The (Liquid) Splendor of Jerez de la Frontera

Last night just before I was going to write about how great Jerez de la Frontera was and how great a time I’d had there, I hit my head on one of the doorways downstairs in my hotel.

“Buen despertador,” I said to the guy at the reception, just before retreating to my room. Nice alarm clock.

And then I sat down and wrote furiously for several minutes about this city, about how enchanted I was by everything, before slipping into an, admittedly, slightly woozy sleep.

I didn’t have a concussion.

But I did sort of feel nauseous.

It’s just, my God, Jerez! Jerez de la Frontera! I got there on a tren de media distancia from Sevilla, and the journey cost me just over 11 euros. Trains in Spain are enough to have me enchanted. Trains anywhere are enough to have me enchanted. But then I got to Jerez and realized it had all the ambiance of Sevilla but with a fraction of the tourists, and I was even more enchanted.

One of the first things I did was buy a bottle of Vichy Catalan, as pictured above. This was a necessity. I’ve never tried a better water in my life. It tastes like it comes from somewhere deep in the earth where everything is untainted and unconcerned with life on the surface, and this is probably because it does. It also tastes a little salty. Have you ever accidentally taken a huge gulp of seawater? Now imagine putting a bottle to your mouth and accidentally drinking a liter and a half of seawater, except this seawater tastes divine. Such is Vichy Catalan. It’s not a taste for everyone, but it’s a taste for me.

Jerez de la Frontera is one of the many towns south of Sevilla that has the “de la frontera” (frontera = border) in its name. There’s Chiclana de la Frontera, Conil de la Frontera, Vejer de la Frontera, and more. This is presumably because this was where the border between the Muslim world and the Christian world was many years back. Or at least I suppose.

The first thing I did in the evening in Jerez was go out for a stroll, and I almost immediately found myself in a locale called Tabanco El Pasaje, where the bar was packed to the gills and everyone was clapping along with the guy singing flamenco in the corner. I went up to the bar and said, “What do people drink here? Give me whatever people drink here,” and the man came back with a glass of sweet sherry. I downed it. Then I said, “Give me something less sweet,” and he came back with something else. Each time I ordered something he took out a piece of chalk and marked down the price right on the bar. Then at the end, when you leave, they tally it up — in their heads! — and you pay and you leave. But of course I lingered a bit. How could I not? The sounds of flamenco, a crowded bar in Spain, and barrels of sherry, never costing more than a euro fifty a glass.

I felt a little bit like Hemingway in the bar, in The Sun Also Rises. I stood there and tried to look distinguished, tried to look chill.

After this, emboldened a bit by the sherry, I went to a place called Meson El Asador that I’d seen before. This was obviously the cool place in town, the place that’s always crowded even when nothing else is, the place that’s mostly locals with a smattering of tourists.

I strolled right up to the bar and said, “Give me a cream.”

Cream is what they call one of the types of sherry. It’s the sweet kind. Except they don’t pronounce it “cream,” like it in English, and if you did they would have no idea what you’re talking about. They pronounce it “CRAY-uh” and they don’t pronounced the “m” at the end. I also got two tapas, a queso manchego with bread, and some kind of pork smothered in roquefort cheese.

I started talking with the man at the bar next to me, and then the bartender came over and started talking to us, too. I immersed myself in roquefort and sweet wine. The bartender must’ve known I liked cheese because he brought over a special goat cheese that was on the house. I think the guy to my right was a little drunk, because the bartender kept looking at him like, “Oh, Javier, you’re a little bit crazy but I’ve known you all my life so I’m not going to act too superior.” The bartender was wearing a tie.

When I was done with the food the bartender told me that if I stayed the next night I should go to place called Damajuana that had a little more of a club atmosphere, or Bereber, which patently was a club. I told him I’d probably have to stay another night. I couldn’t let Jerez get away from me too easy. And besides, my hotel room cost 15 euros a night and had a window to a courtyard.

I felt completely content and might’ve had a small little smile on my face as I wandered back out into the night air. Things were closing down. It was Thursday. And I went back to my hotel room where I didn’t hit my head on the doorframe, because that would happen the next night.