PEOPLE – Adios, Manolo

19 Dec 2003

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán wanted to be the coordinator of Slow Food in Spain and later agreed to become its President. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to directly benefit from his valuable opinions and stimulating insights, but were just able to gather some of his thoughts about Slow Food, which we are pleased to now offer to all lovers of food, life and conviviality.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán met Carlo Petrini – one of the founders of Slow Food, now its president and driving force – and became a friend when the idea of an international movement was still to come.
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán felt favorably inclined to the newly-created movement, since, to use his own words, it expressed a progressive and playful approach to something absolutely basic, and for that reason often ignored – food.

Montalbán also had this to say about Slow Food:

“The most interesting recent cultural campaign in the area of food and gastronomic pleasure is the movement to protect natural products and flavors: they belong to our traditional sense of taste but now risk disappearing. Of equal interest is the action undertaken by the Slow Food movement against the culture of speed.

“There are radical criticisms of globalization as expressed in the present stage of multinational capitalism. Rather than being an alternative to these movements and criticizing the imposition of globalization, Slow Food expresses its opposition to mechanisms of exploitation and dependence.”

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s passion for good food was not just that of a gourmand, but was a passion born of culture and awareness of what eating involves. He wrote several perceptive articles for the Slow magazine and also served as a member on the Honorary Committee of the Slow Food Award for Biodiversity, as well as being Honorary President of Slow Food Spain.

Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, made these heartfelt comments about the Catalan writer’s death: “We have lost a great friend. We called him Manolo and knew him for over ten years. I remember him as a very thorough person, a careful and conscientious observer of the world we live in”. Petrini adds, “We were both engaged in efforts to protect cultural as well as gastronomic heritage, both constantly at risk. As was the case for all of us, his commitment in this area was marked by strong political beliefs”.

Montalbán’s affection for Petrini and Slow Food was such that in his last, soon to be published, Pepe Carvalho novel, the detective, his assistant Biscuter and Madame Lisieux are at the Checchino del 1887 restaurant in Rome, at an occasion presided over by Petrini himself: “… savoring the incredible fritto misto alla romana, an authentic ceremonial hotchpotch where brains, liver, zucchini, artichokes, ricotta, honey and pear, all in batter, acquire a sort of uniformity compensated by the richness of internal textures and flavors”. And Carvalho tells Biscuter how the movement was born and developed. “I used this story” confessed Vázquez Montalbán during the presentation for the Spanish edition of the magazine Slow, “to talk about the rapport linking me to Slow Food and our common philosophical approach to nature and matter, which has closer links to a theory of need than resurrection of flesh.”

For all these reasons an event honoring the memory of this original thinker, loved and respected by all, was organized on December 10 in the Casa Leopoldo restaurant in Barcelona. It was attended by family, friends and fellow writers, who intend to continue working in a spirit of understanding and empathy for people and their basic needs.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was a patron of Casa Leopoldo for many years, and on the occasion of the restaurant’s 70th anniversary he wrote an article, ‘Pasodoble de Aniversario’ for the ‘Cataluña’ supplement of the daily newspaper El País:

“If visitors do not wish to stray too far from the legendary heart of Barcelona, the barrio chino (Chinese Quarter), they can go to eat at Casa Leopoldo, where the most effective introduction is to say: ‘I’m here on behalf of Pepe Carvalho. Just bring me whatever you like’.

Rosa Gil, now guiding the fate of this small oasis in a barrio chino bombarded by the intelligent missiles delivered by urban planners and social hygienists, has inherited the responsibility for those stopping off at the Casa Leopoldo.

Casa Leopoldo enters the new century with this woman at the helm, when women, are maybe not so much taking us over but taking over the world. It does not really matter much to me as long as they create an alternative home. Something like a restaurant that provides the basic essentials. Something like Casa Leopoldo.

Marta Busquets Net, a communications expert and accomplished wine taster, works for Slow Food Spain in Barcelona

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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