The Tale of the Slippery Eels, the Bald Priest and the Milanesa - 1980, Talavera de la Reina

I'm a real fuss-pot when it comes to food. I don't like milk. I don't like butter. I don't like cream, and I don't like mushrooms. Nor do I like creamy cheese. You'd think therefore that Spanish food would have been appealing to me since it tends to be cooked with garlic and olive oil. It is appealing to me and I gobble it up without hesitation. That is, the food that I cook myself.
    When it comes to restaurant food, that's another story.
    One day I was having lunch Luria, the Spanish wife of a colleague of my husband's. I tend to order the same things over and over regardless of where the restaurant is, for I've figured out what dishes are free of the yucky things I don't like. Now that we were back living in Spain, it's my old favourites, filete de ternera a la milanesa and ensalada mixta that I ordered. I looked forward to squeezing the slice of lemon you always get. It's really a very happy meal, it seemed to me. Luria, on the other hand, ordered something that sounded like 'anguilas'. The sound of the word was pleasant to the ear, almost poetic. Not wanting to reveal my ignorance, I didn't ask her what anguilas are. The waiter promptly served us and I tucked in as if I hadn't eaten in a week. I didn't even notice Luria's dish until I came up for some breath and practically choked on my food.
    The anguilas looked like worms. Not only that, they looked like live worms. They were in a bowl filled with hot olive oil and the anguilas seemed to be swimming about catching their last breath, jumping up and down as they tried to survive. When Luria placed them in her mouth with the skill of Picasso painting some masterpiece they wriggled even more and seemed to dangle from her lips. Her tongue slithered down on top of them and she caught each anguila with the precision of a professional fly fisherman up to his knees in thick morning dew. There was no escape. Each anguila slid up and into and then down through the gaping hole in Luria's face. She smiled. She grinned. And the tips of the anguilas bid farewell to life itself midst the garlic and the olive oil.
    "How's your milanesa?" Luria was bursting forth with joy. I had never heard anyone in the whole of my life ever ask me how my milanesa was with so much exhuberance. She grabbed her fork and fished for more anguilas. They too ended up leaping about like souls searching for even just a few more minutes of life, before encountering the same doom as the others still sliding their way midst garlic and olive oil down Luria's throat.
    "Delicious. Really good." I replied, making sure I wasn't not talking with my mouth full. "How is your dish?" I don't know why I asked, for it was so obvious that Luria was thoroughly enjoying her anguilas.
    She nodded her head several times and tried to say something, but the anguilas were dangling from her mouth. Her tongues grabbed them, and for a second I thought she was about to spit them at the innocent-looking priest sitting at the table next to us. I had visions of her doing precisely that. I could imagine the anguilas sliding over the priest's bald head, clinging to him for dear life.
    "We're just a few anguilas lost in Talavera de la Reina. Holy Father, please forgive us for whatever wrongs we have done. Please."
    Anguilas talk?  Who knew?
    "They're not as good as the last time I was here."  Luria frowned, then started to laugh. "Look! At the table next to us!"
    I gazed again at the priest. Come to think on it, he really didn't  look like the type who'd have anguilas slithering on his bald head, so severe and formal he appeared. But, there was something odd. Golly. Playboy magazine on his table! Surely not?! I was surprised to see a Playboy magazine just lying around, never mind lying next to a priest. When I lived  in Spain just a few years before Playboy magazine was banned. When he noticed us staring at him, he very modestly covered the semi-naked lady on the front cover with his napkin.  I looked down at my dish getting ready to help myself to more of my favourite dish, the escalope milanesa, and saw a knife and fork cutting a large piece of my milanesa. It was Luria!  She was pinching some of the one and only dish that I actually liked!
    "Would you care for some of my anguilas? In exchange for some of your milanesa?" She asked innocently, with a cheery grin.
    "I don't eat food that is still alive." I protested, hoping that I don't sound ridiculous.
    She grabbed a forkful of anguilas from her bowl and tossed them next to the remaining milanesa on my plate. I didn't scream, too much in shock.  I merely stared at the anguilas, expecting them to wander all over the table. Instead, they just sat there, immobile. I actually felt sorry for them. Poor anguilas. They had somehow suddenly died, right in front of me, adjacent to the slice of lemon that I had squeezed over my milanesa. Death of anguilas. Death by milanesa and lemon. I felt like a murderer.
    Luria is busy chewing away at the large piece of my milanesa that she so craftily swiped from my plate. Her eyes were glistening with merriment. I wasn't sure if what was thrilling her to bits was my milanesa, the bald priest with the Playboy magazine, or the anguilas that she hoped I'd eat.
    "They're dead, silly. Try them. Squeeze some lemon on them." She poked me in the ribs.
    Of course I did do what she told me. I squeezed some lemon on the anguilas - and then I covered them with my napkin. Even anguilas, just as the semi-naded lady on the cover of Playboy, need their privacy.















































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