The perol (pronounced pey-ROL) is a fine Córdoban tradition. Not a Spanish tradition, and not an Andalucían tradition, but a Córdoban tradition. You probably won’t find it in your Spanish-English dictionary. In my old dictionary with all of the older, little-used words, I find the definition “Metallic container in the form of a half-sphere.” In Córdoba, however, the perol is an all-day picnic out in the country. It has all kinds of eatables and drinkables, but it always involves a big pot of Córdoba rice. This is not paella, as our friends always hasten to inform us. A paella is cooked in an oven, but the Córdoba rice is cooked over a fire. In the old days it would have been an open campfire; nowadays there is generally a stove available somewhere. It’s enough of a custom that there are businesses that do paid perols for the tourists. Proper Córdobans turn up their noses; doing a perol with a paid staff is missing the point. Whatever else you can say, it’s a fine way to spend a day in the country.
The occasion for Sunday’s perol was a fortieth-birthday celebration for our friend Franci. His wife Esther had been planning this for some time. It was to be a surprise, but it’s a bit difficult to do a surprise perol, since you have to get the birthday boy out to the country. Also, Esther wanted to make sure that we could go under cover in case of rain, always a possibility at this time of year. When I asked her how many people would be there, she said, “Oh, eighty or a hundred.” Wow. We must remember that Franci has six brothers (I think). Counting wives and kids and Esther’s family and all of the friends, the numbers add up pretty quickly. We ended up at an ermita, a church building very similar to the one we saw at the Pozoblanco romería last spring. It’s the home of some hermandad. Esther’s uncle had been an important church official in Córdoba. Although he’s now retired, he still had enough clout to get us access to the building.
The building was very cozy, lined with heavy wooden tables and with a big fireplace. The walls were covered with photographs of romerías and festivals and weddings going back to the 1930’s. It had a nice, big, old-fashioned kitchen and an ample tree-covered yard. Happily, the weather was nice, so we were able to do all the serious business of eating outside. The event had a level of organization that I hadn’t expected. They had brought rags and big water tubs to wash the outside chairs and tables. There were appropriate bathroom supplies so that we wouldn’t have to take advantage of the church stocks. Everybody brought a dish to share, as well as the characteristic big, round paella pans.
Eventually, Franci showed up. The cover story was that a friend had taken him out motorcycling, and was responsible for getting him to the ermita. Franci was appropriately surprised. As I heard later, he’d expected that something was going on, but didn’t realize how big a crowd would be there. He’d been giving Esther a bad time, saying that he wanted to do something for his birthday. She’s been putting him off, saying that everyone was going to be out of town that weekend, and that they’d do something the following weekend. Although it was his birthday, of course he had to lead the preparation of the Córdoba rice. That’s his traditional job.
After everyone had their rice, we took a stroll with a number of people. It was just getting to twilight, and had cooled down a bit from the afternoon heat. Unfortunately, I was so full that it was a bit uncomfortable. No matter how much I try to pace myself at these sorts of events, I always end up eating too much. When we returned, there were the obligatory desserts. Tonya’s apple pies were a big hit.
As if responding to some unspoken signal, everyone began stacking the chairs and tables shortly afterward. We ended up getting home around 8:00. That was kind of nice; usually, when we go out on something like this, we have to be mentally prepared to be out until the wee hours of the morning. Spanish social events are not for the weak.