He looks us in the eye, a smile on his face.
“No,” he says. “Is not a restaurant.”
We don’t understand – there are chairs, tables, food quite plainly being served to customers.
We found this dark but inviting restaurant – or whatever it is – by accident, on our way to the funicular that rappels up and down Mount Urgull in San Sebastian, and want to see if it might be worth coming back.
“Is a private club, for local pelota team.”
“Oh! Oh, sorry!” we say, realising our mistake and backing out of the place.
“No, No – come in! Stay! You are welcome. Come in!”
We look at each other a moment, a silent agreement passing between us. “Umm. OK – thanks!”
He shows us into a plain dining room. Every eye turns to us, some a little mistrustful, but I suspect a mistrust based on shyness. A curse apparently not borne by our guide.
We are very far from hungry, as we have just eaten, sitting in the sun and the white heat outside. We are expecting a coffee, maybe a slice of cake.
Instead, we are given another entire meal. A full, 3-course meal that would have lasted two very hungry people the entire day. For us, it’s our second meal in 10 minutes, and by the time I get to dessert I am literally in pain, my stomach stretched to the very edge.
But I cannot refuse, because the hospitality shown to us, two strangers who walked in off the street and interrupted a private gathering, is so unexpected, so overwhelming
His name is Gregorio and he is magnetic, charming. He tells us about the community we’ve walked into, the sport of pelota. He asks about us, why we are here. We thank him again for inviting us in, and he explains that “the world does not know the Basques, so it is good idea for the Basques to be very welcoming to the world”.
We finish, thank Gregorio effusively one last time and say good bye. As we leave we mention to one of the women who fed us how touched we are that Gregorio invited us into this place.
“Gregorio is beautiful man” she says.
We keep that beauty with us as we step out of that cool, dark place into the afternoon’s heat and carry on our way.