Friday, 2 December 2016

Henry Moore and the Evolved Omelette.

Careñina to Logrono, 139 miles, Logrono aire, free 1 night.

I have given up trying to keep the blog up to date on the move. The difficulties of finding WiFi are such that the virtual trip tends to lag a week behind the real one. I am determined not to end up writing a memoir, so at the very least I think what I write has to be captured as near as practicable 'in the moment', even if it is uploaded to Blogger with photos a few days later. To do this I use the 'Simple Notebook' app on my phone which works well on the whole.

The importance of writing as you go has been emphasised today because I have broken my own rules and right now I am attempting to write about the second leg of our journey from Valencia to the Cantabrian coast, which happened in reality three days ago. Even that short delay means I have forgotten stuff, for example any details of the journey from Careñina to Zaragoza, poof! Gone. I have a vague memory of the industrial sprawl around the city, other than that the odd image of a vine covered plain, the layby in Navarre where we stopped for lunch exists only as a vague recollection of graffiti on the bins inferring the spot was much appreciated as an amenity by the local gay community. Apparently we passed some awesome steam-punk factories, but I only recall them because Gill took photos from the cab.

As for Logrono itself, I have no blanks spots, so I don't feel a fraud blogging about it. It is the capital of Rioja region so you would expect it to be a lively place, wine towns usually are. The old centre is on the south bank of the Ebro, but it's a compact city, so even though the aire is on the opposite bank, in a large mixed car park by a sports complex, it is only a ten minute walk to the centre.

The city itself proved delightful. The first surprise came when we arrived at the central square in front of the Cathedral. It was hosting an exhibition of Henry Moore sculpture. Though there were only eight examples, they were all large pieces and represented key aspects of his work - the influence of landscape and natural form;  the reduction of the human form to an abstracted essence; standing and reclining figures, and the monumental scaled up from the miniature. It was almost a mini retrospective. It was refreshing to experience the works outside the staid atmosphere of an art gallery.

It was a brave move on the part of the city and the curators. In 2012 a Moore medium sized  bronze sold for in London for £19m. This particular piece was famous because it was associated with Festival of Britain, so probably sold at a premium price. Even so, the value of the artefacts on show in Logrono must have been in excess of £40m, and the only protection came in the form of a two bored looking security guards. I cannot see such an open air exhibition being staged in the UK.

Our guidebook mentioned that due to the influence of the neighbouring Basque region, Logrono had a developing  pinchos bar scene. This is something of an understatement, the area around Calle San Augustin and Calle del Laurel is packed with bars all trying to out do each other in the business of the beauteous snack. There is an element of specialisation, one place doing lovely things with goats cheese, another seemingly applying the principles of origami to ham. Sadly, the establishment which promised that they had been producing the most delicious patatas bravas in Spain' since 1987 only opened in the evening, so we were unable to evaluate the claim. Also closed, a bar whose USP was an 'evolved omelette', a brave move in a country where tortilla is universally regarded as having achieved near divine perfection so far as exciting things to do with an egg is concerned.

Even though quite a few bars had yet to open the choice was still somewhat bewildering. After wandering up and down for a while we chose a place that seemed to offer differing types of pinchos. Gill chose a ham croquette topped by a pennant of Serrano ham flying from a cocktail stick. My small concoction consisted of lightly grilled goats cheese with soft fruits - raspberries, blackberries and red currents -  stacked carefully on top with grace and artistry. Washed down with a glass of Rioja, it proved Mr. Schumacher's adage correct, small can be beautiful.

By now it was late afternoon and the light was beginning to fade. The streets were quiet, the town took on a slightly other worldly atmosphere, a kind of magic realism.

I wondered if the architecture had something to do with it. The pedestrianised streets in the centre are full of minor Modernista gems, not just examples from the early twentieth century, but later buildings from the Franco era where the style evolved, adopting motifs from Art Deco and post war modernism without fully embracing them. I had noticed this hybrid style last year, in Sicily and Portugal. It is somewhat overlooked, probably because it is associated with fascism. In time the political connotations will fade, and these buildings' architectural qualities become better appreciated. I think they are rather splendid.

It was time for a cortado we decided. Gill announced that she would like to find a traditional café. This proved more of a challenge than we anticipated. Although Logrono's buildings ooze early twentieth century style, most of the bar and café interiors have been given a distinctly contemporary make-over, minimalist cool being the preferred choice. We had almost admitted defeat when we happened upon Café Moderne, which was celebrating its centenary this year. Many of the original fitments remain in place.

We sat at the dark wood bar and were served excellent coffee. I imagined Hemingway might stagger in at any moment - 'Drunk in the Afternoon'! In reality the only person with literary pretensions was me and I am hardly in the same league, or any league at all. Moreover, I'm stone cold sober. I suppose the perils of suffering from an imaginative disposition is that you are doomed to be forever disappointed.

However, you would have to try very hard to be disappointed with Logrono. It is lovely, all the more so because its delights came as an utter surprise, and Café Moderne serves a great cortado, it really does, you should try it. If you do, buy Ernest a drink, and tell him I'll catch him next time.


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