June 2, 2010

Ferrierola, Spain. Day Two: Olives, Artisans, Mountain Goats.

The next days were steeped in the tasting of local cheeses, dried figs, and custards.

We met Francisco Lillo who owns a bottega called ‘La Oliva’ and from there, our tasting continued. It was a full-on immersion into the soul of Pedro Ximenez, (worth smuggling into Spain in the duffle of a soldier by that name) and other sultry, full-bodied sherries. We found a Pedro we loved and mixed it with pomegranate juice and sparkling water, christening it an “Obamalini” to celebrate Obama’s recent victory back home. We also became familiar with the wines from the Priorat, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero.

Spain. Famous for jamon, the cured hams; Bocorones, fried anochovies; Paella, the national dish of rice, shrimp, sausage and spice and ciocalato con churros; hot chocolate with a fried dough, not unlike a doughnut.
Every region has a different rendition, if you are lucky the best will be the one you are eating at that moment.

Visiting Grenada with Francisco was particularly interesting. It was a slow walk-back through history that ended at the Alhambra. The exquisite Moorish palace—completely self-sufficient in it’s day, with schools, bakeries, gardens and unbelievably talented artisans.

From Grenada we traveled to an olive-oil tasting near Cordoba. I have lived in Italy for 18 years, and I have never seen as many olive trees in my life. They went on for miles, as far as I could see, on both sides of the road. That night we ate in the famous Bottegas Campos, Francisco’s favorite. Uncharacteristically, I cannot tell you what I ate, or drank. My attention was more absorbed by the restaurant’s atmosphere. Old Spain, and well-preserved.

It was late afternoon when we arrived back in Ferrirola. I immediately took a sojourn to the spring that 'giveth agua gassata naturale', for a restorative drink. This water was curing something in me. Perhaps a deep lack of minerals? Surely, a taste of something pure.

On my way back to Casa Ana, I stood out on the promontory of the ''era' to tune myself to the view. I closed my eyes in gratitude, to stand on such ancient ground. The faint sound of bells slowly grew closer. I looked in that direction and saw sheep, swift and sure-footed, pouring white like milk down the hill into the gulley below where I was standing. Soon came the shepherd and his dog.

They were headed to an open green field to graze. It was an everyday affair.

There are habits of rural life that have a soothing effect on the nerves. I wanted to camp there for days, to give myself a refreshing tune-up. To remember what it’s like to rise with the sun and grow sleepy when it’s dark. To feel the hours of the day without rushing, to take in the subtle sounds we usually miss and see details we don’t stop long enough to see. It was a place of deep communion.

The night was coming. I had just enough light to walk back to the house. I left the era reluctantly. But supper called. Kim was at it again: chicken with saffron, almond-olive oil cake with kumquats and tangerines.

I do not know Spain well, but I have the first blush. I think we’re going to
get along just fine.

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