Fun and Friendship at the Delta

As most of you who read Alan’s blog knows, this past weekend we went to the Delta del Ebro with some good friends. At the risk of repeating some of the info Alan has presented in his blog, I’ll write a short entry here to share some of my pictures. To the surprise of most of those who know me as an electronic gadget freak, I brought my Minolta 35mm SLR camera instead of relying on Alan’s trusty Canon digital. That meant waiting an extra two days to actually see the pictures but it was worth it for the nice feel of shooting with an SLR with a couple of good lenses…

Anyways, back to the delta. The region lies between Tarragona and Valencia and is supposed to be the largest humid area of Spain. Because of the abundance of water, it is perfect for the cultivation of rice, fields of which spread as far as the eyes can see.

Rice fields at Delta del Ebro

We rented some bikes and explored the rice fields…

Stream by the delta

But the Delta is not just the river and rice fields; there was also a nice coastline with lots of neat little beaches.

The local economy is also based on fishing and the area is known as one of the most important in the production of mussles and oysters. We ate a lot of nice and fresh seafood all weekend for half the price of what they cost here in Barcelona. I was in heaven. I highly recommend going for lunch in the little village of Poblenou, right in the middle of the Delta.

But in the end, I wasn’t the only one going nuts with the camera…

Sebastian and his digital camera

To be continued….

Barcelona 4 x 0 Bayern Munchen

Tuesday night we went to the mythical Camp Nou stadium to watch FC Barcelona play the current German champion Bayern Munchen for the Gamper Trophy. You can see some comments on the events of the night and the pictures we took in Alan’s blog. I’ll focus here on translating the comments I wrote in Portuguese at my brother’s blog:

I’ve been following Ronaldinho’s career since he arrived in Paris to play for Paris St Germain, a few years ago. It was a cold winter night and I was catching the metro in Paris – where I was accompanying Alan, who was attending a conference – when I saw him at the frontpage of a local newspaper. Living in Canada, I was a bit out of touch with what was going on in the football (soccer) world and wasn’t aware Ronaldinho had left Gremio, his home team in Brazil. And then we had the 2002 world cup, his fame reached new heights and he moved to FC Barcelona. Coincidently, I started studying Spanish history, particularly the Catalan part of the country. And my interest for Catalonia, football and Ronaldinho have merged into a passion for the local team, FC Barcelona – better known as Barça.

Barça reminds me a lot of Flamengo, my Brazilian team. It has a great history and very passionate supporters. The team proudly boasts homemade stars such as the capitain Puyol and the midfielder Xavi, as well as international players such as Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Deco and the recently-hired Gudjohnsen, Thuran & Zambrotta.

Yesterday was the final of the Gamper Trophy against Bayern Munchen, one of the very top European teams and current German champion. Since there were good prospects of a competitive game, tickets were cheaper than usual, and there would be a big party to celebrate the beginning of a new season, I decided to treat Alan to his first football game. As I said above, check his site for his impressions. The party was pretty cool, the environment very festive and full of families, and there were fireworks and light shows for the introduction of each of the players that form the 2006/07 team. Ronaldinho was the last one to be called into the field and the most applauded.

As for the game… Barça showed the kind of game I would like to see the Brazilian national team playing. Group spirit, almost perfect control of the ball, incredible passes, unrelenting pressure (I must say it annoys me to no end when Brazil and other good teams stop playing as soon as they have a favourable score), and a good defense. Bayern showed some battle spirit during the first 20 mins, but there was no way around it. It was a master class and Barcelona was giving it. Ronaldinho open the score board with a perfect free kick and Eto’o scored twice within the following 10 mins. The second half brought in an entire different team – literally, the coach replaced all 11 players to give a chance to the others and to preserve them for Friday’s game – showing that Barça has no B team. The team continued to pressure Bayern and Saviola scored another goal for Barça. Oliver Kahn – the famous German national team goalie – left the field looking pretty sad. And Barcelona showed that which we, Brazilians, respect in a football team: that one can win playing a beautiful and aggressive football.

Gol de Ronaldinho

Sunday they play Seville in Monaco for the Supercup. Visca Barça!!!!

International feast

Friday night we were invited to our friends Sebastian’s & Jaquie’s house for an amazing party. It was a dinner party with a twist. Each of us had to bring the ingredients and cook something from our country of origin. I made bobó de camarão, my favourite brazilian dish, and Alan made tarte au sucre, a Quebec specialty. You can read about the feast at Alan’s blog.

Anyways, a lot of people asked me for the recipe for my bobó so here it goes:

Ingredients:

1 kg yuca (or mandioc, manioc…)

1 1/2 kg of shelled shrimp, the larger the better (if you buy them with shells, by about twice as much)

8 tomatoes

1 green pepper

1 large onion

1 litre chicken stock (you can use chicken cubes as well)

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp dendê oil (palm oil) – you can buy it at latin american food stores; it must be brazilian since the african variety won’t work.

2 cups coconut milk
some parsley & shallots

Instructions

Clean and shell the shrimps. Season to taste – I add lime juice, black pepper and salt. Reserve.

Peel and cut the manioc and put in a pot with the chicken stock. Boil it until tender, drain and reserve both the cooking stock and the manioc. Mash the manioc coarsely with a fork or potato masher, adding some of the liquid to help in the process. Once the manioc is mashed, add the coconut milk and mix through.

While the manioc cooks, blend the tomatoes, peppers and onion in a blender. Heat the oils in a large heavy-bottomed casserole and add the tomato mixture. Let it simmer until it is well cooked, about 30 mins.

When the manioc pure is ready the tomato sauce should be done, so add the shrimp to the tomato sauce. Let it cook for about 10 mins, that is until the shrimps are thoroughly cooked. Add in the manioc pure and mix well. If it’s too thick, add some of stock used for cooking the manioc. Keep mixing until it boils – the manioc is heavy and will stick to the bottom and burn unless it is stirred. Add some parsley & shallots (optional) and serve over white rice.

Note: this is a very forgiving dish, so don’t worry too much about being perfectly exact on measurements. I added way too much liquid and didn’t have enough time to boil it off and yet, everybody loved it.

Beer city vs wine city

Some cities are beer cities while others are wine cities.

In Canada this is represented by Toronto and Montreal. When we moved to Toronto a few years ago, Alan was surprised when he couldn’t find Tornados and Boomerangs in any bar. Popular in Quebec, these were fruit-flavoured beers sold nation-wide but somehow absent in Toronto. I wondered about that for a while but the more I went to Toronto bars, I realized a basic difference between the two cities – Toronto had a beer culture whereas Montreal, as any French city worthy of the name, was a wine city. Torontonians liked their beer and patronized bars that prided themselves in serving a variety of beers from local microbreweries. They wouldn’t dream of tainting their beer with fruit juices. I soon took a taste to ales and dark lagers and used to love going to Cafe Volo on Yonge Street where the knowleadgeable staff would guide me through their interesting beer menu. Just as I learned to enjoy dry red wine in Montreal, I learned to appreciate a nice dark ale in Toronto.

Here in Spain I can see the same dynamics between Madrid and Barcelona. The old rivals also belong to distinct drinking cultures, the former priding itself on pouring the perfect draught while the latter understands more about wine. Yesterday’s edition of El Periódico, the regional newspaper, had a feature on the quality of beer in Barcelona. The reporter went to ten bars across the city and ordered the same thing in all of them: “una caña, por favor.” He got ten different drinks, at different price ranges. A caña is traditionally a small draught beer that shouldn’t cost more than 2 euros but in the Ramblas this translates into a half liter mug  for almost 5 euros. Quality also varied: from a beer served at 0 C with 1,7 cm of foam to one at 8 C with 0.4 cm. The lowest price was in Gracia at 1.70 euros for a 330 ml vs 6.15 euros at the bar of an expensive hotel for 250 ml (by the way, in the latter case, the pump wasn’t working properly so the barman had to top it off with bottled beer!). The main point of the feature was that the art of pouring a proper draught – never a main feature in this wine city – is disappearing in Barcelona. And, like in Montreal, the beer mixed with fruit juices (aka clara) predominates.
Madrid, on the other hand, has always prided itself for serving a proper draught. I noticed when we were there how barmen took their time in pouring a draught. They would fill the cup, let it sit for a while, fill a bit more, wait some more, fill again until about 5 min had gone by and the beer had reached its optimum temperature and thickness of foam. It was very nice.  We saw very few people drinking claras. I certainly couldn’t think of spoiling my perfectly-poured draught with lemon pop.

Lesson learned: for nice beer, go to Madrid. In Barcelona, have some cava. Or a clara.
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Disclaimer: all this talk of beer city vs. wine city does is not mutually exclusive. It doesn’t mean there’s no wine or wine-lovers in Toronto or beer in Montreal. The Niagara region, just outside of Toronto, is a well-known wine region and Toronto was the place where Alan and I attended a wine appreciation course. And Belgian immigrants have founded very interesting breweries in the province of Quebec. I went to a bar here that had about 10 bottled beers, one of which was a microbrew from Quebec!!

From 200 books to 200 registers

On Friday, March 3rd I passed my comprehensive exams. Aimed at providing a solid background for future research and teaching, the ‘comps’, as they are fondly called, involve reading about 200 books over a period of 9 months. I averaged one and a half books a day towards the last few weeks of reading. While I had a healthy attitude towards the exams in the beginning, towards the end I totally freaked out and reached rock bottom somewhere at the end of January. I couldn’t eat or sleep properly, I cried for no reason, I was convinced my academic carreer was over before it even started. They would finally discover what a big fraud I am… “If I can pass this” I thought “research and writing my thesis will be no problem”.

Maybe I spoke too soon. Or maybe things haven’t changed that much. Or maybe we need to convince ourselves, in a graduate program, that the next stage will be easier in order to move on.

I’m now doing my research. Instead of two hundred typed books I need to read two hundred manuscript books (chancery registers). Instead of modern English, French or Spanish I now have to read highly abbreviated Latin and medieval Catalan and Aragonese.

Suddenly, I miss the comps…