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I know time flies when you are having fun but I can hardly believe it but the 4th anniversary of our arrival in Spain is fast approaching. As a consequence, I have started to reflect on my Spain, the Spain I have grown to know and love.
For those of you who saw the first and/or second of my notes from Spain, I set out below another half dozen of our well-learned “Lessons”.
Lesson 1 – The rain rarely falls in Spain. When my wife, Andrea, and I decided that it would be a major improvement in our family’s lifestyle to relocate to a new country, as I had lived and work for a Law Firm in Paris in the early 80’s, France seemed an obvious candidate.
For many years a January business trip involved attending the MIDEM festival in Cannes in the South of France. It had rained stair rods for most of the years I had attended but I brushed that aside as “Well that’s January for you!” I had seen the Cote d’Azur in all its Summertime glory on many occasions, reflected in the turn of the last century works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and more recently I had been further seduced by the slightly Disneylandesque view of Main Street, France, the region called “Provence”.
I was keen to see if France would work for us. However, when friends, who had preceded us in relocating outside the UK, reported that in fact the uncertain and indifferent weather continued for much of the Spring, Autumn and Winter months with slight reprieve in May leading to a reasonable summer, it was not sufficiently reliable.
Let me be clear, I am not so shallow as to make such a crucial decision on the basis of the weather alone but the idea of the South of Spain as delivering around 300 days plus of Sun per year became a very important draw.
I am writing this in early March 2006 and daytime temperatures are cresting around 20 degree C. We are clear that by midsummer water supplies will be at a premium and we are doing all we can to sensibly conserve stocks now. This brings minor inconveniences but until the local desalination plants are working at full strength we will need to be cautious.
The advice is simple. If the weather in your home country is a major reason for your proposed relocation, and it is, for many from Northern Europe and North America, then do your research and see whether you can better Spain’s Costas and their perfect Mediterranean climate.
Lesson 2 – To add to the pleasure of Spain why not taste it! For many the nadir of European cookery is the finest French Haute cuisine or the friendly and more rustic Italian Trattoria menu. Whilst I really do appreciate the excellence of both, Spain’s signature dishes and exceptional wines, particularly the red (vino tinto) from the Autonomous Regions - that comprise mainland Spain - are no longer a poor third. The Mediterranean Diet with its emphasis on fresh colourful vegetables, smashing fish and meat dishes, inventive “Tapas” plates and the extensive use of fine Olive oil is not the preserve of Spain’s coastal neighbours.
Although, I am certain that there will be many who’ll bemoan my releasing this information to a wider public, but the risk of passing on the pleasure will out way the burden of disclosure. There are many excellent “Ventas” in most rural and metropolitan areas that serve the very best local specialties. These are café bar type establishments that open from early morning for coffee and toasted bread, which you may like to grate with a fresh garlic clove and spread with a light tomato puree, a sprinkling of sea salt and olive oil, serving many steaming plates until well after dark.
At lunchtime, a favourite time for most Spaniards to eat, a “Menu del Dia” (Menu of the Day), often priced as low as €7 ($8 or £5) for two or three courses and a drink is possibly the cheapest and most nourishing way to taste Spain. The starter of a classic Gazpacho soup, definitive Mediterranean cookery and basically “health in a bowl” is a must!
The extensive use of pulses, lentils (lentejas), chickpeas (garbanzos), beans (alubias) and rice (arroz) will have the advocates of the high fibre diet praising you to the hills whilst the sausages, dry cured hams (jamon) and meat dishes such as the classic Estofada (ve