Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dear Santa Anything But....

Early in December the wives began to talk.  The holiday season would soon be upon us, which meant the arrival of gifts from the various consultants that our husbands had worked with throughout the year.  Being my first Christmas season as a contractor’s wife, I asked the veterans what types of gifts to expect.  I thought they were pulling my leg as they informed me that the most common gift was a Jamon Serrano.  For those that do not know, a Jamón Serrano is an entire leg of ham that has been cured in salt and hung out to air dry. Even though it may be considered a delicacy in the gourmet world, I could not imagine two people eating an entire leg of ham, and there was no way that I would devote precious counter space in my kitchen to a black hoofed pig leg.
It is not that I am opposed to the eating of meat cured in this way.  In fact I have been known to pig out on a good plate of jamón, however I need to stress the word plate.  My opposition is to the presentation of a whole ham leg.  Perhaps this comes from years of shopping in massive grocery stores where consumers are presented with meat that is neatly wrapped in sanitary white packages.  Such presentation allows one to easily forget the origin of what one is buying.  Now, when faced with an entire pig leg, it is nearly impossible not to visualize the living animal that once ambled on that leg.
As the holiday season quickly approached I could not shake my ham leg fear.  Every-time the downstairs doorbell rang I reluctantly answered, and sighed in relief to find the meter reader, butane delivery man, or someone looking for our neighbor.
I thought that I was ham free when Christmas passed, but my husband reminded me that the holiday season in Spain was not officially over until the arrival of the Kings on January 6th.
Even though I was content to have the extended holiday season come and go without any sign of a delivery service, my husband did not share my enthusiasm.  He is a fan of Jamón Serrano, something I am not, and he was looking forward to having a whole leg to himself.  I tried to appease him by offering to buy small amounts of jamón from the butcher, but he wanted his own leg.
In mid-January I received an ecstatic phone call from Mark’s office.  He had just received a phone call from a frustrated deliveryman who had visited our home at least a half a dozen times during the past month.  I couldn’t help but wonder why no note had been left.  I was instructed not to leave the house because the deliveryman was on his way.  To my disappointment within an hour I was hauling a narrow cardboard box that could only contain a pig leg, up two flights of stairs.
As I sat on the couch looking at the box, I could not help but wonder what impact, if any, riding around in the back of a delivery truck for several weeks would have on the quality of cured meat.  I was also faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the leg.  The serving of Jamón Serrano is an art rather than just a process.
After much contemplation I decided to ask Mari-Carmen, the women I studied flamenco with, what I should do.  Of course I started the conversation off on the wrong foot by stating how I felt that it was silly to give two people an entire ham leg as a gift.  She responded with “Hmph.  A jamón for two is not excessive.  You should be eating a jamón a month.  You must eat jamón daily to be healthy!”  I did not dare share my own personal opinions on the benefits of jamón, but instead agreed that a jamon indeed was a wonderful gift but asked how I was to go about cutting it.  In her eyes this was not such a difficult situation, I just needed to go to the local dollar store and buy the special jamón holder and knife.  I decided that this was not the solution to my problem, so I asked her if it would be possible to take the leg to a butcher and have him cut it for me.  I was more than willing to pay a fee for this service.  This lead to my second lecture of the day, “Hmph, you can not do such thing.  That would only insult the butcher because you did not buy the jamón from him.”  Rather than argue that since I had no choice in where it was bought, being that it was a gift, I just dropped the subject--I was not prepared for lecture number three.
In early February the box containing our jamón remained in our living room.  I had refused to open it.  Not only did I find the idea of looking at a ham leg unpleasant, I knew the smell would be even more offensive.  Each evening I would remind Mark that it was his gift and stressed that he needed to do something with it.  At the end of the month, after spending a week in Germany, Mark decided that it was time for the jamón to leave our home, and he had figured out the perfect way for us to be rid of the leg while at the same time enjoy a savory treat.  Each week the Spanish Air-force had a luncheon.  Mark had decided that such an event was the perfect venue for the disposal of the jamón.
Friday morning Mark took the leg out of its box and headed off to our parking garage.  One of the major drawbacks of living in the center of town was the lack of parking.  We rented a parking spot in a garage that was a ten-minute walk from our apartment.  With the jamón slung over his shoulder, and a grin on his face, Mark made the trek to the car. His grin quickly turned to a frown when he put the key in the ignition and nothing happened.  After a week of sitting in the cold garage the battery was dead.  Mark called a co-worker to hitch a ride to work.  However, because contractors were not allowed to accept gifts from consultants, he had to leave the jamón in the trunk of the car rather than try to explain to his colleagues where it had come from.
Saturday morning Mark announced that the jamón would have to come “home”.  I refused to have anything to do with the jamón, so rather than accompanying Mark to pick up the leg from our cochera, I headed downstairs to the café in front of our apartment for a cup of coffee.  Half an hour latter Mark joined me, along with his prized gift.  When Enrique, the waiter, saw the leg he began to salivate and immediately asked if we knew how to properly cut a jamón, after all it was a skill that took many years of practice.  He was kind enough to tell us to let him know when we were ready to open our gift and he would be more than willing to come over and help us.  With a forced smile, I thanked him for his offer.
The jamón returned to our living room and remained there for several weeks.  However, as much as we ignored it, the leg was not forgotten.  One afternoon, as Mark walked home from work, an acquaintance approached him and told him how early one morning he had seen him walking with the jamón and how lucky he was to have such a fine piece of meat.  And of course there was Enrique who constantly asked if we were in need of his services.
We were preparing to leave to Italy for Mark’s cousin's wedding.  I suggested taking the leg of ham as a gift, but Mark didn’t feel that it would be appreciated.  He still felt that re-gifting it to the Spanish Air-force was the best solution since not only would he be able to participate in the consumption, but that the Spaniards would truly appreciate such a gift.  So for the second time Mark slung the jamón over his shoulder and began his journey to work.  This time the trip was successful, but unfortunately the Spanish Air-force had the day off and there was no luncheon.  The leg remained in the trunk of the car, where it was forgotten until after we returned from Italy.
It was now April, and our now famous leg had spent much of its cured life in the back of a delivery truck, in our living room, and in the trunk of our car.  Once again I offered a suggestion; I felt that perhaps we could barter the piece of meat for wild asparagus with the Gitano that hawked his goods at the roundabout on the way to Ronda.  Of course Mark did not find this acceptable.
By the middle of the month we were finally able to rid ourselves of what now felt like part of the family.  Unfortunately, it was not the happy ending that Mark had envisioned--the savoring of thin slices of the meat with a fine Rioja wine.  Instead, early one morning Mark had to dispose of the now moldy and soft leg in a dumpster.  Even though we were now jamon free, for several weeks I was worried that someone might have seen Mark in the act and that they would approach me to ask how in the world Mark could throw away such a fine treat.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Maya, what a funny story! :) I actually stopped eating pork and beef many years ago but there are times when I sort of miss it like when I was in Spain and reading how everyone loves it, just like reading your story....but I can totally relate to your feelings too which is why I don't like eating drumsticks from a chicken or turkey or why I prefer to have my fish fillet'd rather than whole with the tale and head. I can't eat anything that stares back at me! Mark's prized Jamon Leg had quite the adventure...

    Thanks for sharing such a funny story! Have a great day today!