“I’ll prepare some Andorran food tonight,” I say to a friend. “Is that a real country?” is the answer. Well, duh, it is!
Mountainous, tiny, landlocked Andorra is the only country in the world with Catalan as its official language. I (at least) claim to speak Catalan fluently, so I find myself within my comfort zone.
Andorra is also about three hours by car from where L was born, which makes it feel simultaneously close, yet worlds away.
Andorra holds boundless beauty and a unique place in history. Less than 50% of the small population of 78,000 has Andorran citizenship. Andorra does not allow dual citizenship and it takes a very long time to gain a citizenship (10-20 years!) if not acquired by birth. Nevertheless, the benefits of living in Andorra include one of the highest life expectancies in the world and one of the best health care systems in the world (in all the different rankings, Andorra places within the top 10). Residency can be obtained with significant investment. For outsiders, the country is famous for skiing and tax free goods. The capital of Andorra is Andorra la Vella.
I have a beautiful friend SV who spent her childhood and part of her youth in Andorra. SV speaks fluent Catalan, Spanish and French as her native languages, on top of many other languages that she has learnt. Currently, SV lives in Paris, and it was the perfect occasion for me to reach out to her so that she can guide me through everything Andorran. Because of our friendship, I do know more about Andorra than most of the people, and it is always lovely to hear from her.
Bread with tomato
We start with food. SV tells me that the Andorran cuisine is of course influenced by its neighbours, especially by the Catalan cuisine. I am overjoyed, as bread with tomato is one of my favourite Catalan dishes. Obviously, Sydney does not have an Andorran restaurant so no matter what we prepare at home, pa amb tomàquet or bread with tomato will be part of that.
Let’s start with that because it is so yummy. For tomato bread, you just need good quality bread (my favourite is Iggy’s in the Eastern Suburbs but any good sourdough works). Spread oil, garlic and tomato with a bit of salt on top over toasted bread. That’s all. It’s beautiful, it’s yummy and it tastes like home.
Andorran national food is escudella but it is so heavy and complicated that I immediately abandon the idea of preparing it. But for anyone interested, it has chicken, pork, ham, ham bones, chick beans, potato. It is serious winter mountain food that simply doesn’t do the trick in Sydney’s rainy winter nights or for a vegetarian like me.
Instead, I prepare Trinxat de la muntanya with a chicory salad. Trinxat de la muntanya is basically mashed potato and cabbage, with bacon if you wish. And some garlic and salt. Incredibly easy, albeit slightly dull. I like it, but L is not thrilled. She still happily eats the bacon, and I find myself putting some more salt on the potato.
The chicory salad (chicory is typical plant of the mountainsides in Andorra) has nuts and parmesan in it. It is not thrilling, but definitely edible. We also have embutits, sort-of sausages for the meat eaters.
For the Andorran night, it is just L and I, which feels weird. Fellow nomads are unable to join tonight. But Andorra is small and so will our party be tonight. L appreciated my efforts with Catalan food, but it does not really charm her exquisite culinary taste. I am happy and convinced that everything that I have prepared tonight is extraordinary.
The only Andorran music we can find is Andorra’s participation in the Eurovision from 2009, the last time Andorra participated. Andorra stubbornly performs mostly in Catalan. We think it’s cute.
While we eat out deliciously, marvellously prepared dinner, L and I watch documentaries about Andorra.
A super quick history of Andorra by our favourite history narrator, Mr History, is again very amusing. Andorra is the world’s 17th smallest country, and the Andorrans get their name from Andosini, pre-Roman people in the Iberian Peninsula. The country has the 2nd oldest parliament in Europe. It’s a quick story of how Andorra “became the place to be for those who want to shop and ski”. In general, compared to many other places, Andorra has had quite peaceful and neutral position, being harboured by France and Spain.
“Geography now: Andorra ” by the Geography Now Channel tells us that the Andorran flag is a combination of French and Spanish flags, and has a shield in the middle with words “Virtus Vinita fortior”, or “United is Stronger”. Travelling to Andorra is tricky by public transport with no trains or airports. Andorra is mountainous, and only 2% of the land is farmable, resulting in the majority of food being imported. Tourism is the main source of income for Andorra. Catalan is the official language, but Spanish, Catalan and French schools co-exist (most people send their kids to a French School – my friend SV went to one). Andorra has a head of state, but the co-heads of state are the President of France and the bishop of Urgell.
Andorra is famous for its natural beauty, so we watch a couple of documentaries about the mountains. 30% of the country is covered by national parks, meaning there is a lot of nature to explore. Andorra is a paradise for hikers in summer and for skiers in winter, and there is a lot of shopping options.
Small market for creatives
SV cannot think of an Andorran book so I turn to my soul brother JB, one of my favourite people in the world – one of those people that are incredibly helpful, generous and whom no one has anything negative to say about. JB lives in Barcelona with his Australian wife and their son. JB takes the task and comes back with a wonderful suggestion.
There is a woman who took part in a legendary postgraduate course in an organisation I was working in many moons ago. Many good things came out of that course, including my friendship with JB. I remember the woman he mentions vaguely, but the Internet tells me more. Since then she has had three children, several degrees (including a PhD in Political Science) and has built an impressive career in international development. She is originally from Andorra and a published author. I do not have her contact information so I cannot ask her for more, but I find some of her poetry online – and I also send her a message through the cyberspace hoping that one day she’ll respond. She has also written a couple of very interesting books, but in most places I look her books are out of stock. Therefore, I read her poetry that I find quite charming. I particularly like one of her poems that translates into pour some more wine to me.
Sometimes a group of extraordinary people get together and create special energy. That particular postgraduate course seems to have done just that and this woman is another example. I am still in contact with four other people from that group and this prompts me to think about what other amazing things the rest of the people have done.
As for visuals, Andorran film industry is very limited and there basically are no options for further cinematic experiences. I have seen Amor Idiota (2004) that is listed as an Andorran/Spanish co-production but I refuse to watch it again. It is disturbingly bad. A woman falls in lust with her stalker. I hated it when I saw it and for sure, I would hate it even more now.
The only other movie available from Andorra is No Pronunciarás el Nombre de Dios en Vano, or “You will not say the name of god in vain”. It is 32 minutes long – the setting is Andorra in the year 2046. A crime lord brings in religious leaders for cross examination to find out how to identify a true Messiah. It was not worth the watch, with such bad quality and in general, just a bad short film that tries to be more than it is. If Andorran movie industry is represented by these two bad films, I find it rather sad.
To finish Virtual Nomad-ing on a high note, SV (my Andorran friend) gives me an interesting suggestion: a famous Andorran, David Aguilar, aka ‘Hand Solo’ is a lego master who created his own prosthesis with lego, credited by the “Guinness Book of Records” as the first person to do so. An extraordinary person with a background in bioengineering and born with a missing part in his arm, he plans to build better and more affordable prosthetics for people with disabilities. There is also a book available about him which has now become the Andorran book for Virtual Nomad.
The latest Andorra news says that Andorra has no present nor future plans to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. Too bad.
Next stop: Angola