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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.

The Story of Navarre - A brief history
10 January 2020

 

Navarre has a rich history. From the first traces of humanity through to the Romanisation, the Navarran and French dynasties and the Carlist wars, and continuing to the present day, all these eras have left their mark on the landscapes, in the towns and in the interesting artistic heritage found there. It is a history filled with battles and covenants involving monarchs, pilgrims,"indianos" and the peoples of the region, and which has shaped their character and their individuality. This is the story of a millennial kingdom.

Confirmation of the first settlements in Navarre is provided by the Lower Palaeolithic remains (600,000 BC to 40.000 BC) found in Coscobillo, Urbasa, Estella, Lezáun, Lumbier and Viana. Later on, Neolithic culture converts the hunters into farmers and shepherds, and the Bronze Age means dolmens and flint workings spring up all over the pasturelands; at this time, megalithic constructions appear throughout the land, from Viana, Cirauqui and Artajona, to the mountain ranges of Urbasa and Aralar, reaching as far as the towering Pyrenean peaks.

The Iron Age teaches the primitive Basque inhabitants new techniques and ways of life brought by the Celts and Celtiberians from Central Europe.

Rome’s presence is weak in the saltus vasconum or northern and forested area –the Mountains–, where the autochthonous Basque language prevails, and cultural exchange is minimal; on the other hand, as of the 2nd century AD, Roman influence becomes more consolidated in the ager vasconum, the middle area, which is more accessible and has greater natural resources. Within the saltus, in 75 AD, Pompey occupies Iruña, the main Basque city, where he founds the Roman city named after him, Pamplona.

With the decline of the Roman Empire, the Basque tribes recover their influence over the Roman ager, extending it furthermore to include neighbouring areas. At the same time, they defend themselves against military incursions by the Visigoth monarchs, who seek to consolidate their political influence in the north of the peninsula. These same Basques also oppose the presence of the Franks, who threaten their independence from the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. The Battle of Roncevaux against Charlemagne in 778 stalls the plans of the powerful Frankish monarch in this part of the Pyrenees.
 


A new threat emerges with the arrival of the Moors, who manage to occupy the Ebro basin in 714. Nevertheless, the Moorish presence is weak, as it will fail to take hold either politically or socially. There soon arises a Christian core in opposition to the Moors, which by the 9th century will end up politically transforming the autochthonous dynasty of the Íñigos into the first Navarre dynasty.

It will be succeeded by the Jimenos, politically more consolidated. Sancho Garcés (905-925), the dynasty’s first monarch, embraces a committed policy of territorial expansion against the Moors, whereby he forms alliances with the other Christian kingdoms. Despite the advances made by Sancho Garcés, who occupies the district of Estella, fords the Ebro and reaches Nájera and Calahorra (914), the Moorish presence will remain in the Ribera for a further century, as Tudela will remain under Moorish control until the year 1119.

 

 

Sancho Garcés III el Mayor – the Elder (1004-1035) rules over the greater part of the Peninsula’s Christian domains: Pamplona, Nájera, Aragon, Sobrarbe, Ribagorza, Castile and Leon, at the same time as he lays claim to Gascony and the County of Barcelona. His reign leads to the social, political and economic expansion of the kingdom of Pamplona, with major territorial gains. This monarch organises the Way of Santiago, introduces the Romanesque and spreads the Cluniac culture throughout his kingdoms.

At the end of the 9th century, the kingdom of Pamplona is forced to bring its territorial expansion to a halt, held in check by the advance of its powerful neighbours, Castile and Aragon. Thus its southward expansion is halted at the same time as it lives under the constant threat of political annexation.

Hovering between independence and incorporation within the political sphere of the French, Castilian and Aragonese monarchs is the awkward status that prevails in Navarre during the Early Middle Ages.

 



 

From 1076 to 1134 it will remain part of the Aragonese crown, from which it will secede during the reign of Garcia Ramirez (1134-1150), thus restoring its political independence; in the ensuing reign of Sancho el Sabio – the Wise (1150 – 1194), the kingdom of Pamplona will become known as the Kingdom of Navarre, which is interpreted as a gesture of political affirmation and territorial sovereignty in the face of annexationist threats from other Peninsular kingdoms, and especially from Castile.

Nevertheless, the process involving the loss of territory continues, and in 1200, under the reign of Sancho el Fuerte – the Strong (1194 – 1234) the kingdom is deprived of the territories of Alava, Guipuzcoa and the Duranguesado, in Vizcaya, which are conquered by the Castilian monarch. Thereafter, Navarre, blocked to the west by the frontier with Castile, will be forced to focus its policy of territorial expansion largely towards the north, the French lands of Ultrapuertos, and to the east, the border tract with Aragon.

The death of Sancho VII el Fuerte in 1234 brings the Navarrese dynasty to an end and the kingdom falls under French influence, in search of an ally that will ensure its survival in the face of constant pressure from Castilians and Aragonese alike. The first to be installed on the throne is the House of Champagne (1234 – 1274), which is succeeded by the Capetian dynasty, which between 1274 and 1326 simultaneously occupies the thrones of France and Navarre.

The House of Evreux (1328-1425) initiates a time of intense relations in the political life of the Peninsula and Europe overall, especially during the reign of Charles II, obsessed by occupying the French throne; the reign of Charles III the Noble (1387 – 1425) strikes a balance between cultural and material prosperity; testifying to this is the splendour of the Navarrese Gothic, evident in artistic works such as the Royal Palace in Olite and this same monarch’s sepulchre in Pamplona Cathedral.

 


The death of Charles III gives rise to a serious conflict regarding his succession. This is no more than the first signs of a far-reaching institutional and social crisis that will lead to civil war. John II, who heads the camp of the Agramonteses, is married to Blanca, the heir to the Navarrese throne, and has been King of Navarre and of Aragon since 1458; opposed to him is his step-son, the legendary Charles, Prince of Viana, who heads the camp of the Beaumontes in their quest, which was never to be fulfilled, to occupy the throne of Navarre.
This state of internal weakness will last for half a century and will finally be exploited by Ferdinand the Catholic who, in support of the Beaumonteses, invades Navarre in 1512, thus making it part of the Crown of Castile. Soundly defeated, Don Juan and Doña Catalina de Albret, the last monarchs of Navarre, seek refuge on the other side of the Pyrenees, which they will never cross again, and will uphold the dynasty that, as of 1555, will give rise to the House of Bourbon, which will reign in France until the 1789 revolution, and in Spain from 1700 onwards.

 

 

Following its conquest by Castile, Navarre is governed by a Viceroy, who exercises the powers of a monarch in Pamplona. This situation will last for four centuries. Meanwhile, the kingdom’s institutions are maintained, especially the Cortes, which is convened throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to legislate and approve the kingdom’s financial contributions to the ventures of the Spanish monarch. The Kingdom’s Council (Diputación) is founded in 1576 as a standing governing body in representation of the Cortés when the latter is not sitting: for five centuries this institution has been the exponent of Navarre’s own administration and since the 19th century it has persisted under the name of Diputación Provincial (Provincial Council), Diputación Foral de Navarre (Regional Council of Navarre), and since 1982, Gobierno de Navarre (Government of Navarre).


The end of the 15th century’s internal rivalries, which concluded with the victory of the Beaumontes’ camp and the Castilian conquest, lead to an economic resurgence that brought with it the recovery of demographic equilibrium, affected by the protracted civil war. It also brought stability to economic life and reinforced the foundations of the institutional structure of the Kingdom of Navarre, as it continued to be called until the middle of the 19th century.

The situation of political and institutional stability begins to deteriorate in the second half of the 18th century, with the centralist policies of the Bourbons. This will generate ever-increasing tension that will explode in 1833 in the form of the First Carlist War.

 

 

The military conflict will conclude in 1839, with an armistice on the part of the Carlists, and from an institutional and political perspective, it will be embodied in the so-called Ley Paccionada of 1841.

By virtue of this law, the historical Kingdom of Navarre becomes part, under the status of Province, of the liberal state, whilst it still maintains institutions and legislation from its age-old system of Fueros (regional rights), especially those involving taxation and the administration.

This particular situation persisted throughout the Restoration, the 2nd Republic and Franco’s regime. With the advent of democracy and following the Spanish Constitution of 1978, the regional system for Navarre becomes integrated within the new institutional regime, by virtue of the Organic Law of 1982 for the Reintegration and Improvement of the Régimen Foral (Regional System) of Navarre.



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Why do the Spanish eat 12 grapes on New Year's Eve?
26 December 2019

 

Traditions have always aroused a lot of curiosity in me, because there is always a reason for them, nothing just happens by chance. Every year I celebrate the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes and many years ago I wondered why they actually did this and nobody really seemed to know why. Still to this very day I am yet to meet a Spaniard who knows the story..... so I always end up telling it...

The very short version of the story, which is pretty much common knowledge, is that wine farmers from Alicante and Murcia promoted the tradition in 1909. They were eager to sell on their large surplus of grapes from the incredible harvest they had had that year. However, although this story has some truth to it, the real origin dates back even further.

If we define the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes as when twelve grapes are eaten in the Puerta del Sol at 12 am on December 31, which is basically the general understanding, the first written testimony of this goes as far back as January 1897 when the Madrid Press published that in "Madrid it is customary to eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes twelve, separating the outgoing year from the incoming year…" this means that at least in 1896 it was done, and probably many years before that for it to be considered  “customary” by the local press.

The plausible explanation for why someone decided it was a good idea to get cold the last night of the year waiting for a clock to strike 12 strokes and choke on a dozen grapes goes back to 1882. That year the mayor of Madrid, José Abascal y Carredano, decided to impose a tax of 5 pesetas for all those who wanted to go out and celebrate the Three Kings on the night of January 5. The purpose of this was not to stop any tradition or start any new ones but to stop the general public from raising hell and getting drunk through the night – this should not be confused with the festive floats and processions which were in the afternoon and open to everyone. 

However, it did deprive the vast majority of the locals of partying that night, except for those that were well off, of course. This obviously led to the people rebelling and trying to find a way to let off steam so New Year’s Eve became the night of preference for partying and an opportunity to make a mockery of the recent bourgeois traditions imported from France and Germany. The local newspapers frequently published how the upper class now celebrated the New Year by drinking champagne and eating grapes during the New Year’s Eve dinner, so as an act of protest the working class would congregate in the Puerta del Sol and eat grapes as the clock struck twelve.

This behaviour quickly spread and popularised in the capital, to the point that in 1897 the merchants of the city advertised the sale of “Lucky Grapes” and within just a few years it was known as far away as Tenerife.  Now, this is when the Levante wine farmers come on the scene, taking advantage of their surplus production in 1909, they carried out a national campaign to embed and enhance the custom throughout the country and were thus able to sell all their harvest.

Clearly, it worked and today there are few who do not welcome the New Year with 12 grapes in their hand and eat them to the sound of each stroke as it counts down to the New Year. Rare is the Spaniard who will risk poisoning their fate for the coming year by skipping the grapes, many don’t finish them in time and it does take a bit of practice but it is the effort that counts, no effort – no luck, well at least that’s what those who don’t succeed tend to say… 

For those who cannot be in the Puerta del Sol, they will follow it on television, normally on La Primera which tops the national audience ratings year after year with around 8 million viewers, some 6 million more than second place. Being such an important occasion some people spend a few extra minutes to remove the seeds or peel the skins off their grapes all in an attempt to improve their chances of swallowing them in time. My best piece of advice is: buy small seedless grapes and you’ll have no problem but they are not easy to come by as the traditional grape variety for New Year's Eve is the Vinalopó from the Valencian Community, the one promoted by the wine farmers back in 1909, so if you can't find seedless try to avoid the large juicy ones or you’ll be in trouble and may well choke your way into the New Year, try and pick the smaller ones and at least remove the seeds…. Good Luck and wishing you all a Happy New Year!

 



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Look what's hiding under The Rock...
27 November 2019


Gibraltar’s historical role as a fortress guarding the maritime passage east-west through the Strait connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and narrowly separating the European and African Continents is well known. Its limited land area and its role as a fortress have combined to make the demand for underground facilities a pressing local problem of applied geology, and stimulated almost uniquely imaginative solutions to maximise protection and survival of both civilian and military personnel.  Around half a kilometer under the Rock of Gibraltar lies a system of tunnels from where the Allies planned the North African landings during World War II.

 

The tunnels of Gibraltar, constructed over the course of nearly 200 years principally by the British Army, have made the Rock of Gibraltar "a veritable warren of tunnels that housed guns, hangars, ammunition stores, barracks and hospitals". Within a land area of only 2.6 square miles (6.7 km2), Gibraltar has around 34 miles (55 km) of tunnels, nearly twice the length of its entire road network. The first tunnels, excavated in the late 18th century, served as communication passages between artillery positions and housed guns within embrasures cut into the North Face of the Rock. More tunnels were constructed in the 19th century to allow easier access to remote areas of Gibraltar and accommodate stores and reservoirs to deliver the water supply of Gibraltar.

Now, this underground network has also been transformed into a digital data center where information about online gamblers and investors from all over the world is stored, zealously protected from cyber attacks by spectacular security measures. Here customer data from clients as far-flung as Bermuda, Bilbao and Hamburg is kept in colossal servers, hidden away from prying eyes. The tunnel system was the property of the British Ministry of Defence until 2008 when it was handed over to the Gibraltar government, which has since rented it out to a private company specializing in data management.

The past now lives alongside cutting-edge technology, which is being used to garner profits from the booming online gambling industry based in Gibraltar. Financial services companies and e-commerce firms also store data here. Security is watertight: the area is monitored by CCTV and anybody entering the area must have special passcodes and keys.



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The 'Very Spanish' Bota - drinking wine on the go...
04 November 2019

The ‘Bota’ or wineskin is a leather bag used to contain any kind of liquid, but it is typically used to preserve and transport wine. Spain is the country with the greatest 'Botera' tradition in the world. On any traditional festivity this instrument emerges as one of the stars being passed between friends. The ‘bota’ has been very important in Spanish history, being one of the containers used most by the Spanish people. 

The original history of the ‘bota’ was really lost in ancient times but it was the Spanish that kept it alive. Written evidence of its existence has been found as far back as ancient Greece (Homer in the Odyssey when Ulysses the hero gets Cyclops Polyphemus drunk by giving him wine in skins), in the Bible (Noah’s children got him drunk too using similar artefacts), in the immortal Cervantes' Don Quixote (when the old gentleman takes swipes and lunges at the landlord) and throughout the Golden Age of Spanish literature the references multiply. 

Lightweight, flexible, durable, environmentally friendly, easy to carry, waterproof, practical, hygienic, attractive, simple but perfect in design, the wineskin is a legacy of our past and a product that charms those who know how to enjoy the basic pleasures of life. 

Traditional models are shaped as a water drop and usually have a curved face to facilitate the movement of liquid from the container to the user's mouth. 

There are two types of wineskin that vary because of their interior. Firstly there is the interior known as ‘pez’ (derived from pine or juniper resin and it is used for waterproofing the inside of the wineskin) and then there is the interior with latex. Latex wineskins instead of having resin waterproofing have a wineskin shaped latex bag inside the skin, which actually contains the liquid.

The “pez” interior wineskin is the original ‘Bota’, the one that has been used for generations. If you want to use it mainly for wine you are recommended to choose the traditional format. If you want to use it for water or carbonated sweet drinks, your choice should be latex. 

The companies ‘Boteria Jesus Blasco’, ‘Las Tres ZZZ’  and ‘Boteria Domingo los tres D.D.D’ are the main producers of traditional Spanish wineskins. All with a history dating back to the late 19th century. 

The wineskin is an iconic Spanish product and any occasion is a good excuse to enjoy it, whether walking or just getting together with some friends. It is a tradition that will not be lost despite the new drink containers that large companies are constantly putting on sale.

This handmade tradition will continue because of its uniqueness and heritage. The skin used for the traditional ‘bota’ is goat’s skin from local Spanish herds and it is a leather specialist who carefully selects each goat. 

Once dried, the skin is treated with vegetable tannins or extracts obtained from grounded tree bark (mimosa, pine and oak). Once ready and with the help of a guide, the skin is cut. 

Once cut, the skin is folded in the middle, matching the edges and creating the shape of the water drop. During the production process the wineskin is worked inversely to its natural form and then coated with a waterproofing layer of resin. 

Sewing the wineskin properly is the secret to its durability. The outer stitching, now done with a sewing machine over the past decades, is sewn in a criss-cross manner allowing it to be totally sealed and hermetic. This also makes the stitching incredible strong.

Once sewn, it needs to be turned ‘outside in’ so the stitching is on the inside. This process requires a highly experienced craftsman with a special rod. First he blows hard to inflate it and with a flick of the wrist turns it on the rod. 

At this point, the wineskin is ready for the waterproofing resin inside. The ’pez’, which after being cooked, is now in a liquid state and it is poured into the ‘bota’ to permeate throughout the interior. Once the ‘pez’ has cooled, the ‘bota’ is waterproofed. 

In latex wineskins, this process is completely replaced by introducing a latex bladder which performs the same function of waterproofing and containing the liquid. Finally, the spout or nozzle is placed on the top and attached to the skin. 

Once checked over, the last step is to add a cord for carrying the wineskin, which is sown in place. Once added, it would now be ready for use. 

Wineskins are said to be very much like good wine; they get better with age if maintained correctly, those that use them frequently claim it even contributes positively to the flavour of the wine over time. However, this will be very much a question of personal preference, so I encourage you to give it a go.

 



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The Mystery of Elche
10 October 2019

'The Mystery of Elche' is a cultural treasure of the people of Elche and one of the most outstanding jewels of the Valencian cultural heritage, as its pronouncement as National Monument in 1931, and its inclusion, in 2001, in the first Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, show.

It is a lyric drama of medieval origins, that has been staged since the 13th century, one of the customary representations of the Assumption in Mediterranean Europe. The play is based on several texts from the Apocryphal Gospels, quite popular during the Middle Ages. The text is written in the Valencian language, apart from a psalm and a few verses in Latin, and it has a total of 259 verses. The musical part offers the most noteworthy characteristics. The melodies come from different periods being added to by different composers.

This extraordinary religious drama, the only living example of primitive lyric theatre, is also the only one in the world to be staged inside a church – the Santa María Basilica – thanks to a special dispensation granted by Pope Urban VIII. It is divided into two acts. The first is the dormition of the Virgin Mary, in the presence of the apostles and angels. The second is Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven. The Mystery of Elche is a beautiful show, with exquisite Medieval music. The play consists of the angel descending on the 'Mangrama', with a beautifully decorated white palm in his hands, which he presents to the Virgin Mary. She then presents it to the Apostle John. The palm is kissed by Mary before being handed over to the apostle, thus anointing it with the finest of blessings. This grace transcends to the town when the branches of the palm are handed out following the play. Then, the 'Misteri' is taken to the streets in a procession of the 'burial' of Mary with songs from the 'Festa' and the participation of actors.

The first and second act is represented on 14 and 15 August respectively every year, and entrance is free. There are dress rehearsals 11, 12 and 13 August which can be attended purchasing a ticket. In even-numbered years, there are special performances in October and November as well. In this case, the two acts are performed on 1 November (first act in the morning and second in the afternoon) and the dress rehearsals are 29 and 30 October. As in the summer, the 1 November performance is free, while tickets must be purchased for the dress rehearsals. Tickets go on sale from the end of July. 

For more information - https://www.misteridelx.com/misteri/

 

 



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Almost time to put them away...
23 August 2019

You may swear by them or recently discovered them this Summer, but shortly it will be time to put them away for next year. I have a couple of pairs, and I just love them. They are so simple yet so versatile in style. The espadrille has been around for centuries maybe even thousands of years. The Archaeological museum of Granada owns a pair of espadrilles that were found on human remains inside the “cueva de los murcielagos” (the bat-cave). It is estimated that these shoes are around 4000 years old. Clearly, they are a very primitive version of today’s 'alpargatas'.

 

 

This light sandal, as we know it today, made with jute rope or braided hemp and with linen fabric, originates from Spain, where, already, they were being worn around the XIII century by the King of Aragons’ infantry men. Its name is derived from “esparto” which is a kind of plant that was originally burned then braided to make the soles. The town of Cervera del Rio Alhama in La Rioja is considered the birthplace of Espadrille manufacturing.

It was during the XIII century that the production of these shoes truly spread. Since it is a handcrafted shoe, making the treads employs many workers. The alpargatero’s (or espadrille maker) only job was to make the rope soles, while the seamstresses sewed the fabric and the band. At the beginning of the XIX century, Mauléon (a French city located in the Atlantic Pyrenees) began selling them in vast quantities. The first people to wear them were the catalano-aragonese military soldiers then subsequently by the priests. Around 1880, most espadrilles were sold to mine workers, but they were also exported to South America. It was the time of the “hirondelles”, which were young girls from the aragonese valleys who came to work in the espadrille factories between the fall and winter seasons.

 

Around 1950, fashion evolved and this forced alpargata makers to reinvent the shoe with a more sophisticated design that was better suited to the times. This contributed, during the 1960s, to a special order of shoes for the Parisian festivities by the most celebrated designer of the time, Mr. Yves St-Laurent. He asked for an espadrille with a heel, which had never been done before. Suddenly, it was all the rage! Today, almost all the women who live in the southern regions have a pair of alpargatas with heels and ribbons that tie around the ankle.

Today, espadrilles are still extremely popular both in France and in Spain, especially in the summer. People seemed to like it because of the sole, which is 100% natural, molds itself to the shape of the foot, and allows the skin to breathe. The simplicity of this shoe makes it very versatile and therefore easy to match with all sorts of different styles. If the espadrille has already been around for 4000 years then it’s not about to go out of fashion now!!

 



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The Shearing of the Beasts
31 July 2019

Earlier this month, the young “aloitadores” of Sabucedo, Pontevedra, gathered the wild horses, placed them in a “curro”, shaved them and branded them...

La Rapa das Bestas (The Shearing of the Beasts) is a popular festival which has been in existence since the 18th century. It consists of gathering the wild horses in the mountains, placing them in a “curro” (corral or enclosure), shaving them and branding them. All of this is held in Sabucedo (Pontevedra, Galicia) on the first Saturday, Sunday and Monday of July.

The “curro” in Sabucedo is the most famous of its kind, and its unique feature is that no ropes, sticks or other devices are used to tame the animals. The “aloitadores”, the ones charged with holding the beasts while they are being shaved, may only use their skill and body to perform the job.

Another specific feature of La Rapa das Bestas in Sabucedo is that the “bajada”, or the leading of the horses to the place in Sabucedo, is an integral part of the celebration itself, and hundreds of people from Galicia and beyond participate in it. In 2007, La Rapa das Bestas was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest.
On Saturday morning (the first day), very early and before climbing the mountain, a stirring mass is held where they address prayers to Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of Sabucedo, to ensure that no accidents or other unfortunate events happen during the festival.

 



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Look Closely!
26 June 2019

At a small museum in the small village of Ordino in Spain's neighbouring country of Andorra, you’ll find some of the smallest works of art in existence. Visitors must look through microscopes that magnify the artwork 300 times in order to see these tiny masterpieces that are otherwise nearly invisible to the naked eye.

 


The Miniature Museum features the works of Ukrainian microminiaturist Nikolai Syadristy, an artist who is renowned for being the best in the world at miniature art. In fact, the word “microminiature” was invented because of the pieces of art he created. From signatures on the tip of a human hair to a bottle on a single grain of sand, to a caravan of camels inside the eye of a needle, you’ll find 13 very impressive Syadristy works at this museum.

 

 

 


Unrelated to the miniature art, the museum has also thrown in an impressive collection of crucifixes from throughout the centuries and heaps of handmade Russian nesting dolls along with a few other miscellaneous artifacts. Although Syadristy’s works have significant monetary value, he does not sell them as he wants them to remain on public display.

 



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A Brief History of Spanish Serrano Ham
28 May 2019

Generally speaking, the term jamón serrano refers to a leg of pork that has been preserved in the traditional way – first salted and then cured by exposure to mountain breezes for a period of between six and 36 months.

In common usage, in order to differentiate between hind-quarters (on which there is more, and better, lean meat) and fore-quarters, the word ‘jamón’ is used for the former and ‘paleta’ or ‘paletilla’ for the latter. On the evidence of the Real Academia Española database, it can be inferred that, although the word ‘jamón’ appears in Spanish texts from the late 16th century on, this Frenchified neologism (derived from the French ‘Jambon’) did not pass into general currency until the closing decades of the 19th century. However, it was then adopted so enthusiastically that it completely supplanted the traditional term ‘pernil’ (which appears in the occasional text from 1490 and is derived directly from the Latin ‘perna’, meaning : leg).

As for different categories of jamón, historical references do not differentiate between one breed of pig and another, but rather identify perniles by their place of provenance. This is because, until the 19th century, Spanish pigs were almost exclusively of the breeds known as ‘Ibérico’, and were raised on the extensive principle, feeding largely on acorns in the natural environment of the dehesa (wooded scrubland). In the last few decades, the term ‘Ibérico’ has come to denote products of a quality superior to those derived from other, intensively farmed, breeds. In the mid-20th century, foreign cross-breeds invaded the Spanish market, overtaking the native breeds and relegating them to a few pockets of traditional resistance.

The prehistory and history of serrano ham in Spain is, therefore, primarily the history of Ibérico ham, which I will go into more detail about in another post.

Nowadays, technically and legally speaking, the term ‘jamón serrano’ refers to a Guaranteed Traditional Specialty (GTS), a specific designation protected by EU Regulation 2082/92 in which a set of characteristics is defined, including both traditional and modern production techniques, and always with reference to non-Ibérico, white pig breeds. That said, some Protected Designations of Origin are recognized as guarantees of fine quality: Jamón de Teruel (from the Autonomous Community of Aragón) and Jamón de Trevélez (from the heart of the Granada’s Alpujarras, in Andalusia) are examples of quality products with a long tradition behind them, and that stand out from ‘jamones serranos’ in general.

Although American-bred pigs were imported into Spain and other parts of Europe from the 16th century on, all were descendants of the Ibérico. The first Asian pigs (which fattened more readily), and other European varieties (Belgian White, Duroc-Jersey, Landrace, Large White, Pietrain…) for cross-breeding with Ibérico pigs, started arriving in the mid-18th century and throughout the 19th. Indeed, livestock farming made a gradual recovery between 1917 and 1936, with the selection of breeds, both Spanish and foreign, increasing and herds becoming larger.

After the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the process went into reverse: between 1942 and 1950, the nation’s pig herd diminished by 20%. Improved economic conditions from the late 1950s on were reflected in an increasing demand for meat, especially pork, which was cheaper. Bigger demand resulted in extensive farming systems being thrust aside while fattening stations multiplied, so that from 1959 to 1985 the situation known as the ‘traditional livestock crisis’ occurred, and within that the ‘Ibérico pig crisis’. Pork consumption increased spectacularly, as did the intensive production and industrialization required to achieve it, to such an extent that traditionally produced Ibérico ham accounted for a mere 5% of the total by 1985.


Significantly, in 1955, pregnant sows of foreign breeds Landrace and Large White represented only 1% of the total, while in 1974 they represented 81%, and in 1986 90%. Between 1986 and 2006, Spain’s total pork production increased by 44%, making it the second biggest pork producer in the EU (15%), after Germany (22%).



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Coffee in Spain - How do you like yours?
16 May 2019

One of Spain’s greatest pleasures is sitting outside and enjoying a relaxing cup of coffee. Coffee plays an important role in many countries and Spain is not different with a very strong coffee culture. The weather all year round makes for an enjoyable coffee sitting out under a clear blue sky soaking up the sun even on a chilly winter day. However, customs as always have been engrained on how and when coffee is enjoyed. For example, it is unthinkable for a Spaniard to order a café con leche after a meal, that is reserved for breakfast or maybe the "merienda" – the afternoon snack. After a meal, it would be a ‘Cortado’ or a ‘Bombón’ or a ‘café solo’ or a "Cortado tocado de Baileys" or a Carajillo if you prefer something a little stronger.

As you can see the options are endless and whichever region you go to they will have a name for a certain type of coffee. For those coming to Spain for the first time, this can get a little confusing as the options are endless. It all comes down to offering the customer the opportunity to enjoy a coffee as they like it, allowing them to personalise their coffee as they wish. This can get extremely confusing for a waiter who is not experienced, as a simple table of 4 can become a real tongue twister when repeating the order. In the summer it is common to hear: 

I want a ‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente en vaso de cristal’ 

And that’s just one order, multiply it by 4 and ask the guy to repeat the order without taking note and it requires a little practice, especially if everyone has their own way of ordering coffee. But that’s the beauty of Spain, don’t be afraid to ask for it the way you want it. In some places like Málaga they have established a system of 9 variations for the combination of coffee and milk, originally designed to avoid wasting coffee in times of need when coffee was very expensive such as after the civil war; some like it stronger and some prefer it weaker, but who would have thought that you would need to establish nine variations to content the customers, have in mind that we are talking about a small glass here of about 120ml so there isn’t much room for error. Throughout my time in Spain I have come across many different ways of having a coffee and I thought I would pull together all the ones I can remember, I am sure there are many missing from the list but maybe you can help to add to the list by kindly leaving a comment at the end of the post. So here goes, the first list are established names, some particular to a region and the second list are the different ways to personalise how you coffee is served :

    
1.    Café Solo: Same as an espresso
2.    Café Americano:  Half a glass of coffee and then topped up with hot water
3.    Café con Leche:  Standard white coffee normally 50/50 coffee and milk. Normally for breakfast/mornings. Served in a cup.
4.    Café con leche corto de café: White coffee with slightly less coffee in it 30/70   coffee and milk. 
5.    Café Cortado: Coffee with milk served in a small glass, normally for after meals. 50/50 Coffee and milk

In Málaga and areas in the region, these are the 9 variations established originally by the bar Café Central -

 

 

6.    Café Bombón/Biberó/Goloso: Served in a small glass. Condensed milk is poured into the bottom of the glass and the coffee is added on top. Same glass as a Cortado. You mix it with the spoon.

7.    Carajillo / Café Brulé: Coffee with a dash of Brandy – the proper version of this involves heating up the brandy with a lemon zest and 4 coffee beans, it is then passed through a small sieve and added to the black coffee.

8.    Asiático: Typical in Cartagena and other areas of Murcia. It is a black coffee with Condensed milk, Brandy, Licor 43 and cinnamon.
9.    Belmonte/ Trifásico: Black coffee with condensed milk and Brandy
10.  Barraquito: Popular in the Canary Islands. It has Coffee, milk, and condensed milk. It can also include, cinnamon, lemon and liquors.
11.    Manchado: in Murcia this is a Bombón with less coffee.
12.    Suau: A Catalan summer drink – Coffee, Soda, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Served with ice.
13.    Café Granizado – Iced coffee with crushed ice in a slush drunk with a straw

 

 

Personalising your coffee:

Del tiempo ó con hielo: served with a glass of ice to pour the coffee into and drink it cold.
Descafeinado de máquina: Coffee machine decaffeinated 
Descafeinado de sobre: Nescafé in a sachet.
Tocado de ………… – add any liquor/spirit such as Bailey’s or whisky
Temperatura del leche – leche caliente / leche natural
Corto de Café – Just over a half measure of coffee.
En vaso (de cristal) – served in a glass
En taza -  served in a cup


So you can see how easy it is to order a : 

‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente, en vaso de cristal, por favor’ !

How do you like yours?

 

 



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