Botín in literature

It is said that around the year 1620, the area surrounding Cava de San Miguel and today's Plaza Mayor in Madrid was a hive of activity for both well-to-do gentry and less affluent characters. This was very probably where Lope de Vega found inspiration for the many rogues which featured in his plays. Later, in the 19th century, this traditional Madrid neighbourhood also served as a setting in several novels by Benito Pérez Galdós, and was even christened with the sobriquet Madrid Galdosiano by historians.
Botín has the honour of appearing in various novels written by the renowned Canarian author. In 1886, Galdós wrote one of his most popular works, Fortunata and Jacinta, a vast mural in which history, society and the urban profile of Madrid unite to provide the backdrop for a story in which two young and very different women fall in love with the same man. On one page, Galdós writes,

Last night I dined at the Sobrino de Botín bakery in Calle Cuchilleros…”

Ten years later, he mentions Botín again in another work, Misericordia, a novel which, along with Nazarín, reveals certain influences of the Russian Dostoievski.  In one chapter, the figure of Doña Francisca Juárez asks for food from Botín to be brought up to her:

“In one of those meetings, from the sitting room to the kitchen and from the kitchen to the bedchamber, Ponte suggested to his compatriot that they celebrate the occasion with a meal at the tavern. He would be delighted to invite her, as a small reflection of his gratitude of her generous hospitality. Doña Francisca replied that she would not dream of presenting herself any public place until she could so in decent clothes, and when her friend commented that eating out would save her the trouble of cooking without any help other than the girls from the lacemaker’s, the woman answered that she would not light the fire until Nina returned, and that she would order everything they needed from Botín. Which of course began to whet his appetite for delicious and flavoursome delicacies… About time, Sir! So many years of forced fasting almost merit a rendition of Hallelujah. “Hey, Celedonia, put on your new skirt - you are off to Botín. I'll write you a note of what I want so you don’t make any mistakes”. No sooner said than done. And what other could the lady order to whet the appetite on that fine day than two roast chickens, four fried fish and a hearty chunk of steak, accompanied by sweet ham, egg yolk garnish and a dozen crème pastries?... Well, I never!”

Moreover, a eulogistic reference to Botín can be found in the novel Torquemada y San Pedro:

“Street after street, I began to recognise familiar faces from the distant past, shops which could now be described as historical, pure-bred Madrileñas: poultry shops with live birds, the wineskin maker’s with its huge display hides, the wood turner, the plumber’s with its windows as shiny as items of weaponry in a military museum, the renowned eatery, Sobrinos de Botín…”

The Spanish politician and journalist Indalecio Prieto also makes reference to Botín in his book Mi Vida, written in 1965 during his exile in Mexico:

“…the next Saturday, at one of the weekly dinners I used to attend at Botín with Torres, Anselmo Miguel Nieto, Julián Moisés, Juan Cristóbal, Pérez de Ayala, Valle Inclán, Enrique de Mesa and other artists and authors, Sebastián Miranda, who wanted to make his payment in the presence of witnesses, repaid Julio Camba the five pesetas he owed him. The latter in turn used them to cover his share of the roast kids and delicious crème pastries which the restaurant in Calle Cuchilleros has been churning out since 1725, and which we consumed in abundance.”

Another celebrated Spanish author, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, dedicates several of his famous Greguerías to our restaurant. Born in 1888, this charismatic Madrid-born author was a frequent guest who always had the last word at the regulars’ table organised in the now defunct Café de Pombo and the Botín. His curious sense of humour, which could be described as somewhat eccentric, led him on one occasion to give a lecture dangling from a circus trapeze, and when invited to talk at the Academy of Jurisprudence, he read out a letter excusing himself for not being able to attend the event due to illness.
Gómez de la Serna ventured out in Madrid on the hunt for Greguerías, and when he found his inspiration, he would hurry to the nearest of the four rented rooms he had in various parts of the city, all of which were well equipped with a table, paper, a feather quill and ink. It is curious to note that he always used red ink, as he considered that this way, "the transfusion onto paper is more sincere, my quills are filled with my own blood".
In reference to Botín, he wrote:

“Botín is the magnificent restaurant where new things are roasted in old pots”.

“It seems as if Botín has existed forever, and that Adam and Eve tried the first fried lamb ever prepared in the world.”

“The old Botín in Calle Cuchilleros also serves suckling pig, the poignant suckling pig which has us all in tears as if it were one of our children, as it seems he is going to say: Those baptised, so many pesetas, and those who are not, so many less.”

“Botín will witness many celebrations for golden wedding anniversaries, silver wedding anniversaries and diamond wedding anniversaries, right down to fossil wedding anniversaries!”

The Greguerás were collected in various volumes and translated into a range of languages, in addition to being published in many newspapers and magazines all over the world.

Extremadura-born but English-resident Arturo Barea also dedicates a space to Botín in his most famous work, The Forging of a Rebel. This trilogy is a perfect portrait of the customs of Madrid, portrayed through the everyday trials and tribulations of a modest family (the author’s own), from the beginning of the century to the Spanish Civil War. In one paragraph, Barea says,
           
“…she goes alone, or with one of us, to Botín, an old restaurant in Madrid, and orders them to roast a suckling pig. She eats it alone - if we don't go with her – with a large dish of lettuce and half a litre of wine.”

In El Goloso, the Conde de Sert states that during an official meal held by Alfonso XII for Edward VII upon his visit to Spain, a menu preserved from the event showed that one of the desserts was: Crème pastries à la Botín.

Carlos Arniches also mentions Botín in his lyrical sainete La Fiesta de San Antón, with music by Tomás López Torregrosa, which was premiered in Madrid's Apolo Theatre on 25th November 1898:

“Antonio: Well, yes, sir, I want the gathering to be in my house, as Ca Botín is a public establishment and I don’t feel like seeing Regina there and getting into a row.”


ENGLISH-SPEAKING AUTHORS

During their travels in Spain, countless foreign authors have been seduced by the 18th-century charm preserved by Botín: John Dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, and Frederick Forsyth to name but a few, although we shall focus here on those who dedicate a space to our restaurant in their works.
Let us begin with the English author Graham Greene, who was born at the beginning of the 20th century, and whose work is characterised as a reflection of the spiritual conflicts in a world of decadence. After the Second World War, Greene took to travelling around the world, also visiting Spain. Amongst his last works is Monsignor Quixote (1982), a novel which, albeit in a moderate tone, confronts Marxism and Catholicism. In one paragraph, he says,

“…I suggest that before buying purple socks, we treat ourselves to a tasty lunch at Botín…”

More recently, another British writer, Frederick Forsyth, mentions Botín in his novel Icon, which is set in the convulsed Russia at the end of the 90s.
American Pulitzer Prize winner, James A. Michener, whose work has been projected onto cinema screens on various occasions, also mentions Botín in his book Iberia”:

“…and I went to have lunch in an excellent restaurant at the end of Plaza Mayor, Botín, which dates back to 1725."

We have left Ernest Hemingway until last, in honour of the special link he had with Botín and its owners. In his travels to Spain, Hemingway often visited Botín and formed a firm friendship with Emilio González, father and grandfather of the current owners. By way of an anecdote, he was particularly keen on learning how to make paella, although his skills in the kitchen were somewhat less than his talent with the typewriter.

Of all authors, this charismatic American was known for his love of Spain. Few foreigners have been able to feel and reflect the beauty of our country like him. In just a few lines, he is able to evoke a vivid scene with all of its aromas, lights and harmony. Of Madrid, he said: “It is the most Spanish city in the whole of Spain”, adding: “When one has the Prado, the Escorial just two hours away, Toledo to the South and a magnificent route leading to Avila and another towards Segovia, which is not far from La Granja, one feels overwhelmed by desperation when realising that someday, we will have to die and leave all this behind".
A passionate defender of bullfighting festivals, in 1932, he published Death in the Afternoon”, an authentic portrait of bullfighting traditions, in which he mentions Botín:

“…but, in the meantime, I would prefer to dine on suckling pig at Botín than sit and think about the accidents which my friends could suffer."

Botín also appears in The Sun Also Rises”. Over the years, it has been extremely gratifying to witness the pilgrimage of American tourists, looking for the restaurant in which Hemingway sets the final scene in the novel:
“We lunched upstairs at Botin´s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.”