Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Today I woke up to the sound of rain.  The weather forecast was accurate, god rot it!  The sound of the rain also reminded me that I had not brought in the sun bed cushion which is now having a well-deserved wash courtesy of the climatic conditions.

Looking at the forecast I see that it will be the weekend before it has a chance to dry out!  What a holiday!

Braving the elements we went out for lunch seeking for a different restaurant from our usual clutch of dependable eating-places.  We went down to the other end of Castelldefels and, after finding (yet again) that one small restaurant on the sea front that we liked was closed for logistical reasons that we have never managed to formalize into any coherent timetable for opening, we decided to range further afield.

Toni’s eagle eye spotted a place offering an €11 menu del dia and after a cursory (on my part) and extended (on Toni’s part) view of the menu went in.  This was Restaurante El Mastil, Paseo Maritimo, 299 bis, Castelldefels.

We were guided to a part of the large premises which had a view of the sea and sat next to the large windows.

The view was, it has to be admitted, somewhat bleak: the sea a forbidding grey; the sand damp and dun; the beach totally deserted – and rain sporadically spitting into the pool which had formed under the plastic kids' slide blocking part of the vista of the Med.

It reminded me of nothing so much as sitting by the unforgiving sea of my childhood and watching my parents have a cup of tea from a battered tin teapot (or was it aluminium?) that was a highpoint of the culinary offerings in Barry Island from the café on the front. 

What really captured my attention more was the sodden sand, thinking to myself that damp sand held together better than dry and that this time I really could build a bastion that would withstand the incoming tide. 

And the sea.  On damp days, and so many holidays seemed to be damp, the sea was a brown smudge in the distance which at least game one more time to build.  Swimming was never a pressing temptation until the castle walls were breached and there was nothing left to lose!

Let me not give the wrong impression.  I loved going to Barry Island.  We would load up the Bon-mini (don’t ask) with my parents in the front and me in the boot (don’t ask, but not as cruel as it sounds!) and off we would tootle and not worry about the steep hill to get onto the A48 towards home until the end of the day!

We would park on the cliff top (before Butlin's took over the ground) and I would scamper down over the rocks to the virgin sand and start digging.  Bliss!  But damp sand, grey skies, grey-green sea, rain in the wind and coldness sum up a typical British day by the seaside and that was the view I had from the restaurant window.  I could have been at home!

The “dish of the day” which headed the list of first course choices turned out to be Russian salad which we both like and so we both ordered it.  When it arrived it was set into two artfully arranged squares with small piles of shredded carrot and corn while the whole edifice was surrounded by a swirl of balsamic vinegar.

And it had no taste.  One has to remember that the defining ingredient in a Russian salad for Brits is missing in Spain: no beetroot.  Instead it is a sort of potato, egg and tuna salad with mayonnaise.  In this version the potato was that regular cube sort which suggested that the ingredients had been bought frozen and then assembled later.  No tuna, precious little egg and, as I said, no taste.

Toni’s second course was butifarra.  As Toni has not bee entirely well recently with a form of stomach upset he invited me to try a piece of it as it did not seem entirely right to him and I think he wanted me to share any future gastric illness that he might have rather than to get my expert cooking judgement!

Toni left it unfinished.  As he left his salad unfinished.

My second course was eggs in the style of Manchego.  Neither of us had any idea was this might be and I waited in pleasurable anticipation – after all, as long as it wasn’t tripe I was going to eat it.

Well, the exotically named dish turned out to be fried eggs with chips.  The only “exotic” part of the dish was that three cloves of unpeeled garlic had been fried with the eggs!  What culinary daring!

This was, without a shadow of doubt, as Toni stated, “the worst menu del dia we have had in Castelldefels”.

We skipped the choice of desserts and took the coffee option instead and left as soon as was decently possible.  A dispiriting experience and one that we will not be in a hurry to repeat.

On a more positive note I am reading sci-fi downloads on my I-pad with a passion that suggest that they are all suddenly going to evaporate and disappear in a puff of electronic impulses.  China is figuring more and more in the fantastic suggestions about how the near future is going to develop.

The most rewarding and stimulating book in this genre that I have read recently is by Cory Doctorow called FTW or “For the Win”.  This centres on computer games and how their real life implications work.  The collecting of virtual gold becomes something which “gold farmers” or packs of young games addicts accumulating the “gold” which they manage to convert into real money as other players in the game need this “precious” metal to “buy” advantages for themselves to boost their game status.  Doctorow describes brokers, bosses, big business and all the trappings of large-scale international finance – but all based in things called The Mushroom Kingdom or some impossibly pronounced Teutonic mythic rubbish.  I particularly liked a reference to a Vorpal Sword as a weapon of massive power in one of the games!

Its real power comes from the fact that Doctorow is able to describe the big power play of firms and countries as they stamp from a great height on poor and powerless workers.  It also raises hope that the Internet is also a way of uniting the powerless and creating a worldwide community which has never been so well informed and turning groups of isolated workers into a powerful Union of the connected.  A stimulating read.

The rest of my reading has been of derivative and enjoyable rubbish where the fun is working out which literary antecedent or fairy story has played the greatest part in the narrative “creation”.  I’m loving it!

Tomorrow real culture and the sight of some of the productions of the person I consider to be Spain’s greatest painter, Goya.  Not a very controversial choice perhaps, with Picasso his only real rival.  And Velasquez.  I have to admit that I like Goya’s darker paintings (or “black” paintings as he termed them) and his portraits of the talentless trash that ruled Spain at his time.  And of course, the dog buried in sand.

As we are in Barcelona we do not get the top grade exhibitions (they go to Madrid) so I expect that this Goya exhibition will be heavier on the etchings of The Disasters of War than of oil paintings.  But we will see.

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