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Stale Bread Before its Time


Writing in the local paper. Local issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.

My father-in-law, a wise and decent man from a small village in the northwestern corner of Extremadura called San Martin de Trevejo, tells a tale from years ago, climbing the mountains that surround his village. It was early in the morning and they walked into a bar to pick up some bread to go with the homemade chorizo they were carrying with them. The barmaid was happy to serve them coffee but told them that there was no bread because it was still in bed. This seemed a bit odd but his brother-in-law, who was never short of words quickly retorted, ‘well tell it to get up’! This was obviously years ago when life was perhaps simpler and people, and the bread they ate, got more rest. Here in Extremadura, you invariably sit down to wonderful foods dripping in divine sauces that beg to be swept clean from your plate but when you look around for the appropriate tool for the job, you almost always find the most uninspiring companion. Festering in the basket next to you, you find a supposedly wheat-based product boasting the visual appeal of a bleached sock that dusts your palate like a spoonful of dry bread crumbs. Dress them up as Italian chapatas, sprinkle them with a bit of flour and call them 'rusticos', or even claim they have been fired with loving care in a wood stove in a quaint nearby village, but the end result is always the same, the gastronomic equivalent of elevator music. A recent tour through France reminded me of what bread can be. The Gaul’s have started a movement to reintroduce ‘real’ bread, golden, crusty loaves that retain their aroma when cool and whose crusts beg to be enjoyed rather than amputated and thrown to the dogs. Lovely yet, irregularly shaped pieces of art that, when opened, reveal uneven cavities made to order to clean your dish. And in true French style, this tradition has even been enshrined by law. But there’s no need even to travel so far, in neighboring Portugal, which lies about 100kms away, they have a popular refrain, 'Only in Hell is soup served without bread' and by bread they mean something that accompanies the dish rather than the disguised cracker sold as pan de pueblo all over this region. In a city that takes its rest seriously, regulating noise limits during the summer siesta hours, even today, perhaps it’s time to not only stop musicians from keeping up the neighbours but also insist that our daily bread gets some rest too. 

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