Fat Rain on the Fronds

Only grudgingly will the pensioners pick up their umbrellas and strap on their shoes today for the old “café-stroll-café-stroll-bar-stroll-bar-bar-bar” routine. Something like 45°F or less today, and pissing. Our Czech couch-surfers have decided now to stay an extra two days…for to ride in this is to re-invite bronchial malady in one and misery for both the duration of their 45km strike for Monasterio. Last night they whipped up Knedliky, a Czech supper dish which featuring dumplings, fruit, powdered sugar, and melted butter reads more like dessert. For dessert, we had jamon, pan, y queso.

 

Intercambio’s great. I like tutoring because I walk the town, entering homes and gathering notes on how people live here, and perhaps what they expect of their neighbors. Everyone knows Savi and I are here; the bartenders are a community, the teachers are a community, and those people interested in escaping this lovely bubble are a sub-community within the larger frame of the town’s population and they all talk, are all accomplices. Waiting has been my method of advertising my services. People we don’t know call our phone, having taken our number third- or fifth-hand, and are now my students. In a lot of cases, I don’t even know my students’ names until I get to their respective houses.

The borrachos are good borrachos. 400 years, 400 years, ah ah ah ahhhhhh~

We four drank two bottles of wine and half a bottle of good Portuguese port last night, from Porto herself. It’s cheap the way seafood’s cheap on the coast, or oranges are cheap in Florida. We two were gifted a set of shot glasses for the slamming of slivovice and to keep us from drowning in the port.

My omelette skills have become worthy of professional criticism. Normally I don’t puff up, but god damn. For example:

4 eggs

1/2 onion

3 big, fresh mushrooms

3/4″ of a stick of butter, or more if you don’t fear for your arteries

some olive oil

a splash of balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

some great cheese for grating

 

Preheat the oven to 325. Dice up the onion. Drizzle some olive oil on a cookie tray and splash some balsamic onto it. Dump the onions on and mix them well, so that they’re all stained brown; add salt and pepper. Melt the butter in the pan and crack all four eggs in. Take off the heat and scramble the hell out of them until they’re more or less an even color and consistency. Shake in salt and pepper, grate in some cheese, and splash in some milk; whip it good. Now, once all of the extras are mixed in, leave the pan on medium heat for a healthy five minutes.

Take the onions out of the oven. They should just be beginning to caramelize, or brown a bit about the edges. Scrape the mushrooms onto the cookie sheet and mix them well with the onions. Add salt and pepper and place them back in the oven for about ten more minutes.

Once the top of the eggs begins to look solid, run a spatula under them to make sure they aren’t sticking to the pan. When you can slide the whole “egg patty” around in the pan a bit, remove them from heat. Remove the veggies from the oven and scrape them into the egg pan. Grate a fresh dusting of lovely cheese over the steaming heart of your masterpiece and then, when you’re ready, fold it into the “calzone” position. If the pan looks dry when you fold the omelette over, add a bit more butter for the greasing.

After a few minutes the cheese will have melted enough that the egg-labials will have bonded together. Pluck courage and flip the delicious fucker over. Wait another two anxious minutes and cleave her in twain with the spatula and serve with juice, or home fries…and coffee with chocolate shavings and steamed milk. HA!

 

Really, this is a paradisaical place. Our boarders all say they will stay only for a night and on the third night we drink and laugh and wave them off in the morning. The mire is thick what with the zero crime, the cheap everything, and the commonly held favor of relationships over careers. I swear it is the El Dorado I’ve expected to one day find; it is the end, the clearing in the woods where the sun warms the grasses and the berries are the fattest. For little effort everything a person can be well provided-for and live out their days here in relative peace. To stoke folks’ sensibilities  there are regular futbol matches, annual bull fights, and inexorable telenovelas (if the severity of one’s piety can only be ameliorated in a wash of daily scandal ). People revere the elderly (“ustedes” in its right place) and the elderly suffer gambling addiction and the softened Spanish of the youth. The neatest example I can point to with some ease is the difference between the Spanish spoken by the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth and that spoken by all of the other characters in the film. That old Spanish is almost decadent in its enunciation of each letter; the tongue swirls around the “s” and hisses, clucks consonants and – I feel – the warm, airy essence of Spain breathes in the spaces between syllables. This space, if you speak Spanish in Europe, is endangered. The new Spanish is rapido, and for that slushy such that more people may be understood and understand one another. That sweet air has flooded into the noses and tails of words, leavening them further and perhaps, homogenizing them. So be it, yes, so be it but I know what I like.

We will go now for Spanish gazpacho and later, dine on Czech potato salad. We have a personal keg (5L) of Heineken and secretly, at the bitter end of the night and hunched over myself, I will be alone for a moment with a Kit Kat bar.

Autumn Rising

It’s been some time since I’ve used this blog, and the other blogs I’ve been working don’t seem an appropriate place for my thoughts. Summer has folded and here we have autumn dusting us with crispy leaves and we know her by the coolness of the drafts passing between her teeth, don’t we? Where to begin?

I have left America for a tour of the world. In the end there it happened, likely because of my lack of creativity, that I became fed up not with the people of America, but of Indiana’s timbre and pitch, so to speak. Indiana, sure, but also American media left me cold, American political stories had distilled and congealed to a constant, malignant buzz and my furrows had grown too deep. Finally I couldn’t bear again to pay rent, or pay bills, or wake up and fear being late for work, or sit at work and wonder why I wasn’t doing something meaningful with my life. It was fear, I suppose, which brought me to Spain. I looked around at my compatriots and saw many beautiful, brilliant people making their way too slowly. I could not do it, and for that I suppose I haven’t any taste for “the American Way”.

So I came to Spain, the first stop of my journey. I followed Savannah here and have begun tutoring students, having just completed a CELTA certification course in Denver. While I’ve been grappling with culture shock a bit, I can feel myself growing as a person. I am changing in all the ways I sensed I could but could not through the course of a purely American life. Spain is a remarkable place:

Machines

I don’t have an automatic can opener. I don’t have a clothes dryer. I don’t have a toaster. I don’t have a microwave. I don’t have a coffee maker. Savi has no hair dryer or straightener. We don’t have a car, a motorcycle, or a scooter. We have a television that has only been dark for us and is gathering dust. A life without so many auxiliary machines feels more natural, and by consequence of this feeling of simplicity, this lack of whirring and beeping, I feel more at ease and more given to deeper, more thorough thought processes than I was in the States. I think when I return I’ll be disappointed to see machines again and even more disappointed to witness a population’s growing reliance upon them.

Socializing

Every night of the week is an opportunity to socialize in this part of Spain. After siesta, during which the wind passes through the streets unobstructed by man nor beast, the shops reopen, the cafés set their grids of chairs and tables onto the cobblestone and the people flood out from their houses in their good clothes, pushing their designer baby carriages and smoking their cigarettes. The park becomes full, with families on benches, sitting on the fountain ledge, milling together, seeing each other, and talking loudly enough to be heard in a wide radius. A woman pushing a baby cart might need 45 minutes to cross a plaza as she pit-stops a dozen times to compare her baby with another couple’s. People with arms full of groceries who might clearly be in a hurry to get home and begin cooking stop for ten minutes to talk to an acquaintance on a narrow street as small European or Japanese cars squeeze by not a foot from their elbows.

Over 28 years in the United States, and after having visited countless towns, I have never witnessed socializing of this scale. In Bloomington, for example, people make plans with their friends and go out in pods (or alone) and maybe head-nod or smile politely at others until their group arrives. Pods of people pass each other on the street, individuals say, “Hi, how are you?” and their target says, “Fine; you?” and no response is expected or given. Admittedly, this interaction has always bothered me a bit but my aim is to highlight a contrast in social dynamics; what takes a moment in the US takes ten minutes in Spain and for that time spent is more thoroughly accomplished. I am led to wonder why in small towns in the US that many people (myself included) feel a tad loathe to meet others on the street due to a creeping anti-social dread of what a given social interaction might entail. I can see it now:

You and your friends: chatchatchatchatchat, etc.

Someone looks up the street and says: Oh look, it’s X.

X, passing by: Hey, what’s up?

You, over your shoulder: Not much, what’s up with you?

X, over their shoulder, walking on: Not much!

Do consequences of shallow encounters like these include forgetting of names, feelings of isolation, and the aforementioned anti-social thoughts? After having too many of these socially significant but emotionally empty encounters and after experiencing a richer take on socializing I have forgiven myself for dreading seeing people I consider my friends and acquaintances. The dread which I felt was the same dread an unchallenged student feels when the prospect of again attending that obligatory featherweight class rears its head each morning. The path of a ten-second conversation is inherently hamstrung by its shortness while what may happen in ten, twenty, or thirty minutes is anyone’s guess. And if you’re wondering what a person could possibly talk about for twenty minutes during a casual meeting on the street, imagine that you know a good deal of news about all of your acquaintances.

This highlight of socializing makes for a nice paradigm or example of Spain’s apparent preference of humanity over responsibility. Time is money in America, but in the less-Westernized parts of Spain, time is still time, pregnant with possibility. Your boss is a person before they are your boss. Your landlord has just called and wants to have a beer. Your neighbor is up in her window and wants to talk about her weekend. There is work to do, but the sun will rise tomorrow, too; how about a café con leche?

 

Well, that’s enough about culture for now. I’m sure I’ll have more general notes on things I notice, but this is beginning to look very anti-American; on the contrary, I mean only to contrast two cultures which are at once not commonly contrasted and worth contrasting, at least to me.
We’ve just had our first couch-surfers! They were (and remain, I suspect) a young French couple on sabbatical from university. Hosting is a good time and I recommend it to anyone. It’s fun to trade stories and recipes and to make friends who share an interest in traveling. Over the course of four days I cooked a few meals for all of us and our boarders reciprocated with some delicious French cuisine. They came offering Kinder eggs and left with a 7-pack of Snickers bars. I’m becoming a fan of the whole Intercambio/cultural exchange concept, which isn’t to say I wasn’t a fan before but am much bolder a fan for my experiences.

Oh, and something else…I think a story from my life might be cast on the international stage soon. Those of you who read this blog and are aware, or who are even players in the international mystery illustrated in a much earlier post might have an inkling of what I’m talking about here. I don’t know whether this will happen this year or next year, but I’ve heard from a perfectly reliable source that the story’s going to be published for all to read.

Keep your thinking muscular.

 

Recipe – Omelette and Home Fries

Serves 4

4 eggs

1 onion

6 whole mushrooms

1 green pepper

3 potatoes

Cheese wedge

1/4-1/2 stick of butter

creme fraiche

dill

grape tomatoes (optional)

olive oil

salt, pepper, whatever other spices you’d like to taste in your potatoes

 

Boil potatoes for 15 minutes until softened.

Meanwhile, dice half the onion and slice the other half into, say, five or six segments, across the grain. Julienne the pepper, or at least cut it into planks; don’t dice! Slice the mushrooms.  On an oiled cooking sheet, spread the mushrooms, onions, and grape tomatoes about, coating them with a little of the olive oil. Season the mix to your liking. Preheat oven to 375-400 and when potatoes are done boiling, place the chopped vegetables in the oven.

Mix up a couple cups of creme fraiche and dill. Set aside.

Drain and cool the potatoes. Chop them into bite-size chunks. Toss a healthy slab of butter into a frying pan and heat on medium until it’s melted. Place potatoes, pepper planks, and diced onions into pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir a bit as they cook.

Throw a slab of butter into another frying pan (large) and heat on medium until melted. Crack all four eggs and drop them into the pan. Break the yokes with a spatula and mix well, until the coloring of the pan’s contents is consistently yellow. Salt and pepper, and splash in a little fresh cream, or a dollop depending on how you interpreted “creme fraiche”. Grate a layer of good cheese over the eggs as they cook.

Check on the roasting vegetables. If the edges of the onions are beginning to singe, take them out of the oven and set aside, covered if you can.

Once the eggs are solidified enough, dump the roasted mushrooms and onions into the pan. Separate the eggs from the bottom of the pan with a spatula and fold over, creating an omelette. Cook for a few minutes this way and turn over, being careful not to spill your vegetables all over the place. Cook for another couple of minutes and then cut omelette into four fat pieces and remove from pan, placing one piece on each plate.

Keep turning the potatoes, onions, and peppers over to keep them from burning in the pan. Once the potatoes are browned sufficiently for your taste, divvy up the pan between the four plates. The two which received the ends of the omelette are compensated with more vegetables than those who received the plentiful middle portions. Dole several roasted grape tomatoes to each plate and slap a dollop of creme fraiche atop the vegetables. Serve with juice, coffee, and water.