This photo was taken a fortnight ago outside La Cuadrona bar in the village of La Hermida, Cantabria. It represents a moment of breakfast bliss.
Firstly, note the two large cafés con leche. The coffee served in Spanish bars is almost always excellent (these certainly were) and is uniformly cheap (1.10 euro up to1.40 for a large). And yes, that really is a large – no Starbucks bucket-sized mugs in sight. (Let your over-worked bladder heave a sigh of relief.)
The fact that coffee has leapt to number one on the list of my breakfast priorities is just one symptom of my advancing age and parenthood. I actually didn’t drink coffee at all for many years. Now if I leave the house in the morning without consuming a cup, bad things happen. Like ‘grazing’ a crash barrier with the car. Ahem.
So, yes, coffee is the number one component in the perfect breakfast. Next, the substance of the meal needs to be addressed.
My favourite Spanish breakfast has to be ‘tostada con tomate’. All you cunning linguists out there will correctly surmise that this is simply toast with tomato. As with all simple food quality is the key. Here in Bar La Cuadrona the tomatoes were fresh from the bar owners’ huerta (veg plot). Big, fat, juicy and flavourful. We cut them in half and rubbed them along the slab of toast, squeezing the goodness into the porous surface. Topped off with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt it was delicious.
Depending on your tastes and your plans for the day you can incorporate a raw clove of garlic into the process. A quick rub of this along the toast, before the tomato, really makes the flavours sing.
When we ordered our ‘tostada con tomate’ the barman asked us if we also wanted jamón. We hesitated just long enough for the couple who were breakfasting at the next table to tell us enthusiastically ‘yes, you want the jamón. Está muy bueno.’ When a Spanish person tells you the jamón is good you listen to them – they take their jamón extremely seriously.
We duly ordered the jamón and, of course, it was excellent.
In another instance of ‘I’ll have what they’re having’ the previous evening, we had sampled the delights of the the cook’s light, fluffy pancakes and now we couldn’t resist adding them to our breakfast order. Totally unnecessary but delightfully indulgent. We were on holiday, after all.
The crucial finishing touches to this perfect breakfast are also evident in the photograph. The dappled sunlight dances on the glass top of the table, underneath which are detailed maps of the surrounding limestone gorge and nature reserve. Ah yes, with our bellies full we would be ready to set out on our day’s adventures. Bliss.
This post is for The Gallery, where this week’s theme is Breakfast. Click the link below to find out more and visit more posts.
The photo I posted on Sunday prompted a flurry of cloud-related comments. The hypothesis was proposed, seconded and swiftly carried that Spanish skies are far more interesting than their English counterparts.
A quick glance out my window does nothing to dispel this notion. Right now, the sun is setting off to the west and the sky is stained a cinematic blood-red. In the early mornings we are often privy to a cloud inversion. To be above the clouds whilst still earth-bound is a heady sensation.
Even on more muted days, when atmospheric conditions conform to the norm, it seems the sky here cannot fully suppress its epic tendencies. Cloud formations sweep in from the sea and crash against the foothills of the mountains where they experiment with form and texture in the manner of a particularly daring avant-garde artist.
I love walking under large skies. I love watching ever-changing horizons. I love being caught up in the storm of imagination that crashing clouds can provoke. I love living where I do.
Having said all that, I don’t know for sure whether Spanish skies really are more epic than English ones. Maybe it’s just that our experience of the English sky is often limited to that drab sub-section that hangs over cities or our commute thereto. Maybe it’s just that we’re often too busy in our adult lives to even notice the sky above us. It can take a holiday, a new country, a change in the day-to-day to drop the blinkers from our eyes and yank our heads heavenwards.
Perhaps the best sky of all is always going to be the one you laid under as a child on a summer’s day. The one you gazed up at as you dreamily pictured your future spread before you as the cloths of heaven. Perhaps gazing up at the sky today, wherever we may be, is one way to drift deliciously back into that younger self, those former dreams.
What about you – what’s your patch of sky like? Do you get enough chance to gaze up at it and daydream? When did you last sit and watch the sun set?
I was never very sporty at school. Small and studious, it was clear from an early age that I was never going to make it to the Olympics. Although I did attend a Maths Olympiad in University College Dublin when I was 15. Not quite the same levels of excitement.
The first (and only) time I tried to throw a javelin, I clonked myself on the head with it. Funnily enough, they never let me try the shot putt. My memories of volleyball are of falling on my arse a lot. Being less than statuesque, basketball stardom also failed to beckon, although I do recall being praised for my passing. Sadly my quick-fire passes sprang more from a deep sense of ‘oh my god, get this thing away from me’ rather than from any technical skill or savvy game planning.
And so it was that I limped (mostly metaphorically, although I did once sprain my ankle in a tangle with a trampoline) through my Physical Education in school. My long-suffering P.E. teacher Miss Larkin never lost her enthusiasm, however. Which sometimes somehow just made it all seem worse. But sometimes her positivity was so powerful it even reached me.
Her advice to us all that having a sport that we played would serve us well in later life as a means of meeting people and making new friends, especially if we ever had to move somewhere new, really resonated with me. I guess I was always about the friends. You can keep your medals but I will work hard for a decent social life.
And so it ultimately proved to be. Despite failing to find my ‘thing’ all through school, in my early twenties I found climbing. Dragged unwillingly along to a climbing wall in north London by an enthusiastic boyfriend, to my great surprise I quickly found myself hooked.
Here was a sport that was social without being a team sport. (All that letting your teammates down and being last to be picked gets a bit tired.) Here was a sport where you could just compete against yourself. Getting to the top of routes that felt hard to me gave me real satisfaction, it didn’t matter that others around me were doing far harder stuff.
Best of all, here was a sport you got to practice in the most beautiful and fun of settings. Weekends away with friends started to be spent at the crags of the Peak and Lake Districts and on the sea-cliffs of Pembroke. Holidays were taken to relaxing sports climbing destinations like Mallorca and Kalymnos.
And slowly, without really noticing it, I started to get fitter and stronger and healthier. And, (dare I say it?), even somewhat sporty. Finally gaining confidence in one sport made me much more open and able to try others. Later I would also get hooked on surfing. Being motivated to perform well in climbing would make me turn to pilates and core-strengthening exercises as well as being more aware of my overall aerobic fitness.
Now, as an ex-pat in Spain I have really lived the truth of Miss Larkin’s words. The quickest and easiest friendships to form have been with other climbers. They are also the deepest. Climbers are the people we spend the most time with. The shared sporting passion unites where language and cultural barriers could divide.
The two photos that accompany this post neatly illustrate the impact of this sport in my life. We had travelled to Alicante in our new motorhome to spend the Christmas fortnight in sunny southern Spain. On 31/12/2010 we pulled up at the foot of Gandia crag at around 7pm. Packing a bottle of Cava and a seafood platter we were ready for an exciting New Year’s Eve spent in our camper with our 14 month old son.
Richie stepped out of the van to make a phone call, as reception was poor inside. At precisely this moment, some Galician climbers we had previously met in Fontainebleau happened to be descending from the crag after a day’s climbing. And that is how we ended up seeing in the New Year with them in their friend’s luxury villa outside Alicante.
Sport. It’s a wonderful thing.
This post is for the Olympics inspired ‘Sport’ theme on The Gallery. Click below to visit more Gallery posts.