I had been invited to stay with Mr. G. and his daughter Helen until I was settled in my new environment. They lived in an apartment in the Calle Don Álvaro de Bazán, in the residential area of Son Armadams where there were tree lined streets and a view of nearby Bellver Castle, and not too far a walk up to El Terreno. El Terreno was formerly an out of town country area where wealthy families kept their weekend residences. But the city built up around it and what was formerly a zone of restful retreat became a popular centre for night life.
After unpacking I fell into bed for a very long sleep.
Next morning Helen took me for a walk to the neighbourhood corner store, near the Calle Andrea Doria where local women were congregating to do their morning shopping. These small grocery stores, called colmados, were usually run by the owners who served their customers one at a time. As the women had to stand in line waiting their turn, they inevitably started chatting so the ritual of meeting in the colmado was a pleasant start to a day for many. Several women were wearing what appeared to be quilted ankle-length housecoats, something that struck me as out of place while in the street or shopping. When I asked Helen she explained that the women often wore these housecoats over their clothes on chilly mornings when stepping outside for a brief trip to a nearby shop.
I noticed some people were carrying large mesh-covered bottles with a pressure spout. These were the bottles of sifón or soda water which I would see often from then on. They were a common sight on most dinner tables, as soda was used to dilute wine and as a drink for children when mixed with fruit juice or even a splash of wine. It was also a popular instant spot remover for spilled food stains at the table. It was not uncommon to see someone hastily take a white cloth napkin, give it a squirt of sifón and then rub a spot on their clothing. The empty bottles could be exchanged for full ones at a cost of only a few pesetas. I seem to remember seeing these bottles on restaurant tables in old Life magazine photographs of the European rich and famous.
At another corner of the colmado I could see large bottles of cologne used to refill al granel small plastic spray bottles which one could also bring from home.
Several favourites of that era were Lavanda Puig, Clair Matin, Denenes. These were the fresh scents of Spanish schoolchildren I was to learn. I soon noticed that mothers would splash their children with one of these fragrances, and comb it into their sons' hair before sending them out the door to kindergarten or school. Those fresh citrus and lavender scents were to become part of my favourite memories of those early years in Spain. Who could forget how a laughing group of small children rushing to school invariably left behind them trailing wafts of lemons, lavender and orange blossoms.
Another refilled item was the wine bottle. For two pesetas we could exchange an empty bottle of red table wine for a full one. Here also were the long crusty barras of bread, similar to the French baguette, which were included in morning shopping. Helen chose a couple of round powdery spiral pastries and told me I was in for a breakfast treat when we got back to the apartment. I was to be introduced to the Mallorcan ensaimada...the star of Mallorcan pastries which, so I'm told, has never been equaled when made in any other location...not even in the other Balearic Islands. They say it's the air and water of Mallorca which contributes to its success. But I know that from then on I was a devotee of this buttery, powdery and light as air breakfast delicacy which, together with a cafe con leche, made a perfect start to any day.
Continue on to Chapter 6......The Ensaimada
Go back to Chapter 4......Plaza de la Reina