In my last post I was writing about Al-Andalus music. “Al-Andalus” refers to the lengthy period from roughly 711 through 1492 during which major parts of Spain were under Moorish (i.e., Muslim) rule. If you enjoyed the music I linked to there then why not throw this on some Saturday while you’re cleaning house…a Spotify playlist that purportedly contains a full 26 hours of Al-Andalus influenced music (assuming you’re willing to use Spotify, which I do have mixed feelings about). https://play.spotify.com/user/prakalos/playlist/0NxQpTdmstDfIVRlJ6Qp6E
The small, whitewashed hillside Andalusian village of Frigiliana looms large in the creation of No Straight Lines. I rented a house there in early 2006 where I worked on a number of songs that wound up on the album, and where I took the photo above. But to discuss Frigiliana I need to go way back.
Sometime around 2000 I took a trip to Spain. After visiting old friends in Granada (I started going there in 1979), I wound my way through Murcia and Andalusia on back roads ending up in Seville in an old hotel near the Cathedral Gino Dauri had recommended to me. It’s fitting I mention Gino, because he would later play his own role in No Straight Lines. I met Gino really soon after moving to LA in 1980. Probably the best-known flamenco player in LA during those years (though rejected by some purists because he was always into experimentation), he later sold me the Hermanos Conde flamenco guitar I used for most of the nylon string guitar parts on No Straight Lines. Gino was quite a character…but if I were to go off on Gino – whose flamboyant life was cut down way too soon by cancer about 10 years ago – I’d lose the ever-important meticulous and decisive train of thought that so defines this blog.
My travel journals say I was re-reading Lorca’s plays, Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and Jan Morris‘ excellent “Spain” book during that trip. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I often hand-pick books to read whenever I travel that are tied in some way to the place I am in. I so strongly recommend traveling that way, it adds immensely to any trip.
But I digress, because on the way to Seville I had discovered this amazing small whitewashed village called Frigiliana, only 5 miles inland from the Mediterranean town of Nerja, but seemingly still 500 years in the past. I arrived around 2:30 in the afternoon. The town was utterly dead and I mean utterly. There were a few dusty ancient cars and a handful of existential donkeys spread around the main square. It was incredibly hot. I started walking up into the village on these winding walkways that seemed to never end.
I finally arrived at an outdoor café perched high on the hillside already closed for the afternoon with a large unoccupied patio that looked out over the Mediterranean in the distance. I was totally winded so I sat down to catch my breath. Remarkably, Pat Metheny Group’s “First Circle” album was playing softly through the patio speakers. Having recorded This Perfect Day a few years earlier with PMG bassist Steve Rodby (who also played on No Straight Lines) but also knowing both Lyle Mays and Pedro Aznar in that group, I had a really uncanny feeling sitting there — in such thoroughly familiar musical surroundings, while simultaneously in some faraway distant place and time.
For some reason I afterwards often thought if I ever found myself with an extended period of time to write, I might want to return to Frigiliana. So in early 2006 (through an incredibly generous 5-month leave of absence granted my employer Morrison & Foerster to allow me to travel and work on music) I holed up there for a steady month of writing. The photo above was taken from the rooftop of the 600 year-old house I rented, looking out beyond the newer part of Frigiliana to the Mediterranean beyond.
I’ll write more about my time in Frigiliana later, but today I am making Ajo Blanco (white garlic) soup, and that’s what prompted this post — the interconnectedness of Al-Andalus music and Ajo Blanco soup. Because it was the Moors who introduced almonds to the Iberian Peninsula and most likely also invented Ajo Blanco.
Whenever I had put in an especially hard morning of work in Frigiliana, I rewarded myself with lunch at La Bodeguilla, a family-run place featuring regional food. They made a truly memorable Choto Frito (stewed kid) that I always ordered with Ajo Blanco and Migas (fried breadcrumbs with garlic) on the side. (For a short article on Andalusian food, see http://www.marbellagoldenmile.com/andalucian-food.asp).
Not only is Ajo Blanco incredibly good, it’s just about the easiest thing in the world to make. If you’re interested, I’ve included my recipe below, created from trial and error. It makes batch large enough for about 12 servings or 1 small foot bath.
3 cups blanched almonds
6 garlic clove
one 6″ x 3″ piece of day-old white bread, crust removed
1 1/4 cup Spanish olive oil
10 tablespoon sherry vinegar (vinagre de Jerez)
4 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups water
Instructions: Cover bread with water and soak 5 minutes. Meanwhile, pulse the almonds and garlic in a blender or processor until finely ground. Then squeeze the excess water out of the bread and pulse it into the almond mix until it becomes a thick paste. With the motor running add the olive oil slowly, followed by the vinegar and salt, and finally the water. Put the soup in a tureen in the refrigerator and cool for at least a couple of hours. This will get you started, but then taste the soup and add more water, salt or vinegar to suit your taste. It should be tangy.