Sunsets here are long and lusty, and the air becomes balmy and slow. The light makes beautiful work of the cliffsides, barren save for the occasional spray of gigantic aloe fronds–a cool, powdered green against red clay. Cypress trees, full of clusters of young pine cones stand erect over the tops of of bent crabapples. Here, the air is fresh, full of the smell of tall, dried grass, trodden down to hay.
The farmhouse sits situated beneath the hilltop village of El Bruc. It is a labyrinth of hiding places and rambling gardens, tucked away off the main road leading to the village. To me, it almost seems like the house could breath, its yawning doors throw open wide to ease the summer heat. It gathered breath from its center–the charming tiled kitchen, with whitewashed walls and half-moon windows, all lined in a lovely cobalt blue. The smell of the kitchen is spiced with the warm smell of firewood, the blackened hearth quaintly pungent when seated at the kitchen table with coffee.
This room is run by Anne Tone, a Norwegian expat, and everyone’s unofficial grandmother. Coming from the airport with her, I discovered that Tone possessed a fearless style of driving her manual transmission on Spanish highways and backroads, and rumor had it that she brought that competence in spades in her cooking.
If you loitered in the kitchen long enough, you’d end up helping her cook, and she would tell you stories between intermittent bouts of busy silence. For dinner, I tried helping her cut tomatoes, realizing that when went to dice them, the fridge had frozen them solid. I called to her and knocked them against the countertop, and we both laughed. It felt nice to connect to someone through laughter even though your vocabulary was limited. The people here are much like the house--open, light, and full of small glimpses of wonder. And goodwill required no translation. After she’d finished whipping dinner in two ancient, oversized pans, Anne Tone took off her apron and disappeared like an apparition.
A panting black lab lay at my feet during dinner, waiting to lap up any food to roll of the table’s edge. Here, in the evenings, we all eat al fresco, at the big slate table, shaded underneath the grape arbor. We scooped helpings of Anne’s pasta–the sauce culled from chopped onions, peppers, and bacon simmered in crème fraîche–and sat, helpless and silent as we ate her exquisite cooking. Occasionally someone would pass a disbelieving eye to the pot of sauce, swiping up the excess with a hunk of fresh bread. Over salad we analyzed acquired accents and plots of films we’d all seen.
That night, we sat down in a small cafe called Granada, and watched as Belgium won against Japan, feeling rich with good company and 1.50 euro cervezas. We talked late into the night, crowded around our table on the terrace. We were all fond of each other the way only other foreigners gathered together in an unfamiliar place could be: cheerful and intimate, enjoying the soft hearth of camaraderie.