Saturday, September 27, 2008

door, swallows, exotica

Posted by Picasa There is a street of old houses in Sitges, where there are intriguing doors with old locks and hinges and windows with rusting rejas (those bars on ground floor windows behind which unmarried girls used to sit when being wooed by prospective suitors). It is hard to resist photographing the detail and a pleasure now to see the results.

When we were here in June, the sky round the roofs of the old town swarmed with swifts. Now they have flown south across the Mediterranean. In their place, just for one day, come swallows, unlike the swifts, silent, they swoop and flutter past the balcony and over the swimming pool. But they are only with us for a day. On the following day they have departed also.

The owner of the Costa Dorada, our favourite restaurant, sits outside every day at a table by the entrance. There is a sense of tranquil continuity about the place, which is reflected in the good food and happy, courteous staff. He is 78. He has run the restaurant for 40 years and the chef, who is married to his daughter, has been in his job for more than 20 years. At this time of year, the old man arrives with an armful of exotic flowers from his garden. He is very proud of them and often arranges them in vases, distributed on the tables outside the restaurant, himself. Sometimes, after returning to his seat, he finds that he is not satisfied with his handiwork, and gets up to rearrange a vase or exchange it with one on another table. One plant, which attracts our attention has a strange cup-like structure like a white shell, reminiscent of the "boxes", which cricketers wear to protect their genitals. Inside, the single stamen of the flower adds a note of verisimilitude to this comparison. "It comes from Africa", he says. At my request, he writes down its name in my notebook: Filodendrum Costilla de Adan Mano de Tigre. So far, I have been unable to find a reference to it or to a more English version of its name.


Lucy said...

The keyhole has something of an eye about it.

One never sees the going of the swifts; suddenly they're just no longer there. Our residant swallows left some weeks ago, but pairs and groups of them still pass over. These have a melancholy charm, I wonder where they have come from further north?

Anonymous said...

I love the photo, what an ancient keyhole that must be!

Did you get a photo of that amazing flower?

Lucas said...

Joyce and have loved reading and looking at this post. The keyhole is very sculptural and suggestive of dreams, and the cafe with its exotic flowers also seems to stand on the edge of a dream.

Roderick Robinson said...

More about the Costa Dorada, please. I suspect it's one of those places that doesn't have a menu - always a good sign.

With us it's house martins. Much merde more than compensated for by fantastic aerobatics.

Unknown said...

That's one of the marja-leena inspired photos, m-j. I thought I had taken a photograph of the flower but I seem to have lost it somewhere.

Lucy, the swallows, I believe, were stopping over for a few hours, on their way to Africa. I recall seeing them one day a few years ago at the same time of year, when I was having a pre-breakfast swim. On that occasion they flew low over the water, catching something which was too small or too quick for me to see. Again their stay in Sitges was brief, briefer than ours.

Costa Dorada does have a menu. It is written in English, Spanish Catalan and French, which at first put us off. We wrongly believed that its polyglot nature indicated only a tourist trap. But the menu is simple and based on local, freshly caught fish and crustacea, which are presented without pretention of any kind. The plancha or flat griddle, is used for everything from merluza (hake), now scarcely ever seen in England, because almost the entire catch seems to go to Spain) to locally caught gambas (large prawns), not the fat, rather tasteless creatures imported from Asia; and almeja (cockles). They do a good Fiduea ( very fine Catalan noodles with sea food in a flat pan called a paellera) and arroz negro, (rice cooked with crustacea in cuttle fish ink). You have a sense of true well being sitting at one of the tables on the pavement, the sea only a few yards away.