167 – May Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot and Never Brought to Mind! [sic]

Sic Erat Scriptum – “Occasionally a writer places [sic] after their own words, to indicate that the language has been chosen deliberately for special effect, especially where the writer’s ironic meaning may otherwise be unclear.” Just to stress that I used “may” instead of “should” and the exclamation mark quite intentionally, thus changing the rhetociral question in Robert Burns’s original poem into a toast to a kinder 2023. Just to clarify: the thought is not reflexive. I am not the one who intends to, nor should, forget anything. And I’ll leave it at that. 

It has now been almost a year since my visit to Santiago de Compostela, so I think it is about time I published the 100+ more or less identical photos of the cathedral on this blog. Last year I started to fence within the veteran circuit (in the category 0, so not too veteran) and one of the major perks of growing older (along with much friendlier atmosphere and level of competition that allows me to bring home a medal occasionally) is the location of the tournaments, that tend to be in cool places with great food. Although you’d generally struggle to find bad food in Spain. The winter national tournament of senior citizens still fit to carry a sword takes place in Santiago de Compostela, so I decided to add some tourism and – more importantly – seafood sampling to the physical exercise and made a long weekend out of it. 

After 16 years of construction the fast train line had been finally open merely weeks prior to my visit, which now places Santiago to only 3 and a half hours of comfortable travel from Madrid, as opposed to 6 hours drive. I was extremely lucky with the timing, because the city was mostly empty, due to the time of the year and persisting Covid restrictions in many countries. According to the official statistics of the pilgrimage office, more than 1600 pilgrims arrived daily in the summer months prior to the pandemics, so consider the people-less photos here a luxury. Also, the weather was surprisingly good: except for some fog and light rain in the morning (which is standard), it was sunny every day, and sun three days in a row is as I understand it a real treat around here. The climate in Galicia is influenced by the Atlantic ocean, and feels more like Scotland than what you’d imagine typical for Spain: Cold all-year-round, humid, rainy.

Santiago is stunning, as is the entire region. I love the local accent, it’s soft and sweet and it sounds as if they were singing all the time. Gallegos are said to be peculiar people, apparently they tend to reply to a question with another question, and according to a popular saying, “one can never tell if they are going up or down the stairs”. In my experience, that particular trait is true for most men, regardless where they are from, one has mostly no clue what the fuck are they on about or what is the meaning of their actions. I will spare you lenghy description of the city’s history and architecture: the internet is full. The city centre is beautiful, the cathedral is majestic, it will take your breath away no matter how many times you stand in front of it. I’d recommend taking one of the many free walking tours, that should not be free to start with. You are obviously expected to leave a tip, but that, in my opinion, should not be an operational business model of any enterprise in the developped world. No one should be expected to work for free, or depend on magnanimosity of their customers, not even art history students. This is Europe, not the USA, although many free market fundamentalist politicians have been trying their best to steer us in that direction. About that, enjoy the latest campaign of the sweetheart of the Spanish rightwing electorate, Ms Isabel Ayuso (Partido Popular, needless to stress), the president of the Autonomous community of Madrid, where she urges people to leave a tip in the restaurants. Click on the link and watch the video, I beg you. It’s as cringey as it sounds: let the working class pay for the piano classes of their children with charitable handouts of the customers of the posh bars in barrio Salamanca, as opposed to a proper, fair salary they should be entitled to. And let’s just ignore the fact that the regional administration is encouraging hospitality workers to depend on untaxed income. Anyway, enough rants. Take the tour. 

Let’s talk about food, that should be a safe topic. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of Galician specialties, just a few tips about what – in my opinion that you are free to ignore – you should not miss.

Ternera gallega: something for the meat lovers. With all the rain mentioned above, it is no wonder that the many lush pastures produce excellent beef. “Ternera gallega” has been recognized “protected geographical indication” by the European Union since 1989. The animals must be born and bred in Galicia and be of the “rubia gallega” or “morena de norueste” breed. 

Pimientos de Padrón: variety of capsicum grown around the municipality of Padrón, picked unripe, usually served fried in olive oil until blistered and dusted with coarse sea salt. As the popular saying goes: some are hot and some are not. Most are not. Recognized as protected destination of origin by the EU since 2010. 

Seafood: there is possibly no better destination in Spain if you want the best and freshest seafood. There is a saying in Spain that claims that seafood should not be consumed in months that don’t contain the letter R (to make your life easier: may to august). It has nothing to do with the difficulty to refrigerate in summer, as one theory goes, simply it’s the reproductive season for many species, therefore not bothering the sea creatures for a while is a way to maintain the fishing sustainable. Any other time of the year, go wild: there are countless varieties of crabs, scallops, molluscs, sepias, langustines and lobsters. A couple of tips that you should not miss:

Percebes: the most beautiful seafood in the world. Percebes grow on the rocky cliffs in colonies. They have two sepatate parts: soft leg that contains the actual animal (it looks like a tiny penis, true story) and a crown of green or light turquoise calcarous scales. 

Vieiras and Zamburiñas: actually both are translated as scallop in english, but they are different varieties.  

Pulpo a la feira: boiled octopus, cut in pieces and sprinkled with salt, paprika and olive oil, traditionally served over potatoes. 

Galician empanadas: large pies with a variety of filling, which ranges from meat to fish and seafood, traditionally stewed previously. It is considered a food apt for travellers and pilgrims, and is known to have been served close to the cathedral portal already in the 12th century. 

Let’s not forget the liquids. Galicia is an exciting wine region. There are 5 denominations of origin: Monterrei, Rías Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras. Given the climate, Galician wines are closer to Portugues wines in style, and are lighter than the rest of the country’s production. White wines, most famously albariño and godello varieties, are crisp and aromatic, while red wines, predominantly mencía, fruity and light-bodied. Some wineries make surprisingly decent sparkling albariño, produced by méthode champenoise. To finish, be sure to try the local digestives: orujo blanco (pomace distillate, similar to grappa) and licor café, which is made – usually at home and every family has a different recipe – from orujo, coffee and sugar. It’s the best dessert. 

So let’s wrap it up. Congratulations everyone to have it made through another year, hopefully largely unharmed. If you are able to claim this, you are either luckier than most or blindly optimistic. I don’t even know what to start wishing for. The political situation, international and domestic (in most countries I can think of) is steadily turning to utter shite, and the planet faithfully follows. Mind you, most of us won’t live to see the end of the world: the social collapse will precede the biological collapse, but I am not sure if it’s better to die in a 21st century revival of soviet revolution or fighting with your neighbour for food and drinking water. But it could be worse, I guess. We could have been warned about what’s coming and done nothing to prevent it. Oh, wait…

Let me get back to the opening paragraph of this article, it’s the best and most sincere wish I can come up with: to a kinder 2023! Try to enjoy yourself best you can. Live your life, it gets shorter each day. Do things that you’ll regret, it’s better than regretting things you should have done and didn’t. Fuck things up, get hurt, come back as a Phoenix and fuck things up further. Actually never mind, that does not work either. I have been fucking up things since the last 20 years to no avail. But then what would I write about? 

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