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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


Jewish Spain: Toledo Santa Maria La Blanca 12th-Century Ibn Shushan Synagogue

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Toledo Santa Maria La Blanca, 12th-Century Ibn Shushan Synagogue.
Photo by Gerry Dawes copyright 2019.

Now maintained by the Catholic Church as la Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca, this unique 12th-Century Ibn Shushan synagogue, thought to be the oldest synagogue in Europe, is of Mudéjar construction and was contracted by Jews in Toledo and built by Moorish craftsmen in a style desired by their Jewish patrons, when all three religions were living in relative "convivencia." There are few greater examples in the world of the influences of three great religions under one roof. Although this marvelous structure with its horseshoe arches could easily be mistaken for a mosque and an exceptionally beautiful one at that, it was a synagogue. 

During the period when this synagogue was flourishing in the late 12th to early 15th centuries, Toledo became a city of exceptional historical importance to the Western World, because of the Toledo School of Translators, many of the best of them Jewish. Here the great philosophical, scientific and religious works of the Greeks and Arabs were translated, at first into Latin, later into what was nascent Castilian Spanish. This was being done at a time in Spain when the rest of Europe was living in the Early Middle Ages and considered many of the works being translated in Toledo to be heretical. 

"Under Alfonso's leadership--GD note: 13th century, Alfonso X de Castilla, el Sabio, the Wise, ruled from 1252-1284, at a time when this synagogue was flourishing--Sephardic Jewish scientists and translators acquired a prominent role in the School. They were highly valued by the King because of their intellectual skills and mastery of the two languages most used in the translations: Arabic and Castilian.  The King kept some of the Jewish scholars as his personal physicians, and recognized their services with splendid favors and praises. Alfonso's nephew Juan Manuel wrote that the King was so impressed with the intellectual level of the Jewish scholars that he commissioned the translation of the Talmud, the law of the Jews. . . ." -- Wikipedia (Google Toledo School of Translators)

So, this lovely synagogue in Toledo is a great symbol of what people from various religions can achieve when they work together towards goals that are beneficial to all, not just to their own narrow interests, as some minds of the Middle Ages mentality are trying do in this country today, striving towards bigotry rather than enlightment. 

Photographs by Gerry Dawes copyright 2017.


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 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 “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià. 

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 
Pilot for a reality television series on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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