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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


John Dos Passos: A Tale of Madrid, La Plaza Santa Ana, Jorge Manrique, Pastora and Why We Love Spain!

 * * * * *

Copyright, 1922, George H. Doran Company, New York
I: A Gesture and a Quest

Telemachus had wandered so far in search of his father he had quite forgotten what he was looking for. He sat on a yellow plush bench in the café El Oro del Rhin, Plaza Santa Ana, Madrid (see related story on Cervecerías in the Plaza Santa Ana), swabbing up with a bit of bread the last smudges of brown sauce off a plate of which the edges were piled with the dismembered skeleton of a pigeon. Opposite his plate was a similar plate his companion had already polished.  Telemachus put the last piece of bread into his mouth, drank down a glass of beer at one spasmodic gulp, sighed, leaned across the table and said:

"I wonder why I'm here."

Cervecería Alemana, Hemingway Hangout
Gerry Dawes copyright 2011
"Why anywhere else than here?" said Lyaeus, a young man with hollow cheeks and slow-moving hands, about whose mouth a faint pained smile was continually hovering, and he too drank down his beer.

At the end of a perspective of white marble tables, faces thrust forward over yellow plush cushions under twining veils of tobacco smoke, four German women on a little dais were playing Tannhauser. 

Smells of beer, sawdust, shrimps, roast pigeon.

"Do you know Jorge Manrique? That's one reason, Tel," the other man continued slowly.

With one hand he gestured to the waiter for more beer, the other he waved across his face as if to brush away the music; then he recited, pronouncing the words haltingly:

    'Recuerde el alma dormida,
    Avive el seso y despierte
    Cómo se pasa la vida,
    Cómo se viene la muerte
    Tan callando:
    Cuán presto se va el placer,
    Cómo después de acordado
    Da dolor,
    Cómo a nuestro parecer
    Cualquier tiempo pasado
    Fué mejor.'
[O let the soul her slumbers break, 
Let thought be quickened, and awake;
Awake to see
How soon this life is past and gone,
And death comes softly stealing on,
How silently!
Swiftly our pleasures glide away,
Our hearts recall the distant day
With many sighs;
The moments that are speeding fast
We heed not, but the past,—the past,
More highly prize.]

"It's always death," said Telemachus, "but we must go on."

It had been raining. Lights rippled red and orange and yellow and green on the clean paving-stones. A cold wind off the Sierra shrilled through clattering streets. As they walked, the other man was telling how this Castilian nobleman, courtier, man-at-arms, had shut himself up when his father, the Master of Santiago, died and had written this poem, created this tremendous rhythm of death sweeping like a wind over the world. He had never written anything else.

They thought of him in the court of his great dust-colored mansion at Ocaña, where the
broad eaves were full of a cooing of pigeons and the wide halls had dark rafters painted  with arabesques in vermilion, in a suit of black velvet, writing at a table under a lemon tree.
Down the sun-scarred street, in the cathedral that was building in those days, full of a smell of scaffolding and stone dust, there must have stood a tremendous catafalque where lay with his arms around him the Master of Santiago; in the carved seats of the choirs the stout canons intoned an endless growling litany; at the sacristy door, the flare of the candles flashing occasionally on the jewels of his mitre, the bishop fingered his crosier restlessly, asking his favorite choir-boy from time to time why Don Jorge had not arrived.

And messengers must have come running to Don Jorge, telling him the service was on the point of beginning, and he must have waved them away with a grave gesture of a long white hand,while in his mind the distant sound of chanting, the jingle of the silver bit of his roan horse stamping nervously where he was tied to a twined Moorish column, memories of cavalcades filing with braying of trumpets and flutter of crimson damask into conquered towns, of court ladies dancing, and the noise of pigeons in the eaves, drew together like strings plucked in succession on a guitar into a great wave of rhythm in which his life was sucked away into this one poem in praise of death.

    Nuestras vidas son los ríos
    Que van a dar en la mar,
    Que es el morir....

Telemachus was saying the words over softly to himself as they went into the theatre. The orchestra was playing a Sevillana; as they found their seats they caught glimpses beyond people's heads and shoulders of a huge woman with a comb that pushed the tip of her mantilla a foot and a half above her head, dancing with ponderous dignity. Her dress was pink flounced with lace; under it the bulge of breasts and belly and three chins quaked with every thump of her tiny heels on the stage. As they sat down she retreated bowing like a full-rigged ship in a squall.  The curtain fell, the theatre became very still; next was Pastora.

Strumming of a guitar, whirring fast, dry like locusts in a hedge on a summer day. Pauses that catch your blood and freeze it suddenly still like the rustling of a branch in silent woods at night. A gipsy in a red sash is playing, slouched into a cheap cane chair, behind him a faded crimson curtain. Off stage heels beaten on the floor catch up the rhythm with tentative interest, drowsily; then suddenly added, sharp click of fingers snapped in time; the rhythm slows, hovers like a bee over a clover flower. A little taut sound of air sucked in suddenly goes down the rows of seats. With faintest tapping of heels, faintest snapping of the fingers of a brown hand held over her head, erect, wrapped tight in yellow shawl here the embroidered flowers make a splotch of maroon over one breast, a flecking of green and purple over shoulders and thighs, Pastora Imperio comes across the stage, quietly, unhurriedly. 

In the mind of Telemachus the words return:

    Cómo se viene la muerte
    Tan callando.

Her face is brown, with a pointed chin; her eyebrows that nearly meet over her nose rise in a flattened "A" towards the fervid black gleam of her hair; her lips are pursed in a half-smile as if she were stifling a secret. She walks round the stage slowly, one hand at her waist, the shawl tight over her elbow, her thighs lithe and restless, a panther in a cage.

At the back of the stage she turns suddenly, advances; the snapping of her fingers gets loud, insistent; a thrill whirrs through the guitar like a covey of partridges scared in a field. 

Red heels tap threateningly.

    Decidme: la hermosura,
    La gentil frescura y tez
    De la cara
    El color y la blancura,
    Cuando viene la viejez
    Cuál se para?

She is right at the footlights; her face, brows drawn together into a frown, has gone into shadow; the shawl flames, the maroon flower over her breast glows like a coal.

The guitar is silent, her fingers go on snapping at intervals with dreadful foreboding. Then she draws herself up with a deep breath, the muscles of her belly go taut under the tight silk wrinkles of the shawl, and she is off again, light, joyful, turning indulgent glances towards the audience, as a nurse might look in the eyes of a child she has unintentionally frightened with a too dreadful fairy story.

The rhythm of the guitar has changed again; her shawl is loose about her, the long fringe flutters; she walks with slow steps, in pomp, a ship decked out for a festival, a queen in plumes and brocade....

    ¿Qué se hicieron las damas,
    Sus tocados, sus vestidos,
    Sus olores?

   ¿Qué se hicieron las llamas
    De los fuegos encendidos
    De amadores?

And she has gone, and the gipsy guitar-player is scratching his neck
with a hand the color of tobacco, while the guitar rests against his
legs. He shows all his teeth in a world-engulfing yawn.

When they came out of the theatre, the streets were dry and the stars
blinked in the cold wind above the houses. At the curb old women sold
chestnuts and little ragged boys shouted the newspapers.
"And now do you wonder, Tel, why you are here?"
About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand prize in 2009 and received the Association of Food Journalists 2009 Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television
series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Culinary Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain

Gerry Dawes can be reached at; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected):

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