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Drinking and Eating (in that order)

If I’ve given any impression that Ken and I are using this vacation as an excuse to drink alcohol, allow me to point out that, unlike the locals, we are waiting until the afternoon to get our drink on. Apparently, beer is a breakfast beverage here. Not just beer, though. Wine and cava (like champaigne) seem also like a matter of course when workers stop by the bar for a pastry and a sip before shuttling off to work. The only local we’ve been able to hit up with our questions about this (and any other matter) has been Estafania (E), whom—you may recall—we met in Seville. We described to E how, back home, working for our employer, ordering a beer with lunch would reflect very poorly. She expressed surprise in hearing that, and explained (because we asked) that there was no restricted drinking age when she was growing up—she seems to be around our age. She said that now the legal drinking age is 18 but that it is not strictly enforced. If teens want to buy alcohol, they’ll just as easily find a place that will sell to them. We agreed that attitudes between our two cultures regarding alcohol are very different.

Today marks our last morning in Barcelona before we hop a flight to Bilbao.

This morning’s meanderings led us to two markets. The markets here are truly wonderful affairs that fill me with jealousy. A lot of the stalls repeat what’s around them. You find the usual suspects—butchers, fruit & veggy stands, cheese stalls, nuts, & the like. It’s not so much the variety but the specialization and preparation of what’s available that blows me away.

Let’s talk specialization. What I’d never seen until this trip is all the market stalls devoted to just eggs. Eggs in every variety (chicken, duck, phesant, ostritch, or emu; speckled, white, yellow, blue, or brown; dirty or clean; hard boiled or fresh) stacked up in numerous stalls in each of the large markets we’ve visited.

Wandering the neighborhoods, it seems the shops frequently follow a model of specialization. We’ve passed many stores in the neighborhood devoted to fresh fruits and vegetables, something I’ve never seen in the states. There are, of course, a lot of butchers around everywhere, too—Spanish being the carniverois cuisine that it is. Supermarkets are few. Folks wheel tall totes to the various neighborhood specialty shops and market stalls to check everything off their grocery lists. Supermarkets are harder to come by than in the states and are far less expansive where they do appear.

Back to the market and its meat stalls. They make no attempt to cover up the source from whence their wares come. The animals on display are recognizable. We passed by many suckling piggies and the disembodied heads of their parents. Offal is on offer. Skinned rabbits abound. The chickens have not lost their heads. I love to browse the meat stalls, and clearly there are not too many to support demand. While I remain abivalent about my own willingness to process the animals I eat, I’ve long found our own grocery store meat counters conspicuously sterile. I have to remind myself that beef and pork come from cows and pigs. In the states, conscious eating is making a comeback. In Spain (and, I’d wager, much of Europe) it would seem no one needs reminding what real or slow food is.

One final word about the markets on what makes me covet them: the fruit stalls offer prepared fruit and juices. Why aren’t the produce stalls in Pike Market hip to this brilliance?! Confronting you as you approach is a wall of grab-and-go containers filled with differing, delectable mellanges: coconut pieces, cactus flower slices, papaya, strawberry, pineapple, cheeries. We ate them all this morning pre-breakfast, arranged in one container with a little fork—a cornicopia of fresh fruit for 2 euros. Later we sprung a couple euro more for fresh juice made from one fruit stall’s inventory. (I had coconut pineapple, and I’m ruined forever from enjoying the bottled stuff!) Usually, I can’t buy fresh market foods on these trips because I lack the means to prepare it myself. We did buy this morning because the stall had prepared it. Even cured meat stalls and cheese stalls have this notion, some of them arranging little paper jackets of sliced sausages or cheese curds.

To sum up, I will not tire of these markets and look forward to comparing these Catelonian markets to their Basque brethren when we arrive in Bilbao and San Sebastian for more drinking and eating.

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