Monday, July 24, 2006

Sippin' with The Pope

One of my favourite drinks in Spain is an iced milky drink called horchata. It tastes sweetly of nut. The drink is originally from Valencia and it is made from sugar, water, cinnamon and tiger nuts. Since no one knows what a tiger nut is, we might as well stick with the Spanish name, chufa.
The plant (I discover) is a kind of tuber, very good for you and all that, and almost impossible to get rid of if it is growing in your garden. On the bright side, you can always make more horchata since the drink only lasts a few days before spoiling.
Not many people like it, which seems a shame, and the drink is low on the list of an Almerían bar’s priorities, however, after twelve hundred years or so in relative obscurity, its time has finally come. As so many things in Spain, horchata has become political.
It started the other day, with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Valencia.
Now, as the Partido Popular has slightly lost its teeth while the government espouses its new ideas, which could be summed up as ‘all change’, the champion of good old family values, whether as a Catholic or not, have been firmly passed to The Church, and its leader, the German Shepherd.
Dressed in white for purity, and quietly ‘not connecting’ with the president, the Pope’s two days in the Levante city were a success for the faithful – those who yearn for the good and simple times of the past, a more innocent age, in short, the small ‘c’ conservatives.
It has always been told that horchata was invented by the Valencians during the time of the Moorish occupation of Spain – which lasted for a pretty healthy seven hundred years or more and helps explain all those Moors and Christian festivals and why they keep putting up statues of hard-working mojaqueras with their faces covered all over Mojacar. At any rate, such a Moorish girl had once lifted her veil just enough to take a healthy chug of some milky looking drink when a Christian king, Jaime 1 de Aragon, happened along on his horse and asked if he could have a go. ‘Cor’, he said, ‘this is gold, girlie’, or, in valenciano, ‘Això és or, xata!’. Horchata.
During the Pope’s recent visit to Valencia, now one of the hold-outs of conservatism, Catholicism, anti-Zapatero-ism and so on, the horchata makers filled the city with wheeled carts and sold the drink to the pilgrims. The Pope, following in Jaime’s royal footsteps, was graciously inclined to take an iced glass of the beverage, pronounced it delicious, and thus nailed its fate as a truly catholic… well, you get the picture.
Let me help. The drink is made by small manufacturers (not evil multinationals) and is the only thing that’s wet that cannot be mixed with any form of alcohol. It separates instantly when a shot of grog hits it. That, and it’s white.
Please contrast this refreshment with the socialist’s preferred beverage – sparkling wine from Barcelona. The ubiquitous cava!
And horchata is good, too. Perhaps an acquired taste, but I often enjoy one during the summer months. Unfortunately, come October 1st, like homemade ice cream, the tourists and (hopefully) Mojacar’s mosquito population, horchata disappears for another season.

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