July 7th, 2007


Holy Toledo

We are on the train now--a perfectly lovely train, trundling majestically through the Spanish countryside. This is the plain of Spain, in which it apparently seldom rains--especially as they are currently suffering from a drought. The poppies are blooming in the fallow fields, and there are cows and sheep and fluffy round-topped trees, mounds of greenness in the prevailing gold of ripe grain and red soil. And of in the distance, humped and pale lavender, are mountains. It is very beautiful, with a severe, difficult beauty that reminds me of the green desert around Tucson, only a sight less thorny.

I have time to write.

Madrid is a city that takes more seeing than Barcelona, and we didn't have nearly enough time there, especially as we spent Wednesday in Toledo, seeing the sights with Luis Prado of Bibliopolis, our Spanish publisher. Toledo is a walled town, a town in which Moors and Jews and Christians lived for a long time in peace and amity. There are still a lot of mosques and synagogues there, being returned to their original state after centuries as churches. They still have names like The Mosque of Christ and the Light (because it's on the street of Christus y Luz) and The Synagogue of Mary the White (because when it was a church, it was uncharacteristically undecorated and plain). They are also still in the throes of reconstruction. I've never seen so much construction, outside of New York. It seemed like every third house was being rebuilt or refurbished or re-roofed. There was scaffolding and building materials everywhere and workmen in hardhats driving tiny white vans through streets barely wide enough to let them pass. It made walking a real adventure.

And that's what we did. We walked and walked and walked and walked. Uphill, downhill, on streets that were steep ramps and streets that were shallow staircases. It was hot and dry and bright as the desert, and we arrived very close to noon. First thing we did, needless to say, was to have lunch at a comfortable little place with a reasonable fixed-price menu: 3 courses, plus a bottle of very drinkable local red for 12 Euros each. We had gazpacho unlike any I've had elsewhere--possibly a chicken-based stock with vegetables cooked in it and then chilled? And then I had partridge in Toledo sauce (white wine certainly, and garlic--I don't know what else) and Ellen had a venison stew, made with white wine. Dessert was the best cheesecake I've ever had, made with farmer's cheese, I think, and Ellen had flan. Luis had a pork dish in tomatos that smelled just divine.

You all know we're basically food and shopping tourists, right? Culture is all very well and fine, but give us a good shop or a good restaurant, and we'll not mourn the cathedral left unseen because it closed 30 minutes before we thought it was going to. Which is why I can't tell you about the cathedral, but I can tell you about the old man we saw beating gold wire into what looked like a hinged steel book cover. Which is what it was, except the proposed book would have no pages, just a front and a back. On the inside, there would be something engraved and gilded. The example he showed us was a poem in memory of a mother. It wasn't clear whether this was traditional or just his own idea, but it was a lovely thing. So were his more touristic productions. I wished I had enough hair to be held by the splendid hairclips. They were sadly too small to be of use to our thick-maned friends, so we contented ourselves with earrings. There is beautiful pottery to be had in Toledo as well, but there was nothing I just had to pack in an already full suitcase and haul about on trains. Maybe next time. And there will be a next time.


A day in Madrid is not enough. We knew that going in, of course, and had resigned ourselves to being pressed for time and frustrated. Which we were. Still, a full day and some hours is a lot better than nothing, and I wouldn't have missed Toledo for the world.

Here follows a fairly detailed description of our Madrileno adventures in Collapse )