Desayuno

10 December 2008

From California-based photographer Jon Huck's series of portraits of people with their breakfasts.

From California-based photographer Jon Huck's series of portraits of people with their breakfasts.

i.

You typically don’t eat much of a breakfast in Andalucía. My kids tell me in class that they eat milk-and-biscuits, “biscuits” here meaning galletas, which straddle the cookie-cracker divide. They are marketed as digestive aids, made with whole wheats or grains, vegetable or sunflower oil, and sugar, though they are sometimes unsugared, and there are so many different varieties sold that I have actually stood before the supermarket section in bewilderment, trying to figure out what I’m looking at.

The whole milk is generally heated in a saucepan on the stove, with cacao powder or soluble coffee stirred in afterwards: early morning food, the blue gas flame hissing in darkness, dull grey light outside.

You see more croissants in Boston than you do Andalucia.

You see more croissants in Boston than you do Andalucía.

ii.

A little later in the day – ten or eleven a.m., say – you have tostada– a short barra de pan sliced in half & toasted – usually served con tomate y aceite in Jaén – that is, with olive oil, salt, and tomatillo spooned out of a communal ceramic bowl and spread on the hot half of bread over the oil, which you drizzle on out of a spout.

You drink a café con leche in the morning, espresso & steamed milk, which varies depending on locale from a café au lait to something approaching a very wet cappuccino, and I’ve seen it with and without foam.

This is generally what I do at school, just before recreo, the half-hour break at 11:15 – I order my tostada & café at the little school bar, & talk about the weather, & chat with the teachers, my second breakfast.

There is, of course, no lunch served in an Andalucían school. You don’t eat until you get home at 2 or 3, la comida.

One more. This is something you would never see a Spaniard eating before 3 p.m.

One more. This is something you would never see a Spaniard eating before 3 p.m.

iii.

If you don’t have tostada, or milk & biscuits, or a stomach filled running with espresso & steamed milk, you might go to the Plaza del Pósito & lean up against the zinc-topped bar of the café that opens onto the cobbles & the wicker chairs & the tables & the gas lamps, and you could order a croissant & a fresh-squeezed orange juice, even though it’d be a little touristy, & the croissant would be split in half with a pat of butter inside & toasted & served with marmalade, and honestly there is nothing I like better than to read the paper & eat a Saturday breakfast in a café in the bright clean morning light & listen to the city start to wake up, even though I do it very rarely.

You could, as I did on my first day of school, eat churros, those fried loops of dough, served with chocolate for dipping (though I didn’t know to order it), at the diner at the bus station while birds cluster around the newer church bell across the way.

And if you’re in Granada, sleeping on a seteé in the Albaycín courtesy of a Parisian friend of a friend of a friend who lived for 6 years in Mexico – then in the morning, rain outside pooling in the white courtyards, the red flowers in the windows, you might have crêpes with chocolate & strawberry jam, a plate of kiwis, a loaf of nutty bread, tea.

But Granada’s a different sort of place.

iv.

I like Huck’s series, if you can’t already tell – it’s aesthetically well-presented, & has a nice hooky concept, and I like the pinched, ascetic faces of those with a single cup of coffee below them, the number of different ways something so fundamental gets consumed.

One thing I notice now, though, after living in Spain, is how heterogeneity is itself a kind of American cultural marker. The photographs aren’t anthropology; they’re drawn from what seem to be Hurt’s friends & acquaintances. It all reads very California – and not just any California, but a California made up of a particular class position & aesthetic. All of these people look interesting, atypical, their personalities defined by the care & beauty of their consumption.

What would happen if you took these pictures in Bédmar? Jaén? (Granada doesn’t count – cosmopolitan cities have more in common with each other than they do with the countryside. New York hipsters would get on better with the grenadinos than with our equivalent of a campesino – Appalachian mechanic? itinerant strawberry picker?).

Spain is, as I’ve already noted, a pretty homogeneous place. You define yourself as a Spaniard by the things you take part in communally, that you do just like everyone else. A common approving adjective I hear is típico (de España). “Typical Spanish,” my dueña generally announces, to translate for me, even though I’ve understood. You would say of a good tapas bar, this is a sitio típico. Everyone eats what everyone else eats, because this is what it means to be Spanish, to be typical, & to be typical is what you aspire to, not what you define yourself against.

Those photographs – Jaén, Bédmar: row upon row upon row of small ceramic mugs, hot milk, a few galletas piled up, children’s faces above. Row upon row of old men’s faces, creased, wearing a collared shirt & a buttoned cardigan over immense bellies, dark pants, hair combed always straight back from the forehead, tostada con aceite y tomate below, a few with a shot of anís liquor & a glass of water in front of them & nothing else. Miles of café, steamed milk, sugar stirred in.

About a week ago, in my Wednesday 1º de ESO Íngles B. Picture this: A 12-year-old girl says to me, “Eggs?! You eat eggs for breakfast?!”and dissolves into incredulous laughter.

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3 Responses to “Desayuno”

  1. Sean Says:

    Fascinating read. I enjoyed it very much.

  2. Roman Says:

    So Jim, obviously you need to do your Jaen version of this photo series, and get some head shots with your mother’s camera of the people in the early morning light and their meal. If the light isn’t bright enough at that time, maybe push it to second breakfast…or! or! A series of Saturday breakfasts with the paper at a cafe! At the very least, show us your breakfast. (second breakfast, lunch, super, whatever..actually, tapas pictures would be rad…)

  3. Jackie Says:

    I totally agree with Roman. It would be great if you did something like this series in Spain! Very interesting observations you make.


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