Majorca the island of calm
In 1999 I participated for the first time in an archaeological excavation on the Balearic Islands, an archipelago in the western Mediterranean Sea. The excavation was financed by Barcelona University and the site was called Ses Païsses, located in the town of Artà on Majorca. This was my first time in contact with Balearic and Talaiotic culture, both past and contemporary, so the experience was new and exciting.
I was pleasantly surprised to be working with people my own age, and mostly Majorcans, who introduced me to their culture and language. We were living in Artà’s primary school where we slept in the gymnasium. It was in this setting that we shared our experiences about life and the university world but above all, we told a lot of jokes and had a lot of laughs. Some of the people I meet there are still part of my group of friends today.
The project took place during the middle of August. The twenty days we were there we got up early and worked long hard days. The heat and humidity were suffocating the entire time.
I remember the first job the project leader assigned to me. It was to clean-up a remote area near the monumental wall overgrown with vegetation. A difficult job in any situation but an even harder job because of the high temperatures and humidity. After I finished removing all of the vegetation we began digging. There were a lot of big stones without context to take out and move outside the area of excavation. There are certain jobs within archaeology that make all of us feel like true martyrs, this was one of them!
In the middle of the morning, around ten, we had a big sobrasada sandwich for breakfast. This is a delicious energy food. Since that moment, it has always been part of my diet, despite the fat content…
Every day at midday we were going for a lunch to a local restaurant. It was there I discovered some warm traditional dishes from island, for example: l´arròs brut o caldós (dirty rice), fideus a la cassola (noodle casserole), frit (meat stew made with liver) or coca de trempó and the desserts: greixonera (cottage cheese), ensaimada (wind fritters), and almonds milkshake. For a drink we were served red wine with soda. This food and drink combination created in us an obvious state of exhaustion.
After lunch we would return to the school where some people took a siesta and rested. Others went swimming at the local swimming pool near the school. We had a free entry in exchange for being employed at Ses Païsses archaeological site. This was our salary.
On other occasions we went to some of the islands magnificent beaches. I loved to swim in the transparent and quiet Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean’s turquoise colours and the warmth really made me feel as though I was in paradise.
In the afternoon around 16.30 (4:30 pm) we would come back to the site to finish the days work. It was at this time of the day that the work became a lot more complicated both physically and mentally. The laughter and the joking had stopped and nearly everyone was speechless. The great experiences from the first half of the day had abruptly ended while our physical exhaustion had reached its maximum along with the very warm weather. Some of us were more lucky than others. On the other hand, we were lucky because in many areas the trees provided shadow and we could work easier. I remember the big grey pottery fragments we found in the rooms with evidence on the exterior surface that they certainly had been handmade.
The nights were relaxing and entertaining. We had dinner at the same restaurant and the fun was constant, the work day and the anecdotes were our topics. I verified that each one was living through this experience in a different way. After dinner, often we were going to have a drink or we were walking to the top of the village hill where the medieval castle from the 13th century was illuminated.
Over time I made a very good friendship with a workmate from Andratx, Majorca, who invited me at his house some weekends. There I discovered one of the typical Balearic dishes. I have very nice memories about that. His father cooked for us in a special way and then we shared it all with the family. This popular dish is one that I want to share with all of you called Tumbet / Tombet. It´s made basically with vegetables season: aubergines, red and green peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and hard-boiled egg (optional). His father cooked for us with much patience and precession a delicious tumbet in a traditional Majorcan kitchen that was located outside the house in an independent room to the rest of building. The dish was a little laborious because it was necessary to fry every product individually, and then introduce them inside clay casserole (greixonera) making layers with the vegetables and finally bake it.
My first archaeological experiences have been closely linked with the sun, the beaches, the good food, the red wine and the friendships… All are nowadays, indispensable spices of my pantry.
Ingredients (2 people)
3 green italian peppers
2 red peppers
1.5 kg of ripe tomatoes
Preparation, around 2 hours
1. Cut the aubergines in slices and leave them 5-10 minutes in water with salt to eliminate the bitterness. Then clean it carefully, dry off, dip in flour and fry in both sides until they are soft and cooked. Set aside.
2. Peel the potatoes, and cut in slices, around 0.5 cm thickness. Add salt and fry slowly until the potatoes are soft. Set aside.
3. Cut the peppers width ways in strips of 1.5 cm. Add salt and fry. Set aside.
4. In the same oil, fry 3 garlic cloves chopped, and then add the tomatoes cut into pieces. After a few minutes smash the tomatoes with a fork and cooked until all are cooked. You need a tomatoe sauce, but it must not remain liquid.
5. In a clay casserole, (called greixonera in Catalan), we start to place all the ingredients that we have reserved, in layers. First a layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of peppers, then tomatoes again. The new layer could be the potatoes, and more tomatoes sauce on the top, finally we can add the aubergines and the tomatoes on the top.
Then you need to backed all together around 0.45 minutes in 200º C.
Suggestions: You can use the same oil to fry the vegetables, but of course if you can use more than one pan at the same time you will reduce the cooking time.
If you want to add boiled eggs, add it at last layer, like a decoration, on the top of the dish, and add the last 5 minutes in the oven.
Bon profit !