This is the first post I write in the UK, for after an incredible year in Spain I find myself back to a reality I had almost forgotten about. A year in which I learnt more than in any other, that changed the way I think and the way I want to live my life. Never had I imagined it would be so difficult to come home, but in a way I now feel very distant from home. Distant from the life and friends which made me happier than ever in Spain as I return to a grey normality that I have yet to adjust to.
I recount to you here a snippet of my experience and a lunch I had in the last few weeks of my time there with two stall owners in the market and two of the most enthralling people I have ever met.
“I’ve worked here for 21 years with my own stall and whenever I could before then at my mother’s. I’m up before the birds six days a week but never have I been tempted to miss one day here. I feel like I am the luckiest man alive; that everyday meets special people; works in a place with a wonderful, unique atmosphere; providing experiences and happiness through food which I grow, pick and sell; then every evening I return to a beautiful family and home”
I could not recall anyone speaking so passionately about their job as Rafa had just done, whose spoken Spanish dramatised the whole thing further. Perhaps it was the alcohol, but there was an atmosphere in the room that I could only have dreamed of before this lunch. There I was, sat with two people that had befriended me, inspired me and educated me; and as the late afternoon sun filled my living room with a warm glow and glinted off the market below, a wave of happiness spread over me. No photograph could have captured the afternoon for me, the food nor the ambience, and I’m glad the image I have of the lunch remains so perfectly vivid in my head and nowhere else.
For the past four months I had spoken with these two nearly everyday, sometimes to buy from their stalls, sometimes just to chat, to laugh or share a glass of wine. For this is the true beauty of the market. Once you can draw your eyes away from it’s beautiful design, it’s detailed ceiling and ornate windows; once you can get over the sheer quantity and quality of products on offer in the expanse of stalls; and when the beginnings of personal relationships form, this is when it’s true beauty is exposed.
It excited me every time I set foot inside, when the hustle and bustle filled my ears and my eyes were able to gorge on the visual feast that awaits. What started as a nice idea to invite them to lunch had suddenly become a reality.
Rafa #1 I have referred to here before as my ‘go-to man for herbs’ but his offerings stretch much further than locally collected herbs. Large boxes of sorted salad leaves, edible flowers, rare fruits and vegetables available only there, and a daunting display of mushroom species. Selling them all is a man with a beaming smile and a humbling knowledge of food. He has introduced me to countless new tastes and flavours, wanting me to try any new products with a childlike excitement.
Rafa #2 sells cured fish, but that doesn’t really sell him or his products. He is the only person I know who has given up everything to chase a dream. Who gave up a comfortable life in technology to pursue a passion for curing the best fish money can buy. His little stall is fronted my a glass cabinet with around 15 preparations of fish neatly displayed. If one day you happen to stumble upon his stall, you, like I, may eat your first anchovy. For I’d thought I’d eaten anchovies before, the salty, small fillets that come in tins, but I was wrong. ‘From Cantabria’ he exclaimed when I had composed myself. His big grin reveals missing front teeth which aired with a bandana gives a distinct man-o-the sea look. I shall soon post on his other offerings.
The food wasn’t of highest importance here as I wanted to spend as much time as possible at the table. So I just prepared a few quick dishes in the morning that were basically all ready for when they came. I felt the following simply exhibited some of the freshest ingredients in the market:
- Piedmontese Peppers by Simon Hopkinson
- Black Figs with Serrano and Purple Basil found here
- Moules Bouchot Roquefort by Cooking in Sens
- Peach Tarts with Rosemary Infused Mascarpone here
That they liked the food I prepared was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received, for they talk about food and cooking in a way that makes them seem like veteran chefs. And as topics moved from rice to the best time for collecting snails, and dessert moved to coffee and then to much whisky, not once did it feel weird to be sat with two middle aged me I had known for barely half a year. I was let into a different world and felt privileged to be sat with such personalities.
None of us realised the time until nearing 8pm and as they both left after lengthy goodbyes and thanks, it dawned upon me that like this lunch, this year had passed by in no time at all. That in a week the life I woke up to everyday would be a life that remained in memories and no longer a reality. That these experiences that may seem quite minor to anyone who has managed to read this far (thank you), have impacted me hugely and will shape my future in some way or form. If I can ever speak about my life in a similar way to them, or live and share a passion for anything in the way that they do, I will be very content.
I am already making plans to return there for a holiday later this year and to go on a hunt with both of them in the beautiful Valencian countryside. But for now I will adjust back to life here again for the next year until I can live away again, and learn to look a bit harder for some inspiration and goodness; for god knows it’s not going to come from the supermarkets.