The buzz of old town life goes on in the street outside, and occasionally I’ll have a look-out on the balcony and see what’s going on below.
Coffee is a national pastime, as in Italy. People generally drink café con leche (= caffe latte), café solo (= espresso), or cafe cortado (= caffe machiato). As in Italy, too, there’s no American nonsense with different shapes, sizes and flavours, and take-away coffee is virtually unheard of – it comes in proper cups and you sit and drink it in a café, and it’s delicious. One of the great benefits of living here is that we haven’t set eyes on an American Corporate Coffee – or American Corporate Anything Else for that matter – since coming here. And ordinary people actually buy their food and clothes and household goods and books in proper independent shops and markets in their vibrant community streets, rather than the soulless aisles of monopolising corporate stores and supermarkets in otherwise devastated high streets. Living here is a daily reminder of just how much Britain has become a colony of the United States, and how the Anglo-American social model is so different from the European. (That’s not to say, of course that there aren’t supermarkets and big corporations here: there are, but the balance is quite different.)
Anyway, getting back to our early evening coffee: there are plenty of cafes tucked down the old streets of the old town, but the cafés in the cathedral square (Plaza Santiago) are a favourite, partly because the square is the hub of the Casco Viejo. It’s very, very popular with little old ladies, though, who swarm in groups to occupy the tables in the square early on and then don’t budge, so we often have to go elsewhere. (And yes, it is mainly ladies: their husbands are almost certainly in the tabernas drinking beer. There’s a lot more to be said about the differential behaviour of men and women here – for a later blog post!)
After supper, we often find ourselves working or emailing or doing this blog or generally just sorting stuff out, but we’ve found time for a bit of reading etc. I’ve been reading some books about the Basque Country, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ recent novel ‘The Marriage Plot’, and have a huge pile of books I want to read in the next few months. We have been watching ‘Dr Who’ (sad, I know) and ‘The Thick of It’ on the IPlayer, and there’s always ‘The Guardian’ on the IPad. We’ve also been to the theatre/concerts a couple of times (more on this later…), and one way or another we’ve had visitors here quite a lot too.
If we haven’t had a coffee earlier, we might go and sit in nearby Plaza Unamuno at about 10pm for a few minutes. (The writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, 1864-1936, is Bilbao’s most famous historical figure: see picture of statute below). It was great to sit in the busy square in the long summer evenings, but now the evenings are drawing in, and people are moving inside the cafes. (It gets light late here, about an hour later than Oxford: this morning it was still dark at 8.15 am. And in summer it also gets dark a bit earlier than the UK, of course. But to compensate we’ll have longer days than the UK in the winter.)
And so to sleep, with the distant hum of the Spanish indulging their extraordinary capacity for social life in the background….