29 January 2013

Giving us our daily bread

This is an abridged translation of an article about the speciality breads made in Alcalá, published in Cosas de Comé - La revista gastronomica de la Provincia de Cádiz.

The traditional breads of Alcalá de los Gazules, especially the pan cateto [a chewy rustic bread with a thick crust] and the molletes de matalauva [soft rolls flavoured with aniseed] have such a good reputation that they are now made at five bakeries in the area:  the Horno de Cuesta, Horno de Luna, Venta Patrite, Venta del Puerto de la Pará, and most recently, Gonzalo.

Freshly baked pan cateto - the rustic bread of Alcalá
Catalina Herrera explains it clearly: "I make the bread by punching it".  Her family, from the Venta Patrite [next to the camp-site], still knead the dough by hand.  Out there in the countryside, bread-making machinery hasn't yet arrived.  The "punching" is no exaggeration for this 78-year-old woman, who is one of those open books which exist in the Province allowing us to discover the gastronomy of each town.  She is referring to the method of using closed knuckles to get the mixture of flour, water, yeast and salt to exactly the right state before letting it rise and putting it in the oven.

In the Venta Patrite, where people make pilgrimages to buy the bread or enjoy it with the special stews prepared there, they use wood-burning ovens to make the loaves.  It is one of the fundamental characteristics of the pan cateto made by Alcalá's five artisan bakers), a surprisingly high number for a town of less than six thousand inhabitants.  But Alcalá's bread has become a tourist attraction and there is not a venta in the area that doesn't offer it in its breakfast bread-baskets.

Encarne shows off  a
torta de pellizco
The Horno de Luna is perhaps one of the most unusual locations.  Situated at the end of a narrow alley, it is not unusual to find people sitting in the shop passing the time of day.  People have their bread put by for them, and Encarnacíon Fernández Luna, the third generation of bakers, knows what all of her customers like.

The Horno de Luna still makes loaves in a traditional wood-fired oven.  The 2 kg loaves, or teleras as they are known, are the most popular. Once the bread is done, they take advantage of the remaining heat to make special cakes like tortas de pellizco, made with the same bread dough, or magdalenas gigantes  [giant madeleines].

Gonzalo Rodríguez Armenia is passionate on the subject of baking.  His father also practised the trade at the Horno El Mauro, which was famous in Alcalá.  His three sons, Gonzalo, Manuel and Francisco Javier have joined him in a new venture launched in August 2012, re-opening the family bakery on the Poligono La Palmosa, just metres from the two of the town's other gastronomic attractions: the smell of baking now mingles with that of freshly made chicharrones [deep-fried crispy pork] from Embutidos Gazules, and the award-winning cheeses of  the Quesería Gazul.

Gonzalo with his wood-fired oven on La Palmosa
The flour for pan cateto comes mainly from the Molino de Cobre in Algeciras, run by the Escalona family.  It is one of the few remaining stone-grinding mills in the province and produces a darker than usual flour due to the heat produced in the grinding process.  This rustic bread is also known as pan moreno, pan de campo or pan macho.   Its thick crust means it will last a week without going stale.

In the Horno de los Cuesta, they keep the origin of the flour a secret, because it is one of the key factors of their product's success. They also add a few drops of aguardiente to the mix.  They have a single outlet in Alcalá, in C/ Santa María de España, but many distributors buy bread there to sell further afield.  Antonio and Jaime Cuesta Alberto founded the bakery in the 1950s and the family business is now run by Jaime Cuesta Tenorio.

In the Horno de Cuesta it is also possible to find the other treasure of Alcalá's breads, the molletes.  These are completely different to pan cateto, with a pale colour and a looser, more spongy texture.  They are flavoured with a few grains of aniseed, which adds a very special flavour.  This practice is not exclusive to Alcalá, but is found all over Andalucia.  They also produce molletes sin matalauva, for those who don't care for the flavour.

Loaves and molletes from the Panadería Cuesta
The fifth and final bakery is found at the Venta del Puerto de la Parada, on the road between Alcalá and San Jose del Valle.  Its pan cateto is its star product, enjoyed  at breakfast and lunchtime by the many visitors to the venta, including farmers, hunters and cyclists.  It is open every day from 8 a.m. till around 6 p.m.


09 January 2013

Working for the Yanqui dollar: the US presence in Rota

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Naval Station Rota, the largest American military community in Spain.  It is located just fifty miles northwest of Alcalá, on the Atlantic coast to the west of El Puerto de Santa Maria. Surrounded by a 26 km security fence, the base covers 2,300 hectares (6,100 acres) and has its own airfield and seaport.  There are no public roads going through it, and best view is from the ferry from Cádiz which goes to the actual town of Rota.

The base is home to over 20,000 people, including 9,000 Spanish and 2,000 US military personnel (Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force), together with their families, and around 1,500 civilian employees.  It is completely self-contained with its own shops, bars, schools, medical and leisure facilities, though the neighbouring towns with their fabulous beaches offer an escape for those who prefer to take their R&R away from the base.  It is a popular "layover" destination for US servicemen, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The beaches, town and port of Rota, with the base in the background
NavSta Rota is officially under the Spanish flag, with Spanish customs officers and a Spanish Vice-Admiral in charge, but it is wholly funded and largely maintained by the USA.  It is the largest supply facility in Europe offering fuel and weapons support for US and NATO ships, and has various surveillance and communications operations.  In 2011 it was announced that the base would be the main operating centre for the sea-based component of the NATO anti-missile shield, raising hopes for new civilian jobs in an area where one in three people are out of work.

Spain's President Zapatero (left) offers up Spain
to service NATO's European anti-missile shield
The base was built following the Pact of Madrid signed by Franco and  Eisenhower in 1953.  The Americans, engaged in a war against communism in Korea and fearing a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union, needed a base halfway between the US and South Asia.  Spain's s fiercely anti-communist leader was a natural ally, despite being a pariah in the international community due to his support for the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy during WW2.  The pact provided economic and military aid for Spain in return for air bases at Morón de la Frontera (Sevilla), Torrejón (Madrid) and Zaragosa, plus a naval base at Rota.

There was opposition to the pact from France and the UK, and  from Spanish liberals at home and in exile. But it led to Spain being accepted into the United Nations in 1955, a big step towards achieving respectability on the world stage. It also opened the door to Spain joining the World Bank and the IMF and paved the way for the 1959 Stabilization and Liberalization Plan, leading to the "economic miracle" of the 1960s.. NATO membership was ruled out by its European members, however - Spain did not join until 1982.

The USA reaped its share of benefits too.  The facilities at Rota meant that US ships and submarines didn't have to return to the US to take on supplies, saving that country tens of millions of dollars each year.  When the USAF lost its bases in Morocco in 1963, the runway at Rota was extended to cope with B-52 bombers.

Working for the Yankee dollar  1:  a bar in Rota
The local impact of building the base is described in a novel, La Base, by Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo (aka the Red Duchess).   Farmers and fishermen had to be removed from the area by fair means or foul, and were given paltry compensation which seemed a fortune to them but left them isolated from their livelihood and homeland.

But by the early 1980s, when 16,000 Americans were based at Rota, the base had become an essential part of the local economy. It generates around 400 million euros a year in terms of salaries for civilian workers and links to businesses in the town.
"Ana María Expósito, the vice president of the local chamber of commerce, says that many local people came to depend on Rota. "My father was a waiter: he gave up his job in the village and went to work on the base, where he earned a third more. He now has a great pension. The base paid for my education, and that of my brothers. You won't find many people here with anything to say against the base."  Rota: a bit of America in Spain, El País, 6 Jan 2013
The black economy has benefited from the base too, especially prostitution. In April 2011, a US naval commander was relieved of command during an investigation into illegal drug use by US servicemen at the base.  A related comment on a US military forum reads
"This is not the first time that Rota has had security issues. Back in the late 70s, Security was supposed to be so tight that anyone wanting access or entrance to the base had to have top secret clearance and a cyanide pill under his tongue. But a US newspaper reporter denied access to the base in those days, observed how dozens of local prostitutes were allowed in to the EM/NCO club every evening, without so much as a patdown by the guards at the main gate."
Working for the Yankee dollar 2: Bellisimas señoritas ...
US military presence in Spain has always had  vociferous opposition.  According to a poll taken in early 1987, when the agreement came up for renewal, 53% of Spanish citizens regarded the bases as prejudicial to the security and defence of Spain, and 47% thought they should be removed.  After the 1986 referendum on Spain's membership of NATO,  in which 43% voted to pull out, PSOE president Felipe González negotiated a significant reduction in the US military presence on Spanish soil.

Anti-NATO protest by Spanish Republicans
In 1973, in keeping with Spain's policy of avoiding involvement in the Arab-Israeli dispute, González withheld diplomatic clearance for the US to use the bases to resupply Israel during the Arab-Israeli War.  He also refused to let them use Spanish bases or airspace during the raid on Libya in 1986, necessitating a long detour over international waters by aircraft flying from British bases.

When the right-wing PP leader José.María Aznar became president in 1996, however, Spain's relationship with the US grew warmer again. Aznar became a close friend of G.W. Bush and supported his "war on terror" by sending Spanish troops to Iraq (which helped lose Aznar the 2004 election).   In 2003 a new field hospital was built at Rota to deal with injured troops returning from Iraq, and the base continues to play a major role in supplying troops and equipment to US forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

More recently there has been concern about Spanish bases being used in the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition programme, which contravenes international law. This was denied by the US, but in 2010, a Spanish prosecutor asked a judge to authorize the arrest of 13 CIA agents for their alleged role in the programme, and a Wikileaks cable revealed how the US put pressure on Spain to drop the allegations.


Opposition to the US presence in Spain continues to be organised by La plataforma andaluza contra las Bases Militares, a coalition of pacifists, environmentalists and left-wing groups who would like Spain to exit from NATO altogether.  But they have little support amongst the roteños. The people of Rota are still hoping the missile shield will have a positive effect on their prosperity, but the latest estimate is for less than 100 new civilian jobs.

One thing that would make a significant difference to the local economy, however, would be a change in the tax status of the base, which is currently exempt.  The PP mayor of Rota, Eva Corrales, is embroiled in negotiations with Madrid over compensation: "We cannot have a town within a town where one pays taxes and the other doesn't."

Recently she was given approval to charge registration tax on vehicles brought onto the base from the US. She hopes that the central government will overturn a ruling by the Supreme Court that the local council cannot charge property tax on non-military buildings on the base, such as housing or restaurants, which Corrales says would bring in some 1.3 million euros a year.

Eva Corrales, fighting for the Yankee dollar
The battle to impose taxes on the base dates back to the 1980s. In 2002 the Supreme Court backed the town council saying that it could tax non-military activities. But no government since then has been prepared to act on the ruling, and instead a change was introduced to the tax laws extending tax exemption to military establishments. In response, Rota town hall decided to stop paying the central government the equivalent of what it calculated it was losing in tax revenue from the base. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that Rota town council must pay the State almost 1.2 million euros.

Four Aegis BMD-equipped destroyers like this one are due to
be deployed at Rota as part of the Europe missile shield.
We can all sleep more soundly ...