PLACENot all is sunny in SpainBy Charles...

A MEMORABLE

November 28, 1999

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Not all is sunny in Spain

By Charles Schaeffer

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sunny Spain beckons. Flamenco. Paella. Excitement mounts. We land in Madrid and check into the Hotel Ingles, on a narrow street near Puerta del Sol. Four traveling companions set out, finding the ancient rooftops of Madrid irresistible photo opportunities.

Snapping away, Alan, oblivious of two sinister figures, suddenly cries out: "They got my wallet!" So credit cards are canceled. We vow not to let the setback ruin our reign in Spain.

On to Toledo and a night and elegant dinner at the history-draped Hotel del Cardinal, where first light brings the discovery that Ann's passport is missing. Caramba -- it turns up between two beds. We motor toward Granada, happy with changing luck, as the wonders of the Alhambra and its magnificent Generalife gardens unfold.

Our next destination: Mijas, a village in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean. We retrace narrow roads, finally to learn, hours later, that our rented villa is in "New Mijas." Ensconced at last, we find the villa is all it could be, and begin mapping out side trips -- the first to Seville, the flashy city of Carmen and Don Juan and the inland port from which Amerigo Vespucci and Magellan sailed.

As we enter midtown, a running man signals us to a prized parking spot, near the cathedral, our goal for the morning. As we back into the slot, he collects 1,000 pesetas, which is truly a bargain, until chuckles rain down from passing motorists, who gleefully point to the "no parking" sign in Spanish.

Back at the Mijas villa, we revive good cheer with a taste of port and a Rioja red, and sketch out a one-day trip to Ronda, famed for its ancient bullring and its proprietorship of Orson Welles' ashes. Fodor's guide suggests we "take a break" for a "moderately priced" lunch. So to the recommended Meson Santiago we steer.

A hostess and waiter, beaming genially, seat us as we order soup for all, a beer, a half-bottle of wine, mineral water and tapas. The request for the check brings the manager, who theatrically tugs the corners of the tablecloth while performing a drop-kicking motion and delivering a tableside tirade, mainly at Liza, my wife, in incomprehensible Spanish.

Is he angry because Spain lost the New World? No, assures a pleasant young man seated next to us. In French, which Alan fathoms, the young man explains that we have incurred wrath by ordering fare so meager that it wouldn't pay for laundering the tablecloth; and, had the manager sensed our cheapness, he would have given us the boot to start.

Every silver lining has a dark cloud -- even in sunny Spain.

Charles Schaeffer lives in Bethesda.

MY BEST SHOT

Clearing in the Smokies

Mary Beth Malooly, Baltimore

This picture was taken along the Newfound Gap road in the Smoky Mountains after a thunderstorm in 1986. It was still raining where I was, so I stood under an umbrella to get this shot of the clearing in the distance. This was in North Carolina inside the national park.

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