The Staff of Life

As I ride around Valencia on my battered old Rocinante, made famous in my widely broadcast video interview with El Mundo (http://bit.ly/c19b0c, for those who missed it – shame on you!) I’m seeing all sorts of new foodi places opening. At first it was the wonderful deli’s in the city that were slipping in a few chairs to tempt the weary with a copa of something rather delicious and a tapa to while away the time while they waited for their homeward-bound order to be packed. (By all means read the beautifully written article commissioned by Finnair’s inestimable in-flight magazine, Bluewings http://bit.ly/h42zaA) But today I hitched myself off my bike to visit a a new bread shop that opened three weeks ago and sells ‘certified ecological bread’. What more, may I ask, could one want on a grey day in Valencia.

The young girl in her sleek black outfit and glaring white pinney, who reminded me so much of the cheeky young maids of Lyons Tea Rooms in England during the ….. I’m not telling you, it makes me seem so old, was a delight. As if she was laying out a libidinous display of Dior cosmetics, she casually drifted her hand in the direction of the succulence that was on offer. “May I offer you to our pan intergral (brown bread to thee and me), or our pan rustica, made from the finest grains of organic wheat.” It’s bread, for Christ’s sake, but I couldn’t but help be mesmerised by the insouciant flirt of her hand (sheathed in a sensuous black rubber glove, the sort that surgeons with style might use) as she attempted to direct my eyes and choice to the baskets on the shelf behind her domain. Truth was, it could have been a plastic bag of Warburtons best, it would have made no difference. My eyes were solely on the slinky, black clad maid before me.

“Perhaps you might like to discover our speciality breads,” she simpered. “Pan con olivas, or maybe pan de tomate. Or for the more discerning, our pan de cebolla?”

Plummet to earth! The mention of onion bread took me back thirty years, when I lived a solitary existence on the side of a hill in the Lake District, almost on the boarder with Scotland. The only heating and cooking I had was a battered old Aga, long before it became the ‘must have’ of the hoity-toity Chelsea and BBC producer set who never do more than photograph it for the next tedious ‘just look how we can create a wholesome, crisis-busting, fully-nutritional Sunday lunch for sixteen people for ₤6.2s.3d, and still have enough left over for a taxi to the Left Bank for a winey-cheesy do with ….’ (insert name of latest divvy who’s big in the ratings). Mine was from the 1950s, when Aga was meant to be for proper country oiks like me. The vent at the back that directed the smoke up the chimney was wrapped around by an old oil can, held in place with two wire coat hangers. The oven door had to be held in place with a wooden peg, which worked better than any thermometer because as soon as we smelled smouldering wood we knew the bread was ready.

That’s bread baking! Not some arty-tarty chap setting himself up as ‘arte de pan’ or some such fancy name. It’s proper bread, kneaded by hand, sat on top of a knackered old Aga to rise, and taken out when the peg begins to burn. A knob of butter, a cup of tea, and your arse on an old kitchen chair. The stuff of life!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web sites, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

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