Sunday, March 23, 2008

from a spanish lattice

We rode, bumping over rock tracks clawed out by the diggers, up stream-beds of golden wattle into shabby centres with stew for St Patrick's Day, Chinese trinkets sheltered from the sea breeze.

I think I've used this title before - I hesitated, and the thought came - but then why not? - an expanse, as far as the eye can travel, all with the same title - fairly afloat at last! That, in little, is the switch that flicks in my mind when I've been in Spain recently. This title in fact is borrowed from a piece by Billy Mayerl (1902-1959), an accomplished British composer of light music best known for his signature tune "Marigold" (1927).

The blueness of the Mediterranean is not only reflective of blue skies but is partly because the dry river-beds of Spain deliver practically nothing into its waters - compared for example with the Bristol channel which accepts a constant outflow of rich brown silt from the Severn.

Soup recipe. This was acclaimed the best of my recent sequence of soups. It is a detox soup, which is why for example there's no fat, no yeast or maltodextrin introduced via e.g. a stock cube, no vegetables of the Solanales order - well, except potatoes, but I did peel them...

cabbage (repollo liso)

The contents of a pack of caldo veg: 
a few carrots
2 celery sticks with a few leaves
a parsnip
a bit of swede
a turnip (in Spain they are cylindric and  white all over)

2 bay leaves (laurel)
dried rosemary (romero)
dried basil (albohaca)
dried oregano
dried pebrella

Chop or dice all the vegetables. Add to a large pan of boiling water, generously salted; a little pepper only. A modest amount of rosemary, more of the other herbs. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, then remove from the heat, fish out the bay leaves and whizz it up with a blender (batidora).

The key herb is pebrella, which I couldn't find in my Spanish dictionary. The dried leaves are curved, stiff, ovate, acute, rounded. Now I'm back I've learnt a little more about it. It is Thymus piperella, a local herb of the Valencia/Alicante region; the fragrance a little like savory. Abstracts on the Internet suggest antispasmodic and antimicrobial properties (against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, etc).

(Photo from

Spanish fruit and veg is always fascinating. Most, but not all of it, seems better than what we can buy further north; the cabbage is superb, the celery sensational. Tomatoes and oranges everyone knows about. I bought a Golden Delicious apple, and it was. I've never found anything to admire about the broccoli, which besides is often woody; you can get peaches all year, but they aren't reliable.

I bought some cheap tee-shirts - from XDYE (I think they're Mexican) and Angelo Litrico (house brand of C&A), an unexpectedly exciting place to shop in mainland Europe. The unaltered C&A logo transports you back to a British high street of the 1970s, though in fact the brand is not British at all - it was founded by Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer in the Netherlands in 1841.

We discovered a new top mineral water - Solan de Cabras. The mineral composition is good and very much in line with other good waters such as Fuente Arquillo, Fuente Primavera, Cortes; bicarbonates, calcium and magnesium are the things to look out for. But while very weakly (or non-) mineralized waters such as Bezoya and Aquafina (Pepsi-Cola) are predictably sad, this cannot be all there is to it, else how to account for the miserable Aquabona (Coca-Cola), whose mineral composition seems to have nothing exceptionable about it?* In the case of Solan de Cabras, the blue bottle may be a stroke of genius; practitioners of applied kinesiology will understand this.

*I must have encountered a bad batch. I've drunk plenty of Aquabona since and it's been perfectly fine.

Among other spreadsheets listed on my spreadsheet of spreadsheets we attempted to educe the periodic table from scattered fugitive memories of (in my case) the Dunlop Book of Facts. A spasm of inattention to the project, while running, gifted me such unlikely retrievals as Francium and Niobium, elements of which I know nothing, presumably inscribed on a single neuronal interconnection. While most of these retrievals did turn out to be real elements, a few were rogues - Wolfram (another name for Tungsten); Teucrium (genus of labiates); Deuterium (heavy hydrogen); Deleutherium (the former, mixed up with Eleutheria). The fact is, we were most alarmed about the apparent absence of elements beginning with D. I surmised that certain individuals must have deprecated its use in normal chemistry, reserving it for study of a secret body of knowledge concerning another world.

It wasn't too crowded and too hot, so we were greeted warmly when we visited a café, the affection cooling only by the time we eventually left, or sometimes not even until we went back a second time. Our sort of charm does not last.

The British readers of the Costas are fond of sea stories. This time I read Conrad - "An Outpost of Progress", "Karain: A Memory" (stereotypes of Islam), "The Secret Sharer" (solidarity of the ruling class). A wonderful writer nevertheless.

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