Archive for the ‘Paradores and Pousadas’ Category

A Journey Through Southern Spain

Friday, November 8th, 2013

_DSC6039_1140H. Rafael Chacón is Professor of Art History and Criticism at The University of Montana-Missoula where he lectures on a broad range of art historical subjects. He received his doctorate in art history with honors from the University of Chicago, having been awarded numerous research fellowships to study in Europe, including an award from the Spanish Ministry of Culture for his dissertation on Michelangelism in renaissance sculpture. He has written on a range of topics related to renaissance and baroque art, both in Europe and in the Americas, most recently focusing on Spanish-style revival architecture in the U.S. northwest during the late 19th century. In 2002, he completed the full pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain and in 2010 one of the four principal routes across southern France leading to the “camino.” Dr. Chacón has led numerous successful travel abroad trips with students and has been a speaker for the Smithsonian Journeys program.

***

The evening sun is casting long shadows across the vast Andalusian plain and from the vantage point, high on the balcony of the Parador in Carmona, it is easy to contemplate the rich history of the Iberian peninsula. It is autumn, yet the air is still warm and redolent with the scent of boxwood. It is also harvest time and row after row of the silvery blue olive trees hang dense with the promise of another season. Gold begins to tinge the leaves in the vineyards also ready for harvest. In the distance, we see thin wisps of smoke as farmers clear brush and prepare their fields for the rainy season still to come. Portugal-and-Spain-2013-188515

From this perch, it is easy to imagine the thunderous sounds of horses’ hooves on the plain and the clang of steel as armies of Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Christians clashed over centuries to seize the promontories and thus take control of these precious agricultural lands. The very stones we have tread on our walk around the charming town of Carmona evoke Roman soldiers marching across ancient Hispania and merchants haggling over the prices of fruits and vegetables: “No thank you, Tullius! Your oranges are much too bitter, only good for decorating the garden or marinating that suckling pig I intend to roast next week!” Today’s faithful enter churches populated by the subtly carved saints and richly embroidered tapestries of renaissance- and baroque-era bishops, but whose foundations were laid by Visigothic kings or Moorish emirs.Portugal-and-Spain-2013-187515
In fact, as we enter through the horseshoe arches of the gates of our parador, once a fortified palace, and walk past the courtyard with its lovely portico of slender marble columns, patterned stucco walls, and bubbling fountains, we cannot help but think of the Moorish kings who built and defended these very walls and spaces for centuries or of King Pedro I, whose love of Islamic ornament guaranteed that mudejar workers would continue to elaborate and expand the palace after it fell into the hands of Christian conquerors.Portugal-and-Spain-2013-183515
But now as the sun begins to set, we finish sipping our glass of sherry from the nearby Jerez region; it is time to retire and our minds turn to the gifts of art and culture that this amazing peninsula will reveal to us tomorrow.

***

To learn more about our Treasures of Southern Spain and Portugal 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.

***

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!

***

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.

***

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.