The Great Plotnik

Monday, October 15, 2012

10-14 Toledo

If you are going to enjoy Spain you've got to get the burr out of your saddle about the Catholic church. It's everywhere, it's awful, it's repressive, it makes Muslims seem reasonable and it has shaped the dour national character of the people. OK? OK.

Then go to a tapas bar at eleven o'clock at night, i.e., step out on any street, order a small Mahou (beer from an ornate silver tap), eat a little plate of ropa vieja with garbanzos, drink another Mahou, have a sobresada with miel (tomato-y sausage-y-honey paste smeared on bread), or a plate of salty, seared padron peppers with fabulous green olives, and the next thing you know you're talking with the friendliest people in the world and having a great time. Nothing dour about these chicos.

Plot and Duck are in Toledo. It's indescribable. Once, oh, a thousand years ago, it was the center of learning in Europe, the capital of al-Andalus (Arab Spain) and the city where Arabs, Jews and Christians worked together translating all the ancient Greek and Latin texts into all three languages. The place was about learning. The food must have been great, even though the smartest people in Europe couldn't have dreamed up avocados or tomatoes.

Toledo was the first Moorish city to fall to the Christian reconquest, but for several hundred more years, the three religions and communities continued working and living together. Then, it was over. Around a third of Jews and Moors were killed, a third escaped the country, either back to North Africa, if you were Muslim, or across the Mediterranean to Turkey and eventually the Near East and Central Europe if you were Jewish, and the last third "converted."

You know. "You. Abe. Do you love Jesus?"

"Oh, hell yes, Boss."

The cathedral in Toledo is Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque eye candy. It also makes you want to gag. There are more Goyas, El Grecos, Van Dykes, Reubenses and Goyas in the room where the priests changed into their ceremonial robes than in most of the world's major museums. There are glass cases filled with robes worn by famous cardinals and archbishops that look just like the case at Graceland that has all the suits Elvis wore in his movies.

There are red bishops hats tossed at random hanging from the rafters. This is because tradition said when a bishop died he could choose to put his hat wherever he liked and it would hang there until it rotted. This was first class cloth. The hats are still there.

All the churches that were in old Toledo are still churches and all the synagogues are churches and all the mosques are churches and there ain't no Baptists or Presbyterians. Catholic, Catholic, Catholic, all RIGHT! We get it.

Plotnik has HAD it with Jesus Baby Mary Angel Everlasting Tooth Fairy Inquisition Burn in Hell Darkness.

But then walk over to the Chapel of San Tome and stare at El Greco's incomparable "the Burial of the Count of Orgaz" and see that man's soul on its return trip to Paradise passing upwards through a vivid birth canal, I kid you not, as red-robed Mary waits to receive it and pass it on up to Jesus above her; or see the Santa Cruz Museum's heart breaking El Greco called "La Veronica" where you see the face of one of Jesus's followers, the woman who wiped his face with a cloth as he sweated up the hill carrying his burdensome cross, and you also see how that sweat has turned into a glorious impression of Jesus' face on the cloth; or look at the crazily beautiful, smiling wooden Mary holding her baby at the entrance to the Choir in the main Cathedral, and you can't miss the true message, which is:

Put the ecclesiastic crud aside and we are still today, like the Spanish clergy of the year 1488, and the Romans of the year Zero, and everyone before them, and everyone after us, nothing more than scared little kittens who have lost our mittens. We don't know where to find them. So we build monuments and fight wars and pretend our God is stronger and kinder and wiser and more of a mensch than his God or her God.

Then we go out and drink beer and eat tapas and make babies and raise them to be good citizens of whatever age we are in and we do the best we damned well can. Sometimes we build cities on hills behind walls with windy incomprehensibly complicated little cobblestoned paths winding between stone buildings from this church to that church to the church where the synagogue used to be.

And when the time comes and someone calls "Abe! Do you believe?" we say "Oh, hell yes, boss!"


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