Year of Grace, Day 209. El Mercat Central

It hasn’t taken us long to shift from the standard Castellano “buenos días” to Catalan “bon dia,” from “gracias” to “gràcies.” People we meet are friendly, meet our eyes, smile, and greet us amicably, and this is one of the pure joys of living in a small town like Ametlla de Mar. Just this morning, our landlord, whose office is across the street from our flat, stepped out onto the verandah and called out our names. I was sitting with my laptop inside the flat, but the French windows were open and the filmy curtains were billowing out into the verandah with the cool morning breezes, so he knew we were already up and about. “Your desks,” he said, “are on their way.” His son would be carrying them in. It was much as yesterday afternoon. I was potting the myoga and purple-leaf mitsuba outside on my verandah, and he stepped onto his verandah to say the desks would be coming in the morning. (And yes, I did manage to stow a few of my precious Japanese herbs in the crammed van. How could I ever do without them? I am amazed at how resilient these plants are. They’ve been sitting without soil in plastic bags for days as I found time to pot them only yesterday, and they’ve miraculously shown no sign of having been under stress.)

This casual way of communicating is so refreshing and reminds me so much of how rural Filipinos chat. Our neighbours here engage in it as well, parents calling down to their children in the street below, and vice versa. There are frequent “conferences” taking place in the streets, usually in the evening, when people are coming back from work and buying bread for their supper at the bakery, also just across the street from the flat.

In the old days when water had to be fetched from a well, idobata kaigi (Japanese: “well-side conferences”) had a role to play in cementing village friendships (and the opposite as well no doubt). Having lived in a fairly isolated part of Bonn Poppelsdorf (though it was mere minutes away from bustling cafes and shops and the university), so quiet and astonishingly rural in feel because it was surrounded by woods and we were the only house on that lane, I do find it thoroughly enjoyable and a bit of a novelty being in the midst of the bustle of Catalan community life.

“El mercado central” is “el mercat central” in Catalan and just a few minutes’ walk from the flat. Our first foray into the mercat was last Saturday. These were our finds.

The above fungi are rovellons in Catalan or saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus).

Beautifully striped aubergines — two of which  M cut into cubes, quickly fried in olive oil (pressed from the local Arbequin variety of olives), then very, very slowly braised over the lowest heat with garlic and fresh tomatoes (also from the mercat) until all were meltingly tender. Served with a generous sprinkling of fresh basil, they were divine.

We also bought beautiful plums – so freshly picked their powdery blue bloom was still intact and a big bunch of very aromatic basil (the seller couldn’t remember what they were called, and I only remembered albahaca later). These locally grown basil are so intensely scented that their perfume scents the entire dining and living room. I love them and rather than keeping them in the kitchen, they are in a tall glass on the dining table, and I pick a few leaves on the spot to add scent and grace to whatever it is I am eating.

And I nabbed the last bunch of squash flowers — their stalks are sooo sweet and crisp. Rather than frying them tempura-style as I had planned, I added them to the leftover braised aubergines with more basil for a vegetarian pasta sauce. Heavenly.  I needed some parsley as well, and the seller asked how much I wanted.  When I said “just a little,” the seller handed me a bunch — for free. How magnanimous is that? I love this town already.

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