Posted tagged ‘Spain’

For the Love of Jamón

May 21, 2008

The first photo album I made from Spain was based solely on a specific food that Spaniards seem to worship more than the old ladies worship their fur coats or the young men worship blonde Americans. More than any other country in the world, Spaniards consume about five kilograms a year of a food that gets significantly less respect here in the United States: ham. Five kg of ham. That’s over 25 million little piglets each year.

 Jamon flavored Lays

Similar to New Yorkers and our hopeless obsession with Starbucks, it is hard to walk a block in Madrid with out spotting the popular Museo del Jamón. That’s right, this food is worthy of its own museum. Not an actual museum (thankfully) Museo del Jamón is more like a deli/diner where you can get ham sliced straight from one of the numerous large legs that hang from the rafters soaking up the patrons’ cigarette smoke. If you look closely enough, some of the legs even have bits of hair left prickling off of the skin. And if that doesn’t get your mouth watering you have no hope of surviving in Madrid.

 

 Museo del Jamon

 

Ham played a strong role in Spain’s history, dating back to 1492 when the Christians drove the Moors and the Jews out of the country. It was the time of the witch hunt when Christians who were not sufficiently devout were accused of being Jewish and the Jews who wanted to stay in the country that they called home worked hard to hide their true beliefs behind excessive PDC: Public Displays of Christianity.

 

Ham became a way for Christians to display their religion and for the Jews to hide theirs. Ham legs displayed prominently in home windows and storefronts became a common sight and it is even said that ham would be hidden in dishes to test a patron’s religious beliefs. Six centuries later the tradition has led the way to a full on love affair with the meat. So it is the Christians of the 15th century that tourists and vegetarians have to blame for the endless surprises they find in their potato croquettes and “vegetable” soups. As one waitor told me as he placed a salad in front of me that was weighed down by slabs of ham, “It IS vegetarian, it’s just jamón!”

 

The Holy Trinity (?)

May 19, 2008

I once told my old boss at Style Publications that the guys I befriended in Spain were like different action figures: the air traffic controller, the firefighter, the man who owned a motorcycle shop. But for the ones who made the biggest impression on me I think a more accurate description would be The Holy Trinity. I’m definitely not trying to put them on some heavenly level, in fact, for Miguel at least, I’d like to do just the opposite,  but it is funny how, looking back, each one of them seemed to have their distinct role to play. Let me explain: 

MIGUEL

Miguel, the previously mentioned Argentinean, was an air traffic controller who aspired to be, not an actor, but the guy who does the horrible voice overs for the movies. I didn’t understand it at the time but apparently Brad Pitt’s voice over guy is just as famous as Brad Pitt in places like Argentina. In the short time that we dated (mid January just after I arrived until Valentines Day) he made me brownies in the microwave using only sugar, flour and chocolate and they were actually semi decent. Take that Top Chef! Yet he scoffed when I tried to introduce him to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and despite the fact that he enjoys a chocolate pastry and a cigarette for breakfast each morning, he chided me for eating something so unhealthy.

 

Miguel would be The Father because of his age and because I met him soon after I arrived in Spain, before I knew much Spanish or had even begun understanding the culture. He confessed to lying about his age; he told me he was 25 and then said he lied and was 28. I’m thinking he was probably 30. I was 20 at the time. Not cool. Also if we went a few days with out seeing each other, the next time we got together he would always exclaim in frustration “when are you going to learn Spanish?!” As if he was so disappointed our communication wasn’t perfectly fluid after a couple of days apart. Disappointment is definitely a fatherly quality.

 

 

 

ALEJANDRO aka ALEX

The Son would definitely be Alejandro. He liked me to call him Alex because it was more American and at the age of twenty-something (I was afraid to ask after the Miguel incident) he still lived at home. Because of his history with Americans he knew this living situation might be perfectly acceptable in most European cultures, but for Americans it really threw us off. But because of his lighthearted nature he just laughed it off and could easily joke about the whole ordeal.

 

I met him at the little bar across the street from my apartment–a small cave bar with low ceilings, dim lights, and Moroccan inspired decor and the best hand crushed mojitos you will ever find in Spain. He was with his ex girlfriend, I would later learn, when his radar for American girls picked up our broken Spanish and thick American accents. He invited my roommates and I to his own birthday party the next night and even wrote us directions on a little bar napkin. Uneasy but curious, my roommates and I (we were dubbed The Katies because our names are all variations of Katie which is especially difficult for native Spanish speakers to pronounce) ventured off to see what a Spanish birthday party was like. It would be this same logic that got me in a cab heading towards the suburbs of Madrid one evening to “see what a Spanish house party is like.”

 

The party was pretty much what you would expect, until Alejandro came out in a Care Bear costume swigging champagne from the bottle and pronouncing “I am lover bear!” in broken English that disintegrated into laughter. Any uneasiness The Katies initially felt was quickly washed away with champagne and laughter. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

Alex is The Son because like many Spaniards my age, he just seems so much younger! People there were often amazed that I left home at 18 to go to college, as if they couldn’t imagine being on their own that early in life. But I guess in their culture, it is kind of unimaginable. But even if living at home is the social norm, his relationship with his mother is not. She still picks up after him, even wakes him up some mornings and doesn’t flinch if he’s not alone in bed. And as a painter, she has even painted a nude picture of her son, which I was not fortunate enough to see. But all in all, Alejandro’s good natured, laid back personality can often be seen as childish but more in the way of a man who never fully grows up…like Peter Pan. In a good way!

 

 

 

PEDRO 

And that leaves Pedro, inaccurately dubbed “Fat Man,” with the title of The Holy Spirit. He was one of the bartenders at Plaza Menor, the quaint bar across the street, and the only one who spoke a bit of English and tried to understand our Spanish. Although he was only slightly pudgy, I woke up one morning remembering only that I’d met a fat man who was a bartender and whom I thought I’d fallen in love with.  And after telling The Katies this, our three brains were able to put the events of the night together and figure out who I was talking about. While the love turned out to be an effect of the mojitos, the desire to get to know Pedro reamined.

 

The street between the bar and our apartment was so small, maybe 6 steps apart, that we could hear the sound of the large creaky door opening as we groggily woke up from our daily afternoon siestas. The sound of Pedro slowly opening the heavy metal door was often my alarm clock-my cue to awake from my post class nap and start getting ready to go out for evening.

 

Fat Man is The Holy Spirit because he always seemed to be right outside my window (not in a creepy way) and because he is still a very elusive character in my mind. Although we saw him almost every night, whether it be for one of his unforgettable mojitos that I still sometimes crave, or just saying goodnight as we stumble home past his bar, I never felt like I got to know him beyond the superficial neighborly relationship. He gave me his e-mail address on my last night in the city and we both looked close to tears when we hugged goodbye, but I somehow lost his e-mail in my move and I never heard from him. So Pedro, if you read this, my apologies for the nickname and please send me an e-mail! Otherwise, I’m sure I will make it back there soon enough; I just hope Plaza Menor is still where I left it!