My Madrid – Candy Lee Laballe

6a00d8341cb24853ef00e54f2a1ccb8834-640wiI haven’t done a My Madrid article for a while and was actually prompted to invite the next “interviewee” by the person herself! She is quite direct. Well, anyway Candy Lee Laballe came to Madrid on a whim in 1997 and stayed for two years. She left to pursue the “American Dream,” found it in Boston, and proceeded to become completely depressed. In her own words she says,

“after much soul-searching, I realized the only solution was moving back to Madrid. I had fallen in love with Madrid hard and being away from what you love is no way to live. I moved back to Madrid full time in January 2003 where I have been truly living a dream ever since. People always ask me how long I’ll stay here. I figure I have about 40 years to go.

Candy recently published Moon Spain for Avalon Publishing, a 900-page guide book to Spain. She says:3224430

It was a great experience and also a lot of work. Though there are several guidebooks on Spain in the market, I believe mine is different because I made an effort to share my love of Spain and Spanish culture with the readers.

Currently, she is doing some freelance writing including a monthly travel column for The Broadsheet. She is also about to launch MBA Spain, an MBA consultancy for Spanish students who want to attend top MBA programs.

Here are questions I asked Candy. Sit back and enjoy some of the great recommendations!

What is your favourite bar/café?

There is absolutely no way I can keep this to just one….so, for ambiance, good mojama (smoked tuna back), and flowing oloroso sherry, La Venencia on C/ Echegaray; for a funky vibe and great gin-tonics, Bodega Maxi in Lavapies; for the only old-fashioneds worth drinking outside of New Orleans, Del Diego on C/Reina.

What is your favourite dish?
Oh, so many to choose from. I guess I’d have to say paella, but only if it is done right….preferably by my friend Juan Negrillo from Valencia, and it has to have the socorat, the browned, burned bits of rice along the bottom of the pan. Another dish I can’t live without is salmorejo, the bread-thickened gazpacho native to Córdoba. I love it so much that I am serving it as the first course at my wedding in September. In the winter, I crave fabada asturiana….beans, morcilla, and chorizo, OH MY!

What is your favourite tapas?
Pan tumaca con jamón…..a thick slab of bread rubbed with olive
oil and tomato and topped with jamón….mmmmmmm. When I returned to
Spain to live in January 2003, I went straight from the airport to the
the Museo del Jamón on C/Mayor and ordered a big ole slab of it, ate it
right there with my suitcase at my side….it was a very delicious
welcome home. Now, I have my own jamón leg on my kitchen counter, so I
eat pan tumaca nearly every day!!

What is your favourite restaurant?
Lately, I’ve been indulging at Divina La Cocina
in Chueca. It’s owned by an American who’s lived in Madrid for eons and
the food really is divine–upscale and arty, but prices and portions
are very reasonable. I also love Can Punyetes in Huertas for very simple, very savory Catalan specialties. But really, more than restaurants, I am a devotee of tapas bars.

The Asturian cider bar El Ñeru near Plaza Mayor is a favorite–I love their Cabrales cheese blended with cider. Cisne Azul in Chueca is also a must for their wild mushroom tapas. La Moderna
in Plaza Santa Ana has a wonderful smoked capon tapa with celery
dressing that I just crave. I also love that you can get cava by the
glass there. Right in Plaza Lavapies there is a great Gallego bar, Porto Marino,
as cutre as can be, but oh do they serve the best pulpo salad I’ve ever
had in my life!! (not that I ever, ever had pulpo anything growing up
in New Orleans!)

What is your favourite season? I love Spring because of the
incredible optimism that permeates the air here–everyone smiling,
sunning, sipping claras on terrazas. It is just such a great time to be
here. Spring also brings San Isidro and that means FIESTA!! I am also a
big fan of bullfighting and LOVE to go to Ventas during San Isidro.
Then, at night, partying in the streets at Vistillas with just me and about 10,000 like-minded Madrileños! Finally, picnicking in La Pradera with all the castizos on San Isidro Sunday!!!

What is your favourite barrio?
It is love hate…but I have to say Lavapies.
Partly because I’ve lived here four years now, I know it. The Spanish
butcher, the Indian waiters, the Iraqi falafel shop owner, all wave at
me as I pass by. It makes me feel like I am home. I also love the fact
that a curry on a lively terrace won’t cost me more than 8 euros. Over
on Calle Argumosa, the warm weather terrazas are divine. If you haven’t
been, go, go NOW. From the Reina Sofia nearly to Plaza Lavapies, the
whole sidewalk is lined with them. My favorite has to be Heladeria Yoli.
Her granizados de café are addictive! There are also funky little shops
including a women’s only sex shop, health food stores, alternative
theaters, art galleries and truly entertaining people watching. But,
Lavapies has its drawbacks, mainly the plaza itself which is one degree
up from being a cess pool. It is one of Madrid’s most traditional
plazas, wide and broad and brimming with possibility, yet, it is left
to moulder in its own foulness–and just ten minutes walking from Sol.
It is a shame and I believe an embarrassment to Madrid. There is a
movement – Vecinos de Lavapiés – to try and get the city to do something about it,  which is a start .

What is your favourite building?
I love all the buildings along Gran Via and its juncture with Alcala…The Metropolis, Bellas Artes…but I think my favorite building of all is the Palacio de Communicaciones,
the massive, wedding cake building looming over Plaza Cibeles. It never
ceases to amaze me…I stop reading whatever I am reading when I pass
by on the bus, just to look at it. I also love to go there just to buy
a stamp. Though rumor has it that the post office is moving out….

A perfect ‘night out’ in Madrid would…. start with tapas in La Latina then sitting in the grass at the open air bar in Parque de Atenas, watching the stars overhead, enjoying the clink of ice in my bombay-tonica.

What is your favourite walk?
A few times a week, I take a
two hour walk, often between jobs or errands, or whatever place I have
to be…I just randomly head myself in the direction of home and just
walk. I always try to take a new street, duck down a new alley, find
hidden little plazas that I’ve never been to before. I discover so many
great places this way and am never bored.

Best Day Trip:
Segovia. Roman aqueduct, roasted suckling pig, fairy tale castle, roasted suckling pig, romanesque churches, roasted suckling pig….
Now that I’m engaged to a Candeleda-ian, I’d add Candeleda, less than two hours from Madrid in the foothills of the Sierra de Gredos–it
is a cozy little village surrounded by truly spectacular scenery and
home to honest-to-god natural swimming holes! Love it!!

What does Madrid mean to you?
Home. After 20-plus years of searching, living in half a dozen
cities, I can now definitively say that Madrid is home. I feel
completely at ease here, and completely enthralled on a daily basis.

A piece of advice for visitors:

I always tell all visitors to Madrid—TAKE A SIESTA!!
Madrid is an amazing place by day…the Prado, the Reina, Gran Via,
the Retiro, the buzzing cafes along Recoletos, Plaza Santa
Ana….BUT…it is just as amazing and lively at night. Too many
tourists try to make it all in one go….heading out to dinner at 8pm,
wondering where everyone is, then pooping out by midnight. Take a
siesta in the downtime hours of 6 to 9. Then head out for dinner,
wander the bustling streets of Huertas or Malasaña. Head to a club, a
flamenco bar, a late night terrace. Be sure to take a walk along Gran
Via around 3am to see just how lively Madrid is at night. OH, and a
recent amendment to my advice is, don’t venture too far from your
hotel. Has anyone else noticed that in the last year or so it has
become impossible to find a taxi after 3am???

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