December 2010

Recent updates to our blog have been about as regular as a Catalan Tio.  ‘Uuugghh! A what?’ I can hear most of you saying.  Well, the Tio is a character which is as much about Christmas in Catalunya as Santa and mince pies are in the UK.  Taking the form of a log (with painted face) and wearing a red hat (barretina), ‘he’ is dutifully fed everyday, or night by kids prior to going to bed….biscuits, yoghurt, fruit etc. only to leave tell tale crumbs and peelings the next morning as evidence of his gorging the previous night.  This continues until Christmas Eve when ‘bloated’ and not having performed in the toilet department he is beaten with sticks by kids to the rhyme of ‘Caga Tio, Caga Turro’ and thus during the course of this ritual chastisement he cagas (shits) sweets, biscuits and other treats from his rear end.  Thus Tio’s scatological performance has been somewhat akin to what I can only put down to blogger’s ‘blog block’ in the last six weeks or so.

With reference to La Rectoria and all things festive, myself and Silvestre joined Goretti on this week’s site visit.  On the way we dropped by our bank manager to offer him our Christmas greetings and then in passed Las Presses we collected our rib roast, which was to be the star performer of our Christmas dinner.  We have been keen to try out the local butcher and they did not disappoint, although our request to have the beef hung for three weeks was met with a look of some astonishment.   Then on to the house where the meeting did take on something of a festive air.  It was then on to L’Alva, a restaurant in Sant Feliu for lunch.  Goretti, Silvestre, me and all involved at La Rectoria….Teresa, Christina and Mark, the architects, Albert our aparallador, Pere el constructor, Angel the fuster, Albert the lampista and the crew on site.  It is something of a tradition in Catalunya that when the roof is finished on a building some form of celebration is held; something like a topping out ceremony I suppose.  But given the perilous state of the industry in Spain such events have become thin of the ground of late.  The menu comprised of a prawn salad, some foie and bread, grilled fish and pannacotta for postres and along the way a toast of thanks and seasons cheers was washed down with wine from L’Emporda, Girona.  Regarding the house – we are now looking at wall finishes and electrics for the kitchen and we’ll be back to scrutinize these next week.

And so to Christmas Day, the key event being as with anyone with young kids the opening of the presents.  Witnessing the unbridled excitement and joy of a young one, attempting to read the messages attached to the wrapping and tearing at the paper until the contents are exposed and mulled over.  Not to diminish the latter, I suppose as you get older the food part of the festivities gains greater importance.  As mentioned earlier we opted for the untraditional rib roast with all the trimmings – yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and in our case, roast parsnips and carrots and the ever present brussel sprouts.  Cooked medium rare, the Saler (breed of cattle) did not disappoint….melt in the mouth.  This had been preceded by a ballantine of foie gras accompanied by sauterne jelly and homemade brioche.  To some it might be something of a controversial dish, but eating is a pleasure and these three components combined offer a classic French indulgence and luxury.  We finished with a British classic, Christmas pudding and brandy butter…..the cheese course of Morbier and Vacherin Mont d’or (French) with homemade oatcakes or bread was passed over until later in the evening.

Something that has now become a staple in our personal Christmas calendar is the making of a selection of sweets – truffles, chocolate and almond varieties, French macaroons and Scottish (potato and icing sugar), white chocolate fudge, shortbread and chocolate brownies.  These we offer to family and friends as a small thanks and this year it has been a pleasure to repeat the exercise. 

And today was a family gathering; more beating of the Tio, too much food and wine all conducted under a bright blue Mediterranean sky two kilometres or so back from the sea of that name.  So in signing off, Merry Christmas, Bon Nadal and Bones Festes.

While I’ve neglected to keep you up to date with progress on La Rectoria, the builders, plumbers and electricians have been anything but idle.  On the first and second floors all of the partitioning has been built delineating bathrooms, bedrooms, storage areas, living rooms and dining rooms.  We are now being harried to make decisions concerning light switches, stone plinths to support bathroom sinks, plaster finishes to walls and light fittings.  The pace of work has moved up a number of gears since the summer and changes in and around the house are occurring at perceptibly quicker pace.

Until today, I had not visited the house for a couple of weeks.  Thus I found the majority of the steel frames marking the windows in place, piping for heating trailing across the upper floor, radiators fixed to walls, mountings for sockets and switches in place.  Walls were awash with the pink graffiti of the plumber where he had indicated where the various installations are to be fitted.   So very quickly, the space for guests has been laid out and one can envisage with increasing clarity the final outcome.

Whilst all this has been going on, we have not been idle outside.  Three weeks ago friends joined us for a barbeque and assisted us in making a start in cutting down the bamboo.  In the three or so hours myself, Matts and John got to work and a considerable swathe was cut, stripped of its branches and disposed of.  The top half of much of the bamboo will be kept to provide canes for our planned hort/vegetable patch, whilst the considerably thicker bottom portions could be used for an array of alternative uses, decorative or structural.

As darkness fell comfort and solice were found by the fireside with barbequed meat, sausages and black pudding and then it was homebound, tired but contented after a good day’s work.