Meeting Uncle Juan

Meeting Uncle Juan

There’s a bar on the corner of the seafront in Garrucha. It stands out from the rest of the seafront bars for its air of tradition: wooden shutters, old letters spelling out Meson de Adriana, a dark doorway with intimations of plants and tiles, barrels, lace-edged tablecloths. A taberna in the old Spanish style, we’ve passed it many times, but somehow never at the right time of day – we weren’t hungry or it was closed. Yesterday we were hungry and it was open.

A bespectacled señorita wearing an apron and an anorak greeted us hesitantly. “No hay tapas”, she replied to our question about the availability of lunch, and, further, “Si, tenemos raciones”. So, big snacks rather than small ones. That would do. From the seafront entrance you walk through a narrow corridor up a series of tiled steps, past cascading plants, portraits in heavy frames and richly embroidered brocade curtains hanging across doorways, until, finally, you reach a large room. This is the ‘back’, which is actually another front, this time onto the main street that’s just a block behind the seafront.

Here is the Meson’s main bar. A high roof of sumptuously lovely reddish-gold wood pitches above walls decked with old baskets, tools, paella pans, ceramic dishes and flagons attached to horizontal bars with big butchers’ hooks. Crudely patterned tiles in muted blues, greens and browns cover the wall behind the bar. Tables with linen cloths stand ready for trade. The place seemed to have an ‘atmosphere’ despite the few customers and the cold. And it was cold – that anorak had been a strong hint. A stove had been set to work by the side of the bar, a cast-iron paraffin contraption vented through an extravagant pipe to a window high up near the roof.

A young couple sat at the bar sipping wine from generous glasses. They were deep in conversation with an older man, 70 years old at a guess. He spoke as if he knew them, with mellow tones and mild gestures, but somehow energetic as if a fresh spring was bubbling up inside him. This was Juan. He shuffled to and fro, bringing small plates to the young couple to taste with their wine. His stooping gait and his chin stubbled with at least two day’s growth made him appear unkempt, or just a little unworldly.

We lunched on gently grilled goat’s cheese that crumbled on the tongue. We constructed bruschetta from lightly-toasted artisan bread and finely chopped tomatoes and herbs. Then came the boquerones, fresh as any I’ve tasted and fleshier than most, as if pushing at the species boundary and searching to be sardines. They arrived, headless and deboned, delicately fried in a tiny amount of batter and garnished with a wedge of local lemon. Finally the cod croquettes, yielding mounds of warm potato and bacalao each one deep-fried to make a couple of perfectly moist mouthfuls.

We had just finished and the señorita was clearing away our plates when Juan shuffled over. He spoke no English but his carefully measured Spanish, his eloquent gestures and kindly enthusiastic face gave us the story of Meson de Adriana. Juan’s grandmother came from Cuevas de Almanzora, a town a few kilometres north and inland. In the summer, when the heat was high, the family would come to the playa here at Garrucha. Grandma produced 12 sons and, unsurprisingly, the family outgrew their house at the playa so they bought this one. As the years went by, the sons married, moved away and gradually stopped coming to Garrucha for the summer. Grandma decided to sell the house and Adriana, the wife of one of her sons and the mother of Juan, bought it. Gradually they changed it into a taberna and so it has been for the last 15 years, dedicated to Adriana and now run by her son. The señorita is his niece – hence our affectionately calling him Uncle Juan – Tio Juan. Such warmth and generosity emanated from this lovely man. Such love of this place and its place in his history. We shook hands as we left. We’ll be back.

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