“Ir al campo” (Going to the country) in the weekend to have a paella together is one of those outings that I love about living in Andalucia.
El campo is somewhere inland, far enough to feel disconnected from daily responsibilities, where you improvise with eating and drinking tools and can let go of wanting to colour coordinate the serviettes. It’s also, similar to a BBQ, the occasion where a man takes full charge of the cooking. Well, the paella part, which becomes a very serious project a man does not take lightly.
We were at a paella lunch yesterday organised by our friends Arturo and Cristina close to Puente Genil in the Cordoba province. Arturo, he doesn’t mind me saying, is an authentic macho iberico and Cristina, originally German fell for him, head over heels about 25 years ago. Our children played together when we were neighbours at one point and would talk a mixture of English and Spanish as they all went to the International school. Those same children are now in their twenties and all turned into not only beautiful young adults but exemplary European citizens.
The fun part about having paella as the excuse to come together is that it is a long process to make and requires continuous stirring and attention. We were about 40 people and although the day started chilly, when the sun came out it was lovely outside. The paella was an enormous pan and one stands around it with a drink and chats. A lot of talk goes into why the person who is holding the spoon is stirring around rather than in straight lines/stirring too little or too much/at what point the broth needs to be added, which rice is the best and why etc. A lot of making fun of the chef too of course, but he will hold onto the spoon as if his life depends on it. This is his paella and no one messes with it.
Whilst subjects such as politics and finances are side stepped and dodged with the skill of a bullfighter, Paul and I can always hide behind our passports. We wisely don’t pick sides in conversations about the Cataluña issue, we don’t have to, it’s not our fight. The position of an observer and questioner is so much more interesting anyway and a lot less complicated.
As everyone is helping out to set the buffet table with salads, cheese and olives that they brought from home others walk around to serve each other wine. We find ourselves caught up in a magnificent history lesson by a man from Cordoba who claims to be a descendant of one of the oldest families in his town dating back to 1460. Coming from a country where national pride is non existent, it never seizes to surprise me how proud Spaniards are of their country and heritage. The interpretation of the 80 year dominance Spain had over the Netherlands is always a nice opportunity to tease and challenge the ‘facts’.
Laughter and general loudness attracted me back to the paella. The paella cook had decorated the top of the paella with slices of hard boiled egg. I had never seen this version and asked if it was typical from the area. “No way! They replied, we have NEVER seen or eaten a paella with hard boiled egg, but his mother always made it this way so he does too!” I found it very endearing that the cook was prepared to be ridiculed like this to defend his mother’s culinary free styling.
The sun was starting to set as we drove home and the beautiful winter sky shed a filter over the Cordobese country side shifting our focus away from the sadness of the olive grove monoculture and the dry, infertile soil. All those years of agricultural small scale traditions, if only they had been defended with the same passion as paella cooking. The almost two hour drive home gave us enough time to talk about where we can still find small scale production for oil and wine. We are going to do some research. Hopefully we will have it available for you to try on your next visit to our retreat at Back to La Tierra.
Inspired by everything that matters and convinced that creative living is on top of the list.