The Spice Lady of Girona

Conferences are taxing on the soul. When one brings you half-way around the world, your body and mind get lost sometimes.

Jaume Marin from Visit Costa Brava, one of the men who made this trip possible for us, pointed out that there was a weekend market open just across the green. He encourged us to check it out and made note that while it may start off as nothing but cheap clothes and shoes, that it would open up to fresh produce and other goodies after making a hard right. We didn’t want to miss the turn.

There is always a rush that comes from being in an open air market in a different county. Part of them are familiar to the flea markets here at home, but then so much is different as well.

The giggles of children. The haggling of adults. The smells of cheap, yet satisfying food cooking on a grill.  I may not have recognized a single word that was being said around me and yet you still understand everything that is being said.

My senses awoke as we turned to face produce, meat and even more people. The colors and smells brought a smile to my face and a rumbly in my tumbly.

The colors of the produce. The stalls of hanging meat. The unique personalities manning their stalls and hocking their wares.

I don’t know what it is, but produce always looks stunning at a farmers market. Maybe it is the sunshine lighting them instead of the dull overhead glow in a supermarket. You can’t help but want to buy it all.

Sucking in the energy and images around me I took photos of it all. Through the magic of it all, one stall caught my attention over all others. Square wooden boxes were filled with raw spices of every color and scent. Inhaling deeply from each box, I basked in their glorious smells.

The kitchen is not a foreign place to me. As the cook of our family, our spice cabinet is my best friend. Yet, here I stood in front of multi-colored mysteries. As is the natural thing to do for me, I began taking photographs. The owner of the booth didn’t seem to mind me doing so. It is amazing how much can be communicated with a simple smile.

In broken English, she asked me with a bit of a grin, “Only photos or are you going to buy?”

I stopped. I know that many vendors don’t like you taking photos no matter where you are in the world. It is something I’ve never understood, but have accepted as part of human nature. But, having been through this before I knew without hesitation what my answer would be.

“It depends. What spices should I buy to bring home the flavor of Girona to my family?”

If you were not aware, that is the perfect answer to the question at hand. It shows that you are not just an idiot tourist. You know where you are and are asking for a personalized response. With those simple words you are showing that you care about their opinion and want to have a human connection rather than only a snapshot memory.

We went back and forth as she quizzed me what I’d be using it for. Did I want it spicy or not? Would I be using it to cook fish, vegetables or chicken?

In the end, we decided on something that would be good on beef with a little bit of a kick, but not too much. While I love spicy food, my family does not.

She scooped from this one and grabbed from that. She was excited to assemble just the right mix as she paused and contemplated several times what would make the perfect mixture. She filled a bag and shook it up.

As I inhaled deeply from my new spice mix, I couldn’t help but grin like a Cheshire Cat. It smelt amazing and already I was imagining rubbing it on some skirt steak when I got home and enjoying it with a bottle of deep red Spanish wine.

I handed her a two Euro coin and with a heart felt “gracias” I was on my way.

She might not remember me, but I’ll never forget her.

The spice lady of Girona.

 

  • http://doyouknowclarence.com DYKC?™

    This is a great story, man. I look forward to more like these from your trip.

    • http://www.cc-chapman.com/ C.C. Chapman

      Thanks for chiming in and helping inspire me to tell it.

  • http://raulcolon.net/ Raul Colon

    Here on the Island we have a lot of that Spanish culture (given we where a colony for almost 400 years of spain).

    A year ago I bumped into a farmer in mountains who has been the smoothest salesperson I have seen in agriculture. Like the Spice Lady of Girona I will never forget el Jibarito de Adjuntas!

  • http://twitter.com/MJManzanares Mary Jo Manzanares

    I want to hear about what you cook with it and how it turned out. Hope you’ll complete the circle on this spicy story.

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