I was trying to find a particular photo amongst our massive holdings of European holiday photos and is so often the case, I went down the rabbit hole. One minute I was focused on finding the snapshot in question and suddenly it was 40 minutes later and I was tripping down memory lane. One particular set of photos brought back very fond memories. So, for something a bit different, this week I’ll tell you about how a bunch of Spanish Baby-Boomers and Septuagenarians took us hostage and treated us to a night of Navarrese hospitality.
We were doing a house swap in small hill top town in the Kingdom of Navarre, ‘Land of Diversity’ in the Basque country of Spain. Guillermo was Pedro’s brother and he had obviously been told by Pilar & Pedro to look after their Australian guests whilst we were staying in their home in Lerin. After a day at the wine museum in Olite, we returned around 5pm to find Guillermo waiting for us. He led us around the back of the apartment block to a old building attached to the apartments. The family home had once stood on the land but had been knocked down to make a set of modern apartments for each of the brothers and sisters to live in. After all, who wants to live in an old house which may be full of character but is cold in winter and constantly needs upkeep? The old building was the size of a garage, with a small wooden door, concrete floor and one brick wall. The other wall had been carved directly into the stone and there was a large fireplace with a roaring fire, at one end. Guillermo spoke no English, we spoke no Spanish but between sign language and gesticulations we deduced that we were to return in an hour, for a meal.
It takes a village to make a meal
We arrived at the appointed time to find a hive of activity. Tables had been pulled together and places laid, with everyone hard at work preparing a meal. It turned out that we were the guests of honour. Over a glass of wine, we were introduced to our hosts, who at this stage, were all men. A huge gas ring was burning with an enormous pan of stew bubbling away on top. As the floor was uneven, in classic ‘Food Safari’ style a running repair had been made with a small piece of wood to even up the legs and stop the stew escaping. The gas ring was cooking furiously and they all took turns to stir, with lots of suggestions and comments about the best way to care for the meal, from the rest of the crowd at the table.
As the food was ready, the wives suddenly appeared and introduced themselves to us. First course was a vegetable soup with crusty bread. The conversation was stilted to say the least, except for one host who chatted to us ten to the dozen in Spanish the whole time. We smiled and say ‘si, si’ continuously so perhaps he thought we understood more than we did. He carried on his one sided conversation the entire evening but seemed happy enough with our smiles and nods.
Next up was the home style stew. Again, it was the men who took control, dishing up the meal of unidentifiable meat and potatoes in a thick gravy. As is often the case, Anthony was the target of second and third helpings. They must have thought I was starving him so they wanted to make sure he had at least one square meal during the week. More wine and charades followed and then it was on to dessert, an apple tart. Or as the Spanish are so fond of saying, ‘flan’.
At the end of the meal the wives disappeared down one end to wash up in a very rudimentary sink with cold water and hot water from a boiled kettle. We took up tea towels but were shooed back to the table. It seems the division of labour was: men – wine and main; women – dessert and washing up; guests – eating and drinking. As the mismatched crockery and cutlery was washed and put away for the next group meal, the kitchen dresser was opened up and the homemade spirits appeared. Fire water of every kind. One very potent brew was the Pacharran (or Patxaran in Basque), a combination of aniseed spirit, coffee beans and sloe berries (used in sloe gin).
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…
The piece de resistance were the roasted chestnuts. A home made chestnut roaster made from an old tin, was filled with chestnuts. They had been scored at one end to allow the steam to escape and prevent small explosions. A sentinel watched over the ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’, shaking and rolling the barrel so they cooked evenly. Several minutes later, they were ready and turned out onto a towel to absorb some of the heat and cool. We then tucked in.
Time passed and eventually we ran out of of things to mime or draw so it was time to call it a night. We appreciated what a big effort had been made by the group. They usually ate big lunches at 2 or 3pm and ate lightly in the late evening, if at all. Sitting down to a three course meal at 6pm was as foreign to them as eating at 10pm was to us. What a fantastic group of people – welcoming a couple of travellers they had never met and didn’t have a lot in common with, into their inner sanctum. That’s how memories are made.
* I am now taking Spanish lessons to improve my chances of communicating with the locals. Mi nombre es TIFFIN