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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


James Michener's Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections: More Autographs, Stories & Photos Behind the Signatures in My Copy. The late Queen of American Aficionadas Alice Hall and Her Hero Matador Diego Puerta, Pg. 659

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 Alice Hall, Bar Txoko, Pamplona, 1972.  Photograph by Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2021.
"After my manuscript was completed, I had the privilege of meeting in person that queen of American bullfight aficionados, Alice Hall of Georgia. Her preferences were so violent and so
persuasive that I modified certain opinions I had previously expressed in the taurine material."--Acknowledgements, Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections, James A Michener.
Signatures of American Aficionada Alice Hall (top) and Matador Diego Puerta (side).
Alice Hall with a picador in the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona with her Diego Puerta banner that she always carried.  Photograph by Gerry Dawes
"It is (Kenneth) Vanderford’s opinion that ‘the best-informed and most dedicated foreign bullfight expert of either sex is Alice Hall.’ This tall, slim gray-haired spinster was, until her recent retirement, a teacher of Spanish in a fancy private school in Atlanta, Georgia.  She came originally to Spain for the laudable purpose of improving her pronunciation, little aware of what was in store.  Like any dutiful tourist she went routinely to a bullfight, had the good fortune of seeing César Girón on one of his great days, and promptly surrendered. Year after year she returned during her vacations and applied to bullfighting the tenacious scholarship which had made her a fine teacher. A friend says, ‘Alice feels intuitively what the bull and the man are going to do next…what they must do…and she is in the ring with them when they do it.’‘Each autumn when I go back to Atlanta and face my first class of girls,’ she says quietly, ‘I feel as if I have been sentenced to exile, that I am in a strange land surrounded by strangers. My heart was left behind in Andalucía.’"--Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections, James A Michener, p. 659.
Alicia Hall at Asador Olaverri, Sanfermines, early 1970s.
Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2021.
"My late ex-wife Diana Valenti Dawes and I  spent many wonderful sanfermines with Alicia Hall from 1970 through 1975 and in 1977 and 1978. Some years we began in Burguete before fiesta, staying at Hostal Burguete, which was Ernest Hemingway's inspiration for Jake Barnes' hotel during his trout fishing expeditions in The Sun Also Rises.  We would drive Alicia up there and spend a quiet relaxing time - - reading, walking out on the road to Roncesvalles to pick tiny wild strawberries to put on our ice cream after dinner at the Hostal Burguete and having long discussions about Spain over dinner with plenty of vino tinto. . .
. . .  One time we were on our way with Alicia to Pamplona (via Rioja and Burguete).  To avoid the maniacs driving southbound Hellbent for the North African-bound ferries in far off Algeciras on NR1, which was then just a two-lane highway, which with homeward bound cars passing in the face of oncoming traffic, causing us to often head for the highway shoulder (or a ditch).  After a few of these close calls, I opted for a back country road in the direction of Burgo de Osma in Soria in northern Castile.  After a few kilometers, Alicia spotted a bar at the entrance to a village. "Stop the car!" she said, "Let's go in there and have some fun." We went in, ordered some vino tinto and had some fun.  
Alicia used to have a Pobre de Mí party at Maitena overlooking the Plaza del Castillo on the last night of San Fermín. From there, after dinner, we could watch the fiesta began to wind down with the soulful lament of "Pobre de mí" followed by the joyous, self-renewing "Siete de julio, San Fermín!" One memorable year, over a dozen of us gathered around Alicia for dinner and, as I usually did, I sat next to her.  

But, to set the stage, two things must be kept in mind: 1) When I first met Alicia she did not use blue language, so I claim to have taught her how to cuss and 2) Ever since the Pablo Romero tienta during one memorable Feria de Sevilla, I had been encouraging Alicia to marry some aging bull breeder and do him in with sexual excess, so she could inherit the ranch and invite us to secret tientas. These two items were a running joke between us.

After dinner and plenty of tinto and clarete, Alicia asked me to fetch her some tobaco negro (a black tobacco cigarette), so I bummed a Ducado from Mike Kelly and gave it to her. Alicia was trying to act like a seasoned smoker, so she tried to tamp the cigarette on the table and she broke it.  I had to get her another cigarette, show her how to tamp it, and light it for her. 

"Damn, Alicia," I said, "first I had to teach you how to cuss, now I'm having to teach you how to smoke, and I guess if you marry that bull breeder, I'm going to have to teach you how to do that too."

Holding her cigarette elegantly between her fingers, this retired teacher (from a fashionable young women's school in Atlanta), looked at me with a gleam in her eye and, with total aplomb she said, "Fuck you!"

That same night, we watched from the balcony as the mad chef of Maitena went down to the Plaza and began directing traffic with a meat cleaver in one hand and an enormous raw chuletón steak in the other.

Later, we all drifted down to the Bar Txoko and I encouraged a Navarrese girl with a beautiful voice to sing a jota.  
Looking at Alicia, the young woman sang a wonderful moving jota that had the line, “Madre mia, madre de Navarra."   I looked at Tía Alicia and we both had tears running down our cheeks. It was one of the most magical moments I have ever known in 50 years of running the roads and fiestas of mystical Spain.  But when Alicia was around, magic was never that far away."--Homage to Iberia (a work in progress), Gerry Dawes©2021.
In 1985, Alicia took her namesake, my daughter, Erica Catherine Alicia, to her first and only bullfight. Photograph by Gerry Dawes©2021.

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 About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes is the Producer and Program Host of Gerry Dawes & Friends, a weekly radio progam on WPWL 103.7 FM Pawling Public Radio in Pawling, New York.

  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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