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How Don Quixote Rescued the Miserable Damsel
By the Pillar


For a while, it seemed to me that my travel routes would be circumscribed by my family. It had its advantages. Someone to watch the baggage while you went to the airport loo; someone to share a carafe of wine with; someone to turn around to and say: Did you see that?

The trouble with family jaunts I discovered was that while it was great on companionship, it fell dismally short on excitement. There was none of that seeing a place on foot or watching the world go by for hours from a pavement café. There were no encounters with the perverse and the unusual. There was neither slumming nor sleaze.
On a business trip to Madrid, I decided to allow myself three days of time-out. There would be no agendas or pre-conceived notions about what I was going to do.

My publishers picked a hotel and all I knew about it was that Hemingway stayed there because the Prado Museum was within walking distance. So were the Thyssen Foundation and the Reine Sofia, I found. On my third day, I realized that I had been there for almost fifty six hours and had done nothing more exciting than venture into a couple of tapas bars, indulge my fondness for grilled sides of cattle and shop for kitsch….

I was reading Hemingway's Death in the afternoon and wondered if I had the stomach for a bull fight. My stomach was spared the decision. It was the wrong time for bull fights. I could go clubbing. But I could do that anywhere. In the end, I decided on flamenco.

The Terres Bermejes done up in mirrors and supposedly Moorish elements was recommended as the place to see some of the finest flamenco singing and dancing outside Andalusia. There is something very comforting about clichéd interiors. You are never at a loss to know where you are. I had a reservation and my heart sank when I saw amidst all those cosy tables for couples and gargantuan tables for tour groups, there was a lone little table and a lone chair. I had a great view of the stage and a pillar for a companion.

As people began to come in, my antennae quivered. Were they looking at me and wondering who this pathetic creature was?

Think of the innumerable times you have sat at your dining table with a book for company or ate a meal watching TV. This is no worse than that. You are here for the flamenco…I told myself as I attacked my grilled entrecote, patted my mashed potatoes, crumbled my bread and sipped from a glass of Rioja…

The singers and dancers fell into place. Castanets clicked near my ear. I turned around. There was a steward, a dignified man with a quatrrocento profile, bearing a bottle of champagne in a bucket. He placed it on my table with a flourish. I have had complimentary flutes of the bubbly but a whole bottle? I looked at the label and blanched…
"There's a mistake," I said, hoping he would understand. "I didn't order champagne."

"Si, si," he smiled, and with an elaborate gesture mimed- it's on me!
I sighed. It is not just a problem that a single woman traveller has to encounter. Call it a sign of our times but an out of the ordinary act of generosity is suspect.

Besides, I wasn't as worried about giving the wrong signals as much as the thought a whole bottle of champagne would have me communing with the floor… in the end, I swallowed good sense and smiled.

Through the evening, he brought little treats to my table and every time, the level dipped, he topped my glass.

"Enough," I gestured. "I will fall asleep if I drink any more," I mimed.
He grinned and brought me a cup of espresso. "Again on me," the hands spoke.

I began to worry. Why was he doing this? What could he possibly want? Or, was it that I perhaps reminded me of his dead mother?
I had planned on walking back to my hotel. But the cold night and the champagne stilled my feet.

I need a taxi, I said as he helped me into my coat.

He came into the street with me, whistled for a taxi, whisked out a rose I recognised from a bud vase at the restaurant, bent low at his waist and waved me off…who was this guy? I was to ask myself again and again… not even in my restaurant reviewing days had I been treated like very precious china. But surely this wasn't hospitality… this was gallantry at its finest. Old fashioned chivalry where a steward turned into a knight and I became a lone damsel who needed to be rescued from the coils of a non-descript evening....After all, this was the land of Don Quixote- he who tilted at windmills....

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