Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'I'll Make A Note Of It!' , pt.2 I'll Have The Quail...

I'll Have The Quail

It's been an inside joke with the band especially when weighing some of the lamer dining options while 'on the road' here in the States. It all goes back to Spain, just like The Fleshtones have been doing for the past 22 years. We had arrived in Madrid the morning before and I spent the previous afternoon tramping from bank to bank with with long-time Spanish agent and friend Jose 'Pepe' Ugeña in a fruitless attempt to wire money back home (the avalanche of unpaid bills doesn't cease just because I leave the country). That night we had drinks at La Catrina (corradera Alta de San Pablo, 13), a small Mexi-kitsch bar whose Russian bartender Andre is one of the kindest in Madrid's Malasaña district.

In the morning the band and all our gear piled into a modest-size Ford Transit mini-bus along with our road manager/driver Luis 'Jimmy' Garcia (former Templo del Gato DJ and lead singer of Los Nuggets -traveling with Jimmy makes everyday seem like you're in in some sort of movie) heading for our first engagement in Valencia.
We were listening to early 60's Halloween music and re-visiting old favorites The Move via an anthology (courtesy of David Kamp). After mind-numbing hours of driving through a blasted spaghetti-western landscape of eroded rock, the occasional cement plant (abandoned) in the middle of nowhere, and tortured olive trees and vineyards (look, there's our first 'bull' -adverts for 'Osborne' brand sherry, the colossal black silhouettes have been a hallmark of driving in Spain for generations) I figured I'd try another old plan of mine. "Let's learn a Spanish phrase everyday since we're in the van anyway." "Comemos" said Jimmy -let's eat. Somewhere before entering the province of Valencia we pulled into a truck stop (also in the middle of nowhere) that had the right look. I'm not suggesting you to drive out here to eat so I won't bother telling you the name or where it was. Anyway, there are places like this all over Spain. This is one country, along with Italy, where you can expect to eat well, and more importantly, cheaply, while on the road. The band also enjoys having our main meals midday. Anyone who has seen us on stage knows that we're not exactly 'shoegazers' so we don't like to eat much before shows. A quick look at the menu - which included a 12 euro 'menu del dia' -a bit more than we would like to spend. 'Why not?' and we were in. There was a massive, wall-through brick wood-fired 'asador' (cooking hearth) that was screened-off with fire-proof glass. We grabbed one of the many tables in the cavernous, sterile but bright comedor. A scattering of truck drivers and highway maintenance crews were busy ignoring the tiny TV that was showing a Spanish version of 'Wheel Of Fortune'. Although a well-paid professional in Norway, the richest country in Europe, often has to squeeze in a brown-bag lunch, a blue collar Spanish worker can somehow afford a leisurely 3-course meal, with a bottle of wine tossed in. The menu del dia offered 18 choices for the 'first plate' - and over 20 for you to choose for your second -bacalao con pisto, cordero al horno, chuletas de cordero, magro con pisto, merluza ala plancha and cordonices (quail), either asodo (roasted), fritas (fried) or escabechadas (cooked in a vinegary marinade). "I'll have the quail" I said without having to think twice. My only problem was 'how?' I settled on 'escabechado' since I figured frying or roasting the little things might dry them out.
We picked the second best bottle of wine on the list, a bottle of Don Octavo, reserva 2001 from La Mancha. Although The Fleshtones have become fans of Manchego wines from playing in Tomelloso so often, this hearty' tinto' more than lived up to that region's tough reputation. My first plate choice, a platter of judias verdes (flat green beans), simmered with pieces of prosciutto-like Iberian ham, was just want I wanted, but Ken Fox's 'potage de garbanzos' was really something -a heaping bowl of chick peas laced with, besides more jamon iberico, big hunks of cardos, the giant celery-like vegetable known to (a very few) English speakers as cardoon. A whole fat link of morcilla (blood sausage) elbowed for room in the middle of the bowl.

Ah, Spain, the vegan's hell. Where else could a place like the 'Museo Del Jamon', a Madrid chain of cerveccerias, where the very walls are studded with whole hunches of ham -which also drip from the ceiling by their dainty cloven feet like stalactites (or are they stalagmites?) be considered to be tastefully decorated? Bill Milhizer says her Spanish food travelogue is great, but somehow I can't picture Gweneth Paltrow eating this stuff. Huddled together alone in the middle of my plate, my quail looked naked and pale, but their sharp, vinegary aroma was irresistable. Stuffed with a giant clove of garlic and a single bay leaf, the quail were succulent and tasty -I sucked the goodness off each pitiful little bone with a combination of relish and respect.
Although the time is always right for flan, afterwards I enjoyed 'caujados' sweetened with honey. Light and refreshing, it's a nostalgic dessert for anyone who can remember the Junket Rennet Pudding that was so heavily advertised on children's and family TV before the McDonaldization of the American palate winnowed out most of our food spectrum.
By the time we left the restaurant the sky had darkened and a biting wind swept us back into the severely overloaded van and off the high 'meseta' of central Spain into the province of Valencia. We sped past Fuenterobles (Spring Oaks) in the Utiel wine region (we didn't stop). The racing wind tore the clouds into steely shards and a rainbow appeared ahead as we descended into the piney mountains leading towards the warm Mediterranean sea.
Maybe I should have had my quail 'asado'?

-Peter Zaremba

next, Valencia, Barcelona, Leon and 'Don't Talk To Juancho'
photos: Ken Fox

"I'll Make A Note Of It!" -Larry Fine, 1948 (pt.1)

part one: sin chorizo

The Fleshtone's first morning in Spain, Madrid Nov. 3, 2009 as 'snapped' by Luis 'Jimmy' Garcia. courtesy: Ken Fox

Sorry to have dropped off the map for a while. I had planned to keep you up on all the action from the road like a 'real' blogista, but without a laptop that could actually function as one (i.e. one not on life-support) it proved a lot harder than I had thought. Dealing with a tight schedule that kept us on the go, emotionally draining shows (my pleasure!) staying at hotels without Internet (can't use that excuse too much) then figuring out the Spanish keyboards at odd hours of the morning just made staying in bed a bit longer all the more attractive. "I'll make a note of it!" * Larry Fine would cheerfully respond when a belligerent Moe Howard would bluster "remind me to murder you!". Luckily, like the muy aimable Mr. Fine, I took notes, lot's of them, so I'll reconstruct the tour, blow by blow for you if you like. It was quite eventful and I've got to thank Sr. Jose 'Pepe' Ugena, the band and Spain itself for making it all possible. As advised, I'll keep it to a briefer more 'conversational' style like a 'real' blog, but you'll have to also forgive me if I get a bit expansive and meditative once in a while -in fact, right away. So all about Spain, although The Fleshtones are now back in the U.S.A. as we reunite with loved ones, make new plans and face new adventures sin chorizo.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Peter Zaremba

* many years after Larry's death sent me and a small coterie of followers (of Larry, that is) at the School Of Visual Arts into a state of near psychosis, I was MC at a Cavestomp event at the Polish National Home near my house here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Suddenly a follow student who I hadn't seen since the mid-70's rushed out of nowhere and exclaimed "now if we could only find that note..."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Island Routes launched in Jamaica, pt.1

"What A Party That Was..." -Vivian Stanshall, 'Big Shot', 1967

October 4 through 6, Island Routes, a new 'Luxury Adventure' tour company was launched by the Sandals organization in Ocho Rios. Actually, Island Routes is already booking over 80 tours in Jamaica, and is soon to begin booking in St. Lucia, Antigua, TCI and the Bahamas. I was there covering it all for Modern Bride Magazine -which folded during the trip.

I've done a lot of this stuff -bamboo rafting a la Errol Flynn (in my case on the Great River), river tubing, YS Falls, Blue Mountain biking, meeting the 'crocs' in Black river, canopy zip-lining, riding with the Jamaican dog-sled team and the pilgrimage up to 9 Mile (birth/last resting place of Bob Marley) with Chukka Cove -and think they're all fantastic experiences. Exciting even. Jamaica is like that -a lot to offer. It can only help to have this wealth of attractions marketed (that sounds so business-like) by a company with a reach that small outfits just don't have on their own. Having someone reliable (alright -big)like Sandals behind it, Island Routes is positioned (how do you like that term?) to keep standards up, you know safety and stuff like that, provide snazzier transportation and besides, has a staff in decked out in cute safari outfits and pith helmets. If it's good for Jamaica, and in turn for the visitor, I'm all for it.

Big kid -courtesy of Mystic Mountain Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica

After checking into Sandals Dunns River, the press (the term reminds me how the 3 Stooges try to sneak into a racetrack as newsmen by using knobs from a bathroom as badges -Moe "press", Larry "press", Curly "pull") and guests were ski-lifted over 700 feet up Mystic Mountain to try out the Jamaican Rainforest bobsled ride (fast, faster and fun -even for a coot like me) and dinner in their new dining room that overlooks the twinkling lights of Ocho Rios.

Island Routes launched in Jamaica, pt.2 (big fish, Hooves Heritage Horseback Riding)

Island Routes' Tony Ebanks, Canadian journalist Liz Fleming and dinner guest.

I love fishing (and sadly seldom do), so next morning I was raring to go when several of us went out aboard the 31' Bertram Sabrina. "Follow the birds" said the first mate, which we did, giving the outing a bit of epic, 'Moby Dick' aura. Sure enough, the 'man o' war' birds led us to where the baitfish were boiling. Although the captain regretted that the billfish had already migrated past the island's eastern tip, within seconds we hooked into a couple of fine bonito

Island Routes launched in Jamaica, pt.3 (night 3, Laughing Waters)

That night there was a catamaran cruise over to Laughing Waters, scene of the memorable first encounter between Sean Connery and Ursula Andress in 'Dr. No' and now official holiday residence of Jamaica's Prime Ministers. Waiting there was a full-out 'Barefoot' beach party -Steel drums, limbo dancing, rhumba lines -the whole swinging scene, along with (among dozens of other dishes) the bonito we had caught earlier that day (raw in a ceviche-like 'salad' and as well as grilled).
The next day I signed up for the 'Heritage Beach' horseback ride at Seville Great House, which take you from the old estate (now a museum) through the (scant) remains of Jamaica's first Spanish capital Sevilla Nuevo, then a nice charge through the waves. Cold 'Red Stripe' only enhanced the 'old Jamaica' scene at the shore, with fishermen returning under sail and a pleasing view of St. Ann's Bay Town (birthplace of national hero Marcus Garvey).

Island Routes launched in Jamaica, pt.4 (night 3, Sandals Montego Bay)

two representatives of Cool Runnins', Negril, official launch night

On the final night Island Routes was officially launched at Sandals Country Club Ocho Rios. MC Weston Houghton ran down the history of Jamaican popular music and dance from 'mento', through 'ska' and 'rock steady' (recalling that then dancers were so anchored to their spots the craze was dubbed 'rent-a-tile'). CEO Adam Stewart, inspired by a recent trip, explained, "In Africa everyone just assumes you're there to see their land, here in the Caribbean we never thought of it that way, but we've got just as much to offer". Island Routes GM, the fabulous Dominique Peterkin, and the girls then demonstrated all the latest dancehall moves like 'Signal The Aircraft' and 'The Gully Creepa' (God bless Jamaica, with all it's problems, still turning out dance crazes like it was the 60's).

One of the most pleasant surprises of the trip was spending a little time before the flight home at Sandals Montego Bay -the property that started it all for the 'all inclusive, couples only' empire. Yeah, yeah, that's 'couples only', but don't get the wrong idea (you're thinking of Hedonism). Originally The Roc Bay Hotel (designed by Edward Durell Stone, the architect of Radio City Music Hall), the 251 room resort has almost a 'boutique-ish' feel, that concentrates its lively vibe. Staying here puts you as close to the 'action' (and misadventures) afforded by Mo'Bay as you'd want to be, as well as to a quick getaway via Sangster International Airport when necessary. In fact, it was here that the perceived drawback of being located virtually at the end of a runway was creatively dealt with by instituting 'the wave'. I participated in at least one 'wave' while I was there and have to say the passing jets thing is no big deal. Sangster isn't JFK (thank God!).

Island Routes launched in Jamaica, pt.5 (Bellefield Great House)

Earlier that morning we had visited Bellefield Greathouse in the foothills outside Montego Bay for a bit of 'living history'. Garbed in period costumes, the greathouse's 'cast' throw themselves into their roles as the estate's gossiping servants (with a surprise visit by their mistress). The tour winds up with a luncheon on the lawn (good jerk) accompanied by drumming and dancing. I particularly liked the visit to the cool 1794 sugarmill - large enough for it's interior to be converted into a recreation of an old Jamaica tavern. There we were served the sort of refreshing punch I love, mixed to the venerable rhyme thusly:
One part sour (lime juice)
Two parts sweet (simple syrup)
Three parts strong (white 'over-proof' rum)
and four parts weak (water)

-Peter Zaremba

Time To Go pt.6 (biggest Fleshtones Spanish tour yet...)

the return of Mr. Pro -just in time.

I Gotta Go (to Spain, that is)

I hate to talk about myself, but here's where the fun (We) will be in Spain, November, 2009:
Wednesday 4th - Valencia - "La Edad De Oro"
Thursday 5th - Barcelona - "Razzmatazz 3"
Friday 6th - Burgos - "Estudio 27"
Sáturday 7th - Vitoria - "Hell Dorado"
Sunday 8th - León - "Gran Café"
Monday 9th - Ponferrada "Cocodrilo Negro"

Wednesday 11th - Santiago - "NASA"
Thursday 12nd - Ferról - "Run Rum"
Friday 13th - Gijón - "Albeniz"
Sáturday 14th - Logroño - "Biribay Jazz Club"
Sunday 15th - Santoña (Cantabria) - "Tropicana Club"
Monday 16th - National radio RN3 "El Sotano"

Wednesday 18th - Granada - "Planta Baja"
Thursday 19th - Murcia - "12 y Medio"
Friday 20th - Madrid - "El Sol"
Saturday 21st - Petrer (Alicante) - "Club 2"

I'll try to catch up while 'on the road' but do drop by. It's always a blast in Spain!

Time To Go... pt.7 (liner notes)

Liner Notes...

Those nice Norwegians, The Goo Men, have asked me to contribute some liner notes for their just completed third album. I'll have some time (I'll say) to come up with something as I foresee a lot of sitting in a van in my immediate future. It's suitable that I'll be writing this while being bounced around some Spanish roads. The liner notes I've written that I like the best were for Spain's Dr. Explosion, which almost reach the level of those written by that old master of the genre, Sir Lamprey Leech. For classic, 70's English 'serious rock' pomposity, the notes for the first Uriah Heep LP are pretty hard to beat, but what I really like are the notes where it's obvious the guy hasn't even bothered listening to the record. For sheer old-style rubber cement snip and paste indifference, it's hard to top Excello Record's excellent Lightin' Slim (Otis Hicks) album, (which was it, either 'Bellringer' or 'Rooster Blues'?-or perhaps they just used the same notes on both records) that the Spaeth brothers and I used to marvel over back in the Dark Ages. The notes paint a down-home picture of little Otis, stealing away as a child with his uncle's guitar to play the blues while waiting for the fish to bite, then later flatly states the he didn't learn to play the guitar until the age of 33. In the end they tie it all together by explaining that whenever Otis is asked what his favorite song on the album is, he invariably replies 'Bad Luck' "because it's brought him so much good luck" -naturally a song not on either LP. Down-home Excello probably just figured anyone buying the record was illiterate anyway. I think the Goo Men's favorite song on their new album shall be 'Bad Luck'...