Puebla de Sanabria
It’s a small town. A ribbon development: it follows the roads from the riverside and lakeshore to the top of the promontory, where the 14th century castle stands. This jewel is the heart of the casco antiguo or old town. The castle has either been beautifully preserved or heavily restored. It overlooks the invading hordes of tourists as it must have those of the moors centuries ago. A town with three supermarkets that would qualify in most languages as ‘corner shops.’ The shop assistants shrug and say ‘es un pueblo tranquillo’ – it’s a quiet town. The queue at the fishmonger’s is dozens deep, there are no fish. The delivery is late because tomorrow is a holiday in Galicia, says the man behind the counter.
I sit for a while on the footpath by the bridge over the river. It’s not sunny today, in fact it’s overcast and the breeze is cool. This part of Spain seems a long, long way from the oven that is Andalucia. Everyone needs a break from that kind of heat, don’t they? A man who arrived to drop his wife at the largest of the tiny supermarkets spends two pipes of tobacco waiting for her to emerge. She doesn’t before I leave and the man knocks the ashes from his pipe-bowl on the heel of his shoe before lighting another.
What I’m trying to say is that, in spite of this being Northern Spain , life is slow, as slow as in the Andalucian villages. There is no heat to blame this on: perhaps it’s the rhythm of the farmers, the cows, the crops or the countryside itself. North or South, it seems the same.
There is a patisserie in the village: I have stopped twice for a coffee. The staff are Bulgarian. So far from home. People think that the Eastern Europeans flock to the Costas, but plainly it is not true. This is a quiet place, but it is none the worse for that.
Bar Buenos Aires sits at the top of the slope coming into the town centre. The words Buenos Aires are in a faded version of the colours of the Argentine Flag. The exterior looks worn and tired. If you pass at 10 a.m. the bar is open but the terrace furniture is stacked neatly away. 15 minutes later and the chairs and tables are outside. Mahou has provided them all, they look new and therefore in sharp contrast to any furniture that might be inside. You won’t find the beer on draught inside, although the staff might sell you a bottle, from the back of an old fridge. The beer on tap is Aguila or at least that’s what the sign says.
I’ve visited the place several times, trying to catch the owner. He’s not been in. I just want to know if he’s Argentinian himself, or – if not – what the history behind the name of the bar is. This morning the boss is there on his own. The tables and chairs on the terrace have done their magical appearing trick in the time it has taken me to walk back from the fishmonger’s on the other side of the bridge. The owner seems to be a man of about 45 or so, I suppose. No vos or os, just a simple usted. I ask him about the name of the bar. He inherited the bar from his father, he says. His old man worked for 10 years in Buenos Aires in the 70’s . He’d loved the place so much, he named the bar he’d bought with the money he’d saved after it. I ask the bar-owner if he’s ever been to BA himself, but he shakes his head and shrugs.