UNITED STATES—Howard Schultz traveled to Italy and came back with the idea of cafes as places pulsating with community. Don Francisco, the Spanish TV icon went to apprentice himself to uncle tailors in New York in the 50s and instead of learning to baste pants, got the idea of combining games and variety straight from American TV. He took it back to Chile and cloned it.

I have brought back something from Spain. In El Retiro Park, I discovered that you could drink red wine from a plastic cup in the street and who cares. I want to bring this great discovery back to my country and alleviate out split American nature. On a recent trip through the San Fernando Valley, I heard back to back radio ads that epitomize the split: “Did you know that .5 alcohol level can get you busted? It’s already been instituted in Utah and it’s coming to other states like California,” intones an ominous voice. “Hotlines open now. Our lawyers are the bast, they’ll get you off that drunk driving charge.” This ad was followed by an ad for hand-crafted vodka, “distilled for connoisseurs and daily drinkers alike.”

How schizo is that?

In Spain, life openly revolves around food and drink; in the U.S. it revolves around food allergies, dietary restrictions and on the other hand, beer and other drinks offer escape from that. At the same time there lurks rehab. We celebrate and we punish ourselves.
A line from a country song comes to mind, “God is it great, beer is good and people are crazy.”

Well, our trip to El Retiro Park, the deep green lung in the heart of Madrid had set the stage for this discovery. There in the dust of the park was a real find, three Euros that had been lost. It was to pay for my discovery that one can drink wine on the streets in Madrid. The police and guardia civil never saw fit to meddle into the activities of peaceable drinkers on the street.

By gosh, I thought. We’re in the freest city on earth!

The afternoon of walking tourism, we agreed that Echo Lake, with is lily pads and grottoey mysteries, is far superior to El Retiro’s neo-classical rectangle of water for dawdling in the pedal boats. We walked past the Prado all suited up in a visual sleeve, likewise the Ritz Hotel, being remodeled.

We ended up back in the neighborhood of designer stores and the sun was slowly settling and we were hungry. We went sizing up various pubs and eateries and then Juan David spied El Corte Ingles, it is an trendy Madrid institution, a chain of modular department stores, and we took a gamble. At the top of six flights of stairs was a restaurant named the Gourmet Kitchen. We passed through six floors of dress clothes, tweedy jackets, floral gowns, fine leather goods and hip hop sports ensembles toward the Gourmet Kitchen, whose menu we were going to check out.

Patricio said, “What was that idea you had?” to share with Juan David. It was one of the benefits of traveling with people to have something like that rescued from the winds of discourse.

“That countries like Spain can live the life of senses and pleasures, because they live under the umbrella of America who must wage the wars and save the world.”

That is how you could have people on a sixth-floor balcony in Spain, people living the life as the setting sun gilded Madrid’s roofline, so evocative of Monmartre and a Paris winter.

To be continued…