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Raising the Bar: Life in a Spanish village

Spanish Village

I’ve been reflecting and reminiscing on the days of early 2016, when we were hustling full time on Craigslist, in the driveway, at the dump, scurrying to sell off, give away or throw out every last possession. From the family home in Grover Beach to the faux-ethnic toothbrush holder on the bathroom counter, it was an all-consuming process.

Now, 18 months later, we are passing through the mirror image of that process. And the circle closes. We have arrived… in the Spanish village of Bar. Are we ready for this? Equally if not more important, is Bar ready for us?

Our first supply gathering mission carried us to Andorra. At the risk of invoking Sarah Palin, I should say that if we stand on a bar stool we can see Andorra from our patio. But unfortunately, we have no patio furniture yet.

For those those of you not familiar with the data on the world’s most smallest nations, Andorra comes in at number 16, with a meager 180 square miles, squeezed neatly between France and Spain. Most famous as a tax free haven, Andorra is a popular destination for skiing, money laundering and bulk shopping, especially for cheap alcohol, tobacco and gasoline.

We rushed there for some essential housewares on the first day at our new place. Andorra is only about half an hour from Bar. But after a 7-hour shopping marathon—for linens, towels, dishes, utensils, etc—I’ve taken to calling it the People’s Republic of K-Mart. Quantity definitely trumps quality in this high mountain micro state. Even the perfectly ordinary bottle opener we purchased has proven to be distinctly inferior to any other I’ve ever used. How it manages to mangle so many wine corks is something of a micro miracle.

In July we moved in, and by August we were ready to do the housewarming. The obligatory Hornaday potluck tradition has risen from the ashes, risen like an eagle into the Catalonian Pyrenees. Here in Spain, the presentation and consumption of cuisine is something like a holy sacrament, so the pressure to produce something palatable was almost palpable.

In keeping with tradition, I had to fall back on the old family recipe of marinaded mushrooms, for which tarragon is a key ingredient. Conveniently enough, I’ve been harvesting fistfuls of wild tarragon from the local mountains which comprise our backyard. Our more immediate backyard has been gifting us with a bounty of zucchinis, peppers, onions and tomatoes, among other things, so we’ve been feasting daily on the mouthgasm inducing flavors of these homegrown delicacies.

But in spite of our best efforts, and our steadfast vegetarianism, it was the wagonful of red meat which monopolized the barbecue and effectively stole the culinary show. In the end, however, our guests were thoroughly satiated, and that’s what matters most. Some of them were even saturated, which can also make for a pretty good time. Just watch out for those broken cork bits floating your way.

Among the highlights of the evening, some of our dearest new friends presented us with the complete equipment for preparing paella—pan, propane range, and stand. If there is a single national dish is Spain, it is without a doubt paella. Described by some as elaborate, by others as simple-but-satisfying, this is a meal with universal appeal. There are even widely accepted vegetarian versions, for those with shellfish allergies and meat aversions.

So now the pressure is really on. It will be incumbent on us to prepare an unforgettable plate of paella at our next shindig. And lucky for us, and those fortunate enough to make the guest list, the annual village festival of Bar takes place this weekend. What better opportunity to whip up a feast of Spanish omelette and traditional paella?

Of course, I’ll let you know how all that works out. I can already tell you that expectations are running pretty high. Despite having a population smaller than your average high school classroom, Bar’s annual fiesta is said to be an event of uncommon proportions.

Fred Hornaday once considered writing poetry for a living, but then thought better of it. Contact him with your questions and comments at


  1. Kurt Michels says:

    Pretend I’m there Hornaday’s, I’ll be stuffing my face, looking for an instrument to play and drinking too much. Cheers to your new place and to all the new people you will put under spell. Miss you guys. And I know if you’re cooking anything, the party will be more than a success!!!!

  2. Gran a goat and dance the paso-doble, then you can always feed it the remains of the Paella if it doesn’ t cut the mustard Bar. 😉

  3. Holly padove says:

    We miss your mushrooms! (And all of you too!)

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