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I Wonder Why...?

I will be writing about aspects of Spanish history and their traditions. I am a very curious person and have always needed to know "why" they do it, and "how" it came about. So over the years while living in Spain I have made a conscious effort to discover "el porque de las cosas" and I will be sharing them with you. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

Spain's Claim to Coca Cola
19 June 2020

 

Locals believe that the Spanish town of Aielo de Malferit is where Coca-Cola originated -- and that the factory which developed the formula that inspired the world's best-selling soda has been cheated of its rightful place in history. Not to mention profits.

 


It's allegedly the birthplace of the world's best-known soft drink. Grey-haired and bespectacled, Juan Micó - in his seventies -  still runs a liquor factory and produces a brown liquid with a secret - Grated kola nut and multiple herbs blended with alcohol mature in a clay jug for a month then Juan claims, what happens next is a secret...

 

A very well-kept one. Supposedly, the recipe for his liquor -- now called Nuez de Kola Coca -- is the basis for Coca-Cola. The syrup is extremely sweet -- sugar beet molasses are bland in comparison and Juan suggests that it's better to mix it with water rather than to drink it pure or even with milk as is prefered by the ladies of the village. It is also common locally to add it to coffee.

The first version of Nuez de Kola Coca was invented more than 120 years ago by the founders of Micó's factory. Even today, people come from far and wide to sample it -- sometimes, entire coachloads of visitors.

 

The history of Aielo's Fábrica de Licores dates back to 1880. The factory was founded by Bautista Aparici, Ricardo Sanz and Enrique Ortiz. The three entrepreneurs began manufacturing quality products -- including liquors with such imaginative names as Perfecto Amor (Perfect Love), Lágrimas de Contribuyente (Tears of the Taxpayer) and Placer de Damas (Ladies' Pleasure).

  

Kola Nut                                                                         Coca Leaves

Aparici, who was in charge of sales, was soon travelling from the Spanish province to trade fairs in Rome, Paris, London and Chicago. In 1885 he went to Philadelphia with a new beverage in his luggage. Called Kola Coca, it was made from the caffeine-rich fruit of African kola nut trees and the leaves of Peruvian coca plants, and promptly scooped an innovation prize. Before he left, Aparici gave some American sales representatives a few samples. Perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps it wasn't -- but just one year later, US pharmacist John Pemberton made history when he invented Coca-Cola. I'll let you be the judge of that...

 

 

 

 

Back in Aielo, Micó is proud of his framed collection of medals and honours. Kola Coca won the company awards in Milan in 1881, in Chicago in 1883, in Philadelphia in 1885, in London in 1889 and in Paris in 1900. They were certainly onto something big...

A total of 20 gold medals and 10 honorary diplomas were won by their Kola Coca drink. He believes wholeheartedly that the basis of Coca-Cola was invented in Aielo de Malferit. He claims it was easy to copy a beverage in those days because patents were only registered if a product proved successful. His predecessors only patented the Nuez de Kola Coca formula in Spain in 1903. But by then, Coca-Cola was already well on its way to iconic status in the US.

Half a century later, the two companies finally crossed paths. When Coca-Cola decided it was time to move into the Spanish market, there was no way of avoiding the small factory in Aielo de Malferit. In 1953, Coca Cola executives visited provincial Spain and acquired the rights to the name from Joaquin Juan Sanchis, who was then the owner of the factory.

It was allowed to go on producing Kola Coca, but only an alcoholic version. Nuez de Kola Coca has been a liquor ever since. The deal is believed to have been worth 1700 euros , but no one knows for sure, since records have been destroyed. It was definitely a lot of money for those days.

But it was only a fraction of what it could have been. In 2011, Coca-Cola celebrated its 125th anniversary as one of the world's best-known brands. 

As things stand, his business now consists of little more than an old factory with a peeling facade, a worn stone floor and a few dozen wooden barrels. The business changed hands many times before Micó bought it in 1971. He had worked there for eight years, starting out as an employee and advancing through the ranks to become the sales manager. In those days, the company numbered nearly 40 employees. Today, only four are left.

Juan remarks that the business has become difficult now that overseas companies have cornered the market. Most traditional businesses have closed down and these days his company is mainly a wholesaler.

Micó also works as a farmer so he can make ends meet. Recently, his company also took over sales for a major Spanish brewery. The liquor factory is basically just a hobby these days for Juan but he wants to keep the tradition alive, so it doesn't get lost forever, but they can no longer invest in it so the factory will eventually die a death.

Recently the village of Aielo has been campaigning for permission from Coca-Cola to allow it to market the village as the origin of the drink and gain its rightful place in history. Somehow I can,t see that happening...



Like 1        Published at 14:35   Comments (1)


How did rice become so important to Spain?
12 June 2020

Reliable sources seem to credit Alexander the Great (356-323BC) with having introduced rice into Mesopotamia in the latter half of the 4th century BC. According to Strabo (Greek Geographer: 64BC-24AD), by the end of that century rice was already an established crop in the Euphrates valley. From Persia, it spread to Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt.

Alexander personally sent samples of rice (orýza) to Greece around 320BC, although it was not a success as a crop. It was considered a very exotic species of plant in Greece; it was used primarily in medicine, especially as rice water, but was barely used as a food source. Although Athenaeus and Sophocles (496-406 BC) mentions that rice flour could be used to make a bread called oríndes, it is by no means certain that they were referring to the same seed.

The Romans became acquainted with rice via the Greeks, as the Latin version of its name (oryza or oriza) reveals, but they imported it from Syria and Egypt. It continued to be an exotic product, being used mainly in medicinal compounds since infusions made with rice (‘rice water’) were believed to exert a calming effect on intestinal ailments. However, it was beginning to crop up in the occasional culinary recipe during this period: Apicius mentions using rice flour, or fecula (starch), to thicken a sauce.

Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the Arabs introduced rice into Morocco, Spain, Madagascar and Sicily. It did not acquire importance in Europe, as either crop or foodstuff, until the Arab peoples implanted it firmly in the Iberian Peninsula after 711. However, there is a school of thought that maintains that rice reached Spain earlier - in the 6th century - from Byzantium.

The first big rice fields in Spain, and Europe, were planted by the Muslims of Al-Andalus in the river deltas of the Guadiana and Guadalquivir. Around the 10th century (during the caliphate of Abdurrahman III), rice-growing began in areas of Spain’s east coast (Levante) such as Valencia’s Albufera and the municipalities of Catarroja, Ruzafa, Silla and Sueca. During the 11th century, the plantations were expanded and irrigation systems improved as a result of population growth caused by an influx of Andalusís who had migrated up from the south after the fall of the caliphate and the concomitant civil war. The Spanish name for rice – Arroz – derives from the Persian orz, to which the Arabs prefixed the particle al. Al-orz subsequently evolved into ar-orz and ar-ruz, in which form it appears in a 13th-century Hispano-Mahgrebi manuscript. The word arroz makes its first appearance in Castilian Spanish in 1251 in a translation from Arabic of a collection of oriental stories entitled Calila e Dimna, commissioned by the figure who would later become known as Alfonso X, the Wise (1221-1284).


Because it was such a difficult crop to grow, rice remained a luxury product throughout the Middle Ages. Noteworthy among traditional Arabic-Andalusí recipes are those for dishes in which rice is cooked (over the fire or in the oven) in fresh milk or almond milk, which can be sweetened and flavoured with various spices. The usual thing was to grind the rice grains before cooking so that the end product resembled sweet porridge. A late medieval cookery book from the Kingdom of Aragón, the oldest of its kind in the Catalan language, includes this same recipe for cooking rice with almond milk and cinnamon.

 


The Christian reconquest of the Levante by the army of Jaime I of Aragon (1208-1276) between 1232 and 1245 wrought drastic changes to Valencia’s rice fields. For one thing, rice was perceived as Muslim food, the growing of which took up space that could be devoted to traditionally Christian products; for another, the medical and dietary theories that were starting to take shape, especially from the 14th century on, caused links to be detected between the wetland environment where rice was grown and public health problems. Proximity to the rice fields was believed to cause illness and, furthermore, food grown in muddy, foul-smelling conditions could not be nutritionally beneficial. In some places, therefore, prohibitions concerning rice-growing were issued intermittently in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, especially after the expulsion of the Spanish Moriscos in 1609, during the reign of Philip III (1578-1621). Against all odds, however, it did not disappear completely as a crop.


From the 16th century on, descriptions of meals eaten at the Spanish Court make quite a frequent mention of a dish called 'manjar blanco': this medieval sweet rice dish (recipe and instructions below) - a favourite with the aristocracy - was made with ground rice flour, shredded poultry meat, almonds and cane sugar. Over time, the recipe discarded the meat element and it became the dessert dish that is still eaten in certain parts of Spain (such as Montblanc, Tarragona and other municipalities in Catalonia), a kind of solid custard (or blancmange) made with rice flour, ground almonds, sugar, cinnamon, lemon peel and water.


In the 17th century, the expulsion of the Moriscos combined with the European economic crisis triggered a dramatic drop in the population of Spain, the knock-on effect of which decimated demand for certain crops, including rice. Even so, documentary evidence dating from halfway through the century attests to the existence of rice fields in Murcia, on the fertile banks of the Segura River, and beside the Argos, in Calasparra.

The 18th century, by contrast, saw an increase in population, which tripled in Valencia between 1718 and 1787, and farming and rice growing thrived once more in consequence. Rice plantations increased in size in Valencia and Murcia, creeping ever closer to centres of population in defiance of official bans. The epidemics of tertian fever (malarial fevers so-called because of their repeated three-day pattern and caused by Anopheles mosquito bites) that occurred as a result claimed many lives. After the worst outbreak of malaria, in 1804, rice fields were forced to retreat further away from the towns.


In the first thirty years of the 20th century, rice-growing began to take on a significant role in Valencia’s economy. This was particularly true from the First World War (1914 – 1918) on when demand increased for all types of cereal, among other essential products, destined for the rest of Europe. It was this fact that lay behind the Spanish Government’s attempt to limit rice exports so that domestic demand, which was also growing, could be met. During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and the post-war period, consumption of rice increased still further.

However, from the 1940s on, production started to decline in Spain’s eastern provinces such as Valencia and Murcia (the water for whose rice fields was provided by the rivers Turia, Júcar and Segura) in favour of such new regions as Seville, Extremadura, Huesca, Zaragoza, Navarra and Tarragona, where the crop was implanted mainly along the banks of the rivers Ebro, Guadiana and Guadalquivir.

From the 1960s on, cultivating and harvesting processes became increasingly mechanized, and producers found themselves gradually having to raise the quality of their product to meet the demands of a now better-off public. They also started to grow long-grain rice varieties which until then had not been a cost-effective option.

 

Manjar Blanco - Medieval

The recipe was first referenced in "The Book of Sent Soví". It does not specify the quantities or the timings. However, in other references, it is mentioned that the quantity of almonds is the same as that of the broth and the elaboration process is better detailed. If you fancy discovering a medieval Spanish recipe just follow these steps:


Ingredients:

1 litre of chicken broth.
1 kg of Almonds
A tablespoon of sugar.
Rosewater .
Rice flour.
Salt.

We prepare a broth with the chicken's quarters and boil them slowly for about 2 hours, strain it and remove the fat - let it cool and once all the fat has risen to the top, scoop it off.

We add the chopped and peeled almonds to the broth and we boil it for about 20 minutes, then strain the mixture in a cloth strainer pressing until all the liquid comes out, put it back on the heat, add a tablespoon of sugar, and a splash of rose water and without stopping slowly mix in the rice flour until obtaining the thickness of cream and add salt to taste.
Shred the chicken meat off the bone and sprinkle on top and serve.

 



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A Brief History of Spain
02 June 2020

 

Although very difficult, the intention of this article is to summarise over two thousand years of Spanish history down into a series of bite size digestable chunks, giving you a quick outline of milestone events and key periods that shaped Spain forever and hopefully arouse enough interest so you keep discovering more about this wonderful country and its endless heritage.

 

 

 

Carthage Begins to Conquer Spain 241 BCE

Beaten in the First Punic War, Carthage – or at least leading Carthaginians – turned their attention to Spain. Hamilcar Barca began a campaign of conquest and settlement in Spain which continued under his son in law. A capital for Carthage in Spain was established at Cartagena. The campaign continued under Hannibal, who pushed further north but came to blows with the Romans and their ally Marseille, who had colonies in Iberia.

Second Punic War in Spain 218 – 206 BCE

As the Romans fought the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, Spain became a field of conflict between the two sides, both aided by Spanish natives. After 211 the brilliant general Scipio Africanus campaigned, throwing Carthage out of Spain by 206 and beginning centuries of Roman occupation.

Spain Fully Subdued 19 BCE

Rome’s wars in Spain continued for many decades, often brutal warfare, with numerous commanders operating in the area and making a name for themselves. On occasion, the wars impinged on the Roman consciousness, with eventual victory in the long siege of Numantia being equated to the destruction of Carthage. Eventually, Agrippa conquered the Cantabrians in 19 BCE, leaving Rome ruler of the whole peninsula.

Germanic Peoples Conquer Spain 409 – 470 CE

With Roman control of Spain in chaos due to civil war (which at one point produced a short-lived Emperor of Spain), German groups: the Sueves, Vandals and Alans invaded. These were followed by the Visigoths, who invaded first on behalf of the emperor to enforce his rule in 416, and later that century to subdue the Sueves; they settled and crushed the last imperial enclaves in the 470s, leaving the region under their control. After the Visigoths were pushed out of Gaul in 507, Spain became home to a unified Visigothic kingdom, albeit one with very little dynastic continuity.

Muslim Conquest of Spain Begins 711

A Muslim force comprised of Berbers and Arabs attacked Spain from North Africa, taking advantage of a near-instant collapse of the Visigothic kingdom (the reasons for which historians still debate, the “it collapsed because it was backward” argument having been now firmly rejected); within a few years, the south and centre of Spain was Muslim, the north remaining under Christian control. A flourishing culture emerged in the new region which was settled by many immigrants.

The apex of Umayyad Power 961 – 976

Muslim Spain came under the control of the Umayyad dynasty, who moved from Spain after losing power in Syria, and who ruled first as Amirs and then as Caliphs until their collapse in 1031. The rule of Caliph Al-Hakem, from 961 – 76, was probably the height of their strength both politically and culturally. Their capital was Cordoba. After 1031 the Caliphate was replaced by a number of successor states.

The Reconquista c. 900 – c.1250

Christian forces from the north of the Iberian Peninsula, pushed partly by religion and population pressures, fought Muslim forces from the south and centre, defeating the Muslim states by the mid-thirteenth century. After this only Granada remained in Muslim hands, the Reconquista finally being completed when it fell in 1492. The religious differences between the many warring sides have been used to create national mythology of a catholic right, might and mission, and to impose a simple framework on what was a complicated era.

Spain Dominated by Aragon and Castile c. 1250 - 1479

The last phase of the Reconquista saw three kingdoms push the Muslims almost out of Iberia: Portugal, Aragon and Castile. The latter pair now dominated Spain, although Navarre clung on to Independence in the north and Granada in the south. Castile was the largest kingdom in Spain; Aragon was a federation of regions. They fought frequently against Muslim invaders and saw, often large, internal conflict.

The 100 Years War in Spain 1366 - 1389

In the latter part of the fourteenth century the war between England and France spilt over into Spain: when Henry of Trastamara, bastard half brother of the king, claimed the throne held by Peter I, England supported Peter and his heirs and France, Henry and his heirs. Indeed, the Duke of Lancaster, who married Peter’s daughter, invaded in 1386 to pursue a claim but failed. Foreign intervention in the affairs of Castile declined after 1389, and after Henry III took the throne.

Ferdinand and Isabella Unite Spain 1479 - 1516

Known as the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married in 1469; both came to power in 1479, Isabella after a civil war. Although their role in uniting Spain under one kingdom – they incorporated Navarre and Granada into their lands – has been downplayed recently, they nonetheless united the kingdoms of Aragon, Castile and several other regions under one monarch.

Spain Starts to Build an Overseas Empire in 1492

Columbus brought knowledge of America to Europe in 1492, and by 1500 6000 Spaniards had already emigrated to the “New World”. They were the vanguard of a Spanish empire in southern and central America – and nearby islands – which overthrew the indigenous peoples and sent vast quantities of treasure back to Spain. When Portugal was subsumed into Spain in 1580, the latter became rulers of the large Portuguese empire too.

The "Golden Age" 16th Century to 1640

An era of social peace, great artistic endeavour and a place as a world power at the heart of a world empire, the sixteenth and early seventeenth century have been described as Spain’s golden age, an era when vast booty flowed in from America and Spanish armies were labelled as invincible. The agenda of European politics was certainly set by Spain, and the country helped bankroll the European wars fought by Charles V and Philip II as Spain formed part of their vast Habsburg empire, but the treasure from abroad caused inflation and Castile kept going bankrupt.

The Revolt of the Comuneros 1520- 21

When Charles V succeeded to the throne of Spain he caused upset by appointing foreigners to court positions when promising not to, making tax demands and setting off abroad to secure his accession to the Holy Roman throne. Cities rose in rebellion against him, finding success at first, but after the rebellion spread to the countryside and the nobility were threatened, the latter grouped together to crush the Comuneros. Charles V afterwards made improved efforts to please his Spanish subjects.

Catalan and Portuguese Rebellion 1640 – 1652

Tensions rose between the monarchy and Catalonia over demands on them to supply troops and cash for the Union of Arms, an attempt to create a 140,000 strong imperial army, which Catalonia refused to support. When the war in southern France was initiated to try and coerce the Catalans into joining, Catalonia rose in rebellion in 1640, before transferring allegiance from Spain to France. By 1648 Catalonia was still in active opposition, Portugal had taken to opportunity rebel under a new king, and there were plans in Aragon to secede. Spanish forces were only able to retake Catalonia in 1652 once French forces withdrew because of problems in France; the privileges of Catalonia were fully restored to ensure peace.

War of the Spanish Succession 1700 – 1714

When Charles II died he left the throne of Spain to Duke Philip of Anjou, grandson of French king Louis XIV. Philip accepted but was opposed by the Habsburgs, family of the old king who wished to retain Spain among their many possessions. Conflict ensued, with Philip supported by France while the Habsburg claimant, Archduke Charles, was supported by Britain and the Netherlands, as well as Austria and other Habsburg possessions. The war was concluded by treaties in 1713 and 14: Philip became king, but some of Spain’s imperial possessions were lost. At the same time, Philip moved to centralise Spain into one unit.

Wars of the French Revolution 1793 – 1808

France, having executed their king in 1793, pre-empted the reaction of Spain (who had supported the now dead monarch) by declaring war. A Spanish invasion soon turned into a French invasion, and peace was declared between the two nations. This was closely followed by Spain allying with France against England, and an on-off-on war followed. Britain cut Spain off from their empire and trade, and Spanish finances suffered greatly.

War against Napoleon 1808 – 1813

In 1807 Franco-Spanish forces took Portugal, but Spanish troops not only remained in Spain but increased in number. When the king abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand and then changed his mind, the French ruler Napoleon was brought in to mediate; he simply gave the crown to his brother Joseph, a dire miscalculation. Parts of Spain rose up in rebellion against the French and a military struggle ensued. Britain, already opposed to Napoleon, entered the war in Spain in support of Spanish troops, and by 1813 the French had been pushed all the way back to France. Ferdinand became king.

Independence of the Spanish Colonies c. 1800 – c.1850

While there were currents demanding independence before, it was the French occupation of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars which triggered the rebellion and struggle for independence of Spain’s American empire during the nineteenth century. Northern and southern uprisings were both opposed by Spain but were victorious, and this, coupled with damage from the Napoleonic era struggles, meant Spain was no longer a major military and economic power.

Riego Rebellion 1820

A general named Riego, preparing to lead his army to America in support of the Spanish colonies rebelled and enacted the constitution of 1812, a system supporter of King Ferdinand had drawn up during the Napoleonic Wars. Ferdinand had rejected the constitution then, but after the general sent to crush Riego also rebelled, Ferdinand conceded; “Liberals” now joined together to reform the country. However, there was armed opposition, including the creation of a “regency” for Ferdinand in Catalonia, and in 1823 French forces entered to restore Ferdinand to full power. They won an easy victory and Riego was executed.

First Carlist War 1833 – 39

When King Ferdinand died in 1833 his declared successor was a three-year-old girl: Queen Isabella II. The old king’s brother, Don Carlos, disputed both the succession and the “pragmatic sanction” of 1830 that allowed her the throne. Civil war ensued between his forces, the Carlists, and those loyal to Queen Isabella II. The Carlist’s were strongest in the Basque region and Aragon, and soon their conflict turned into a struggle against liberalism, instead of seeing themselves as protectors of the church and local government. Although the Carlists were defeated, attempts to put his descendants on the throne occurred in the Second and Third Carlist wars (1846-9, 1872-6).

Government by “Pronunciamientos” 1834 – 1868

In the aftermath of the First Carlist War Spanish politics became split between two main factions: the Moderates and the Progressives. On several occasions during this era the politicians asked the generals to remove the current government and install them in power; the generals, heroes of the Carlist war, did so in a manoeuvre known as pronunciamientos. Historians argue that these weren’t coups, but developed into a formalized exchange of power with public support, albeit at military behest.

The Glorious Revolution 1868

In September 1868 a new pronunciamiento took place when the generals and politicians denied power during previous regimes took control. Queen Isabella was deposed and a provisional government called the September Coalition formed. A new constitution was drawn up in 1869 and a new king, Amadeo of Savoy, was brought in to rule.

The First Republic and Restoration 1873 – 74

King Amadeo abdicated in 1873, frustrated that he could not form a stable government as the political parties within Spain argued. The First Republic was proclaimed in his stead, but concerned military officers staged a new pronunciamiento to, as they believed, save the country from anarchy. They restored Isabella II’s son, Alfonso XII to the throne; a new constitution followed.

The Spanish-American War 1898

The remainder of Spain’s American empire – Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines – was lost in this conflict with the United States, who were acting as allies to Cuban separatists. The loss became known as simply “The Disaster” and produced debate inside Spain about why they were losing an empire while other European countries were growing theirs.

Rivera Dictatorship 1923 – 1930

With the military about to be the subject of a government enquiry into their failures in Morocco, and with the king frustrated by a series of fragmenting governments, General Primo de Rivera staged a coup; the king accepted him as a dictator. Rivera was supported by elites who feared a possible Bolshevik uprising. Rivera only meant to rule until the country had been “fixed” and it was safe to return to other forms of government, but after a few years other generals became concerned by forthcoming army reforms and the king was persuaded to sack him.

Creation of the Second Republic 1931

With Rivera sacked, the military government could barely keep power, and in 1931 an uprising dedicated to overthrowing the monarchy occurred. Rather than face civil war, King Alfonso XII fled the country and a coalition provisional government declared the Second Republic. The first true democracy in Spanish history, the Republic passed many reforms, including women’s right to vote and separation of church and state, greatly welcomed by some but causing horror in others, including a (soon to be reduced) bloated officer corps.

The Spanish Civil War 1936 – 39

Elections in 1936 revealed a Spain divided, politically and geographically, between the left and the right wings. As tensions threatened to turn into violence, there were calls from the right for a military coup. One occurred on July 17 after the assassination of a right-wing leader caused the army to rise, but the coup failed as “spontaneous” resistance from republicans and leftists countered the military; the result was a bloody civil war that lasted three years. The Nationalists - the right-wing led in the latter part by General Franco - was supported by Germany and Italy, while the Republicans received help from left-wing volunteers (the International Brigades) and mixed assistance from Russia. In 1939 the Nationalists won.

Franco’s Dictatorship 1939 – 75

The aftermath of the civil war saw Spain governed by an authoritarian and conservative dictatorship under General Franco. Opposition voices were repressed through prison and execution, while the language of the Catalans and Basques were banned. Franco’s Spain stayed largely neutral in World War 2, allowing the regime to survive until Franco’s death in 1975. By its end, the regime was increasingly at odds with a Spain which had been culturally transformed.

Return to Democracy 1975 – 78

When Franco died in November 1975 he was succeeded, as planned the government in 1969, by Juan Carlos, an heir to the vacant throne. The new king was committed to democracy and careful negotiation, as well as the presence of a modern society looking for freedom, allowing a referendum on political reform, followed by a new constitution which was approved by 88% in 1978. The swift switch from dictatorship to democracy became an example for post-communist Eastern Europe.



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An English Home on a Spanish Coastline
07 May 2020

 

If you have ever been to San Sebastian you may have seen this property overlooking the bay that looks slightly out of place...

Queen Elizabeth II started spending her summers in San Sebastian in the mid twentieth century, when bathing in the Bay of Biscay became fashionable among high society. But the close link between the city and royalty became even closer when, after Queen Maria Christina's husband Alfonso XII died, she moved the Court here during the summer. The royal family's summer visits called for a royal country house, and the Queen commissioned the English architect Selden Wornum to design one. The site chosen was a large estate that overlooked the bay, where the San Sebastián El Antiguo Monastery formerly stood.

Opened in 1893, the Miramar Palace is a proper English-style house, and also includes some neo-Gothic decorative elements. It still has some of the original rooms, such as the White Room, the Music Room, the Wooden Drawing Room, the Petit Salon, the Library and the Royal Dining Room. Currently owned by the city council, summer courses run by the University of the Basque Country are held there, and it is the headquarters of Musikene, the Basque Country Centro Superior de Música (Higher School of Music), which does not prevent it from being the venue for parties during the Film Festival.

  

 

 



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Why are these potatoes wrinkled?
01 May 2020

When visiting the Canary Islands one must sample the local cuisine. There are similarities with Spanish food, with meat and fish in flavourful sauces and small tapas-like portions; however, the islands do have several uniquely local specialities. Oddly enough, the islands’ signature dish is not some overly complicated display of cooking, but rather a simple potato recipe.

 

 

Papas Arrugadas (literally “wrinkly potatoes”) are small, young potatoes that get cleaned (but not peeled), then cooked in saltwater. Traditionally, this was seawater, but now some people use tap water with a very generous amount of salt. The salty environment sucks out most of the water from the potatoes as they boil, shrinking them in size and giving them their signature wrinkly skin. The process also leaves the inside of the potatoes quite dry, imparting a texture more like baked potatoes than boiled ones.

Once the water has evaporated, the potatoes get covered by a thin layer of salt. They’re often served accompanied by an equally traditional and local sauce called mojo. This is made by mixing bell peppers, garlic, various spices, and a generous amount of oil. The potatoes can be eaten as a starter or a side dish. They can be found in almost any restaurant on the island. It is a uniquely a Canarian dish that tastes great despite its seeming simplicity. 

 

 

 

There are many ways to "wrinkle" potatoes. This is one of the simplest, most efficient and widely used...

Preparation: Put the unpeeled potatoes in a large, deep pan and fill with enough water to cover them (seawater is even better). For every kilogram of potatoes add a quarter of a kilogram of salt - it doesn't matter if you put in more, as the potatoes absorb only what is necessary. Put the pan on the flame and cover it with a clean cloth or wrapping paper on top of which the lid is placed.
Wait while the potatoes boil for between twenty minutes and half an hour, time enough for them to soften. Then pour away the water and drain the potatoes well. Without taking them out of the pan throw another handful of salt over them and dry them on a low flame while shaking them inside the pot for a short time (usually just under a minute).

The popular sauce to accompany the potatoes, as mentioned, is "mojo". The basis for these sauces tends to be what they call on the islands "pimienta picona" (chilli peppers).

Preparation: Crush half a dozen garlic cloves, half a teaspoon of cumin and a pinch of cooking salt. When this is done, add half a chilli pepper and continue crushing. Next, add a little paprika and then finish by soaking everything in oil and vinegar, approximately 3 parts oil to one part vinegar, until reaching the right consistency. (Before adding the oil, you can put a piece of bread previously marinated in vinegar for a while depending on the tastes of those who are going to eat it).


The famous "mojo picon" (spicy red sauce) is made in more or less the same way, but using La Palma peppers, larger than those used in the rest of the Archipelago. These should be softened before using them by placing them in hot water.



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Spanish Flu & Coronavirus
31 March 2020


The initial response to the 1918 outbreak was to play it down, and later efforts at disinfection and social distancing proved insufficient to stop the spread of a disease that killed over 147,000 in Spain in one year.

When the new flu-like disease emerged, the initial response in Spain was to laugh it off. On May 22, 1918, the front page of the Spanish newspaper ABC reported on a new illness, described as similar to the flu but with milder symptoms. That same month, Madrid held its annual San Isidro festivities, providing the perfect conditions for mass contagion. 

With World War I still raging, countries involved in the conflict did not report on the disease to keep morale up and avoid providing the enemy with an edge. But Spain, which remained neutral in the conflict, was free to flag it up, which is why the 20th-century pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide, was nicknamed the “Spanish flu” even though its origin was not in Spain.

 

 

The 1918 influenza pandemic showed both significant differences and stunning similarities with today’s coronavirus crisis. As with the current virus, the situation in 1918 was exacerbated by the fact that it was not immediately taken seriously, and the erratic response by health officials eroded their authority in the eyes of citizens and the press, which questioned the government’s every decision.

And just like today’s coronavirus, the influenza outbreak showed no respect for hierarchies, with both King Alfonso XIII and the head of government, Manuel García Prieto, falling ill.

In 1918, half of Spain’s inhabitants were illiterate and the infant mortality rate was twice that of today’s poorest countries. Yet many measures implemented to contain the epidemic were similar to those being employed today. Universities and schools were closed, and rail travel was controlled, with disinfection teams deployed along railroad lines in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. There were also local authorities who were reluctant to impose restrictions; the mayor of Valladolid, for example, dragged his feet when it came to cancelling the fiestas in September, fearing the financial impact on the city’s business fabric.

Similarly, there was little that doctors could do apart from helping the sick to survive, although the techniques were much more rudimentary. Several experimental vaccines were tested without success, and some doctors even tried bloodletting despite the fact that such a practice had been discredited for a century. The Spanish began to wonder if doctors and scientists had any clue about what was going on.

With science failing to provide any answers, many turned to God. In Zamora, one of the hardest-hit provinces, Bishop Álvaro Ballano told his flock that the evil that was hanging over them was a consequence of their sins and lack of gratitude, and that is why the vengeance of eternal justice had fallen upon them.

To placate God, he organised one Mass after another in the provincial capital’s cathedral, probably facilitating the spread of the virus, and he confronted the health authorities which sought to ban them. In this respect, times have changed and bishops are not only respecting the advice from the health authorities but also making sure it reaches the faithful, limiting attendance at funerals to immediate family members.

   

The first stage of infection in 1918, equivalent to where we are with the coronavirus, was in fact not the most deadly. With the arrival of summer, the epidemic subsided, but in the fall it returned with a vengeance. The health system was overwhelmed, and at a time when many people were still living in the countryside, rural doctors were scarce; when they died, they were rarely replaced. Then as now, volunteers were recruited from among medical students.

The official death toll of the 1918 flu in Spain, a country of just over 20 million inhabitants at the time, was terrifying. In 1918 it killed 147,114 people; the following year, it took 21,245 lives and in 1920, it killed 17,825. The epidemic lasted three years and it particularly targeted people in their 20s who were completely healthy.

The supply of coffins in some Spanish cities ran out, and the mayor of Barcelona asked for the army’s help in transporting and burying the dead. This has not been the case yet in Spain, but it has in Italy, which is a week ahead in terms of the evolution of the pandemic. On March 18, dozens of coffins in the local cemetery in Bergamo were loaded onto army trucks to be taken to less affected areas for cremation.

The Spanish population fell only twice during the 20th century. In 1918, there was a net loss of 83,121 people and in 1939, it lost 50,266 due to the Civil War...



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The Spanish Guitar - A brief history
13 March 2020

The name "guitar" comes from the ancient Sanskrit word for "string" - "tar". (This is the language from which the languages of central Asia and northern India developed.) Many stringed folk instruments exist in Central Asia to this day which have been used in almost unchanged form for several thousand years, as shown by archeological finds in the area. Many have names that end in "tar", with a prefix indicating the number of strings for example:

 

two = Sanskrit "dvi" - modern Persian "do" -
dotar: two-string instrument found in Turkestan

three = Sanskrit "tri" - modern Persian "se" -
setar: 3-string instrument, found in Persia (Iran),
(cf. sitar, India, elaborately developed, many-stringed)                                

four = Sanskrit "chatur" - modern Persian "char" -                                            
chartar, 4-string instrument, Persia (most commonly known as "tar" in modern usage)
(cf. quitarra, early Spanish 4-string guitar, modern Arabic qithara, Italian chitarra, etc)

 

The Indian sitar almost certainly took its name from the Persian setar, but over the centuries the Indians developed it into a completely new instrument, following their own aesthetic and cultural ideals.

The guitar's ancestors came to Europe from Egypt and Mesopotamia. These early instruments had, most often, four strings - as we have seen above, the word "guitar" is derived from the Old Persian "chartar", which, in direct translation, means "four strings". Many such instruments, and variations with from three to five strings, can be seen in mediaeval illustrated manuscripts, and carved in stone in churches and cathedrals, from Roman times through till the Middle Ages. 

By the beginning of the Renaissance, the four-course (4 unison-tuned pairs of strings) guitar had become dominant, at least in most of Europe. The earliest known music for the four-course "chitarra" was written in 16th century Spain. The five-course guitarra battente first appeared in Italy at around the same time, and gradually replaced the four-course instrument. The standard tuning had already settled at A, D, G, B, E, like the top five strings of the modern guitar.

In common with lutes, early guitars seldom had necks with more than 8 frets free of the body, but as the guitar evolved, this increased first to 10 and then to 12 frets to the body.

A sixth course of strings was added to the Italian "guitarra battente" in the 17th century, and guitar makers all over Europe followed the trend. The six-course arrangement gradually gave way to six single strings, and again it seems that the Italians were the driving force. 

In the transition from five courses to six single strings, it seems that at least some existing five-course instruments were modified to the new stringing pattern. This was a fairly simple task, as it only entailed replacing (or re-working) the nut and bridge, and plugging four of the tuning peg holes. 

At the beginning of the 19th century one can see the modern guitar beginning to take shape. Bodies were still fairly small and narrow-waisted.

The modern "classical" guitar took its present form when the Spanish maker Antonio Torres increased the size of the body, altered its proportions, and introduced the revolutionary "fan" top bracing pattern, in around 1850. His design radically improved the volume, tone and projection of the instrument, and very soon became the accepted construction standard. It has remained essentially unchanged, and unchallenged, to this day.

 

 



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One of Spain's Most Important Cathedrals
03 March 2020

 

One of the finest examples of Spanish Gothic art. This cathedral is outstanding for the elegance and harmony of its architecture, and it is the only one in Spain which, for its cathedral building alone, has received the UNESCO World Heritage designation. Although it is predominantly Gothic, the cathedral also displays other artistic styles, given that it was built over a period lasting from 1221 to 1795. Its main façade is the Puerta del Perdón, with a starred rose-window and a gallery of statues of the Castile monarchs.

 

 

On either side are its 84-metre towers, crowned by magnificent 15th-century spires with open stonework traceries. Its most beautiful group of sculptures, however, is to be found on the Puerta del Sarmental façade, with the image of a Pantocrator surrounded by the apostles and evangelists. Inside, special mention should be made of the dome of the main nave, topped with a beautiful Mudéjar vault. Beneath it lies the remains of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as ‘El Cid Campeador’, and his wife, Doña Jimena.

 

 

Close by, you will find the beautiful Escalera Dorada golden staircase by Diego de Siloé, built in the 16th century and inspired in the Italian Renaissance. In the side-naves of the cathedral, there are 19 chapels, with the Condestable and Santa Tecla chapels standing out especially. There are also valuable works of art to be enjoyed: a unique collection that includes altarpieces, paintings, choir stalls, tombs and sculptures, amongst other objects.

 

 

 



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March is Marzipan
25 February 2020

Mazapán - marzipan - means March's bread. This delicious sweetmeat's origin is disputed by several nations, however, there are two theories which are more backed up by historians than others. Spain claims it was invented in Toledo and Italy says it was in Sicily. Should you ever go to Spain, be sure to taste the best marzipan that Spain has to offer.

However going back even further there is little certainty. On the one hand, it is said that mazapán's -marzipan- true origin is Arabic as described in One Thousand and One Nights and it is described as being used during the hardships of Ramadan or as an aphrodisiac; the European version is basically a variation. On the other hand, we also know of a similar preparation in ancient Greece, where a paste of almonds and honey was made, however, it was during Christian times that it was included in the Easter preparations. Anyhow, let's explore the more recent theories.

 

 

Toledo was one of the multicultural and multi-religious cities where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in perfect harmony and would do so for a few centuries. It is not to wonder then that the invention of mazapán or marzipan, as we know it today, is pretty much a variation of an Arabic sweetmeat.

According to this version, marzipan was invented by nuns of the Convent of San Clemente in Toledo. After the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, where several of the would-be Spanish kingdoms fought the Muslims, as an attempt to reconquer the occupied territory, there was a terrible famine in Castile. At the time there was no wheat stored in the city, but there was plenty of sugar and almonds and the nuns fed a paste made with these two ingredients, and perhaps some others, to the undernourished people of the city.

We know that in the hospital Santiago de Toledo a preparation of shredded hen breast mixed with with almonds and sugar was prescribed which was said to be a variety of mazapán. However thanks to the ordinance made in the year of 1613, confectioners only accepted almonds and white sugar as the ingredients of true marzipan.
Sicily

According to the other theory, marzipan was invented in 1193. An Italian wealthy woman of high birth and noble origin, Eloisa Martorana commissioned a convent to be built in Sicily, and it was called after her. The nuns of this convent had Greek origins and spent their time in the elaboration of a paste made of sugar and almond, which they later shaped in miniature animals or fruit. They would then paint it in vibrant colours with different natural dyes, including pigments extracted from roses, saffron and pistachio nuts.

Marzipane (marzipan in Italian)became famous and kept the nuns occupied most of the time. In 1575 the elaboration of marzipan was forbidden by royal decree, as the production of the sweetmeat distracted the nuns from their religious practices. Apparently, the nuns still found ways, despite the decree, to continue making mazapán.

Marzipan became so popular in Spain that, during the time of Spanish colonisation, the dish was exported to the various countries that fell under Spanish rule such as many of the countries in South America as well as some of the islands in South East Asia. As a result, some of the countries have developed their own varieties of the sweet, mainly varying on the type of nut used.
In the Philippines for example, their marzipan is called 'mazapán de pili' because it is made using pili nuts instead of almonds. In Latin America, the most famous marzipan can be found in Guatemala where it has been made since the 19th century. In Venezuela meanwhile, particularly in the South of the country, they use a type of cashew nut to make their version of marzipan.

Back in Spain, Mazapán de Toledo is protected by D.O. (designation of origin) and it's still one of the most prestigious in the world. However, Marzipan in Spain is not only produced in Toledo but in many other cities as well. Its consumption is mostly related to Christmas, but in good confectionaries, it's possible to find at any time of the year.



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The First "Villa" of the Kingdom
12 February 2020

 

Morella's geographic location has been key over the course of centuries. A Town of passage, a crossroads between the Ebro Valley and the Mediterranean, linking Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia, Morella has witnessed important events throughout its history. Since prehistoric times, times of the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jews, Christians ... everyone saw in this place a fortress with a strategic position. The shape of the city, its castle and walls have witnessed the passing of the likes of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, who fought two battles in this region to serve the Muslim king of Zaragoza in the eleventh century.

 


The medieval Christian conquest converted Morella in a town of privileges. Morella was conquered by Christians in October 1231, although on January 7th, 1232 when King James I came triumphantly into the city after tough negotiations with the noble Blasco de Alagón, whom the king had promised could keep as much as he conquered. But the king wanted the walled city and his knight said that "Morella is no place for any man of the world, but for a king, because it was as good as a county with their possessions".

 

The splendid medieval town is marked by being the axis of the Crown of Aragon, and that Morella would always belong to the King. In 1270 it became part of the Kingdom of Valencia and in the Valencian Parliament it still occupies the place of protocol of being 'First Villa' of the Kingdom, just behind Valencia and Xativa.The medieval times were rich, with a society of multiple trade unions, goldsmiths, silversmiths, sculptors, weavers, blacksmiths, and merchants who already travelled to places like Greece, Italy or North Africa. 


Another historic moment the city has witnessed was the Compromise of Caspe and the Western Schism. In 1410 Martí l'Humà  died without an heir, deciding that his successor would be elected by nine commissioners, one of them was from Morella, Domingo Ram, who, in 1412, when they decided that Fernando de Antequera would be the successor, was bishop of Huesca. In 1414 they met in Morella Pope Luna (Benedict XIII), King Ferdinand I and Fray Vicent Ferrer with the aim of ending the Western Schism, during which time there were three different Popes. The negotiations lasted fifty days without solution, The King and Vicent Ferrer left the obedience of Pope Luna, who remained in Peniscola isolated until his death.

The Succession War also took place in Morella too. During this conflict, local authorities remained with the Borbon side, but two Austrian occupations resulted in the destruction of the neighborhood of San Miguel. After the bombs, Morella was left with only 1,800 inhabitants but to the astonishment of all, they rebuilt the town. The Decreto de Nueva Planta repealed the existence of the Kingdom of Valencia and Morella came to enforce the laws of Castile.


The Carlist War I is one of the most decisive episodes in the history of Morella. The governor of the town and the Baron de Herbers proclaimed king Carlos V in 1833. The statement did not last long and for two years resisted the area as a small independent state led by General Ramón Cabrera. The wars fought here and in Catalonia predicted more wars in the new liberal state. Reformed the military organization in the area creating the General Command of Maestrazgo (1849-1871) reaching Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia and Morella was its capital, as it was done later to maintain the capital of the province of Castellón and south Tarragona (1871-1879). But once the Third Carlist War finished the military province returned to conform to civil boundaries. Ramon Cabrera, the Tiger of Maestrazgo came to deserve the title of Conde de Morella. After the conflict and after marrying a British noble went into exile in London, repenting of so much bloody battle. In the British capital there is a street dedicated to Morella, the one where the general lived.

The textile tradition of Morella is one that has lasted to the present day, especially wool, one of the oldest economic activities in this city and the whole region. This activity dates back to the thirteenth century. During the Middle Ages, Morella was literally a textile factory; the wool sheared from their flocks was by the workshop and spindle in every household. The city had hundreds of looms. They wove carpets, fabrics and cloths, cordellats, barraganes and tartanes, wool, cotton, linen... At that time, Morella traded with other Mediterranean countries, especially Italy, which provided them textile products.

Later, in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century, the most important products were bags, belts, blankets of Morella, blankets for the mules and shepherds. There are still some industries that you can visit that produce blankets, belts, bags and beautiful colorful paintings of great quality. It is a creative handcrafted activity, handed down from generation to generation.

 

 

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the population lived exclusively from the textile production and derivatives such as dyeing, thanks to important industrial complexes such as the Factory Giner that established an important connection with the Catalan industry.

The blanket of Morella is unique in its design, its horizontal stripes and the combination of colours. They are made of wool and cotton and are available in various establishments that sell craft products and clothing. These fabrics have evolved in terms of functionality and we can buy them not only as blankets or quilts, but also to create curtains, table runners, cushions, bags, even clothing and accessories for cultural and festive costumes.

 


Another eason to visit Morella is the new Morella Astronomical Observatory, located in the Torremiró rest area, highway N-232 allows to look at the sky in the middle of nature. It is a privileged place without light pollution, with excellent conditions for observing the night sky. A high quality telescope  allows to see the stars, the rings of Saturn, the craters on the moon, meteor showers, tears of San Lorenzo ... Throughout the year there are guided tours. The Centre is coordinated by the local association Astromorella and for any questions, contact the Tourist Office of Morella. They often organise observation nights which cost around €8 a person.

Tourist Info Morella
San Miguel square
Tel. 964 173 032
e.mail morella@touristinfo.net



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