Two bottles of St Georgen’s Bräu to start the season. A gift from friends who are visiting from Germany and who know my tastes. The beer was a discovery for me on a previous visit to Bavaria – Franconia to be more precise – and as well as evoking memories of Gasthof Schiller and juicy schäufele is probably, despite another brewery’s having nabbed the slogan, the best lager in the world.
Visitors, guests. We have them, we are them. The Schiller guesthouse in Wernsdorf where I first tasted St Georgen’s Bräu has been there in one form or another since 1348, but apparently only run as the guesthouse it is now since 1715. Still, they seem to be settling in. The biergarten there on a summer evening, a stein of beer on the wooden table, its surface dappled by spear tips of golden sunlight that pierce the leafed shade. A bone of slow roast pork next to it. The best hospitality makes you feel at home even when you know you aren’t, even when everything is new.
I don’t know how Georg Modscheidler did it, but sometime around 1624 he discovered how to brew my favourite beer. You always wonder, don’t you, about the sequence of events and decisions that lead to a great discovery. Through what I assume was a blend of trial-and-error, know-how and blind luck he ended up casking his brew in caves outside the village of Buttenheim and leaving the barrels unbunged to allow the carbon dioxide to escape from them. I wonder if he even knew what carbon dioxide was. Unlikely, since the gas was first identified six years later.
The taut, sparking antipodes of being on the one hand a guest and on the other a host. The yearning for warm welcome and its symbiosis with the spirit of adventure. We are all, always, both; drawn to the hearth and yet compelled to wander from it, looking to feed and be fed, to guide and be guided, to hide in our caves and to climb into others to discover the hidden.
Today our guests are off to Seville and I will shop for the things I need to cook a ragu alla bolognese for them tomorrow. I can’t shop for them tomorrow because it’s yet another holiday in Spain, as was yesterday, so this is my window. Jesus, Spain. Celery, pancetta, minced skirt steak, onions, carrots, tomato paste and fettucine; it’s the ragu to end all ragus, not at all like the tomato and meat sauce so famous outside Italy. They’re pretty serious about this stuff in Bologna, even to the point of registering the recipe with their local chamber of commerce in 1982. This will be my first time making it and my motivation to give it a go wasn’t exactly hurt by this recent account.
It will take me four hours to cook and no doubt they will feel, as I’m sure K will, that I have gone to too much trouble. The truth is I couldn’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend an afternoon off. Another culinary adventure in the kitchen at Casa Alotofwind!
Next week will find us at the top of the Rock again, guests of K’s company. It will get us out of the house for a night and will feel like a little holiday. The suit needs dusting off. The week after that my family will host us for Christmas, but not before they are our guests for a thoroughly German meal of bratwurst and sauerkraut on Christmas Eve; we’ll cook.
Then another silly season will be over and we will find ourselves descending the winding road as Europe’s southernmost point – the little town of Tarifa – reveals itself where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. The first of January. The beginning of our third calendar year here. Our home. Even in Spain, once the Sixth is out of the way there is very little about January that is festive.
It is a sober time – a chance to brace ourselves for the coming year. To hope and lay the groundwork for the plans we have. There is a random element to our being here, of course. Google Earth determined our choice more then anything else. But we must carve something out.
Everything that makes it exciting makes it, at times, difficult. We’ll be back in the bubble we are working so hard to burst; the chatter of language around us as it slowly resolves itself into something comprehensible. Ever since we threw the pieces of our lives in the air we have been juggling; now it’s time to let at least some of them drop and find a place for themselves; and while it is important to work towards our goals we want to live well here while we’re at it. To do, to go, to be interested in. We have promised ourselves we will do at least one crazy thing next year, or we’ll go crazy.
In the end we may or may not become enmeshed in a fully Spanish life; thinking in the language, hating the politicians, rearing Spanish children. There are too many variables over the long haul for guarantees. What we can do, what we can ask of ourselves in the meantime, is to treat Spain well. To treat life well. To treat ourselves well.
To be good guests.
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