It has rained not a drop in Granada since May. Until today, the day I pulled in on the train.
Which, I must say, I actually don’t mind at all. Probably because it didn’t start to pour until I’d blindly dawdled my way through unfamiliar streets misted with morning looking for my hostel, which I found a half hour later in the cobbled back lanes of the old city.
(Great hostel, by the way – the Granada Inn.)
It is a pleasure on two counts to be returned to Spain, a disappointment on one.
This is the fourth, perhaps even my fifth visit to Espana in 15 years. It is a pleasure because of the familiarity, the affinity I have for the place; I am comfortable here, easy here, at home with a language I do not speak.
It is also a pleasure because the landscape is as it has always been at this time of year, for this is the only time of year I have ever visited Spain, at the turning of the wheel into autumn. The fields are dry, the stalks of the harvest past are yellow, the brown earth is ploughed and bare.
Now for the disappointment: I have long had a theory that it is impossible to go wrong with red wine. It was Spain who introduced me to this concept all those years ago, when no matter how cheap the glass, it was always worth drinking.
Last night in Barcelona, waiting for the train, I ducked outside into the bustle of evening for tapas and red wine. ‘Only gooood wine,’ I said to the waiter in a shiny modern bar. He nodded and returned with a red that tasted like vinegar.
I pushed it to the other side of the table, to let him know his vino had been roundly rejected.
He did not have any good wine, he said, when finally it came to me not paying the bill.
Last week I was in Slovenije, in a beautiful hotel in the capital Ljubljane. I ordered goooood wine and received sharp young wine. I said to the waiter ‘I would like to try other Slovenian wine as well, can you bring me a more expensive one?’
See how tactful I can be when I try?
Because in reality the first glass was crap and I was giving Slovenije room to move in the hospitality industry stakes.
Spain gets no such mercy.
This was why I asked for gooood wine straight up.
And now I am in Granada. Over lunch, disappointingly crap puttanesca sauce flooding my gnocchi, I order a gooood red. He brings me crap. No, I say, this is not good wine. It is young. What else do you have? He shakes his head, telling me ‘only this’.
Since when only this?
This evening I take myself out for dinner, popping by tapas bar after tapas bar asking if they have gooood wine. They all shake their heads.
Finally, tired now and hungry, I pop into a restaurant and ask for gooood wine. He hesitates. He reaches for a distant bottle and offers me a dribble to taste. A man who knows his customer. ‘Ah,’ I say, ‘you may serve me.’
And now I sit and wonder since when has Spain had crap red wine?
And do you know, I think I have the answer.
I first visited Spain before it was admitted to the European Union. That was when wine was good, everything (which to a tourist means food, wine and coffee) was extremely affordable, and hospitality generally was rustic and delicious.
Then I visited shortly after EU and the euro. Everything affordable was suddenly not so. Locals were furious that the prices had doubled while wages had not. But red wine was red wine and could be counted on to be worth its price.
Now we are post euro and life has settled down for the locals. Everything is seriously expensive. And the wine is crap.
I still can’t get over it – the red wine in Spain is crap.
I said that to one young man behind a bar when I was on mission for a decent drop tonight. He laughed out loud. He knew what I meant. He was happy to sell me a bottle of decent wine for 24 euro.
What am I going to do with a whole bottle of wine?
Not drink it. And not waste it at 24 euro.
Instead, I shall tell the world that Spain is serving crap red wine.
Which only raises a heartbreaking question – why the hell do we the people accept crap food and crap wine?
Do we not notice?
Do we not care?
Have we forgotten that we were entitled to so much more?