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Archive for September, 2017

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September 24, 2017

Our Spanish Wine of the Week: Depaula (V.T. Castilla)

Well our first and last “wine of the week” was posted two weeks ago, which means that, after just two weeks, I can already tell that our pledge for a weekly “wine of the week” series will probably not be happening at all…which, of course, is what makes this series so special.

 

Not that we didn’t try, mind you.  The other day we pulled out a Monastrell from D.O. Jumilla and struggled to come to terms with the fact it wasn’t meeting our expectations.  We will be kind and not mention the name of the wine or its bodega because the jury is still out on that one.  Either it was a powerful kick-in-the-butt wine that got out of hand, the way Jumillas can sometimes get, or a bottle that went awry in the shop, which can sometimes happen too.  In any event, if we give it another try, we’ll let you know.

 

Monastrell, by the way, is the Spanish name for the Mourvedre (a.k.a. Mataro) variety, if that means anything to you.  And if it doesn’t, don’t sweat it.  All you need to know is that it’s a heavy-duty red wine grape, and its popularity abroad has soared thanks to the versions from D.O. Jumilla, an appellation located in Murcia and the province of Albacete, but mainly associated with the former.   So synonymous have grape and D.O. become that people often think they are one in the same.

 

This week we went back to this variety, partly because Lorena was very disappointed with the previous choice.  It wasn’t her fault, but that didn’t matter.  When she gets that determined look on her face, it’s best to step aside and let her take care of things on her own.

 

She picked one out from a winery called Bodegas Ponce, which is based further north in the province of Cuenca.  This was surprising because, though Monastrell is planted in those parts, its current fame, as we now know, has mainly come from D.O. Jumilla.    No one thinks of Monastrell up there.  Just what was up with that?

 

The wine is called Depaula and the author here is a winemaker named Juan Antonio Ponce.  He has garnered fame on the international wine scene for taking an otherwise obscure Spanish variety known as Bobal and turning it into something classy and worthy of your dinner table.  This also gave the somewhat unnoticed D.O. Manchuela where it was made a bit of recognition out there.  La Manchuela is a zone that covers vineyards in the south of Cuenca and northern and eastern Albacete.

 

The thing is, Ponce clearly seems like a person who enjoys exploring.  His first incursions into Monastrell territory actually came from Jumilla, which explains why the bottles up to 2014 denote that D.O.  But more recently, the winery is reported to be getting its raw material from a few vineyards near Tobarra (Albecete), a town which is technically within the limits of Jumilla.   Apparently these particular vineyards are just outside the border, meaning that even though they are more less from Jumilla, they can’t be called Jumilla, and because they aren’t Manchuela because they are nowhere near Manchuela, they can’t go by that moniker either.

 

The answer?  VT Castilla.   It’s the all-encompassing appellation from Castilla-La Mancha that wineries often go to when they find themselves in these situations. This issue represents just another example of the Great Spanish Wine Region Mess, on which I will comment further when I have more time…and when I feel like it.

 

The fact that Depaula’s source comes from land with slightly different soil and at a higher altitude is important because it may have had a hand in why it is so distinct from the usual meaty Monastrells you get from the variety’s cousins a little further down south.

 

Depaula,  which is named after his first-born daughter, is noticeably softer and fruitier.   We thought it had a delicate aroma (which is no small feat for a Monastrell) and was a well-balanced and elegant wine.  Consistent.   No funky surprises going on once it reached your mouth.  Ironically, I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever tried.

 

On top of that, the price was incredible.  I think we purchased our bottle at one of those over-the-top shops in the fashionable Madrid neighborhood of Chueca, but it generally goes for anything between 6.50 and 10.00€, which is close to a steal for what you get.

 

We paired it with grilled white tuna ventresca (belly) and Spanish jamón ibérico mainly because that was what was lined up for dinner.  I had nothing to do with it.  Lorena did the honors this time and was spot on.  The meal was a success and the wine, well, I think we are going to give it a well-deserved four stars out of five.

COSAS QUE NUNCA ME CONTARON DE LA HISTORIA

September 16, 2017

Cosas Que Nunca Me Contaron de la Historia de España: Aníbal

Cuando era chaval, recuerdo que se decía que la conquista de los romanos del mundo conocido pasaba necesariamente por la derrota de los cartaginenses, unos tipos de parentesco fenicio que querían dominar al Occidente de Mediterráneo.  De hecho, ya lo hacían, lo cual les sentaba bastante regular a los hijos de Rómulo.  Es que la presencia de los cartaginenses impedía el desarrollo del diseño de supremacía total que tenían en mente los proto-italianos.  Un estorbo, vamos.  Así que, llevaron la disputa a la calle y a pelear.

 

El profe nos contaba que hubo tres guerras entre las dos potencias y que las llamaban las Guerras Púnicas porque “púnico” se refería a fenicia (Phoenicia), que eran los primos de los cartaginenses.  Todo me pareció un poco traído por los pelos pero era uno de esos taquitos de información que me venían bien para presumir en un examen o aburrir en una fiesta.

 

Al tema.  Al grano.  Siempre nos centrábamos en la Segunda Guerra Púnica porque en ella luchaba el macho más macho de todos, ese semental que sigue provocando man-crushes entre los militares más masculinos del mundo: Aníbal.  The one and only.  Ya llegaremos a él en un minuto, pero primero un poco de background.

 

Para mí siempre fue un error saltarse la Primera Guerra Púnica porque era igual de interesante, o más.  Los dos candidatos a la hegemonía del centro del Mediterráneo se daban mutuamente paliza tras paliza durante veinte años mientras disputaban el control de esa zona, sobre todo de Sicilia y Cerdeña.  Posiblemente nunca en la historia tantos hombres hayan dado sus vidas por estas dos islas.  Fue brutal.

 

Lo impresionante fue cómo los romanos consiguieron ganar.  Empezaron la contienda sin una marina para luchar contra la mejor fuerza naval de todos los tiempos.  Pero la suerte estuvo a su lado.  Según cuentan, encontraron una nave cartaginense abandonada en una playa y se pusieron a estudiar sus características.  Pronto empezaron a construir réplicas…clones…copias exactas.  Aprenderían rápido y acabarían venciendo a los cartaginenses en su propio juego. Listos, flexibles, pragmáticos y tenaces.  Por algo llegarían a ser los amos de la Edad Clásica.

 

Roma se llevó las dos islas, y Cartago la humillación de ser derrotado.  Pero el asunto no estaba ni olvidado ni resuelto.  Ni mucho menos.  La potencia cartaginense trasladó sus intereses hasta la península ibérica, donde podían hacerse con las riquezas minerales que se encontraban allí.

 

Por fin.  Aquí es donde España entra en el escenario.  Cartago empezaba a dar cada vez más importancia a estas tierras, fundando ni más ni menos Cartago Nova (Nueva Cartago), lo que hoy se conoce como Cartagena.  Tuvieron unos cuantos encontronazos con las tribus de la zona.  Fue una lucha complicada, pero consiguieron tomar control de casi la mitad de la península.  También estaban los romanos, como siempre, conquistando nuevos territorios por su lado y vigilando a sus viejos enemigos.  Digamos que era una especie de guerra fría.

 

Los cartaginenses triunfaban bajo el mando de Amílcar, que parecía casi invencible hasta que se quedó atrapado en un río bajo el peso de su propia armadura y se ahogó. Eso no mola.   Resulta que era algo vencible.

 

Normalmente se entiende la pérdida de un general tan valioso y tan respetado un golpe mortal para un pueblo, y seguramente hubiera sido así si no llegara a ser por un factor diferente, una anomalía en la armonía de la lógica, una fuerza de la naturaleza. Un hombre entre un millón.  Tomó las riendas su hijo.  Era aún más bestia, más audaz, más pesadilla para los romanos que su padre.  Se llamaba Aníbal.

 

En 219a.c., este general jóven cercó Sagunto (Valencia) y al final lo conquistó.  Este acontecimiento provocó una nueva guerra entre las dos potencias.   Quizás fuese la excusa para un conflicto ya anunciado, pero lo que resultaba sorprendente para mis limitados conocimientos era que las hostilidades empezaron en España.   O sea, todo comenzó en España.  Fascinante.

 

Aníbal partió hacia el norte con ganas de dar una lección a los romanos.  Los cartaginenses eran principalmente expertos en la lucha naval, pero no tanto en lo que se refiere a las batallas campales.  Por eso tenían la costumbre de depender de fuerzas extranjeras.  El ejército de Aníbal fue compuesto de tropas de muchas partes, pero buena parte eran iberos, con sus temidas espadas llamadas falcatas.  También había combatientes baleares que tenían fama de usar los tirachinas mejor que nadie.

 

El general condujo a su ejército hacia el norte, entró en Francia, cruzó de manera asombrosa el Ródano, e inició su ya legendario paso por los Alpes.  Ahora bien, yo he estado en los Alpes y puedo dar fe a que es una tierra nada fácil para cruzar a pie.  Ni ahora, ni nunca.  No fue hasta hace relativamente pocos años (y gracias a la sangre, el sudor y las lágrimas de unos cuantos españoles agujereando esa enorme masa de roca) que el ser humano llegara a ser capaz de burlarse de la naturaleza.

 

Si rebobinamos unos 2.200 años, la empresa tenía que ser brutal.  Además de los 95.000 efectivos, hubo 37 elefantes que, desde luego, se tendrían que sentir un poco fuera de lugar.

 

Desde el punto de vista militar moderno, la idea era una locura y una insensatez, y se ve.  Dos tercios del ejército perecieron, y solo un puñado de los elefantes.  Son cifras totalmente inaceptables hoy en día.  Pero psicológicamente, era una proeza espectacular.  Demencial.  Y una vez en Italia, el cabroncete (dicho con cariño y envidia) se rehizo y emprendió una marcha por la península que asombró el mundo.  Dio tunda tras tunda, culminando con la victoria más grande de todas en Cannas, cuando prácticamente aniquiló el aparato militar de Roma.

 

Con eso, Aníbal aseguró su lugar en los anales de la historia de los grandes líderes…pero para mí hubo un gran pero: no terminó el trabajo.  He didn’t get the job done.   Y eso es lo que cuenta.  Fue como uno de eso deportistas que baten todos los récords pero no consiguen ganar un campeonato mundial o un grand slam.  El tío no supo llevarse el anillo a casa.  Roma aguantó, acosó a los cartaginenses en España y ganó tiempo.  Y todo el mundo sabe que no se puede dar tiempo a Roma.  Si lo haces, tarde o temprano pasará factura, como le pasó a Aníbal en la batalla de Zama. Game over.

 

Los romanos empezarían su larga y bastante dolorosa dominio de Hispania, cambiando para siempre el rumbo y destino de este país.

COSAS QUE NUNCA ME CONTARON DE LA HISTORIA

September 12, 2017

Things They Never Told Me About Spanish History: Altamira

Many years ago I went to meet up with my parents while they were traveling in the south of France.   It was the beginning of the 1990s and getting around the Old World was considerably less traveler-friendly than it is today due to a highly European glitch in the system: the strike.  The common strike.  The almost everyday strike.  You see, you had your common bus strike, your common train strike, your common subway strike.  I tell you, no one knew more about how to restrict mobility than the European public transportation system.   Nowadays it seems as if the old-fashioned walkout has gone the way of the Walkman.  Except for the metro (it would be a year without Christmas if they didn’t let you down at least once), taxi-drivers (because they just do), and the people at Barcelona’s Prat Airport (for some reason, they are always in a bad mood in summertime), unions aren’t sticking it to their bosses the way they used to.

 

I could devote the rest of the post to narrating everything I had to endure just to get to say, “Hi Mom and Dad, I’m here!”, but I’ll spare you that part of the odyssey and sum it up by saying that, after two days (it should have taken about ten hours max) of struggling to reach my destination, which included an unsolicited night at a train station hotel, I ended up walking down some country road in the middle of the Dordogne trying to hitchhike to the chateau hotel where my parents were staying. By then I had already tried every known mode of transportation.  All that was left was my thumb.  But I eventually got there.

 

The trip that my parents had chosen had been organized by Columbia University and it was mainly cultural in nature, though everyone knows that no trip to the south of France is ever entirely cultural.  One of the stops scheduled between the delectable meals and copious wine tastings included a visit to the legendary prehistoric paintings cave Lascaux.  Though my personal drawing skills were and are no doubt similar in appearance, my actual understanding of primitive art at the time was limited, I’ll confess. But I did know enough to recognize that the prehistoric site we were about to engage represented something like the Wimbledon, the Louvre, the Bolshoi, the Sistine Chapel of holes in the ground.  In fact, that’s just how the guide who conducted the tour described it.  Except she said it in French and made it sound we were entering sacred ground.  She had Frenchy short hair (minus the beret), wore little makeup, librarian’s glasses and donned a sexy khaki field work dress that made her prêt a excavate on a moment’s notice.  What can I say?  That’s the way French archeologists must be.  She led the tour quite well, and it certainly was an impressive place.

 

I returned to Spain and, once back on the couch of my pad, told Pepe all about the adventures.  He was sitting in a worn armchair which should have already paid a permanent visit to the local junkyard.  In fact, I can’t be sure it hadn’t been rescued from one. Pepe, who was still waiting for the call of a lifetime, took a drag from his Fortuna cigarette and shook his head.  “Lascaux?  You gotta be kidding me?”

 

“Good job, don’t you think?”

 

“What do you mean, good job?  Those frogs always beat us to it.  It drives me nuts.  How could you go there when you have the best cave art in the world here.  Right in your own backyard?”

 

“I didn’t know that.”

 

“Of course you didn’t.  It’s not your fault.  This is all part of the great British smear campaign against Spain.  Ever since Sir Francis Drake, the world’s only pirate to get knighted by a queen, this country’s reputation has never been the same.”  I had no idea where this was going.  I had always been taught Drake was a cool guy.  Apparently not, but we’ll get to him later on.

 

Pepe went on.  “Don’t you know that in Cantabria, our beloved Cantabria, there is a cave called Altamira?”

 

“Isn’t that the cannibal place?”

 

“That’s Atapuerca.”

 

“That’s right.  Couldn’t you vary your names a bit?  This is all very confusing to me.”

 

“Don’t get me sidetracked.  Altamira is the finest collection of rock art on this planet.  They call it the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art.”

 

“That’s interesting.  That’s just how the French guide described Lascaux.”

 

“How original!  They copy everything.”  He stood up and tucked in his shirt.  “Listen, I don’t collect my unemployment check until tomorrow.  If you want, we can go down and you can treat me to some cañas and I’ll tell you all about it.”

 

I was kind of wiped out from all the traveling but I didn’t see a way out of it.  “All right, let’s do it.”

 

Europe is without a doubt a continent chock full of memorable examples of prehistoric symbols, drawings and paintings.  They are mostly located in caves because those dark and protected places happen to be ideal for their preservation.  Altamira is one of them. In fact, it’s a lot more than that.  It was discovered in 1868 by a local man named Modesto Cubilla, who was out hunting with his dog.  Actually, we should give the dog credit for revealing its existence.  Cubillas didn’t seem to venture very far and, from my understanding, didn’t know there were paintings inside, but he did tell Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola all about it.  Sanz was one of those local lords who, because of their ties to nobility and sizable estate, had the time and the means to devote their energy to the sciences, just for fun.  In this case, paleontology was his thing.  It would seem that he didn’t give much importance to what Cubilla had to say, because eleven years would pass before he decided to take a look.  In 1879, he wandered up with his eight-year-old daughter María and sent her inside to see what was up.  I don’t know about you, but my 2017 perspective struggles to comprehend why this man would have his little girl, who would have been in the third grade at the time, explore an uncharted cave on her own given the obvious potential dangers one could encounter.  But I guess those were different times…or Sanz was just a coward.  In any event, the girl shouted back from the bowels of the grutte the now famous exclamation, “Daddy! Look!  Oxen!”

 

Maria hadn’t really regarded depictions of oxen, but just about every other known fauna was there.  Horses, deer, boars, mammoths, reindeer and especially bison.  Lots of bison.  The artwork is remarkable not only its use of color and shading, though they are evidently first rate.  There are also indisputable examples of the artist taking advantage of the relief of the rock to give the impression of volume.  The depiction of the bison whose body is curled in a ball to fit the stone sticking out of the wall is my favorite.  It’s a masterpiece. The work of an anonymous genius.  Proof of the importance of creativity in terms of the workings of the human brain.

 

These paintings are said to have influenced numerous artists since their discovery, but they must have been a source of frustration because after 17,000 years, you get the feeling things in the art world have not progressed that much.

 

The quality of the artwork is such that at first a number of experts, who happened to be French obviously, questioned its authenticity.  “Questioned” is an understatement.  They outright accused Sanz of faking the paintings, or of being duped by some other sly individual into believing they were the real McCoy.  Those practices weren’t unheard of back then.  But years later, when the French discovered similar paintings in their own caves, they began to change their minds.  Naturally.  One scholar even had the decency to admit formally in Anthropology magazine that he had made a mistake.  By that time, however, Sanz had been dead for some ten years so he could not see his battered reputation restored to the dignity it deserved, but the posthumous bit of recognition was better than nothing.

 

When Lascaux was discovered in 1940, the sensational find awed the world, eclipsing Altamira and relegating it to a distant second in world common knowledge.  Once again, the French proved to have a knack for having so many aspects of their culture take center stage, much to the frustration of the Spanish.  Something similar happened to other legendary 20th Century figures like Picasso, whom far too many people still believe was French.  Though he spent many years in France and died there, he was born in Malaga, lived many years in Barcelona and expressed his love of and concern for Spain in this art throughout his prolific life.  Ironically, Picasso is once said to have claimed that “After Altamira, everything is decadence.”  That could easily be apocryphal, but it sounds like something he might think.  Who knows.

 

The problem with dark and protected places is that once they aren’t so dark or protected, gases like oxygen get in start to do what gases like oxygen are so good at: corrode.  They also foster the growth of fungus.  Both side effects have led to a severe curtailing of visits by human beings.  The original site is now closed to only an exclusive few each year.  The rest of us mortals have to settle for a replica nearby.  You can also view of life-size facsimile of the sala grande in an underground room outside the entrance of Madrid’s excellent archeology museum (MAN) right in the heart of the city.

Spanish a Wine,Spanish wine,Spanish Wine of the Week,Uncategorized

September 8, 2017

Our Spanish Wine of the Week: Dido 2015 (D.O. Montsant)

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For our first week, Lorena and I have started with a wine from a little known wine region in the Spanish region (that term should really tick the secessionists off) of Catalonia called Montsant.  Partly, because I know a thing or two about these wines, and partly because, the way things are going, we may not be able to call them Spanish long from now.

 

Most people people have never heard of this region because they don’t read my book and therefore don’t learn about these things.  This is not a personal thing. The 47 people who did buy my book 15 years ago learned a lot.  The rest have relied on unreliable sources.  That’s their problem.  Even today, with all that is available online, it’s shocking how little even the experts know about Spanish wine.  Shocking because I was shocked fifteen years ago. Shocking because little has changed since then. But the world has changed a lot.  Donald Trump is president of the United States, my friends. It’s something we should remind ourselves about every single day before we brush and flush. We don’t say it enough.

 

Anyway, Montsant is located in the province of Tarragona and it literally forms a ring around the more well known wine region of Priorat, which took the country by storm in the 1990s by launching some of Spain’s most exclusive wines.  This had to do with the high quality of the old vines, its limited production and the unique minerally characteristics of its wine.  They all translated into specialness, which really means hefty prices per single bottle.

 

Why are we talking about Priorat if we want to hightlight Montsant?  It’s to provide a little context.  Montsant used to be a subzone of the Tarragona wine region until it separated (that seems to be a Catalan thing) and started up as its own denominación de origen in 2002.  You get the feeling that Montsant is kind of like the poorer relations of the highly touted Priorat, that cousin who has to stay in your pool house instead of the local hotel, but we can assure you that it stands on its own just perfectly well, thank you.  Priorat’s wines are excellent, especially because they are so different, but they tend to be special occasion bottles, unless you own an island or two.

 

Montsant, on the other hand, tend to be a mighty value for your money, and they don’t compromise on quality.  Without trying to sound too much like a sponsored article, Venus La Universal’s Dido, created by Sara Pérez and Rene Barbier, is a perfect example.  These two winemakers each come from families with roots deep in Priorat and beyond (The Barbiers have been at it since the 13th Century, so I kind of feel I can trust their know-how without risking it).  All the same, their presence in Montsant seems to have given them more freedom. This red made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Merlot and Syrah, just blows your mind a way.  It takes a little time to get up and running,  but it once it does, there is no saying, “Let’s put the cork back and finish it tomorrow.” There is no tomorrow.

 

Lorena, who has far finer senses than I do, noticed the leathery aroma open up to something more like redcurrant.  It was full-bodied but silky smooth.  It evolved wonderfully throughout the meal and she enjoyed finishing it off with a bit of chocolate.  And all for little more tha twelve euros.

 

We’re praying Venus stays in Spain!

COSAS QUE NUNCA ME CONTARON DE LA HISTORIA

September 6, 2017

Cosas Que Nunca Me Contaron de la Historia de España: Tartessos

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Hace un siglo, ser arqueólogo debió de ser una carrera profesional emocionante.  Mucho más que lo que uno puede sospechar.  Incluso hoy, los nombres de algunos de esos eruditos-aventureros nos suenan bastante familiar a mucha gente.  Howard Carter, sin ir más lejos, hizo historia cuando se asomó por un hueco de la entrada de la tumba de Tutankamón y contestó a la pregunta que si veía algo.  “Sí.  Veo cosas maravillosas.”  Y tan maravillosas.  Solo la totalidad de una tumba egipcia real perfectamente intacta; la máxima expresión del esplendor de una de las civilizaciones más fascinantes que jamás hubo.  Ni más, ni menos.  Cosas maravillosas.  ¡Qué discretos son esos ingleses!

 

Algo parecido pasaría al alemán Heinrich Schliemann cuando anunció al mundo que había encontrado a la mítica ciudad perecida y desaparecido, Troya, urbe lanzado a la memoria eterna gracias a la Ilíada de Homero y a las películas de Brad Pitt.  Se dice que Schlieman, como muchas celebridades en el mundo, sabía promocionarse, pero hay reconocer que supo buscar un lugar al que todo el mundo le sonaba y, mira por donde, supo encontrarlo.  No se puede decir que en ocasiones utilizó los modos más delicados a la hora de excavar, la dinamita, pero está claro que la disciplina de la arqueología estaba todavía en pañales entonces y haría falta esperar unos años para irle puliendo.  Aun así, el tipo lo logró y su fama, que dura hasta hoy, no se la quita nadie.

 

Posiblemente algo parecido tenía en mente su compatriota, Adolf Schulten, cuando se empeñó en mostrar al mundo que realmente existió una ciudad podrida de oro, plata y joyas llamada Tartessos.  Dejó los explosivos en el sótano y llevó sus palas rumbo a unas tierras que, según mis conocimientos sobre el mediterráneo de esa época, no tendría que existir casi nada: Cádiz.  ¡Qué ignorante era yo de chaval!

 

Schulten, que ya había ganado fama en España por descubrir Numancia, buscó y buscó, pero dio con nada.  Así que siguió buscando.  Se dice que llegó a obsesionarse, como es lógico, pero no encontró su añorada ciudad.  No lo ha hecho nadie…de momento.

 

Como os podéis imaginar, fue mi compañero de piso Pepe quien me habló de Tartessos por primera vez.  Hasta tenía el libro de Schluten en nuestro piso, con sus fotos en blanco y negro.  Mientras me lo contaba, le salá la vena que les sale a algunos españoles cuando quieren presumir de un pasado más glorioso que jamás nadie pudiera imaginar.  En parte porque era un producto de su imaginación.

 

“Dicen que era la ciudad más rica y más importante del mundo conocido.  Ni Roma ni Grecia en conjunto pudieran competir.  Pero nadie lo sabe, joder.”

 

“En eso te doy la razón.”

 

Toda la razón.  En España, a casi todo el mundo le suena el nombre de Tartessos, pero fuera del país, podría ser una salsa para tus patatas fritas.  Eso se debe a varios factores, si queréis saber mi opinión. Por una parte, no se puede decir que el mítico reino cuente con unas referencias históricas irrefutables.  Lo que queda de los escritos de los tiempos de antigüedad son todos posteriores y no especialmente precisos.   Hacen referencias ambiguas y ponen nombres diferentes como Tarsis, Tarshish, Tartessos o TRSS, y lo ubican más allá de los Pilares de Hércules (el Estrecho de Gibraltar). Si las comparas con los casi 16.000 versos que forman la épica de Homero, no hay color, vamos.

 

Luego los resultados de las investigaciones y excavaciones han son concluyentes.  Una casa aquí, y puñado de objetos de oro allí, un poblado allá.  Algunos parecen encajar mejores que otras.  Pero falta mucho.  Es como si tuviéramos 50 piezas de un puzle de 1000 e intentáramos reconstruir una historia.   Casi imposible.  Por eso ha habido tantas teorías sobre esta legendaria ciudad. Una ha llegado a postular, con poco éxito naturalmente, que se trataba del mítico continente perdido de Atlantis.  Chorradas.

 

Cuanto más investigo menos descubro, como suele pasar con estas cosas.  Últimamente los expertos tienden a recurrir al cómodo “seguramente no existió nunca.”  Hay que ver.

 

Lo que sí se puede afirmar es que algo había.  Algo más que una tribu que construía casas circulares.  Parece ser que había una pequeña civilización que se dedicaba a trabajar con metales y no se les daba mal.  Cuando los fenicios llegaron en búsqueda de comercio, que es lo que les ponñia, el intercambio de bienes se complementaba con un intercambio de ideas y tecnología.

 

Pronto se descubrió que la zona estaba repleta de recursos que interesaban a los pueblos en el otro lado del mar.  Se cree que la región experimentó un rápido crecimiento en riqueza que duraría varios siglos y que dicha bonanza económica fue espectacular.  Las calles estaban hechas de oro y los retretes de plata y cosas por el estilo.  Tenían tanto que no se sabía ni qué hacer con tanta fortuna.  Sé cómo es.

 

De repente, pluf.  Todo desapareció, lo cual invitaba a algunos a aventurarse y afirmar que en realidad se trataba de Atlantis.  Nada que ver.  Tampoco hay indicios de un terremoto, ni maremoto, ni moto de ningún tipo por ninguna parte.   Se piensa, como es lógico, que el factor más determinante fue que los fenicios, es decir sus clientes, fueron en buena parte aniquilados por los persas.  Eso nunca es bueno.

 

Desde luego sería mala suerte.  Es posible que fuera el primero de estos altibajos económicos que tanto han azotado a España a lo largo de los siglos, hasta hoy en día, incluso. Mucha caña, mucho boquerón y mucha alegría. pero ya sabemos…cuando llegan los persas…a joderse. ¡Vaya legado!

 

 

COSAS QUE NUNCA ME CONTARON DE LA HISTORIA,Uncategorized

September 2, 2017

Cosas que Nunca Me Contaron de la Historia de España: Los Pueblos Prerromanos

LOS PRERROMANOS

Si en algún momento algún profesor espabilado nos hablaba de las impresionantes pinturas que realizó nuestro genio de Altamira, en seguida nos hizo dejar las verdes praderas de Cantabria y nos llevó al Oriente Medio para estudiar qué es lo que se cocía en las tierras de Mesopotamia.  No era para menos.  La razón era lógico.  No cabe duda de que algunos de España se mostraban bien encaminados en cuanto a sus habilidades artísticas, pero aún estaban un poco, digamos, verdes en unos cuantos áreas de lo que se puede llamar el progreso.

 

Por otra parte, los cachondos de Sumer, Babilonia, Asiria y Persia no tardarían (eso es mentira, tardarían mucho, pero me entendéis) en crear ni más ni menos la agricultura, la escritura, el derecho, las infraestructuras básicas de un municipio (por no mencionar el municipio en sí), la metalurgia, la irrigación, el dinero, la acuñación de monedas, las matemáticas, la astronomía, la contabilidad, la banca, la rueda, la medicina, el vino y la cerveza, además de grandes avances en la ingeniería, como presas y edificios grandes.  Sólo por mencionar algunos.  Hay unas cuantas cosas más que se han quedado en el tintero.   Vamos, lo que son los elementos esenciales para crear una civilización avanzada.  Un dibujito de un bisonte está bien, pero puedes decir a tus colegas que has inventado el arado, pues qué quieres que te diga.  De ahí se pasaba a los egipcios con sus pirámides, los fenicios con sus barcos y comercio, los griegos con su filosofía y democracia, los romanos con casi todo lo demás, y así sucesivamente.

 

En España, como tantas veces ha pasado, las cosas marchaban a otro ritmo, lo cual no quiere decir que no hubiera vidilla.  De hecho, la península ibérica hervía con actividad casi frenética.  A través de mis primeras conversaciones con los españoles, descubrí que había dos grupos principales: los íberos y los celtas.  Este segundo grupo me dejó atónito porque siempre se había hablado de los Celts de Irlanda y de Escocia, y como mucho el norte de Francia…pero ¿España?

 

“Sí.” afirmó Pepe.  “Incluso tiene su propia gaita.”

 

“Anda ya.”

 

Era verdad.  Es más, la gaita ha existido en España desde la Edad Media, como poco, y es posible que llegara a las Islas Británicas posteriormente.  Al igual que los celtas.  Resulta más curioso que ha habido estudios en los últimos años que indican que los celtas de España luego viajaron a las Islas Británicas.  Dijeron que los irlandeses de origen más antiguo poseen un mapa genético muy parecido a los del norte de España.  Llegaron a la conclusión de que la mayoría de los británicos son, de hecho, descendientes de unos pescadores españoles hace unos 6.000 años.  ¡Eso les tiene que sentar fatal!  Me parto.  Pero también podría explicar su afán por volver a la Patria a disfrutar de su sol y cervezas.

 

En fin. A lo que iba.   Los iberos y los celtas dominaban; y cuando había roce entre los dos, salían celtiberos.  Pero eso era solo la punta del iceberg.  A través de años de mi investigación, aprendí que había docenas de tribus diferentes.  Los vetones en Extremadura, los vacceos en Salamanca, los lusitanos en Portugal, los astures en, naturalmente, Asturias, los turdetanos en Andalucía, los carpetanos en el centro, los oretanos, en Jaén, o por ahí.  Luego tenías a los vascones (los actuales vascos) que eran un tema aparte (como siempre).   La lista es interminable y mareante.  Algunos estaban más avanzados que otros, pero los grandes cambios llegarían con la llegada de estos pueblos del otro lado del Mediterráneo.  Así que, hay que ver lo que pasa a continuación.

Uncategorized

September 1, 2017

Things They Never Told Me About Spanish History: Atapuerca

I can be a total idiot at times, but I’m not stupid.  I know many things were going on in the world tens of thousands of years ago and that Spain wasn’t going to be outdone.  It makes a lot of sense that there would be humans meandering about the plains and hills well before Scipio and his crew showed up, but, to be honest, if you don’t spend some time in this country, most of these details slip by your average foreigner’s common knowledge of the land.  You’d think Spain didn’t exist before El Cid galloped into Valencia.  It just ain’t right.

 

In my first years here when I did even less than what I do now, which isn’t much, I would spend hours of my day in my apartment with my roommates whiling our youth away.  In Spain, adolescence usually lasts until about the age of 30, so that 50% unemployment data which so alarmed the world during the worst of the most recent economic crisis, was not as abnormal as it appeared, especially back then.

 

My roommates worked, or at least tried to, in the movie industry, which meant they generally had plenty of free time on their hands.  One of them, Pepe, would spend his day waiting for the phone call of a lifetime and illuminate me on a whole bunch of things I had missed out on while I studied in the United States.  He spoke with a passion that many Spaniards do when they narrate the history of their country, and he clued me in on all sorts of dates, names, places, moments and events that marked Spain’s past.  I often ended up with the feeling that something had gone awfully wrong with the American educational system.  It was also when I realized for the first time (but certainly not the last) that there was another vision of Spanish history out there.  One that most of us from abroad were missing.

 

Take, for example, Atapuerca.  Over a glass of pacharán, Pepe once asked: “You’ve never heard of Atapuerca?”

 

“No.”  A normal response from just about anyone born in Connecticut and its surroundings.  “Why should I?”

 

The name “Atapuerca”, if taken literally, can mean “Tie up the pig”, which could have referred to one of those odd pre-Christian traditions you come across in the remote towns of Spain during their local fiestas.  After all, this is a country where people have been known to ride a horse by a rooster which is hanging by its legs upside down and try to yank it off…the results are as gruesome as one can imagine. This is a country where young men have been known on occasion to set their farts on fire in public for fun.  It’s a land of unusual festival customs, I can assure you.  But in this case, it happens to be, rather logically, a corruption of a Basque and Spanish word for mountain pass.  At least that’s the theory.

 

“Because you should.” replied Pepe.  “It’s one of those most important sites in the world.  Don’t you want to hear about it?”

 

Every time I heard the words “in the world”, I knew I was in for a new lesson, so there was no point in trying to stop him.  “Go ahead.”

 

Atapuerca is a set low hills northeast of Burgos, a great medieval city in the north of Spain.  It appears that people were aware of the proof of ancient hominin activity since the middle of the 19th Century, but when a railroad was built there during the 1890s, scholars began to realize just what they had in front of them.  As a rule, this is always bad news for anyone trying to carry out major construction, but it seems the two interests managed to live together peacefully for many years, until the train line went bankrupt altogether in 1917.  Then things got a lot more peaceful.

 

Atapuerca is pretty much a wet dream for any archeologist, anthropologist or paleontologist.  I mean, if you like really old things and possess a spade and a brush, this is the place for you.  Remains, remnants, vestiges, leftovers from a time so distant it makes some back in the States uncomfortable.  From way before even the appearance of homo sapiens.  That makes them even more uneasy.

 

There you can basically the oldest and most extensive hominin excavation in Western Europe.  And it’s still not over.  Much of what has been found revolves around a relative of ours known as the homo antecessor, and another called the homo heidelbergensis.  These may not be household names, but suffice it to say that they managed to survive for far longer than we have so far.   Recently a tooth emerged from the depths which has been dated at 1.2 million years old.  Another molar was discovered in the south of Spain and apparently ekes it out by about 100,000 years.  I don’t know about you, but this must be the source of extreme silent frustration for competing field workers.

 

Silence is also the trademark of this undertaking.  Or at least inconspicuousness.  No Sunday evening highlights show featuring the bone chip find of the week.  Their 15 minutes of fame, however, did come in the late 90s from an item of news that naturally grabbed headlines.  Some of these peoples were cannibals.  In the very least, they dabbled in the practice.  There is also evidence that they believed in formal burials.  I guess they just enjoyed to nibble a little on their next of kin before final resting.