Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
** It is often the case that people I meet while traveling stay with me, by which I mean that they stay in my mind and my heart. Though there are some wonderful exceptions, I’ll never see most of those people again. The memories of our encounters remain, but our paths don’t cross again.
Sometimes, though, life intervenes in an unexpected and exciting way.
Earlier this week, I received an email from Rosa Serra and Xavier Carbonell, a wonderful couple I met in Catalunya a few years ago. Rosa and Xavier are both artists and from the moment I stepped into their home and studio in the town of Olot, I knew they were exceptionally special people. Though our time together was brief, they made a powerful impression on me, and I left feeling grateful for our encounter, but sad that I’d probably never see them again.
And then, an email. Rosa and Xavier were coming to New York! Xavier was having an exhibit of his paintings at Jadite Galleries in Manhattan. Could I come? They’d love to see me. And so, here we are, two years later, about to see each other again.
Jadite is a small gallery that’s considerably off the artsy circuit of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, but it’s been a mainstay on West 50th Street since it opened in 1985. Many of the artists it features are from Europe and Latin America, and Xavier, who has exhibited here before, will be showing works from a series called “Travels and Paintings”. The show, which opened on April 3 and has the artist reception tonight, will run through April 26.
Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
** I hate to compare countries, I really do, but when I’m eating in Catalunya, it’s hard to feel like there’s any place in the world that has a healthier, more holistic, and more pleasurable relationship with food… especially the United States.
Proof? The tradition of tapas and the hours-long, totally unhurried meals with friends and family where no one is looking at the clock. The idea of eating your lunch at your work desk? Utterly unthinkable.
But let’s take making aioli as the perfect example of how exceptional Catalunya’s culture of food is.
Aioli is a garlic sauce (do NOT call it garlic mayonnaise, por favor) that serves as a condiment that can be paired with bread, fish, meat, or–my favorite–an assortment of fried vegetables, especially artichoke and spring onions. I’m sure you can buy aioli in the supermarket in Catalunya, but I don’t know anyone who actually would, even in a pinch. Making aioli is a point of pride and, in many homes, a time-honored tradition and a responsibility that rests squarely upon the shoulders–or in the hands, I should say–of a specific member of the family.
Making aioli looks easy, especially when you’re watching a pair of those seasoned hands that have made aioli so many times they could grind garlic into the perfect consistency even in their sleep. But try it yourself, as I did, and you’ll soon realize that making aioli–good aioli, at least–requires practice and patience. You can’t hurry garlic into aioli; you have to apply consistent pressure and motion over 15-30 minutes, and you only know it’s ready if you know what good aioli is supposed to look and taste like: a thick, creamy, dense sauce.
My first attempt at making aioli was a failure, even under the watchful eye and sweet, “Yes, you can do it!” encouragement of personal chef and cooking instructor Jordi Castelló. After what seemed like an hour of muscling my pestle, I still had splinters of garlic, rather than a smooth paste. When I got back to New York, I was determined to try again. My second attempt produced a better-than-passable aioli, and when I feel like I need to slow down and do nothing more than think about grinding garlic for 30 minutes, making aioli is serious culinary therapy.
Here’s Jordi’s recipe:
-10 cloves of garlic, peeled
-1 pinch of salt
-Spanish extra-virgin olive oil (Jordi keeps his in a squeeze bottle, which makes adding to the mortar easier).
-Place the garlic cloves and the pinch of salt in a mortar.
-Using the pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. This may take 10-15 minutes.
-Once you have a smooth paste, pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly, drop by drop. You must continue to crush the paste, turning the pestle in a slow, circular motion against the mortar. The paste should soak up the olive oil as you turn the pestle; don’t let pools of oil form.
-Continue the process until your garlic has turned into a dense, smooth paste.
When we made aioli in Catalunya, we used a wooden mortar and pestle. At home, I used a stone mortar and pestle. I asked Jordi if “the Catalan way” dictated the use of wood over stone. Here’s what he had to say:
“The two types of mortars are equal; the aioli will come out the same. The stone mortar is obviously older than the wooden one… and lasts longer…. The wooden mortar is more modern and practical because of its weight and ease of production; it’s been used for many years and is actually more common in Catalonian homes.”
What have you learned to cook during your travels? Tell us in the comments.
Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
** This week, 145 members of the Castellers de Vilafranca–the same team that taught myself and the other members of the Catalunya Experience blog trip how to build a human tower last month– are in New York City, where they are scheduled to build several towers at iconic landmarks and events.
If you’d like to see the castellers build a tower, you have several chances. They’ll be building one for ABC’s Good Morning America this morning, followed by a tower at Castle Clinton from noon to 12:30, and another at the Make Music Festival at Central Park’s Naumburg Bandshell at 4 PM, and a tower at Brooklyn Bridge Park at 5 PM on Friday. On Saturday, the Castellers de Vilafranca will build a tower at 10:30 AM at AMC Loews Lincoln Square Cinema, and in the afternoon, they will build one at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at 3 PM.
If you can’t make it to an actual tower building, there are also two documentaries about the castellers that are showing in the city this week, and you can find information about them here.
In the meantime, enjoy Francisco’s photos from last night’s event, which was particularly impressive because the towers were built in the shadow of the Empire State Building.
Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
** The first time I saw castellers–not even live, but in a video–I cried.
I was embarrassed by the hot tears that wouldn’t stop running down my face, but I found the castellers–a group of people making a human tower–incredibly moving and inspiring. It didn’t help that the music accompanying the video was a play-on-the-heartstrings kind of song with quiet, trembling vocals that crescendoed.
What touched me at the time was the way the castellers were carrying a tradition forward. In Catalunya, where even door knockers are centuries older than my country, people have been making castells, or human towers, since the 18th century. It’s one of many traditions that are protected and passed down in Catalan culture, and that fierce devotion to not forgetting the past is something I found moving in a way I felt deeply but couldn’t articulate.
I’ve thought about that video often in the ensuing months, and have watched it more than once from my home in New York. Each time I saw the castellers, I experienced a feeling of pride–a pride I appreciated and honored, even though it didn’t belong to me.
** This week, on the #CatalunyaExperience blog trip, I was finally able to identify what other elements of the castellers’ traditions touched me so deeply. As our group received instructions from members of the Castellers de Vilafranca, I realized that almost anyone can participate in building castells, regardless of their age, size, or level of physical fitness. In castell-building, every willing casteller is needed, because each lends something in particular to the overall structure. Without diversity, the castell could not be built. There are few physical activities done in groups where the same applies.
The other elements of castell building that had moved me so deeply–but had been elusive to explain until I experienced being part of a castell myself–were the importance of communication and trust, and the expansiveness of potential we possess when we work in a team. As I climbed onto the back of one of the castellers and slowly, clumsily made my way into a standing position on his shoulders, I felt a brief flicker of fear: Would he drop me? Would the people on the ground catch me if I fell?
And what about trust in myself? My wobbly legs and pounding heart, I realized, weren’t really about whether I trusted the casteller who bore my full weight on his shoulders or the people who had watched me haul myself onto his frame, but whether I trusted myself.
That’s a heavy thing to think about when you’re looking for footing on top of another human being who is holding you up.
** The castellers who form teams like Castellers de Vilafranca train regularly. They build daring and dangerous towers nine or ten stories high. They are hundreds in number; to build towers that tall, the base alone may be composed of 500 people. But even with so many people, they communicate clearly and efficiently. Could we do the same in our small team as we tried to build just a one story tower?
Iain had quickly been deemed the most adept among us at the castell building enterprise, and he was selected to be the first standing member of our castell. The lithe, thin, agile female member of Castellers de Vilafranca who had come to train us would then climb on his shoulders, and voila, our modest castell would be complete.
When you’re on the base of the human tower, your job is so specific and the need for focus is so great that you can’t possibly get the panoramic view of what’s happening above you. So as the pro casteller came tumbling down and the sturdier Iain came right after her, it was neither possible nor necessary to determine what had happened or why; it was just critical to react immediately to make sure neither one hit the concrete.
Our arms extended before our brains could command them to do so, and our hands clutched and then cradled whatever part of their bodies had fallen into them. When we were certain we wouldn’t drop him, we righted Iain and set him back with both feet on the ground. I don’t remember us talking about any of the actoins;’ we just did them because they had to be done. Though we wouldn’t attempt a second tower, the lesson was not lost on me, and I know I’ll be thinking about the powerful metaphors of the castellers for a long, long time.
To learn more about the traditions of the castellers, click here.
The Castellers de Vilafranca will be in New York City in June. When the dates and times are posted, I’ll publish them here and on twitter.