The Book of Soria
January 1, 1970
by Audrey Kelly
The Book of Soria is a guide to what you should be doing at every point of the day in a small Spanish city that can be found on the elevated plains of Castilla-Leon. According to Spanish standards, the weather in Soria is crap (aka there are definitive seasons, although it did snow on the first of April so those lines are perhaps being blurred). Because of that, and also because it’s small and relatively unknown to foreigners, the majority of the people that you will meet here were born in Soria, and haven’t spent much time outside of their home city. Thus I suspect that the teachings of the Book of Soria go back generations, a decades long compilation of traditions contributed to by the young and old walking the streets of this city. Luckily for us, it has been edited and revised by a Sorian native John and his Thai wife, Sally. I shall try to provide an efficient and helpful summary so that you can choose for yourself whether you wish to prescribe to the doctrines of the holey book.
(**Disclaimer: the Book of Soria is not an actual physical book, just a joke between Sally and John. If you ever go to Soria, it’s probably better not to mention it to a Sorian native.)
Your classic weekday: tomar-ing and pasear-ing
The book of Soria divides a classic weekday into two further sections: a guide for those that are working, and a guide for those that are without work (read: most people under the age of thirty because of “la crisis,”, and those that are retired.)
A working Sorian will typically start their workday at around eight or nine. About an hour later, they will take a break to “tomar un cafe” with their coworkers at the closest bar. This excursion will include catching up with the bartender (they don’t really have cafes in Soria, only bars. But the bars all have espresso set-ups and are every twenty meters), rapid speaking and gesticulating in Spanish about the latest debacle, and dos besos for at least half the population that walks in the door. Everyone in Soria knows everyone. Then (at least as far as I can tell) they go back to work for another hour, then need more coffee. Tomar-ing in Soria is serious business. Around eleven or noon, some people switch from coffee to beer or wine, with which you usually get a little something to eat. If you know the bartender really well and they happen to be in a good mood, you’ll get the classic Sorian tapas which they all go mad for–as far as I can tell it’s bacon with super stale freeze-dried rind. It isn’t my favorite, but it’s everywhere, and Sorians are extremely proud of it, so you will have to try it at least once. Often, a drink will be accompanied by a walk, or what the Spanish call a “paseo.” This means about fifteen to thirty minutes walking through the park or down the main street of the center of Soria, El Collado. This street is for walking only, and a paseo down and back the legnth takes about fifteen minutes. If you’re actually trying to go somewhere, it would take about five minutes, but pasear-ing requires that you walk at a pace slow enough to smell a rose every two feet. I also recommend you practice your “Hombre!!!!!” to exclaim with glee everytime you run into someone you know if you want an authentic Sorian paseo.
I suppose when you think about it, the day of the non-working Sorian isn’t all that different from that of the working Sorian, though they don’t have to get up at a certain time. Instead, they can go out to tomar algo whenever they please. The “jubilados,” or retired people, then set up camp in Dehesa, what Sorians call their version of Central Park. In the mornings, almost every bench is occupied with your classic stereotype of old Spanish men and women feeding the birds and the squirrels.
Lunch comes at around two or three, so right around then the streets will suddenly become empty. I mean, empty. Since Soria is very small–you could walk from the farthest corner to the other farthest corner in about an hour–pretty much every returns home to eat with their family. This is very Spanish, but a tradition that is disappearing in bigger cities like Madrid, where returning home to eat takes longer than eating itself. But lunch, or “comida,” is the biggest meal of the day in Spain, and so being able to eat with your family is something that Sorians find very important. As a tourist, I recommend finding a small restaurant and getting the “Menu del Dia.” The going rate in Soria is about ten euros, and includes a starter, a main dish, a dessert, water, and a bottle of wine. Just know that “esparagos” does not mean nicely grilled fresh asparagus, but the Spanish “specialty” of preserved white asparagus, which they eat with mayonnaise and tastes like water-logged sticks of fiber. Better to stick with the garbanzos, which come in a lovely broth with plenty of garlic.
After comida you have the famous siesta time, aka a couple hours to nap or seriously chill out. As a foreigner, I tend to take advantage of this time to actually get emails or some such done, as this is the one break you get during the day from the constant tomar-ing or pasear-ing. Don’t try to do errands though, because everything is closed. Shops won’t open again till the end of the siesta, around five thirty or six.
Some Sorians have to finish their workday at this point–suckers. Other people, you guessed it, tomar and pasear. This is afternoon, so if you’re meeting someone “por la tarde,” it could be at nine o’clock. San Saturio Hermitage is a really cool place to go–it’s an abbey carved into the cliffs by the river. You walk up through stairs, ducking under the overhangs that have not been altered in the slightest by human hands because Spaniards are wickedly short, to the top, where there is a chapel completely covered in frescos. Another option is the Numancia Museum right next to Dehesa, which has the history of the Romans who were here way back in the day. Numancia is the name the Romans gave their city, as well as the name of Soria’s football team today. The gallery up the street from there is small, but tends to get some good art every once in awhile. Worth checking out as a break from tomar-ing and pasear-ing.
Saturday: Still more time for tomar-ing and pasear-ing
Saturday is the weekend day that people do things in Soria. Thus even if you are sleepy or feel like you have nothing to do besides tomar or pasear and you’ve done that a million times during the week already, get your butt out there. Sit in Dehesa and watch everyone else pasear-ing. Find a sunny spot in a plaza and get a beer and watch everyone else pasear-ing. Find one of the two shops that they have and browse for things that you don’t need. Go to the grocery store and be amazed at how much cheaper it is to buy literally everything except for sunscreen than wherever you are from. (Bring sunscreen from home–it costs three times more than anywhere else I’ve been.) Count the number of “Hombre!!!!”s you witness. Feel free to stare as much as you please–it isn’t rude in Spain. Get a cafe con leche to go from Enjoy Coffee–one of the only places that has cups to go in Soria–and take it up to the “castle” that has been converted into a swimming pool. The views of the River Deuro and the city are worth it. Then eat a massive lunch and pass out for a couple hours–you’re going to need it later.
Saturday night, in the Book of Soria, is when you go out. And the Book of Soria has particularly specific rules for Saturday night.
Start with dinner with friends in someone’s house. Bring wine and coke, because here in Soria they love “calimocho”: half red wine, half coke. Your host may even emit a small scream in excitement. Around midnight or 12:30 [yes, I’m serious. Your Spanish host might not even want to leave the house until 2] head to Plaza de Las Herradores. Even if you don’t smoke, get your drink and then go outside where everyone else is. The next stop is Bandalar, or Buddha Bar. If you get there around 1, before the rest of the world arrives, you might get a small little dish of sweets with your drinks–highly recommended if you are willing to part from the norm a wee bit. By the whole world the Book means pretty much anyone who considers themselves young in Soria. Around three, start thinking about going to Grammy, but once you go, don’t rush. Half the fun is in the drunk people along the way there. After that, just follow someone–to Tango, to La Jungla, to “lo que sea.” Make some room for yourselves and dance until you can’t dance no more and then emerge into the light of the morning. Don’t feel guilty as you join the pilgrimage to home–if you come home before four on a Sunday morning, that’s early.
No one does anything on Sunday until at least 2 pm. At that point, you might have a grand Spanish comida, complete with “sobremesa,” a tradition where you eat so much no one feels like moving, and so everyone just sits around the table talking for a couple hours. If you start feeling guilty for so much inactivity around six, go for a walk along the river. Nothing is open on Sunday, so don’t even think about trying to do any errands. Even the supermarkets are closed. Instead, many Sorians meet with friends and family in their pueblos. Everyone you meet in Soria has “mi pueblo,” it’s a part of every Sorian’s identity. On weekends and during the summer, the city empties because everyone has gone to the countryside. What they do there besides tomar and pasear I have yet to discover. However, if you have access to a car, I absolutely recommend visiting a few. Besides the occasional glance at a smartphone, the villages are tiny, picturesque, and feel like they haven’t changed in eighty years.