Spain is a nation filled with beautiful towns and cities and Segovia, which we visited yesterday, is a jewel among them. In the shadow of the Guardarrama mountains (think For Whom the Bell Tolls), Segovia is the home of the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain, the Alcazar castle, and many convents and monasteries (including one founded by the famous Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross).
Many Segovian houses have outside wall decorations etched into the plaster exterior; some are geometric; some are like sea shells; and others evoke a more mystical feel. Stepping off the street into the courtyard of a convent, one learns that it was once a synagogue and housed inside the Jewish section of Segovia. Did the Jews and Christians always live apart? No, but in the late 1400s, the king ordered separation – essentially racial segregation. Eleven years later, in the year that Spain reconquered Granada from the Moors, the same year that Cristóbal Colón (as he is known in Spain) sailed the ocean blue under a Spanish flag, Isabella the Catholic and Ferdinand—Fernando—offered the Jewish people of Spain a choice: convert or leave.
Los conversos who became Catholics in name only and were discovered became victims of the Inquisition. Those who converted and strove to avoid Savonarola and his comrades took steps to separate themselves from their faith. They opened their homes on the Jewish Sabbath and made public demonstrations of working on that day. Others ate unleavened bread all year round so as not to be noticed eating it during those times of the year when it was appropriate.
Those who refused to convert left Spain for the metaphorical deserts of the world; they went to Portugal, Britain, Northern Africa, Bulgaria, France and the New World. It is said that they left with the keys to their homes so that upon their return they could let themselves in. Naturally, the people who excluded the Sephardic Jews moved in and changed the locks. Thus the synagogue we mentioned earlier became a convent. In Toledo, which was home to a significant Jewish population, we visited the Synagogue of Santa Maria. Originally designed as a synagogue, albeit with Muslim architectural features, it became a church honoring the Virgin Mary after 1492. Today, people still say that Sephardic Jews return to Spain with the hope of unlocking a part of their past.
Throughout the past couple of days, we have seen images and statues of St. Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. In many of them, Peter is holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven. In light of the Jews’ expulsion from Spain, St. Peter’s keys have a sharp and tragic edge to them.
Moving away from a difficult subject, we sought to find a nice place for a light lunch. We found a nice place but there was nothing light about it. As those of you who read mysteries could no doubt tell, we are about to return to the theme of pork. Indeed, as you might notice, a dominant theme of this trip is pigs and pork. Segovia is famous for its pork dishes, and the pig is a symbol of the city (hence, the gift shops are filled with pig images on every surface possible ,whether ceramic, cast iron, clay and paper). In that spirit we feasted on cochinillo, or suckling pig, for lunch. We discovered that there is an art to preparing and eating cochinillo. The piglet must be eaten no more than six days after it is slaughtered, hence each one comes with a small tag noting when each piglet met its end (a porcine obituary, as it were).
A piglet will feed six people (thus we devoured three of them), and to underscore the care and individual preparation required for excellent cochinillo, each piglet has an individual number burned into its skin. One sign that you have good cochinillo is if the pig’s skin cracks open when you cut it. Of course, part of a liberal arts education is an understanding of the sciences, and lunch was our time for a reminder about anatomy. Some of us studied the foot of the pig; some of us studied the ribs; one of us found what must have been a kidney. Susan Galligan came upon an organ of unknown origin. Her wise neighbor told her that whatever organ she had discovered was near the leg. Enough said.
Juan, our Franco-Spanish guide, a man of well-defined and oft-expressed opinions, pronounced the meal “¡maravilloso!” A wonderful culinary adventure for your intrepid Colby-Sawyer travelers, but a sad day for Porky, Babe and Wilbur.