The double-deck tour bus with top open had just completed its modern Madrid route north of downtown on shady Paseo del Prado into the chic Salamanca neighborhood where renowned Real Madrid plays soccer in a massive stadium and the most exclusive shops are found, and then back down Calle Serrano past several elegant foreign embassies amid other fine homes on immaculate grounds. After feeling all this I couldn’t immediately go back to mere middle class existence. Yearning to continue feeling rich a little longer I walked right up a hill to the Hotel Ritz and entered a lobby opening to a salon resplendent with plants, furniture, lamps and decorative items under a high ceiling, and asked a uniformed employee about contemporary art, here next to the cradle of traditional Spanish painting – the Prado National Museum – and was handed a gallery guide I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else.
Then I said I’d like to have lunch. That, generally, isn’t a megalomaniacal statement. But this is the Ritz, and after being led onto a spectacular terrace featuring a pianist at noon and surrounded by and overlooking an array of trees, shrubs, and flowers, I was first given a historical publication picturing distinguished guests who include Cary Grant, Ava Gardner, Richard Gere, Kevin Costner, and Princess Diana, and from the world of politics and intrigue, Mata Hari and the Shah of Iran. Had I been a more prudent man I’d have feigned a coughing attack and dashed away before they – three tuxedo-clad men, any of whom may have been the waiter – placed a menu on the white tablecloth. I opened it and saw that a modest lunch cost a minimum of sixty Euros, about ninety bucks. Anxious to prevent them from discovering that by their standards I’m both indigent and a cheapskate, I thoroughly studied the document, and when the eldest gentleman returned I said I wanted the fruit.
“But that’s just dessert,” he said in English.
“I can’t have that or meat either, I’m on a special diet,” I truthfully said. “And I don’t eat much anymore. So I’ll just take this vegetable part.”
“And what would you like to drink?”
I was relieved he didn’t rebuke me again.
When my vegetables arrived, I beheld a portion appropriate for a three-year old. There were two cherry tomatoes, a few small pieces of cauliflower, three or four slender baby carrots, two pieces of asparagus, and perhaps a quarter of an artichoke heart. All of these elements were perfectly cooked and bathed in a succulent sauce. Never have I dined on vegetables so fine.
After one of the men used a fancy sweeping device to remove crumbs from the tablecloth, I received a bill for thirty-three Euros, some fifty dollars. I left a ten-dollar tip, and resolved to again do lunch at the Hotel Ritz when next I’m in Madrid. I probably won’t be staying there, though, since rooms start at about four hundred dollars a night.