Oil

March 3, 2010

Those are the last drops, or bubbles rather, of an olive oil from Portugal given聽 by a friend. A particularly tasty, fruity, mellow kind of oil. When I turned the bottle upside down to get the last drop of it,聽 honeycombed bubbles formed and gave the bottle an antique and precious look !

About a year ago I visited some parts of Andalusia in Spain and especially a museum of olive; visitors were led聽 from a garden of olive trees through the various ancient rooms of an hacienda where聽 the famous oil was produced. The visit ended in a shop ( very olive-minded 馃槈 and in a restaurant which offered numerous dishes where the delicious oil played an exquisite role !

“The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven” (Thomas Jefferson).聽 This is one of the 80 sorts of olive trees growing in this hacienda.

Those are the old聽 jars that had contained the precious oil years ago.

Words that express the respect and care people had for their olive trees’ plantations.

A wonderful book for the “aficionados” of olive oil (I am one of them). It will tell you all about the origins of the olive from Africa to the Middle East, from Europe to the Americas and even some parts in Australia. And last but not least,聽 some recipes聽 are shown whose pictures only make you hungry. Here is a special treat for you : Bruschetta.

It is prepared by rubbing garlic (if you like it) on toasted bread that is then covered with fresh tomatoes and basil and smothered with oil. Olive, of course 馃槈

In 1889, Vincent van Gogh staying in the Provence/France wrote to his brother Theo : ” If you could see the olives at this moment… The old silver foliage and the silver-green against the blue… The murmur of an olive grove has something very intimate, immensely old. It is too beautiful for me to try to conceive of it or dare to paint it”.

Fascinating reading

November 6, 2009

This past Summer and Fall several books have followed me wherever I went. One that I never forgot to take with me was “The Shadow of the Wind” by Spanish (Catalan) writer Carlos Ruiz Zaf贸n.

book Zaf贸n

The novel, set in post-Spanish Civil War Barcelone,聽 is about a young boy, Daniel. After the war, Daniel’s father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few initiates. As tradition goes, everyone entering this secret place is allowed to take one book from it, and asked to protect it for life. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Juli谩n Carax. On the night he takes the book home Daniel starts reading it, and becomes completely obsessed with it and his writer. He then attempts to look for other books by this unknown author, but can find none. From then on Daniel’s life takes a completely different turn !

I will not tell you more… in case you would decide to read this fascinating book (mystery, romance, thriller, period epic). One of the best books I read this year, one that is so difficult to put down !

Grazalema 2Grazalema. One of the most picturesque and important villages in the Sierra de Grazalema (mountain area).聽 One of the many “pueblos blancos” (white villages) in the province of Cadix, Andalusia, Spain. Andalusia is the Spanish area where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea in Tarifa, the very Southern part of Europe. Andalusia is also a country of mountains and valleys, not unlike my own country, Switzerland.

Nothing is more enchanting than discovering one of those white villages behind a steep curve of the narrow winding mountain road. They look like聽 brilliant jewels nested in a box that would be the pine forest or the rocks. Truly magnificent ! The “pueblos blancos” are generally built on hills so that its inhabitants would聽 see from afar any unfriendly visitors, troops would be better said.聽 Some villages are still surrounded with ramparts, the protection against invaders of the past.

Sierra de GrazalemaThe Romans conqueered this area and then聽 Berber tribes (from Northern Africa) took it over in the 8th century. A special craft, weaving woollen blankets, was developped at the time and it is still maintained today. The local factory used to employ 5000 workers in the 19th century.

GrazalemaMost of Grazalema’s inhabitants live in small white houses with colourful tiled roofs. The narrow paved lanes聽 were not built for cars . There is hardly enough space for a vehicle. Those villages are meant to walk through, stop and chat with friends, sit in front of your porch, admire your neighbour’s flower decoration or share the latest news. Time seems to have slowed down although this beautiful聽 area聽 is popular and very much alive when聽 visitors come for holidays. Mountain climbing is wellknown up there.

Grazalema 1

People staying there nowadays go to work in larger cities down in the valley. Or they live on craftwork; they also produce meat, a delicious one. Goats, pigs and cows seem to own the pastures. I also tasted goat cheese produced locally as well as olive oil, exquisite in聽 salads or on a slightly salted toasted聽 bread at breakfast. Well worth trying ! The blankets that are woven by the women and sold in the villages are still the very same than the ones you can find in Northern Africa.

Driving down from la Sierra de Grazalema and back to the hill at Sindhura鈥檚 Hotel, my head was spinning with all I saw between ocean and high mountains. What a diversity in聽 a single province ! Andalusia, the most Southern part of Europe, is a place I enjoyed visiting immensely for the friendliness of his people, the blending of ancient cultures and religions – Islamic and Christian, the variety of landscapes and food, the way of life. To me, it seemed that people knew how to take time when needed: stress and rush (apart from the big cities) seemed less apparent.聽 Four hours away from home and a complete change of scenery. Truly magnificent.

Sindhura Hotel, in Muela, near Vejer de la Frontera (Cadix province), was a heaven of peace after a long day of visits in the cities and towns around Cadix. Close to the ocean and the mountains, it is the perfect place to spend a few聽 days聽 in聽 Andalusia. The small hotel is situated on a hill, in a quiet environment.

Sindhura 7

Anna and Alejandro have restored an old house and transformed it in a most welcoming hotel. Anna lived in India and Malaysia for years, she cooks Indian food too. What more could I have asked for ? And she spoke perfect English which was so restful (I speak French with too little knowledge of Spanish, unfortunately). I really loved this place聽 which gave you聽 a feeling of well being. When you sat on its terrace facing a white city along the ocean far away, you just felt so good and relaxed…

Sindhura 2

Sindhura 3Sindhura 5Sindhura 6

This blog has been rather silent over the past weeks… I travelled to Andalusia, the most Southern part of Spain, a province whose shores border both the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This is also an area of hills and fields covered with olive trees and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Andalusia’s mountains (sierras) are familiar to a Swiss visitor ; thick forests of pines, high peaks,聽 pastures, winding roads and snow covered mountains.聽olive trees plantations

Andalusia is also a province of ancient and magnificent cities where Hispanic and Muslim cultures blend in beautifully. I visited three large cities : Granada, Cordoba and Cadix and many other smaller towns or “pueblos blancos”; their architecture and setting were just as聽 amazing and enchanting: Baeza, Jaen, Ubeda, Vejer de la Frontera, Arcos.

On a sunny and windy Sunday morning I was in Cadix, walking on a promenade聽 along the Atlantic ocean, in luxuriant and almost tropical gardens.fountain Cadix, colour

Cadix, promenadeIt was a Sunday of celebration, a First Communion Day. Many families were walking in the gardens, all dressed up, chatting happily and enjoying this special day,聽 all generations together.

Cadix, First CommunionFurther along the walkway, I reached the harbour and the beach. There, in the midst of boats facing the ocean people were having a happy lunch or sun bathing, away from the crowd and the busy streets of the city. A real holiday mood !

Cadix, lunch at the seaside

Cadix, harbourThe merchant city of Cadix or la Habanita (little Havana) is one whose history is present at the corner of every street, a city where I loved spending my Sunday. I sat for a while in the parks looking for shade or at the harbour.聽 Coming from the mountains, sea has always fascinated me. I could sit on a beach or in a harbour, looking to the sea and imagine the ancient ships which left the Andalusian shores centuries ago and sailed toward the New World. My visit ended with a delicious “caf茅 solo con pastel” (coffee and pastries) on the terrace of the Parador (hotel) facing the ocean. A slow and relaxing day I love to remember.