We’ve been in Spain for just over two years now and this month it will be five years since we left South Africa. The time has flown by and clearly has no intention of slowing down, although there were times, many times, where it felt like someone had pressed pause during all the suffocating parts.
We have experienced a lifetime of emotions these last few years. We’ve had to say goodbye to friends and family (some of whom, I will never ever get to see again no matter how many flights I board), struggle through a new language, face core level disappointments but also gratefully made new friends, rekindled old friendships, discovered avenues in our beings we never knew existed and managed to keep up a brave face for our two resilient daughters. A growth spurt…an adult growth spurt, the one where you get to grow on the inside as opposed to the outside. And as we all know growth spurts are always painful and, dare I say, a vulnerable state, no matter what age you are.
We decided to memorialize this ending-of-many-things and welcoming-of-new-things in Cordoba.
So, after spending a wonderful Christmas day with friends, we took a day to recover before making our way to the south. We started travelling quite late, usually we try to leave as early as possible, anything from 3 am and no later than 6 am. However, this time we only got away by 11 am. We arrived in Cordoba around seven in the evening. We gave the girls an hour to explore the apartment, bulldozer through it and make it their own before heading out in search of dinner.
Under normal circumstances we do road trips during the hotter months and even in warmer weather our usual modus operandi is to discover local cuisine and anything Roman (nothing overly academic – I watched the Spartacus series). We usually walk around and explore the vicinity until we get hungry, then look for a place to eat or we find a place on the web, mission out of wherever we are staying to find it, get lost and discover all sorts of amazing little nooks and crannies. In between these aforementioned activities, we sit on a bench somewhere making up stories about the origin of the nearest artifact or building. So, this time around with the weather being all cold, chimneys smoking, people huddled together sipping their wine and restaurants simmering with mouth-watering dishes our visit revolved around food even more so.
Fortunately, on our first night, we discovered the best restaurant, in my humble opinion, in Cordoba. La Tinaja is situated just off the Guadalquivir river. The food was fresh, well presented and the service fast and friendly. Some must-tries are the almond soup or white Gazpacho, Flamenquin and grilled aubergine drizzled with honey. We also had oxtail and tried Flamenquin at different places seeing that it is a typical Cordoban dish. During the course of the next few days, we also made our way to Mercado Victoria, which is the gourmet market of Cordoba.
On a cold winter’s night sitting in a cosy spot, surrounded by the humming of hearty conversation, a glass of red wine in one hand and good Cordoban food in the other, then for a moment, everything seems right with the world.
The city of Cordoba is also home to one of the most important monuments of all the Western Islamic world, and one of the most amazing in the world, La Mezquita de Cordoba (Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba). Upon entering La Mezquita I was flabbergasted. At first, I thought it was a play with mirrors, but it only took me a few breaths to realize that there were in fact so many concrete arches as to appear infinite. Going deeper into this monument it felt like walking into an M. C. Escher art piece. One could be forgiven for going into a trance-like state being surrounded by the seemingly eternal repetition of red and white horseshoe arches. Starting in 784 AD the construction of the Mosque lasted for over two centuries. A lifetime (if you are lucky) times two.
The courtyard of La Mezquita, Patio de Los Naranjos (Courtyard of The Orange Trees) is filled with orange trees arranged in rows, with fountains and palm trees strategically scattered in between. The deep green leaves and vibrant orange fruit almost feel decorative against the sand coloured structures, as if it was a movie set, completed just this morning for a fresh batch of tourists.
Whilst twirling around in slow motion with gaping mouths the girls caught sight of the Bell Tower soaring over the courtyard, patiently observing us all. The architecture of the Bell Tower is completely different to that of the Mosque. This monument is truly a fusion of different architectural styles, people, religions and eras. And it is very possible that it’s this architectural flexibility that contributes to the tolerance and tranquility this site exudes.
Connecting La Mezquita with the Calahorra tower is a sixteen arch Roman bridge structured over the Guadalquivir river. Late one evening we took a stroll across the bridge, along with the rest of Cordoba. It struck us how active the Cordobans were, even during the winter. Walking, running, roller-skating, cycling, just going about their modern-day activities surrounded by these regal mementos.
Even more striking were all the citrus trees in this city, coming from Valencia, the orange capital of Europe, we thought we were accustomed to orange trees on every street and plaza, but Cordoba takes the cake! We threw caution to the wind and tried some of them…as expected they were extremely acidic but completely harmless. I know this for a fact because of our daughters, in an attempt to prove their toughness to one another, finished a whole fruit each, teary-eyed and scrunched-up faces they battled through.
When the last piece of street orange was gulped with intent and their faces smoothed out to its original porcelain plumpness, the girls confessed that these were the sourest oranges on earth and they wanted to know where on earth are the sweetest oranges then? Makes sense right, in a yin and yang kind of way, I guess.
The sweetest citrus on earth, well that will always be a debatable point but one fruit that is definitely a top contender for the title is a mandarin named Tango.
There is or was somewhat of a controversy surrounding Tango mandarin. The reason being that some believe Tango is not a new variety as such, but rather a process modification of a well-known older mandarin variety W. Murcott also known as Arourer.
It will, therefore, be partial to talk about Tango without mentioning the mandarin variety W. Murcott first. The W. Murcott mandarin, originally from Morocco, is a very attractive, easy to peel mid to late season mandarin variety which, when grown in isolated conditions, can be virtually seedless. However, isolation of any citrus orchards is practically impossible nowadays.
As a consequence, many W. Murcott orchards have been suffering from an increasing problem with having too many seeds in their fruit caused by cross-pollination by other citrus varieties (other mandarins, Valencia oranges, Minneola tangelos, lemons and other citrus types).
One successful technique that was utilized was to irradiate the budwood from W. Murcott variety. This method slightly altered the DNA structure that, after a long selection process, delivered a mother plant which carried fruits without seeds and was called Tango. This mother plant was then used to propagate seedlings. Tango has the exact same characteristics and quality as W. Murcott except being essentially without seeds, which is an immense advancement, especially from a commercial point of view.
In the northern hemisphere, Tango fruits ripen in winter, with peak maturity in February and March and hold its fruit quality characteristics until April. In the southern hemisphere, fruits are harvested from July to September. The fruits have a diameter of between 5 and 6 centimeters and a weight of between 70 and 90 grams per fruit. Tango has an oblate shape with a deep orange rind colour and a very smooth rind texture which is easy to peel. The flesh colour is deep orange and finely textured. Tango fruit are juicy with a rich, sweet flavour when ripe having a Brix of between 12% and 14%.
Tango mandarins are being commercially produced in the United States (more than 4 million trees have already been planted), Latin America (Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay), Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Egypt and Turkey), South Africa and China.
So next time, after picking out the most impressive naartjies, mandarins or tangerines at your local supermarket and lounging on your sofa, relishing in your good choice while sweet citrus flavours burst on your tongue and you find yourself not needing to bring your fingers to your mouth to pick the seeds from your lips, chances are, you’re doing the Tango.