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July 14, 2004
The Stone Bowl

BERODIA (JNS) _ Waiting for everyone to gather for the afternoon meal, I take a drink from the fountain in front of Sixto's home.
A small stream of water spurts up from a rough stone bowl about 2 1/2 feet wide and about a foot deep with sides three to four inches thick. The bowl sits atop a pedestal of stone.
I ask ``Did this have a use before it was a fountain?''
Sixto's wife, Inez, knows.
``Yes it did, do you want me to tell you?''

A large container similar to a half barrel was placed on a pedestal above it and water was strained through ashes to make lye, which was used to wash clothes. The stone bowl, chiseled out by hand, was placed below to catch the lye.
We go inside and sit at a long table in a room down a few steps at the back of the house. Doors at the end of the room are open, giving us a view of the mountains.
Inez's daughter is visiting from Newark with her husband, Manolo, and his brother and wife are visiting from Australia. We all sit at the long table with Inez' other two daughters, Nansi and Chinche.
Hunting comes up and I mention my father recently shot five deer at once. Manolo says he knows, he was there, he was proud of himself for getting two that day only to see my father with five. Apparently, my father shot one, the other four fled toward his brother, Francisco, who fired turning them back. My father then cleaned up.
``Francisco had his hands on his head,'' Manolo said. ``He was saying `Eiee, what are we going to do with all these deer?'''
We have fabada, followed by various cheeses (cabrales, young cabrales made only from cow's milk that hasn't turned blue, and manchego) For dessert, coffee, liquor and borachina, sweet fried dumplings of bread and egg (kind of like french toast) covered in a sauce of wine and light syrup, thus the name. Refreshed, I walk up into the mountains in a light rain, breathing hard because of the steep incline, stopping to talk for a bit with a man clearing a field of hay by hand with a sicle and a rake. Inez later says he's about 80.
I walk on and turn around when a large German Shepherd trots out onto the road. His owner, Esteban, a young man in his early 20s, is a few steps behind, and we chat on the way down. He lives in Gijon but helps his family with the few cows they still raise.
Back in Berodia, we decide to drive over to the next town, Iquanzo, by the old route _ a mostly unpaved, thin, crooked and steep route Manolo says afterward has earned me a ``carnet internacional,'' an international driver's license.
After a beer in the local bar, a look at the 18th century church and another walk around to examine the local cows, sheep and goats, we head home.
After visiting Berodia we stopped in Arenas de Cabrales the next day for a prix fixe lunch. I had solomillo Cabrales, a strip steak with blue cheese sauce. I asked the waiter if it was cow and he said it was buey, or ox. Whatever it was it was tasty. My father had lomo con pimientos, pork tenderloin with roasted red pepper slices. Lisa had the best of all, bacalao in a green sauce. The sauce was excellent, a little garlic, and some wine, and a little parsley.
Dinner was more of a misadventure. Still stuffed from lunch, we drove into Cangas de Onis, the largest and most touristy town nearyby. The kids were hungry but we weren't so we ordered a pizza to go. By the time it arrived, Cafe San Antonio, Calle Constantino Gonzalez, 7, having beers, an excellent plate of pulpo gallego (9 euros), and something called cariera (5.50 euros, I think). Cariera was pot roasted beef cooked until stringy, but still maintaining its form enough to be served in large chunks along with thick au jus from the pot, potatoes, and of course red roasted peppers, very similar to carne stufada, a popular Gallego dish. The two kids, meanwhile, ran in and out followed by Lisa, while people played cards at a nearby table, some guy came with a trout and the owner lectured him on its quality.

Posted by Alex at 06:08 PM
July 12, 2004
Sixto磗 last days

BERODIA (JNS) _ The Mercedes van growled its way in low gear up the mountainside to the small cemetery by the church where Gumersinda Tarano, my grandmother, is buried.
We tried to remember which grave it was and I thought what a beautiful view it was looking at the grey-green mountains.
My father had other thoughts and we consoled him.

As we walked up he pointed to a large house across the way and mentioned Don Torribio used to own it. I asked him about it to distract him.
''His name began with Don, so he was a Conde or something,'' he said.
He owned all this land, my father said pointing across the valley and up. And he made all the sidra that they bought.
We walked down to las llanas, the flat area where the cows used to graze and listened again how Leonardo's family used to make tiles for roofs at an oven nearby, but later moved to Gijon and had a factory. The factory closed after the family member in charge had a couple of heart attacks and died.
On the way back to the car a blondish dog barks at us from Don Torribio's house and my father asks a woman clearing weeds who lives there now and if they remember his mother.
``Rogelio will know, she says,'' and gets him.
Rogelio comes out shirtless, a large, square-framed man with a grey moustache. He remembers my father and all of his siblings and the order in which they were born. He invites us in out of the mist and offers us sidra. He pours it with the bottle about two feet above the glass, trying to create the foam that is essential to enjoying the drink properly.
``Escanciar,'' he says, which sounds like escanso, or scant. I guess you're supposed to let scant drops foam up in the glass before you drink it.``Urin'' he says, meaning "drink." I can't find the cognate for that one.
True, Don Torribio used to own the place, Rogelio says, but he wasn't from here. He married the owner and they never had children. Rogelio's father was an administrator in the village, and Rogelio now lives in Gijon but bought the place recently for weekends. He now sells apples from the property to a sidra maker, and served us that very same cider he bought back from the producer.
We thank him and go off to see Sixto's children. Sixto was about 10 years older than Papa and knew him his whole life, going to the U.S. for awhile and working construction with him before going back. He died last year, after coming back from a walk with his son around their property. He had been in the hospital with breathing problems and knew something wasn't right. His closest relatives came to see him from Spain and America.
A couple of days before he died, his wife, Inez,
said, they had a traditional matanza, or pig slaughtering.
"Si muero manana, basta, estoy contento" he said before he died.
``He said `If I die tomorrow,it would be enough, I'm happy,''' she remembered. ``And he died.''

Posted by Alex at 11:36 AM
July 06, 2004
Lunch in Aguilar de Campoo

AGUILAR DE CAMPOO (PALENCIA) _ The raspy, lispish singer on the radio tells us flamenco ``no es coto privado, ni sociedad anonimo,创 before heading into a song entitled ``Gallego Calidades.创
A strange choice considering there aren磘 many flamenco singers or gypsies, which he sounds to be, in Galicia. He磗 making a point about exclusion, I think, from private hunting reserves, cotos, and corporations, and feels kinship with rural Gallegos.

A woman with a reedy, belle canto voice sang earlier about preguntas and respuestos as I got used to the Mercedes van. The Europcar agent let us have the larger van for the same price because the Seat van we had reserved wasn磘 ready.
Lily, 8, and Andrea, 4, slept most ofthe day. Andrea entertained me at JFK by playing ``Touchy, Touchy, Touchy,创 a game in which she repeatedly poked my face, and when I went to stop her she placed my hands in various positions and told me not to move them for three weeks.
As we pass Burgos and head toward the mountains, I decide we have to stop in Aguilar de Campoo, simply because I cannot figure out what the name means. A resident says it has something to do the eagle on the heraldic shield of the castle perched above town.
No matter, the small town has a nice hotel and restaurant with tablecloths and waiters in black vest.
Andrea gets minestra, a plate of mixed stewed vegetables. Lily gets Pisto Manchego, which despite its name does not contain cheese. Rather, it磗 sauteed vegetables served in an earthenware dish with a fried egg on top _ delicious. Robin gets paella, Lisa gets jamon and mushrooms in a cream sauce, and Papa gets gamba (shrimp) in a garlic sauce with gulas, tiny toothpick sized fish. I have a salad and dorada panadera _ a small whole roasted snapper type fish served with peppers, onions and thin-sliced potatoes with which it was cooked. The sauce, too plentiful to be pan drippings, reminded me of my mother磗 empanada filling.
With an 8.50 euro bottle of Albarinho, the whole meal was 79 euros.
Hotel Valentin, Anguilar de Campoo (Palencia)
A mix of styles is used to find our way into Avin that night.
Lisa has gone to MapQuest and printed out the directions. Unfortunately, they contain every left and right turn that must be taken, almost down to the parking lot at the airport. We settle on the time-honored method of following signs for big cities along the way and trying to stay on major highways. That works well until we get close and my father begins to employ the ask-the-old-timer approach. This method works well, except the old-timers only know the well-worn way along the small roads through each village.
``Avin? Oh, that磗 past Posada!创 one says.
``Avin? Carrenas? Five km to the turn, Carrenas is to the left, Avin is to the right,创 another says further along.
Eventually, we get close enough, recognize a local landmark and find Juan磗 house.
The past winter has not been good for making sidra, bubbly, alcoholic apple cider.
``Temporada muy mala,创 a bad time, he says pointing to sediment that has collected near the cork in the three inverted bottles in his sink. He opens them upside down and lets a little cider shoot out before quickly righting the bottle.
He was right. The cider was a little brown, not bright straw colored as two years earlier, and the taste was not as crisp.
Cider making is a deceptively simple practice. Put the freshly squeezed cider in a wooden barrel in November. In March, put the cider into bottles. The longer it磗 in the bottles, the more carbonation it gets. I guess the cider goes into the barrel at the end of November and into the bottles at the beginning of March because Juan says it磗 a three-month process.
While the cider wasn磘 up to Juan磗 standards, the chorizos were outstanding.
Mildly smoky and bright red from plenty of paprika. Outside the peacock he had two years ago is still there and his chickens cluck inside the small outbuilding.
It磗 as hilly as West Virginia, except dotted with stone houses with tile roofs _ some immaculately maintained, others crumbling, sometimes right next to each other. Fog from the ocean, just miles away, clings to the grey-green hills.
We磖e staying just up the hill at El Campu, Casa de Aldea, a small inn run by Juan磗 niece and her husband.
Campu is the Asturiano way of saying campo, countryside, and aldea means little town.
Everything ends in ``u创 in Asturias _ ``que bonitu, comprelu创 I once overheard a boy say to his mother.

Posted by Alex at 07:16 PM