Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Posts Tagged ‘Water’

30 Days of Christmas

January 23, 2015

The Thirty Days of Christmas 23

Tags: , , ,

There is a way to make it stop. A way to get out it. A place to go when you feel just can’t eat anymore. It’s not home because that’s where all the turrón is, lying there on some shiny ceramic platter just begging to be picked up. And you will succumb to the temptation. More than once. You just leave the city and flee the danger, the madness, and the disease. Boccaccio sent his characters away from the plague soy they tell their 100 tales in Decameron. Why couldn’t I skip town to stay out of reach of the nearest marzipan figurine?

     When I need a place to and get away from it all, I find it just about an hour away from the center of Madrid in a bucolic and astoundingly unspoiled valley to the north of the capital called el Valle de Lozoya, and a village known as Alameda. This time I took up temporary residence in another nearby town, the largest in the region, called Rascafría. The name translates liberally as frigid wind, which should give you an idea of the kind of climate one might encounter there, especially in winter, but rest assured that this is not the icy tundra, though it is somewhat higher and frostier than many would imagine.

     The valley gets its name from the Lozoya River, which trickles down from the lofty Sierra de Madrid and carves its way through the land. The contents of this waterway softly pass by fields, woods and hamlets before spilling into a large reservoir known as the Embalse de Pinilla. One of the few positive legacies ever attributed to Franco, and even this one is debated, is that fact he took measures to ensure Spain, a rather dry country in many regions, had a fairly extended and steady supply of water in a land where rainfall is anything but steady.

     When Spaniards are not drinking alcohol, which at this time of year seems only at breakfast, water is a common alternative. In fact, it’s basic drink on an everyday basis…not soda or milk, which was what I was nurtured on. It makes a difference. The first time I came to Spain, I lost about 15lbs in the first three months, and part of it had to do with my being nourished with simple glasses of water at every meal. That and the rest of the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is a standard regime that Spaniards tout as being the reason why they don’t have to pay for two seats when they buy airline tickets and stuff like that. The nutritional plan gets its strength from its balanced nature. It relies, sometimes too heavily, on olive oil, but also includes well-distributed amounts of fish, fruit, vegetables, legumes and beans, meat, bread, dairy…the whole deal. Basically everything you were told to do when you had your healthy eating class but never actually followed. You can in the States, but it almost sounds as if you are making a statement when you do. Here, it is second nature. That’s why some may be astounded to find kindergarten students jollily munching on chickpeas and carrots and fresh fish. They might even marvel at the sight. Especially since it’s not such an uncommon sight.

     Much as the Spanish would like to brag about how complete their diet is, and it can be despite the massive incursion of fast food over the past fifteen years, history shows it wasn’t always like that. In fact, the heavenly blend of comestibles didn’t arrive to the heart of the country until fairly recently. Up until the 1960s, Castilian gastronomy was anything but balanced, weighted in all types of beans and salted pork and fish and lacking in many vitamins. It sounded as if the Spanish ate less and farted more. The present-day setup of three square meals represents more of an amalgamation of different diets and eating habits from around the country. Together they forge one of the finest range of food available to an omnivore…by the way, if you are vegetarian, go find another country.

     And, of course, copious quantities of the old H2O never hurts. And if you live in the Madrid metropolitan area, all the better, because there you can enjoy some of the finest tap water the country can offer. Many foreigners, especially Americans, are wary of putting their lips to a glass for fear they will end up spending the weekend within the confines of their hotel bathroom. Heck, I know a lot who refuse to drink their own water let alone put their bowels on the line with another country’s version. I remember growing up hearing horror stories about France’s water, I don’t know why, but it probably explains why their bottle mineral stuff is so famous worldwide, and I can personally confirm, much to my displeasure, that everything they say about Mexico’s Montezuma’s Revenge is a reality. A very real reality. But the agua in the mountains of the Madrid, is a totally different story. It’s absolutely delicious, and it’s nearly a sin to order a bottled version from some other region when you have such a terrific hydro-delicacy at your fingertips. The fancy water with the ever-fancier packaging is becoming ever more popular in this day and age where even the most basic necessities need to be sealed in gourmet fashion. Asking for a free pitcher is now frowned upon. Alas…nothing seems to come for free anymore.

     Well, that’s where I headed. That’s where I went. I ran to the hills, for the hills, to burn off some calories, take in deep breaths of fresh air and…have some great, great meals. Guilt-free pleasures.


March 31, 2013

Spanish Sayings: Cuando en marzo mayea, en mayo marzea

Tags: , , ,

There is a saying in Spanish about springtime weather which goes “when in March it Mays, in May it Marches.”  Maybe I am just one of those souls who are subject to the power suggestion, but I am inclined to believe that, over the years, the meteorological theorem for the most parts holds true. And presumably the opposite is true under normal circumstances.

      Well, I can promise you that we can expect some great weather in May because it has been about as marchy a March as you can get.  Rain, rain and more rain, with a few gusty days to boot.  Part of this has to do with the fact that it is Semana Santa and it always rains at Semana Santa.  The clouds wait for the first pasos to emerge from the church threshold and, boom, your average healthy downpour.

       This year the precipitation has been particularly abundant.  In a sense this is great because Spain is a land which is almost never quite satisfied in terms of rainfall.  And once the dry summers drift in, there is no hope until fall again.  That’s why winter rain and snowfall are vital, and this year has been particularly positive in this sense.  The Sierra de Madrid has been smothered with a thick layer of snow.  Some may be surprised to read that there are mountains so close to the capital, aren’t we supposed to be in the open plains?  Despite Henry Higgins’ little rhymes to get a person to speak the way no sane human would want to, Spain, while home to large stretches of open plains, also happens to be the second most mountainous country in Europe, after Switzerland.  I am dead serious.  The Sistema Central, or Central Mountain Range, a chain that forms a bumpy southwest-to-northeast scar across the heart of the land, and dividesSpaininto basically two major climates.  They aren’t the Alps but they’re no slouches either.  Many peaks soar above the 7000ft mark, higher than anything you would find east of the Mississippi and the tallest in Madrid, Peñalara, stands at just a hair below 8,000ft, making it in my opinion, officially rugged in nature and not to be taken lightly by inexperienced climbers, especially during the winter.  In fact, two people had to be rescued just the other day when they got disoriented and had to spend the night near the summit in a makeshift igloo. And if I recall correctly, several unwary and unfortunate hikers have lost their lives up there.

Here is some physical proof.

This is a shot of the pine forest near the top of the Navafría pass.  It’s still about a 1,000ft below the highest point up there called El Nevero.  I topped it last summer in August, and I can promise you that even then it was somewhat chilly during the day.  There was a chance I was going to head up there in March.  Snow-whitened escarpments are a habitual part of the landscape at this time of year, and it isn’t unusual for patches of the frozen precipitation to be seen well into June.

So, as I was saying, the precipitation has been outrageously plentiful and the reservoirs are full to the hilt.  Capacity, which, you might be interested to know, is about 87%. It sounds a little odd, I agree, kind of like perfect unemployment rate being somewhere in the neighborhood of 4%, but it is necessary to avoid a sudden rush of water and having it all spill over in an uncontrolled manner.  That way, the region has some leeway.  Still, it isn’t often we can enjoy this much hydro-comfort and there are some who criticize the authorities for not having set aside more room to increase the supply, because, as anyone who has lived here long knows, dry spells can go one for a long time in this country.  For those of you who are boring like me and get a kick out of following these things, you can go to the Canal Isabel II website and get a daily update and the levels, reservoir by reservoir.

            So, if Spanish sayings are anything to go by, we can expect a great May to enjoy the best springtime in this city can offer the visitor and resident alike.