Back in February, I took a trip home to South Africa to visit my son, Layne, and his family, and to attend a couple of weddings. Lots of sweet family bonding (grown son Layne to his workmates: “my mommy made my sandwich this morning.”)
And then last month, I spent an incredible two weeks in Spain and Portugal with my other son, Darin, his family, and in-laws. Nine of us. They’re all foodies and adventurous, so we had a blast. We synched right into 2 o’clock lunchtimes and 10 p.m. dinners, which, in Spain for us, always included tomato bread, Jamon Iberico and fresh sardines–in any form: small white and raw, or big and grilled.
Funny incident in a very swank restaurant in Seville. Intrigued by the “chlorophyl” soup on the menu, I inquired as to the ingredients. “Que?” came the answer from one of the woman servers. This time, I mimed my question, mouthing the words as if she were deaf. “Ah,” she said, realization dawning and then, looking pleased with herself, said slowly and deliberately in a thick Spanish accent, “Chlor-o-phyl.” The soup was delicious.
I’ve never been one for Sangria, but I must say there’s nothing quite as refreshing as the way the Spanish make it, especially on a hot summer afternoon. Portugal has its shots of Ginja (a traditional Portuguese drink made with sour cherry ginja berries), available around every corner in alcove-like bars or in these huge enclosed markets filled with food stalls.
There’s a certain joie de vivre that’s evident in both Spain and Portugal: that music trio, in a sprawling Seville market near our piso, that sprang to life as the market was closing at midnight just as my daughter-in-law and I were making our way home after dinner with the rest of the family. We stopped. I ordered a Ginja, she got a beer and we found a table out on the cobbled street. Little kids charged around, chasing each other and playing futbol in the street. I rocked in place. She pretty much did too. My PhD, non-finger-snapping, non-dancing, serious daughter-in-law. It’s good to get away.
Portugal had some surprises for me: piri-piri, a deliciously hot spice prevalent in Southern Africa and Angola, and of course, Maputo (old Mozambique–what used to be Portuguese East Africa, where we spent many a holiday). And then there was that custard-like tart with a self-forming crust that in South Africa the Afrikaners call melktert that I came across in a Lisbon cafe. I even met a thirty-something-year-old Portuguese waiter who waxed nostalgically about living in Johannesburg for the first fifteen years of his life. Small world.
Must say, though, the Spanish and Portuguese aren’t big on veggies. No matter, Salmorejo, Spain’s version of gazpacho (pureed tomatoes, onion and bread, topped with Jamon and drizzled with olive oil), as well as blistered Padron peppers, more than made up for it.
As for all the magnificent buildings and churches, many with Moorish influence, there are way too many to mention. Except for the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s giant basilica in Barcelona. This was the most awe-inspiring structure I’ve ever encountered. A truly mystical experience. It wasn’t the religiousness of it, all the icons, crosses and paraphernalia that struck a chord, or even that hush-like aspirational resonance some churches acquire over time, although it definitely had that. To me the building, which was begun in 1882 and still in progress (Gaudi died in 1926) was a living edifice, a testament to the spirit of creativity. Louis Sullivan, the great American architect, described the Sagrada Familia as “spirit symbolized in stone.”
My horoscope for 2015 predicted foreign travel. It also predicted that I would be socially very active with friends and family, have fun at parties and social gatherings, and that my friendships would deepen. Uncanny. Right on all counts. And we’re only half way through the year. What’s next? Maybe a trip to New York to meet with a publisher who’s going to give me a giant advance on Monkey’s Wedding? Wait. That’s not foreign travel. Okay, how about just a phone call from said publisher instead, and a bike/river cruise instead, one that will take me from Vienna to Budapest? I’m ready to go again.