Monday, July 29, 2019

The Bean Queen

Any day that begins with walking to cliffs overlooking the water is bound to be a good one.

We went for the views at the insistence of our landlady, but there wound up being so much more to absorb than just beauty. The location has historical significance, as well as a natural one - lots of obscure sea bird life, an important migratory stopover - as was explained on a Spanish/English sign clarifying that it's a national protected site.

And although it's technically the bay, there was sufficient waves-crashing-against-rocks churning up the blue water into halos of turquoise green that I could think of it as the sea.

When we hit the road, it was to Luarca, which warned incoming traffic that we were entering an "Urban Zone." Cute, but when it came right down to it,  Luarca was a picture postcard of a colorful, quaint fishing port (right down to boats in primary colors)  that drew vacationers in droves.

There was an open air market spanning several streets and offering such varied goods as local hams and running shoes, with almost everything - children's books, CDs from around the world, clothing, herbs, fruits and vegetables - you can imagine needing laid out on tables or hung from canopies. Bras of many colors, but also farm-raised beef and homemade sausage.

I'd chosen Luarca for el Barometro, with a view of the marina and houses built into the side of a cliff, because I'd read it was a long-time, family-owned seafood restaurant that never disappointed. Embedded into the exterior was a large old wooden barometer my Dad would have loved and three harpoons hung on the wall. Inside the front door was a poster showing photographs from a February 2014 storm that clearly delivered a fierce pummeling to Luarca's shores.

Tables were close together, probably to accommodate the frequent full houses, and if you said yes to your server's inquiry of "Pan?" (and who would say no to crusty bread?) it was laid directly on the tablecloth.

Because in the Principality of Asturias, they don't need no stinkin' bread plate.

Tempted as I was by the menu's abundant seafood offerings in this port town, as soon as I saw Asturian White Bean Stew my fate was sealed - as was the fate of that enormous piece of bread next to my hand - without knowing anything more than that beans were involved.

Never mind that it sounded like something you'd want on a cold January night, I was in Asturia in July. Carpe diem and all.

Not only was it a dish meant for colder months, it arrived in an enormous bowl full of huge white beans in a rich, garlicky broth and four kinds of pig: pork shoulder, pork belly, Chorizo and blood sausage.

Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but there's a menu gamble that paid off.

Afterwards, we strolled the market before heading to the beaches which were dotted with plenty of people but very few umbrellas. What they did have was lines of tiny, brightly painted changing cabanas that people seemed to be using for myriad purposes besides changing. The civilized people had brought folding tables and chairs, allowing groups to be sitting at a table, bottles of wine lining the center and food everywhere, laughing and talking while the young 'uns played in the shallow water below.

After walking to the point, we descended the stairs to the water so I could add the Bay of Biscay to the bodies of water I have waded through. I was surprised, though, because the fine sand of the shoreline was mixed with small rocks and pebbles I didn't expect. With its brilliant greenish blue clarity, the bay looked more like a swimming pool, as children splashed in the shallow water and adults ventured out deeper to escape their shrieks and splashing.

It was wonderful in every possible way, and not just because of how refreshing it is to see women obviously older than me wearing two piece bathing suits without looking the least bit self-conscious about it. That said, it's been obvious everywhere we've been that Spanish women, like their French counterparts, continue to make an effort to be stylish until they're dead. Never have I seen so many trim, well-dressed septuagenarians and octogenarians in heels and cute outfits.

Or bikins.

Eventually, we left the beach for the drive to Gijon, which is what passes for a major city in Asturia. Driving to our hotel, it definitely felt like we were in a thriving city, but then boom! you hit the beaches (a string of them, really, like a necklace of adjoining crescents) and it felt like a full-on beach town.

Which means you can be walking through the stylish urban neighborhood en route to a wine gastropub and pass girls in their bathing suits and boys draped in towels sauntering by you. Young people everywhere you look, but probably just as many older couples, her hand tucked into the crook of his arm. And noisy motorbikes ripping up and down the street that fronts the beach, the backfiring and racing sounds an open invitation to gawk at them (which only became tedious after 2 a.m.).

Everything, it seems, is fair game in Gijon.

Because we were in a bigger city, there were far more restaurants catering to a non-European palate, so after the wine bar, we nosed around until we found a place that looked like it hadn't changed since the '70s or '80s. There were multiple signs and menus in the front window and not one of them condescended to using English.


We found a table near the front window with a prime view down a narrow street to the water and settled in for another Asturian experience accompanied by the ever-present Albarino. I'm going to look foolish here, but I went right ahead and ordered Asturian white beans with clams, this time knowing exactly what to expect.

Repeat deliciousness minus the pig.

Several families with young children came in between 9 and 9:30 for dinner, adding to the liveliness of the place since all the servers seemed to know them and exuberant conversations followed as plates of food were ferried to and from the kitchen and around the boisterous groups. Clearly this was a neighborhood joint.

After breakfast the next morning, we took a walk along the beaches and in one area, through meandering tidal pools with water nearly two feet deep. This is what some of us call giving good beach.

Although it wasn't yet 11, there was a steady stream of morning people out on the sand. Several older men were already in the water swimming laps to the markers while walkers were getting in their steps. A few people were stretched out as if sun bathing, although it seemed a tad early for that. A line of colorful, patterned umbrellas stood in a row, leaning against a wall waiting for the call to serve.

And one mesmerizing older guy in orange swim trunks with a thick gold chain around his neck and ear buds in couldn't stop swiveling his hips Elvis-style as he listened to whatever music was causing his groove thing to endlessly shake.

It was an invitation, no doubt about it, and all he needed was the right taker. I'm thinking a senior from New Jersey would have eaten him up with a spoon.

Once I'd had my beach walk, we motored to Llanes, with its medieval tower and crumbling town wall from 1206, but it will stay in my memory for the scorpionfish cakes I had for lunch at Chigre el Antoju Sidreria.

Anticipating being served something related to crabcakes, I was thrilled to instead take possession of two orange rectangles that had far more in common with a seafood terrine than anything cake-like. Meanwhile, on the other side of the platter, a towering mound of small toasted and oiled bread squares awaited their opportunity to be the vehicle on which I could spread the terrine scorpionfish cakes.

So, what have I learned so far in Asturia? Verdant cliffs edge beaches of fine brown sand around here. You don't have to know what you're ordering to wind up eating well in these parts. And with six glasses of Albarino costing about 13 euros, they want you to drink wine like water.

Most importantly, say si to pan every time. You can ask questions later.


  1. I am guessing you are back in town. Saw "Remember My Name" - David Crosby yesterday. Recommended if you haven't seen it.


  2. Hey, cw, thanks for the additional recommendation. I'm planning to see it today!

  3. cw, I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though it was so poignant in the end about how his friends won't speak to him. But, man, the music was gorgeous (except "Silent Night" with BO and MO looked pained at hearing it!

    My only complaint was I wish it had been longer than 95 minutes. Cameron Crowe should've known DC fans would want more.

  4. Karen- Couldn't agree more. I feel for the man. Glad he's still around releasing new music.


  5. BTW- there were all of five folks in the theater when I saw this--- really a shame.


  6. We went to a 4:00 show and there were about a dozen Baby Boomers there. I'd bet most of them (like me) had seen CNY or CSNY live at some point!

  7. cw, Saw "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" at Criterion last night. Highly recommend it for all the great old concert and interview footage! She really was an amazing singer, even if I didn't pay much attention to her back in the day.

  8. Karen she was an amazing singer. I did pay attention to her -- at least up to a point. I did have several of her albums. Guess she is having a bit of a comeback. Her most well known music I believe seems dated now but she did bratch off & sing several different styles. Admire her for that though I ceased following her then. We the public can be so fickle can't we. If the film is still in town I may try to see it. However doubt if she packs them in. BTW I saw CSN once several decades ago & hated them but then about a decade or so ago I saw Crosby & Nash at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Ashsville, NC & loved them. They were on it that night doing anything right. Crosby was nasty, funny & sincere. Juz the way I like him. A show for the Ages!

  9. It's funny, cw, but I wasn't a big fan back in the day because her music was everywhere. Over time, I began to realize what an amazing voice she had, but I didn't buy any of her albums until 2 years ago. What impressed me about the documentary was how quickly she became a major female star playing 20,000-seat venues at a time when men were the big draws and rock was so male-oriented. She truly occupies a unique position as the first female rock star and it wasn't easy back then.

    My CSNY show was in 1973 and the sound of their voices was positively magical. I wouldn't mind seeing Crosby solo if he ever shows up near here again.

  10. Well Karen I guess you're really into this hiatus thing. Fall is here & naturally there's probably tons of stuff to dwell the weather, Folk festival, Love Tractor's pending reunion, (not), & of course food, food & more food. Let's not forget the Art's & culture in general...Well maybe Richmond culture, forget the general. However maybe this is a case of all things must it's course or baby it's over when it's over? Hence forth,...Good bye Birdlips?

    c. whitney

  11. Yeah well I'm waiting to hear from you...can't be standing around here doing the dishes, cleaning up all day.


  12. cw, You crack me up! As long as you've known me, you should have known by now that I'd be at the Folk Fest the past few days! No time to respond to comments with all that great music for free!

    As for the blog, I've always known that it took time to write every day so I made the time. But as I've learned in the past nearly two years, being in a committed relationship takes up a lot of time (that's not a complaint) and, in our case, involves a lot of travel (which I love). Quite honestly, there's just no time left over to blog anymore and no good reason to continue sharing my life with nosy people from my past (if it were just you and other dedicated readers...).

    No need to say goodbye, cw, when we can always communicate here on some long-ago post's comments as we've done in the past. And, who knows, maybe when I fully retire I will have time to blog again!

  13. Well of course you are correct -- I was at the folk fest..also. my wife won't miss it...we were there Friday at 5 PM waiting for it to get started. Loved the Cuban act, the Scottish lady and her band. Even enjoyed Dale Watson & his outfit. The FF is really one of Richmond's treasures. The diversity of people under the Dance tent is a wonder to behold. We can all get along especially if we are having fun. OK -- understand now & thanks for everything, besides it ain't over it's juz taking a new turn...


  14. Yep, we loved the Cuban act, too, plus the gospel praise band and the STAX Academy reunion band, among others. Always a good time at the FF.

    A new turn, that's it! Kinda like my whole life did early last year. Stay in touch, cw!

  15. Hey Dr. Birdlips I presume -- MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  16. And Merry Christmas to you, too, CW! Here's hoping 2020 is fabulous for both of us!!

  17. Karen -- This is not Winter weather!! However I'm Loving it & bet you are to!!!