Wednesday, November 19, 2003


A few years ago Miquel Esteba exchanged his machine shop for the good life. Now, with 71 very full years, he likes to say that he organizes parties by order...Since his retirement he has dedicated himself to a very curious activity, something we might agree to call "the restaurant at home". The novelty consists in initiating American tourists into gastronomic culture and giving them "homemade, homestyle" food...

A Taste of Spain, an unusual travel agency, offers its clients the chance of enjoying a good meal outside the circuits of the most renowned restaurants. Therefore, as well as taking them through the dining rooms of El Bulli or El Celler de Can Roca, they introduce them to Miquel Esteba, a person charismatic because of his activity, who in addition to cooking for them in exclusive instructs them in cooking.

The most recent clients have arrived from Philadelphia, Texas, and New york. Never more than five people. Miquel welcomes them, takes them to visit markets like the one in Palafrugell, helps them choose the freshest fish--"they have no idea, the only thing they've seen in their lives is frozen fish"--and finally takes them to his house, in Tamarit, installs them in his own dining room, shows them how to prepare a meal, gives them a class in hedonism, and serves. But he adds a very Catalan varient: he charges them.

For 150 euros three people can eat (according to the website it looks like it's €150 per person), with a gastronomy class included...At the last meal Esteba prepared for them some appetizers with Iberico ham and L'Escala anchovies, a generous fideua, and crema catalana, washed down with Rioja. While he prepared it, the Americans--little historical perspective--opened their eyes to a show they'd never seen, culinary artisanship, a slow fire, the finest materials, even the words are marinated...

"Sometimes," Miquel Esteba explains, "you realize that these foreigners have never seen a crab or a monkfish in their lives...What happens to these Americans is like those kids who believe that chickens are beings which are born fried and come in plastic."

Used to junk food and American assembly lines, these new clients are also shown the work in a winery, how to toast almonds, or to see how bread is baked. They end up so impressed and disoriented that they take home jars of "all i oli"--for breakfast.
(La Vanguardia, November 14, 2003)

...It's no accident that the American tourists who visit Barcelona's Gothic Quarter repeatedly ask: "When does it close?" They are incapable of understanding that in that museumified and thematized zone, completely dedicated to tourism and commerce, which stretches from the Plaza Catalunya to the port and from the Picasso Museum to the Rambla, there are people who live there when the shops and museums close down. Having identified the unitary area, sectioned off and thematized, it seems incomprehensible to them that it doesn't close at night, as in an amusement park or a shopping mall. Since the space of tourism is a space of leisure and consumption, the tourist is surprised that the historic downtown is, also, a place to live. "Are there people who live in a shopping mall?" they ask incredulously. (La Vanguardia, Culture supplement, November 19, 2003)

I don't know anybody that dumb who graduated from high school. I do know some extremely dumb Americans, and I'm related to several of them, but them people was white trash a hunnert fitty years ago and they's still white trash today. They ain't got no gumption, nair much common sense, and they all got kicked out of school long about the time they started growing whiskers and raping the nine-year-olds while they were still in the third grade. We had one ancestor who wound up in the Arkansas State Pen for grand theft mule about six or so generations ago. He escaped somehow and lit out for Texas, and the rest of his family followed him, which is how that branch of them got out there.

But any Yank who has the dough and the specialized interest to go on a gastronomical tour in Catalonia is well aware that chickens don't come from plastic bags. He's probably even watched Julia Child on TV at one time or another, and he may have even gone to a French restaurant back home or something. Possibly, just possibly.

(By the way, guys, you may actually never have seen a monkfish. Trust me, you don't want to, they're horribly gross, really primitive-looking fish, bottom-dwellers, not handsome sleek cod or trout. Fortunately, it generally is served in slices, "steaks", if you will. Also, do not order a whole roast rabbit because they will bring it to your table with the head on and it is incredibly horrible-looking. If you must order the rabbit, and they say it's quite tasty, ask for it sans head.)

So whence comes the image of the ignorant, uncultured American? I don't know, but it must be very important for the Europeans to propagate and reinforce that image among themselves. Two stories on the same theme in five days. Not bad at all.

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