My retired aunt and uncle live in a small town in Galicia in the same house where my uncle was born. This is a house his grandfather built nearly 100 years ago and the place I was fortunate enough to call home for seven days. Galicia is a coastal province in northwestern Spain, and my aunt and uncle wanted to take me everywhere! “It’s too bad you’re not staying with us for a month or two,” they would tell me. “There’s so much more to see.”
I travelled to a town with narrow streets that pirates would use to escape from the English navy. It reminded me of the Disney World ride “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It’s believed the waters in the area are loaded with stolen treasures.
I saw cities and churches. I saw ancient grist mills that my uncle said were still in use in his youth.
I went to a place where mollusks are weighed and inspected before they can be sold. I visited a 16th century monastery, picked chestnuts in a park near the house (before last week, I had no idea what the fruit looked like), made friends with my aunt’s cat (despite my allergies), and picked grapes from a neighbor’s vineyard. It seems almost all the neighbors have private vineyards and make their own wine. As we passed the houses, sometimes we could even smell from the street the wine being made.
This being the harvest season, grapes were plentiful. In addition to the few we picked, neighbors knocked at the door bringing gifts of their prized fruit.
On Sunday we visited Santiago de Compostela, where St. James’s remains are said to rest.
Earlier in the week, we traveled to the place were Columbus landed after his most famous voyage and went to a mountain that holds the ruins of a bronze-age village.
I did so much, yet my most vivid memories are of people and food. On walks with my uncle, every few steps we would stop to greet people he’s known for over 70 years. Each greeting me with a kiss on each cheek and an “encantado” or “encantada,” a few adding that I look like my aunt. Then they would continue their conversation in Gallego. This is a dialect somewhat similar to Portuguese, and to their delight, with my knowledge of Colombian/Castilian Spanish (Castellano) and college Italian, I could follow most of their conversations and even understand the signs in the area. They’re all in Gallego.
In Spain, young and old alike gather in cafés, restaurants, and bars between meals or at night to nurse a coffee (strong and delicious), a beer, or a glass of wine, always served with a small snack of some kind (sausage slices, fresh bread and cheese, olives, etc.). One can sit there for hours without being rushed.
The main meal of the day is a late lunch. I don’t know about others, but for us, it often lasted from 2-5pm and consisted of multiple courses accompanied by wine, always ending with dessert, espresso, and a chupito (a shot of some sort of sweet liqueur).
In Galicia, the house wine truly is the house wine, pressed and aged in a back room of the restaurant and sometimes sold without labels or even wine bottles.
The sweet liqueurs are also homemade.
In every restaurant where I went with my uncle and aunt, the food was fresh. Sausages, cheeses, and bread were made on the premises. Fish and shellfish were freshly caught. Meat was free range and recently butchered. My aunt and uncle know many restaurant and café owners, and each treated me as if I were an old friend.
Late at night, my aunt would invariably ask me if I wanted a sandwich or something else to eat. I declined each night multiple times, my stomach still full from the afternoon feast. Then my aunt would say, “I’m worried you’ll think I’m not feeding you enough.”
My last day in Galicia, I attended a large family meal at a restaurant owned by my uncle’s cousin. We had lots of Galician octopus, clams with a delightful caramelized onion sauce, lamb and more lamb, asparagus, potatoes (Gallegos love their potatoes) and peas, bread, dessert, red and white wine, a selection of homemade liquor, and coffee, and more coffee. With all the people, food, and conversation, the lunch lasted longer than usual, and at night my aunt accepted that I truly was full. She and I spent the evening in her sewing room talking. The following morning I had to get up early to catch the 8 a.m. bus from Pontevedra to Gijón. My aunt got up early to make breakfast and something for me to eat on my eight hour trip. They drove me to the station and put me on the bus with a hug and a kiss, and a huge sandwich, some grapefruits, a bag full of chestnuts we’d picked the day before, and three bottles of wine.