Monthly Archives: March 2007

Durango, Seventy Years After

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Not many people have been to the small Basque town of Durango. Not many people have even heard of the place. But that does not stop history from making Durango a somewhat special place.

Durango is a small town in Bizkaia, in Northern Spain in the Basque country, which came to fame for suffering in a particular way from the Spanish Civil War under El Caudillo, Francisco Franco.

The Bombing of Durango was the first attack in Europe against a civilian population. The town was bombed and air raided by Fascist firepower, as much from the air as from the ground, with the objective of undermining the Basques’ morale and to cause maximum damage to the town’s population.

Seventy years ago today, on 31 March 1937, Durango’s population suffered a terrible attack, which, according to sources, was led by Franco’s Italian allies and their Italian warplanes. The death toll reached at least 353 people, although more died later from injuries. In the chapel of Santa Susana alone, fourteen nuns died, and in the church of Santa María, bombs killed the priest who was celebrating mass, Padre Morilla, as well as numerous parishioners.

Although Durango possessed a significant arms factory, it is said that Franco’s military objective was nothing other than to terrorize the civil population of the hinterland of Republicans, which constituted a new element in modern military tactics already employed by the Generalissimo against Madrid and other cities in the South of Spain. During the following days, three successive attacks on the town left the arms factory intact, but caused yet more civilian deaths.

Of course, the fate of another Basque town, Gernika, is better known to us because of Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso’s infamous painting, Guernica.

More about Guernica, the painting and Gernika, the town and its history, under ‘07/70’ in a few weeks’ time.

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Good Old Mallorcan Sobrassada

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What is this Sobrassada? You might have seen one once, perhaps even tried one once. But somehow, you have not warmed up to it really, so far. Perhaps you do not know too much about it. 

The origen of the Sobrassada goes back a long time to the Dark Ages when the Spanish and Mallorcans in particular were either seafaring or otherwise travelling and trading with nations far away. Thus, the necessity of taking food provisions on journeys of unknown length. This brought about the need to discover some means of making perishable food items last a long time. Luckily, there was plenty of salt about in the Mediterranean Sea, and there was also a fair amount of pork. By that time, the Romans had extended their range of influence all the way to what is now called Spain, but was then called Iberia, Hispania or Lusitania, depending on what exact period you are looking at. The Romans, of course, also had the need to conserve their food, whilst conquering the world. Somebody clever, be that of Roman, Hispanic or Mallorcan origin, discovered that once minced and cured, meat, with the addition of salt, would last months at a time, provided it was kept in a safe container, such as animal tripe. How very convenient.

 

The chemical principle that makes Sobrassada is the dehydration of meat under certain weather conditions (high humidity and mild climate) which are typical of the late Mallorcan autumn. You have to put together this Mediterranean climate, salt from the seas, the availability of pork, the arrival of the Romans, but also the arrival of Christianity, before the Sobrassada could be created for the very first time.

 

No, wait a minute. The Sicilians, don’t forget the Sicilians. It is known that in Sicily, a technique was in use called ‘sopressa’ which apparently means minced, which was applied for the mincing of meat for the purpose of conservation. Now, from ‘sopressa’ to Sobrassada seems a very short distance in our way of thinking, and voilà, the inspiration for our very own Sobrassada finally arrived in Mallorca, most probably via the Port of Valencia.

Every Mallorcan family would have made their very own Sobrassada for centuries, up to the Seventies. Now they do it to a much lesser extent. Families traditionally gathered in November to celebrate ‘Matanzas’, the annual slaughtering of the family pig. I will tell you about Matanzas some other time. Just this much for now: People here were rather poorish in the past. One had to eat what the land afforded one with. To rear a pig was relatively inexpensive as the animal would eat what fell off the trees: apricots, figs, algarrobas, even prickly pears, plus any kitchen waste. 

Back to the Sobrassada. Once the meat is minced, salt is added, and, most important of all, pimiento which is a condiment produced from red peppers. This mixture gets stuffed into natural pork tripe before it is cured. During this phase, a slow transformation process sets in which leads to the fermentation of the mass, whereby moisture gets reduced in the meat. The type of Mallorcan pig, mostly of the native black type, the pimiento, the salt, fermentation and curing, all make the very special taste that is so typical of the real Sobrassada. Having said all this, it may now be time for a Palo to digest it all.

But joking apart: Try some Sobrassada, even if you do not want to embark on a long lasting journey.

 

You not only eat spiced cured minced meat when you do, but you also connect to the past, the culture, the tradition and the livelihood of the people of Mallorca that have handmade Sobrassada for near enough 1,000 years. You will understand so much better who these people are, that so kindly make us all feel at home here, on their beautiful island. We can show them no greater respect than accept what they eat and share it with them. 

Have some Sobrassada. Your Mallorcan neighbour is most likely to have given you some already. Have some pa’amb oli with it (more about that soon) and some Palo or some Hierbas Secas after it, and you will finally have arrived. 

Eat some Sobrassada, now and then.

Mallorca Anniversary

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It is coming up for twenty years since we chose to live on the island of Mallorca, Spain. We had a roller coaster of a time with our three children enjoying a happy childhood here, or so we think. Our eldest daughter was 2 years old when we got here, and the second daughter was barely six months old. Our youngest, the boy, was born the year after we arrived. He was born in Ca’s Concos des Cavallers, which makes him a genuine Mallorquí, doesn’t it?

All three children speak Mallorquín fluently, as they do Castillano (Spanish), English and German. The two girls accomplished their Baccalaureate in Catalan/Castillano a few years ago, whereas the boy passed his ‘FP’ last year. The girls, 21 and 20 now, have gone to Sussex University in the UK; our boy, 18 now, still lives with us. 

Only the future will tell if we will still be here in another twenty years time, but right now, there appears to be no reason as to why not.

Welcome. Benvinguts. Bienvenido. Ondo ibili.

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Some of you may know and remember theARXXIDUC in its previous incarnation as an e-Bulletin. Its name had been chosen in reference to and in memory of the great Austro-Bohemian Archduke Ludwig Salvator (1847-1915). You might want to check out his amazing book ‘Die Balearen’ in 3 tomes, available in Spanish, English and German (see below).

 

Now, theARXXIDUC has undergone a rebirth as a weblog.

 

I will try to be truthful to its original and, I believe, successful editorial make-up and concept. But it appears that the initial editorial restriction to the geographical boundaries of Mallorca and the Balearic Islands may have been somewhat limiting and, well, outdated. It is now my endeavour to bring you news and snippets from a wider range of topics covering the whole of the Iberian peninsula and perhaps the wider Mediterranean region with even occasional excursions into Europe and, perhaps, beyond.

 

Why not? The world is our oyster.

 

Our journey can be a long and exciting adventure. Let us do this extraordinary ‘camino’ together.

 

Ondo ibili.

 

Welcome to theARXXIDUC.

 

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