Reading one of the Seville daily papers online this evening, I saw a front page article announcing the arrival of the first snails of the season. Snails. It’s an event. It makes the news. Restaurants vie to be the first to advertise: Hay caracoles–Snails on offer. Whole families go out to eat them, as long as they last.
Seeing this article reminded me that I’d mentioned this snail mania to my congregation in one of the monthly letters I wrote them during my sabbatical in Andalucía in 2007. Here’s that excerpt. It brings back blessed memories. You might enjoy them too.
“… It’s snail season here in the countryside. Every restaurant in town and all the roadside ventas are plastered with handmade signs—Hay caracoles! We have snails! Most of these signs also specify that the snails on offer are “de Arcos”—from Arcos (de la Frontera).
We are not snail experts and cannot say whether Arcos snails taste or look different from snails gathered in Bornos, a few kilometers down the Antequera road, or snails from Prado del Rey, a few kilometers in the other direction; but it seems important to the restaurant people that it be stated clearly: these little creatures are from here—local, ours, and therefore good—no, not just good, the best!
I love this small claim about the best-ness of locality, the best-ness of home. And I love the fact that when we came four weeks ago, you could ask, but you would not be able to get any snails from Arcos for lunch. And in a few weeks, you won’t be able to get them again, anywhere.
In these small rural towns there is still “a time for every purpose under heaven”— and thus there are things to look forward to because they are not always available, at least not like this, snails from Arcos and nowhere else. There are still things to savor with a special joy, treats that the whole family dresses up and goes out for—asparagus, strawberries, snails—each delight in turn, each in due season.
Last Sunday we were eating at the Venta Antonio—at the next table were children as young as 3, middle-aged couples, very old grandparents, all tackling with gusto large clear glasses of Arcos snails, toothpicks wielded with great dexterity, “snail juice” slurped down and licked away neatly… to the last luscious little drop.
This age-old rhythm of deferred desire and momentary satisfaction, of the acceptance of the grace of this meal and no other, this day and no other, is all but unknown in our other world back home where we can easily gratify every desire in the very moment it seizes us and demands satisfaction.
We have a week left here at El Membrillo. Then we spend a few transition days in Seville before returning to the States on June 2 to enjoy the last full month of sabbatical—there are Red Sox games awaiting us, among other pleasures.
I’d be telling you fibs if I said that it isn’t hard to think about leaving this amazing beauty, this serenity, and this easy rhythm of life. Sometimes I wish it could go on forever. But most of the time what I feel most deeply is the goodness, the rightness, and the abiding truth of “things in their season.”
There is indeed a time to rest, a time to work, a time for snails from Arcos, and a time for Chinese food in Harvard Square! A time for every purpose under heaven.
And so I also look forward with eager anticipation to the changes ahead, to the different delights of a different time. I breathe my thanks in and out, day after beautiful day.
I remember you fondly, all your joys and sorrows, challenges and dreams; and I commend you with faith to the God who is the gracious donor of all our days.”