Girona, Spain, is a half-hour north of Barcelona Sants station by AVE bullet train going at 200 km per hour. It catapulted us into the Middle Ages.
It has the best preserved medieval Jewish neighborhood in Europe dating from the 8th century with an outstanding museum atop an archeological dig that contains a mikvah. There is an investment by the Spanish government now in historical Jewish tourism. Spain is offering dual citizenship to Sefardim who want to reclaim their past.
Until the pogroms of 1391, Girona was a center of Jewish intellectual life in Spain where Kabbalah Jewish spirituality fully developed from its roots in southern France.
By 1492, with the Expulsion Decree and the start of the official Inquisition, Jews had either converted to Catholicism or left for France, Amsterdam, Turkey, North Africa, towns along the Adriatic Sea and the New World. No Jews remained in Spain.
According to our expert Barcelona guide Dominique of Urban Cultours, the Spanish Jewish community there was mostly decimated in 1391. Surviving in Girona are tombstone fragments from Montjuic cemetery and artifacts of Jewish ritual and daily life. In Barcelona, cemetery stones were used for foundation construction of 15th century church and government buildings.
Girona boasts an amazing gothic cathedral dating from 1038 A.D. with an impressive, wide nave, second only to Saint Peter’s in Rome.
The stained glass windows spill colored light into an otherwise dark, stony and austere interior. It speaks of early European Catholicism where the so-called chair of Charlemagne commands attention.
From the top of the cathedral steps, you look down onto a lovely square, perfect for resting, sipping a glass of Estrella beer with tapas appetizers.
During the Spanish civil war, 1936-1939, the figures of the twelve apostles that flanked the side entrance to the cathedral were destroyed. Their intricate crowns are still intact, and one can imagine …
Girona’s old town flanks both sides of the beautiful Onyar River, connected by bridges. It is walkable, accessible, filled with narrow alleyways, hillside steps, ancient porticos, smart shops filled with designer clothes and accessories, excellent patio cafes and Catalunya flags flying everywhere.
The sentiment for an independent Catalan state is strong. It feels and smells old world.
Two days here are not long enough!
Compared with Barcelona there is not the crush of tourists although there are plenty of European visitors. We heard French, Italian, Czech, German and Russian, plenty of Catalan and Spanish. Not much English!
We had an amazing dinner at Massana, a one-star Michelin restaurant, our best in Spain. We saw the restaurant sign and rang the doorbell to what we discovered was a private dining room. Chef-owner Pere Massana emerged in his kitchen whites to personally guide us to the actual entrance.
Our welcome was warm, service outstanding and engaging. Food spectacular. We opted out of the tasting menu — too much food late at night (most restaurants don’t open until 8:30 p.m.) and instead ordered an entree and dessert. Otherwise, we would have lingered until well beyond midnight!
The meal was preceded by three taste treats to whet our appetite: fresh goat cheese topped with rosemary, mussels marinated in orange vinaigrette and a fois gras yogurt topped with crunchy flashed dried ground corn. This sure beat the chocolate coated fois gras popsicle we had in Granada at overrated La Fabula that was part of an over-the-top tasting menu.
This chocolate hazelnut extravaganza tasting plate was my dessert at Massana. So chocolate-y I couldn’t eat it all!
We were astounded that Chef Massana followed us out to the street to personally thank us for coming, asking how we enjoyed the meal! Memorable. Sincere.
After a good night’s rest at Hotel Nord 1901 we took the afternoon train to Figueres, rented a car and drove to a 15th century village where we stayed overnight in a converted farmhouse. Then, on to the Dali Museum where I will post about his surrealist jewelry designs next.
Today, we are resting in the Mediterranean seacoast town of Cadaques, Spain. But, I can’t get magical Girona off my mind.
Arte Walk Oaxaca: Graphic Arts + Painting Studios
Thursday nights are Arte Walk Oaxaca. There’s a nice little black and white map that pinpoints the independent art spaces and workshops. My favorites (plus one not listed on the map) are clustered in the neighborhood just a few blocks from the Zocalo, bounded by Hidalgo, Doblado, Xicotencatl and Colon. It’s becoming Oaxaca’s SOHO (south of Hidalgo) arts district.
David, Carol and Gabo in the textured courtyard wall glow
While you can find the artists, a coterie of Oaxaca local art lovers spilling out onto the sidewalk outside postage stamp galleries, along with shots of mezcal, beers and bowls of spicy peanuts, Thursdays aren’t the only time to enjoy what Oaxaca is known for: GREAT GRAPHIC ART.
Black and white print at La Chicharra Taller de Grafica
Most galleries are open Monday through Sunday, though often it’s catch as catch can. As is the case with many small, locally owned and/or operated shops here. Many of the galleries are cooperatives, so they are staffed by rotating volunteer artists who need a venue to show and sell their work directly. THERE IS A LOT OF TALENT HERE.
A subtle wall mural of overlapping faces, faces in the crowd? Gabo Mendoza studio.
Last night, Friday, Gabriel Gabo Mendoza (tel: 951-142-7508) held an open studio where he lives and works at Xicotencatl #303. He isn’t on the map. Carol, David and I meandered in around 7 p.m. just as night was falling and the promise of a new moon hung in the sky.
Gabo’s courtyard was lit with purple twinkle lights. There were new murals on the wall. The large space will become a studio workshop for many. A table-top display held recycled Ixtlan wood mezcal boxes hand-painted with agave varieties of 750 liter bottles contained within. The mezcal is sourced locally by some of the best mezcaleros in Oaxaca and private labeled. Organic and artisanal. A great gift!
Agave painted mezcal boxes, containing artisanal juice — for sale at Gabo Mendoza
We looked through Gabo’s newest work. Talked about how artists develop and evolve over time, and how this reflects in their work along with life experiences, tragedies and joy. It was interesting to talk about the transitions from then to now, sharing life stories, sipping Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus water) and feeling the glow of the space.
Moon coming up over purple twinkle lights at festive art opening
Then, we moved on to Taller de Grafica La Chicharra at Xicotencatl #317. This is a cooperative workshop studio where you can also take classes. Tonight, Saturday, March 19, there is a new show opening and they were readying for it. Spectacular work here, too, by MK Kabrito (Alan Altamirano) plus many others, much of it affordable! Check out the T-Shirts.
Great graphic T-shirts at La Chicarra graphic workshop
After a stop into Proyecto 30-30, Hidalgo #1208, where a graphic arts show of humorous political images hang. By now, it was close to 8 p.m. and I knew Cooperativa Grafica Oaxaca at Manuel Doblado #210 closed at 7 p.m. I had stopped in there earlier in the afternoon to get some great prints on fabric buttons that I will give as gifts. Agave, calavera skulls and animal images make great hat adornment.
Wall murals highlight artist work space at Gabo Mendoza studios
We decided it was time to get a bite to eat, so walked a few blocks north on Xicotencatl that changes name to Pino Suarez when it crosses Independencia. El Sol y La Luna Restaurante Bar, Pino Suarez #304 was our destination. Open 7 p.m. t0 midnight. Artisanal beer on tap, mezcal and sueros are featured beverages. I watched as thin crusted pizzas a la the best of Italy came out of the kitchen. We ordered cheese stuffed calzones — each crusty deliciousness. Next time, maybe a hamburger. They looked good, too.
Some tools of the artist craft
Evenings this time of year are delightful. A wind comes up. Chills the hot air. Takes the edge off the beginning of the hot, spring rainy season (the rains haven’t come yet, though). Everything is in bloom. Purple Jacaranda line the avenues. A perfect time for an evening stroll to enjoy this city’s art scene and support the young artists who have so much to say through their work.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook: artewalkoaxaca
At La Chicharra graphic arts studio and gallery
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Travel & Tourism
Tagged art, art walk, cooperatives, design, eat, El Sol y La Luna, food, Gabo, Gabriel Mendoza, galleries, graphic arts, La Chicharra graphic arts, Mexico, MK Kabrito, murals, Oaxaca, painting, printmaking, Proyecto 3030, restaurant, studio, t-shirts, taller, workshop