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Gone south
The Music Maker

Gone south

Olive oil, tapas, desert and forest - a few of the reasons to celebrate Andalucía

Friday, 1 March 2024, 16:43

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In case you are on your holidays and were wondering why all the shops were shut on Wednesday, it was, in fact, a public holiday - el Día de Andalucía, which celebrates all that is great and good about the largest and most highly-populated autonomous region in Spain. To commemorate the occasion, here is a smattering of facts designed to leave the reader agog with wonder, or at least raising an inquisitive eyebrow.

For a kick-off, Andalucía produces more than half of the olive oil consumed globally - one and a half million tonnes of the stuff per year to be precise. I have half a litre of it on my kitchen shelf and always feel slightly guilty about frying bacon in it but not as guilty as when I put butter on my bread, rather than succumb to the much more classy Spanish tradition of using olive oil. Maybe the bread and dripping sandwiches my granddad merrily chomped upon conditioned my expectations at an early age, it's hard to say.

Even more impressively, according to legend, tapas have their origins in Andalucía. The story goes that, in the nineteenth century, King Alfonso XIII was travelling through Cadiz province when he stopped at a tavern in order to take a break. Having ordered a glass of wine, he was surprised to witness the waiter serving it covered with a slice of ham (the wine, not the waiter). Seeing the king's surprise, the waiter explained that the ham was there to stop the wind from blowing dust into his drink (it is a little breezy in Cadiz, so all of this might just be true). Mightily impressed, and very grateful for the snack, the king promptly decreed that all Spanish taverns should, henceforth, provide 'tapas' (lids) when serving their drinks. (In Granada, where you get a free tapa with every drink, I was once served a plate of burger and chips with half a lager. No word of a lie. Thank you, King Alfonso XIII).

Another couple of features for Andalusians to be proud about are the biggest desert in Europe - the Tabernas desert in the province of Almeria where Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Lawrence of Arabia and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly were all filmed - and the only Mediterranean subtropical forest in existence, El Parque Natural Los Alcornocales (cork trees).

Somewhat surprisingly, it rains a lot there, hence the lush, green forestry and wildly diverse range of inhabitants, including wild pigs, deer, mountain goats, mongooses (that is the plural - I checked), badgers, otters and, rumour has it, an ample selection of tourists in cagoules munching on salmon Cheesy Wotsits.

These, then, are just a few of the reasons to celebrate Andalucía - sadly, space doesn't permit any further investigation here. May I suggest to anyone interested in finding out more, that they rent a car and simply potter about for a week or two if time and money permit. It really is well worth it. Cagoules are optional.

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