Sunday, December 28, 2008

Around Palma - 1968

Chapter 7

Palma de Mallorca was always a picturesque city having interesting shops, restaurants, galleries and a wealth of historic sites that could keep a visitor busy exploring for weeks. I was gradually introduced to her charms on my outings with Helen and her father, Mr. G.

cathedral, Palma de Mallorca
The Cathedral of Palma was not then surrounded by the beautiful gardens and artificial lake of today. There was only waste ground bordered by neglected weeds which came to be used as a parking lot.

The year was 1968, when men sported Beatles-style hair and sideburns, while women wore beehives and bell bottomed trousers.

One of my favourite streets was Calle Jaime II, a narrow pedestrian street near the Ayuntamiento, the city hall, in Plaza Cort and not far from the Plaza Mayor, a large open public square encircled by buildings and outdoor cafes. This was a busy street which attracted locals and tourists alike, being a main artery leading up to the Plaza Mayor, the Calle Sindicato and eventually to the main food market, the Mercado Olivar. Here are some photos I took in 1968 around that area.
(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Calle Jaime II, Palma
Perfumeria La Central was an old established firm selling perfumes and toiletries. It was then perhaps one of the first and most well-known perfume shop.

Calle Jaime II, Palma de Mallorca

near Plaza Mayor, Palma de Mallorca
The above photo was taken in a little square near the entrance to Plaza Mayor. It was an ideal place to stop for a coffee and ensaimada while out shopping. Note the dress and hair styles of that time.

calle Jaime II, Palma de Mallorca
Another view of Calle Jaime II.

Calle Jaime II, Palma de Mallorca

I was amazed at the ability of the bakery delivery boys to carry large wooden trays of baked goods on their heads as they transported them from the ovens to the bakery shops. Many of them rode bicycles, balancing the large trays on their heads.

In this photo one young man is delivering on foot, with the tray on his head. The photo was taken in the Calle San Bartolomé, near Plaza Cort, where I was in later years to live in a beautiful old townhouse.

But my story will continue with the next entry.

Continue on to Chapter 8......The Apartment

Go back to Chapter 6......The Ensaimada

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ensaimada

Chapter 6

The ensaimada takes its name from the word saim, or lard in Mallorquin and Catalán, so it means larded. The first known mention of the ensaimada was in the 17th century although its origins are not clear. These light and sweet coiled buns, dusted with powdered sugar and measuring around 12.5 cm (5 inches) in diameter, are eaten for breakfast or as a midmorning snack.

Larger ensaimadas, around 24 cms across, are usually cut horizontally and filled with a sweet jam made from angel hair squash, whipped cream or even a creamy sobresada (mallorcan sausage) before being dusted with sugar and placed in their distinctive octagonal boxes. The boxes are a familiar sight in Palma’s Son San Juan airport, as visitors to the island carry them home, often several at a time, tied together with string. A newcomer to the island could wonder what was in those strange boxes.

In 2004, the Mallorcan ensaimada was given a protected denomination of origin or IGP status, Indicación Geográfica Protegida, awarded by the European Commission with the name Ensaimada De Mallorca to protect its distribution by unauthorized sources which did not comply with the strict artesanial production method.

Ensaimadas are not easy to make and require an experienced handling of the dough and two overnight fermentation periods. The ingredients are: flour, sugar, eggs, water, yeast and lard. Once the ingredients are mixed together, the dough is divided into soft balls and left to rise. Each one is later rolled out into a tongue shape, slathered with lard and carefully stretched into a thin layer of dough which is gathered into a sausage shape, coiled and left to rest for a minimum of 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Smearing the dough with lard.

The next day, after the dough has rested and fermented, it is uncoiled and stretched out again into a long sausage shape. The dough for the small buns is stretched to about 25 cm and for the large ones up to 2 meters in length.

Rolling the thin dough into a sausage shape.

These long sausages of dough are then coiled onto oiled baking sheets, with space between the coils, and are again refrigerated for a minimum of 12 hours by which time they have risen and the dough has filled the spaces. They are then baked, cooled and either sliced and filled or dusted with powdered sugar.

Coiling the dough for the final rise.

In the city of San Pedro, north of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the art of making the ensaimada was introduced in the last century by immigrants from Mallorca.
Here is a link to a video (commentary in Spanish) made in a San Pedro bakery, “La Ensaimada”, which demonstrates how ensaimadas are made.

There are also good photos on the link of illes balears qualitat, from where I have adapted their photos of making the ensaimada.

Continue on to Chapter 7......Around Palma 1968

Go back to Chapter 5......Son Armadams & The Colmado

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Son Armadams & The Colmado

Chapter 5

I had been invited to stay with Mr. G. and his daughter Helen until I was settled in my new environment. They lived in an apartment in the Calle Don Álvaro de Bazán, in the residential area of Son Armadams where there were tree lined streets and a view of nearby Bellver Castle, and not too far a walk up to El Terreno. El Terreno was formerly an out of town country area where wealthy families kept their weekend residences. But the city built up around it and what was formerly a zone of restful retreat became a popular centre for night life.

After unpacking I fell into bed for a very long sleep.

Next morning Helen took me for a walk to the neighbourhood corner store, near the Calle Andrea Doria where local women were congregating to do their morning shopping. These small grocery stores, called colmados, were usually run by the owners who served their customers one at a time. As the women had to stand in line waiting their turn, they inevitably started chatting so the ritual of meeting in the colmado was a pleasant start to a day for many. Several women were wearing what appeared to be quilted ankle-length housecoats, something that struck me as out of place while in the street or shopping. When I asked Helen she explained that the women often wore these housecoats over their clothes on chilly mornings when stepping outside for a brief trip to a nearby shop.

I noticed some people were carrying large mesh-covered bottles with a pressure spout. These were the bottles of sifón or soda water which I would see often from then on. They were a common sight on most dinner tables, as soda was used to dilute wine and as a drink for children when mixed with fruit juice or even a splash of wine. It was also a popular instant spot remover for spilled food stains at the table. It was not uncommon to see someone hastily take a white cloth napkin, give it a squirt of sifón and then rub a spot on their clothing. The empty bottles could be exchanged for full ones at a cost of only a few pesetas. I seem to remember seeing these bottles on restaurant tables in old Life magazine photographs of the European rich and famous.

At another corner of the colmado I could see large bottles of cologne used to refill al granel small plastic spray bottles which one could also bring from home.
Several favourites of that era were Lavanda Puig, Clair Matin, Denenes. These were the fresh scents of Spanish schoolchildren I was to learn. I soon noticed that mothers would splash their children with one of these fragrances, and comb it into their sons' hair before sending them out the door to kindergarten or school. Those fresh citrus and lavender scents were to become part of my favourite memories of those early years in Spain. Who could forget how a laughing group of small children rushing to school invariably left behind them trailing wafts of lemons, lavender and orange blossoms.

Another refilled item was the wine bottle. For two pesetas we could exchange an empty bottle of red table wine for a full one. Here also were the long crusty barras of bread, similar to the French baguette, which were included in morning shopping. Helen chose a couple of round powdery spiral pastries and told me I was in for a breakfast treat when we got back to the apartment. I was to be introduced to the Mallorcan ensaimada...the star of Mallorcan pastries which, so I'm told, has never been equaled when made in any other location...not even in the other Balearic Islands. They say it's the air and water of Mallorca which contributes to its success. But I know that from then on I was a devotee of this buttery, powdery and light as air breakfast delicacy which, together with a cafe con leche, made a perfect start to any day.

Continue on to Chapter 6......The Ensaimada

Go back to Chapter 4......Plaza de la Reina

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Plaza de la Reina

Chapter 4

The Bar Reina was situated in Plaza de la Reina and faced a large roundabout with a central fountain and the magnificent Palacio de la Almudaina, a former Arab citadel built over Roman ruins in 1281, which was later used as the summer residence of King Jaime II, and in present days as a museum and venue for state events. The outdoor seating of the cafe bar consisted of several small round tables and metal chairs perched on the sidewalk against the exterior wall of the building. There was not much room for pedestrians to pass but it seemed as though they took this for granted, maneuvering their way quite naturally past pavement obstacles.

The plaza bustled with streams of heavy green buses which spewed black exhaust fumes while heaving their way to the bus stops lining the plaza. Some of them sported the word Campari painted in bright letters along their sides, while the front panels indicated strange names such as C'an Pastilla, Illetas and El Arenal. It was all so totally foreign and exciting for me. Even the people looked quite different. I had never seen such a colourful mixture of faces and races bustling together. Dark Mediterrean skins and black hair contrasted with pale nordic blondes who were part of the newly arriving groups of tourists from Northern Europe. To the left was a long and beautiful promenade shaded by giant plane trees, the Paseo del Borne, bordered on either side by narrow lanes of traffic.

Mr. G. explained that after dining it was customary to have either a small black espresso coffee un cafe solo or the same with a dash of hot milk, un cafe cortado (cortado meaning cut). I agreed to have the cafe cortado which was his choice. As were many people at the time, I was a smoker and had come equipped with a carton of my Canadian Craven A cigarettes. Mr. G. also shared the habit and pulled from his pocket a green and white package of Spanish cigarettes. He suggested I try one of his, which was made from the black tobacco grown in the Canary Islands. The brand was Record and they cost only about 4 pesetas for a package of twenty. I lit one and immediately was able to identify that unusual acrid scent I had noticed permeating the airport and streets of Palma. It was the scent of black tobacco, the same smell as the French cigarettes, Gauloise, which I had noticed at times in Canada when French Canadians had been smoking them.

The coffee arrived, served by our waiter who was typically dressed in black trousers, and a neatly ironed white shirt. He carried a small white towel over his arm as he served the two small coffees from a round metal tray. This was the traditional garb of the Spanish waiter. It was meticulously fresh and smart looking and was so in even the most modest cafe bars. As I inhaled the strong scent of the fresh coffee I looked down at my tiny cup and was surprised to see it was made of glass and had no handle. And there was sugar in the form of a long rectangular cube wrapped in paper. How to pick up the glass? I observed Mr. G. as he showed me the way to gingerly pick up the tiny cup with thumb and index finger while using the little finger to brace the underside of the cup. A sip from the cup and then back down to the saucer. This had to be done quickly before the burning sensation was felt in the fingers. A quick shake of the hand to indicate that the glass was really hot and then another inhalation of strong black tobacco. So this was Palma. And I was fascinated!

Continue on to Chapter 5......Son Armadams & The Colmado

Go back to Chapter 3......The Viking

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Viking

Chapter 3

The Viking restaurant was a very small establishment in the Calle de los Apuntadores. After walking a short distance in the bright Mallorcan sun Mr. G. and I entered a narrow doorway and stepped down into cool darkness. To the right was a small curved bar which stopped at the kitchen door and to the left a long seat built against a wall which accommodated several tables. The place was packed with what I could make out were mainly English-speaking patrons.

In the centre of the long seat sat Helen, Mr.G.'s daughter, who quickly moved over to make room for me beside her. Although I had not met her before, she made me feel quite welcome. She and I had at one time lived in the same part of the world so we began to chat with ease. She asked about my trip and my first impressions of Mallorca. So far it was all wonderful. How could it be otherwise...I'd had my first plane ride and had just landed in Europe.

When the menus arrived I opened mine to see an appetizing assortment of British food prepared by Anne, the owner. She was known for her roast beef and salad platter, as well as her curries, trifles and chicken supreme among other dishes. Although my appetite was still on Vancouver time and I didn't feel very hungry, I chose the chicken supreme. It was wonderful. A chicken breast perched on a bed of mashed potatoes, covered with cream and fresh mushrooms, sprinkled with finely chopped parsley. The sauce was rich and contained cognac and chicken broth as well as cream.

This is my representation of the dish, although not as nice looking as Anne's which was served on a wide white plate adorned with small blue flowers around the edge.

As we sat talking I couldn't get over the strange new sensation of jet lag. Here it was the middle of the day, and I felt partially bright and awake but with flashes of weariness that didn't seem to fit the hour.

Mr. G. said it was often the custom there to have after dinner coffee in a coffee bar rather than in the restaurant where one had just dined. So we left The Viking and climbed the few stairs back up into the Calle de los Apuntadores, where I became aware of strange and unfamiliar smells. The air seemed to be heavy with a strong cooking odour which I later learned was that of food frying in olive oil. It combined with the scent of black tobacco, another new fragrance that was pungent and not altogether unpleasant. Then we were back in Plaza de la Reina, a crowded intersection filled with exhaust fumes, people of many races, bright colours and new sounds. We were heading for the Bar Reina.

Continue on to Chapter 4......Plaza de la Reina

Go back to Chapter 2......Palma de Mallorca

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Palma de Mallorca

Chapter 2

As we drove towards Palma I was thrilled to see the long row of palm trees on the left side bordering the Paseo Maritimo..."...palm trees....I didn't know they grew in Spain" I shouted as I half rose up from my seat to gaze out the car window. Mr. G. was amused at how little I knew about my destination. These were days before colour television or internet. Photo-filled travel brochures were not so prevalent in bookstores and there wasn't much current reading matter to be found about Mallorca in the Vancouver Public Library.

Then I saw the magnificent Mediterranean sea... a water of such an intense deep aquamarine colour it seemed to be part of a painting. I was becoming dizzy with these strong new impressions. But my eyes were eager to take in more of this strange landscape, this bright and unfamiliar world. Soon the majestic cathedral of Palma was visible on my right followed by the Palace of the Almudaina, both of Moorish origins and both standing as regal guardians over the entrance to the harbour and city. They appeared to be constructed not of gray stone but rather of a warm, golden material which reflected the splendor of the Mediterranean sun and the softening effects of age.

Soon we were parking the car and on our way to have lunch with Helen, the daughter of Mr. G. who was waiting for us in a little restaurant in the heart of old Palma. The Viking or El Vikingo was formerly a stable owned by a Mallorcan nobleman, after which it was a small dining establishment owned by a German man. Just off the main Plaza de la Reina and a few steps up the Calle de Los Apuntadores, the Viking was reached by carefully maneuvering down a couple of steep stairs into a cool darkness of what seemed to be a small cave, filled with delicious scents of dinners and fragrant pots stewing somewhere in an unseen kitchen.

The owner and chef was Anne Oates, a jovial British woman who was both gracious and clever. She had managed to take over this establishment without experience as a chef and turn it into one of the most loved bar-restaurants and meeting places of the local English-speaking community. People lined up at the bar waiting their turn to sit at a table to sample one of Annie's curries or her famous cold salad and roast beef. Her dishes were so popular that after much prompting by her fans, she wrote a little book, filled with her recipes and stories of how she came to be the owner of The Viking.

Mr. G. and I stepped down into the tiny room where his daughter Helen was waiting to greet us.

Anne's charming little book of recipes and tales.

Continue on to Chapter 3......The Viking

Go back to Chapter 1......The Arrival

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Memories of Mallorca ~ The Arrival

Chapter 1

As I stepped off the plane in Palma de Mallorca the sun was blinding and the air was hot . My tired eyes had never seen such intense sunlight and although I'd had no sleep for well over twenty-four hours my excitement at not only being on an airplane for the first time but also arriving in Europe kept me in a state of nervous anticipation.

The year was 1968 and Spain was a sleepy old country which seemed to have forgotten it was in the twentieth century. General Francisco Franco was the head of state and mass tourism into the country had only recently begun. A liter of wine could be bought for just two pesetas, which was then the national currency, and a long baguette or barra of bread cost only a few centimos which were small thin coins made of aluminum.

I had come to Mallorca at the invitation of Canadian friends whose relatives had been established there since before the Spanish civil war. Needing a change in my life at that moment, I had accepted an offer to leave Vancouver and teach classical guitar at a music centre in Palma. It seemed to be an intervention of destiny that the position was open just at a time when I had been dreaming of being able to study with a Spanish maestro of classical guitar, but never could I have imagined that this might have become a reality.

photo from the Mallorca Daily Bulletin

Coming out into the arrival hall of the airport I clutched my one little suitcase. It was made of pink striped plastic and must have been a bargain basement purchase. It contained several cotton dresses that I'd sewn before leaving Vancouver. I'd heard that it was very hot in Spain and that cotton was the best material to wear. One dress was yellow, sleeveless and went with a yellow plastic bracelet I bought to match, and the other was a black and white printed cotton, which I made using the same pattern as the yellow one. I bought a white plastic bracelet to go with that one. I didn't have much money at all and had sold most everything I owned, even my beautiful Spanish-made guitar, to pay for my plane ticket.

Coming toward me was my good friend and guitar mentor, Mr. G. who had invited me to stay with his family. He owned a little guitar factory in Palma and had a daughter who was about to marry a Spanish man. Although she was only a couple of years younger, I was to be her chaperone over the next weeks until her wedding. It was frowned on for her to be alone with her fiancee in those days, and I was to accompany her on a trip to Barcelona to make wedding arrangements with his parents.

Mr. G. greeted me like the old friend he was and after asking me how I had enjoyed the trip he took my suitcase and guided me out of the arrivals hall once again into that bright sunlight that tingled the skin on my arms and reminded me that I was going to be experiencing many other new sensations in the next weeks.

We piled into Mr. G's car, which was a Citroën deux chevaux, a vehicle with just two horsepower and a gearshift on the dashboard which had to be pushed in and pulled out in order to change gears. The car looked as though it were made of tin, the engine whirred like a lawnmower and the soft suspension gave one the feeling of riding in a large baby pram. And so we rocked and bounced our way out of the airport and down the highway on our way to Palma city.
Palma de Mallorca - The Borne

Continue on to Chapter 2.......Palma de Mallorca
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