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Spanish Secrets: Worlds Apart

Craig Briggs describes the allure of one of his favourite Spanish cantinas. Weathered granite walls, rolling hills, deep green forests, an icy-cold beer - ah the bliss of Galicia!

English pubs are famed throughout the world. Quaint country watering holes where locals and travellers can enjoy a pint of the landlords best ale. The closest Spanish equivalent is the local village cantina.

Unlike a pub, a cantina has a very different international image. A dusty, dirty shack situated in the arid deserts of New Mexico and frequented by bandits and gun fighters.

The reality of a Spanish cantina is quite different.

They are as much a corner shop as a place to enjoy a cool beer. One of my personal favourites is called Casa Louro in the tiny hamlet of Serode. We’ve affectionately nicknamed it Casa Loo-Roll.

An ageing hand-painted sign hangs from a post at the roadside, alerting visitors to its location. To some, the sight of a Lamborghini parked in the drive might seem intimidating. But for those of you dreaming of a bright-red Italian sports-car, gleaming in the sunlight and the unmistakable purr of a V12, I’m afraid you’ll be slightly disappointed.

This Lamborghini is from the less glamorous side of the family business; the tractor manufacturing side. It’s a huge beast of a machine, with fading white coachwork, splattered with baked-on mud as it rests under the mid-day sun.

The short driveway to the cantina is lined on one side with a neatly manicured lawn and flower beds, an unusual sight in this locality. Most small patches of land are used to grow vegetables. Not even livestock can eat flowers.

The cantina itself is a large two-storey house. At the front is a tiled terrace, covered from the elements with a red terracotta-tiled roof. Under this are several tables and chairs sporting weathered logo’s of branded beers. Their lack of uniformity and varying stages of aging, suggests that they’ve been acquired over a number of years.

To the left of the terrace is a screen covered with climbers. This natural partition softens the building’s edges and provides a welcoming entrance. The loose gravel surface of the car park, crackles and crunches under the wheels of entering vehicles, then once again under foot.

From the warm still air and bright glare of an early summer afternoon, entering the dark cantina feels refreshingly cool. Facing you on entry is a counter. More often than not, a small group of workers will be gathered at one end. They’ are taking a break from the afternoon heat, exchanging tales and enjoying an icy-cold bottle of beer.

The shelves at the rear of the counter are clean and well stocked. Locally grown vegetables and salad produce are neatly stacked in front of a chilled cabinet.

The cabinet’s electric motor hums quietly in the background, until the thermostat lowers. The shop lights flicker as a surge of power heralds a loud rattle and earth shuddering vibration as the cabinet’s pump groans into life.

The bottled beer is cheap, and the panorama from the terrace, uplifting.

The cantina is situated in a natural dip. The houses in the village are old stone built properties. Some have been lovingly and sympathetically restored and feature beautifully-kept gardens. Others have not been so lucky. For these, time and the seasons have taken their toll.

Peeling paintwork and weathered granite walls rest under moss-encrusted roof-tiles whose original bright-red lustre has long since faded. Each large rambling house has its own original and romantically-rustic Spanish charm.

To the left is a peacefully rural landscape; rolling hills, deep-green forests, a patchwork of meadows and a sprinkling of white-washed village houses, fade from view under the distant mountains. It’s a countryside backdrop that’s changed little in centuries.

This picture of a Spanish cantina is as far removed from Hollywood’s portrayal, as reality is from Hollywood.

email address
craigandmel@msn.com

Copyright © 2006 Craig Briggs



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