Early weekend

Three days of writing as planned – it’s harder than I expected and quite tiring. Also characters went off-plan and started introducing new plot lines and new characters which weren’t in my outline at all. Whether any of it works remains to be seen. I had arranged to meet Natalie and Graham, who have a house in Antequera, in Cordoba on Friday. They would take the train and I’d meet them at the station.

20170511_171018Thursday brought an absolute downpour and the forecast for Friday was dodgy so I sent a message asking if they want to postpone but we decided to risk it anyway. So I set off in blinding rain with the wipers the only things going fast along the windy road through Villanueva de Algaidas to reach the A45 autovia to Cordoba. All was well and I made it to the very modern station with a huge plaza in front of it in good time. But it seems there’s no short-stay, pick up and drop off parking. However two cars were waiting in a slip road in front of the station which had bollards to stop you entering from the obvious direction. No one seemed to be about so I failed to see a No Entry sign, went in did a three-point turn and was ready to receive Natalie and Graham when their train arrived just five minutes late.

All aboard we headed off for the recently opened Gourmet Food Mercado de la Victoria which I’d not visited before. There was one further tour past the station before we found the correct route to the market, parked easily and bought a ticket for €1.70 for the maximum stay of two hours. We walked across to the market but it was only just getting under way so we walked down a little further to a café that offered breakfasts. We asked the waitress if we could have a cloth to wipe our pavement table and chairs before sitting down. She came herself and gave us a dry base but warned us it wouldn’t be for long – rain was coming. And it did before she was even able to bring us our first coffee. So we scuttled inside while the rain lashed down on Cordoba. Natalie had thoughtfully provided two umbrellas so we only got mildly damp as we moved from café to the market. It’s a fun destination in a wrought iron pavilion with lots of small outlets for a wide variety of food and drink inside. It’s modelled on the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid which Dee and I had discovered by happy accident several years ago. It was by now past midday so time for a beer to dry off, explore the market and then move the car. When I got my next ticket it’s expiry time was 18:02 which came as a surprise until I remembered that they don’t charge during siesta from two o’clock till five-thirty. Plenty of time to explore the old town and the famous mezquita

May is the time for the Festival of the Patios in Cordoba and the first corner we turned led us into one. Spectacular arrays of geraniums in pots rising to the sky through a three-storey courtyard with excellent ground level planting too. The lady standing looking proudly on told me that she looks after the whole thing on her own. We didn’t do the right thing and pick up a plan, visit all 60 of them and vote for the one we liked best. This one if you scroll down the list in the Juderia section was Judios, 6.

After admiring the patio Natalie and Graham led me to one of Cordoba’s most famous bodegas Guzman a proper Spanish place that doesn’t have a website for me to send you to. Three vast barrels dispense Montilla-Moriles – we are in Cordoba not Jerez after all – but the fine dry cold wine accompanied by some excellent goat’s cheese in olive oil made for a pleasant moment or three watching established locals and whizz-in-and-out-tourists explore this iconic bar. A very atmospheric, authentic corner of Cordoba.

Mezquita
When I went in 2010

We then moved on past the queues waiting to enter the main attraction which we had all visited before but were impressed by the cleaning that has been going on revealing colourful Arabic designs on the exterior walls of the building which was started in the 700s and as with so many buildings has changed religions and had bits added over the years.

 

8A15BAFC-0974-464C-AFC8-CCC380842190To the south, the banks of the Quadalquivir have been opened up and developed and we took the opportunity of a sunny spell to walk across the Roman bridge, even earlier than the mosque dating from the first century BC and rather spoilt by some later concrete balustrades. Time for a visit to a favourite which Natalie had recommended to Dee and me on our visit in 2010 El Churrasco. We just had a drink on this occasion but it is famed – rightly I remember – for the size and quality of the meat it grills. (photos thanks to Natalie, I’m rubbish with phone photos and didn’t have a camera with me).

The place was occupied by a constant stream of diners, often queuing for some time to get a table. We supped up and walked on through the old quarter in which Graham and I looked round at one point to find no sign of Natalie. She had vanished into a favourite jewellery shop, purchased a bracelet and left the umbrellas behind. We decided to wait for her to catch up with us in a bar situated on a corner she would have to pass so we would spot her. They had a delicious looking tapa of chicken liver with a mushroom sauce, which sounded appetising and just had to be tried. And then another had to be ordered once Natalie rejoined us. Then it was time to head back to Mercado Victoria for lunch – a parillada (mixed grill) of steak, sausages, morcilla and chorizo with chips and those delicious pimientos de padron small green peppers blistered in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Back to the car for an easy exit from Cordoba and back to La Parilla.

The hamlet where I’m staying has two bars and of course we had to pay them both a visit. I deposited my guests in the first and took the car back to the villa, just in case. We met up here with Paul and Tamsin who look after the house for its owners and live here all the time. They had to leave, so we walked up to the other bar where a little hunger was returning and tapas were available. Excellent morcilla de Burgos, which is black pudding with added rice, topped by a quail’s egg at Graham’s special request – he is extremely fond, some might say excessively fond, of fried eggs in all sizes. I’m going to fry him an ostrich egg one of these days! Also there were some very good homemade ham croquetas – a staple of Spanish tapas which can often disappoint. These were crunchy outside and creamy and tasty within. The bar is run by a charming young couple who have a six month old baby whom we could see and hear on the baby monitor sitting on the bar. Lucia is lovely. He’s from Catalunya, came for a holiday, met, married and stayed.

It was just as well we’d been eating steadily all day because despite inviting them to stay the night I hadn’t really thought about food to offer them. As it happened all we needed was a bottle or two of a stupidly good for its €2.75 price Ribera de Duero and then to bed around 2 am in proper Spanish style. And I didn’t have to listen to or watch our plucky defeat at Everton or Hampshire contrive to lose to Glamorgan after scoring 330+.

On Saturday I did provide homemade tostadas con tomate y ajo and coffee out on the terrace where we are promised another changeable day before it brightens up on Sunday and soars to 30 degrees all week next week. We then set off to return Natalie and Graham to Antequera where I can’t leave without a visit to their local – and oft-visited by us too – La Socorilla.

On several previous visits we had been promised a trip to the rabbit restaurant – Venta El Conejo on the outskirts of Antequera. It’s a bit erratic serving only rabbit and opening when they are available. So we’d never made it together. We walked through the former textile factory district of Antequera of which I was completely ignorant but there’s a river valley with lots of buildings of increasing dereliction which were once a thriving industrial hub with 13 factories making woollen goods and blankets along the course of the Villa river, now dammed and diverted so it’s a trickle until it dries up completely in July. It seems they developed from the mid-1800s  and died out early in the twentieth century. We reached the rabbit restaurant and ordered a plate and a half of rabbit and a platter of chips with a side salad of tomato, onions and garlic. All were huge, all were delicious. Following yesterday’s offal tapas I enjoyed rabbit liver and kidneys but drew the line at its tongue which may have been a mistake given how tasty all the rest was. Oh and of course there was a perfectly fried trio of eggs to round it all off. Then back through the town and a small shower for a final coffee at La Socorilla before driving back to La Parilla. On Sunday true to promise the skies are blue the temperature is rising and the week ahead looks good. Washing’s on the line – dry within an hour – I’ve swept storm debris off the patio and am listening to a distant hoopoe call – I saw one yesterday with a great flash of pink, black and white – the wonderful odour of ripening figs and these trees with their pretty pinky mauve flowers and yellow seed pods. I’ve never seen them in bloom before. I think they are a kind of acacia but will ask Paul when I see him.

Time to get back to the real work now listening to Semele which I only know from  extracts in preparation for the whole thing in two week’s time at Garsington Opera. It’s great Handel, good tunes, lots of drama and as usual the Gods meddling with mortals. Precursors of politicians, I’d say. Looking forward to it very much.

High Plains Drifter

On the way south through Zamora province there are fields of beans – chick peas and habones which are somewhere between broad and butter beans, big and tasty. We’ve run out of vines as the land gives way to cattle and pig rearing under the cork oaks whose acorns make the ham from around here so tasty. As it happens I’m on Route 66, Autovia A66 and it doesn’t feel much like our trip in Arizona and Nevada except for the amount of road kill. It’s a fairly empty motorway – why can’t the animals dodge better? Sight of the day – sorry still no stopping – comes just south of Salamanca where the road crests a slight incline and there are the Sierra de Gredos still covered in snow. The road passed Béjar and there were signs to La Covatilla ski resort. Then after another gentle climb – no hairpins or gear changes – there’s a sign for a pass at 1192 metres above sea level. These really are high plains in the west of Spain – the film title I borrowed wasn’t actually one of those spaghettis shot in Tabernas in Almeria province. As the road continued my attention was drawn to a stunning piece of music that was totally unfamiliar. I’d enjoyed the company of Catalunya Musica until halfway across Aragon and had then managed to retune to RTVE’s classical station. That’s the national broadcaster – BBC equivalent. I caught a bit of the announcement that it had Anne Sofie van Otter and the Swedish Symphony orchestra. I later traced it to be Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Song: a Cantata in two parts. I’m listening to it now on the RTVE podcast and it’s even better without car noise.

The A66 progresses into Extramadura which is the most famous region for Bellota ham but I was very surprised by the number of newly planted fields of vines and of vines planted as infill between rows of olive trees. I stopped for a coffee and mentioned my surprise to be told that the whole area had been revitalised in 1999 when Extramadura finally got its own denominacion DO Ribera del Guadiana so quality and prices had risen and farmers were encouraged to plant more vines. It was a hesitant conversation given my shaky command of the language but informative. Most of the new vines are in Badajoz province at the east end of which, now on the N432, I enter Cordoba where the only planting to be seen throughout the whole province is olives with the exception of a few grapes around Montilla south of the capital and in – it seems – a dozen other villages where the wines are classified as Montilla-Moriles and have a striking resemblance to sherries and a similar variety from fino to the sweet Pedro Ximenez. I have occasionally taken a sip of fino from a bottle labelled CB Alvear only later to appreciate that it’s a Montilla not a sherry.

20170508_152136[1]So I arrive in Rute just after three which seems like a good time for lunch before shopping. I recall that nice restaurant and bar we used to go to – Venegas, just up the road from Mercadona where my shopping is planned. So I go in, order a beer and ask what they have as tapas or small raciones and lo and behold they have carillitas de cerdo. These are pigs’ cheeks and became one of Dee’s favourite dishes. Coming from beside that large amount of bone the meat is really tasty and tender. These were served in a sauce with almonds. And how appropriate that he should be watching over me from the counter.

A week’s shopping completed I then drove on through Iznajar and turned right along to La Parilla, right on the border of Cordoba and Malaga provinces. The last part of the journey was a bit hazy and I thought I might be tired or my cataracts were getting worse only to realise that insect spatter had nearly obscured the windscreen. I’ll give it a wash tomorrow.

The house is still as lovely and welcoming as I remember. IMG_2438

There’s a bit of noise from the olive oil cooperative in the village but otherwise just the birds and the rustle of a light breeze in the trees.

I’m unpacked, a week’s washing is on, finished and out to dry and writer’s corner has been established and occupied in preparation for the real task to begin tomorrow.

Oh and the pool area still looks attractive but the sun’s gone off it now and I’ve been busy. And horror – I have to cook for myself tonight!

IMG_2443