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

"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

3/01/2018

The Very, Very True Tale of a Remarkable Pair of Tony Lama Cowboy Boots, Also Starring Three Other Pairs of Tony Lama Boots, The French Laundry's Thomas Keller and John Williams of Frog's Leap Winery and My Bucket List Boots From Great Roy Flynn of Boots & Boogie in Santa Fe, New Mexico


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(This tale was originally written as an entry in a Tony Lama cowboy boot story contest, which I didn't win, an outcome that  amazes me still.  Note: All photographs are by me, Gerry Dawes, and are copyrighted.) 

Well, Sirs, the tale of my Tony Lama boots—Teju lizard, peanut brittle color now; tan Mojave lizard, I think, when I bought them—goes like this.

Tony Lama boots, purchased at The Rusty Spur, Marion, IL, circa 1976. Note the darker area on the left-hand boot (right foot) stained by Chef Thomas Keller's reduction sauce at Rakel's in New York City.

Back in the 1970s, when I returned from living in Spain and chasing the bullfights for eight years, I went to see my Uncle Bob Minton, down in Marion, Ilinois, where there was the Rusty Spur Western Store. He took me over there because I had decided it was time for me to man up and get me a pair of cowboy boots. Wow, I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.

Nearly forty years later, eight pairs of cowboy boots—including four pairs of Tony Lamas—and a slew of adventures in those cowboy boots (especially in the Tony Lamas), I realized that I had become a cowboy boot addict. The only thing that could have been worse would have been if I had been able to afford to really indulge my habit.

Now, I know that you want a story about old boots, so this one will be on the nearly forty-year old pair mentioned in the paragraph above, and not the black Tony Lama Teju lizard boots with the pretty white stitching (bought in Weird Austin) that I only wear with a tuxedo to formal events in New York.

Gerry Dawes's Black Tony Lama Teju Lizard boots that he wears to black-tie events in New York.

Nor will I enter the exceptional pair of Tony Lama shark boots with the cream-colored tops that I can wear anywhere even if it is raining (water and sharks go together); I got them at the Rusty Spur or when I came down to visit Fall Creek Vineyards (in Texas Hill Country) when I was in the wine business back in the 1980s and Susan Auler, the owner of Fall Creek, first took me to Allen’s Boots on South Congress in Austin and my friend Weird-Austinite Dennis Cole (click on the link to read that truly weird tale) has also taken me to Allen's on a couple of occasions.


Gerry Dawes's Tony Lama Shark boots.

Nor will I enter the pair of Tony Lama peanut brittle colored ostrich boots on which I went and spilled some drops of Spanish extra virgen olive oil on (I cook a lot).
 

Tony Lama Ostrich boots with Spanish extra virgen olive oil stains.


I was thinking about writing to you about to see if you could tell me how get the olive oil stains off those tall bird boots. 


Tony Lama Ostrich boots with Spanish extra virgen olive oil stains.

I believe I got them at the Rusty Spur as well, but I may have purchased them at  Weird Austin Allen's.  


Allen's Boots on South Congress Ave. in Austin, Texas. 
Note the big Justin boot over the awning. Justin owns Tony Lama Boots.

I have this pair of Tony Lama Black Teju Lizard boots scouted out at Allen's as probable purchase to become my front-line black boots to wear to black-tie functions and  also another pair of Tony Lama Peanut Brittle Teju Lizard boots to replace the rattle snake-and-Thomas Keller-reduction-sauce-bitten original vintage boots that are the subject of this very true story.   


Tony Lama Black Teju Lizard boots at Allen's in Austin. These are my Sunday-go-to-meetin' boots that I wear to black tie events in New York City.

The only time that I bought a pair of boots in Texas that I didn't purchase at Allen's in Austin was the time I went to Dallas and got a pair of light peanut brittle-colored boots that are way too pretty to wear.  Not only do I rarely wear them, except under controlled circumstances (no rain the forecast, no tapas bar hopping, no possible reduction sauce or olive oil moments) because they are too pretty to ruin, they also have a very narrow throat, which means that I can only wear them if  my SE (Spousal Equivalent) will be around to help me pull them off and at the risk of inducing a hernia in one of us at that.  Four years after I bought them, as I was doing an in-depth full boot review so I could be informed before I entered the Tony Lama Boot contest, I looked inside for the brand and saw a stamp “For Export Markets Only,” something I have not seen inside my Tony Lama boots.

That leaves the boots in the photos that I am entering in your contest and, well, as you might imagine, there is one Hell of a story behind these boots. First off, I wore them out on the town in New York for many years. I was in the wine business and sold some of the world’s greatest wines to a slew of top restaurants. I was wearing this pair one night when I went to Rakel, where Chef Thomas Keller, now of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and God knows what other big-time restaurants in Napa Valley, Las Vegas, New York and maybe Singapore (who knows?), was cooking.

Tony Lama boots, purchased at The Rusty Spur, Marion, IL, circa 1976. Note the darker area on the left-hand boot (right foot) stained by Chef Thomas Keller's reduction sauce at Rakel's in New York City.

The particularly eventful night I went to Keller's Rakel wearing these Tony Lama boots (the ones in the enclosed pictures) I was out with John Williams, the owner of Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley.



We were having one of Keller’s fabulous dinners and trying to talk, but there was a piano player at Rakel playing a pretty stepped up version of jazz music, so much so that we were getting a little frantic trying to have a conversation with this schizoid music going on in the background.

I looked down at my Tony Lama boots and thought, “D-mn, these'r sum gd lukin bts.” (I told you the music was making us crazy, and this was before texting.)

Then, with my hand in time with that rapido piano music, I lifted a fork full of Keller’s food—it was a dish with a very dark, very rich reduction sauce—towards my mouth and missed. A big drop of Keller’s sauce fell and plopped right onto my beautiful Tony Lama boot, the right one to be precise. You can imagine how I felt. I tried to wipe it off with my napkin, but it had indelibly tattooed a dark spot on my Tony Lama boot and God, I loved those boots.

Not long after that spill that stained these beautiful Tony Lama boots, I looked over at John Williams and said, “J—s Christ, I wish somebody would tell that piano player to stop!”


John Williams, Owner, Founder, Winemaker and Philosopher at 
Frog's Leap Winery, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California.
Photo courtesy of seacoastonline.com

Williams said, “Me, too!”

Right about then, the piano player took a break, much to our relief.

“Wow, what a relief,” I said.

John Williams said, “Speaking of relief, I going to the pissoir. (He makes wines with several French grapes, so he knew what a pissoir was in French.)

I contemplated the disaster that had befallen my prized Tony Lama boots.

After a few minutes, Williams returned, a bit red in the face I thought.

“You will never believe what happened, “ he said. “I was standing in the pissoir taking a wiz and there was a guy at the urinal next to me.

He asked me how I liked the restaurant. I said , ‘Fine, but I wish somebody would shoot that piano player.”

The guy said, “I am the piano player.”


Chef Thomas Keller's reduction sauce stain from Rakel's in New York City.

For years, I pestered Thomas Keller, who was a charter member of a club I founded for chefs—The Chefs From Hell Acrobatic Unicyclists and Winetasters Club (we didn’t allow acrobatic unicyclists at our gatherings), to buy me a new pair of Tony Lama boots to replace the pair that his reduction sauce had ruined. All these years, he has steadfastly refused. (I just saw him in northern Spain in November and he re-affirmed his refusal to buy me a new pair of Tony Lama boots.)


Three-star Michelin Chefs Juan Mari Arzak & Thomas Keller at San Sebastián Gastronomika 2010.  Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2010.

That reduction sauce stain was not the only thing that happened to these Tony Lama boots. There was also the rattlesnake incident, which truth be known was as much the fault of the boots (or Keller’s reduction sauce) as it was of the rattlesnake. I come from Southern Illinois, which is below the Mason-Dixon line and is full of hills, many of them made out of huge boulders pushed ahead of the glaciers back in the Ice Age, so where I came from is hilly while most of the rest of Illinois is very flat.

Now, rattlesnakes just love these hills for some reason, so much so that Southern Illinois University, home of the Saluki Dawgs (Mr. Walt "Clyde" Frazier of the New York Knicks played college basketball at Southern Illinois when they won the NIT, back when the NIT was worth winning), started a movement to protect the snakes down in the Pine Hills area. When I was a kid, I went fishing down there with my Grampy, Chig Minton, and Uncle Bob. 

On the way into the fishin’ hole, we stepped over a log that had a copperhead coiled under it (Uncle Bob killed it after me and Grampy had stepped over the log), then Grampy stepped on two water moccasins at the same time. We saw rattlers on the road and a whole bunch of other snakes swimming, sunning themselves and hanging from the trees that day down in the Scatters, which is what they call the swamps down there in the bottoms, or bottom lands, of the Mississippi River.

I was wearing my Tony Lama cowboy boots—the very ones in the pictures—when I went back home to Southern Illinios and decided to drive down there to the Scatters one day to show my ex-wife (she wasn’t my ex-wife then!) how beautiful those hills and swamps were. I really didn’t intend to get out of the car, because the area has been known to shelter snakes (see above).   In fact the geniuses (geniusi?) at the aforementioned Southern Illinois University managed to get the road closings during rattler mating season so them mean ole boys downtown wouldn't run over them in their pickup trucks.  But, since they didn’t have the road closed through the Scatters for rattlesnake mating season, during which the hillls are alive with the sounds of rattlesnake tail music!, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get out of the car and have a look at the swamps to see if there was something interesting to point out to my ex-wife, like snakes hanging from tree branches. Mistake!

I got out of the car to have a look around to see if it was okay for my then-wife to get out and I had gone no more than a couple of yards alongside the gravel road when I heard a noise that sounded like a baby boy with hyper-tension shaking a toy rattle. Oh, boy!  I figured right away what that rattle was attached to, but not before a rattlesnake about ten-feet long lunged out from the side of the road and struck at my foot. Now, I pretty well figured that my calves and shins were protected—why do you reckon I wore by cowboy boots to snake country?

That snake struck a glancing blow at my boot and just snagged a bit of the top of it on the right side, leaving a gash about an inch long. He didn’t get a second chance, because I was out of there like a bat out of Hell. I drove down to levee road, which was high enough above the swamp and didn’t have all that many places for snakes to hang out.

My then-wife said, “Are you okay?”

“I think so, but I need to see what that snake did to my Tony Lama boot.”

I got out and I asked her to help me pull off my right Tony Lama boot, being careful not to get any venom—not to be confused with Keller’s reduction sauce—on her hands. She had a little trouble getting the boot off. Since the boots had always been a little tight and the throat was a bit narrow, it was potentially hernia-inducing to get them off without a boot jack (if you don't know what a boot jack is, stop reading).

Once she removed the boot, I examined it and saw the rip along the top. My boot was now a wounded lizard. But fortunately the fangs did not penetrate the boot and nail me in the foot, ‘cause by the time she would have been able to pull that boot off and suck the venom out of my big toe, I would have been dead, with just my (one) Tony Lama boot on.


Tony Lama boots, purchased at The Rusty Spur, Marion, IL, circa 1976. 
Note the rattlesnake strike tear on the left-hand boot (right foot).

I got to thinking about it on the way home. I figured that that rattlesnake had one of two things on his mind. Either he had been after Keller’s reduction sauce or, more likely, he had mistaken that gorgeous lizard boot for another reptile, had taken my left boot to be a female reptile—probably the scent. I reasoned that the snake had fallen in love with my left boot--Tony Lama boots can cause more than snakes to be smitten--and had struck the right one to get rid of her boyfriend.  Either way, because I feared that I might absorb some venom by osmosis, I decided to retire those boots that had tightened up further—shrunk with fright, no doubt--after their encounter with the rattler.


Retired, rattlesnake-wounded, Keller reduction sauce-stained, Tony Lama boots.

Those boots have been in the back of the closet for at least twenty years as I went on to more boots, including those Tony Lamas mentioned above. The rattlesnake-attracting qualities of my first pair did not deter me from my long-term aficion for Tony Lamas.

When I saw that there was a Tony Lama contest on, I decided to pull out my original boots and see what kind of shape they were in. I think you can see by the pictures that these 35-year old something boots are in pretty damn good shape for what they have been through—the Scatters, a rattlesnake, New York City, a frantic piano player and Thomas Keller’s reduction sauce. And I think the rattlesnake venom must have been somewhat like a natural crazy glue, because the snake gash seems to have healed somewhat—or maybe the lizard re-generated some skin.

So, this is my story about Tony Lama boots, but if you should deign to consider my boot story a winner, I have to tell you that I need two new pairs of your boots, a replacement for the snake-bit, reduction sauce, wounded boot and a new black pair to replace the ones that I wear to black-tie events in New York City and in Madrid.

The black pair are neither snake nor sauce bit, but after twenty years they don’t look quite as new to wear just in case I get invited to a dinner for the Queen of Spain again, and the toe is too rounded to be bonafide chain link fence climbers.  But, that’s a story for another time.


New York City Tuxedo Tony Lama Black Teju Lizard boots.

At my age, having collected nine pairs of cowboy boots over a period of fifty years (these boots are a great buy, since properly cared for they last for ages), I only rarely cocked my eye towards any new acquisitions, BUT there were two exceptions:  One, at the Railyards Complex in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Kay and I went to the Farmer's Market, which is next to the Railyard Mercado, an enclosed indoor flea market, where we met John Carrick, who sells used cowboy boots, plays in a band called the Juke Joint Prophets and married to a very nice, pretty real estate agent named Linda Schulman.  At their boot stand, a reasonably priced pair, made even more reasonably priced after we became acquainted with them and went to the Juke Joint Prophets gig at the market.  I saw this new used pair, the only used pair I have ever acquired, and decided that these boots were a wise acquisition (translation: this momentarily slaked my cowboy boot addiction).


The used pair of Tony Lama boots that I bought from John Carrick and Linda Schulman at the Railyards Mercado in Santa Fe, NM

Before You Accuse Me, The Juke Join Prophets, Railyard Mercado, Santa Fe, NM

 For several years, I have had two acquisitions on my bucket list:  A cape from Seseña in Madrid, with real silver Roman coins and a pair of boots from the great Roy Flynn´s Boots & Boogie in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I had seen Boots & Boogie and talked to Roy Flynn on previous trips to Santa Fe, but the $10,000 blue bonnet-design was never in my wheel house, nor the $1299 minimum for a pair of Roy´s exquisite hand-made boots.  A year or so ago, I returned to Santa Fe and did a series of programs for my Gerry Dawes & Friends radio program on WPWL Public Radio (Pawling, NY) based on interviews with Santa Fe Chefs James Campbell Caruso of La Boca, Mark Kiffin of The Compound and the godfather of New Mexico chefs Mark Miller, plus the great Native American flute maker and flute player Sky Redhook.  
 
 
 Roy Flynn and the late Boogie, his Malamute-Wolf mix dog, with a pair of his boots decorated with the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
 
High on my list of interviewees was Roy Flynn, so I also visited him at Boots & Boogie and did this terrific interview.  Roy had shown me the pair of rough-out boots shown in the interview video clip below.  When we finished the interview, Roy, who has since sold Boots & Boogie, but still shows up there a few days a week, asked me to try on the $1500 roughouts.   Magnificent boots!

"How do they feel?" he asked, a felt along the boot to check the fit.

"Great, they are beautiful!"

"Well, they are yours."

"What?"

"Yes, I want you to have them."

"Oh, come on, Roy, you can't do that!"

"Oh, yes, I can," he said, "At my age and stage in life, I can do what I damn well please."


Through a miracle, the incredible generosity of this unforgettable gentleman, with mouth-dropping surprise, a key bucket list item was checked off my list.  (I can only hope that Roy goes to Madrid and takes over the Seseña cape shop in Madrid.)


 Lugus Mercury roughout boots from Boots & Boogie, Santa Fe, NM.



  
My second night out wearing my bucket list Lugus Mercury (El Paso, Texas) roughout boots from Roy Flynn's Boots & Boogie in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first time I wore them, straight from the box, they fit like a glove, no rubbing, no foot discomfort or weariness from wearing a brand new pair of boots. Second night, tonight, like a glove, the same. Incredible boots. Google  Boots & Boogie.

Gerry Dawes & Friends Dec.11, 2018 Roy Flynn, Boots & Boogie, Santa Fe, New Mexico Interview Part Two from Gerry Dawes on Vimeo.

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Shall deeds of Caesar or Napoleon ring   
More true than Don Quixote's vapouring?
Hath winged Pegasus more nobly trod
Than Rocinante stumbling up to God?
 
Poem by Archer M. Huntington inscribed under the Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante bas-relief sculpture by his wife, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, in the courtyard of the Hispanic Society of America’s incredible museum at 613 W. 155th
Street, New York City.
 ____________________________________________________________________________________

 Gastronomy Blogs


In 2019, again ranked in the Top 50 Gastronomy Blogs and Websites for Gastronomists & Gastronomes in 2019 by Feedspot. (Last Updated Oct 23, 2019) 

"The Best Gastronomy blogs selected from thousands of Food blogs, Culture blogs and Food Science blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."  

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

 
About Gerry Dawes



"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




Gerry Dawes was the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York (streaming live and archived at www.pawlingpublicradio.org and at www.beatofthevalley.com.)



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. 






". . .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.
 

Experience Spain With Gerry Dawes: Customized Culinary, Wine & Cultural Trips to Spain & Travel Consulting on Spain  

Gerry Dawes can be reached at gerrydawes@aol.com; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): gerrydawes@gmail.com


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If you enjoy these blog posts, please consider a contribution to help me continue the work of gathering all this information and photographs for Gerry Dawes's Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel. Contributions of $5 and up will be greatly appreciated. Contributions of $100 or more will be acknowledged on the blog.

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