This site is a small sampling of Vicky Hayward’s work as a freelance writer, food historian, book editor and arts consultant. The projects are grouped around topics and live issues to give an overview of subject areas.
Vicky grew up in England, where she learned to cook professionally before studying history at the University of Cambridge, specialising in social and cultural history viewed through different methodologies. Her interest in history shaped her early work as a senior book editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson and at Booth-Clibborn Editions, the London-based publisher of cutting-edge visual books. She also lived and worked in Vanuatu, working on a research project and later as an interpreter, translator and editor. As a features writer in London from 1986 she covered popular culture, social issues, food, the arts and women’s issues for the British press. She first got to know Spain as a child on family holidays and her writing brought her to Madrid in 1990. Features for international media since then have covered social issues and visual arts. Her work on food and gastronomy has included regular essays for Spain Gourmetour (1992-2005) and her features on flamenco led on to her collaborations with live flamenco programming, film and audio. She has written three pocket guide-books, many essays for regional and city guides, and she contributed to the relaunched Michelin Spain Green Guide (2011). In recent years her writings on food, culture and history have converged. She revised essays on Spain for the Oxford Companion to Food’s second edition, and in 2016 she finished her modern retelling of New Art of Cookery, a seminal 1745 Spanish cookbook in which she contextualised her English translation of the book against a longer narrated social history, accompanied by modern versions of the dishes. The Spanish edition, which followed four months later, is published under the title Nuevo arte de la cocina española. In 2017 she was honoured to receive the Jane Grigson Trust Award and the Aragonese Academy of Gastronomy’s Award for Best Gastronomic Research for the original English book. In 2018, following publication of the Spanish edition, she received the Premio Nacional de Gastronomía for Best Publication from the Royal Academy of Gastronomy, and in 2019 the newly created Juan Altamiras award. In 2020 a new essay on Altamiras was highly commended in the Sophie Coe Prize for Food History. She has spoken internationally on Spanish food and culture, giving talks and papers at a number of food history symposiums, and she has also given workshops and classes in Spain.
She is represented by Andrew Nurnberg Associates, London.
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A todo el mundo no le gusten los homenajes, pero sus mensajes pueden encender chispas inesperadas. Sucedió hace un mes….
Dear Sempel: We met many moons ago in Ambrym, your home island in Vanuatu.
“Mi no lukum yu longtaem,” as you’d say in the islands’ language, bislama. Do you remember teaching me how to make coconut milk? Don’t hurry, you said, as I shaved the coconut flesh, and you sang gently while you worked deftly, quickly, beside me…. Here, belatedly, I want to say thank you. Tangkyu. How often your advice has anchored me. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy: don’t hurry….
This weekend I listened to some recorded songs from Vanuatu. Unaccompanied, almost whispered, they remain as powerful as ever. One of the songs, from Ambrym, calms the ocean, seeking safety for those who journey to and from the island. Was this your fisherman’s song when we made coconut milk so long ago?
Twenty-five years after I landed in downtown Madrid I still find myself surprised by the quality of the city’s everyday eating. Visitors tell me they find the leisurely pace of meals a luxury, even in budget restaurants: snap-sharp service coincides with easygoing hospitality, and customers are free to linger long over coffee.
Municipal food markets inspire much of my home cooking. Altogether nearly fifty covered municipal markets, large and small, each with its own character, are scattered around the city’s barrios. Four years ago, Barceló, my local market, for example, reopened as an expanded three-storey building complete with a slick white façade and food graffiti in the passageways, but it remains a genuine neighbourhood hub with old-fashioned values of service, remarkably remaining open to the public every single working day during the pandemic. Other markets have reoriented themselves to seven-day-weeks and gastronomy: they are packed with small kitchens serving bargain to upmarket Michelin-starred food. At the weekend I like to pause at a market bar or café serving sticky tortilla and coffee before setting off on a slow wander around the stalls. Here you can catch glimpses of the produce from which home and avant garde cookery grow. Each market has its specialities: Mercado Anton Martín, half barrio and half hipster, launched the city’s supply of fresh seaweeds.
Recently advertisers have begun capitalising on the markets’ success, which has grown from the dedication of so many small stallholders. Often a weekend wander needs to avoid flashy promotions, but you can ignore them: walk on by to the small, fixed stalls where specialist care of produce practised every week and every month of the year, in heatwaves and snowstorms, has slowly built the foundations of the city’s food culture….
To read more: https://revistapan.com
To read more: www.nuevoartedelacocina.com
Winner of the Jane Grigson Trust Award, 2017
To read more: www.nuevoartedelacocina.com
Winner of the Jane Grigson Trust Award, 2017
Spanish edition: winner of the Premio Nacional de Gastronomía a la Mejor Publicación de 2017 (Real Academía de Gastronomía) and the Premio al mejor labor gastronómica en el ámbito de investigación, 2017 Academía Aragonesa de Gastronomía).
To read more: www.prospectbooks.co.uk
To read more: www.sophiecoeprize.wordpress.com
Here is the video, courtesy of and with thanks to Madrid Fusion: Youtube link
To read more: www.newartofcookery.com – blog, Amsterdam symposium
I don’t move forward in flamenco, I go backwards,” says Antonio Gades decisively. “Where there is a flamenco singer and a guitar, you kill their power by adding an orchestral arrangement. On the other hand I like flamenco dance set in a different context ….
Gades has always cut an unusual figure in flamenco. Born into a communist family – “but not a Gypsy one” – he moved from Elda, a shoemaking town in Alicante, to Madrid as a young child following his father’s imprisonment for his politics. At the age of eleven, he went to work to support the family and, five years later, turned to dance in the hope that it might bring in a decent income ….
Gades’s company, which he set up in 1963, has flourished, growing from three to thirty-one dancers, and received many accolades, but it has remained unsubsidised and unsponsored. “Freedom is expensive, it’s not given to you,” he comments curtly. He has now been creating choreography freely for over three decades and many would say his most recent work, “Fuenteovejuna”, is his masterpiece ….“Yes, it’s true there’s a real afición for genuine flamenco today and it’s seen differently – now it’s in opera houses and universities. But beyond that I don’t see anything that has changed significantly.
Perhaps what is most surprising for onlookers is that the Andalusians take their Japanese counterparts very seriously. In the late 1980s the Seville Bienale hosted a three-day festival of their flamenco, and today the work of artists like Shoji Kojima and Yoko Komatsubara remains influential.
Those who have lived within both Spanish and Japanese cultures are not as surprised by the phenomenon. “I think there are good cultural reasons for the fascination,” says María Dolores Rodriguez, a teacher at Madrid’s official language school. She lived in Japan for ten years. “Flamenco expresses intense emotions in a highly disciplined form. It shares the Japanese ideas of freeing ki, or energy, and of kata, the body-sculptured fixed positions struck in kabuki and noh theatre, in mijomboyu dancing and martial arts. At the same time, in flamenco performers have more freedom.”
Atsuko, aged 22, who came to study dance in Jerez, agrees. “In flamenco the technique is nothing unless you have feeling. You have to be yourself. That’s what I like. When I’m angry I dance best. It’s the exact opposite of what we’re used to in Tokyo.
The workshop’s and contest’s success are rooted in the hidden cultural wealth of Spain’s prison communities and the commitment of those who created the project. Prison director Francisco Velasco raises its scanty local funding. Guitarist and maestro Rafael Treñas teaches for just 40,000 pesetas (£200.00) a month, less than his fees for a single performance. Prison educator Antonio Estévez has often dipped into his own pocket to cover costs when the budget hasn’t covered them. No coincidence, perhaps, that all three grew up in or near Gitano barrios of the Andalusian cities where flamenco, as intertwined song, guitar and dance, have evolved over at least three centuries and are a daily element of life, often binding communities.
For Estévez, who had the original idea for the workshop, its success is rooted in the strength of the prison’s Gitano culture. “It works because it’s based on the prisoners’ real world. You won’t persuade most Gitanos to do a class on computing or gardening, but flamenco can inspire them to dedícate long hours to studying. By 1995, when I first visited the workshop, it had reached such a high standard that some students were being coached for public performance.
When my grandfather sung at night, my grandmother would open her arms and dance,” recalls María Soleá, aged 63, from Cádiz. “How she danced with her arms! And if somebody we didn’t know appeared at the door, my grandfather would say, “Close the door, girl, for I don’t want strangers watching my wife and children sing and dance.”
While María’s family all sang and dance at fiestas, she was the first of their women to perform for money. “I didn’t have special dresses or anything like that, and I danced in my everyday rope-soled shoes.”
(Flamenco International magazine, 2002-2007)
V: Eva, you’re often quoted as saying that just one flamenco performance you saw with your father made you decide to dance. I think Manuela Carrasco and Concha Vargas were performing?
Eva: Yes, but it wasn’t the baile (dance) that impressed me as much as the cante (singing). I’ve always felt song is the mother of all flamenco. Take Paco de Lucía’s work. You listen to his music and say, “Madre mía”, how blessed he is by the gift of knowing how to listen. I don’t think I’d be a dancer if I could sing.
Paco: It may not be immediately clear, but we build our performances around the palos – the soleá, seguiriya and so on. Infact, we try to pick forgotten song forms for dance … the trilla, the mirabrás and so on. Every songform is its own world. There are rhythm, harmonies, melodies, but also colours and landscape, light, perhaps those of Cádiz or Triana. A songform’s lyrics also emerge from a particular situation, but it’s up to us as performers to reveal that if we want to.
Eva: But I also feel, as a dancer, the form of a seguiriya or indeed any palo, must also come from a personal search. Not everyone wants to do that, but you need to share a personal search and what you have lived within your dance.
V: What was recording like when you were younger?
Sordera: We’d have two days to make an LP. That is, two days with a guitarist and a couple of palmeros. That was it. I would write the cantes for the album on a piece of paper and order them as we went along. Vicente would come along and do palmas. He was just a boy. We’d go to the studio in the afternoon, open our throats, perhaps with the help of a whisky, and start. We didn’t rehearse. The labels worked that way to save money. The artists took it for granted and worked around it.
V: Flamenco’s so difficult to capture well on record, isn’t it?
Vicente: It’s very hard to keep the warmth alive in a recording studio. A lot of people say it’s a thing of the past. There’s a record called “Así Canta Jerez”, recorded thirty years ago, which is wonderful. My father, Terremoto, Sernita and four other cantaores sing on it.
Sordera: Nobody believes it when I tell them it was recorded in four hours!
Sordera Chico: But of course that’s when it works … when people are enjoying themselves.
The first English-language flamenco magazine, Flamenco International, founded by Juan Teijeiro, guitarist and director of the London Guitar Studio, was read in over 20 countries. Back issues are still in demand!
At the one-person Madrid office, the aim was to publish Spanish writers on flamenco who were little read or unknown in English. The work was twofold: commissioning or selecting existing texts and creating English-language versions, linguistically and culturally translated, and, of course, always carefully checked with the authors. They included Ángel Álvarez Caballero, Pedro Ceballos, José Manuel Gamboa, Alberto García Reyes, Félix Grande, Miguel Ríos Ruiz, Joaquín San Juan and José Manuel Velázquez Gaztelu. Contributors in other languages included Pierre Lefranc and David Oancia Prieto.
We also created head-to-head dialogues between flamenco artists: see, for example, the conversation between Paco Jarana and Eva Yerbabuena in this section. For photography we commissioned unpublished aficianados, young professional journalists and students.
Two highlights were special supplements created in Madrid: one looked at the diversity of new music and dance in flamenco (covering source and path), and the other captured key insiders’ views of Jérez. For me work on the magazine was one amazing learning curve, listening to artists and writers who I’d admired for years.
Here’s a clip from the video: Youtube link
To view the clip: PULSE: A Stomp Odyssey
Artists included Jose Maya, Alfonso Losa, Rocío Bazán with Francisco Javier Jimeno, Paco Cruz, and José Anillo.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 1999
I’d long cherished the idea of writing on Spanish organic farming and in 1999 Spain Gourmetour green-lighted my proposal. By then organics were enjoying exponential growth and I was commissioned to write three essays celebrating and informing on the state-of-play: one on fresh produce, a second one on preserves, and a third one on wines. The full title of this first 3,000 word piece was Alternative Agriculture I: A Journey Round Spanish Farming. By keeping my ideas open one of the key features of the younger organic farmers’ success emerged very clearly. It can be summarised in two lines.
When Pedro took over the family’s rice smallholding in 1991 he switched to organic production, yet he hardly changed his father’s growing methods.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 1997
In the 1990s academics had a field-day delving into the early 20th-century development of Spain’s gastronomic societies, but I was more interested in their recent history, especially in the 1970s, when Euskadi’s chefs had pioneered nueva cocina. It seemed logical, although little had been written on the subject, that renewal had also taken place inside gastronomic societies, or txokos, but was less publicised.
This gastronomic society has seventy members. The town where it is found, Tolosa, has two dozen societies. The region to which it belongs, Euskadi (the Basque Country), boasts two thousand. Since the Civil War the societies have spread right around the Basque Country’s three provinces – Gipuzkoa, Alava and Vizcaya – and spilled over into Navarre and French Basqueland. Donostia (San Sebastian), however, remains the mecca, with nearly 400 societies up and running today. For many years during Franco’s time they ticked over quietly, justifying their existence as ‘recreational’ rather than gastronomic, and hence they were among the few institutions designed for meeting and talking that survived those years.
Then, come the 1970s, they hit boom years. Nearly 150 societies were set up in Gipuzkoa province alone. Rising standards of living, shorter working hours and a growing sense of cultural identity in food pulled in younger members. So did value for money, with prices of meals around a quarter to third of those in a restaurant.
In the 1990s new societies have occasionally made a second generational leap. A Basque journalist wrote this cryptic account of his visit to one society in Donostia (San Sebastian) in 1988, «Radical Basque rock music is blaring. There is a certain sense of disorder. And there are both male and female members.” But on the whole, the txokos remain remarkably unchanged. Only the ovens have been updated; these days most societies boast stainless steel professional stoves with double doors. By contrast the decoration remains deliberately plain. There are long wooden tables, cooling basins for cider, simple chairs or benches, maybe a billiard table. Many societies refuse to have a clock.
And women. The txokos’ members’ wary attitude, which sociologists put down to their matriarchal home life, was summed up by Basque gastronome Juan Mari Busca Isusi in a 1975 newspaper article. «It would be very agreeable if the first women’s txokos formed and then we could finally see who cooks better, Adam or Eve. Eve began by peeling an apple and look at the argument she started ….
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 1999-2000
When I turned from researching fresh to preserved produce, I discovered that “going organic” had a different meaning for processed or preserved food producers who faced complex export requirements. As good as their product might be, even when demand constantly outstripped supply, they had to learn to jump the hurdle of export bureaucracy to win commercial viabiity.
Today, ten years after Spain´s first certified organic olive oils were made, over 40% of all organically registered land in Spain is dedicated to olive growing: 15,000 Ha in Andalucia, 1,100 Ha in Catalunya and 41,000 Ha in Extremadura. These and two other regions – Aragon and Levante – offer a total of some 18 brands of extra-virgin oil, Spain´s leading organic food product.
“Organic olive growing is natural, easy and can be very productive,” comments Antonio Rey of Oliflix. He produces organic extra-virgin olive oil from Arbequina and Empeltre olives grown in 200 hectares of groves scattered around Flix, high in the Catalan hills behind Tarragona. “Ideally one needs large parcels of land surrounded by wild land, and a good altitude to keep down pests. In the 1940s all the production here was organic. It´s a question of respect for the land.”
Rey supplements olives from his family´s groves, some of which are several hundred years old, with the harvests of four local organic growers and a handful of abandoned farms he has brought back into production since 1989. His olive-mill is inherited and barely modernised. The olives are stone-milled and cold-pressed: the oil is then slowly decanted in tiled tanks, and filtered for excess damp. The result is a light, sweet, golden oil with 0.5º acidity and a peppery aftertaste. “The final oil is only 20% of the pressed olives’ volume,” he explains. Bottled in black glass to protect the oil from light, much of the annual production – averaging around 25-30,000 litres a year – is exported to long-standing German, French and American clients. Rey considers many of them as friends.
Some 800 km/500 m further south, growers in the mountainous Sierra de Segura, in northern Andalusia, switched to organic methods in the late 1980s as part of a European project, Éclair, which was set up to foster viable agriculture in natural parks. “We did not make many changes in the groves. Pesticides hadn’t arrived here” explains Concepción Arias, president of the Cooperativa Sierra de Genave. But they did invest in continuous steel pressing machinery imported from Germany. “The trickiest thing has been paying for the mill.”
Meanwhile their oil, Oro de Genave, has gone from strength to strength. Pungent, green, thickly viscous and highly aromatic (0.4 acidity), pressed from Picual olives under Sierra de Segura PDO controls, it is now made by 85 growers and exported around Europe, the United States and the Far East. In coming years, production will rise from 500,000 to a million litres of oil.
Departures, London, 1988
An open brief for a 400-word piece on dining in Andalusia allowed me to write on fighting bull, or toro de lidia, a meat I’d noticed on sale at butchers during a visit to Seville’s Triana market. I went in search of it in the city’s restaurants close to the bullring, and then returned to that barrio for lunch at the one restaurant everyone recommended.
There – after the soups and before the fish, between the stuffed peppers and the clams from Conil – came the restaurant’s two specialities: rabo de toro, bull’s tail, and estofado de toro de lidia, bluntly described on the menu in English as “fighting bull stewed”. Andalusians appear to react little to the emotive associations involved in cooking and eating an animal so symbolically respected in their culture, or at least they leave their misgivings unspoken, for toro de lidia is popular with male diners during the bullfighting season, when vets and butchers set to work backstage in bullrings immediately after the fights. Fattened bull, or toro de engorde, is also popular in parts of Valencia and León where it can be found made into very expensive jamón or mixed with pork in chorizo.
Foods from Spain, New York, 2001
This article was commissioned after the New York Times made a worldwide splash with a cover feature on Ferran Adrià’s cooking. It gave me the chance to reflect: where were things heading in Spain’s avant-garde kitchens? To answer that I reflected on earlier research and emailed Andoni Luis Aduriz, a chef for whom I have great admiration. His prophetic reply helped give me impetus to start work on a book that would, I knew, take years to write. (Adapted and updated 2013)
The Adrià effect (aka the El Bulli effect) hit Madrid just before the turn of the century. It wasn´t an elitist thing, more the subject of coffee-bar chats. Was it worth investing in a foam-making siphon and how could you use it at home? Alberto, the owner of one local coffee-bar, was the first to get a siphon and make it look easy to use. He invited some of us over for supper. I still remember his foam made with tropical fruit from the local market. We fell silent as our taste-buds woke up.
A couple of years later I was asked to write up personal impressions of the young Spanish chefs for Foods from Spain, published in New York. Flicking through notes taken during a long work day, I found that in a pause I had jotted down three impressions: ‘1. Amazingly modest. 2. Rootsy – but sophisticated techniques. 3. Universal Adrià effect.’
For the young chefs, aged, say, twenty to forty, Adrià’s work was a serious matter. Technique was part of it. Elements of Adrià’s early ‘sea and mountain’ cooking and his 1990s ‘deconstruction’ were influential: the focus was on mutable textures, forms, temperatures and intensified taste in curdled olive oil sauces, hot gelatine-set foams, deconstructed tortilla and vanilla ravioli, to name but a few of his most famous creations. Such risky experiments inspired shared excitement. It helped, too, that Adrià glossed new dishes the season following their arrival.
More important, though, was the spirit of the thing: the whacky wit, kitchen discipline and the idea of a team project with everyone pitching in ideas. The chef-proprietor principle now merged with a ‘let’s-get-down’ style of funky hard work. But Adrià also represented commitment. He had gone off on his own path, risking all for a phrase he picked up from French chef Jacques Maximin in the late 1980s. ‘Crear es no copiar.’ ‘Creating is not copying.’
One cannot hear it too often.
On two whistle-stop tours interviewing young chefs for a long feature on the “Adrià effect” I was particularly struck by Andoni Aduriz, who cooks in the countryside in his restaurant Mugaritz, near Donostia (San Sebastian), in Euskadi (the Basque Country). It was not just his cooking, but everything around it, offbeat and self-critical, which intrigued.
I emailed him to ask him to reflect on the future. He asked for a day’s thinking time and replied in a midnight email.
Here’s his key paragraph. ‘In the end, what we need to keep alive is the interest, the hopes and strength generated by cooking at the moment. But I think more generally cooking still needs a small revolution. We need to spread a sense of values. I see values as more important than particular figures or personalities. We need to ask ourselves questions. In truth, I think that’s hardly begun.’
The Guardian, London, 1991
I met Antonio Escribà by chance while I was doing a feature on Barcelona for Insight Guides. His talent was blinding and on my next visit to Spain I returned to interview him for this piece. Over a decade later, just before his death, Ferran Adrià was to call him “the first avant-garde figure in modern Spanish cookery”. Today, his shop still ticks over as an elegant but committed local business run by his three sons, who have their own specialities, like boiled-sugar jewellery.
Antoní Escribà’s fame spread from his native Barcelona from the late 1950s after he demonstrated his chocolate sculpting techniques in Switzerland. His unorthodox methods, literally bending chocolate on paper, left colleagues from other countries impresed, as did his modernist style and speed. After three hours he had turned 60 kilos of chocolate into a dozen or so abstract compositions, caricatures, and miniature scenarios.
“The Swiss were a bit sceptical at first,” he says, grinning behind his moustache. “You can understand it. Imagine if they had come to Spain with revolutionary bullfighting theories.”
Escribà’s apparently simple chocolate-bending technique relied on an extremely precise tempering process: that is, heating and cooling the chocolate through a controlled temperature curve to alter the crystalline structure of the five oils whose molecular structure gives cocoa butter its texture. This leaves the chocolate temporarily malleable while it hardens.
“To be frank with you, I developed the method very quickly with a geologist friend and from then on it was just a matter of practice.”
Today, Escribà is acknowledged as one of the world’s masters of the craft. He has sculpted everything from a full-size Michaelangelo’s David to miniatures of Gaudi’s buildings in chocolate. He has worked in marzipan, bread and ice. He has undertaken commissions for the Pope and Picasso, who sent back a painting as a thank you. He has taught blind children how to work with chocolate. Along the way, he has written a book, won numerous awards, taught in three continents and seen his techniques adopted around the world. These days the Swiss pay him $5,000 per demonstration. But his priority has always been the family business, inherited from his parents, and now increasingly run by his sons.
Lookin, Malaga, 1991
When I arrived to live in Spain, cured jamón inevitably fascinated me. In 1990 it was still a luxury rather than a supermarket food, only just being discovered by gourmets elsewhere, especially in Paris and Milan. But the skills of free-range pig-rearing and the curing of pata negra jamóns were little explained so I drove west from Madrid to visit the jamón producers and holm-oak grazing areas to learn what was really involved.
Hams didn’t achieve the status of “delicacy” till the 18th century and, even then, they generally remained a family product sold within easy reach of horse and cart. Of the main curing areas, Jabugo is both the most famous – to the extent that it is sometimes mistakenly considered the source of all Iberian ham – and the most picturesque. Deep lanes run between old whitewashed villages in green rolling countryside. Hams have been made here since time immemorial. Today production remains small-scale with the notable exception of Sánchez Romero Carvajal, a high-profile export company.
The two other areas, Dehesa de Extremadura and Guijuelo, now operate with PDO quality controls. In Extremadura hams from Montánchez in the Sierra de Caceres have been prized since at least the 17th century. One of their claims to fame was that the pigs from which they were made chased and ate lizards and snakes, which supposedly gave their flesh a special flavour. Saint Simon, the French diarist, noted in his memoirs of a visit to 18th-century Madrid, “Pig hams fed with vipers. Singularly excellent.” The pigs probably had hunted snakes and lizards, but the flavour came from holm-oak acorns, eaten from the ground or the branches of the oak trees. Although today Montánchez’s name is not as widely known as Jabugo, jamón experts sometimes cite it as a favourite for its woody sweetness.
In Guijuelo, the most northerly PDO area, curing started in the 1860s and in the last twenty years production has grown faster than anywhere else…..
Foods from Spain, New York, 2004
When I was commissioned to look at the gastronomic potential of Jerez’s acidic vinegar I found that it often laced soups, pulse stews, and salads in the town’s home kitchens. Commercially, however it had a low profile until the jerezanos began to write a new chapter for vinegars, realising they were hiding a light under a bushel. (3,750 words)
Stand close to the fermenting barrels in a vinegar bodega and you can breathe in gloriously rich, winy, slightly fierce aromas. Not all of the vinegars in the barrels are new. Sherry vinegar has a long-standing word-of-mouth local reputation. Originally made in tiny quantities in each bodega, vinegars were kept for family use and given to the friends and the families of bodega workers, strictly on a spoken grapevine. On this network they were a byword for refinement. “A sublimation of wine that some prosaic people reduce to ‘acetic fermentation’,” was how José Briz, the Andalusian author of Brevario del Gazpacho (1989), chose to sum it up.
But however fine these vinegars, the fact remained that their origins lay in wine picao – that is, sour wine – and, in Jerez, that spelled desprestigio . So, for generations, they remained discreetly unpublicised.
Then, in the 1940s, Antonio Páez Lobato, the son of the owner of a small wine-shop in the barrio of Santiago, began to make Sherry vinegar for sale.
“It was easy then,” he remembers. Now in his eighties, he keeps a twinkle in his eye. “Desprestigio! Nobody else wanted to know.”
This made it easy for him to buy up several hundred barrels of mature Sherry vinegar. Some came from an abandoned wine bodega in Puerto de Santa María, and others from a craft-based fish-canning factory on the Cádiz coast. At the same time he invested in young oxidised wines to feed the mothers-of-vinegar. In this way he laid down a large future production stock within a year. At first he sold his vinegars locally, filling customer’s bottles or flasks from his vinegar barrels, then he sold tankerfuls to French mustard makers and finally, by the 1970s, he began to export the vinegar as he felt it deserved – bottled and branded.
At the same time the old bodega vinegars developed in quiet corners. At González Byass there is a vinegar-making system, La Tanger, which has been maturing for eighty years. At Sanchez Romate, the main production system was put together in 1945, using barrels previously used for maturing sweet, raisiny PX wines and brandy, two of the bodega’s specialities.
But it took another fifty years for the separate worlds of the wine-makers, or bodegueros, and specialist vinegar-makers, or vinagreros, to come together. Finally, in 1995, united by widespread imitation, they formed today’s Sherry vinegar Protected Designation of Origin, tied at the hip to the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Manzanilla-Sanlúcar de Barramada wine PDO.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 2003
Why is the Liébana valley so little known? It has everything visitors look for in
undiscovered rural “paradises”: dramatic peaks, history etched in stone, miniature farming landscapes where prize-winning cheese dairies flourish, and small towns where people have time for kindness. Nor is it very far from Cantabria’s regional capital, Santander. Yet it remains somewhere to explore in relative peace, away from the crowds.
“Everything here is good, though small,” wrote Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdos, describing the food he ate on a trip to Liébana in 1879. That La Liébana’s long unbroken history of little cheeses, or quesucos, has survived intact is somewhat miraculous given that elsewhere in Cantabria cheesemakers pioneered 19th-century industrial techniques for making cheese, butter, powdered milk, condensed milk and ice cream. By 1870 Dutch pressed-cheese techniques were being imported into the nearby Valle del Pas; pasteurised-milk cheesemaking was launched by a mountain farmers’ union in 1932; and the widespread purchase of high-yield Fresian cattle after the 1936-39 Civil War paved the way for turning farmhouse queso de nata – a deliciously camembert-like flat pancake of a cheese – into a semi-industrial version now called Queso de Cantabria (PDO).
La Liébana, though, kept to seasonally produced craft cheeses. Why? “In Cantabria there are three types of cheese – industrial, artisanal and domestic,” explains Manuel Arroyo, chemist and cheese scientist, now aged 84, who has dedicated his life to teaching cheesemaking in his home region. “La Liébana’s cheeses are domestic. The idea of making them to sell came very late in the day.”
Quesucos are, indeed, cheeses made with domestic techniques already described in Latin agricultural treatises. La Liébana’s first documented references, under the Latin name casius, appeared in a 10th-century monastic charter listing cheeses as part-payment for a plot of land belonging to San Toribio de Liébana, the valley’s largest monastery. Earlier the Romans had spent eight centuries colonizing the valley, leaving behind peacefully settled fortified hillside villages that were dedicated to shepherding, vegetable-growing and hunting. They were followed by Spanish hermits and later Benedictine monks who built dozens of small hermitages and monasteries, encouraged to do so by Alfonso I, the Cantabrian born 8th-century king who wanted to repopulate the area. The monasteries grew into wealthy centres of learning with large libraries, huge estates and the right to tithe the villages they protected. Their cheese, or casius, was made with milk from their own herds, probably following the methods for Roman fresh, semi-soft and smoked unpressed cheeses. They would also have known blue cheesemaking, first documented in the 8th century in France, when Charlemagne was supposedly served it in a monastery, probably near Roquefort.
The medieval habit of using cheese as a form of currency persisted in La Liébana. In more accessible valleys, like the Valle del Pas, cheeses were already being sold to pilgrims and merchants, but here the isolated valley remained away from commerce until well into this century. Made mainly in spring and summer, the cheeses were eaten sparingly at home, or paid as tithes to landlords, or bartered in exchange for goods or services. Only occasionally, when there was a surplus in spring and summer, were they taken down to the weekly Monday market at Potes for sale. It is a mindset that continues today.
Spain Gourmetour, 2002
For thousands of years Spaniards have been expert sea harvesters. The Celts collected limpets off the rocks and the Basques became legendary cod fishermen in the Faroes and New World. Closer to home, Mediterranean fishermen have netted eel in Valencia’s lagoons, sea-bream in Murcia’s inland Mar Menor and bluefin tuna in Cadiz, while the Cantabrian inshore fleet has landed prime sea bass, sardines and crabs. Most famous, perhaps, are the Galician shellfish collectors who work on rocky headlands and in deeply cut inlets. After Gabriel García Marquez visited Galicia to see his grandmother’s homeland in the early 1980s, he wrote: “We walked through the rain as if through a state of grace, eating shellfish galore, the only live shellfish left in this devastated world….”
Today García Marquez’s words seem so prescient that they must have been informed by news on the ground. But it was to be another two decades before a 1999 government white paper reflected on the way forward for Spain in the face of depleted sea and ocean stocks. Three years later, in 2002, I was asked to research the big picture and join up the dots between the work of researchers on breeding processes, sea-farmers, chefs, fishmongers, and conservationists.
Various things were unexpected, but caught my eye.
One was the difference between Spanish fish-farming and that of other countries for historical and geographical reasons. Research and production in Spain have not focussed on breeding one or two kinds of fish on a large scale, as has happened elsewhere. Rather, the researchers who learn to reproduce a species from egg to final fish have played into local and national demand for variety and regional specialities. This, in turn, has created a huge potential for future growth along a 4,000-km (2,500-mile) coastline with a unique European range of water temperatures. At the same time it has raised a future issue for fulfilling that potential: the research needed to maintain the food-chains involved since the current dependence on fish-meal and fish-oils threatens the sustainability of the principal source, Latin American fisheries in the Pacific.
Secondly, chefs and cooks have been learning to adapt their menus to farmed fish with a realistic approach, which has been encouraging raw sushis and carpaccios and the like. However, in creative gourmet kitchens, where the Spanish shine, the tendency is instead towards a new generation of dishes left simple to showcase the supreme personality and exceptional quality of wild fish, now, more than ever, appreciated as a luxury.
Finally, I was struck by the rarely publicised achievements in creating nature reserves in coastal waters. By 2002 there were already thirteen such areas in the Spanish Mediterranean alone. The first, Tabarca island, close to the Alicante coast, was created in 1988 to protect the local sea-turtle population, the island’s flora and fauna, and its fish breeding stocks. A large underwater wall was built to protect the area from deep fishing nets and old wooden boat hulls were deposited on the seabed to stimulate underwater life. Only two years later fishermen’s catches began to show a marked improvement.
As a result the Islas Columbretes reserve was created in 1990 just off Castellón, north of Valencia, in an area once famed for its spiny lobster catches. Eight years later, when a team of biologists began to study the “reserve effect”, as it is called, they discovered that breeding and the colony-size had already stabilised. Not only this, but the catch of the small-scale inshore fleet allowed to fish around the reserve’s edges had improved, as had that of sedentary larger species like grouper.
In this way, from early small-scale studies on the ground came an important long-term finding: biologists concluded that ideally 10-20% of the coastline needed to be protected from fishing to optimise ecological benefits and artisanal catches
Spain’s cheese terroirs owe their strength of character to geography, accident, pasture, livestock breed and the cheesemakers’ hands. I wanted to emphasize these different aspects in a brief article delving into the cheese world for Spain Gourmetour. (Madrid, 2003-04)
“There is barbecho, or fallow pasture, in spring, then, in summer, comes rastrojo, or wheat stubble,” comments Santiago Altares, of Mancho PDO, describing La Mancha’s seasonal dryland grazing. “Some flocks move to summer uplands and in autumn, after the first rain, new shoots grow through rizia, or barley stubble. By November come the bellotas, or holm-oak acorns, like chocolates or toffees for the sheep: they literally run after them, from tree to tree.”
This is the seasonal cycle of high-fibre dryland grazing, supplemented by cereal, which gives the fatty milk for making Manchego cheese.
But behind the milk lies the livestock producing it: native breeds may define the character of a denomination cheese or small-scale farmhouse-dairy cheeses made by individual producers.
“Livestock breed can be compared to grape variety in wine-making,” says Enric Canut, the Catalan cheese guru. The milk for Manchego comes from Manchega sheep, for Zamora’s hard cheeses from Churras and Castellanas, and for soft and sticky Torta de Casar from Entrefinos and Medinas. Among Spain’s milk goats, there are – to name just a few – Murciano-Granaino, Retinta, Verata, Serrana, Majorero and Palmero. Breed determines not only milk yield, but also chemical characteristics such as protein levels.
Then comes the human hand. The most famous example in our own time is probably thistle-rennet sheep’s-milk torta cheese from westerly Extremadura, which was regarded as a mistake – a cheese gone wrong – until a few decades ago.
“Until the 1980s the shepherds’ families would eat tortas at home,” says Paco Sanchez of La Serena PDO. “They were seen as mistakes.” Today, they are a cult gourmet delicacy and the cheesemakers know exactly how to encourage the protoleic bacteria, once seasonal, which give such a gooey, creamy cheese.
Originally made in La Serena, these tortas are now also found in the Tierra de Barros (Extremadura), Toledo (Castile La Mancha) and Los Pedroches (Andalucia), as producers find markets for what is considered elsewhere as a great European cheese.”
Spain Gourmetour UK / London & Dublin, 2003
When researching this piece on Spanish new-wave chocolate-making I found the largely unwritten Mediterranean chocolate history of the 18th and 19th centuries fascinating. Commerce with the New World had opened gradually from Seville to include first Cadiz and, by 1798, Barcelona, Valencia and six other Spanish ports. There, I found, lay the roots of today’s modern chocolate scene. Researching contemporary chocolate making brought with it a great privilege: interviewing Paco Torreblanca, Spain’s most inspirational cocoa maestro, based in Elda, his home-town in Alicante.
Most Spanish chocolateros continued working by hand long after Coenraad Johannes van Houten patented the Dutch cocoa press in 1828 and Swiss maker Rodolphe Lindt announced in 1879 that he had discovered the conching of chocolate – that is, how to beat it between heavy rollers, so developing the flavour and emulsifying the texture.
The Spanish technology generally remained far simpler: a heavy curved granite stone on legs similar in design to the original Mayan metate. This was heated from below by hot coals while the nibs, or shelled cacao beans, were laboriously ground with a stone roller to a soft paste on top.
Mixed with pounded cane sugar (later, beet sugar), cinnamon and rice flour, the rustic product was named after the stone on which it was made, chocolate a la piedra, and was sold in small cakes or bars designed for dissolving in hot water. Village-to-village muleteeers, called chocolateros or xocolateros, journeyed around large areas of inland Spain selling it. As it became more popular, chocolate was drunk not only at wealthy private parties, but also at public fiestas and as an energy drink during harvesting, sometimes made by the chocolateros.
One craft-making centre, Villajoyosa, a small almond-growing port in Alicante province, grew into a chocolate mecca. Here cocoa was imported, chocolate was produced in craft workshops and sent inland by mule. Later production was mechanized. In one of Barcelona’s most elegant chocolate shops in the old town, Farga, founded in 1827, you can still see a first-generation mill, called a malacata, in working order. Now powered by electricity, it was originally turned by a donkey in the basement.
Dark but sweet in taste, granular and hard in texture, unsoftened by added cocoa butter and undiluted by milk powder, this chocolate a la piedra remained many Spaniards’ first taste of the stuff until well into the 1960s. It is still made by a few Mediterranean Spanish artesans and lingers long in gourmet memories.
“We’d eat it for tea after school with bread and olive oil or sometimes with wine and sugar,” says one of Spain’s great chocolate masters, Alicante-based master pâtissier Paco Torreblanca. “Unforgettable!”
Lookin, Malaga, 1994
Galician friends took me to lunch in Lugo, the region’s Roman-walled provincial capital, to try the percebe at its best, served within a day of harvesting accompanied by a bib to catch spurts of juices, a basket of bread and a glass of Albariño wine. Intriguing for its smooth flesh and intensely flavoured juices, this little black goose-neck barnacle isn’t well known around Europe, but in Spain it’s the most highly prized seafood on the market. I made the journey to the Rías Baixas to meet the perceiberos, or harvesters.
Only since the 1970s, and only in Spain, have percebes become such a prized delicacy, largely due to the growing conditions off the rocky coasts of north-western Galicia, where colonies of percebes flourish in cold, open Atlantic seas. They like the hard-beating, highly oxygenated, iodised waves and wealth of phytoplankton produced by the tidal drop.
Until the 20th century percebes were gathered mainly for fertilizer or as poor man’s food, in some areas being cooked with potatoes. They were sold for a song in the smaller Galician fishing ports. But as shellfish was flown to Madrid every day in the 1970s, demand and prices rose to giddy levels, making harvesting a full-time occupation for those daring enough to do the job. Today, away from the high season at Christmas, percebes cost round 55 euros a kilo.
Working in twos and threes, the percebeiros abseil down cliffs, boat to rocky islets in offshore waters and swim round headlands of one of Europe’s most dangerous coastlines. When they find a barnacle colony ready to harvest they lower one another, tied by safety ropes, to gather the percebes just below the tideline. Around one wave in six is powerful enough to crash the percebeiro against the rocks: at those moments, and with a word of warning, the percebeiro at sea level is lifted above the water’s reach, before being lowered again shortly afterwards.
This is supremely buddy work, demanding agility, physical fitness, courage and loyalty. Inevitably there are deaths. As one Galician put it, “To hunt percebes, you cast your life to the winds like a coin.”
Sunday Telegraph Magazine, London, 1984
Elizabeth Russell taught me to cook. While we students chopped, sliced, made consommés, bread, emulsions and ice-creams, she talked of the food culture of her French childhood, of the years of the Second World War – her husband was a hero of the Resistance – and of post-war England. Her views have influenced not only what I cook but also what I write.
Russell’s cookery school breaks every business rule in the book. She won’t advertise. She refuses to expand. She keeps a strict distance from the press and celebrity food world. But via a steady, slow trickle-down effect in the years before food was fashionable in England, indeed before the word foodie existed, she was a powerfully strong spirit in influential kitchens.
Her classes are built around a carefully considered personal philosophy. As she explains it, “When you are teaching cooking you are not showing skills but a personal approach to food.” In her eyes practical ability must be allied with an understanding of the way people choose to eat, something which may be learned only by much broader study. She reads few cookery books, but many memoirs, biographies, newspapers and novels.
“Take Agatha Christie, for example. Poirot eats one thing with Inspector Japp and something very different with his friend Hastings. That is revealing.” It is an approach resting on an assumption of emotional importance for cooking that many English find hard to acknowledge.
“A good cook can never be considered stupid,” says Russell, “Possibly uneducated in the formal sense of the word, but always intelligent.”
Last of the Independents, London, 2014
Irene Ochando cuts an unusual figure among Castile’s asadores or master-roasters. At Botín, Spain’s most famous asador in Madrid’s old-town, you can watch the broad-backed male roasters shift clay dishes of roast suckling pig in the beehive wood-fired oven. Rarely, however, do you find women roasters, even at gas-fired ovens, which make the work lighter. Irene is a notable exception as she is also a rare example of a roaster whose skills were inherited in a family restaurant.
My grandfather Teodomiro thought this wasn’t a job for women,” says Irene. Dressed in urban black, petite, she wears her long blonde hair in a ponytail for work. It is Sunday morning, the family’s busiest day of the week, and she is seasoning joints of lamb and kid for roasting.
Vicente, Irene’s father, a stonecutter, built today’s restaurant, a squat granite house in the centre of La Cabrera. On the ground floor, behind the dining room, bar and kitchen, is the roasting house. Upstairs is the family home shared by Irene, her Galician husband Sabi and their two children.
“Nobody comments on me being a woman,” says Irene, “although it is true that nobody expects it. The question everyone asks now is why does your meat taste so different?”
The answers lie in earlier rural poverty. Shaggy goats were the only livestock here and their offspring, kid, became the local fiesta dish. Teodomiro bought his roasting kid, or cabrito, from friends and goatherds. Irene still follows his example, buying on a private grapevine from trusted local butchers and farmers. It is the only way she can find mature kid with the right balance of meat to bone.
The slopes behind town provide her second key ingredient, the cistus for firing the oven. Typically here families cooked and heated their homes with brush or scrub. In La Cabrera that meant fragrant cistus (rockrose). Sabi harvests it during two months each year, digging up strips of plants individually by the root to create firebreaks and to allow the rockrose to reseed the following spring.
The third invisible element of Irene’s roasts comes from family skills. Back in the 1930s, when Teodomiro began journeying by mule between sierra villages with clay dishes, lard and garlic stuffed into esparto saddle bags, and the kids to roast for a wedding or fiesta trotting along behind him, he learned every aspect of his multiskilled craft. Today Irene still practices his skills.
“Listen to that…”, she says, beckoning me to the oven. There is a soft, singing hiss and buzz. “That tells me the temperature of the oven and the state of the meat.”
Last of the Independents, London, 2013
Rocío Tapas and Sushi, a restaurant in Málaga, the capital of Andalusia’s Costa del Sol, looks like any tapas bar as you approach it. But once inside, a one-off Asian-Mediterranean gastro-bistro style reveals itself as an example of creativity born from economic crisis.
“It’s not a fusion menu,” says Juan Bautista García Martín emphatically. “That would feel irreverent to me. It’s a double menu.”
Rocio’s Asian-Mediterranean cuisine took shape in 2010. Juan Bautista and his wife María José had met while working at the Gran Gualadpin, a luxury Marbella hotel. While Juan Bautista headed up the Michelin-starred Spanish dining room, Masao Kikuchi, a sushi master who’d originally come from Emperor Hirohito’s palace kitchen, ran the Japanese restaurant. Then came the economic crisis.
By late 2009 María José found herself unemployed so she set up her own tapas bar in tiny premises in an affordable Málaga barrio. Juan Bautista, redundant a few months later, joined her. Masao quickly followed them.
At first they worked 18 hours a day with “very, very economic produce”. An early duckburger paid the rent. “If I say we’ve sold 100,000 of them it’s an understatement,” says JB. This allowed them to move around the corner to a café-style 40-seater dining room and to open evenings only.
“I want to see my children grow up,” explains Juan Bautista. This, then, is a family business.
But it is also one that is generous with its clients. “We want everybody to be able to afford to eat here,” says JB. “It’s for the kind of client who doesn’t mind hard seats.”
Juan Bautista’s style, shaped by an apprenticeship in the kitchen of revered Basque chef Hilario Arbelaitz of Zuberoa, emphasises local produce – surf clams, butter fish, kid, goat’s cheeses and bull’s tail – but also carries ideas from further afield, as in, for example, autumn sacchetti filled with pheasant and wild mushrooms, and served with sweet potato purée.
As Juan Bautista and I talk Masao works silently. He is assembling a Hijaki salad of shredded algae tossed in warm sesame oil. At the heart of the business lies the chefs’ ease in each others’ company, a complete trust. Masao has had problems with his eyes, and Juan Bautista and María José helped him find the surgery he needed. Beyond that they share a food philosophy.
“Japanese cookery, like Basque food,” comments Yumi Amaya, culinary guide in San Sebastián, “reflects reverence for nature, and within that, economy with produce is very important.”
In his rare interviews Masao likes to undo western marketing for sushi invoking the swish of the samurai’s sword. He does so with a simple phrase. “The hand is more important than the knife.”
At the heart of the Rocío’s kitchen there are, then, knives, but more importantly, four hands and a meeting of minds.”
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 2002
This project, designed to bring younger Spanish chefs to international attention, involved an unexpected challenge: who to pick? Even with the support of the magazine, and generous space, I couldn’t come close to half of the candidates shining with potential. Once the choice was made, I tried to let the pieces write themselves in both the cameos and introductions. All have remained cooks except for Aitor Elizegi, now chairman of Athletic de Bilbao football club, and Jordi Parramón, who moved sideways into food education.
(with, among others, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Sergi Arola, Elena Arzak, Quique Dacosta, Aitor Elizegi, Ramón Freixa, José Carlos García Ortiz, Isaac Salaberria, Jordi Parramón, Pepe Rodríguez Rey, Marcelo Tejedor, José Antonio Campoviejo, Francis Paniego, Aizpea Ohiander and Xavier Diaz.)
Herbs (Journal of the Herb Society), London, 1997
The Romans are said to have prepared the earliest Andalusian ajos blancos, nutritional white gazpachos punchy with their pounded raw garlic, almonds, vinegar and bread. Later, however, in al-Andalus’s more refined cookery, garlic’s flavours were softened, often by lemon juice and almond milk, and raw garlic was avoided, especially in urban life. As I researched this article I discovered Muslim culinary values predominating over Roman ones in Spanish court cookery till early modern times. They may also help explain the very varied garlic techniques that play with its subtle, as opposed to its louder, flavours.
Medieval caution with “the stinking rose”, as the Greeks called it, was enshrined in the peninsula’s courtly etiquette. In 1368 Alfonso XI, king of Castile and Leon, founded a knight’s order forbidding garlic-eating at pain of a month’s banishment from court. Indicatively the order survived until the 18th century when it was dissolved by French-born Philip V, the first of the Bourbon dynasty. Earlier Isabel of Castile is also said to have refused garlic, and certainly, from the 14th to the 17th centuries, Catalan and Castilian courtly manuscripts and cookbooks, from the Libre de Sent Sovi to Martinez Montiño’s baroque Arte de cocina, pastelería, bizcochería y conservería (1611), limited garlic’s use to specific dishes, advising caution, and even that cooks should seek permission before adding it to dishes. Garlicky breath was badly seen, but probably not so much for its smell as its evidence of low-status eating.
Only when Juan Altamiras, the Franciscan friary cook, defended popular gastronomy’s flavours in his 1745 anthology did garlic really earn its place in Spanish cookbooks. Altamiras used it cleverly, whole and sliced, showing knowledge of half a dozen different techniques allowing cooks to tweak its flavour from subtle to soft to loud.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 1993
If you were to explore Spanish rice culture in worldwide delis and gourmet restaurants, you wouldn’t be blamed for believing the story offered: short-grain rice and paella. By paella I mean the large, round flat cooking pan, the recipe and the rice dish cooked in it. Yet paella is in reality the catch-all favourite modern set-piece sitting atop a complex culture of hundreds of dishes stimulated by hunger and improvisation. In this essay I wanted to open up those hidden complexities, developed by everyday creative cooks, and I wanted to profile the long continuities underlying Spanish rice cooks’ expertise. This is a short excerpt from the essay.
Spanish rice dishes, with few exceptions, take their cue from one idea: the rice grain as a sponge for the flavours of accompanying ingredients, liquid or solid.
From this piece of wisdom, planted by Arabs in kitchens alongside the short-grain (japónica) rices in their paddies, medieval and early modern rice cookery developed in two different areas of life. Court recipes used fine white rice to suck up sweet flavours in menjar blanc, a sweetened milk and stock cream thickened by rice flour, and in arroz con leche, the milky sweet rice similar to that found in many medieval European culinary cultures. Their whiteness, as in other cultures, made them sacred dishes.
On the other hand, the eastern Mediterranean’s – Levante’s – popular rice cuisine grew from hand-to-mouth Muslim and morisco cooking based on partially husked – that is, semi-wholegrain – rice flavoured with whatever was hunted, fished or turned up by chance near the paddies: originally, small bits of water-rat, snails, eels, duck and rabbit. Two rice types were planted in these centuries, one upland in river valleys, for example, around Xátiva, Orihuela and Calasparra in the Segura valley, and Córdoba and Sevilla in the Guadalquivir; the other in coastal wetlands in Mallorca, near Gerona, Denia, and Valencia.
With an 18th-century splurge in rice cultivation in coastal wetlands, the lowland varieties predominated, and dishes multiplied to become uncountable in number. “Be it for the climate or complexion of the inhabitants,” wrote an astonished Ministry of Finance official in the 18C, following a visit to Valencia, “neither the workers nor the artistans can suffer the fatigue of their labours unless they have this food. A family of five persons maintains itself with a pound of rice, which costs them from four to five quartos: it is condimented in half an hour. The poor man using four garlics and a little oyle, those of middle income with lard and scraps of pork, and those of means with kid, hare or chicken, all are equally fed.”
From such everyday family improvisations – not only then but right through the 20th century – rice recipes grew to fill the seasons, to mark secular and religious feastdays, and to prevent boredom settling in when rice was eaten every day.
There are still rices for winter and summer, for Lent and Christmas, for the top of the stove and the oven, and varying in flavouring ingredients from one geographical pocket to another, but when Spaniards talk of rice dishes, they tend to emphasize two key underlying characteristics of a dish: the pot or pan it’s cooked in, and the finished consistency of the rice: seco (dry), often with a socorrat or browned crunchy base, caldoso (wet or soupy), or meloso (syrupy, with a thickened liquid clinging to the grains). Behind the fame of paella, on the ground these families of rice dishes remain as alive as ever, thanks to chefs, home cooks and growers who have spearheaded the revival of the old, highly absorbent upland varieties, like Bomba, which allow tricky older dishes to be made at their best.
Once you’ve sampled a few of these dishes, various dozen in number, it’s hard to see how and why people haven’t ventured beyond paella, which emerged as we know it today in the 19th century, initially as a symbol of regional pride to be celebrated in plays and even poetry. “A liberal dish in which a grain is a grain, as each man is a vote” wrote José María Pemán in the 20th century. From there it became a dish made all round Spain, one of a small group that could genuinely be called “national”, in the opinion of masterly food historian Eloy Terrón.
Much later, from the 1960s, paella became a financial asset for colour-loving tourists, one of supreme marketing power and decades of promotional use, often institutional. This is not, in any way to deny the local and protective enthusiasm for the real article, a subject on which purists take issue with new-wave provocateurs. The furious email debate triggered by Jamie Oliver’s version of paella in 2016 is perhaps the best evidence. So, too, is the fascination with scale. Valencians have looked keenly to set world-records: for example in March 1992, the year of celebrations for entering the EU, Antonio Galbis set the record with a paella for 100,000 cooked in Valencia. To ensure this could not be dismissed, he repeated his feat in Madrid in 2001 with a paella for 110,000 people.
Sunday Telegraph Magazine, London, 1986
French chefs were beginning to play with seaweed in 1986 when I wrote this article, my first one published in a colour supplement, but it was to be another decade before agar agar became the basis for Adrià’s hot gelatines and foams, and even today, thirty years later, there is much still to be discoverd in algae in the kitchen: who, for example, will capture the full aromas of the sea’s greenery?
Eating seaweed is not new. Its potential has long been evident in the Far East where the seaweed industry has an annual turnover of more than $600 million and kombu, or kelp, is a staple of Japanese and Korean cuisines.
Sold fresh, piled high in frondy mountains in the markets, kombu may be bought as strips, sheets or shreds cut from compressed dried blocks. In China, where 2 million tons of seaweed are harvested every year, it’s a standard flavouring for all kinds of food from rice to crisps.
Seaweed’s also had its brief moments in Britain, of course: for example in Regency Bath where the rich ate it as a medicinal food.
But habits are slow to change and in modern times it has hovered in that curious no man’s land dividing worthy from desirable foods. It’s a curiously tough no man’s land, and very hard for any ingredient to cross.
El Exportador, ICEX, March 2006
In 2005 El Exportador magazine asked me to make a whistle-stop tour of Europe’s food capitals – Milan, Paris, Stockholm, Zurich, London – then analyse guru food buyers’ opinions in a piece useful to Spanish producers. I found the buyers fascinating as a breed of makers and shakers. Nearly all had been social floaters, culture vultures and food lovers before turning their observant skills and taste-buds into a (risky) source of livelihood. This short excerpt from the essay, later reprinted as a supplement for Barcelona’s food fair, Alimentaria, in 2006, focusses on the buyers’ views of Italy. Their universal respect for Italian food culture initially surprised me, but their reasons illuminated all kinds of cross-cultural engagement and, even today, give an encouraging view of the market’s workings. Why not follow good practice?
In the potential success of any newly exported food product or produce, gastronomic cultural backdrop is a key factor. All the economists involved in the sector know this. As Michel Budai, advisor in the Parisian Spanish Embassy’s team [in 2014] put it to me, Spanish producers needed to think where their products sit between Italy’s gourmet pastas and Himalayan salt.
This is a tough message since gastronomic backdrops cannot be created overnight. Writing in Le Goût du Nouveau, Origines de la modernité alimentaire (1989) Alberto Capatti described France’s success this way. “They sell a style perfected during centuries of research and now made financially viable thanks to restaurant menus.” One can apply a similar argument to Japanese and Thai cooking: their products, little known in Europe decades ago, fresh or preserved, emerge from cuisines with a centuries-old reverence for nature and they have reached consumers by well-coordinated restaurant experiences.
Spain does not yet fit into that category, as various chefs and buyers emphatically explained to me during my journeys. While the 2003 New York Times cover story on Ferran Adrià was a marketing stroke of genius, it did not mean many people had access to modern Spanish cookery at its best, as developed on home ground since 1976. Michelin-starred Swedish chef Matthias Dahlgren, who has spent time cooking in Spain, told me that he found remarkably few of his gourmet clients knew of its signs of identity, products and flavours and even fewer had sampled them.
In this context buyers everywhere agree they look to the Italian gastronomic model. “Around 90% of our Mediterranean products are Italian,” affirms Jim Wadhagen, buyer for Martin Olsson, a Stockholm-based business providing foods to Swedish restaurants since the early 20th century, with a 210 million euro annual turnover in 2016. [In 2011 they successfully merged with a complementary services company, Servera.]
“Italian gastronomy is recognised, it has natural forms of cultural branding and is well protected by the Italian PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographic Indication) labels,” he comments.
In 2006, Italy had 153 such quality labels, France 147, Spain 92 and Greece 84. In 2022 Italy’s lead has further advanced: it has 324 such quality labels and next in line comes France, with 271.
“The Italians have done the work that matters,” he explains, adding detail. High-profile PDOs like Parmigiano Reggiano and Modena vinegar have incorporated additional quality criteria based on tastings and maturity or vintage, and successfully defended themselves from fraudulent products. Providing these kind of credible guarantees and go-to information, they pick up extensive support, not only in Europe, but also in the USA.
“It isn’t just the Italian products’ immaculate cvs”, agrees Tim Taylor, once buyer for Terence Conran’s Bluebird store and in 2006 adviser for Sainsbury supermarkets’ inner-city pilot projects in London. “They also have authentic local heroes like Antonio Carlucci, who’ve worked away for decades independent from national branding. Young chefs respect those kind of cooks and the products they endorse.” Various buyers also nod to the resonance of the Slow Food movement, founded by Carlos Petrini in Bra in 1989. Working in a worldwide context, it avoids regional, country or continental closed-shop mentalities.
Overlaying those foundations, Italian products’ eye-appeal wins affections. If Spaniards lean towards economic and industrial simplicity, sticking to home-market aesthetics, Italians express bella figura to the world via handmade chemical-free papers, natural strings, cloth ribbons, canvas covers, and hand-blown glass, materials coherent with artesanal foods’ values. If Italian nougat and Spanish turrón wrappings are compared, for example, one sees immediately why Italian design earns so much eye-level-buy-level space on delicatessen shelves. Even for consumers who don’t buy, they light up a visit to the shops, and for those who do, it’s economic kitchen decor.
The final intangible in Italy’s winning hand is business style. “The Italian food producers are very communicative and welcoming. They invite buyers and journalists to visit them, the invitations are flexible, they have others’ expenses in mind, they design interesting events and they offer sensational printed catalogues and digitalised information. In general they make things a pleasure,” says Anne Lamaing of Lafayette Gourmet, Paris. She is a strong supporter of Spanish cuisine. Nearly all buyers comment on this fluidity and directness of Italian communication. Allowances were made for cultural insecurity in the early years of the democracy, but Spain’s loud national branding is not always helpful to producers alongside the spontaneous humility of other gourmet cultures.
One example. “You don’t always need to be well-financed, have a large advertising budget or export team,” says Lionel Pasquer, of Hédiard, the Parisian gourmet sanctuary par excellence. “For example, a producer came by here one day on his motorbike and left us a bottle of wonderful olive oil as a promotional present. Now we sell it.
The Balearics, Insight Guide London 1989
At the time of my 1988 visit to Mallorca, Palma’s restaurants were as cosmopolitan as those of Madrid. One could sample French or Thai cooking and there was plenty of choice from regional Spain, especially Galicia and the Basque Country. Burger joints also abounded, but there were no restaurants specialising in local food: Mallorcans had to drive me to villages to sample the wonderful bread soups, almost disappeared elsewhere in Spain. However, digging around in shops and markets allowed me to try a few local specialities.
One way of eating local food cheaply and well in Palma is to buy and feast on local products. The most famous of these, sobrasada, a finely chopped, mixed sausage of seasoned pure pork tinted red by pimentón pepper, mild or spicy, is at its best as a soft spread made from prime cuts of black pigs fattened for flavour on beans, barley, figs and prickly pears and turned into sausages during a family matanza, or pig killing. Sometimes family sausage-making may be done for sale of the final product, and it is worth searching for this hand-crafted sobrasada. If you are lucky you may also find it in tapas and snacks with honey, a favourite local flavour combination.
A second Mallorcan speciality beloved by Spaniards is the ensaimada, a puffy spiral of lard-enriched yeastbread dusted by icing sugar, as small as a croissant or as large as a lifebelt. Larger versions are carried respectfully in purpose-made boxes like those for wide-brimmed hats. According to locals, the secret of a good ensaimada’s feathery light, meltingly soft textures rests in the combination of the island’s very pure pork fat, the slightly hard local water with a natural touch of salt, and the humid climate. The dough’s fatty blandness is an acquired taste, especially good when dunked in coffee or drinking chocolate. If you fly from Palma airport you’re likely to see Spanish ensaimada fans flying home with string-tied stacks of the boxed version as hand-luggage.
More info coming soon.
The Broadsheet, Madrid, 2002
A children’s hard-ball lollipop may not seem a likely starting point for a global brand. But Chupa Chups’ growth shows how a canny eye for product design, an ability to surf sociological trends and watchful family management can be worth more than a marketing strategy.
When the first Chups – so-called from the Spanish chupar, to lick or suck – was launched in 1958 it had little glamour, but it offered everything a child might want. It was a 13-gram lolly, small enough for comfortable sucking, double-wrapped in robust cellophane and anchored on an unbreakable polypropolene stick. In 1969 came the Salvador Dali daisy logo, which ushered in a twenty-year export drive and worldwide manufacturing from China to Mexico.
None of that, however, suggested the leap into the adult market which came in the 1990s.
“That repositioning was a question of spotting sociological trends,” says Xavier Bernat, president of the company today. “The falling birthrate, the breakdown of stereotyped generational behaviour, the search for cigarette substitutes, and the phenomenon of young adults setting market-wide trends all pointed us in the right direction.”
On the one hand the group launched Smints fresh-breath mini-mints, with an anti-dental caries agent.
At the same time Chupa “celebrity suckers”, lollipop in mouth, began to appear in press images worldwide. Mariah Carey followed Madonna and Leonardo di Caprio; soccer-stars from Barcelona’s and France’s dream-teams joined in; top models on the Paris and Milan runways used them as a fun accessory, and even the cosmonauts had them on board the Russian spaceship Mir. Very few of the celebrities were paid and the logo rarely, if ever showed, but the pop’s unique shape and stick were enough to identify the product as a cigarette-substitute, so sidestepping candy’s anti-health image.
Chupa Chups even came to be sold in gyms as well as dance-clubs and by 1999 around 23% of them were bought by “big kids”: teens and young adults.
Epilogue: Chupa Chups was bought by confectionery giant Perfetti Van Melle in 2006.
To read the article in full go to: Nadal: Galician Christmas.
The Guardian, London, 1989
Some of my earliest food features were written for The Guardian at a time when the erudite and witty Christopher Driver edited the food pages with a forward-looking, very wide definition of food culture. This article, provoked by a government watchdog report on food additives, looked at the blurred line between natural and artificial foods. Here is a brief excerpt.
On more familiar territory, the committee has tried to deal with the thorny problem of confusion regarding food labelling. A recent Presto supermarket survey, for example, showed that 40 per cent of housewives identified “natural” foods as those with no additives although infact nature-identical flavourings and colourings can be included. Meanwhile, consumer groups have been so successful in lobbying against artificial additives that the average consumer has come to think “natural” on a packet means pure and healthy while “artificial” means blacklisted.
In reality, food manufacturers have been switching to nature-identical colours and flavourings which still allow them to flash up the word “natural” on packaging. The Food Advisory Committee’s concern here is not simply that the public is being misled, but, far more important, that buyers are not aware of health risks in nature-identical colours. They are relatively untested and often used in far larger quantities than the artificial colours of which we are wary, so the Commitee has recommended the need for them to be fully tested and for their labelling to be looked at….
Despite the report challenging our image of “natural” and “artificial”, and highlighting the double standards in the way the terms are bandied around, it reflects some conservatism given today’s consumer preferences.
“Along with taste, aroma and texture, appearance and especially colour do play an important part in our enjoyment of food,” said the Committee’s chairman.
Few would feel differently, but is the answer necessarily added colour?
Journal of the International Wine and Food Society London, 1988
In the mid-1980s, when I began to write on Spanish food, Euskadi’s experimental contemporary cookery, and its backstory, were barely on London gourmets’ radar. This in itself was a good reason to delve into their present and past, inspired by Basque friends in London and Donostia (San Sebastian).
Looked at in its places of origin, Basque cooking is an amalgam of many cuisines, just as today’s Euskera, the region’s language, is a standardised mix of its dialects. Centuries ago, when poor roads made for slow journeying through mountainous terrain, dishes varied from one caserío (or farmhouse) to the next. Now divisions are, curiously, often described by gastronomic writers as those of the region’s old bishoprics: the coast of the Spanish provinces, the Laburdan or French coast, the Spanish tierras medias with good farming soil but within reach of the sea, the mountains, and the fertile warmer region of Navarre.
You often hear or read that dishes here are age-old – “lo hacemos desde siempre” – but historians’ research suggests many Basque techniques and recipes evolved in the last four hundred years. A good example would be kokotxas al pil-pil, hake’s cheeks in juices bound by the fish’s gelatine. An everyday fisherman’s dish, which moved from the boats to kitchens on land early in the 20th century, its earlier timeline, like much oral food history, is not entirely clear.
This continual evolution is the reality behind false notions of “tradition”. Hence the rich, varied, rolling repertoire. There are few features shared with French-Basque cooking: a preference for butter and a wide range of herbs may be compared with the Spanish Basque preference for olive oil, for sauces developed from cooking juices, and for gentle use of garlic, parsley, salt and pepper – plus cinnamon in sweet dishes. Butter and cream were largely alien until nueva cocina arrived at an opening dinner in December 1976, conceived as a planned movement following in the footsteps of Paul Bocuse. From 1977 a group of chefs from Guipuzkoa, later dubbed “los once magnificos” by food writer Luis Bettonica, met regularly to talk and try their new dishes. In retrospect this may be directly identified as the starting point of Spanish avant-garde cuisine and its steady development and growing influence ever since. It is not coincidental that the Nordic Food Movement, which in 2004 launched a world-leading cluster of pioneering restaurants, also launched with a small gathering of chefs and a formal ten-point manifesto not dissimilar in structure to those of nouvelle cuisine, nueva cocina vasca and Ferran’s Adrià’s decalogue.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 1999
How did Spanish olive-oil makers learn to make the most of the exceptional range of olive varieties growing around the country? Scientists, tasters, producers and chefs were all involved, as I discovered while researching and writing this piece.
The quickest short-hand for understanding varietal oils is via wine tasting. Recently, for example, Sam Gugino of The Wine Spectator suggested a likeness between Jaen’s “assertively grassy” Picual oils and the Loire Valley’s Sauvignon Blanc wines.
Scientists support this tasting comparison. Marino Uceda, the agronomist whose team characterises varietals at Venta del Llano, the oldest olive-oil research station in Spain, breaks the term ‘fruity’, for example, into eighteen different flavour-notes, among them nettle, blackberry, mint, acorn, fig-tree, banana, raspberry and tomato – by the way, leaf, fruit and plant are different notes. There are also, of course, the more familiar apple and new-mown grass. As this kind of analysis catches on, a sense of what ‘variety’ in olive oils means begins to sink in.
Underlying this, there is another link between the emergence of the new Spanish wines and oils. The romantic vision of old-fashioned picking and pressing lingers, but high-speed modern stainless-steel technology has been the key to developing grapes’ and olives’ aromas and tastes with new precision and clarity.
“The speed of pressing enabled by new technology has given a leap in quality,” explains ‘flying’ olive oil-maker Gerardo Jiménez Luque, who composes half a dozen Andalusian oils for export clients. “The freshness of the pressed olive allows the oil to keep its flavour and aroma subtleties.”
However, there are differences between wines and oils. One, olive oils never improve with age. Indeed, the flavour of some initially superb oils wanes within weeks of pressing. Two, an olive oil’s quality is relative to its uses – and there are many of them.
“The old idea that we can have one olive oil for everything in the kitchen just cannot be,” says world-renowned Catalan chef Ferran Adrià. “We need one or maybe several for raw use, another for frying, another for sauces, another for the hotplate, and so on.”
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 1999-2000
Twenty-six years after the first Spanish olive-oil terroir won Protected Denomination of Origin status, seven demarcated growing areas in Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and Catalonia were revolutionising Spanish oil making. I was asked to write a bird’s eye history and panorama, explaining and honouring their achievement. But far more fascinating was the second part of the commission: to research new directions for the future. This took me to the Venta del Llano, in Mengibar, where I was lucky enough to meet Marino Uceda, a hidden guru figure in the evolution of Spanish oil: he designed the world’s first gourmet tasting system for olive oil, searching not for its defects but its flavour notes and aromas, and tutored many oil-makers.
Close to Córdoba’s university stands a large field of olives. At first sight it may look like any olive grove swallowed up by a city – infact, it fills the space of an early botanical garden – but if you look at the trees closely some are small and stocky, others have spindly or bulbous trunks, and yet others are bushy with full, leafy boughs curving down to the ground.
This is the world’s largest collection of olive varieties, known originally as the Banco Mundial de Germoplasma de Olivo and now as the Colección Mundial de Variedades de Olivo. In 2001 it contained 408 varieties and now, in 2022, it is officially home to 668, of which 262 are Spanish varieties still being grown today. Although the native inventory finished fifteen years ago, new varieties are added annually as they’re sent in from around the world. Four specimens of each variety, two irrigated and two grown in dryland conditions, are held by the collection.
“The idea of the collection is to safeguard the olive family’s diversity in case it is threatened through disease or natural disaster, and to provide a research resource for genetic improvement and other work,” explains Professor Juan Caballero, who shaped the project from its inception at INIA (Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria).
Once a new arrival reaches fruit-bearing age, a sample harvest is sent to the Venta del Llano, a research station in Mengíbar, Jaén, founded in 1905. There the oil is pressed in a miniature mill, characterised and panel-tasted. Each taster’s oil is warmed to 28°C/ 82°F in a small blue glass cup to disguise the colour; there can be no communication between the panel of ten tasters, to ensure their independence of opinion. Only five oils are tasted a day. Some two dozen flavour notes – ranging from the basics like bitter and sweet to tastes like mint, tomato, nettle and blackcurrant – are noted and the results collated. This profiling of flavours, aromas and chemical analyses are then the basis for identifying denomination oils and designing assemblage oils like those of fine blended wines.
“I want to answer a couple of questions,” explains Marino Uceda, agronomist and researcher. Born among Jaén’s mountain olive groves, he had studied olive oil for over twenty years when I met him. “Firstly, what importance does variety have in the composition and flavour of different oils? And, secondly, how does that relate to the growing environment? My starting point was to think of oil in the same way that we think of wine.”
Uceda first posed his questions as a post-doctoral student in the mid-1970s. Always based at the Venta del Llano research station, he has worked with a team of nine biologists, agronomists, chemists and engineers who use chemical analysis, photospectometry, air injection and positive flavour-note tasting to characterize the varietal oils from growing areas, analyse and compare them.
“It is horribly slow work,” he explains. “We need generations of research to know how environment fully shapes an oil’s character. But certain things are clear. Geography and climate are key determinants. Drought can stress a tree, and make oil very sharp in the throat. Temperature changes can develop olives’ flavour. Now we are just beginning to research the effect of different soils, dampness, surrounding crops and so on. That’ll be the next area opening up new horizons.”
Meanwhile, Mengibar’s researchers are experimenting with leaf analysis, different varieties’ plasticity, the effect of temperature during pressing, and – a recent development – the aromatic oils giving each olive’s oil character.
Before I leave, Uceda pours three oils from varieties grown in different regions into glass beakers. We taste each separately – one is very big, the other a little bland, and the final one strong and peppery. From these he blends an assemblage. As he lifts the beaker to taste it, he toasts the future. “To the next generation of makers.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 2005
Commissioned as a brief history of olive oil since 1985, this piece grew into a homage to the olive-oil community. If written now, the perspective would be different: we stand at a pivotal moment when olive growing is set to be revolutionised by climate change.
“Twenty years is not so long in the life of an olive tree. Maybe it’s eight to ten years of a human life,” reckons Francisco Núñez de Prado. His family has been making extra-virgin oil in Cordoba’s rolling hills for two centuries.
In those first twenty years of life a young olive plant grows from a waist-high stripling into an orchard tree bearing shiny, ripe fruit: “the perfect capsule”, as poet Pablo Neruda described it, with a personality revealed through its fruit juice and oil. Grassy or fruity, buttery or earthy, pungent, lemony or smoky, it may have one of many different characters.
But aged twenty, an olive tree is only just reaching maturity. For another sixty or hundred years, at the least, it gives a full crop.
The fruit-producing trees on the Núñez de Prado estate, for example, are up to two centuries old; they are young by comparison with Jaen’s, Aragon’s and Catalonia’s spider-branched trees, which give hundreds of kilos of fruit each harvest after two millenia of life.
Epilogue: Francisco Núñez Prado was a discreet man ahead of his time and a key figure in establishing estate olive oils. He died in 2020.
Spain Gourmetour Madrid, 1994
“A taste older than meat, older than wine,” wrote English novelist Lawrence Durrell of the earthy bitterness of a cured olive. “A taste as old as cold water….”
The most curious thing about Spanish recipes for marinated olives is their ability to resist commercialisation. Ranging from the very plain to full-on brined fruitness scattered with flavourings, they need to be tried on home territory if you want a full spread of flavours.
Cracked olives, called aceitunas partidas, are especially typical of Andalusia, where they’re also known as machacadas. Here, especially in Jaen, where neatly groomed olive groves roll away as far as the eye can see, recipes are generally built around a base of crushed or whole raw garlic cloves and oregano. In Extremadura you may find specks of smoked red pimentón and in the Balearics bits of sea fennel and lemon. In Teruel province, in Aragon, the olive can be left on the tree till very ripe, wrinkled and blackened. It’s then dried in the sun and salted to give a nutty, very oily olive best eaten within a month or two. In Seville, where the same dried method is used for home-cured olives, a little garlic or chilli pepper may be added to the salt.
Why, then, are these olives rarely found as a full range beyond their home territory? Brining and curing containers have evolved, from earthenware to wood, and plastic to glass, but the processes involved are as yet little modernised, meaning that the recipes guarantee flavour and character, but not the stability food products need if they’re going to be long-keeping and good journeyers.
“The research possibilities are just beginning to reveal themselves,” comments food bio-technologist Luis Rehano of the Instituto de Grasas in Seville. There scientists follow two main avenues of investigation. “One is removing bitterness by combining alkaline treatment and brining – lactic and yeast fermentation respectively – to eliminate the chance of secondary fermentation during the usual slow (even year-long) leeching of bitterness in water. The olives can then be mildly acidified or, for absolute security, very gently pasteurised. The second avenue is to replace a proportion of the most volatile favourings with natural essential oils.”
Until the results of this research are more widely applied, craft-marinated olives are likely to remain one of Spain’s few foods that you can only try at their best in the landscapes where they are made.
Spain Gourmetour Madrid, 1996
Orange trees had been growing in Iberia for a thousand years by the time Spain’s first commercial orange grove was planted in 1781 in the Valencian region. Around that has grown a vast orange garden, as Rose Macaulay called it, but with distinct modern features: scientific orangeries where 21st-century varieties are designed and developed; export-driven planting; and the word’s first perishable fruit futures market, the Mercado de Futuros de Cítricos, which opened in Valencia city in 1995.
Valencia’s lush, orange-growing smallholdings look deceptively calm, whether you drive through them on motorways or small side-roads, but mutability has been the key to their survival. Only by shifting varieties half a dozen times in fifty years have orange producers managed to keep consumers content.
Infact, varietal switches have always set the pace in the growth of the orange groves, but never before have the changes come at such speed. When Citrus Aurantium L, the bitter orange, arrived in al-Andalus from the 7th century, it was one among many food plants in the “green revolution” bringing eastern Mediterranean agriculture westwards. From that came a further diaspora in the Christian medieval centuries, well recorded at the top of society. One potted bitter orange tree was taken north by Eleanor of Castile to the Duke of Bourbon in 1523, and from there found its way to Fontainebleau. Seeds were carried to the Caribbean and planted by Columbus in 1493. From each one-off migration came new celebrations of the fruit: in Fontainebleau, the famous orangerie; in the Caribbean, inspiration for curaçao liqueur; and back home in Spain, sugared crystallized orange rind, orange marzipan and medicinal bitter orange jam. Today, still, bitter-orange trees grace the streets of Andalusian cities’ old barrios and monastery patios.
But it was only when fully sweet varieties (Citrus sinensis) arrived from the far-east, brought by the Portuguese in the 1520s-30s, that the fruit moved into the mainstream. Initially grown along roadsides and in kitchen gardens, these naturally sweet so-called China oranges threw up improved local subvarieties like the juice-rich “blonde” orange Salustiana, still commercially grown today, and appreciated for the sweet and acid balance special to older varieties.
Three centuries later, as commercial groves began to spread in the 19th century and growers learnt to graft shoots on to rootstock – of citrons, lemons or bitter oranges – the pace of change accelerated. Seedlings’ variety could now easily be switched and back to full fruit production within a decade. In 1910 Washington Navel, the first pip-free orange with juicily sweet flesh, arrived in Valencia from Bahía, Brazil, and its subvarieties like Navelina, Navelate, Lanelate and Newhall began to fill the 20th-century groves.
Today, the planting scenario has changed again as loose-skin, pip-free mandarins appeal for easy in-hand eating, but, following years of economic crisis there’s been a landmark change. New varieties no longer come from elsewhere. Now they are developed at the region’s orangery and its research institute, IVIA, set up in 1982, since when 700 disease-free hybrid varieties have been developed. Orange growers were also among Spain’s first producers to learn to survive by offering farm-to-table deliveries of crated fruit sold on line. In this way they have financed their own switch to an organic market far wider than could ever have been achieved in retail shops.
Irish Food and Wine, Dublin, 1984
Only in the 1970s did piquillo peppers leap from little known local variety to gourmet speciality, but then, within twenty years, they made a winning long-jump to worldwide success. Three factors lay behind that leap. I wanted to explain these as well as the synergy between them in this commissioned article.
One reason for piquillos’ worldwide success was their reliability as a stock-cupboard purchase. Long before they won fame, they had been sold fully prepared in durable jars or tins in which their flavour improved over time. Secondly, alluring piquillo recipes had been developed by Basque chefs, new contemporary stars who were turning their hand to local foods. Martin Berasategui’s lasagne layering the roasted peppers between other kitchen-garden produce was one example. Ramón Roteta’s shellfish-stuffed piquillos was another. It launched a thousand tapas, first in Spain then in the wider world.
The third and most important factor, however, was the long intergenerational history of varietal selection. The small, triangular piquillo pepper, with an identifying quiff at the base, a thin-skin and a sweet ruby-red piquant flesh, emerged as a local variety in the 19th century, but was grown only in small patches. It was these growers, preserving small quantities for family use, who developed the preserving method.
“They are put over the wood embers and turned until soft,” explained Francisco Javier Arraiza of piquillos in a 1930s collection of Navarrese recipes. “Once removed, they are wrapped in a cloth and left for ten minutes, the skin is lifted off and the seeds removed.”
By chance, since the peppers weren’t discovered by the wider world, the old-fashioned preserving was to remain intact till the 1970s.
As piquillo cultivation grew in scale, so, too, did the roasting operation at harvest time. Huge improvised metal drums turning like slowly spinning hamster-wheels over wood-fires contain the roasting peppers. Aficionados look for tell-tale roasting evidence: tiny black flecks cling to the flesh after deft practised hands have rubbed away the cooled pepper’s charred skin. This explains the rich, smoky-sweet aroma hanging in the air in piquillo preservers’ roasting sheds, a tell-tell whiff repeated more mildly when you open the jars or tins anywhere in the world and warm them slowly in a frying pan.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 2003
Just after the turn of the century Spain Gourmetour asked me to research and write a long-read piece on Madrid’s tapas. It gave me a chance to delve into the largely unwritten back-story of a spontaneous food culture.
A proverb runs ‘Madrid, ciudad bravilla, entre antiguas y modernas, tenía tres cientas tavernas y una sola librería’. ‘Madrid, brave little city, counting old and new, had 300 taverns and only one bookshop.’
This was no exaggeration. By the end of the 17th century over 350 licensed taverns were documented: among them a hundred were run by women and thirty held the right to call themselves ‘royal taverns’. Three centuries later, in the year 2000, the town-hall statistics showed an urban population supporting an astounding 29,998 bars – one for every hundred inhabitants.
Not bad. Rumour has it that it is the highest rate of bars per capita in a European capital city.
However, in Madrid a bar is rarely just a bar. It may be a tavern, still known as a tasca or taberna, with an old zinc or marble bar, vermouth and soda on tap, a tiny dining room at the back, and signs prohibiting spitting, dancing and singing, reminders of lively times long ago. A few taverns hold a place in political history. Clients of Casa Labra, just off the Puerta del Sol, go not just for its deep-fried salt-cod, but also to revisit the place where the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party was founded in 1898.
A bar might also be a bodega, a cellar where wine was once served from barrels lined up against splashproof 19th-century tiled walls, or it may be a cervecería, that is, a beer bar, where the tapas are lined up on a long, stainless-steel bar under a glass cover.
Alternatively a bar may take its name from food specialities. There are, for example, the freiduría, dedicated to frying, the marisquería, or shellfish-bar, and the pulpería, or octopus bar. The latter two are usually owned by Galicians who serve seafood from their home region and hang football pennants on the wall. Nor should one overlook the market bar run by early-risers who work wonders with a small two-foot square plancha (flat griddle).
Last but not least comes the multi-purpose barrio bar, a dignified institution where neighbours talk, argue, play cards, grab a coffee, watch big football matches and satisfy quick pangs of thirst and hunger at any moment of the day or evening.
What many of these bars share is a common denominator on their menus, the tortilla, or Spanish potato omelette, and the everyday rituals of vertical eating and drinking. Clients happily pack close together in bars as the noise level climbs, pushing conversation ever louder.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 1996
Spain was the first European country where capsicum peppers were used to make a powdered spice, deep red and dusty, called pimentón after the peppers’ name pimientos. Yet it has been curiously overlooked as a culinary invention, perhaps because a younger cousin, paprika, jumped from Hungarian cooking into German recipe books as a seasoning for gulash, and from there grabbed the 20th century market. Recently however pimentón is coming into its own, its quality helped along by the old ways of stone-milling. Today, if you visit La Vera, west of Madrid, pimentón-making’s earliest scenarios are still intact.
La Vera’s smokehouses, like the water mills once standing along its streams, have existed since medieval times, but their economic importance dates from the New World food exchange, a surprisingly slow process still ongoing in the 21st century.
Its very first major success story was the capsicum pepper, a member of the Solanacea family like the potato and tomato. Initially it journeyed around Spain between monkish kitchen-gardens, hopping from one Jerónimo monastery to the next. Presented by Columbus to the monarchs at Guadalupe monastery, pepper seeds were soon planted nearby at Yuste in La Vera, then at Santo Domingo de la Calzada in the Rioja, and at La Ñora in Murcia. Today all three sit in major pepper-growing areas.
One contemporary, Nicolas Monardes, commented in the mid-16th century that capsicums were originally sown for the fruit’s beauty. How the leap to making pimentón happened is not known: some say peppers accidentally dried in autumn sunshine, others believe that the monks had observed the Aztec use of ground peppers for preserving game. For sure it is in this role, as a preservative, that it won a place almost as important as salt, pepper and garlic in Spanish cooking. If you have ever eaten chorizo then you know its spicy-hot or brickish smoked flavour, and its power as a preserving additive for meat.
Monardes pinpointed the second key success factor for pimentón as opposed to the black and white peppercorns of medieval court cookery, “They differ in that those from the Indies cost many ducados, this other costs no more than sowing it….” Home-improvised flavour won over imported status. Nonetheless, some regions have never taken to pimentón. It is rarely used in Basque cooking and Aragonese charcuterie remains loyal to earlier spice mixes of sweet cloves, anis, peppercorns and cinnamon.
For some gourmets this is a relief. Writer and journalist Julio Camba commented in La Casa de Lúculo o el arte de comer (1961) that its colour and flavour was ubiquitous in Spanish food, from chorizo to meat calderetas, from saltcod arrieros to fried breadcrumbs, migas, potato stews, fishermen’s and garlic soups, pork marinades … even vinaigrettes.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 2003
A wild duck spreads its wings as it rears up from water broken by spiky green rice plants. Above the photo, printed in curly green type, runs a slogan, “Save the rice, and we will save Doñana.” The duck, printed on a poster, hangs in the offices of La Ermita, a farmers’ collective in Isla Mayor, a town in the Gualdalquivir delta, from where irrigation for 300 rice growers is managed. “When I designed the duck poster,” says Julián Borja Ibáñez, pointing to its details, like a duckling swimming past rice, “a lot of people thought I was a bit mad.”
That was back in 1994. Today Julián, a founding member of La Ermita, is the president of the rice growers’ federation. Like many of them he is Valencian by birth. He arrived as a young child in the late 1940s with his parents, expert rice-farmers who were lured here by the offer of land. The marshes’ mosquitos had driven away earlier visitors such as George Borrow. “I was aroused by the furious biting of a thousand bugs,” he wrote testily of a boat journey here. British adventurers who planted rice here in the 1920s also got beaten by the bugs. The Valencian farmers, however, persisted in the 1940s, years of hunger. Malaria caused deaths and the work was hard – most was done by hand until the 1960s – but the paddies grew into Spain’s largest rice-producing area.
Today they occupy 16,000 acres, producing a harvest of over 300,000 tons of short, round and long grain rice in paddies irrigated by river water, pumped through them before returning to the sea. Julián, aged 59, and his brother Sebastián, 63, who began working in the rice-fields as children, own 220 acres that they work with their nephew. Some of their rice stays in Spain, but most, especially a local long-grain variety called Puntal, sells for export via cooperatives.
The symbiosis between rice-fields and parkland has been uneasy. Conservationists initially regarded the farmland around the park with suspicion, especially after an estimated 30,000 birds died of botulism in the drought of 1986. The blame was put on pesticides, but later it was discovered that stagnant warm water had caused the deaths. However, the rice-farmers began to cut back on weedkillers, pesticides and fertilisers and in 1998 they signed up 60 specialist agricultural engineers and a small army of fieldworkers to weed the paddies.
Their effort has been worthwhile. The chemicals used in the paddies have been cut by two-thirds, and today 90% are registered for integrated rice growing – that is, farming with less than 10% of the EU’s permitted pesticides. With drought a regular event, and ever more severe, the paddies have become an essential counterpoint to the natural parkland. When the Doñana’s marshes bake dry into cracked mud, the ducks and other birds take refuge in the paddies.
Integrated growing is just one step in the rice-farmers’ plans. Their next priority, already being negotiated, is to source their pumped water further inland, giving them low-salinity irrigation that may be pumped two or three times through the paddies. They also want to lay down protection guidelines for flora and fauna; to revive an abandoned river ferry; and to build a rice museum. Finally, they hope to emerge from anonymity, creating a denomination of origin defining the growing area and its varieties. This would allow them to skip wholesalers. “Then,” says Julián – he pauses as if to show seriousness of intent – “the next step would be to farm the rice organically.”
Taste, London, 1988
East London 1980s street-life was enriched by sedimented immigrant food cultures: Chinese, Jewish, Sylheti and Ethiopian, among others. Each kept to its own character, but shops or delis and restaurants might sit side-by-side, for example, in Brick Lane, famed for its curry restaurants. For locals the Lane also meant beigels, and visits to a 24-hour bakeshop which sold them by the bag, hot and densely doughy.
Beigels, those ring-shaped rolls with alluring chubby curves and shiny golden tops, are often thought of as classic New York fast-food. The irony is that the American beigel is nothing like the Polish original. Around three times its size, lacking the original crust, filled like a sandwich, the Stateside version reflects the New World’s prosperity and craving for variety ….
Beigel-baking also belongs to the East End of London. Here Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia created their own late 19th-century crowded world of synagogues, textile workshops, kosher food stores and gambling cafés. In those days boobas (grandmothers) sold their beigels on the street, piled in a basket or stacked on a long stick, just as they had done in Warsaw or Cracow …. Their circular shape, a religious symbol for the cycle of life, was said to bring good luck and prospects. From the boobas’ success grew bakeshops, but none survived the Jewish East End’s break-up between the world wars.
Then, however, a wholesale baker revived business close to the top of Brick Lane, distributing beigels to restaurants and retail bakeries all around London. The dough was shaped, boiled then baked at night in electric ovens, which replaced the old brick ones, and delivered during the day. By chance, one evening, a famished lorry driver stopped and asked to buy a few beigels to eat on the road. Within weeks the bakeshop was born and by the mid 1980s, a thousand dozen beigels were sold over the counter each week. We would pass by late at night for a bagful or a filled beigel to eat at the counter: the chat was always as good as the food.
Epilogue: The Beigel Bake survives at no 159 Brick Lane, London, E1.
Spain Gourmetour, Madrid, 2005
When I revisited organic farming in 2004 for the first time since 1999, I was not sure what I would find. Would the steep learning curve have caught pioneering farmers by surprise? Would their idealism have been dented by bureaucracy, their workloads and financial stress? The perspectives, though, were encouraging. Scattered, isolated producers were now taking on bigger environmental issues. Canarian pineapple growers in El Hierro were harnessing renewable energy sources, Huelva’s strawberry farmers were teaching consumers to enjoy smaller organic fruit, and rice-growers in the Ebro Delta had set up a farm, wildlife and bioplus brand. Here’s the story of the rice growers, and of one of the many anonymous, small-scale local heroes who have built up today’s organic production.
West of Ronda, in Andalucía’s Sierra de Cádiz mountains, Antonio Mulero Tamayo, aged 44, farms 18 hectares of rolling countryside near Prado del Rey village. The farm runs down from wild holm-oaks and olive trees to sheltered orchards and two new giant greenhouses worth 180,000 euros.
As tall as a two-story building, the greenhouses were funded by a job-creation scheme and reached the farm as a kit for a single capsule measuring 1,950 square metres. Antonio, who believes in working “within the existing eco-system”, set to work taking it apart and rebuilding it to “belong” to his land. He divided it in half, removed the insect netting, added lift-up windows on all sides and various doorways. “Just the roof was usually enough protection against climatic risks,” he says.
For his first season he grew green beans, lettuce and cucumbers then moved in his flock of Merino sheep for on-the-hoof manuring and rotated his crops to capsicum peppers, courgettes, melons and varied salad leaves.
By this time he was selling his greenhouse and open-air crops well through a specialist cooperative flourishing thanks to Andalusia’s organic farming boom, which had grown to occupy 7% of the region’s farmable agricultural land by 2005 (and 23.6%, the highest figure in Spain, by 2021).
Success for Antonio, though, had come quickly only thanks to a solid foundation of slowly learned skills. Self-taught, he’d been keeping diaries for his vegetable plots and orchards, noting planting, harvesting and drip-irrigation dates for over twenty years. “On the spot lifelong studies,” he says jokingly.
In the case of Riet Vell, the Ebro Delta’s organic rice farm, the research was done as a systematised study. A 1994 report by SEO, the Spanish Ornithological Society, revealed a dramatic drop in the delta’s fish and bird life due to the herbicides, insecticides and fertilisers used in the rice paddies. Three years later SEO converted 66 hectares of watery marshes into their own organic rice paddies, incorporating a nature reserve where wildlife could be fostered and viewed by the public.
Today Riet Vell’s annual rice yields match those of conventional local growers. Their paddies may be identified by their wild grassy banks, bullrush-edged lagoons and pheromone insect control. Between harvests they drown weeds, with no chemicals, and alongside their commercial growing they experiment with new rice varieties. Thanks to these, within a year of launching exports to the UK in 2003, they scooped two gourmet awards, one from the Soil Association, the other from the Natural Products Fair. Additionally, every box of rice carries a message explaining wildlife-friendly farming to shoppers and their families.
Herbs (Journal of the Herb Society), London, 1996
That Spanish saffron-growing has survived against the odds is largely due to its unsurpassed quality. This is judged two ways: by the length of the flowers’ stigmas, or dried filaments, and by their levels of pigment and essential oils, which give colour, aroma and flavour. Spanish saffron’s blood-red stigmas are not only longer but also contain much higher levels of the volatile aromatic and flavouring oils than those of saffron elsewhere. The reasons for this are not entirely clear.
Growers and scientists alike put emphasis on the unbroken centuries of growing as a key factor in Spanish saffron’s quality: during the span of a millenium, the bulb stock may have genetically adapted to its environment. Alongside this, in both growing and commerce, old-fashioned customs have survived: medieval land and weight measures, payment for work in kind and, above all, a family workforce.
In the 18th century, when eating tastes changed, production dwindled in many areas of Europe. Only in Spain did saffron-growing flourish. In 1898 exports were valued at some 9 million pesetas, more than oranges, and were sent as far afield as Russian and India. In 1930 some 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) were cultivated and 80,000 kilos of the dried spice produced.
The small-scale plots with growing today now lie in three specific reduced areas: in La Manchuela, north of Albacete; in a western group of towns around Consuegra in Toledo; and on a smaller scale in Aragon. Famous for being demanding to plant, harvest and dry, saffron is laborious at all stages of the growing cycle. After harvesting the bulbs have to be dug up, dried and kept for replanting. In the second and third year the bulbs will produce the greatest number of blooms before their production falls. When the land needs to rest, it must be left fallow for ten years.
In the last few years alarm-bells have begun to sound at falling production. Rapidly shrinking families and rising labour wages, which now account for 50% of total costs, have cut profits.
But producers are philosophical. They emphasize that for a thousand years saffron has had cyclical patterns of ebb and flow, and that the international circuit for top-quality saffron is extremely stable. Prices at source for the finest saffron have been rising steeply since the mid-1990s and demand is once again running beyond supply.
BBC Magazine, London, 2003
Commissions to write listings focus attention on condensed fact, but even then, they are a challenge and need an invisible underlying analysis if they are going to work for an international audience. For this “Food Lover’s Passport to Spain” I took the chance to spotlight everyday, often overlooked and easily accessible food resources that could be enjoyed by all generations with every kind of budget: the municipal food markets, preserved or reinvented; Iberian kitchen tech, enjoying a creative renaissance; good wines to take home as drinkable souvenirs; and summer coolers, those delicious chilled drinks or ices for which Spain has an inimitable flair. Looking back today, there have been remarkable developments in nearly every one of those categories.
Spain Gourmetour Madrid, 2003
In the 1990s smart wine routes were being designed to give visitors the knowledge for exploring vineyards, wineries, restaurants, landscapes and culture. The pleasure of creating these – I did four in all – came from the possibility of working in areas where tourism had not yet tilted the balance of vision in any particular direction. My first journey was commissioned for the Ribera del Duero, then next I explored the Albariño vineyards by the Rías Baixas’ jagged coastline. Here’s the introduction.
Wet foliage in the vineyards, scudding clouds above, and legend hanging in the damp sea air. On the road from Santiago de Compostela to the western coastline, vines appear well before you glimpse the sea. By the time you reach the silted-up port of Padrón they are everywhere, squeezed into gardens and vegetable patches or planted as arbours over porches and pathways, although there are rarely more vines than those needed to supply a family’s needs.
The townspeople of Padrón say Saint James, patron saint of Spain, preached his first sermon in the peninsula on the hill overlooking the town. It’s easy to climb its low summit and from there you can look over luminously bright green fields and pasture to the Ría de Arousa, where the commercial vineyards start. Local myth tells that the stone boat which brought Saint James’s body back to Spain after his death made landfall here. Wine, too, is magicked into a spiritual affair. Rosalia de Castro, the Galician poetess, who lived and died here in 1885, conjured up this verse conversation between tenant and landlord.
“¿And would there be wine in Heaven?”
“Drink, drink, what a beautiful thing!”
“It’s as smooth as syrup!”
“Oh, how it slips down, my friend, with neither wheat nor cornbread….”
Last of the Independents, London, 2014
This piece is special to me for two reasons. Firstly my Viridiana eating experience came at a time when I’d been living for years on a very tight budget while writing New art of cookery / Nuevo arte de la cocina española. Secondly I was commissioned by Gareth Jones, one of those rare friends ever-supportive at good and bad moments along with his wife Joy Davies, the award-winning food writer. Hugely admired in the food world, Gareth had cooked in a rural French restaurant and worked in governmental agri-food promotion in the UK; he then put both sides of his learning together for exceptionally creative promotion, or “healing” for hand-picked small European producers. At the time I wrote this he and Joy were also publishing “Last of the Independents”, a digital magazine inspired by Rory Gallagher’s song.
Every so often a chef turns up a dish that feels like a home-cooked luxury created to share with friends. At ‘Viridiana’, a stone’s throw from Madrid’s Museo del Prado, Abraham García has one such dish, Abraham’s Eggs. They arrive in small skillets, one egg in each, soft-yolked, with black winter truffle generously shaved over the whites. Alongside each free-range hen’s egg spreads a velvety-smooth wild mushroom and duck liver mousse, puréed to a sauce. From it a rich funghal aroma floats up to evoke much older dishes like the wild mushroom sauce from Llibre de Sent Sovi, a mid-14th century Catalan cooking treatise, and the wood-roasted criadilla de tierra , or black truffle, published in the early 15th century under the medieval pen-name of Robert de Nola.
Like much of Abraham’s cooking, the dish is infused with a deep sense of history yet at the same time manages to tap into connections with modern Spanish popular cookery. He is one of the few chefs who revels in the food of his rural childhood in “the unforgettable 1950s”, as he calls them.
Abraham grew up near Toledo and aged just thirteen, he set off for Madrid alone to work his way up through professional kitchens until finally, in the late 1970s, he set up his own restaurant, “Viridiana”, named after Luis Buñuel’s 1961 classic film. Small black and white images from the film’s paupers’ feast are clipped along the walls. (There is also the odd Republican flag to be seen.) Abraham’s conversation is famously well informed on Spain’s food culture, as well as its history and wider culture, and he peppers his comments with his iconoclastic wit and open scepticism of the food system, and attached media.
His right to comment has considerable moral authority: Dabiz Muñoz, voted the best chef in the world for 2022, and also famed as an iconoclast, began his professional life in Viridiana’s kitchen, a debt he often gratefully acknowledges.
The fact that Abraham himself is self-taught helps to explain not only his cooking, but the personality of his dining room. Here you feel as nurtured as if you’re in somebody’s home: service style is warm and friendly, never point-scoring; diners’ clothes can vary from jeans to high fashion; and the man himself is cooking, talking and making clients feel welcome seven days a week as he works with his brigade. If he isn’t, then he may be writing, doing a radio broadcast or journeying to see producers, who he credits generously as he explains dishes to customers. He may also be searching for new wines for Viridiana’s formidable list famed for its reasonably prices.
If you have time you can visit two reconstructed kitchens around the corner at the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativos before lunching at Viridiana. The top-floor tiled 18th-century Valencian kitchen celebrates the cookery of lush irrigated Spain: here you can see a couple of ducks, tied up by their feet, hanging ready for plucking. In his mousse Abraham uses duck livers, generally overlooked in modern Spanish cookery. One floor down is a lesser known montage of an earlier Golden Age Castilian kitchen with a free-standing spit, austere in feel, typical of the dryland or secano north-eastern Spain where the poor foraged funghi . As Abraham comments of the golden yolks and truffle-flaked whites of his dish, there’s a complementary yin-yang balance to his ingredients, just as there is between the richly fertile and poorer dry areas of Spanish farming.
Foods from Spain, New York, 2006
I had no idea that a small culinary revolution was bubbling under when I was commissioned to write this article on Valencia, but it was wonderful to sense it on the ground. The pace slowed during the economic crisis that followed, but guiding influences and momentum were maintained, the municipal markets ticked on, just as they had for centuries, and new talent emerged. In retrospect, one can see that the learning from the economic crisis left residual business wisdom, one of Valencia region’s restaurants’ great strengths today, and that a similar revolution, perhaps with even more potential for the future was underway in Alicante.
Valencian chefs’ cooking is a talking point among Spanish gourmets. Until the 1990s a visit to the city meant orange juice, seafood and paella as well as luscious, slushy tiger-nut milk (horxata) sipped at a café in the warm, damp Mediterranean air. Now, though, gourmets can head for starred restaurants where many of the chefs grew up in restaurant families, while also soaking up the city’s 1980-90s cosmopolitan culture.
Added inspiration came from super-creative emigré chefs who arrived here in those buzzy years: Bernd Knöller from Berlin, Stephen Anderson from London, Joaquín Schmidt from Madrid. And, of course, waves of influence rolled in from the Basque and Catalan vanguardias.
“In Valencia your cooking has to be Mediterranean,” says Bernd Knöller, chef-proprietor of fizzily creative Riff. “The produce is so good, it leads you. But there’s also a new awareness learned from looking further afield, a renaissance of artesanal products, terroir wines, speciality crops and imported foods. It all helps.”
Visit the mythical Art Nouveau food market in the old town, or the lively modern one in Cabanyal near the fishing port, and you enter a chef’s dream. Midweek in June there are hand-shucked baby fava beans and five varieties of tomato from the city’s market gardens. There are also shelled milky almonds, dried wild mushrooms, beach and rockfish. In the city-centre market specialist gourmet stalls sell spices, ostrich eggs, farmhouse cheeses, eels and fruits ready-prepared to eat on the street. These products, the nearby growing huertas, and the local patterns of comerce are underlying continuities around which gastronomic culture thrives and evolves in each generation.
By James Chatto and W. L. Martin. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1987
As series and commissioning editor.
The third book in the Life and Food series (see below) used collective memory to explore Corfu’s cuisine. In particular, it harvested individual recollections of 20th-century hunger, war and the arrival of tourism. At the same time this is a book filled with the warmth of the friendships built by James Chatto and Wendy Martin around food.
“A brilliantly researched book that combines the topographic sensitivity of Durrell with the narrative celebration of James Morris’s Venice.” The Literary Review
By Annette Hope, Tom Jaine, Alison Ross, Jennifer Stead, C. Anne Wilson, Alison Ross, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1993. Edited by C. Anne Wilson.
As series and commissioning editor.
By giving a comparative perspective on British food history in different regions this book reveals the kind of archives available, and the analyses possible in the hand of experts. It was an honour to work with C. Anne Wilson, one of Britain’s leading food historians, for many years in charge of the designated Cookery Books collection at the Leeds Brotherton Library.
By Fay Maschler, Bloomsbury, 1989
As series and commissioning editor
Practical and convenient but inspired, the recipes in this anthology came from restaurant critic Fay Maschler’s London Evening Standard column. She had lived the 1980s immersed in the cosmopolitan food of London restaurants, and its homecooking, and she balanced both as she opened doors into cuisines from near and far.
By Clare Connery. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1992
As series and commissioning editor.
When Connery, primarily a hands-on cook, wrote this book with more than 150 recipes, Ireland’s native food renaissance was gathering momentum. Although she focussed on the kitchen, she also reflected on its expression of the island’s agriculture and she invoked original historical sources and archaeological evidence.
By Chitrita Banerji. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1987
As series and commissioning editor.
Chitrita Banerji’s first book was an insider’s observant account of Bengali cuisines as she had known them, as both child and adult, cook and writer, through family, work and marriage. She gave readers a rare view into a very varied cuisine still little recognised for its sophistication. This was the fourth book in the Life and Food series, and marked a change of direction, opening perspectives beyond Europe.
“Whether writing about bread or … about the Bengali learned appreciation of bitterness as a taste, this is fascinating stuff.” World of Cookbooks, Vol VI, no 1
By Cristine Mackie. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1991
As series and commissioning editor.
Mackie, a classical pianist, took a long sabbatical with her Caribbean-born husband to build a small ecofriendly hotel in Grenada. Taking the island as her base, she began delving into archives – diaries, letters and household accounts – before researching the islands’ layered ethnic cuisines. These she took as her main theme, giving a different account of each ethnic food culture, but also suggesting how they blended together, and fitted within colonial history.
“Beautifully written and produced.”Vogue
By James Bentley. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1986
As series and commissioning editor.
James Bentley, erudite author of the second “Life and Food” book, chose to focus on a long historical perspective for the fishing, farming, hunting and foraging systems of a region famed for its gastronomy, but little explored for the underlying food history. For recipes, James went back to early French sources to give the original versions of well-journeyed dishes, sometimes changed almost beyond recognition along the way.
“A good scholarly book for those cooking in France … it has much historical information as well as authentic recipes.” The Irish Times (Reprinted by Penguin Books in 1996).
By Elizabeth Romer. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London / Grove/Atlantic, New York, 1989
As series and commissioning editor.
“A classic of culinary literature … one of the first works in English to show how a way of eating was the product of a unique conjunction of agricultural, climatic and cultural factors.” John Hooper, Intelligent Life, 2011
Elizabeth Romer had lived in Tuscany for many years with her husband John Romer, the archaeologist and egyptologist, when she began recording the food of the farms and villages around her with a patient, systematic eye. By accompanying recipes with observations of everyday life and work, and following the seasons precisely, as they were lived in the region, she created a classic account of the world behind one of Europe’s best known cuisines.
By Sheila Ferguson. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1989
As series and commissioning editor.
Sheila Ferguson, lead singer of the Three Degrees, wrote from the heart when she sat down to create a book sharing the soul food of her humble childhood in Philadelphia. She retold the recipes of family members and friends who had taught her to cook with the five senses: sound, smell, taste, touch and sight. To her words she added old family photographs, and stunning location set-pieces by British photographer Howard Grey.
By Richard Olney. Interlink and Ebury Press, London, 1988
An early American master of French cookery and one of the first accepted to teach on wine and food in France, Richard Olney hid a useful principle behind the title of this book. Each menu, and every dish, was chosen to accompany certain fine wines, rather than vica versa. This was one of those rare books in which there was almost no editing to do.
By James Kempston. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993
James Kempston was a professional cook who focussed on the know-how underpinning the skill of combining flavours and produce in many cuisines. This was an original book, for playful learning, ahead of its time in its emphasis on world cuisine’s common denominators and cooking skills in all kinds of kitchen contexts, ranging from a restaurant to a ship’s galley to a food-truck.
By Jeremy Round (of The Independent newspaper). Barry & Jenkins, London, 1989
A classic of modern British cookery writing, this recipe anthology of Jeremy Round’s writing for The Independent was produce-driven and strictly seasonal, not only for food plants, but also for fish and meat. Jeremy had learned to cook in Turkey, and had competed successfully in Masterchef, but was also amused to take on the urban fun of cooking and eating: for example, a reduced-angst approach to entertaining and stretching the seasons via preserving.
By Frances Bissell. Chatto & Windus, London, 1992
Food correspondent for the London Times (see below), Bissell was a pioneer in researching livestock rearing methods. In this book she explained how to handle it in the kitchen. She opened the book by proposing her own philosophy for eating meat: enjoying rather than excluding it from her diet, but thinking of it as a luxury, and buying it with that mindset, prepared to pay the prices asked by humane small producers.
By Frances Bissell. Chatto & Windus, London, 1993
Frances Bissell, once called “the best private cook in Britain”, wrote for The Times, and also cooked regularly at some of the world’s leading hotels. She had a great eye for adapting dishes from little known cuisines to home kitchens while keeping keys to authenticity. This book was a collection of more than 600 recipes gathered during six years of newspaper columns and intercontinental journeys. One year later Frances won the Glenfiddich Award for Food Writer of the Year (1994).
By Silvia Ziranek. Bookworks, London, 1987
Best known as a performance-artist exploring women’s role in domestic life and suburban culture, Silvia Ziranek used recipes as diary entries or art-works, punctuating them with images of her 1950s childhood. This was a limited edition book and is now a collectible item.
Conran-Octopus & Heinemann, London / Shelton Books, New York (1988).
The base of this anthology was Jacqueline Saulnier’s work as cookery editor for French Marie Claire magazine in the 1970s, the era of nouvelle cuisine, new ethnic influences and food as “la troisième médicine”. Synthesizing and writing linking texts for English readers, consulting with Mme Saulnier and her chosen chefs was a pleasure.
More info coming soon.
Client, Bodegas Tío Pepe, Jérez de la Frontera & London
I rarely take on commercial consultancies, in order to avoid conflict of interest, but the briefing for this project was entirely open, it gave a chance to support a market shift away from old-fashioned cream sherries and to make known new-generation Andalusian chefs. It was also an honour to be invited to write alongside wine expert John Radford. I gave my own userfriendly recipes for tapas in home cooking, designed according to the time it would take to make them in a busy London schedule: ten minutes or half an hour. All used Spanish ingredients easily available elsewhere, in particular olive oil: for example, roasted red peppers in a manzanilla vinaigrette (ten minutes) and fried cured jamón and eggs on fried bread (half an hour). Some brilliant restaurant recipes, needing more skill and time to prepare, came from invited chef guests, all from Andalusia: Fernando Córdoba from El Puerto de Santa María, Juan Batista Agreda & Dani García, then cooking in Ronda, and José Carlos García from Malaga.
Oxford Symposium on Food and History, St Catherine’s College, Oxford, 2004
A paper on Pedro Pérez Roque’s life and his work collecting, classifying and cultivating wild medicinal herbs for future generations, this was originally researched for the Oxford symposium on the subject of wild foods. Pérez Roque has always lived at the centre of an ecobotanical hot-spot, in inland Alicante, where the dry Mediterranean heat raises the level of mountain herbs’ oils. Alcoy still keeps its perfumery distilling, a craft here since Arab times, and the area has unusual natural “microreserves” to protect areas of very valuable aromatic plants. (Printed proceedings 2006).
Oxford Symposium on Food and History, St Catherine’s College, Oxford, 2011
A paper on the fiesta calendar in friary and popular 18th-century Spanish cooking for the symposium on “Celebration”. (printed version in Petits Propos Culinaires, 2012)
Link to a revised print version of the paper at Oxford:
Talking Food: Altamiras at Oxford
Museo Goya, Zaragoza, 2017
A brief presentation on the non-appearance (and appearance) of food in Goya’s work, marked out by its ethical oppositional approach: the almost complete absence from his early work of food still-lifes, potentially valuable for a struggling artist, may be compared to hunger’s powerful presence in his “Disasters of War” engravings and to his depiction of popular cookery in his late still-lifes.
Dublin Gastronomy Symposium, DIT, Dublin, 2017
A paper for the symposium on the subject of “Food and Power” held at Dublin Institute of Technology. In it I explored the long continuitities between reformist Spanish Franciscan food philosophy, to which Altamiras’s cookbook belongs, early modern popular cookery and the flowering of regional Spanish kitchens, sometimes as political expression, in the 19th century.
Link: Dublin: Food and Power
Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food, Allard Pierson Collections, Amsterdam, January 2015
A paper for the symposium on the subject of “Food, Hunger and Conflict”, organised by the History of Food Collection at the Allard Pierson. The paper looked at the high visibility of hunger in Spanish culture from the picaresque to modern times, including its representation in three narrative cookbooks, but its invisibility (and masking by one cookbook) during the 1940s “Silent Famine”, as revealed by historians since 1995.
This piece was written at the time Claire Lorrimer’s biography of Jeanette Roberts was published. Back then, Jeanette correctly predicted that her revelation of her lifestory would lead to her work being discredited, but today it is recognised as sharply relevant as the complexities of the topic are given greater recognition, in times of war and peace.
Over the last 17 years Jeanette Roberts has fostered 41 children with whom the social services could not cope. Most have been victims of physical violence or sexual abuse and by the time they reach her, they have been shunted for years between their birth parents, foster homes, children’s homes and lock-up instititutions.
For most onlookers who hear of Jeanette’s work, her commitment is its most striking element, but among social service professionals she is known for her success in helping children come to terms with the past. Clearly she is a sharp-eyed observer. She was raped by her father.
“If a kid’s being hurt, you’re not just looking for a bruise. The emotional signs are always there. A child may be withdrawn, or kicking up noise and trouble, or perhaps cowering if an adult walks into their bedroom.”
She is conventional in some approaches, but not in others. She believes statutory guidelines should be developed to create unified procedures and that wider public education is needed to focus on a clear message.“Children aren’t just social workers’ responsibility, they’re everyone’s.”
“I’m sure therapy can work in some cases,” she explains “but it’s too easy for the child to pick up on what they know the adult wants to hear. That doesn’t touch the turmoil inside.”
She has limited faith in play techniques using anatomically accurate dolls. “Recently I pressed a doctor to whom a little girl had said nothing in a doll play session. As an afterthought, the doctor remembered the girl had said, ´If this doll had a secret and she told you, she’d get bashed up.’ ”
The psychological scarring left by abuse is not exaggerated, she says. “The fear of rejection is everlasting. You have to keep working on it. And if it’s like that for me, as an adult, what’s it like for a kid scared stiff of losing their family and who may have been told it’s their fault?”
Epilogue: In 1985 a television documentary looking at Jeanette’s work, entitled “In the Name of Charity”, was directed by Nigel Evans. It is still available.
Carla Artés grew up with a false identity given to her by fake parents. She knew nothing of Graciela and Enrique, her birth parents, who “disappeared” during the Argentinian military dictatorship’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-83) against dissidents. Once found by her maternal grandmother and recovered by the police, Carla moved for safety to Madrid where she studied, worked and became birth-mother to three children. In 2005 she testified in Madrid in the Alfredo Scilingo trial, which heard the first evidence of high-ranking military involvement in the “disappearances”.Carla’s case was also key proof of the existence of the cross-frontier Condor plan.From this long-read feature, I’ve selected Carla’s account of her discovery of her real identity.
At the age of eight Carla Artés was watching television in her home in Buenos Aires when she saw something that jarred her. “A reporter was interviewing an older woman in a white head scarf, and she was wearing a baby photograph of me around her neck,” she says. “I recognized myself right away from a photo in my parents’ house.” That night Carla asked her father why the woman had a photo of her. “He told me that she was an old witch who wanted to take my blood away, and he gave me a terrible beating. It wasn’t the first. So I tried to forget the incident.”
Carla and her younger brother, Alejandro, had been brought up in a smart suburb, but when a democratically elected government came to power in 1983, the family had begun to move every three months or so, now living in houses on the city’s fringes. Carla and Alejandro were told they were being given a holiday and were removed from school. “It was an odd life for two years,” remembers Carla. “What I hated most was that they would cut off my hair, dye it, make me wear it different ways, and give me glasses and coloured contact lenses. They were always altering my appearance.”
A year after Carla saw her baby photo on television, the Argentinian police stormed her family home at 4am with dogs and arrested her parents, Eduardo and Amanda Ruffo. “Alejandro and I woke up to find ourselves locked inside our bedroom,” she remembers. “We were terrified. We thought the police had come for us.”
The family was taken to a police station where they were separated. Only then was Carla told that her parents, but neither she nor her brother, were in trouble with the law. They took her to a small room to say goodbye to her ‘father’, who was handcuffed to a chair. “On the wall behind him there was a big ‘Wanted’ poster showing photos of him, my ‘mother’ and me,” says Carla. “I began to see things differently, but I still didn’t guess the truth.”
Later that night two policemen and a social worker brought a dazed Carla to the courts in Buenos Aires where a judge told her that she had been stolen from her mother, Graciela, in the government prison camp where her fake father had worked. “It was a terrible shock,” she says.
That same night the social workers introduced her to Satcha, her maternal grandmother. They embraced silently for a long time. “It was instinctive,” says Carla.
She agreed to go home with Satcha and so her new life began.
Epilogue: In 2011 Carla returned to Argentina with her children. She married, gave evidence against her fake father in his trial for abuse of her as a child, and researched her parents’ fate. She could not confirm how her father Enrique died, despite the existence of an official theory. Of her mother Graciela she knew only that she was arrested in Quito, where she herself, as a baby, was tortured in front of Graciela, and that they were both taken to the clandestine Orletti detention centre in Buenos Aires. In 2016 she began writing her autiobiography, entitled “Pedacitos de Mí” (Little Pieces of Me). Soon afterwards she developed cancer. When she died in 2017 her ashes were scattered, as she asked, in the Orletti centre, now a memorial space.
The 21st century came knocking early in Villena, in inland Alicante, thanks to a visionary experiment. I had first visited the town in 1991 to map a historical itinerary, but when I returned six years later it was to see its virtual town-hall, a world-first experiment in citizenship.
Drive west of Alicante towards Madrid and after half an hour on the motorway you reach the castle-topped historic town of Villena. Until recently visitors headed for its Renaissance town-hall for a glimpse of the ancient past: a treasure trove of Bronze Age Iberian gold unearthed here by aficionado archaeologists in the early 1960s. One of Spain’s most important early archaeological finds, it is still kept here in the town-hall’s museum annexe.
Recently, though, visitors have been climbing adjacent stairs to glimpse a new feature of life, the virtual town-hall. Here a glassed-in systems-room bulges with computer hardware, silent but powerful, which is revolutionising everyday town life.
“What does today’s citizen need to live in the global village?” asks José Emilio Cervera, director of the project. “We’re suggesting that apart from rubbish collection, planned mobility and so on, everyone needs computer hardware and some joint-venture services. Our idea is to help people see a computer as a household item, like, say, a microwave.”
The $2.45m project launched in spring 1996 with a bargain offer to residents: a desktop computer with internet connection, software, classes and three years of maintenance, all costing half the computer’s normal retail cost. Eighteen months later 2,200 computers were installed and around 40% of the town’s 30,000 residents had domestic access to one….
“What makes this project different from others,” says Cervera, “is the degree of political leadership. We believe that unless you have such leadership the arrival of an information society creates haves and have-nots.”
The local economy, structured around small to mid-sized family companies – makers of furniture, shoes, paper and ceramics, farmers and wine-makers – needs to hold its own against competitors in export markets. For that, explains Cervera, digital fluency is a key tool…
Scepticism proved the greatest hurdle, but an unexpected solution quickly solved that: many housewives were taught to use a computer by their enthused eight- to eleven-year-old children. Soon community projects included senior citizens’ dominoes and digitalised sheet music for municipal bands. Jesus Tortosa, head of the town-hall’s computer system, is responsable for making this music available on-line, with sound, to facilitate home practise and rehearsal.
Embracing these local cultural projects may help bring the project to tipping-point. “We’re keen to communicate that using a desktop computer at work doesn’t mean you have to give up eating snails and drinking wine,” says José Francisco Navarro Gabaldón, the mayor’s secretary. A broad smile spreads across his face. “In Villena we’ve known that for a long time!”
For this article I visited Cañada Real thanks to an invitation from Manuel Martín Ramirez, joint founder and then President of Asociación Nacional Presencia Gitana, a remarkable organisation working for Gitano rights, language, culture and related issues since 1972. Even today the shanty town of Cañada Real continues in the news, most recently thanks to the Defensor del Pueblo (National Ombudsman), who has raised his concern over living conditions there in the European courts.
Madrid’s shanty-towns first sprung up on the city’s fringes after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), as families came to the capital in search of work. Homes were built close to scattered water stand-pipes and wells though often no roads existed. Initially their population was balanced between rural immigrant workers and Gitanos: a 1980 government survey revealed only 55% of residents were Gitano. But in the early years of democracy that changed: by 1986 the percentage of Gitanos had risen to 95% according to Madrid’s regional housing body, set up to rehouse all 12,000 censused shanty-dwellers (chabolistas).
In the following decade events at Cañada Real, on Madrid’s eastern edges, awoke public awareness. Called “the fourth world” by social workers, the shanty-towns by now formed 44 improvised urban pockets, which were home to 2,500 to 3,000 families, an estimated 17,000 adults and children. A few of the shanty-towns, or chabolas, could be glimpsed briefly from motorways or railway lines, but one could rarely get closer.
Cañada Real was an exception to most shanty-towns’ norms. The homes, for example, were unusually built in straight lines. One Sunday afternoon, we found children playing in the late winter mud and a few pick-up trucks parked by a chapel built of plywood and cardboard.
Unlike the residents of other chabolas, the sixty families living in Cañada Real did not choose their settling place. They had been brought here in lorries by the city council one May morning in 1994 after watching council workers demolish their homes, settled since 1960. A few weeks earlier their non-Gitano neighbours had been given keys to new council flats, a pay-off: the land had been sold for development. At that time the Gitanos, too, had been promised new homes by the city’s conservative mayor, Álvarez de Manzano. It was the first of many broken promises to come.
When city-council demolition trucks turned up at at first light one May morning not long afterwards, their arrival was unannounced. The families removed their belongings as best they could, watched while their homes were destroyed and were taken to an unshaded flat field near the NIII motorway, 15km east of Madrid. There council workers were marking 30-metre plots on the field in white paint. Each family was given a plot, a few plywood sheets, and some corrugated metal roofing, and was left to build a home. No tools were given, nor help with assembling new shacks.
Three years later, when I visited, the chabolistas had upgraded their shacks with doors and window-frames improvised from scrap, but winter weather had damaged the flimsy structures. There was no running water in the shacks and 300 residents were sharing three communal standpipes. For toilets they looked for privacy in the bare field. On the opposite side of the access road stood the city’s largest rubbish dump and incinerator, and in the adjacent field was a pig farm. Nearby were older shanty-homes.
The events at Cañada Real in 1994 provoked immediate national press protests followed by renewed town-hall promises of rehousing, this time within three months. As the date approached, the timeline was extended, first until the end of the year, then for another year, till December 1995, and, finally, as that date approached, indefinitely.”
According to Medicos del Mundo, who visited the site in 1994, living conditions were by now “dangerous, noxious and unhealthy”, and responsible for a skin condition linked to toxic waste evaporation and soil seepage. Twenty dogs, numerous chickens and many pet canaries had died in the first year alone. One young shanty-dweller had also died, following a diagnosis of brain infection.
A marked sense of fatalism showed during our visit. The families, who lived from collecting and selling scrap, buying wholesale fruit and garlic for sale at street-markets, and labouring, gathered for the weekly Evangelical service held in the chapel. At the noisy afternoon celebration, attended by believers and non-believers alike, the visiting pastor declaimed, “Even if the government will not give you a home on this earth, the faithful will inherit a palace in heaven.” Hearing their exclusion articulated seemed to consoled even those who were not religious.
While Cañada Real is the most infamous of Madrid’s shanty-towns it is not the only one. When Julian Fernández Mato, the first director of the local government’s housing consortium, left his job in 1994, he succinctly summed up the reasons for the chronic failure to rehouse chabolistas in the last decade: zero political will, racism, and the Gitano community’s lack of bargaining leverage due to their low level of voting rights.
When Europe’s first mixed-sex prison wing opened in Picassent prison, near Valencia in 1990, and it proved a success, it began to make international headlines. Marie Claire magazine asked me to look at how the project worked and what resident prisoners felt. The day I spent there, with a photographer, was a humbling experience
The time is late afternoon. When a boy discreetly leaves a girl’s cell wearing a towelling dressing-gown and strolls past prisoners who stand chatting in the wide cement corridor, nobody bothers to turn and look. This is Modulo Cuatro of Valencia’s Picassent prison, Europe’s first mixed prison wing.
“Back in 1990, when we set up the wing, some people suggested that we were trying to encourage sexual relationships,” says Ms. Jabardo, director general of Spanish penitentiary affairs. “But in reality it seemed to us that living together was natural in an educational wing.”
Education underpins Spain’s penal code, as formulated by its young democratic government in 1979. Ever since all prisoners are helped to develop useful professional skill-sets while serving their sentences. Picassent, a new purpose-built prison, gave the opportunity to build a mixed residential educational wing for prisoners opting to be full-time students. Originally the idea of local prison workers, it was welcomed by the Ministry of Penitential Affairs.
“Our intention was simply to make life closer to that on the street,” continues Jabardo, “To eliminate the abrupt change between time in prison and life following release.”
The male prisoners in Modulo Cuatro are the first to endorse this analysis. “For eight years I’d only seen women at a distance,” comments Chema, 26, who came from a Galician male prison. “You know, the occasional social worker or doctor, and I’d lost the knack of how to behave with women. I was relatively lucky, I’d lived with a girlfriend before prison, but even so it took me months to adapt.”
As the number of women in the wing has increased, so relationships have blossomed, but they say prison life tests romance. “Putting up with someone every day from 8am till bedtime is very demanding,” says María José, married, separated, and three years into a sentence for armed robbery. She has a steady boyfriend in the wing. “There are no escape routes like going to work. You have to learn to make privacy in your cell, and to agree on it with your partner.”
Jabardo believes onlookers’ early scepticism was based on fear. Infact, there has been no single problematic incident between the men and women, perhaps because the prisoners value the privilege of living in the wing. “What counts is human warmth,” says Rosa, “Having someone to share the bad moments. For example, someone to hug you with real passion on New Year’s Eve … it isn’t sex but it’s wonderful.”
“Small things, like the low noise level, help the quality of life here,” says María José. “And being in a mixed group makes it far more relaxed.”
For some, however, having a boyfriend can bring a sense of release. “We’re given models of suitable behaviour to which we should conform,” comments Alicia. “On the whole we respect them, but I don’t accept it for my personal life. In the authorities’ eyes I picked the wrong boyfriend, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s my freedom, to be with whoever you want.”
Insight’s editors often asked for new features illuminating overlooked areas of culture, history or society. For a relaunch of the Spain guide in 2006 they picked up on my suggestion of an essay on Spain’s Gitanos, or Gypsies, who’d always featured in the writings of 18th-19th century diarists, like Richard Ford or George Borrow, but are curiously absent from most of today’s guides.
George Borrow wrote of the Gitanos, “I felt myself very much more at home with them than with the silent, reserved men of Spain ….” When he journeyed with them in the 1830s they had been in Spain for over 400 years yet he found them to be foreigners in their own land, clinging to their language and culture long after settling in city barrios in the 18th century ….
The Gitanos’ marginalised position is explained by their history in Spain. Persecution from 1499 was aimed at forced assimilation through restricted movement and eradication of their culture. To cite just one of a dozen laws promulgated over the centuries, Philip IV’s Pragmatic of 1633 banned Gitano language, costume, music, horse-dealing, possession of weapons, marriage and association in public on pain of life slavery. Even Charles III’s 1783 law, which granted equal rights of work and residence, made Gitano “behaviour” punishable by red-hot irons or by the death sentence. It is little wonder that half a century later Prosper Merimée found the Gypsies “astute, daring but naturally fearful of blows ….”
Today the Constitution protects the full citizens’ rights of the Spanish population of 725,000 Gitanos, but the exclusion of their children from schools and of families from public housing schemes are everyday occurences difficult to eradicate on the ground. Yet alongside this, ironically, UNESCO’s 2010 inclusion of flamenco in its world register of “immaterial culture” honours Gitano song, dance and music as one of Spain’s most distinctive contributions to world culture.
By Asa Briggs. Weidenfeld & Nicolson / BCA, London, 1983. (Paperback retitled “Penguin History of Britain and Ireland from Earliest Times to the Present Day”)
Asa riggs, who was Chancellor of the Open University and Provost of Worcester College when he wrote this book in the 1980s, took on a huge challenge when he widened his focus from the 19th century, to give a historical overview stretching from the pre-Roman period, through classic, medieval and early modern history to contemporary society. In house we used extensive picture research, graphics and integrated design techniques to build a clustered visual narrative punctuating the text. The year after publication the book became the highest-selling UK hardback (1984) and even today the updated paperback edition is still in circulation.
“This is real history. Informative, informed…. comprehensive.” The Sunday Times
“The visual material is excellently chosen and superbly produced.” Times Literary Supplement
In the 1970s English language-teaching texts rooted in local life were a priority for the New Hebrides’ British Ministry of Education. These, based on local story-telling, were the brainchild of senior adviser Alan Roberts. To create them stories from around the islands were recorded in their original oral form, then brought into English calibrated at different reading ages by specialist advisors. I lent a hand with the type, graphic design, production and editorial structure.
As the New Hebrides approached Independence in 1980, secession was declared on the island of Espiritu Santo. While European headlines jokingly nicknamed events the “bow and arrow rebellion”, there were deeper colonial historical roots, as analysed in this book by John Beasant, personal secretary to incoming prime minister Walter Lini. Beasant was given full access to political papers, but wanted to give a backdrop involving historical and anthropological research. This, then, was a job as researcher, managing and text editor.
Award-winning director Amanda Blue journeyed to California, India and Spain to talk to women who gave birth to children late in life. She filmed the women’s accounts, avoiding judgement, but depicted the distinct ethical issues and attitudes raised in each culture. Research in Spain led to María del Carmen Bousada de Lara, mother to twins at the age of 68. The interview with Carmen and her toddlers was poignant since she had advanced cancer. But she had no regrets regarding the decisions that she had taken to have fertility treatment and give birth.
More info coming soon.
However high the turnover of English mugs of tea in Benidorm, it remains an eminently Spanish town. I first glimpsed it as a child, driving down the coastal road in a camper-van with my family: the unexpected high-rise blocks beyond the wild headland to the town’s north were as exciting as a glimpse of New York. When I went returned for Insight Guides thirty years later, this is what I found at dusk, as I watched Benidorm’s evening paseo flow along the sea-front.
Most people who have been to Benidorm will admit, though reluctantly, that even if you don’t like package tourism there’s a fascination in the style with which it is done here. It has a sassy spirit, sometimes compared to Miami, morphing within its home-grown tourist mecca.
Drive into town at sunset as the bathers are drifting away from the beach and, as dark cloaks the sea, the towering Hotel Bali – all fifty-two storeys – beams from the back of town like an urban lighthouse alongside its taller new sibling, the Intempo. As music spills from seafront cafés where senior citizens turn a neat waltz or tango, the paseo begins. Mini-skirted girls twice the height of their grandmothers, old men in berets and women flicking open fans stroll along the seafront at that instinctive pace distinguishing a paseo from a walk. And, as they pasear, Spaniards take in the town.
Step down on to the sand and you’ll find a small part of the human machine that works day and night to keep the resort going. As the bathers leave at sunset a small army of rubbish collectors takes to the beach. Much later, after midnight, dumper trucks will move in for the long job of sifting and oxygenating the sand while night and day a filter sucks in, cleans and monitors the sea water in the bay. For Benidorm has long known that its greatest assets are its sweeping double crescents of white sand and the benign microclimate around which it grew from a tiny fishing village to a purpose-built high-rise resort.
As dark falls the neon lights are switched on in L’Aigüera park. Electric blue and white, a reflection of the dusk sky, they profile the park’s neo-classical contours. Designed by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill in the 1980s, the park was a pioneering gesture, a small-scale avant-garde implant in a package-holiday destination that had scarcely considered flagship architecture. In retrospect its postmodern lines, terraced within a river gorge, revealed the kernel of the new city. Leaving both this and the Hotel Bali in the past, a new structure now declares Benidorm’s 21st-century intentions. Measuring between 198m and 202m – the press debate this point – the Intempo block, in reality two twinned towers, is not just the highest residential building in Spain, but in Europe.
On a journey around Castile León’s vineyards in 1998 I had the luck to meet two superlative winemakers, Alejandro Fernández in the Ribera del Duero and Manuel Fariñas in Toro. My long conversations with them, and especially with Alejandro Fernández, left me wondering whether human character should be considered as a defining element of wine terroir along with geography, culture and history. Here’s part of the essay I wrote, covering the section of the journey during which I met Fernández.
Curving like a silver and bottle-green snake, the River Duero winds quietly across the valley where vineyards are planted. Only when you drive up to the pastures below the low cliffs edging the valley, or gaze down from castles and villages perched above the river, are the abrupt changes of altitude clear. The vineyards are most densely planted along a hundred kilometre stretch of the valley on the north bank west of Aranda de Duero, a medieval crossroads town. Buckling and erosion have left patchy alluvial clay and sand over chalky bedrock, and vineyards eat into the stands of pine, the wheat and sugar beet fields that once looked set to replace the vines.
Archaeologists suggest that vine-growing here dates back to pre-Roman times, but today’s wine-making goes back to the medieval vineyards planted when the river became a defensive line between the reconquered Christian north and the Moslem territories. Monasteries built near river settlements grew vines, made and supplied wine to monks, front-line soldiers and colonists, but the vines’ sacred symbolism was soon overtaken by their commercial value.
As the preamble of a 1590 Valladolid statute put it, wine was ‘the principal matter and business of this city and its lands’. French 20th-century historian Fernand Braudel cited one source estimating that Valladolid’s citizens knocked back an average of a hundred litres of wine a year in 1650 at the same time that Aranda del Duero’s bodegas are said to have produced 6 million litres of wine annually.
What, then, were the early wines like? In this part of the Duero most were white although in Toro, further west, towards Portugal, they were purply-black reds. Then, as drinking fashions shifted to follow the French preference, the bodegas began to make claretes, or rosés tinted the colour of cranberry juice by black grapes thrown into the press. Hence the name of the Ribera’s emblematic native variety: Tinta del País.
A small thin-skinned grape, Tinta developed its native character by slow adaptation to the growing conditions: marked changes of altitude and temperature. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, all planted here in the last century.
But it is Tinta, probably planted by medieval monks from the same rootstock as Tempranillo, which gives Ribera’s reds their place on the map. It produces young wines’ heady fruitiness, ruby color and rich aromas, as well as the balance of tannins, acids and fruit which make for sensational maturing.
Its full potential was discovered thanks to one man, Eloy Lacanda y Chaves, who replanted it on a small estate named Vega Sicilia in 1864. The wines made with it became, and still are, legendary although it was another century before Tinta del País became the basis of today’s Ribera del Duero denomination, founded in 1982.
A modern winemaker also played a key role in the area’s leap to making fine wines: Alejandro Fernández. He learned bodega skills with his father, treading grapes by foot and pressing them with a wooden beam-press. The wines sold well and in 1982 he applied self-taught knowledge to put together a modern hangar-like bodega on a shoestring budget. Today you can still see the old 16th-century press, and the hand-welded steel fermentation vats and deposits in the storage warehouse close to the overhead crane system eliminating lost aisle space. Both the welding and overhead crane system were Fernández’s own work. It was only a few years later that his wine, called Pesquera, was discovered by independent American wine critic Robert Parker, who declared it one of Europe’s best. It has kept that reputation ever since.
As time went by Alejandro’s daughters helped him to run the bodega, where supply cannot meet worldwide demand, but he remained a hands-on, full-time maker. To explain the terroir and his buying in of grapes he took me on a car drive up to the valley’s high pastures….
The wine deposits at Pesquera are still manually operated. By whom, I asked? “By me, of course,» commented Fernández, with a wry grin. “Otherwise I’d make wine like everybody else.” Impressed, I ask: is it difficult? He grins, shakes his head and points to his nose and eyes.
Epilogue: In 2021 Alejandro Fernandez died at the age of 88, leaving the bodegas, vineyards and winery-hotel of Bodegas Fernández-Rivera as a flourishing family business run by his wife and daughters.
Getting a grip on the contours of Tarragona province is not as easy as it may look when viewed from the coast. At first sight the mountainous inland areas merge into one dramatic silhouette, but once you’re immersed in them they reveal cheek-by-jowl pockets of distinct landscapes: the rust and emerald hills of La Terra Alta, the slate-black slopes of El Priorat, the small but craggy Serra de Prades and undulating pastures of the Conca de Barberà….
El Priorat, often called Priorato in the rest of Spain, is an administrative comarca, but for Catalans the real El Priorat is a core of eight villages perched between swooping, steeply terraced vineyards on harsh, slate-black hills. Founded and protected by Escaladei, the first Carthusian monastery in Spain, which grew to glory from the 12th century, the villages have survived harsh times. The monastery’s closure in the 1830s due to the national distentailment of religious orders was the first of various economic blows. Phylloxera followed, destroying the vineyards, then came the slow closure of the lead mines – and the villages struggled through a century and a half of poverty.
Today the villages remain a self-contained cluster sitting within a bowl-like horizon shaped by a particular history of wine-making. Only a few decades ago, as the arrival of democracy nurtured a vineyard revolution, the wines here were considered rustic, so intense they were best used for assemblage blending. Now they are some of Spain’s most expensive and prestigious. The vines’ roots tunnel deep, tentacle-like, running metres down into dry, black slaty hills to suck up water, minerals and other nutrients. At Torroja there is a small private wine museum and an altar made from an olive press; at Bellmunt a Modernist house; at Gratallops a cooper still works. The Cartuja de Escaladei itself is a superbly romantic ruin overgrown by ivy and the wild herbs from which the monks once made medicines in their apothecary.
To the west, El Priorat is bounded by the snaking Ebro Valley. You can view it best from the cornice road winding high along the left bank through peach, cherry and plum orchards. Until rail and road became the main highways here, the river was the major commercial route along which coal, oil, wine and almonds journeyed downstream in punts and barges, and rice and salt were pulled back upstream. An early dam dating back to the Muslim centuries limited the starting point of journeys, but even today river ferries chug back and forth carrying everyday local passengers between Miravet and Amposta.
These days it’s the water power – some 154,000 gallons, or 700,000 litres every second – which ensures the valley’s prosperity. It powers a nuclear complex and industries around Flix, it provides drinking water for Tarragona city (at a price), and it creates the unique landscape and ecosytem of the wide-horizoned watery delta.
The valley has paid dearly for its role as a natural frontier in wartime…. The right bank, which arcs eastward, became a battlefield in 1938, in the Battle of the Ebro, much of which was fought in freezing temperatures. The fighting left massive casualties – estimates hover around 100,000 – and many villages destroyed by Nationalist bombing. A stone needle marks the spot where General Franco directed the battle from the heights near Gandesa, just west of riverside Móra d’Ebre; a bizarre iron monument stands as commemoration in the middle of the river at Tortosa, a conservative town with a large old Jewish quarter, smart cake shops and a botanical park. The town’s feelings on the monument are ever more divided: a local plan to remove it was halted legally in 2021.
Neither of these monuments, however, have the emotional power of Corbrera de Ebro, a ruined village just west of Gandesa, now left as a silent witness to the destruction of wartime bombing. The small-scale ruins, uncrowded, set in landscape little changed since the 1930s, are a more chilling reminder of war’s destruction than any museum or monuments. Afterwards you can recover your spirits with a visit to the art nouveau wine cooperatives at Gandesa and Pinell de Brai – the latter nicknamed ‘the cathedral of wine’ – where you can buy the local musky vi blanc.
By now you have made your way into a second pocket of the sierras, the Terra Alta hills, painted by Picasso on his visits here.
The question I’m asked most often by friends or family who visit Madrid is: how do people get by with so little sleep? The second question is: where can we pick up some good tapas? Here’s the answer to the second question, written in a circular way.
As journalist Pedro Soleras jokingly explained in El País in the early 1990s, Madrid has its own tapas ritual. «The tapa, invented in an age less obsessed with productivity, is a trick for spending time over your aperitivo drinks while avoiding getting drunk. It’s also of primordial interest to visitors. If you don’t want to look like a yokel, refrain from pointing with your fingers and instead ask for one of this or one of that, and so on …. and don’t get scared when the waiter raises his voice: he’s not shouting at you, but at the kitchen. If you want the people with you to hear, raise your own volume. If you don’t, it’s suspicious. You shouldn’t leave your olive stones on the plate either. Fling them on the floor.»
A second vital element of the ritual is to move from one bar to another. Madrid veteran Anselmo Santos once advised me as we walked to tapear in the old style that one should visit as many bars as there are stations of the cross.
In modern times, though, like many time-consuming things in this now hurried city, the ritual has been trimmed – in this case to just three or four stop-offs.
The basics, though, are the same: at each tapas bar locals pick one or two specialities together with a drink, usually matched to the flavours of the food. You can ask for a pincho (more or less a mouthful), a tapa (a saucerful or so), a ración (small plateful) or, in some places, a media ración, a useful half-measure for those whose eyes are bigger than their appetite.
At this point visitors reach their main point: which tapas “bar” do they want to visit? You can play it safe and follow others’ recommendations, but it’s more fun to walk into your own selection of bars. Not that it’s always easy for in Madrid you are spoiled for choice. In the year 2021, even after Covid, there were over 31,000 bars and restaurants in Madrid region, and nearly 5,900 in the city, more or less one for every hundred of the city’s inhabitants.
Don’t be misled, however, by the simplicity of the Spanish word ‘bar’.
For madrileños the word disguises an entire culture. A bar may be a tavern, also called a tasca, with an old zinc or marble bar, vermouth and soda on tap, or a tiny dining room with signs on the wall forbidding spitting, dancing and singing.
A tavern may also occasionally disguise a cultural visit: Casa Labra, just off the Puerta del Sol, is not just a packed bar and dining room serving deep-fried salt-cod, but also the place where the socialist party was founded in 1898. Another variant of a bar is a bodega, or cellar, where wine was once served from barrels lined up against splashproof tiled walls, or it can be a cervecería, a beer bar where the tapas are displayed under glass on a long stainless-steel bar, or it may be a vinoteca, one of a new breed of wine bars that take their stock seriously and match it with the flavours of their tapas.
Other bars are of special interest for foodies, sometimes called fudies by Spanish journalists. There is, for example, the freiduría, dedicated to frying, and the marisquería, or shellfish-bar, and the pulpería, or octopus bar. The best shellfish and octopus bars are usually owned by Galicians who serve seafood caught in their home region and hang soccer pennants on the wall. In this streetwise foodie bracket one can also include the market bar, run by early-risers who work wonders with a two-foot square plancha (a griddle), or its new-wave version, created since the turn of the century, ethnic or avant-garde and even, occasionally, sporting a Michelin star.
Last but not least, of course, there is the multi-purpose corner bar, a dignified institution and bastion of barrio life threatened in some areas by high rents. Here neighbours talk, argue, play cards, keep spare keys, grab a coffee, watch big soccer games and satisfy thirst or hunger from the early morning till late at night.
It’s here, in these unassuming bars, that you sometimes find the best old-fashioned Spanish tortillas or potato omelettes, which, thanks to high turnover of demand, avoid reheating in a microwave oven. Golden-brown on the top, maybe with a little sweated onion, they should still be just a little juicy, even sticky with runny egg yolk, on the inside.
Eyewitness guides included groundbreaking 3D drawings of key architectural sights: in this case, for example, Toledo cathedral. Briefing these and providing texts for integrated design gave a fresh focus on exploration in regions on which I had not previously written.
A ragged sliver of rock, Formentera may seem to contain little of the scenic or cultural interest found elsewhere in the Balearics. As the islanders themselves put it, “te molt poca cosa que veure”. There is little to see. So it may seem if you focus on buildings: a handful of ruined watch-towers, a few windmills and three fortress churches. But inland the uncluttered horizons, tipping from simplicity into raw harshness, criss-crossed by dry-stone walls, give the island a rare sense of landscape as art.
A brief ferry-ride from Ibiza, the smallest of the Balearic islands, Formentera used to conjure up images of sheltered coves and huddled towns, but now the focus tends to be on its spits of sand where privately owned mega-yachts may anchor for a day or two. Inland, though, walking or driving around a mesmerising network of dirt-track roads lined by dry stone walls, modernity recedes and the landscape becomes atemporal.
The island’s main link with the outside world remains its port, La Savina, named after the Phoenician juniper trees once growing all over the island…. From here a road runs to Sant Francesc Xavier, sometimes called the island’s capital, in reality a swollen village with a ritzy feel in summer when shabby-chic fashion does good business alongside the fishmongers. The high-walled 18th-century fortress church and the gracious library are reminders of life as it was before electricity, the telephone and tourism arrived in one fell swoop in the late fifties.
A short drive away is Sant Ferrán, the centre of the island’s vineyards and of alternative culture. It is said that the hippies who discovered the island in the 1960s first gravitated here not just for the wine, served at the legendary bar, Fonda Pepe, but to stay beyond the reach of the guardia civil, who operated from Sant Frances Xavier by bicycle. Finally a couple of police men hired one of the island’s taxis, roared down to Fonda Pepe at top speed and made their first marijuana arrests….It remains a living museum of post-sixties Spanish youth culture, with an easygoing supply of loud music and barflies, but also a restaurant serving what’s known as cocina de siempre, or everyday cooking that has been around a long time. Elsewhere on the island, alternative lifestyle has slowly drifted up to world luxury level, mega-yachts included.
Ironically, the island’s oldest known human monument, a dolmen dating from 1600 BC, stands close to a fully fledged resort, Es Pujols, where the hotel’s first beach hotel was built only decades ago. Now beer gardens and club-hotel bungalows engulf the old watchtower, but the dolmen, a ring of upright stone slabs, still stands alone.
Archaeologists came upon it in 1976 together with human remains, ceramics, jewellery and axes typical of a sophisticated Bronze-Age culture. These finds, along with those at another forty sites on the island, suggest there was fertile forest here, stripped away even before the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans used the rocky island as a military outpost….
The island’s most peaceful parts are those where access to the beaches is by foot, with a long climb back up from the sea on the peninsulas at either end, shaped like the snout and tail of a dolphin. Most people speed over the tail, La Mola, a limestone plateau, and pause only for a quick look at the lighthouse and an unexpected monument to Jules Verne, who set part of a novel here. Today, however, La Mola is earning fame for its organic vineyards and craft workshops, including those of hip jewellers.
On the island’s snout, Cabo Barberia, it is worth lingering where the cliffs are splashed with pink when the frígola, or thyme, is in blossom. Here, looking to sea between two well-preserved 18th century watch towers standing in splendid solitude, it is impossible not to feel the centuries of defensive isolation underlying the tourist playground, even in the high season when the island is over-run by an international crowd of teenagers on motorbikes.
The pleasures of reshaping and updating the existing guide included commissioning new themed pieces on topics from football to city barrios worth a journey from Madrid’s centre; contributing new pieces myself – for example, on historic gardens – and reworking Insight’s classic essays designed to help visitors explore each city quarter.
Michelin designed a 21st-cemtury relaunch of their English language guide for “people who want to see more”. Within their commission they asked for new conceptualised takes: a cross-cultural sampling of contemporary Spain and a series of angled cultural driving tours.
Each edition of Insight’s original award-winning country guide to Spain has expanded to take in areas that were little known when the book was first published in the 1980s. Castellón seemed a priority deserving its own space: its little known fishing ports and resorts, the hill towns of the Maestrazgo, its natural parks, archaeology, spas and underground river are all still astonishingly unspoiled and little known.
Galicia was the first place in Spain that I visited as a thinking adult. Friends from Lugo invited me, and their love for the region and culture was so palpable and big-hearted that it rubbed off on me. One day they took me to Santiago and we roamed the old town. Its history as a pilgrimage city, a Renaissance university town and early modern tourist destination, then, in our own time, as an administrative capital and Celtic cultural hub, gives it a chameleon-like character. Cosmopolitan and free-spirited, its life is at other times marked by an unmissable spiritual heartbeat.
On my first visit to Santiago everyone told me that I needed to see the city in the rain. Twenty years later I went back and the rain came.
The granite-paved streets gleamed softly in the fine drizzle while local pedestrian life ticked over quietly under umbrellas. The faint shine on old flagstones and softness of the light seemed to explain locals’ view: in their city, rain is art.
The first medieval town here grew around the supposed discovery in 813 of St James’s tomb, an event debunked by historians as a political manoeuvre and a myth. But the people of Santiago breathed life into the myth, honoured it with church-building, commerce and more myths, and as a major pilgrimage city it became one of Europe’s first tourist destinations.
Within the cathedral’s golden shell its interior is shadowy. Its architecture, by French Benedictines, was originally as functional as decorative, designed to ease the management of visits by crowds of pilgrims.
Wide unbroken accesses, unusual in medieval times, eased the flow of visitors and large upper galleries provided sleeping space. A gigantic 70-kilo incense burner, the famed botafumeiro, was introduced to help smother the whiff of unwashed pilgrims’ bodies. The original one was stolen by Napoleon’s troops, but it was quickly replaced by a replica, which swings dramatically at daily mass in Años Santos (Holy Years), reaching speeds of up to 70 kph (44 mph).
According to the Spanish church’s auditors, the Cathedral is its most valuable property. Yet it is also unquestionably an everyday place of worship. Galicians use it on a daily basis. They walk in humbly, wrapped in their own thoughts, oblivious to the crowds of tourists. Wander into the 9th-century Capilla de Santa María la Antigua de Corticela, and you will find prayers, written on slips of paper by students who are sitting exams. They lay these at the feet of the chapel’s Romanesque Christ to whom they are written.
Among the cathedral’s treasures are its original Romanesque doorway, or Pórtico de la Gloria (Gateway to Heaven), where a crowd of over 200 figures leap in relief, carved in golden stone. A glutton in hell snacks on a pie and musicians in the heavenly choir doze on medieval instruments. Step inside the doorway, which has been extensively restored since 2010, and you will find pilgrims ritually tapping their foreheads against a statue of Maestro Mateo, who carved the door: this is pilgrims’ homage to the master architect.
Like the rainshine on granite and the prayers on scraps of paper, touching your forehead to the sculpture of Maestro Mateo, forehead to his creative power, is also part of the city’s magical realism: local custom has it that it is a way of picking up and carrying away a little of the maestro’s genius. Hence the stone is worn away, touched literally hundreds of thousands of times.
The book took a new approach to the Costa Blanca, or alicantino coastline, emphasizing it as a wonderful starting point for exploring the interior, or inland areas of sierras, plains and historic cities. It seemed sensible to follow geography rather than regional divides and I included routes into the neighbouring region of Murcia. Yes, the guidebook included beaches, but also museum treasures, a palm forest and, of course, good eating.
One of Madrid’s most seductive features is its compact scale: you can walk nearly everywhere or hop on a bus or underground metro to explore the old town dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, or the famed Paseo del Arte where four world-rated museums sit cheek by jowl, or the bustling nightlife neighbourhoods where locals fill the bars and restaurants, or the hip shopping streets where young fashion brands are born. The idea of this book was to weave all these into itineraries to give maximum accessibility in just a few days.
This was the third of the trilogy of city pocket guides that I wrote for Insight. In the time since the first one the landscape of tourism had changed and for Valencia it was possible to create cultural itineraries, both urban and rural, using only public bus and rail available to anyone at a bargain price. However, many itineraries were on foot. The wonderful old town, one of the largest in Europe, much of it late medieval, specked with classical Roman remains, is still relatively little known, and the book put special emphasis on its artistic treasures and the lesser known historic gardens, parks and food markets.
More info coming soon.
Catherine Coleman was a dynamic figure in Madrid’s art scene in the 1990s, working a 12-hour day (or longer) to embrace the private gallery scene and bring its artists and gallerists into contact with public collections. She always spoke her mind, and had built her practical work on a strong theoretical framework, so seemed a good pick for an interview on the Spanish scene. We talked on a searingly hot August day, and I then crunched her perceptive comments. In 2021 the interview was digitalised in full, but below I’ve also selected three distilled gems among her comments.
Interview in full: https://www.focusphotomag.com/curatorinterviews/catherine-coleman/
“Spain has not been a forward-looking country until relatively recent times, and there was not a great deal of wealth here in the first half of the 20th century. Photography is a very expensive sport, or hobby, so in Spain it was the upper-middle classes who began playing around with it. That produced some very good and little known photography…. The first important exhibition, held in the late 1990s, was of work by the Spanish pictorialist photographer Ortiz Echagüe, a contemporary of Stieglitz – so let’s say, that put down a marker on Spain’s contribution to photography history in the early 20th century…. [also in the collection] there is great Spanish photography from the 1950s that goes very well with informalist painting….”
“What is very obvious, I think, is that in the very early 1970s, Spanish photographers became very aggressive and began photographing the Spanish urban scene, music and alternative lifestyle. This is well before Franco’s death, so I don’t think it’s an issue of before and after the dictatorship at all. There was a lot of irreverence and large doses of Spanish black humour, bordering on the surrealistic and linking back to Buñuel. I enjoy that very much. Spaniards love to take issue with themselves over Catholicism or lack of social progress…..Whenever I can, I go down and make sure the Luis Buñuel classic short movie on show in our collection is working well because I think it’s fabulous. You realise what surrealism was really about when you see that movie. Just near it we have Man Ray’s photograph of Max Ernst, who appears in the movie for two seconds. That is an example of how we can bring things together.”
“Photography is not a pure art. It was born a bastard and it changes all the time through its relationships with the chemical, optical and electronic industry. Where is that going to end up? I would love to do something that presents that question to a general public, a show getting away from the snapshot on the wall. I would like to go over the collection and reveal a very wide range of work in which there is some incidence of photography….Photography is all over the map, it was born that way – born to be ubiquitous. Well, let’s recognize that.”
Frank Gehry is taking a break from television crews on the riverbank in downtown Bilbao. Behind him work is going on around the clock to finish the museum he has designed: the opening by Spanish King Juan Carlos is due in a few weeks time. The project has sparked debate, but the depth of architect Gehry’s involvement signalled from the word go that something thought-provoking was underway. For this piece I interviewed, among others, sculptor Gehry, sculptor Richard Serra, and Guggenheim director Thomas Krens.
Gehry has no reason to be nervous about the critical reception of his work in Bilbao. Fellow architect Philip Johnson has already called the mass of curved metallic forms “the greatest building of our time”. Yet Gehry seems to think it’s more important that the city’s residents have taken a liking to the gleaming titanium-clad building.
Designed as an inner-city implant sitting on the River Nervión’s abandoned industrial waterfront, the museum’s sculptural profile erupts above the city’s bourgeois grid of streets. Viewed from the opposite riverbank, its curving titanium-scaled walls evoke memories of shipbuilding, the steel industry and the fishing fleet that once fuelled the city’s economy.
“I sketched the main outline in ten days,” says Gehry affably. “But the miracle was getting it built.”
It is indeed miraculous that Guggenheim director Thomas Krens persuaded Basque politicians to come up with $171 million for such a high-risk arts venture. Considered by some a genius and others a megalomaniac, Krens had established an expansionist policy as director at the Guggenheim Foundation in 1988, but his early attempts to set up branches in Massachussetts and Salzburg, and to expand the museum in Venice, all foundered.
When Basque politicians first announced the 1991 deal, with Gehry’s design sewn into the package, it met with strong local opposition. Sculptor Jorge Oteiza summed up the project as an “extravagant Disneyland”. Now, though, nobody in Bilbao, even Oteiza, doubts that Gehry’s building is a world landmark.
However, much is at stake for the museum’s opening next month. That’s the moment when the art on show there is revealed. There’s already been one disappointment. Three months ago it was decided that Picasso’s emblematic canvas Guernica would not be lent to help boost attendance figures. Since the picture returned to Spain from New York in 1981 Basque politicians have argued their moral right to borrow the giant canvas depicting Franco’s 1937 civil bombing of Guernica, the historic seat of their parliament just 19 km from Bilbao. But it has always remained in Madrid, first at the Prado museum, Picasso’s choice, and then at the Reina Sofía, to help its visitor figures.
Congress voted in favour of its loan to the Guggenheim in June but the Reina Sofía Museum’s trustees overturned the decision through a fast turn-around technical report suggesting the painting was too damaged to make the journey.
Ultimately, the episode may have worked to the Basques’ advantage. Now the pressure is on Krens to make a spectacular showing from the Guggenheim’s own resources.
Some artists due to be shown in its contemporary galleries are confident. “There’s no other museum like this,” comments Richard Serra, the American sculptor, one of whose giant iron sculptures was the first work installed in June. “Frank’s providing another kind of playground for artists. It sets a new potential on the possibility of scale.” The largest gallery, more than 100 metres long, magnifies the impact of the art it contains, but does not compete with it.
Whether or not the museum will have the pulling power it needs is another question. Will the Basque public, targeted as 40% of the 700,000 visitors needed for 1997-8, pay $5 for a ticket?
A local joke captures the lingering scepticism. One Bilbaino asks another if he knows how many millions El Guggenheim has cost. «Whatever the price, it’s fine by me just as long as he can score goals,» comes the reply.
Epilogue: Following unanimous critical acclaim at the time of opening, Guggenheim Bilbao pulled in over a million visitors within the first ten months and its success has continued to grow. In 2022 it achieved well over a million visitors. In 2023 it celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Fashion forecasting wasn’t a well-known business when Promostyl let me into their think-tank in Paris in the 1980s. “Forecasting used to be wrapped in mystique as if it was crystal-ball gazing,” says Sebastien de Deisbach, then president of Promostyl. But in the 21st century it has spilled over into every area of culture and commerce. “Yet the sources are general information,” adds de Deisbach. “The skill is in the way you interpret them.”
The idea that fashion can be predicted two years in advance is hard to swallow. We want to believe that we make individual spontaneous choices. But you stop and wonder when you discover who uses forecasting. Promostyl’s 3,000 clients [in 1988] include Levi’s and Estée Lauder in the USA and, in Britain, Marks & Spencer, Boots, Revlon, Mary Quant, Conran Design, Filofax and Jaeger.
The company was set up in 1966, the year of Courrèges’ futuristic moongirl and Yves St Laurent’s first ready-to-wear collection. Textile consultant Françoise Vincent-Ricard spotted the potential for making sure that textile and accessory manufacturers understood what fashion designers would need in their workshops a year later and what clothes buyers would want to find in the shops twelve months after that. Reasoning that everyone stood to benefit, she set up a small team with six textile manufacturers for clients.
Today  Promostyl has 25 offices scattered around the world, a cosmopolitan team of 60 analysts and designers in Paris, and a turnover of 37 million francs a year. Its employees act as cultural radar, sending soundings back to the Paris office. In a single day, New York may send photographs of Manhattan bike messengers and recycled winter clothes, Berlin may write on the work of a young painter, and Sao Paolo may report on balcony “rooms”. Some influential elements are obvious: movies being filmed for release a year later, events in the arts, economics and politics, and migration. Others, like a retrospective of a little known American colourist painter from the 1950s, may seem obscure. Recently there has been an emphasis on environmental awareness.
De Deisbach, in his fifties, makes the mashing and distillation of worldwide cultural signs sound easy. «It isn’t difficult to get hold of the right information – to find the signs, if you like.» Infact, one suspects, it depends on very skilled eyes and judgement.
Only selective attention is given to designer fashion. Once in a blue moon, he says, something on the catwalk changes everything – Azzedine Aläia’s or Vivienne Westwood’s resculpturing of the body, for example. But it is rare for fashion to create, as opposed to ride, the wave.
The basis for Promostyl’s method is to assume that fashion is culture, and so use analysis like that of Left Bank semiologists. The selection of what is significant depends on converging signs of collective moods and desires; hence the focus is on underlying currents that may take years to surface. Talking about the 1990s zeitgeist, de Deisbach comments, “It’s a breakdown of modernism. Ignoring the past is no longer modern.” Classicism in refined surroundings, the decline in Americanism, and the revival of interest in ‘Old Europe’ are all signs.
“Young people’s interest in the theatre, opera and neo-classical architecture is on the rise too,” says Lysianne de Royère, “as is the vogue for the prewar influence in restaurant and club decor, and the arrival of the Gothic novel.”
Since the 1960s the company’s think-tank has evolved. In the seventies sociologists and marketing consultants joined the team. In the eighties artists became involved, computer graphics were incorporated, and the ‘trend books’ condensing forecasting predictions multiplied and became specialised.
“That is the most difficult bit of what we do,” comments de Diesbach, “How do you explain the significance of Jean Paul Gaultier putting men in high heels and skirts to a ready-to-wear manufacturer in the north of England and a German sportswear specialist? The feminisation of men’s dress is affecting every market segment, but making the bridge from our ideas to others’ reality can be difficult.
Epilogue: a 2016 email conversation with Rikke Rosbaek, fashion-forecaster, California
V: Hi Rikke, do you think this article is still relevant? Your perspective is valuable because you see things from both sides of the pond….
Rikke:Yes, I think the article is still very current, but these days kids connect and create around the globe via the web, so what corporates calls ‘trends’ move faster. They’re no longer new by the time companies interpret them.
V: Where does that leave forecasters?
Rikke:In-house. Companies which don’t pay attention to forecasters now, more than ever, may find themselves left curbside.
V: What are the big 21st-century shifts in taste?
Rikke:The emphasis on the environment is gonna be second nature to us all in the near future. The fact that corporations stand to make a lot of money on people trying to do the right thing is debated, but if the results help to save our future, it’ll be accepted. Big waves on the environment have been created only recently, but we’re already seeing reactions like the focus on the primitive and home-made, on safety and comfort. All that’s logical.
In 1994 Portugal’s isolated Côa valley, 400 km northeast of Lisbon, hit the world’s headlines when archaeologists began to map large-scale open-air rock-art etched here between 10,000 and 22,000 years ago. The engravings, unprecedented in size and extent, were initially found at rock faces at twenty sites scattered along the isolated, semi-wild valley. Yet, from the moment they were discovered they were also threatened, due to be flooded by a $366 million hydroelectric dam. The future hung in the balance when I visited. If archaeologists could prove the world importance of the engravings, they would be saved. If not, they would be submerged.
Foz Côa, as the Côa valley is called in Portuguese, was known abroad only to fine port connoisseurs until 1994. In past centuries some of its slopes were slowly, painstakingly hand-laboured into terraced and now valuable vineyards. Then, following the discovery of its rock engravings, UNESCO experts came to visit, a year of national debate followed and building work on the hydroelectric dam planned here was suspended. Archaeologists scrambled to assess the site.
“We now have to consider, I believe,” comments João Zilhão, a professor of archaeology at Lisbon university and the project’s coordinator, “that large areas of the European landscape may have been decorated in this way.”
Smaller similar open-air engravings, found since 1981 in France, Spain and Portugal, had been considered isolated exceptions.
“I think our knowledge has been skewed by climate change. Open-air rock-art would have been destroyed by the Ice Age or freeze-thaw climates in northern Europe. It survived here only because of the valley’s Mediterranean microclimate, the resistant schist bedrock and surrounding isolated wilderness.”
Older people from Foz Côa say the unterraced banks of the nearby River Douro, of which the Côa is a tributary, were heavily “tattooed” until submerged by damming in 1983. They recall those etchings’ primitive beauty. Here, in Foz Côa, examined closely, they reveal previously unknown early artistic techniques, like the use of various overlaid heads on one animal to convey animation-style movement.
Collectively the engravings pose a riddle: why are some rock faces packed with etchings and others left bare? “The clusterings during millennia suggest some sites harboured long-term mythological importance,” comments Zilhã. “That may have been linked to the sun’s movements, to economic territory, or to hunting messages for future generations. We hope to discover in time. These are still early days.”
Epilogue: In 2006 work on the Côa HEP dam was suspended and four years later the Museo Do Côa, designed to show the rock engravings as the earliest known Land Art, was opened to the public. Displays also explain the valley’s viticulture. Since then the valley has gone on to be identified as a biodiversity hotspot and plans are advancing to develop it as a wildlife corridor along the Portuguese-Spanish frontier.
I’d been planning to write on the Osborne bulls for a long time when they became news in 1994: their future was threatened by new highway safety legislation. Spaniards were rallying around to save all 97 bulls, but nobody was very optimistic what their fate might be at the time I wrote this first short piece. However by the time I developed it as a full-spread Spanish feature for the Sunday cultural section of El Mundo, the bulls’ prospects were looking up. Their acquired status as public art was emerging, and so, too, was the affection they inspired at home and abroad.
The black metal hoardings, more than 12 metres high, have stood above main roads for nearly 40 years and they are part of the national landscape. But under by-laws whch come into force this week Spain is likely to lose its famous roadside bull-silhouette hoardings, which will beome illegal roadside advertising.
Originally designed to advertise Veterano, a brandy made by the Andalusian wine-and-spirits company Osborne, the bulls have been under threat since 1988, when legislation banned all advertising visible from national highways beyond the limits of urban areas. Osborne cautiously painted over the brand name to leave a plain silhouette and the government took no action.
“The decision was postponed because the law was unuclear whether or not to ban advertisements with no writing,” explains the ministry responsable for public works and environment.
However, under new regulations “any element of an advertising installation” is prohibited by national highways. The ministry has stressed that each of the surviving 97 bulls would be looked at as a separate case, but since they are all eyecatchingly sited on hilltops, cliffs or mountainsides, apart from a few now engulfed by urban sprawl, they are likely to become extinct.
“Clearly we have no legal defence but we’ll try to save them all,” says Osborne’s Claire Filhol. “We’ll try to show that the bull is no longer identified with any product, and has become assimilated into the landscape.”
Another possibility is that the Junta de Andalucia, or regional goverment, could apply to list the bulls as cultural heritage. Osborne’s bodegas are in the Puerto de Santa María, close to Jérez, and Manuel Prieto, the bulls’ creator, was born and studied art there. The idea has been discussed, but no action has yet been taken.
The decision to sacrifice the bulls would not be a popular one. In 1998 Osborne ran a well-publicised poll in which 75% of Spaniards objected to plans to elminate them. The public considered that they were “typically Spanish, aesthetic, do not disturb and were not conceived as advertising.”
Emilio Gil, a graphic designer who has helped to compile and design a book intended as homage to the bull, explains why he thinks it hits such a national nerve. “You cannot remain indifferent to it. It’s not a threatening image, but it makes you ask questions – why is it there, why is it so black and huge. It’s very Spanish, or rather it is Spain – a strong, memorable, composite image of Spain.”
“I should emphasize that the Osborne bull is nothing to do with bullfighting,” says Filhol. “The whole point is that it’s a mythological bull, the one Picasso and Miró painted, free in the countryside.”
Despite all the support for the bull, Osborne recognises that the odds are stacked against it. “As far as we know, there are no precedents for hoardings being considered public art or protected heritage beyond Spanish borders.”
None of the alternatives to a complete pardon for the bulls are a happy scenario. Osborne could be liable for heavy fines if they don’t remove the bulls when asked. Relocation on side-roads would be a long and costly business, especially as each bull weighs 50,000kg and rests on concrete foundations six metres deep. It is more likely that if the bulls are banned they would end up as collector’s ítems like red British pone boxes. Preserved they would be, but they certainly wouldn’t be symbolically free.
The confrontation of bull and matador becomes something else when the matador is a woman. Everyone, I discovered while writing this article, had problems with women facing the bull: the male matadors, the aficionados, the anti-bullfighting lobby and women themselves. Cristina Sánchez, the torera who I interviewed for this piece, has so far been the only female bullfighting star of the democracy. At the height of her success male bullfighters blocked her career and she was quickly forced to retire.
Spain’s male and female bullfighters fight on equal terms since 1974 when the Supreme Court found that women had the right to be matadors. At least, that is the theory. Events have shown instead that the law is only the first hurdle they have to overcome.
“The hostility of the public was astonishing,” says Ángela Hernández Gomez, who had single-handedly taken on and won the legal test case. “Once, in Plasencia, a man insulted me so loudly that I lost my focus and the bull caught me. Only after a run of good fights in Madrid and Seville, plus two injuries, did the crowd began to take me seriously.”
During most of Ángela’s career, pundits forecasted a terminal decline for bullfighting. Football, television, the costs of bull rearing and cyberculture, said the pundits, were knocking the corrida on the head. Younger aficianados blamed the decline on the bull breeders.
But the corrida survived better than anyone thought possible. In the late 1980s bullfights began to enjoy a mini-boom that rolled over into the 1990s, and spectators, including TV audiences, rose steadily. In 1990 they hit 55 million, and raked in an estimated 5 billion euros at the ticket-offices. Yet despite serious female aspirants in the municipal bullfighting schools of Madrid, Jerez, Valencia, Salamanca and Albacete, aficianados remained sceptical that women could be matadors. Reasons not to back them ranged from period pains and lack of muscle to inexperience.
Among the women signed up with the bullfighters’ union, one was to prove the sceptics wrong. Cristina Sánchez, from Madrid’s school, was never injured in her 80 fights as a novillera and in 1992, at the age of 20, she moved up to become a matador facing 40-stone bulls. Watching her in the ring, one could understand why she was tipped for fame. She had a workmanlike grace to her passes, which she took breathtakingly close to the body. Critics noted, significantly, she killed with a man’s strength.
At the time she lived with her parents and the younger of her two sisters in a small apartment in Parla, near Toledo. Her father had been a banderillero who wanted to be a matador. “I first told my father I wanted to be a bullfighter when I was fourteen,” she explained. “I had a go with a cow on a ranch and realised it was for me…. But my father was against it. I tried working in an office and at a hairdresser’s, but I hated both jobs.” When she was eighteen, her parents agreed to let her study bullfighting.
What, then, is a typical workday for a woman bullfighter? Cristina’s daily routine in winter, after some housework, consisted of general fitness exercises, a 5km run, a two-hour work session in the gym, and three hours at the Madrid school. There she would go through classic passes with the two capes – the muleta and capote, or the larger pink cape and the smaller red one used for the kill – and practise the kill with a straw dummy of the bull. Another couple of hours followed at the bullfighting school in Parla. On top of this she went to fights, studied them on video, and read on the subject.
The days of a bullfight followed a different ritual. “When I get ready my suit to change, about an hour beforehand, my stomach starts pinching. I don’t have religious images in the changing room, unlike many bullfighters, but I do pray in my own way.” For big fights she wore the silk ‘suits of lights’ and for less important fights, the country suit with a sombrero and short black jacket…. “You feel as if you’re taking on the responsibility of the ring when you get dressed. It’s very important, as if you change from girl to bullfighter.”
Significantly, no national ruling political party has taken on board the issue of cruelty in bullfighting. Rather Spain’s Socialist government responded to regional bans on bullfighting in the Canary Islands and Catalonia by protecting it as an “artistic discipline and cultural product”. In 2012 the French government followed suit, reaffirming its legality to protect the lucrative corridas at Nîmes’s historic bullring. What the Spanish politicians know and feel themselves is that its young democracy’s live-and-let-live tolerance does not make public opinion sympathetic to prohibition.
Somewhere in the national identity is embedded the confrontation of man and matador, and the right to such confrontation. But as yet, that unspoken pact does not include women.
Sánchez was always aware, she said, that her biggest obstacle was the depth of bullfighters’ prejudice against women in the ring. She was warned by her father. Yet one doubts she ever expected it to end her career. She was fortunate to find an agent, Simón Casas, the French breeder and entrepreneur, once married to Parisian horseback bullfighter Marie-Sara, who runs the Nîmes Arena bullring, one of the bullfighting world’s most prestigious venues where rising young Spanish stars make their debuts. Casas spins these corridas as major media and culture events. By the time of each bullfight, many eyes are on Nîmes.
Once Cristina had earned aficianados’ highest accolade in Madrid’s bullring, exiting through the puerta grande, or big door, carried out on the crowd’s shoulders, her future looked assured. But early in 1999, some matadors alongside whom she was billed in first-division bullrights refused to accept her fighting alongside them. The pressure affected her performances badly, as well as her agent’s booking power, and she was relegated to third-division bullrings. The same year, aged 27, she retired from the ring. The bullfighters who refused to fight alongside her showed no regret when she retired.
Perhaps Orson Welles, a sharp-eyed observer of Spanish social mores, was right in his assessment of her and other female bullfighters’ problem. “There is,” he said, “a kind of cuckoldry in the spectacle of a pretty girl making public nonsense of our hairy-chested pretensions.” That male feeling, one guesses, may well be very slow to change.
Epilogue: Cristina Sánchez went on to become a decorator, neurolinguistics programmer, fashion designer and motivational speaker. She is married to the retired Brazilian footballer Alexandre de Silva. One other woman bullfighter has emerged since then, the Murcian Conchi Rios, but her career has not matched those of men fighting at the same level.
André François conceived a catalogue for his Parisian retrospective show as a memoir: it gathered together a lifetime of book covers, posters, cartoons and paintings. For the opening essay we recorded at his family’s home while looking at his visual work around us in his studio. Like many humorists he was often serious, but also warm and unintimidating, and his memories stretched from his Hungarian childhood to Paris and New York. Sharply shaped, they almost wrote themselves. I wrote the text in English, he brought it into French.
Guido cuts hair and does much more than that. A key creative influence when Alexander McQueen and Kate Moss shook up fashion for the grunge generation, his focus in this, his first book, was clear: he felt that hair was one of the few ways kids with no money could express themselves … and among them we find creativity and inspiration. It was easy to see why Guido went on to become so influential. His modesty and common-sense are as unshakable as his intelligence.
“The concept of oneness,” wrote Mariko in this book, “… is an unanswered question I carry … through the journey of making work.” Deeply informed by her knowledge of Japanese and wider Buddhist art history, Mariko’s multimedia art was in full evolution from pop photography to interactive sculpture, installations, landscape art, public art, and video work. It’s a tribute to her vision that we could distil her philosophy in “oneness” with the images, making the monograph a narrative art work.
To capture the curves of the Millennium Dome, now the O2 Stadium at Greenwich, North design came up with a round book in a circular plastic case. After consulting the architects – Rogers, Stark, Harbour and partners – we reduced the text to precision-honed soundbites nailing details of the building’s architecture.
Nigel Coates is perhaps best known as co-architect of the National Centre for Popular Music (and other buildings), but he is also emeritus professor at the Royal Academy of Art. In his book on the 21st-century metropolis he wove together theory, practice and observation in cities from Mumbai to Rio, London to Roma, Berlin to Paris. By fusing fragments of each he described a kinetic urban world living in fast-forward mode from the past to the future.
Stephen Bailey’s personal selection of his best essays on architecture, art and design, including cars and popular culture, were collected here in one volume. Founding CEO of the London Design Musum in 1989, he is better known for his pithy, witty writing and his editorial take here was classic. Graphic Thought Facility sliced the volume into different paper stocks, highlighting print processes to give the book an angled modernity.
Julian Germain, photographer of everyday life, looked at football as collective culture. He showed it in the hearts and minds of fans, in the culture of football clubs and in the language of fanzines. Alongside his own photographs were “amateur” ones, the value of which he showed and told. Why Not associates, the graphic consultancy, shared his passion for soccer in their book design.
Film-maker, musician, composer and photographer Mike Figgis gave his take on digital film-making via lived experience. As a practitioner he had been working at the forefront of experimental film. Here he collaged its processes and visual textures as images, diary text, script snippets, cinematography, and work notebooks from his film, Hotel. The elements came together in a visually rich, free-flowing and often erotic narrative.
Christine Conrad was commissioned by the Jerome Robbins’ Estate to write a book celebrating his life journey in theatre, dance and film. He was best known for choreographing, producing and co-directing the film of West Side Story, for which he won his first Academy Award, but his greatest volume of choreography had been done for New York City Ballet. The book also made incisive connections between his work and life thanks to author Christine Conrad’s close lasting friendship with Robbins. Pentagram balanced the words and stunning photographs with understated design.
Wayne Hemingway, multidisciplinary designer and founder of fashion company Red or Dead, has worked extensively with housing schemes driven by social values and privately he is a long-time collector of “art” prints. Of them he wrote in this book, “Value deserves to be restored to a genre derided by certain members of the art elite.” His text explained how the genre fitted into his childhood, then looked at the work he has collected and the artists who made it.
June, wife of German-born fashion photographer Helmut Newton, began her working life as an actress, but made her name as a photographer, signing as Alice Springs. Widely published in European and American magazines, she edited her professional work and home images together here within a memoir written with wry humour and taking readers from her Australian childhood to Europe and LA.
The alternative music zeen Ray Gun was also known for its experimental design and typography, directed by David Carson, and its journalism. Environmental writer Dean Kuipers assembled this anthological book in London with the magazine’s graphic designer Chris Ashworth, and it swam anarchically through a work from the magazine’s first five years. Along the way were texts, for example by William Gibson, and a dialogue between David Bowie and Yoko Ono.
Lang Wong came up with a three-year project for Nairobi inspired by an earlier experiment in Brazil: she gave cameras to 32 boys and girls from Mathara, one of Africa’s largest slums, and asked them to photograph their everyday lives. The photos were shown in a Nairobi exhibition supported by the Ford Foundation, and in this book a larger selection showed the city’s life as rarely revealed by a camera.
Subtitled “The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, this book surveys the public myths and collective symbols used in the making of the 1978-79 Islamic revolution and the subsequent war in Iraq. Award-winning designer Jonathan Barnbrook paced the rarely seen graphic material alongside Chelkowski’s and Dabashi’s carefully argued analytical text.
Michael Mack undertook the massive task of selecting nearly 300 works by 68 artists to show how photographic practice had developed from postwar times to the 1990s. Early in his survey, for example, came 1940s-50s German architectural photography; later came British 1990s editorial work influenced by surveillance cameras. To this visual gallery Mack added an erudite essay analysing the pattern of the shifts in practice.
Aboud and Wilson wrote that story “teaches us lessons and makes its points…. Words, images and personal interpretation can work together to move you to new feelings.” In this collection they used Simon’s experience in film-making and Paul’s in story analysis to sample expressive forms – photography, prose, poetry, ephemera, and scripts – and delineate story-arcs. Finally came an overview of story from classical times to the present day, and a round-table discussion with Edward Booth-Clibborn on the potential for story in today’s work processes.
Designed as a book with CD, this sonic art sampler was initially compiled anonymously, by Paul and Martin working as the @mbassadors. Their chosen music featured Brian Eno, Boy George, Derrick May and the Pet Shop Boys, among others, and visuals came from artists Mark Quinn, Tracey Emin, Jake Chapman and Gilbert and George. Carpet Gypsies’ design was unexpected: lush and whacky.
Collector Charles Saatchi was a key player in the UK’s art scene just as the so-called YBAs – Young British Artists – were first showing work. This volume shows 800 of the pieces he bought from artists including Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Marc Quinn, Gary Hume, Fiona Rae, Tracey Emin and Jenny Saville. Prefaced by art critics’ essays the visuals are grounded by ticker-tape world events linking art and politics. Barnbrook’s design, and famous jacket, was also anchored in the history of the period. Now a classic work.
Art critic, novelist and now scriptwriter Isabelle Grey (Anscombe) aimed to tell the stories and show the work of women designers through the last 150 years. She also explained their role in the major design movements of each period.
Published to celebrate Lord Paul Hamlyn’s and Sir Terence Conran’s reopening of the building in 1987, this book by art historian Wendy Hitchmough explained the history alongside visuals like architectural plans that had been used to restore the building to its original 1911 design.
Commissioned by book designer Behram Kapadia, this practical manual gave a brief explanation of processes for writers, media professionals and photographers involved in collaborative communication design projects. Effective was a good description for the book.
For Weidenfeld Nicolson as publishing partners with The Royal Academy of Arts, London. For co-editions working in conjunction with Museo del Prado and Rijksmuseum &c. (from 1982)
Weidenfeld’s work on the Royal Academy of Arts’ catalogues entered a new phase when texts written by art historians from Italy, Spain and the Netherlands were given a second in-house edit, following literal translation by the exhibition curators’ teams. We worked closely on the texts in consultation with the curators, such as Clovis Whitfield and Jane Martineau, and Weidenfeld’s designer, Trevor Vincent. He did much to change the look and feel of art catalogues.
Antonio Gades era ya genio y figura como bailaor y coreógrafo de reconocimiento mundial cuando yo lo entrevisté, pero los periodistas extranjeros cuando escribían sobre el siempre dejaban al margen la política subyacente de su arte y de su forma de vivir. Así que decidí explicar cómo eran las fuentes de las que manaba su obra. Traducción: Oskar Lanziego (© 2015).
“Yo, en flamenco, no voy hacia adelante, miro hacia el pasado”, dice Antonio Gades con decisión. “Donde hay un cantaor y una guitarra, se mata su poderío si se le añaden arreglos. Por otro lado, no me gusta el baile flamenco a la que se pide que vea al bailaor y diga, ¡oh!, mira, si baila bien y además es guapo”.
En la calle sería difícil adivinar que Gades es flamenco. Vestido con una discreta camisa a rayas, pantalones vaqueros y gafas sin marco, está ligeramente fornido pero muy ágil por sus 60 años.
Entre aficionados Gades es más conocido por su coreografía que por su baile. Fue el primer director del Ballet Nacional donde Joaquín Cortés y su generación comenzaron su formación. Su puesto tuvo una corta duración por motivos políticos, así que volvió a los escenarios en donde continuó evolucionando un estilo personal sobrio y masculino; luego en los años 1970s comenzó a experimentar con la dimensión escénica para ampliar el poder emocional del flamenco.
“Empecé a contar historias”, dice, encogiéndose de hombros. “En ese momento yo era una excepción entre flamencos. Tenía amigos que me hicieron leer libros, ver pinturas y arquitectura para liberarme de los complejos que imposibilitan a la gente tener nuevas ideas.”
Gades siempre ha proyectado una figura poco habitual en flamenco. Nacido en una familia comunista – “no una Gitana” – se mudó de Elda, el pueblo alicantino de calzado artesanal, a Madrid cuando todavía era un niño, después que su padre fuera encarcelado allí por la política. A la edad de once años, estuvo en la calle para mantener a la familia y, cinco años más tarde, se hizo bailaor con la esperanza de obtener unos ingresos decentes.
Como estrella, mantuvo su alto perfil político y se casó con Mari Sol – “una cantante niña estrella convertida en activista antifranquista” – antes de marcharse a vivir en Cuba después de que él decidiera que ya no quería ser asociado públicamente con la dictadura. Amigos allí persuadieron a Gades, diciéndole que podía expresar sus creencias en su baile, y regresó a España después de la muerte de Franco en 1975 para colaborar con Carlos Saura en una trilogía de cine – Bodas de sangre (1981), Carmen (1983) y Amor Brujo (1986) – en la que llevó el flamenco a un publico mundial.
La compañía de Gades, creada en 1963, ha florecido, pero ha seguido siendo una compañía no subvencionada ni patrocinada. “La libertad es cara, no se nos regala”, comenta secamente.
Por muchos aficionados su obra maestra es su espectáculo Fuenteovejuna (1944) que se basa en la obra de Félix Lope de Vega (1619). Gades convierta la dramaturgia del Siglo de Oro en coreografía contando la historia de feudalismo, de violación y de amor en un pueblo andaluz. Su celebración explosiva de las formas populares de la cultura española encapsula la baile como lenguaje de poder.
No obstante, Carmen es su obra mas popular. Cierto, el cuento contiene todo que el público desea del típico tópico del sur: el misterio de lo exótico, el deseo físico convertido en el deseo de controlar, y la pasión sin resolver que termina en la muerte. Pero es la lectura política que hace poderosa la versión de Gades.
“Siempre que iba a ver a Carmen en la ópera ella era una figura banal y frívola, pero cuando leí el libro me di cuenta de que era extraordinaria. Tenía conciencia de clase y nunca dio la espalda a su clase …. Y era tan extrem-a-damente valiente” – Gades alcanza un clímax, luego su voz se desvanece – “que prefería la muerte a la pérdida de su libertad.”
Así son los bocetos psicológicos formando el punto de partida de su coreografía, muy adelantada dentro de la danza mundial, por ejemplo, en su inclusión de bailaores y bailaoras de todas las edades y de formas de cuerpo: flacos, redondos y gordos.
Hoy en día, Gades es perspicaz sobre el renacimiento del flamenco en la España democrática.
“Sí, es verdad que hay una verdadera afición hoy por el verdadero flamenco y que es visto en los teatros de ópera y en las universidades. Pero más allá de eso no veo nada que haya cambiado de manera significativa.” Hace una pausa.
“En cualquier caso, no quiero hacer comentarios…. Te puede gustar una cosa, pero eso no significa que sea la verdad – tal idea es solo propio del Vaticano, ¿no?”
Si tuviera que elegir una vivencia profesional privilegiada de mi tiempo en España, sería una serie de visitas que realicé a las escuelas talleres y concursos de cante flamenco en la cárcel de Córdoba. El proyecto fue concebido por tres personas en los 1990s, pero fue cortado de raíz en el siglo XXI, consecuencia de un cambio de gobierno. Hoy en día sigue como un modelo creativo ejemplar. Traducción: Marta Carranza (© 2010)
“Mi voz cambió en prisión”, afirma Antonio Pellizco [nombre cambiado por privacidad]. “Antes, sonaba como un niño. Ahora mi voz ha madurado. El paso por la cárcel ha destruido parte de mí, y eso, ahora, está en mi cante.”
Pellizco, de 34 años, canta en el taller de flamenco que tiene lugar una vez por semana en la cárcel de Córdoba. Se creó hace ocho años para alentar a los reclusos gitanos a participar en la aula educacional, y pronto alcanzó un nivel muy alto: actualmente algunos alumnos están siendo preparados para cantar profesionalmente. Estudian la técnica, el desarrollo de sus propias creaciones y cantes procedentes del repertorio flamenco de la cárcel cuyo origen se remonta a comienzos del siglo XX. Solo hay un maestro, de lujo, el guitarrista Rafael Trenas. Este año por primera vez, él ha sacado a cuatro alumnos a actuar en las Peñas Flamencas de Andalucía, asociaciones de amantes del flamenco entre quienes hay aficionados de lo mas exigentes.
“Fue maravilloso cuando la gente se acercó a mí después de cantar y me habló como si yo fuera un cantaor”, dice Antonio. “Puedes ver la sorpresa en sus caras cuando empiezas a cantar, como si no esperaran nada de calidad.”
El llegó al cárcel de Córdoba para competir en el Concurso de Cante al Nivel Penitenciario, el bienal que funcionó en paralelo con el Concurso Nacional de Arte Flamenco de Córdoba. Los veinticuatro finalistas, que procedían de todas las regiones de España, y habían sido seleccionados con base de sus grabaciones de varios palos en cassette, conseguían como premio una reducción de sus penas y los ganadores podían pedir mudarse a la cárcel de Córdoba para unirse al taller, si así lo deseaban. Hoy en día los ganadores del Concurso incluyen a cantaores de familias distinguidas, herederos de estilos antiguos desde la seguiriya hasta la soleá.
Los alumnos de Rafael son típicos reclusos del centro penitenciario de Córdoba. Según Francisco Velasco, el director de la cárcel, el 80% son Gitanos de entre 25 y 35 años de edad, y cumplen sentencias relacionadas con delitos de drogas. Alrededor de las tres cuartas partes de los miembros de este taller encajan en esta clasificación.
Cuando no ensayan en los talleres, los flamencos siguen las rutinas diarias de la cárcel: limpieza y quehaceres de cocina, tres comidas, tres conteos. A la hora del ejercicio, los patios tienen una actividad frenética. La mayoría de los flamencos comparten celdas de 3m x 2.5m, cada una provista con dos literas.
Para Antonio Estevez, psicólogo, educador y creador de la idea del taller, su éxito se fundamenta en la riqueza de la cultura gitana escondida en la prisión. “Funciona porque se basa en el mundo real de los reclusos. A muchos Gitanos no podrás convencerlos que fichen para que se apunten a clases de informática, o a las Gitanas para ir al gimnasio, pero sí puedes lograr que se ilusionan en cantar o bailar flamenco.”
El éxito del taller y del concurso reside en el compromiso de aquellos que lo crearon. Velasco recauda los escasos fondos; Trenas enseña a cambio de 40.000 ptas (£200.00 / $300.00) cada mes, menos de lo que gana en una actuación; Estevez, en más de una ocasión, ha echado mano de su propio dinero para cubrir los gastos cuando el presupuesto no llega. No es casualidad, quizás, que los tres crecieron en, o muy cerca, de los barrios gitanos de las ciudades andaluzas donde el flamenco se ha desarrollado durante dos siglos y recibe un respeto, como arte sagrado, de la comunidad.
“Por nosotros,” dice Velasco, “el flamenco es una expresión de todo lo padecido por el pueblo andaluz, siglos de acoso. Aquellos que han sido obligados vivir en los márgenes de esa sociedad, lo expresan de forma particularmente libre y espontánea. El flamenco es su música, como los blues han sido para parte la sociedad americana”.
El respeto manifestado por estos comentarios es mutuo. En una ocasión, durante un motín, los reclusos rompieron la puerta del ambulatorio de la cárcel y su mobiliario. Pero la guitarra de Rafael Trenas, sin embargo, no la tocaron: se aseguraron de ponerla a salvo en una taquilla.
Epílogo: Cuando Antonio Estevez, jefe de servicios de los funcionarios y educador de la prisión, se jubiló anticipadamente, dejó instrucciones en su ordenador de cómo podría ser reactivado el taller de flamenco. Jamás han querido otros retomar su proyecto siguiendo el concepto original.
Francisco Velasco fue cambiado como director de cárcel de Córdoba a Málaga, su ciudad natal, por petición propia.
Rafael Trenas, quién fue profesor del taller durante diez años, continúa componiendo y tocando bandas sonoras y guitarra flamenca en directo, y acompaña a cantaores como Chano Lobato, Gabriel Moreno, El Yeye y Carmen de la Jara. Sigue también como maestro de aficionados.
En los años 80 solía visitar San Sebastián (Donostia) con un amigo vasco cuya familia tenía un restaurante. La cultura culinaria y alimentaria me sorprendió mucho por el cuidado con el que se mecía; hoy en día todavía veo a la cocina vasca como un modelo para darse cuenta qué se puede lograr en todos los ámbitos de la sociedad cuando la calidad tiene sus cimientos en un compromiso colectivo. Traducción: Oskar Lanziego © 2012
Escritores sobre la cocina vasca hablan de la influencia de la cercana Francia, la riqueza industrial de la región y la influencia de cocineros privados que trabajaban para las ricas familias que veraneaban en San Sebastián durante el siglo XIX. Pero quizás la mayor referencia en cuanto a explicar la riqueza de gastronomía en San Sebastián viene del gran escritor vasco, José María Busca Isusi, que decía que la calidad de la gastronomía del País Vasco se debía a su privilegiada “radio de alcance”.
El frase escueto es, a la vez, preciso y ambigúe. Se puede tomar la expresión en su significado físico, en relación a un territorio de gran diversidad paisajística, o a su encrucijada cultural y geografico, o se lo puede considerar con el sentido utilizado por el autor canadiense Adam Gopnik, quien enfatiza que la revolución de alta cocina parisina del siglo XVIII tomó cuerpo gracias a una movida cultural.
Todo el mundo, sin embargo, parece estar de acuerdo sobre un eje de la cocina vasca: el respeto y cuidado por el producto a pesar de su alto precio.
Es tal el énfasis que se pone en el producto en el País Vasco que parece que éste va casi siempre acompañado del lugar en donde se produce, como en la cultura romana clásica: las alubias, alubias negras, de Tolosa; las chuletas de buey, chuletas del valle del Baztán… y así sucesivamente; hasta el tomate y lechuga,de caserío, y, cómo no, mejor si es de la huerta familiar …. En efecto, la cocina aquí es un amalgama de muchas cocinas pequeñas, como la euskera de hoy en día es una mezcla de dialectos de zonas mas pequeñas. Aún hoy el repertorio culinario de la “región” existe principalmente en las grandes ciudades y especialmente, en sus restaurantes.
A un nivel cotidiano, “los platos de siempre” se respetan, pero no hay culto de “tradición”, ese concepto muchas veces traicionero en la cocina. Más bien hay evolución constante desdramatizada y sin miedo. En este asunto hay un capitulo histórico importante, Entre 1920 y 1970, cuando la cocina francesa fue la gran referencia en restaurantes de todo España, la cocina vasca se apegó a su propio repertorio gastronómico, y a sus propios valores, técnicas y salsas. Había poca diferencia entra la cocina casera y la de los restaurantes, y muchas mujeres, por ejemplo, las hermanas de Azcaray del restaurante Amparo, estaban al cargo de restaurantes familiares reluciendo platos familiares vascos en los menús.
En los años 70, las cosas empezaron a tomar una nueva dirección. La “nueva cocina vasca” fue inspirada gracias al encuentro que tuvo lugar entre Paul Bocuse, maestro de la nouvelle cuisine francesa , y un grupo de cocineros vascos en diciembre 1976. Después de esa reunión se desarrollo el grupo compuesto por los “once magníficos”, nombre con el que el escritor Luis Bettonica, un observador catalan, apodó a los cocineros involucrados. Ellos vinieron desde la provincia de San Sebastián – Gipuzkoa – y se reunían una vez al mes desde 1977 para experimentar.
Hoy en día, ese legado de los 1970s se ve claramente como mas que un cambio de estilo. Sus efectos se han extendido, como en el caso de una piedra que ha sido tirada al agua, creando ondas circulares que van a más, lentamente. Hoy, todavía, el espíritu experimental se puede identificar en los pintxos (tapas); en los restaurantes con estrellas Michelin; en los mercados de los agricultores y en los muchos proyectos de I + D. Uno piensa en las caras más conocidas de ese mundo desde los años 1970s – Andoni Aduriz, Hilario Arbelaitz (ahora jubilado), Eneko Atxa, Martín Berasategui, Josean Martinéz y Pedro Subijana, y desde luego en la familia Arzak. Todos contribuyen para llevar a cabo una conversación colectiva compartida.
Mucho menos comentado por los medios de comunicación fuera del País Vasco fue la “crisis del producto” de los 1970s. En gran parte la “crisis” era el reflejo del declive de los caseríos de la región. Un estudio realizado a mediados de 1970 consideraba que sus familias trabajaban una media de catorce horas al día, y que podían triplicar su producción usando métodos de agricultura modernos. Otros factores también influyeron, por ejemplo las capturas pesqueras empezaban a caer. Por estas razones la nueva cocina empezó a ocupar un alto valor funcional; fue a la vez motor de creatividad, pero también solución creativa al crisis de producto..
Luego hay el citado “radio de alcance”, de Busca Isusi, hoy en día algo virtual, conceptual y educativo. Hoy en día el Basque Culinary Centre (BCC) ofrece el primer título universitario de Europa en ciencias gastronómicas y es todo un detalle que “coquinaria patria”, como la llamó otro cocinero, Pepe Rodriguez Rey, maestro en el lugar que le corresponde, no hay en el BCC. Los miembros honorarios de sus comités asesores incluyen no solo apellidos vascos pero también chefs de alcance mundial, algo apropriado por un centro ofreciendo Masters (MAs) a los almunos que viajan aquí de los cinco continentes. A lo mejor no hay once magnificos, pero menos puede ser mas para que la salsa ligue y ésta sea óptima.
Conocí a los Ochandos, asadores de la sierra de Madrid, en el 2009, cinco años antes de que surgió el momento adecuado por un artículo en The Last of the Independents, creada en 2014 por el blog Gareth Jones Food. Dedico el texto a la memoria de Gareth, pedazo de persona y periodista, y a su mujer Joy. Traducción: Oskar Lanziego (© 2015)
“Mi abuelo Teodomiro pensaba que el oficio de asar no era para mujeres”, dice Irene Ochando, menuda, vestida de negro urbano y con su largo pelo rubio recogido en una coleta. Se pone a preparar el horno y sazonar el cabrito para asar. Es una mañana de domingo, su día más ajetreado de la semana.
“Es verdad que es físicamente agotador,” dice. “Pero me encanta la paz aquí al lado de los hornos.”
Irene es una figura poco común entre los asadores de Castilla. Botín, en el corazón del casco antiguo de Madrid, es el más famoso entre ellos, conocido por tener uno de los hornos en funcionamiento más antiguos del mundo. Aquí se pueden ver a asadores de anchas espaldas moviéndose habilidosamente alrededor de docenas de fuentes de cordero lechal y cochinillo asado sosteniendo una paleta de madera. Muchos asadores de hoy en día son modernos, equipados con hornos de gas, y requieren de mucho menos trabajo. Sin embargo, rara vez emplean a mujeres.
La historia del asador de Irene es también la historia rural de la España del siglo XX. Su madre aprendió a asar en la década de 1940, ayudando a su padre. Viajaban por la sierra norte de Madrid, a las fiestas de los pueblos y en las bodas. Más tarde el padre de Irene, Vicente, picapedrero, construiría una casa achaparrada de granito en La Cabrera, su pueblo natal. En la planta baja, donde hay el comedor, el bar y la cocina, está el asador. Arriba está la casa de la familia compartida por Irene, su marido gallego Sabi y sus hijos. El restaurante esta integrada en la vida del pueblo, que viene aquí a diario a tomar café, tapas y tertulia.
“Nadie hace comentarios sobre el hecho de que yo sea una mujer,” dice Irene, “pero tampoco nadie lo espera. La pregunta que todos me hacen ahora es:¿por qué el sabor de la carne especial?”
El nombre de La Cabrera tiene su origen en las cabras de la sierra, de abundante pelaje negro. Era el único ganado que podía sobrevivir en el matorral de montaña, por lo que sus cabritos se convirtieron en el plato de las fiestas. Teodomiro las compraba para asar de amigos cabreros. Pocas sobreviven en el siglo XXI.
“Una vez seccionados,” dice Irene “tienen que pesar alrededor de cinco kilos y medio, nunca menos, para conseguir el equilibrio entre el carne y hueso para este tipo de asado.”
Hoy en día los cabritos que se crían bajo normas de calidad de denominación de origen pesan entre 300 y 500 gr menos que los cabritos al viejo estilo. Así que Irene, como su padre, los compra uno por uno de agricultores.
Son las laderas del monte de pueblo que le ofrecen el segundo ingrediente clave: la jara pringosa (Cistus ladanifer). Aquí en épocas pasadas la madera estaba reservada para la venta a Madrid, y la gente local cocinaba y calentaba sus hogares con el matorral. En La Cabrera se utilizaba sobre todo la jara. Sabi sigue cosechándola durante dos meses al año. Su agotador trabajo es valioso para el pueblo: crea cortafuegos al desenterrar las hileras de plantas de forma individual por la raíz. En el horno, los arbustos secos propician flamantes llamas y fragantes nubes de humo.
El tercer elemento escondido en el sabor de las carnes asadas es el conocimiento familiar, remontando a la década de 1930, cuando el abuelo de Irene comenzó a viajar de aquí para allá en mula con sus cazos, sus platos de barro, su manteca de cerdo y su ajo metido en alforjas de esparto. Sus cabritos trotaron con él. Así aprendió, de la A a la Z, el arte de los asados. Ejerció de carnicero, luego asaba y servía los cabritos, e incluso a veces cantaba en las fiestas. Nada se tiró a la basura: la sangre de los cabritos la asaba con cebolla, las vísceras las cocinaba, las patas iban para la olla de la familia y el intercambiaba las pieles de los cabritos por aceite de oliva o azúcar. En casa perfeccionó la técnica de asado, utilizando jara para ello.
“Escucha eso…,” dice Irene, llamándome para que me acerque el horno.
Dentro hay asándose, en fuentes de barro, media docena de cabritos y corderos sazonados y partidos por la mitad al lado de una pila de brasas.“Sé que la temperatura es la adecuada cuando el horno canta”, dice Irene. Pongo mi oreja sobre la puerta del horno: el chasquido prorrumpe en un suave silbido. En su interior, la temperatura es superior a 300˚C. Pero en ningún momento se añade agua a la carne.“Si lo hiciera, no sería un asado,” me comenta Irene. “Es una regla familiar.”
Aguda observación sobre las continuidades de cocina en España. Cocineras como Irene dejan un legado notable. Entre sus hijos, que han crecido con los valores culinarios de dedicación maternal, surgen chefs de nivel mundial, como Juan Mari Arzak, los hermanos Roca y Andoni Aduriz, por citar solo tres que me vienen a la mente rápidamente. El numero total en España podía seguir y sumar a docenas de nombres. Y no hay duda que la degustación del cabrito de Irene – molleja, piel, costillas y carne magra, tonos marrón caoba a rosado, con texturas de todo tipo – es una experiencia igualmente enriquecedora como la de cualquier cocina vanguardista.
Las vallas junto a las carreteras a lo largo de España forman parte del paisaje: esos recortes negros, su silueta con el cielo azul de fondo, sin ser realidad ni ficción, convertían rutas de carretera de mi infancia en viajes épicas. A mediados de los 90, los toros casi fueron desmantelados con la llegada de nuevas leyes europeas para publicidad en autovías, y en casí el mismo momento aparecieron dos nuevas perspectivas: una fue la historia del diseñador que los creó, Manuel Prieto, y una segunda fue el cariño publico por los toros que conducía a su salto de categoría, desde publicidad en autovía al arte publico. Traducción: © El Mundo, 1994; corregido por Oskar Lanziego, 2015
“Ahora es famoso,” escribió Manolo Prieto en los 1980s, refiriéndose a su toro. “Fama que yo preví cuando lo creé: me costó mucho trabajo convencer a los que ahora presumen de él. ¿No sería posible que alguien quisiera echarme una manita, y decir públicamente que el autor de este ‘toro’ existe, y que puede dar fe de su nacimiento y de las circunstancias que lo rodearon?”
“Nos dijo que el toro cogería mucha fama,” continua su hija Margarita. “Lo supo desde el principio y se llamó a sí mismo el ‘autor-creador’. Llamaba al toro, ‘mi muy querido hijo’.”
Cuando en 1956 Prieto presentó el toro a Osborne, cliente de la agencia publicista donde trabajó, fue rechazado como nuevo logotipo para el brandy Veterano. Lejos de rendirse, Prieto insistió en ir a la sede de la bodega en El Puerto de Santa María a defender su creación, y convenció el cliente. Los primeros toros se instalaron a final de los años cincuenta. Diez años mas tarde, la manada llegó a tener 500 ejemplares, los primeros de solo 4 metros, pero la mayoría de una altura imponente de 14 metros.
Tal vez es la calidad de la creación de Prieto que sea el eje del debate, ya que el asunto no es la falta de apoyo público, sino cómo encaminar los mecanismos necesarios para conseguir que sea considerado algo más que una simple valla publicitaria. Porque, según los cálculos del departamento legal de Osborne, si continúan siendo considerados como vallas, sólo nueve toros podrán permanecer en pie.
“Contamos con testimonios del mundo de la cultura y de la propia calle que el toro es ya mucho más que una valla publicitaria,” asegura Claire Filhol, del departamento de marketing de Osborne, las bodegas gaditanas que encargaron el diseño de la valla en 1956. Sin embargo, la Ley de Carreteras de 1988 obliga a España a retirar las vallas publicitarias de las carreteras fuera de zonas urbanas. En este momento no hay precedentes que puedan ayudar a proteger los toros.
En ámbitos artísticos, sin embargo, no hay dudas sobre su valor artístico. “Es arte publicitario naïf y cándido,” dice Paula Antonelli, conservadora de la prestigiosa colección de diseño del Museo de Arte Moderno de Nueva York (MOMA). “Los toros son especialmente interesantes porque no son efímeros, mas bien son estatuas plantadas en medio del campo. Pudieran ser catalogados dentro de Pintura y de Escultura o de Diseño.”
Para muchos, el reconocimiento ya es tarde. En Estados Unidos, desde los años veinte varias sedes de empresas – el edificio Chrysler de Nueva York, por ejemplo – son en sí mismos publicidad estática y permanente, y a la vez, protegidos por las leyes.
Sin embargo no existe ningún paralelo al toro.
“La comparación más adecuada sería la de las paradas de autobús y pissoirs modernistas franceses, o la de los caballos blancos ingleses recortados en colinas de cal,” comenta Sir Terence Conran, presidente del Museo de Diseño de Londres, abierto en 1989, y anteriormente fundador de Habitat, la tienda revolucionaria de los años 60..
“Existe una asociación absoluta del toro con respecto a España,”comenta Conran, “Y el hecho de que una compañía lo adoptara como símbolo es realmente un asunto de menor importancia. Llega un momento en que el aspecto comercial desaparece, igual que en el trabajo de Toulouse Lautrec. Y a nadie se le ocurriría en España sugerir que la Iglesia quitase todas las cruces y crucifijos desparramados por el paisaje.”
Un problema que sí surge al intentar elevar el estatus del toro de simple valla a obra de arte es la asociación inevitable con la corrida.
“El toro, tal como lo ve Osborne, es libre,” asegura Claire Filhol. “Justamente la idea es que éste es el toro ibérico, mitológico y fuerte, en que Picasso y Miró se inspiraron; libre en el campo.”
En caso de que el toro sea finalmente indultado – ya sea gracias a la intervención del Supremo o del Ministerio – gozará entonces del mismo estatus legal que una de las enormes esculturas al aire libre de Eduardo Chillida. Esto establecería precedentes. Los herederos de Manolo Prieto podrían decidir que los toros llevasen la firma del autor, así como a recurrir a la justicia cuando se produjera algún hecho que atentase contra la integridad de la obra.
Entonces, quien fue Prieto? Nació en 1912 en El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz) donde estudiaría brevemente en la misma escuela de arte en la que Rafael Alberti cursara estudios diez años antes. Nunca llegó a recibir el dinero de una beca ganada por subvencionar estudios en Madrid. Sin embargo decidió probar suerte y, con 18 años, se fue a la capital.
Fue durante la Guerra Civil, después de trabajar como pintor de escenografía, cuando descubrió su verdadera vocación. “El cartel era la pasión de su vida,” comenta su hija. Sus obras le hicieron acreedor de numeros premios y el reconocimiento de sus compañeros.
“La calidad de su trabajo era extraordinaria,” comenta dibujante Antonio Mingote.
Pero no del aprecio de sus jefes. En 1965 sus constantes enfrentamientos con la agencia provocaron su despido. Desde entonces se dedicó prácticamente por completo a la numismática, también con éxito.
Los defensores del toro saben que sus posibilidades se hacen más fuertes con el paso de los días. “Es precisamente la Ley de Carreteras, que ha dejado el toro desnudado en el campo, la que ha aumentado su capacidad conmovedora,” comenta Agapito Pageo de España Abierta, la primera asociación que ha buscado conseguir el reconocimiento artístico de su creador, y al mismo tiempo han conseguido establecer el poder unificador del toro, sea que sea lo que queramos buscar en el.
La visión de fuera ratifica tal visión. “En la nueva civilización de Europa, es más importante que un Ministerio de Cultura proteja al toro que a Miró,” comenta Ives Paralon, miembro del Comité Colbert de Diseño Francés. “El toro es la vida cotidiana, sangre y energía nueva.”
Eso, si, con el mismo silencio enigmático que siempre.
Epílogo: En 1997 el Tribunal Supremo falló a favor de un perdón por todos los 93 Toros en España. Una década después de su indulto, el toro de nuevo corrió peligro. La reproducción de diseño pasó a ser un simbolo de orgullo de raza y, algunas veces, machismo ibérico en pegatinas de coche y llaveros. En 2006 Osborne gano un nuevo caso legal así que hoy en día el toro decora solo objetos licenciados.
El proyecto del Museo Guggenheim Bilbao no tenía precedentes en España, y encendió un largo debate, pero la implicación del arquitecto Frank Gehry en el proyecto dejó entrever que el resultado sería excepcional. En la preparación del ensayo tuve la fortuna de entrevistar al escultor Richard Serra, al director de la Fundación Guggenheim, Thomas Krens, y al mismísimo Gehry. Traducción: Oskar Lanziego © 2015
En una esquina de la línea del horizonte de Bilbao, una gigantesca aleta plateada centellea al sol; debajo, un pequeño ejército de hombres gatea sobre unos andamios curvados. Es el Guggenheim, que surge de su crisálida.
“No ha sido un proceso fácil,” comenta Thomas Krens, director de la Fundación Guggenheim de Nueva York. Cuando asumió la dirección en 1988, la Fundación se había convertido en una de las mayores colecciones del siglo XX, con 6.000 obras que recorren la compleja historia del arte de vanguardia.
Con el proyecto de Bilbao, Krens sitúo su reputación en la cuerda floja. “Hemos recibido críticas, pero a medida que el edificio ha empezado a levantarse, su magia ha empezado a surtir efecto.”
“A la gente le da un poco de miedo decirlo, pero es un gran edificio,” opina Richard Serra, escultor emblemático de la posguerra de Estados Unidos. “Encaja muy bien en la escala del río y del puente, y, desde lejos, produce una impresionante colisión de formas, que recuerda la estética del futurismo.”
La opinión local se resume mejor como perplejidad, intensificada por los recortes presupuestarios a los que han obligado los compromisos suscritos para construir el Guggenheim, estimados en 250 millones de dólares. Hay acusaciones de imperialismo cultural, un cierto miedo a que el nuevo museo se convierta en una especie de Disneylandia artística, de espaldas a la identidad cultural vasca.
“Recuerdo haberle preguntado a Juan Ignacio Vidarte, director del proyecto de Bilbao, por qué quería que el Guggenheim estuviera aquí,” dice Krens. “Me dijo que los americanos no iban a exportar su cultura, sino que los vascos iban a aprender. Es una manera muy abierta y inteligente de ver las cosas.”
En realidad, el pensamiento no fue solo cultural. En Nueva York un estudio había revelado que la temporada invernal de exposiciones de la ciudad de Nueva York mueve 465 millones de euros. Josefa Arregui, ex -Consejero Vasco de Cultura, resume el plan Guggenheim al comparar los costes del museo con un trecho de autopista. Con los costes del MOPU de 1996, el museo equivale a 40 kilómetros de autovía. De su parte Gehry admite que Krens le motivó e incluso le picó. “Es un visionario muy arriesgado. Hay muy pocos como él. Habló con artistas, marchantes y con toda clase de gente sobre lo que se necesitaba. Le dije a dónde quería llegar y él lo utilizó dentro de su visión por el Guggenheim.”
Krens es más directo.
“Cuando le dices a un arquitecto que quieres cambiar algo, se suele organizar toda una batalla. Con Frank no. No tiene reparos a la hora de cuestionar su propio trabajo. Yo le tomaba el pelo diciéndole que tenía el ego más grande de todos los arquitectos del mundo, porque está convencido de que la próxima vez podría hacerlo incluso mejor. No creo que vuelva a tener una relación laboral como ésta en toda mi vida.”
Gehry es el primero en creer que el mismo pueblo vasco será responsable por el éxito del museo. “En Los Angeles piensan que gusta la cultura, pero no se implican hasta el punto que lo hace esta ciudad. Eso se nota en el resultado. Todos nos hemos puesto a tiro con este edificio. Y eso es lo que va a hacer que funcione.”
Los mismos vascos aún no lo tienen claro. Un chiste local captura la sensación del escepticismo. Un bilbaíno pregunta a otro si conoce cuánto ha costado El Guggenheim.
Y el otro le responde: “No importa si pueda meter muchos goles.”
Epílogo: Hoy en día, en la época post-Covid, Guggenheim Bilbao recibe más que un millón de visitas cada año, y en 2023 celebra el 25 cumpleaños de su inauguración.
Foods from Spain New York, 2003, original de 1,335 words (resumé 2015)
Cet article m’a été commandé après que le New York Times eut fait sensation en publiant, à la une, un article de quatorze pages sur Ferran Adrià. Ce fut l’occasion de se demander ce qui se passait vraiment dans la cuisine d’avant-garde espagnole. Traduit © 2015 pour La Calade
Juste avant le début de ce siècle, l’effet Adrià – alias l’effet Bullí – arriva sur Madrid. Il n’était pas circonscrit à une élite. Dans les cafés il y avait des discussions quant à savoir s’il fallait, ou peut-ètre non, s’offrir un siphon. Alberto, le patron d’un café, s’acheta le fameux utensile; il invita quelques uns d’entre nous à dîner chez lui et je me souviens encore de son espuma (écume) aux fruits tropicaux: nous nous sommes tus pendant que nos papilles s’éveillaient.
Quelques années plus tard, on me invita d’écrire sur les jeunes chefs espagnols, âgés de 20 à 40 ans. En relisant les notes que j’avais prises lors d’une journée de recherches, j’en résumais les points suivants: “modestie …. authenticité, malgré des techniques sophistiquées …. empreinte ‘effet Adrià’”.
Pour les jeunes chefs, Adrià était un personage beaucoup plus important qu’elle ne l’était pour les cuisiniers amateurs. Bien sûr, il était question de technique: il y avait des sauces à base d’huile d’olive précipitée, des gélatines chaudes, des tortillas déconstruites, des raviolis à la vanille… pour ne citer que quelques plats très connus. Ils ont incité tous les chefs, mais surtout les jeunes, à faire des expériences presque de laboratoire.
Avant tout, ce qui comptait était l’esprit de sa démarche: décalé mais avec discipline en équipe, chacun y ajoutant son grain de sel y energie, une idée qui se substituait à celui du chef-propriétaire. C’était une inspiration communicative.
Adrià représentait également l’engagement: il avait construit son chemin seul d’une façon qu’habituellement on associe aux artistes, misant tout pour une phrase du chef français Jacques Maximin, à la fin des années 80. Il l’a maintes fois citée et elle est inscrite sur la quatrième de couverture de ses livres. “Crear es no copiar.” Créer est ne pas copier. On ne se lasse pas de l’entendre.
Ceci me conduit à chercher de comparaisons pertinentes.
Je songe à ces artistes qui revisitent la culture populaire dans leur domaine, par exemple, le cinéaste Pedro Almodóvar, qui, comme Adrià, travaille à l’écart de la mecque de son monde professionnel. Dans chaque film, dont l’écho est mundial, il fait un assemblage moderne del ingrédients du quotidien espagnol.
Trois célèbres innovateurs de flamenco me viennent aussi à l’esprit: le guitariste Paco de Lucía, le chanteur (cantaor) Enrique Morente – les deux tristement disparus – et la danseuse (bailaora) Eva Yerbabuena. Tous les trois ont fait des recherches approfondies pour ses reinterpretations d’un patrimoine qu’ils ont présenté avec une envoûtante contemporanéité.
Il y a enfin l’art des photographes, tels que Cristina García Rodero, dont le travail met à nu la culture populaire d’une façon profondément touchante. Tout comme les chefs, les cinéastes et les artistes de flamenco, son travail force l’admiration, tant par son contenu que par sa perspective.
Comme ces créateurs, tous autodidactes á des égards importants – et ceci me semble être au coeur du sujet – Adrià revisite les profondeurs de la culture espagnole et nous ébranle de nouveauté.
En écrivant une troisième article sure Adrià et les chefs jeunes, je me suis interrogée quant à l’avenir. Je pensais à téléphoner Andoni Luis Aduriz, dont le restaurant Mugaritz est proche de Saint Sébastien (Donostia). C’est un personnage iconique non seulement par sa cuisine, mais autre fois par son ésprit: décalé, autocritique, sans faux glameur – vêtu presque toujours de camisetes et sweats à capuches – mais a la recherche d’une beauté aprofondie très elaborés dans ses plats.
Il me demanda une journée de réflexion et m’adressa un mail en pleine nuit.
En voici sa conclusion.
“En fin de compte, ce qu’il nous faut, c’est entretenir l’intérêt, les espoirs et la force que la cuisine suscite en ce moment. Mais j’estime que la cuisine a encore besoin d’une petite révolution. Il convient de disséminer le sens des valeurs. Je considère que les valeurs sont plus importantes que les hommes. Nous devons nous poser des questions, et je pense que cela a à peine commencé.”
Epilogue: Quelques mois après ce déjeuner, j’eus le privilège de converser avec Harold MacGee, lors des recontres culinaires Eurotoques à Saint Sébastien. Andoni, qui était à l’origine de ce rassemblement, écrivait l’introduction à une édition espagnole de son livre mythique ‘Science et légende en cuisine’ (On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen).
Nous échangeâmes des propos admiratifs sur l’équipe de Mugaritz.
“J’ai le sentiment, dit-il, “qu’Andoni et moi-même nous nous intéressons davantage à l’origine des détails techniques qu’aux détails eux-mêmes. De quelle partie du monde viennent-ils? Qu’évoquent-ils? Quel est le type de relations entre les êtres humains qui rend possible ces techniques?”
Voilà quelques interrogations pour les années à venir.
Last of The Independents Londres, 2014, original de 1,200 mots (resumé 2015/2023)
J’avais fait connaissance avec les Ochandos en 2009, cinq ans avant de parler d’eux dans le cadre d’une série d’articles publiés sur le blog culinaire Last of the Independents, création du journaliste Gareth Jones. La famille dirige un restaurant ou ils allument son four à rôtir avec du ciste (Cistus Ladanifer), une plante qui confère un arôme particulier aux viandes. Le chevreau rôti, presenté sans pretensions, est un petit chef d’oeuvre. Traduit © 2015 por Ann Walgenwitz
Mon grand-père Teodomiro considérait que rôtir n’était pas un travail de femme,» confie Irene Ochando. Menue, vêtue de noir comme bien des citadines, elle a noué ses cheveux en queue de cheval pour travailler. Nous sommes dimanche matin, le coup de feu de la semaine.
“C’est assez dur physiquement», admet-elle, «mais j’adore l’ambiance calme qui règne près des fours”.
Irene fait figure d’exception parmi les maîtres-rôtisseurs de Castille. On dit que le restaurant Botin, appelé un asador, ou rôtisserie, au cœur de la vieille ville de Madrid, possède un des fours les plus anciens du monde encore en usage. Ici, on peut admirer le savoir-faire de rôtisseurs bien baraqués qui, armés d’une spatule en bois, bousculent les pièces d’agneau et de cochon de lait. Mais aujourd’hui la realité de beaucoup de restaurants qui s’appellent asadores sont équipés de fours à gaz qui rendent la tâche moins difficile. Pourtant, rares sont ceux qui emploient des femmes comme rôtisseuses.
La mère d’Irene avait appris le métier au côté de son père Vicente dans les années 1940. A l’époque, la viande est un luxe: le couple sillonne la sierra, allant de fêtes de village en mariages. Plus tard, Vicente, qui est aussi tailleur de pierres, construira le restaurant actuel, une maison basse en granit située en plein centre de La Cabrera, une ville nichée sur les pentes des montagnes du nord de Madrid. Au rez-de-chaussée, derrière la salle, le bar et la cuisine, se trouve le four. Irene et Sabi – son mari galicien – et leurs deux enfants, vivent à l’étage.
«Personne ne commente le fait que je suis une femme, mais cela surprend», explique Irene. “La question que l’on me pose toujours, c’est, pourquoi votre viande est-elle si goûteuse? ”
La réponse se trouve dans les impératifs de la pauvreté rurale. La Cabrera, littéralement “la chevrière”, tient son nom des chèvres noires au poil hirsute qui paissaient autrefois en ces lieux. Contents des maigres pâtures de montagne, les chevreaux devinrent le plat typique des fêtes de village. Teodomiro achetait chaque bête à rôtir à ses amis chevriers.
“Il faut que la bête pèse aux alentours de 5.5 kg, jamais moins», précise Irene. «C’est le rapport viande/carcasse idéal.”
Les chevreaux nourris à l’herbe que l’on trouve aujourd’hui sur les marchés pèsent généralement une demi-livre ou trois-quarts de livre de moins que les bêtes plus costaudes recherchées par Irene. Alors, elle fait comme son grand-père: elle achète ses chevreaux dans une filière parallèle de bouchers et d’éleveurs indépendants.
Les coteaux à l’arrière de la ville continuent à lui fournir son deuxième ingrédient essentiel: le ciste qui alimente le four. A l’époque de Teodomiro, le bois issu des arbres de la sierra se vendait tout aux marchands et citadins de Madrid et les habitants ont cuisiné avec le ciste que l’on trouve encore aujourd’hui sur les terrains exposés. Rares sont les habitants de La Cabrera qui, comme Sabi, continuent à récolter ces plantes deux mois par an. C’est utile pour la ville: l’arrachage soigné de bandes de cistes, qui repousseront au printemps suivant, crée des coupe-feux. Dans le four, les buissons secs produisent une forte chaleur y des nuages de fumée odorante.
Le troisième élément qui explique la qualité exceptionnelle des viandes rôties d’Irene, c’est le savoir-faire de famille. Dans les années 1930, Teodomiro, itinerant, se déplaçe à dos de mulet avec ses plats en terre, son saindoux et son ail bourrés dans les sacs de l’animal. Les chevreaux à rôtir suivent en gambadant. Arrivé à destination, Teodomiro se charge d’abattre les bêtes, de rôtir la viande et de servir a table, allant même jusqu’à pousser la chansonnette lors de la fête. Rien ne se perd. Le sang du chevreau est cuit avec des oignons, les abats cuisinés au vin blanc, les pieds se preparent à la maison pour le repas familial, et les peaux se troquent contre de l’huile d’olive ou du sucre. Plus tard, il perfectionnera l’art de rôtir au ciste. Ce metier herité fait la fierté de la famille: pour ça le restaurant s’appelle El Asador de Teodomiro.
“Quand le four chante, je sais que la température est bonne,” explique Irene. En approchant mon oreille de la porte ouverte, j’entends un sifflement interrompu par de petits craquements: la température dépasse les 300°C.
Pourtant Irene n’ajoute pas une goutte d’eau à la viande. «Elle ne serait pas rôtie», explique-t-elle. “C’est une règle d’or de famille.”
Cinq heures après le début du service, Irene sort le chevreau du four: il a pris une belle teinte acajou et le jus dégouline dans le plat. On voit comment tous les éléments embellissent le plat: le rapport viande/carcasse, l’intensité de la chaleur, les plats en terre qui empêchent la viande de brûler, l’arôme du ciste..
Irene et Sabi travaillent sept jours sur sept. En été, pour supporter la chaleur accablante, ils se trempent régulièrement les bras dans un grand seau d’eau fraîche. L’exposition à une telle chaleur favorise les maladies des yeux comme le glaucome, dont les parents d’Irene souffrirent vers la fin de leur vie.
Mais le défi de la siècle XXI a apporté aussi de changements positifs. Les chèvres de Guadarrama au pelage hirsute sont de retour dans la sierra y une nouvelle génération de clients polonais, roumains et marocains qui se sont installés ici sont de grands «connoisseurs de chevreau r^ti», confie Irene.
Son fils Julen, pas même adolescent, n’a pas encore le droit de s’occuper du four, mais il joue avec les assaisonnements. Lorsqu’il tourne les talons, Irene me confie: “Tu sais, je ne suis ni femme d’affaires ni chef. Mais peut-être que ce sera son avenir à lui.”
Irene me fait goûter un ris, le “privilège du rôtisseur”, comme elle dit; un carré de fine peau dorée et craquante, une côtelette tendre; vient enfin un morceau de viande maigre et juteuse. La dégustation déclinée en un camaïeu de bruns, procure de sensations diverses et sorprendentes : c’est le chevreau repensé, presque un repas avant-gardiste.
The Independent on Sunday, 1995, original de 850 mots (resumé 2015-23)
Si je devais choisir l’expérience professionnelle qui m’a le plus marquée durant toute mes années en Espagne, je choisirais les moments passés dans les ateliers de flamenco et de concours de chant nationaux de la prison de Cordoue. Ce sont trois personnes extraordinaires qui en ont eu l’idée: le guitariste Rafael Treñas, l’éducateur Antonio Estevez, et le directeur de la prison Francisco Velasco. Traduction © 2015 pour Ann Walgenwitz.
Ma voix a changé en prison”, explique Antonio Pellizco [nombre changé pour proteger l’intimité]. “Avant, j’avais une voix d’enfant. Maintenant, elle est plus mûre. L’expérience de la prison a détruit une partie de moi, et ça s’entend quand je chante.”
Antonio, 34 ans, participe à l’atelier hebdomadaire de chant flamenco (cante) de la prison de Cordoue.
Le guitariste professionnel Rafael Treñas enseigne aux élèves le repertoire de chansons de prisons dont certaines sont tirées du flamenco datant du début du XX siècle. La classe a atteint un tel niveau d’excellence que certains élèves commencent a faire du chant leur métier. Cette année, pour la première fois, Rafael a permis à quatre élèves chanter dans peñas andalouses, les sociétés d’aficianados de flamenco qui forment un public particulièrement averti.
“Après le spectacle, des gens sont venus me voir pour me parler en tant que chanteur. C’était formidable, confie Antonio. «Quand on commence à chanter, on lit la surprise sur leur visage, comme s’ils ne s’attendaient à rien de bon.”
Antonio a déjà effectué les trois-quarts de sa peine de 22 ans. Il est arrivé à la prison de Cordoue il y a six ans pour se présenter au premier concours biannuel national de chant flamenco pénitentiaire. Après sélection sur la base d’une bande de démo, les deux douzaines de finalistes venus de toute l’Espagne obtiennent une remise de peine et, s’ils le souhaitent, les gagnants peuvent changer de prison à Cordoue pour participer à l’atelier.
En dehors des études, les prisonniers se plient à l’emploi du temps quotidien de la prison: nettoyage et corvées de cuisine, trois repas, trois comptages. A l’heure de la promenade, les cours sont surchargées. La plupart des chambres sont de 3m x 2,5m, équipées de deux lits superposés et d’un urinoir. Les plus chanceux disposent aussi d’un petit lecteur de cassettes.
Les élèves de Rafael sont représentatifs des prisonniers de Cordoue. Francisco Velasco, le directeur du centre pénitentiaire, nous explique. 80% d’entre eux sont des gitans âgés de 25 à 35 ans, incarcérés pour des délits en rapport avec la toxicomanie. Plus des trois-quarts des membres des ateliers de chant entrent dans cette catégorie. Dans l’aile des femmes, c’est la même histoire: la plupart effectuent de courtes peines liées à de petits trafics, souvent mis en place par leur mari.
Antonio Estevez, psychologue et éducateur à la prison, considère que le succès de l’initiative s’explique par la force de la culture gitane. C’est lui qui a eu l’idée d’organiser les ateliers de flamenco. “Ça marche parce que les ateliers se basent sur le monde que connaissent les prisonniers. Vous ne convaincrez pas un gitan d’aller à un cours d’informatique, ou une gitane de faire de la gym. Vous avez plus de chance de leur faire suivre une leçon de flamenco.”
Le succès des ateliers et du concours dépend de l’engagement de leurs créateurs. Francisco Velasco collecte le maigre financement local; Rafael Treñas ne facture ses cours que 200 euros par mois (moins que ce qu’il gagne en un seul concert); et il n’est pas rare que Antonio Estevez mette la main à la poche lorsque le budget ne permet pas de couvrir les frais d’invitation d’un jury professionnel pour le concours. Tous trois sont grandis à proximité ou dans les quartiers de villes andalouses rythmées par le flamenco gitane depuis plus de deux siècles.
“Nous considérons le flamenco comme l’expression de toutes les souffrances du peuple andalou, de persécutions,” explique Francisco Velasco. “Ceux qui ont été marginalisés par cette société s’expriment de manière particulièrement libre et spontanée. C’est leur musique, tout comme le blues est celle d’une partie de la société américaine.”
Le respect perceptible dans ces remarques est mutuel. Un jour, à l’occasion d’une mutinerie, des prisonniers se sont introduits dans le dispensaire de médecins la prison et ont tout cassé sur leur passage.
Mais la guitare de Rafael, elle, n’a pas été touchée. Quelqu’un l’avait mise en sécurité dans un casier métallique.
Epilogue: Antonio Estevez, qui était à la tête de l’équipe d’éducateurs de la prison de Cordoue, choisit sa retraite anticipée. Il avait laissé sur son ordinateur un fichier complet d’instructions expliquant comment relancer les ateliers de flamenco. Jusqu’ici, personne n’a encore ouvert le fichier et il n’ya a pas de project comparable de qualité.
Francisco Velasco a souhaité retourner vivre et travailler comme directeur de prison à Malaga, la ville dont il est originaire.
Rafael Treñas qui anima l’atelier de flamenco pendant dix ans, compose, donne des récitals et accompagne des cantaores professionnels comme Chano Lobato, Gabriel Moreno, El Yeye et Carmen de la Jara. Il se produit sur le circuit des aficionados, en théâtres de toute Espagne et à l’étranger. Son fils, qui se nomme lui-aussi Rafael, est également guitariste professionnel.
Journal of the International Wine & Food Society London , 1988, original de 2,000 mots (resumé et mise au jour 2015 / 2023)
On parle beaucoup de l’importance de la créativité de groupe pour lutter contre le chômage, le dérèglement climatique, et l’effondrement de la communauté. Voici une histoire qui suggère à quel point cela peut être efficace. A la fin des années 1980, j’allais souvent à Saint-Sébastien (Donostia) avec un ami basque dont la famille tenait un restaurant. J’étais étonnée par la culture culinaire, mais aussi par la façon dont cette culture était encouragée. Aujourd’hui, c’est la preuve de tout ce qui peut être atteint à tous les niveaux de societé lorsqu’il existe une volonté commune. Traduit © 2015 pour Ann Walgenwitz
Le Pays Basque espagnol a la passion de la cuisine. Si l’on demande pourquoi, on vous parle peut-être du climat montagnard ou de la brise marine, de l’identité culturelle et le plaisir sensuel du repas dans une société profondément religieuse jusqu’aux 1970s. Les critiques gastronomiques analysent l’influence de la France toute proche, la richesse industrielle et le rôle des cuisiniers privés au service des riches familles qui passaient l’été ici au 19ème siècle. Cela fait au moins un siècle que la gastronomie basque est une scène hyper dynamique.
Il y a aussi la théorie de José María Busca Isusi, le grand critique gastronomique basque, qui considèrait important, selon ses propres termes, son radio de alcance o «rayon de portée». On peut interpréter cela au sens physique ou intangible. Cette région limitrophe est aussi un creuset culturel.
Également, l’importance accordée au produit est telle qu’elle semble aller de pair avec la geógraphie local, comme dans la culture culinaire romaine classique: alubias negras, ou haricots noirs, de Tolosa; chuletas de buey, côtes de bœuf, de la vallée de Baztan…jusqu’aux lechugas, laitues, produites à la ferme, de préférence de mon potager o le tien, ou celui d’un voisin. On peut considérer la cuisine du quotidien de la région comme un amalgame de cuisines moindres, issues de terrains diverses. Cette fragmentation favorise l’ingénuité au long de la côte basque, dans les montagnes, dans les tierras medias – de bonnes terres proches de la mer – et dans les maraîchages de Navarre.
D’un lieu à l’autre la cuisine varie beaucoup. Ça se voit dans les menus depuis les 1930s quand il n’y avait guère de différence entre la cuisine en famille et aux restaurants. Dans bien des cas, c’étaient les femmes, comme par exemple les trois sœurs Azcaray de El Amparo, qui mettaient des plats familiaux au menu des restaurants. D’autres chefs emblématiques, comme Nicolasa, firent découvrir la cuisine basque aux cités de toute Espagne.
Sous la dictature de Franco, quand la langue et drapeau basques etaient prohibis, la protection de l’identité culturelle joua également un rôle important. Les txokos, sociétés gastronomiques masculines faisaient quotidiennement office de laboratoires du goût en ville: c’est ainsi que quelques plats populaires se glissaient dans la culture des restaurants. C’est notamment le cas du kokotxas al pilpil, un coûteux plat de alta cocina de joues de colin dans les jus de cuisson liés par la propre gélatine du poisson. Il est né entre pêcheurs et moines, et s’est faufilé jusqu’au restaurants en passant par les txokos.
Dans les années 1970, la balance a penché dans une autre direction. Les chefs basques s’intéressent alors à la nouvelle cuisine française: ils y trouvent une signification vers la démocratie. Un petit groupe, surnommé plus tard «les onze magnifiques»pour le critique gastronomique catalan Luis Bettonica, s’inspirent après un recontre avec Paul Bocuse. Juan Mari Arzak, fer de lance du mouvement, explique qu’ils sentent qu’il leur faut «contribuer aux changements culturels dont les Basques font actuellement l’expérience.» La cuisine, considérée comme culture, doit marcher avec son temps.
Les chefs, tous de la province de Saint-Sébastien (Guipuzkoa), se réunissent une fois par mois pour tester des recettes. L’objectif de revisiter des plats anciens ne connait pas l’engouement escompté, à quelques exceptions, comme l’intxaursalsa, un onctueux dessert aux noix, mais quant a la nouvelle sí il y a plein de plats comme les pimientos de piquillo et pudins.
Avec le recul, il est évident que l’emprise de l’avant-garde espagnole n’a pas commencé dans les années 1990, à l’heure où le monde entier découvrait El Bulli, mais vingt ans plus tôt. Pour ça on voit l’effet de long terme de la vanguardia española au Pays Basque, ou les répercussions ont touché toutes les domaines de la culture alimentaire: non seulement les célèbres restaurants étoilés par Michelin – 23 étoiles au total dans la région en 2023 – mais aussi la culture de pinxos, les marchés de producteurs et ventes à la ferme, cantines scolaires, recherche I&D, la télévision, la publicité alimentaire, le tourisme gourmet et la presse. Aujourd’hui ses chefs suivent sa conversation culinaire qui met la cuisine à l’honneur dans la vie quotidienne.
Un autre développement lié à la naissance de la nueva cocina est moins connu. Je parle de la crisis de producto, la «crise des produits».
Dans les 1970s cette «crise» c’était compris comme reflet du déclin des fermes de famille, ou caseríos. Une étude effectuée au milieu des années 1970 faisait apparaître que le caserío typique avait des journées de travail moyennes de quatorze heures, et qu’elles pourraient tripler leur production en utilisant des méthodes modernes. Mais ceci aurait un impact néfaste sur la qualité des produits. D’autres facteurs entraient également en jeu dans le crise. Législation avait commencer a reduire l’accès aux zones de pêche éloignées; et quelques zones plus proches montraient les signes de surexploitation.
Aujourd’hui la crisis de producto est toujours à l’ordre du jour, mais maintenant avec des solutions. Pour permettre le renouvellement des stocks d’anchois, pour exemple, une mesure a été prise avec l’interdiction de la pêche pendant quatre ans. Cette mesure, très dure pour les pêcheurs d’anchois y prolongée d’un, s’est révélée efficace. Par ailleurs, de gros efforts ont été consentis pour protéger les produits de caserío: les haricots de Tolosa, miel brut, cidre naturel, et laitues de ferme, autant de produits qui sont désormais vendus sous le label Eusko.
On peur dire que l’ancienne crisis de producto et la démarche consistant à placer l’alimentation au cœur d’une culture démocratique ont permis d’identifier des sorties de crise.
Un dernier élément, l’education, ést peut-être le plus important en cette epoque. Le Basque Culinary Center (BCC), en San Sebastián, que dépend de l’université de Mondragón, offre depuis 2011 la première licence en sciences gastronomiques d’Europe. Aujourd’hui des étudiants des cinq continents arrivent a BCC pour étudier : le « rayon de portée » de Busca Isusi s’est étirée de local a global en un clin d’oeuil.