Today, preparing to host a little poker night at our apartment, Andrew and I reluctantly walked down Passeig de Gracia to the Plaza Catalunya outpost of El Corte Ingles, Spain’s gigantic department store chain. Though you can find pretty much anything at Corte, both of us dread going there, for two main reasons: first, because everything is ridiculously expensive; and second, because everything is impossible to find. Superglue; power surge protectors; bath towels; a CD player; sun-dried tomatoes—we know that they are in the store, somewhere. But there’s no guarantee we’ll find them (or can afford them if we do—two years ago, when Andrew needed bath towels, the prohibitive price meant he had to make do with the two he’d brought with him from home until I could bring him Target-bought towels during one of my visits).
As a side note, after two years, we have yet to find a hardware store. I had to bring picture-hanging nails from the US when I returned after the holidays.
Anyway, our search today was for poker chips. Though an entire half-floor is dedicated to games, poker chips and playing cards were nowhere in sight. Not knowing the word for “poker chips” made asking for help a challenge, but Andrew successfully described what we needed. We were redirected to the ground floor, where there’s a small section to the left of the perfume/cosmetic department dedicated solely to “adult” games—chess, poker, and dominoes. There was also a tray of Bic lighters, and a strange assortment of FC Barcelona soccer paraphernalia. They did not have a regular set of poker chips.
Tired of Corte already, we nonetheless persevered to the lower floor, to the supermercado. We’ve shopped here quite often, yet the Corte retains its ability to flummox. Nothing is where it should be; or, if it’s there, it’s hiding. First quest: drain unclogger. Before entering the main shopping area, there’s a section solely for cleaning products; we found the drain unclogger there. Inside the main store, the withering quest for the rest of our list items continued. There are no fewer than three separate areas stocked with various types of crackers, and no fewer than four separate sections for different versions of cheese; this all inspires a kind of shopper’s rage. Shopping at the Corte is exhausting, and we always exit the store in a kind of desperation for open air.
I have never shopped in a place as confusingly organized as the Corte. But things like good fresh produce and sun-dried tomatoes—things that only the Corte can provide—keep us going back again and again, against our will.