Week 14: A Bouillabaisse Week in France and Catalonia

Marseille, France

Marseille, France, December 2014

So sorry, friends!  We know we are late with our post  – we just got back from spending the first part of last week in Marseille, France, and then five days in Catalonia in the towns of Belianes and Barcelona. We were working. Honestly.

Yes, we visited Museum of History in Marseille (concentrating on the links between the olive producing lands of the ancient Asian Phoenicians to the European town they founded 2600 years ago, Massalia.   Yes, we visited some ancient groves and explored traditional Arbequina olive groves (check out Zeynep Delen’s video).   Yes, we were amazed by super-high intensity olive fields, planted more like hedges separated by 4 meters with 1 meter between each tree (bush).   Yes we visited an olive nursery belonging to Agromillora, one of the world’s largest agricultural company and looking across the vast greenhouses, we saw five million olive tree saplings.  Yes, we gave a seminar on Olive Oil Chemistry, which was translated into Catalan to about sixty villagers at an Olive Harvest Festival on a cold Saturday night in the small town of Belianes.  And yes, for all our olive oil fans, we promise all will be documented in our Olive World Press Volume 5. But……mostly what we did, was eat and talk.


Sardines fried in olive oil for breakfast at the Olive Oil Festival in Belianes, Catalonia, December 2014

In the last week, we have eaten more anchovies, sardines, turbot, octopus, calamari, hake, codfish, salmon, bluefish and other forgotten fish than we have in all our prior life. We also eaten sweet Serrano ham and spicy Corizo sausages and every variety of preserved and fresh pork known to man, including a blood type sausage that was out of this world. We have had liver that was as tender as the best beef tenderloin, an appetizer made from pears fashioned into a crepe with ricotta and a foie gras crème that had me licking the plate and left no room for the main dish or dessert. We have dined in a villager’s Catalan dining room under four Joan Miro numbered prints that were signed by the master to the owner of the house. We have eaten lunch in a café under a playful whipped cream like ceiling designed by Gaudi. We have circumnavigated the old harbors of Marseilles and Barcelona, and visited cathedrals and crypts. We walked and walked and walked, and when we got tired, we ordered espresso or drank sangrias or ate tapas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAside from talking to ourselves, we encountered a wide variety of very interesting characters on our Mediterranean jaunt.  From the hyperkinetic waiter at the wonderful restaurant, Le Café des Epices, in Marseilles (who accosted a fellow diner to ask the English definition of perseilles, and then almost locked us in while closing up) to the night manager at the hotel (and musician specializing in electronic music who was planning a commemorative rock delivery to New York in honor of service men from World War II) to the can-do Mayor of Belianes (living in a town of 600 and collaborating with a olive-tree nursery capable of producing 10 million trees a year), we met fascinating people with wonderfully rich lives and stories.  It’s all a bit jumbled in our heads, but the result will be nutritious for a long time.

Despite many conversations, we were left with several profound questions.

  1.  What kind of real children are spotlessly and fashionably dressed in white fur winter jackets and matching hats and perfectly well behaved at midnight?  And that was only those who were already walking – those in prams similarly were out late, well behaved and outfitted by designers.  We wondered if they were artificial, handed out by the municipality to be paraded about by young aspiring parents to make the cities look good.
  2. IMG_1615What is the appeal in the little statues called “santons” sold by the 1000s in little booths throughout both Marseille and Barcelona? Most are nativity related, but one curious fellow was crafted bent over to answer the second call of nature. Barcelona took this affinity to another level as the knick-knack could be found in any outfit or uniform imaginable and in sizes from 4 cm to 10 cm, in each case, with two cheeks bared in back.  A sign we saw claimed this had something with fertilizing the earth but we don’t believe it.  We think it’s a trick to play on the tourists.
  3.    Perhaps no Yule tide tradition is logical….. honestly, think about global reindeer navigating by red noses and a chubby elf delivering presents down a chimney, we know we shouldn’t criticize.  But we were totally caught off guard in Barcelona when we saw a long line of children waiting for their turn to take a long stick and whack a 10 foot fake yule log painted with a cheerful face on one end and wearing a stocking cap.  A good whack was rewarded with a bon bon.  Where was Santa?  What if children were allowed to whack Santa with a bat?  Perhaps by whacking logs they become well behaved and can last on 5 hours of sleep per night and dress in designer jumpers.

Our week was a tumbling, raucous, rambling, kissing-left-then-right cheek jaunt through some of the most beautifully lit landscapes and most hospitable warm and generous people on the planet, and we are grateful to have had this opportunity.  Be kind to us and do NOT tell us if you know the answer to our profound questions.  We prefer grand global mysteries to simple answers obtained from google.

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