Archive for the ‘Dianne Konz’ Category

Another Kind of Peace

Friday, May 17th, 2013

80_image140A Smithsonian Study Leader since 1992, Dianne Konz has led several Smithsonian groups to Spain and Portugal. She has taught Spanish literature, language, and civilization at the University of Texas at Austin and at George Washington University. She has also lectured and published studies on Spanish and Latin American literature, and Spanish culture. Dianne’s enthusiasm for Iberia grew from her experiences living and studying in Madrid. Her particular passion is the integration of the cultural arts in the context of their time. She approaches art and architecture, literature, music, and gastronomy as a reflection of a country’s history, politics, and geography. Dianne’s teachings of Spanish history and civilization include the Moorish and Islamic periods—invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iberia, and the rich cultural heritage of the Islamic presence in Iberia.

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It is cold and sunny when we dock at Caen and begin the pilgrimage to D-Day. Crisp, clean air sharpens our anticipation of a visit to beaches where men poured out of ships to face the full arsenal of Nazi bunkers dead ahead, in a massive effort to change the course of war.

Traveling through the gently undulating countryside of Normandy, lush green fields belie the violence they have seen. The softly curved thatched roofs of farmhouses–half-timbered this one, the next a smooth pastel—sit warming in the morning sun. Narrow country lanes spread away from the road; thick green hedges mark small pastures dotted with sheep, cows.

So peaceful, now.

Pointe-du-Hoc

The wind is strong and bracing, carrying away the silence. White paths lead to forbidding bunkers with slits that look to a sea once filled with thousands of boats and determined souls. What fear and awe must have filled those peering out! Jagged rods poke from the thick concrete that took the concussion of raining shells. Deep craters all around–now green, some flowering–betray the violence of exploding bombs.IMG_2402-515

We reach the edge and view the impossible.  From where did they summon the courage to scale those forbidding cliffs?  From where, the strength to haul their heavy packs upward, hand over hand, on ropes left dangling by fallen comrades? IMG_2404-515

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Omaha Beach

Like a vast lunar landscape, the broad beaches reach into the sea–no quarter here, no place to hide. We are told it was heavily strewn with mines, jagged ‘hedgehogs’, and other menacing obstacles–an eternity to cross with heavy gear. Today, the sea air is good, cleansing. IMG_2428-515

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The American Cemetery and MemorialIMG_2445-(3)-515

The crosses and stars of David stretch before us, seemingly reaching to the sea that brought them here. So many singular lives, and yet together numbering only a fraction of those who perished on the beaches of Normandy. It is a different kind of peace one feels here–solemn but hopeful, somehow reassuring.   IMG_2462-515

We walk to the stunning memorial, where some members of our group will place a wreath in a special ceremony. We listen quietly to the respectful tribute, then turn to face the flags flying high over the cemetery, for the national anthem and taps.

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Finally, the veterans in the group are asked to step forward around the soaring statue. Surprisingly, there are many. And then we realize that they are survivors not of this war but of subsequent ones–Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. This place is for all of them.

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To learn more about our European Coastal Civilizations tour click here.

A Recipe for Harira that Brings You Straight to Spain

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Dianne Konz has taught Spanish literature, language and civilization at the University of Texas at Austin and at George Washington University. She has also lectured and published studies on Spanish and Latin American literature, and Spanish culture.

Recently, Dianne and a group of Smithsonian Journeys travelers explored the Paradores and Pousadas of the Iberian Peninsula.

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One of the highlights of Paradores and Pousadas was a visit to Don Diego’s olive farm near Ronda. Upon arrival, we were greeted by our charming, witty, and knowledgeable host and invited into his home for a tapas lunch.  But in addition to the various tapas, Don Diego offered us a delicious Sephardic soup of Moroccan origin called harira. I loved the blend of flavors—exotic spices, earthy legumes, fresh herbs, small bits of meat.  Here at home, I’ve been researching recipes for harira and experimenting in my own kitchen. The recipe that follows is a close as I’ve come—for now—to replicating Don Diego’s dish.

This zesty, satisfying soup is good anytime, including in warm weather. It is hearty, but not heavy. The fragrant spices are lightened by the fresh cilantro and a touch of lemon juice. Harira has traditional roles as well: as a Moroccan soup of Muslim tradition, it is frequently served in the evening during Ramadan to break the fast, or in the early morning hours prior to a day of fasting. In the Sephardic tradition, harira is often served to break the fast after Yom Kippur.

Harira. Photo by author

Harira

Ingredients:
4 oz. dried chickpeas (garbanzos) soaked overnight, OR, 1 ½ cups canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained (15 oz. can)
¾  to 1 lb. lean beef, such as good quality stew meat, OR, ¾ to 1 lb. coarsely ground lean beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ – 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped small (1 ½ cups)
2 stalks celery, chopped small (1 cup)
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric, or 1 teaspoon saffron threads, ground in mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes with juices
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus 4 or 5 whole sprigs of cilantro
¼ cup broad-leaf parsley (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 oz. dried green or brown lentils
½ cup long grain rice
1 ½ quarts rich chicken stock.  If using boxed, use low-sodium, and simmer two 32 oz. cartons until they are reduced to about 6 or 7 cups.

Preparation:
Bring the chicken stock to a boil, then lower heat to medium and reduce it while you prepare the other ingredients.

Pick through the lentils to remove any stones, rinse them and set aside.

Cut the stew meat into small cubes and toss with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven. When oil is almost smoking, add about 1/3 of the meat and brown over medium-high heat, stirring, until cubes are well-browned and meat juice is evaporated. Remove to a covered dish and continue cooking the meat in batches, adding a little more oil if necessary. Set the meat aside.

Add chopped onions and celery to the pan and cook, stirring, until they are softened but not browned. Reduce heat to medium and add cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, and cumin, stirring continually for about 1 minute.  Do not overheat the spices, as it can make them bitter.

Return the meat to the pan and mix well with the vegetables and spices. Add tomatoes with their juices, stirring well over medium-high heat. Throw in 4 or 5 whole sprigs of cilantro. (These will be removed at the end.)

Stir in the chicken stock, the chickpeas, and half of the lentils and bring just to a boil. Cover pot. Reduce heat to medium-low or low, to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook 1 ½ hours. Meat cubes must be very tender and chickpeas cooked, but whole.

Remove the whole cilantro sprigs. Add the rice and the remaining lentils, the lemon juice, and about ¼ cup chopped cilantro. Return soup to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

When the rice and the lentils are cooked, remove lid and adjust seasonings. If you like, refresh the flavors with a little more chopped cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, pepper and parsley, if you are using it. Heat uncovered for a few minutes, and serve!

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Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Paradores and Pousadas tour here

Elegant, Intimate Úbeda

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Dianne Konz has taught Spanish literature, language, and civilization at the University of Texas at Austin and at George Washington University. She has also lectured and published studies on Spanish and Latin American literature, and Spanish culture.

Recently, Dianne and a group of Smithsonian Journeys travelers explored the Paradores and Pousadas of the Iberian Peninsula.

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Stepping out of the gorgeous 16th-century palace—our home in Ubeda—onto the plaza ringed by golden brown Renaissance stone, it is hard not to feel the presence of the past. The tranquil elegance of the beautiful square is undisturbed by the occasional passing of locals headed toward the church at one end, or the breathtaking overlook just down the street. To the right, perhaps the most beautiful plaza in Spain, anchored by a majestic and serene Renaissance palace—today’s city hall. A passing shower has left the smooth, timeless stones of the plaza glistening beneath our feet. It is refreshingly cool this afternoon, and the air is fragrant with the scent of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. We are off to get our bearings and discover the town.

Interior courtyard of the Úbeda Parador. Photo courtesy of Flickr user david_jones

Ubeda is a quiet city where single sounds emerge—church bells, lively conversations, children playing, a car passing. As we amble down the narrow streets, we pass palaces that were once homes to wealthy and powerful figures in the 16th-century Spanish court. Elegant coats of arms carved in stone, like silverwork, adorn the surface of some façades, giving quiet witness to the families that lived there. Today, these palaces are the backdrops for thoroughly modern and vibrant—yet traditional—Spanish life. Our street gives way to another beautiful square with a bandstand in the center. It is nearly the end of the school day and boys kick a soccer ball across a sandy playground. The elegant palace ahead with the Italian-style loggia is now the local music school.  As we pass, I ask a teenager which instrument he studies. He smiles, pats the case, and says with a wink, “Saxophone.”

Ubeda plaza

The renaissance architecture of Úbeda. Photo courtesy of Flickr user martinvarsavsky

Down the way, we spot a ceramic store. Beautiful earthenware glistens in the window and fills the entryway.   Warm browns and deep greens are the predominant local colors. A unique cut-out style graces many pieces.  As we enter the store, the rich aroma of burning wood draws us to a fireplace along the sidewall. The crackling fire casts a glow on the ceramics all around. We approach to say hello to the owner’s wife, an attractive, dignified woman seated beside the fire. She greets us warmly and gestures for us to come nearer to admire her three-week old granddaughter in the pram beside her. A lively toddler—big sister—pulls up a small bentwood rocker to join them, singing quietly to herself.

Ceramic of Triana

Ceramic of Triana, Seville. Photo by Annual (own work), via Wikimedia Commons

We wander to the back of the showroom, where the owner is deftly throwing a beautiful botijo—a traditional clay water jug—on a potter’s wheelI ask him about the distinctive cut-out patterns in some of his pieces. It is called calado –“calao” in the softened Andalusian speech—a style introduced by Moorish craftsmen centuries ago. He explains that the tall vases with the intriguing open work were used to burn aromatics—mint, rosemary, myrtle, and more—to “give atmosphere” to the room. Rather suddenly, the store fills with a large number of lively local teenagers, here on an excursion to view the potter’s craft. As they circle around this outgoing artisan, he gives them his full attention, explaining his technique and answering questions. They move down the narrow aisles, examining pieces, snapping photos on cell phones, and talking animatedly.  Amazingly, nothing hits the floor. As they file out, the potter waves to them and returns to his wheel. Once again, I am grateful for an up-close and personal view of modern Spaniards—of all ages—in this ancient and traditional urban landscape.

Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Paradores and Pousadas tour here.