The best place to meet up with someone in Santiago de Compostela is the cathedral. It’s the landmark that everyone knows and it’s the main tourist draw for the city. Emily and Tess, two other English teachers, joined me in the large square to go on a sunny day wander.
We walked down cobblestone streets that led to grassy paths and finally to the creek, which we followed. It took us past sheep, slippery bridges, and we had that perfect feeling of no other people around in the quiet, sunny day. We were trying to find our way back to Santiago when we passed what looked like a restaurant. We went in for a closer look and a middle-aged woman in a colorful sweater and rain boots came out looking confused at why we were peering through her barbed wire gate. Emily asked if it was a restaurant and the woman mumbled something about Erasmus (a program for EU students studying abroad) and then went away to get the keys and let us in. None of us had understood her Spanish properly and we assumed that she had a room for a student to rent and had wrongly assumed one of us wanted it.
“Just say we have a friend that is looking for a place and we will check it out, whatever”, whispered Emily.
Turns out we hadn’t translated correctly, we were actually on the grounds of a place where private parties could be held. My Spanish skills being the lowest of my friends, I listened while they chatted away with the woman, who led us into a freezing stone room. The walls had the bottom halves of mannequins lined up on both sides. These halves had wooden boards on top, making the tables. It was a creepy, eclectic bar. Sepia nudes were framed all over the walls, stuffed teddy bears were in the rafters, along with old dolls, random antiques and dingy bottles. The woman told us that many groups came here for parties, especially in summer, and would eat patatas, ensaladas, and drink much vino tinto.
“Licor cafe. Es muy importante en Santiago, si?”
Si, si we responded. And with that she pulled out a plastic jug of what was the most homegrown licor cafe I had ever seen. God knows if it was safe to drink or not, but she poured us each a full cup. As she was diabetic, she took a shot of licor manzana (apple liquor). I am unsure as to how apple alcohol is good for diabetics, but I’ll take her word for it.
Things got even more strange. I understood bits and pieces of her Spanish. It seemed that many movies had been filmed in this place for it was very distinct looking. She showed us many dated pictures of old productions and told stories of famous Spanish actors we had never heard of. As she spoke, her many black and white cats mewed and pawed around on top of the bar, not caring if their hair was falling into my already suspicious cup of alcohol. The woman picked them up, introducing each one, and rubbing her face on them. In all, there was eight cats roaming the place.
“Bon-bon?”, she enquired holding out a small china plate of delicious looking chocolates. I slightly wondered why she had ready-to-go chocolates behind that dusty bar, but I grabbed a big nutty looking one and bit in excitedly. It was so hard that my teeth couldn’t get any grip on it. Confused, I looked over at Emily and Tess, thinking we had been given VERY old chocolate. There were laughing and it struck me that the chocolate tasted of plastic. They were fake. The woman didn’t laugh but just smirked at us as we lost it and all doubled over in laughter.
“Many mouths have been on them. I trick many people.”
The laughter stopped.
The alcohol hit our veins and she turned on a computer and started playing a song by The Cranberries. She turned it up FULL BLAST, like club style, and us girls started dancing and giggling like we couldn’t stop. We danced and danced until she turned off the music abruptly and had us follow her outside where more headless mannequins awaited…
Perhaps she had worked some sort of magic on us, but it started to wear off as she blabbed on and on about her cats, the local hospital, the cathedral, foreigners, and Carnival. We would make to leave (Pues….gracias para todo) and she would walk away as if she was leaving too, but then walk quickly back with something more to say. This happened about ten times. Finally, we said goodbye.
We never saw that woman or her place again and for all I know, she’s still there; tricking passerbyers with fake chocolates and stroking her cats.