Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spain

Hector and I were sent to Spain on a business trip during the time General Franco was still ruling the country.  I don’t really know or care what strings were pulled to get us there, but the company we worked for had stores in a few of the cities, and I was chosen to oversee several changes within the Spanish store chain.  Hector was sent along as my interpreter, and we expected to be there for many weeks, and possibly up to a year.

Hector was a colleague and my equal in position within the organization, so it was a bit odd to both of us that he would be selected to travel with me.  The department he ran for the company was important, and not just anyone could fill in for him while he was gone.  But we were assured that Hector’s position was not in jeopardy, and he was just being rewarded for his years of great service to the company.  Still…  But there was nothing that could be done about it.  Besides, he and I were good friends, and the fact that he was born in Puerto Rico and had a Hispanic surname should also be a benefit.

I, on the other hand, traveled so much that my department would probably not miss me.  My assistant/secretary was plenty capable to fill in while I was on the road.  So there was no problem expected here.

Our route had us changing planes several times with layovers in some great places.  We flew from Dallas to Chicago to New York.  We both had offices in New York City where we made one last check of our departments before boarding for Montreal.  From Montreal we flew to Heathrow outside of London where we took a four-hour break before flying to Paris.  Finally a long break.  We had two full days and a little more to see the city, but we spent the first day just sleeping in the hotel. 

French was not a language I ever mastered, and the French people were very happy when I didn’t try using it.  We took time to visit a few of the biggest landmarks, but all too soon the time was over and we had to take a flight to Dresden.  Again we had enough hours available to do some quick sightseeing.  From Dresden we flew to a city in Italy where we switched planes and flew to Madrid.  Eight days, six airlines, and our luggage arrived when we did.  It was a miracle.

It wasn’t until after we arrived in Madrid that I realized we just might have a difficult time in Spain.  In attempting to get a taxi, Hector pulled out of his pocket a Spanish-English/English-Spanish translation dictionary.  I looked at the book then at Hector then at the book.

“No one ever asked me if I could speak Spanish.  I was just told to travel with you as your interpreter.”

As I thought about it, I realized I might have done the same thing.

Business was business.  For many long weeks we dealt with what we had to do at the store in Madrid and several others in the western and southern regions of Spain.  Oh, we had breaks, and we definitely enjoyed the people, the culture, and the nightlife.  As we neared the end of the Madrid portion of our stay, one of the gentlemen at a store invited us to join him in hunting red-legged partridge. 

Hector wasn’t a hunter, but he was a fisherman, so he took time with another gentleman to fish one of the local rivers while I went bird hunting.  The hunt was okay, I guess.  It was a driven hunt with several men beating the landscape with sticks to chase the birds toward where I was waiting with the twelve-gauge.  I just stood there and waited until a bird flew by.  Boom.  Another bird.  Boom.

That evening the gentleman who provided this opportunity for me told me it was the best time he had ever experienced hunting.  I replied I had never done anything quite like it before.  Hector, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed his fishing trip.  Honestly I was jealous.

We found ourselves with a six-day break at the end of our work in Madrid, so we decided to take a flight over to Florence, Italy, just to say we had been there.  We went, we got lost, we had fun.  I do not believe I’ve ever seen so many pigeons in one place in my life.  I wish I had done some research before going there, but like most of my adventure plans, there was no real plan. 

We returned to Madrid to retrieve our belongings from our apartment just one day before we were supposed to be in Barcelona.  Again, we should have done some real planning, but the adventure would have suffered because of it.

Neither Hector nor I could figure out the train schedule from Madrid to Barcelona.  Suddenly no one understood our English or our attempts at Spanish.  And we watched as the train we needed left without us on board.  We hired a taxi.

The distance between Madrid and Barcelona is nearly 400 miles and it isn’t all flat land.  Somewhere in the dark of the moonless night we found ourselves on a winding mountain road in a taxi traveling at a high rate of speed.  When we left Madrid it was about 5pm, and we told the driver we needed to be in Barcelona by 7am the next morning.  The driver told us he needed to be back by 7am the next morning, so he would get us there as fast as he could.  And he was doing it.

Hector and I were actually thinking about getting out and walking.  In those mountains, the road took many hairpin turns with no guardrail such as we were used to seeing in the United States.  And the driver was doing it at 100 km/h or faster.  Each time he would come to a turn, he would turn off his lights and honk his horn twice.  Then he would turn his lights back on, but never did he slow down.

At a gas stop in one of the towns after leaving the mountains, we asked why he kept turning off the headlights.  He replied he did that so he could see the lights of any oncoming cars.  But he always honked twice in case they had their lights off also.  We made it to Barcelona in just under five hours.  And we got there before the train did.

Again, business was business, and we were all about business, that is until the end of each day.  Then it was all about the nightlife.  About three or four weeks into the Barcelona portion of our trip, we were invited to join a group of people on a quail hunt.  Again, Hector arranged a fishing trip with someone, leaving me to another driven hunt.  But this time was much more enjoyable.

I was never a fan of the twelve-gauge shotgun, but since no one with a sixteen- or twenty-gauge would make it available to me, I was saddled with the big twelve.  To my surprise, it was a muzzleloader.  I had never before fired a muzzleloading shotgun, so this could potentially make the hunt quite interesting.

I had a blast.  Literally.  It was another driven hunt where I stood in one place while some men beat the bushes with sticks to send the birds my direction.  But each time I pulled the trigger, the smoke would block any hope of seeing if I downed the bird.  Even the dog with me had no idea if he was to go search for a bird, or if he was to continue to sit and wait.  Once I decided I had missed a bird, but on the next fly-by I knew I was successful; however, the dog brought back two birds.

By the end of the day, I was tired.  A muzzleloading shotgun is a lot of work, but I was already a big fan of the muzzleloading rifle, so I was glad for this experience.  My shoulder was quite sore, and I found I could easily remember my reasons for preferring a twenty-gauge.

We finished our work in Spain in a few more weeks, and seven days and eight airlines later we (and our luggage) were back in Dallas.  As far as jobs go, it really was the experience of a lifetime.  We made many friends, and enjoyed a people and culture before the political changes occurred with the passing of the dictator Franco.  Hector’s job was waiting for him when he got back, and no word was ever mentioned of the dictionary he carried with him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Generations

My hunting days are over.  The years have taken their toll on this old body.  I still fish whenever I can, and I can still get to some moderately difficult places where I am often the only person around, but I am no longer able to carry the rifles or shotguns on those necessary long treks to find deer, elk, moose, etc.  And even if I could bring down such an animal, I could never find the strength to bring it home.  So for nearly twenty years, my rifles, shotguns, and pistols have been in storage.

About three years ago the decision was made to give away my firearms.  One of my colleagues at work wanted to teach his two sons about rifles and shotguns, so I gave him my .22 and my 12 gauge single shot.  A friend of mine was an actor extra and needed to put together an authentic pirate outfit.  I handed him my old flintlock tower pistol.  My .357 went to a law officer.  My .28 gauge went to a collector.  My .410 went to a friend who wanted to go rabbit hunting.  My 9mm is now in the hands of a weekend shooter.  It feels good to just say, “Here, take this.”

A few months ago I was visiting my nephew in a nearby city.  He is nearly thirty years old, but we have rarely had the opportunity to even see each other, much less sit and talk to each other.  I learned a lot that day.  I learned that he and his father-in-law often spend weekends at a shooting range, and he has always borrowed the firearms he uses.  I decided that day to give him two of my four remaining long guns.  These two firearms were passed to me from my two grandfathers—two of his great-grandfathers.

The first one I gave him was the twenty-gauge bolt-action shotgun I had inherited from my mother’s father when I was a teenager.  He had never seen anything like it.  When I gave him the history of the old gun, he almost cried.  He had never owned anything in his life that had history, much less family history.  Then I brought out the rifle.  My father’s father had purchased it new for a hunting trip in 1953.  It was a Winchester Model 70 in .30-06 with every deluxe feature that it could possibly have.  To top it off, it came with the original target and paperwork from the day it was factory proof-fired.  That date, Wednesday, August 24, 1949, was the day I was born.  I have held finer rifles, but I never held a better rifle.  And now it is his.

Over the years I have owned and sold many firearms.  I bought a strange-looking shotgun at an estate sale that turned out to be a W.J. Jeffrey Double Rifle .600 Nitro Express.  I fired it twice.  I unloaded the right barrel, and a few days later after the pain subsided, I pulled the trigger on the left barrel.  Enough was enough.  I turned a decent profit on it.  Almost as painful was a double-barreled 4-gauge flintlock rifle.  This beast threw a 4-ounce, 1-inch round ball.  And it was a sad day when I sold it, but the offer was just too good.

I like muzzle-stuffers.  Charcoal burners just seem to me to be a more fair way to hunt, giving the animal a better chance than is allowed with the modern high-tech weaponry.  Even the modern bow hunter has advantages over most of the click-boom shooters.  But I just like the process of loading and shooting the way it was done a few hundred years ago.  There is something about the smell of burning sulfur that brings out the ‘Daniel Boone’ in me.  Or at least it did at one time.  I gave away my tomahawk, Green River knives, and possibles bag to a neighbor who works with kids in outdoor adventures.

All I now have left are my .30-30 and my .50 cal. black powder rifle.  I’m making a new saddle scabbard for the .30-30, and when it’s finished my nephew will receive it.  The history for this rifle is simple: I purchased it new on my 21st birthday.  That leaves the .50 cal.  This one is hard for me to hand away.  My wife gave it to me on our first wedding anniversary.  I think I will leave it to him in my will.

I’m not planning to visit the ground any time soon; I’m just not able to hunt any more.  In a few years I may have to make the same decisions about my fishing gear, although I hope to be bringing in trout twenty years from now, even if it is just a few steps away from the car instead of a few miles up a stream.

I benefited from many who came before me.  The generations of experience they passed to me was jealously guarded for well over half a century.  But now it is time to entrust it to someone much younger.  And I already know he will pass it to his children.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roadkill By Any Other Name

Pavement Pie, Road Pizza, Center-Line Roast, Flat Meat, Ground Meat, Speed Bump Chili, Slow-Rabbit Fricassee, Headlight Steaks with Gravel Gravy—no matter what it’s called, it’s still roadkill.

When I still lived in Texas, I received a phone call from a friend whose car had broken down.  He was in need of a ride home, so I said I would do it.  Dale lived a few miles south of Fort Worth in the town of Cleburne, but his car was at a repair shop near where I lived northeast of Fort Worth, so it was easy to pick him up, although it was a long ride to his home.  I didn’t mind.

We had just turned off the interstate highway toward his home when Dale nearly leaped out of the car.  “Pull Over!!  That truck just ran over a squirrel!”

I stopped, but I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal.  Squirrels, rabbits, ‘possums, armadillos, skunks, and just about anything else was often flattened on Texas roads.  However, Dale jumped out of the car and picked up the squirrel.  What was he going to do?  Take it to the vet?  Nurse it back to health?

Dale got back into the car with his prize and said, “Gonna add this to the ones in the freezer.  A couple more and I’ll have enough to make me a stew.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just started the car and finished the drive.  Dale, on the other hand, had plenty to say.  He apparently had a freezer full of roadkill, and was planning to have a barbeque in the near future.  He also had a saying, “If it’s round, get it off the ground.  If it’s flat, leave it where it’s at.”  To that I quickly developed my own saying, “Round or flat, leave it where it’s at.”  Not that I was ever tempted to do anything else.

When I dropped Dale off at his home, he invited me to come back for the barbeque in about three weeks.  I told him I thought I would be in Chicago.

Well, the three weeks passed, and I forgot to be in Chicago.  I stopped in the company store in Fort Worth to talk with the store manager, and the first person I saw was Dale.  He was shopping for a new smoker.

“David!  I thought you were going to be in Chicago today.”

“I just got back.”  Dang! I should have said I was getting ready to go.

“Great.  Come on by this evening.  I’m smoking up some of the good stuff from my freezer.”

Oh, Me!  “Sure, I’ll be there.”

I’ve eaten, or attempted to eat, just about every kind of meat found in North America, but it was taken by hunting with a weapon (think rifle, bow and arrow, shotgun), not a car or truck.  For some strange reason, Furry Frisbees have no appeal to me.  But I was trapped.  There was no way out of this without damaging our friendship.

I drove to Dale’s place hoping to run over some nails and have several flat tires.  I checked the gasoline in the car, but the tank was full.  I tested the brakes, but they were working just fine.  Why did I have to own a reliable car?  And the road was dry, not wet and slippery.  Where is all the ice and snow when you need it?  Basically I drove there without having any problems at all. 

Dale answered the door, and we went to his back yard where about twenty people with worried expressions on their faces were sitting around staring at the four smokers.  I joined them.  But I have to admit the smell was fantastic.  One man commented he was “standing in the middle of the road” about this meal.

All too soon Dale announced the smoking was done.  He lifted the lid on the first smoker and there was a turkey.  A whole turkey.  It wasn’t flat, and it wasn’t even lopsided.  When he lifted the lid on the second smoker, there were about ten racks of pork ribs.  Smokers three and four contained pork loins and beef briskets.

It was as though the entire world breathed a sigh of relief.  Suddenly all the worried looks disappeared and meaningful conversation began.  Later I asked Dale what happened to the idea of the roadkill barbeque.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that to my friends.  Besides, it always tastes like tire tread.”
 

Rabbit Stew
Serves 8 to 10.

    2 domestic rabbit (or 6 wild cottontails—please, don’t use roadkill)                        
    Kosher salt
    Olive oil for sauteing
    18 white pearl onions, peeled
    1 large red onion, sliced
    1 small yellow onion, sliced
    7 cloves garlic, chopped
    12 allspice berries
    12 black peppercorns
    2 (3-inch) sticks cinnamon
    5 bay leaves
    1 small sprig fresh rosemary
    2 tablespoon dried oregano
    8 ounces pitted prunes
    1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
    ¼ cup tomato paste
    8 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or 2 (14 1/2-ounce) can crushed tomatoes      
    2 cup dry red wine
    1 cup sweet red wine such as port or Greek Mavrodaphne if you can find it
    1 cup chicken stock (if you just happen to have rabbit stock, use it instead)
    ½ cup red wine vinegar
    Freshly ground black pepper
    Extra-virgin olive oil
    Grated kefalotyri cheese
 
Cut the rabbits into pieces and remove as much meat as possible from the bones.  Cube the meat into bite-size pieces.  Add to the meat any scraps of meat such as the front legs (with bones), belly trimmings, etc. Salt the meat well and set aside for about ½ hour.  Salt the leftover bones and set aside in a separate dish.

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet or sauté pan and brown the rabbit pieces. As each piece browns, move it to large Dutch oven. After browning the rabbit, saute the onions, adding more olive oil as necessary, for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat, until they are beginning to brown. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Sprinkle with a little salt. Do not let the garlic burn.  Remove the onions to the Dutch oven along with the rabbit pieces. 

Add the rabbit bones to the skillet and sauté until brown.  Remove the bones to a platter lined with two layers of cheesecloth.  Gather the cloth into a bundle and tie the top.  Add this bundle to the Dutch oven.  Into another square of cheesecloth, place the allspice berries, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and rosemary.  Tie into a bundle and add to the Dutch oven.  Then add the oregano, prunes, and artichoke hearts to the Dutch oven.

To the skillet used for browning the rabbit and onions, add the wines, wine vinegar, stock, tomato paste and chopped tomatoes.  Reduce over high heat for about 5 to 6 minutes, then pour the mixture into the Dutch oven.

Bring the Dutch oven to a simmer. Cover and slowly simmer for about 1 hour before checking for doneness.  Then check every 15 to 20 minutes until the meat is almost falling apart.

To serve, remove the two bundles from the Dutch oven and discard.  Ladle the stew into bowls, and give each bowl a few grinds of black pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.  Top with a tablespoon or two of the grated kefalotyri cheese.

Wild cottontails have a little more flavor than the domestic rabbits, but domestic rabbit is more readily available for most people.  Whichever you choose, please, don’t go for the interstate edition.