Amanda Bennett: A Year in Zaragoza, Spain

Madrid: Lunes 9 hasta Viernes 13 | Tuesday November 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 2:26 pm

Toledo is a historic city in the autonomous community of Castilla La Mancha, and only a 30-minute AVE ride from Madrid. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit! We returned to the train station and arrived at the gorgeous neo-mudéjar station in Toledo an incredibly short ride later. We boarded a small tourist bus and ascended the road to the center of the city, separated by a river (which by American standards is more of a large stream) and on raised ground. Perfectly defensible and gorgeous to approach from afar, we passed the scarce remnants of the Roman aqueducts and entered the city via a lovely stone arch bridge. We visited the chapel where one of El Greco’s most famous paintings hangs, a Sefardí Jewish synagogue, and a cathedral. The cathedral was by far the most gorgeous one I’ve seen so far, thanks to an incredible relief/sculpture from floor to ceiling that decorates one interior end. With angels at all angles and a true sense of movement and divinity, this is one spectacular work of art, and I looked up at it until my neck hurt and even then I couldn’t stop!

The Sefardies are Spanish Jews, called so because of their name for the Iberian Peninsula, Sefarao. With the final conquest of Spain by the Catholics in 1492, they were expelled and many resettled in Eastern Europe. Since Spain had been politically instable for hundreds of years, most Sefardis expected the expulsion to be temporary, and with the next king they would come back; hence, they locked up their houses, took their keys with them, and waited. However, they were never invited back (at least not in the near future). Our tour guide told us that many Sefardis still have their keys as a testament to Spain’s sometimes cruel history, and speak a Spanish of the 15th century style, a truer Spanish except for the Greek and Italian influence imparted by their relocation. Today in the Heraldo, there was a brief article about a Sefardí community which settled in a small Eastern European town. In 1892, a party of Spanish government officials and journalists went to visit the town, in part reparation, in part curiosity at these people who spoke a quaint Spanish and still held keys to houses in Toledo or Zaragoza now long gone. In 1992, however, the 500 year anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews, a delegation wasn’t sent because the town was no longer there. During World War II, all the Sefardies in the town, the vast majority of its inhabitants, had been sent to Auschwitz, and only a tiny handful survived. Primo Levi mentions them in one of his books, describing their “melodious” Spanish. One of the many sad stories in Spanish history…

To lighten up the mood, the amiable tour guide recommended a café during a break between buildings, so a few friends and I decided to check it out. A beautiful empanada-type pastry called my name: a vegetable filling with a hand-cup lattice pastry top. Delicious! We all ate lunch together at a run-of-the-mill restaurant, good but not vegetarian oriented to say the least. However, they did give their best efforts and gave me a decent ratatouille and great dessert.

After a couple hours of free time to explore the city, we bid goodbye to Toledo and AVE-ed it back to Madrid, where we were without obligations until curfew. We had spotted a tempting chocolate shop the day before, so I headed back with a couple of friends to buy some interesting bars. I ended up with a trio of small bars: tiramisu white chocolate (nice warm spices), slightly-dark chocolate spiced with black pepper, and dark chocolate with crystallized ginger. A heavenly sinful dinner…

Somehow a rumor had gotten started that I was going to make crepes (I can’t remember how it all began, but I didn’t want to pass down the opportunity). However, although I have made vegan crepes, I needed to make the traditional ones this time…but did not have a recipe. Knowing that any general dessert cookbook would have a crepe recipe, we found a bookstore so that I could furtively copy down the recipe. Next stop was a grocery store to search for eggs, soymilk, and flour (much harder than it sounds – I still don’t understand how Spanish grocery stores are organized, but many U.S. ones evade me as well). I couldn’t resist the tortellini, so I bought some and a small carton of tomato sauce to accompany it. I’d brought oregano and cinnamon from Zaragoza, so I didn’t have to worry about spices for either dish.

Exhausted from the late night before, and definitely too tired to make crepes, we didn’t let that prevent another good conversation, but we did decide to get an at least slightly decent amount of sleep before the long (but exciting) day ahead of us.


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