Mondongo, guts. Catalans love them. I am surveying a startling array of white sausages, red sausages, black sausages, fat and thin, long and squat, smooth and wrinkled, all artistically displayed at a medieval arts and crafts fair that has just opened in
this weekend. The stallholder grins at me, Tarragona
“We use every part of the animal, the head, the tongue, the liver, the brain, all of it. Tastes great with garlic, red pepper, parsley and thyme. Here, try.”
He proffers a slice of the wrinkled chorizo on the end of a prong. I recoil.
“Sorry. I’m a lifetime vegetarian.”
He looks utterly flummoxed.
“How can you resist?”
Now is not a good time to proselytise about the ethics of vegetarianism so I smile sweetly and mumble something about it being a way of life.
About fifty stalls line the streets immediately adjacent to the cathedral of Santa María in the old quarter of the city. Darkness has descended and archdiocesan floodlights illuminate much of the early gothic architecture that is the backdrop to the fair. Many of the stallholders have chosen a more traditional form of light: handmade candles and lanterns. They have also chosen to don medieval attire to complement the theme this weekend. Flaxen-haired maids in flowing robes and dapperly dressed jesters patiently explain the intricacies of their trade to interested customers. Nearby, a trio of minstrels animate the night with some heartily played medieval tunes. A passing couple is drawn to them and dances a few steps to the delight of passers by who spontaneously applaud. If the atmosphere were any more tangible I could reach out and grasp it in fistfuls.
There is magic in the air. Montsy advertises her craft as tarot, Wicca and and Santeria. We chat briefly about santeros and the supernatural in
, where she studied for a time. A spiritista in Cuba entered a trance and spoke to Montsy in the selfsame voice of someone very dear to her, who had passed over to the other side. Closer to the bell tower I come across the magician Javi Feroz and I’m wondering whether Fierce could really be his surname when he steps out in front of me with a pack of cards. Dextrously he performs a number of tricks which have me foxed. Would I be interested in learning how to do them? I laugh and reply that I prefer to believe in magic. Javier bows courteously and retreats into his stall. Havana
Fragrances fill the evening air. Patchouli, lavender, frangipani and musk floats out from perfumed incense burnt at a number of handmade jewellery stalls. Further along is the aroma of freshly-baked bread and nearer the cathedral forecourt the breeze carries the acrid smoke rising from barbequed octopus at 10 euros a serving. A queue has formed and customers settle themselves at long tables in an informal banquet-style setting.
A sturdy-looking blacksmith and his equally sturdy-looking wife work the bellows of a coal furnace they have running beside their stall. To the fore is a display of beautifully and patiently restored objects, to the rear, prior to its transformation, is the scrap metal they collect. A tiny iron catches my eye. It’s around 150 years old the blacksmith’s wife tells me. Elegant Giacometti-style sculptures are on exhibit too. Some pieces are beyond repair, the blacksmith tells me, and so he reworks and recreates them. Hand made soap is for sale at a nearby stall and across the way I see something familiar, statues, the by now ubiquitous angels. An array of pastel-coloured figures, representing what must be the entire heavenly host, is set out in rows. The “angel craze” seems to have taken
Catalonia by storm, just like in . Ireland
Other stalls offer gigantic cakes, made with no less than angel hair (strands of pumpkin), handmade soap, leather bags, the smallest books in the world accompanied by a magnifying glass, and hand-woven shawls with the weaver weaving away at a loom while his wife knits. A shawl of emerald green catches my eye.
“It’s one hundred per cent organic wool,”
the weaver’s wife says as she passes it over to me to try on. It nestles classily around my shoulders having found its niche in life, but I know that we are doomed to part before the attraction becomes mutual. I have just seen the price tag and, with some regret, I return this beauty to the hands that created it. One hundred euros is a king’s ransom for a yet-to-be-famous writer.
In a region where food is unashamedly at the heart of its culture, I’m not surprised to see that so much of what is on offer here at the fair is local produce which, judging by the confident smiles of the stall holders, has to be gourmet-standard cuisine. At one of a number of cheese stalls I pause to accept a sample of goat’s cheese that is being generously regaled to passers-by. Instantly I am transported to a realm where Sainsbury’s basics cheddar has never and will never venture. I moan softly.
“I can’t, really, I can’t. It’s the cholesterol.”
“Problems with cholesterol and a love of good cheese? I have the very solution … buffalo cheese. It even has omega
Out of curiosity I ask how much a whole cheese, the biggest one, would set me back.
“You really don’t want to know. Anyway, it would take a year or more to munch your way through it. This one here must be about half your body weight.”
I urge him to divulge the secret.
“1,300 euros, a special price for you.”
A few metres away I see another solution for my cholesterol on a herbal tea stall offering remedies for dozens of maladies, including angina, hair loss, ulcers, swollen legs, addictions, snoring and osteoporosis. This is the most impressive selection of infusions I have ever seen and it’s easily the largest stall in the fair. Choice is endless, there must be over a hundred teas here displayed in row upon row of wicker baskets. For this weekend at least, this medieval arts and crafts fair allows me to believe that the Arab merchants of yore, who once conducted their trade in these very streets, have returned to