Some people love to share their food. Kristine Mietzner, not so much. Then a Barcelona food tour changed everything.
by Jessica Kitt
When I moved to Barcelona, my knowledge of Spanish music was as narrow as that of most expats travelling to Spain: flamenco, castanets, and … flamenco? However, as my two-year journey throughout the country proved, there is a lot more to Spanish music than just flamenco. My first partial relief of ignorance came from a student I was teaching from the region of Asturias in the North of Spain. After about the first year of teaching British English classes in Spain, I developed a certain odd nostalgia for home and my Irish heritage.
Coming from quite a traditional background, with a family of musicians and Irish dancers, I was used to being surrounded by all things Irish. Frequently, I took to listening to my father and uncle’s traditional Irish band on my MP3 player before bed. One day, during a class with my Asturian student, I indulged in a discussion about Irish music and all the “exotic” instruments we had from uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes) to bodhrans (hand held drums). During this discussion, my student informed me that the music of both Asturias and Galicia in the North is Spain was surprisingly similar to both Irish and Celtic music. I promptly downloaded some of this music and was shocked by how similar it was.
This similarity between Irish and Northern Spanish music was again proven to me when I travelled to the North of Spain to work on an organic farm for a month.
by Elyn Aviva
Rumbling vibration of Spanish high-speed AVE train, coming into the deep underground white glass-brick cement plaster metal station in Girona. Feet tingle on platform, train sloowwwwws waaaayyyyyyy dowwwwwwnnnn and coasts to stop. Sigh like a long-held outbreath as doors open, stairs unfold. Clack thump of discharging passengers maneuvering out and down and onto platform, luggage dangling.
We wait to get on. Impatience has a metallic feel.
Finding our seats, sinking in. Ahh. Whoosh of doors closing, train starting, gaining speed. 200 kms/hour. Fast. Train car is more or less silent, except for the gaggle of girls behind us, a before-wedding hen party heading to Barcelona. They sport puffy red heart pins on their sweaters, move grudgingly when I push through to the semi-circular toilet cubicle at the end.
Ground mist rises like whipped cream, hiding the dark green hills. Rain smears against the windows, streams rushing tumultuous but soundless, muddy swirling water caressing tree roots in a cold embrace.
200 kms/hour, now 150, now 50, now 6…. Slow sigh of arrival. Sants Estación, Barcelona. Hurry down the platform, up the escalator, across the station toward Metro entrance. Huge Metro map on wall, angular routes snaking over it, marking the underground root-network beneath the city. Choose your color, your number, your direction. Linea 5, sky blue, direction Vall de Hebron, intermediate node, Sagrada Familia. Repetitive thump squeak of footsteps on tile corridor, down one flight of stairs, onto slow moving escalator… Pause. Shift. Wait.
Tension builds. People jostle to buy tickets. Which way does the ticket arrow go in the machine to get through the gate? Will the baby buggy get caught in the vertical gyrating windmill turnstile? Why doesn’t it work? Put it in again. Lose a journey.
by Elyn Aviva
I don’t know what I was thinking. Or rather, I wasn’t thinking. Like a lamb being led to slaughter, I followed our friend Jack into Oriol Balaguer’s chocolate kitchen in Barcelona. I knew I was a dead duck the moment I walked in. The sweet spicy scent of Gran Cru chocolate filled the air, and streams of satiny liquid chocolate poured exuberantly into stainless steel sinks. It was like being transported into paradise.
It’s true confession time. I used to belong to a Chocoholics Club. Note the operative verb: “used to.” Once a month, one of the members would make an over-the-top chocolate dessert, which we would savor briefly and then devour. Devotees of chocolate we were—and some of them still are. For health reasons, I had sworn off the dark, creamy, butter-and sugar-laden delights. And, except for an occasional lapse, I usually avoided succumbing to temptation.
So what was I doing in Balaguer’s High Temple of Chocolate? Jack (www.discovergirona.net) leads specialty tours in Catalonia, and the opportunity to do an interview with master chocolatier/pastry and dessert chef Oriol Balaguer was too good to pass up. I hadn’t considered the consequences—but now I knew. I knew I would live to regret it—but I also knew, as I took another deep, soul-satisfying inhalation, that I didn’t care.
Oriol has been winning prizes for his chocolate and pastry creations for the last 17 years—and he’s only 39. Best Pastry Chef, Best Book (The Dessert Book) in the World, Professional of the Year—the accolades don’t stop. Not only is he a brilliant inventor, he’s also a master marketer. He’s turned buying chocolate into a time-valued event.
When is chocolate like haute couture? When you are Oriol Balaguer and you present twice-a-year collections of new tastes, textures, and shapes. Last season’s collection is so last year—but so good that it is still available and still in great demand. Oriol also launches monthly “concept cakes” in his specialty shops, where each item is displayed like a precious jewel. Suddenly, everyone wants to purchase the latest product, score the most recent release for their dinner party.