“My biggest pet peeve is when you go to a fine restaurant, and it’s like a mausoleum inside. Good food should be joyful. There should be laughter and chatter.” – Jim Harrison
In Spain, the Friday before and the Monday after Easter are holidays off. In my U.S. you’re expected to be on the job all the time, so this was new to me. As a result at our Anima Mundi yoga retreat castle one hour northwest of Barcelona, this Monday feels like a glorious Sunday, especially since a memorable lunch just took place…but more on that later.
First let’s talk about the days leading up to Easter. I saw signs of this holy day last week in the pastry shops of Cardona’s alley streets. It’s 34 kilometers north from our little castle in Canet de Fals to Cardona where an extremely huge castle, perhaps the largest and most impressive medieval fortress in all of Catalonia, stands perched high, I mean really high over the town.
The Castle of Cardona is up there somewhere. Imagine a few centuries ago being a soldier trying to attack it. It was a good workout for me climbing up to the castle, but no excuses not to try on a pleasant 70 degree spring morning and, more importantly, no one was shooting arrows down at me like back in the day.
The origin of the fortress dates all the way back to 886 when it was constructed under the direction of Wilfred the Hairy (did not make that name up). Orson Welles filmed his movie, “Chimes at Midnight” here. By the way, Orson Welles is from my hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin. That is true trivia also, although I did not play little league baseball with him as some young people may jokingly remark.
The view from inside the Castle of Cardona looking down is, well, check it out. Those are the Pyrenees Mountains, the border with France off in the distance. Three weeks ago they were blanketed in snow, but our recent string of sweet, sunny days has taken care of that.
In 1714, a fight with the Bourbons destroyed some of the walls. As the Bourbons went on trying to suppress Catalonia, the Castle of Cardona was rebuilt and became a symbol of Catalan nationalism. This remains an important sentiment today. If you don’t believe me, just watch a a soccer match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
The walk down from the castle takes you into the alleys of Cardona, where there are shops offering products ranging from fashionable clothes to meat for dinner. Also, a choice of restaurants and cafes.
Here’s where I saw Easter treats in the bakeries, reminding me this will be a busy weekend. Time to get back to Anima Mundi for the start of our next yoga retreat – our largest so far this year – and a full house of other guests as well!
This yoga retreat brought us an incredible group of people representing the wonderful countries of Spain, France, Hungary, Latvia and the U.S.
The meals are a very important element of each yoga retreat here. We are fortunate to have a garden and regular deliveries of a vast array of beautiful organic produce. We are vegetarian during retreats, and vegan and/or gluten free if requested.
This group had minimal food alteration requests so on Easter morning after a two hour meditation and yoga gathering Louise, our chef from Amsterdam, surprised us all with a remarkable brunch featuring breads, cheeses, eggs, fruits, local honey, teas and coffee!
This was also a weekend strong on “karma yoga.” I have been leading two meditation and yoga classes a day for our retreats since coming to Spain in March. I also share in our cooking, which is a wonderful experience. Yet, it was tremendous to have so many volunteers in this retreat group request to share in all of our meal preparations and clean up, plus two people offering to lead classes showing the yoga they have learned and practiced often back in their respective cities (Paris and San Francisco). What a gift to be a participant in their classes, have a little break in the schedule, learn some new yoga styles…and also see how happy they were after presenting!
In our library at the Anima Mundi castle we also gather after dinner to talk in front of the massive fireplace. One night we tried something new with our yoga retreat guests. Each of us privately wrote on a piece of paper our intentions for this retreat – our reasons for coming here and what we would like to address in our lives – and then offering it into the fire. Afterwards, if you wanted to, having the floor and sharing your intention with the group took place. Everyone took turns and spoke, presenting some very personal challenges. Others listened and then provided words of support and encouragement…until 2:00 a.m.! This group came here as strangers from diverse locations all over the planet, and left as close friends with plans to stay in touch.
On the Monday after Easter, the guests now departed, we walked to Moli de Boixeda here in Canet de Fals for lunch. It was a meal – an event, really – my favorite author, Jim Harrison might have enjoyed and written about. The restaurant, though decorated for Easter remained as unpretentious and relaxed as you can get. You are expected to go slow and stay for a long while. Many families with members of all ages laughed at their tables. Olives, breads, a bowl of potato chips, plus bottles of the local vi negre and oli d’oliva were provided as soon as you sat down. First course was a smoked salmon salad. After a week of cooking vegetarian dishes during our yoga retreat I was happily ready to try whatever the Moli de Boixeda chef offered.
Next was Peus de Porc, a traditional Catalan dish. Don’t knock it ’til you try it!
I’m usually not a dessert guy, but a change can do you good 🙂
During our superbly pleasant long lunch a little boy from a neighboring table visited me often, politely rolling his orange plastic ball under the table and silently tickling my back to let me know he was there. At first his mother was alarmed but I told her with my best smile, “No hay problema.” The kid was cute as a boton.
When we left my new friend was sitting on his mom’s lap. I told him, “Adios, amigo” which made everyone at his table laugh. Then he replied, “Bye, bye” which had us all laughing even more.
Jim Harrison died recently. I was sad when I heard, of course, but grateful for his work. I’ve read most all his books, many more than once, acquiring from them I believe my wanderlust, my wanting to travel the world experiencing other cultures and of course trying the food along the way. I recommend in particular his book, “The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand.” Read it and come to see us in Spain. Sit in a cafe for an hour or more. Do some yoga with us. Maybe you’ll even find an out of the way restaurant to drink wine, try the pig’s feet and laugh deeply when a little Catalan boy and his family share their Easter Monday lunch with you.
Love and Peace,