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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Good Life

I had the good fortune recently to spend a few hours with a lovely, gracious couple, Domingo and Lolli, on their farm in Jerez, Spain. Domingo was once employed by the Ford Motor company in Spain, but during the recession that caused so much upheaval across much of Europe he lost his position. Fortunately, he had always had an abiding interest in the small farm his wife’s family had tended for many generations.

Domingo and Lolli’s farm is actually a vineyard but calling it that would suggest a far more verdant and picturesque notion than befits the reality of this very modest few acres of Sherry grapes, fruit trees and vegetable patch. True, we were seeing it in the dog days of October when the season was over and Fall rains had not yet begun. It was parched and hot, and the farm house itself was anything but grand. Still despite a lack of electricity and water preciously hoarded in an underground cistern fed solely by rain it was inviting, made more so by the extraordinary hospitality of our hosts. What occasioned the visit was a desire to learn a little about the craft of making Sherry in an unpretentious way. We got that and a lot more than we had expected.

Over several hours we enjoyed sips of several sherries Domingo had made for his own consumption and walked the vineyard rows to see how he grows his crop without irrigation, or much by way of farm equipment. Everything except for breaking up the crusted soil is done by hand. A small tractor is the only mechanical device and from its look it is not used much. Most of what Domingo grows he sells through a cooperative. By joining forces with other small growers, he hopes to leverage a slightly better price for his harvest than he would as an individual. The best of his grapes—a few cartloads, are reserved for the ancient Roman hand press that generations of farmer’s in Lolli’s family have used to create the juice they will make into Sherry and Sherry vinegar.

As we idled the afternoon away over the dinner table tasting Domingo’s Sherries, his Fino, Mazanilla, Olorosso and Moscatel, Lolli delivered plate after plate of amazing food. Lolli would not describe herself as a chef, but I can honestly say that we ate like princes that day. There were six of us, but enough food to feed a family for a week or more; almost all of it grown on their farm.

As we ate we talked, my modest grasp of Spanish assisted by translation from our friend and guide Ivan. As curious as Domingo and Lolli were about our home we were far more interested in hearing about theirs. In our travels across Andalusia and Catalonia, we got a small glimpse into a life that I suspect was once the way people lived in many parts of this country but have mostly lost touch with over time.

By our standards, Spain is not a wealthy country. It has recovered from the lowest points of its economic downturn but it is far from booming. Still people live well. By that I mean that wherever we went we found a richness of experience. Food, family, friends and faith are the hallmarks. Yes, one can see conspicuous consumption on the Via Gracia in Barcelona lined with the Prada’s Gucci’s and Valentino’s. The people you see inside are not residents, but tourists from Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

But in the little village of El Gastor, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, in Jerez, Vejer, Sevilla, and the barrios of Barcelona where most people live, what you see more than anything are people living the good life. What the Spanish may lack in material possessions they more than make up for in the quality of their lives. Isn’t that what we all hope for?

Instead, our days are too easily submerged by a barrage of political intrigue and outrageous invective. We pay through the nose to obtain food untainted by chemicals and processing-eat too much, drink too much, and enjoy it too little. Families gather mostly for holidays and special events, and friendships, especially as we age, are fewer as time and distance separate us from one another.

It would be wrong of me to paint a simplistic rosy view of another country and culture. Spain has it challenges, separatism, a still weak economy, and an on-going struggle to preserve what is good about life in an increasingly fractious world. But for a few weeks at least I was reminded about the things that make for a good life; things that cost little but mean everything. I don’t know if I can keep those lessons front and center over the weeks and months to come, but I am going to try, and I wish the same for you. We don’t have to travel to Spain to enjoy the good life, it is around us every day, but we do have to take the first step.

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