit Eric on Facebook, Twitter, and at his literary blog, Writeful. Learn more about Eric and his writing at

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Last modified on Wednesday, 02 January 2013

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