September 29, 2008
As far as I'm concerned, you don't need scientists prying into DNA samples to prove that Columbus was no gentleman from Verona. All you need is a day with Joan Santolaria, a geographer from Barcelona who captains the antique Catalan fishing vessel El Rafael out of the port of Palamós. The man possesses precisely the sly charm, curious intellect, quick step, and wildly curly red hair one would expect from a Catalan pirate of Columbus's magnitude. Joan and his organization, Telamarinera (a word which means sailcloth but also has a metaphorical meaning – a thing that is involved and difficult), bought the 1915 vela llatina wooden fishing boat in 1996 and have been restoring it ever since. Taking people out on the boat is his way of preserving and recounting part of the otherwise lost history of Mediterranean life. Sailing with Joan should figure in the plans of anyone who has ever wondered how to properly celebrate the "Columbus Day" season. His 5th annual traditional sailing seminar on the Rafael is underway now -- a collaboration with the Museu de la Pesca in Palamós. You spend one weekend learning theory and navigation techniques and the next sailing the length of the Costa Brava, including an overnight on board (which I can pretty much guarantee means food, wine, song, storytelling, and laughter in the best Catalan pirate tradition). Palamós has been a working fishing harbor since the late 1200s when the town was founded as a royal port by the crown of Aragón. The local catch still includes Palamós shrimp and other prized seafood from the Mediterranean (though as you can learn at the museum, this is yet another of the world’s stressed fisheries). That's another thing about Joan: he knows what's what when it comes to appreciating seafood's most precious seasons. His weekend sea urchin tasting expeditions start with the season in November this year. You stand on the deck of the Rafael, hoist up a bag of sea urchins delivered directly by local divers, whack them in two with Joan's special sea-urchin guillotine, and eat their lovely orange sea-flesh alive. Arrh! For more information about the Rafael, Joan's traditional sailing workshops and sea-urchin season excursions go to: www.telamarinera.es. Thanks to photographer Michele Curel for her beautiful portrait of the Rafael (the picture of the sea urchin in Joan's hand is my own).