Tag Archives: Spain

On destroying collective memory at Casa de Sefarad

“The eagerness of destroying books and libraries has been executed by judges, lawyers, literate and uneducated people, rich and poor and priests of all gods. The peculiar book hatred has been growing in parallel with the desire for knowledge.” (The introduction to the disturbing exhibition on book burning at Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba, Spain.)

In 1817 Heinrich Heine witnessed young German nationalist students burn books in Wartburg and later wrote, “It was only the prelude, where they burn books, at the end they will also burn people.” In 1933 his books were among the thousands destroyed in the infamous Nazi book burning, which was the prelude to the Holocaust. Yet Adolph Hitler was far from the first leader to inspire biblioclasm – the pathological urge to destroy the written word and erase collective memory.

It’s appropriate that the small but exquisite Casa de Sefarad in Cordoba should mount such a disturbing exhibition. From the 8th through the 13th century Cordoba had been Western Europe’s most enlightened and advanced city. As the capital of an Al-Andalus Moorish kingdom it excelled in urban technology, the sciences, arts and religious tolerance.

Casa de Sefarad is the Jewish cultural center in Cordoba preserving the legacy of what was once a thriving Sephardic community protected by the Moorish state. Today the former Jewish Quarter is the heart of Cordoba’s UNESCO World Heritage District abutting the magnificent Mezquita Mosque. Islamic Al-Andalus generally tolerated all beliefs as long as they did not openly denounce Islam although individual rulers interpreted tolerance differently.

The Hamsa is a symbol to ward off evil shared by both Islamic and Sephardic Jewish tradition
All that changed when Cordoba, and eventually all Al-Andalus kingdoms, fell to the feudal Christian lords from what is today the northern Spanish provinces between the 13th and 15th centuries. Fueled by doctrinal certainty, an ethnic cleansing of both people and thought commenced for the next three centuries. Eventually most of Spain’s Jews and Muslims were murdered, expelled from the country, migrated to the New World or granted protection in Morocco and the Ottoman Empire.

Yet intellectual and ethnic persecution has a long history, and Casa de Sefarad presents highlights in a chilling timeline within the walls of this former Jewish merchant family townhouse.

416 BC Athens: The great Greek philosopher and mathematician, Protagoras was condemned by the city of Athens. His book, “On the Gods,” and his belief that “Man is the measure of all things,” prompted his persecution. In 416 his works were burnt and he fled, unfortunately dying on his way to Sicily.

213 BC China: Li Si, Prime Minister for the Qin Dynasty, ordered the burning of all books by Confucius on the grounds that the philosopher favored individual thought preeminent over obeying the State.

170 BC: The Seleucid King Antiochus IV forbade the practice of Judaism. He commanded the destruction of all books in Jerusalem. This act motivated the Maccabean rebellion against the Hellenistic Syrian Kingdom (the festivity of Hanukah)

260 AD Athens: The Goths invaded Athens. One of their generals prevented the burning of the city’s libraries claiming that, “As long as the Greeks are slaves to reading they won’t be good at fighting.” Later the libraries were destroyed.

637 Syria: The library of Ctesiphon in present day Syria was burnt destroying thousands of ancient scientific works by Persians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Babylonians.

Maimonides, Cordoba, Spain, in front of his home
1233 Montpellier, France: The orthodox Jewish community reported the works of Maimonides to the Roman Inquisition. All the works of Maimonides, the towering intellect of Jewish Cordoba, were burnt in the main square of the city.

1530 Tetzcoco, Mexico: thousands of scholarly, literary and religious Aztec books were burned on the orders of Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga – founder of the University of Mexico.

1553 Rome: The Talmud was condemned as blasphemous. Thousands of Jewish books were burnt in the Campo dei Fiori.

1600 Rome: the intellectual Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori. Giordano Bruno was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological theorist who conceptually extended the then novel Copernican model.

Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba, Spain
1826 St. Petersburg: Tsar Nicholas I decreed the Law of Censorship consisting of 220 categories of banned topics.

1873 Washington DC: Congress past the Comstock Law defining obscene literature. Banned books included the Arabian Nights, the Decameron, Canterbury Tales, Lysistrata, and Moll Flanders.

1909 Rome: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) writer, poet and playwright was a promoter of the Futurist Movement. In his 1909 “Futurist Manifesto” he affirmed industrialization and technology as the engine of creativity and that, “we have to tear down the museums and libraries.” Marinetti became a favorite of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

10 May 1933 Nazi Book Burning, Berlin: Three days after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, any book containing “inaccurate information” (aka “fake news”) was forbidden in Germany. With the assistance of the German Students Association and professors of the University of Berlin over 25,000 books were burned including the works of Andre Gide, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Einstein, Jack London, Marcel Proust, Maxim Gorky and Ernest Hemingway.

When Sigmund Freud heard that his books had been burned in the OpernPlatz his reaction was, “How has the world advanced! In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me instead.” Freud fled Austria in 1938 after that country’s union with Germany and died in London the following year escaping the Holocaust.

courtyard of Casa de Sefarad
1961 Munich: The German state of Bavaria banned the broadcast of Aristophanes “Lysistrata” citing that its subject matter – wives withholding sex in order to force their men to stop war – “offends the moral sensibility of the population.” (Hitler started his rise to power in Bavaria).

1978 Buenos Aires: One million books printed by Argentina’s Latin American Publishing Center were burned by the military dictatorship.

Mid-1960s through early1970s China: the Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse-Tung saw the destruction of many libraries and institutions housing the priceless patrimony of over 5,000 years. As a young man Mao had worked as a librarian.

1992 Sarajevo: Literature professor Nicola Koljevic, Vice President of the short lived Republic of Srpska during the former Yugoslav civil war, ordered the fire bombing that destroyed the National and University Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The following day a Serbian sniper murdered Aida, a young librarian trying to save books that remained. The library has since been rebuilt but countless works by scholars from antiquity through the Ottoman Empire were lost.

2017: still reminders of the destruction wrought on Sarajevo 1992-1995
2002 Ramallah: The Israeli Army inflicted massive damage on the library of Al-Bireh Ramla destroying thousands of Palestinian works of art, science and literature. It has since been rebuilt.

And yet not all was horror. There were windows of hope in this timeline.

1775 Leipzig: Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” was banned in Saxony for obscenity. It became an instant, and German literature’s first, bestseller.

1985 Cairo: A Lebanese edition of “The Arabian Nights” was declared obscene – 3,500 copies are burned. The ban was lifted a year later.

2012 Tumbuktu, Mali: Then biblioclasm comes full circle. An Islamic extremist militia attempted to find the collection of thousands of manuscripts on the history of Al-Andalus written by Moorish, Jewish and Christian scholars known as the Kati Collection. They failed since supporters had hid the collection.

Michael Servetus Villeneuve
How did this exhibit affect me? I lost it when I came upon the fate of Michael Servetus Villeneuve. Heinrich Heine had made a historical error in his comment; authors had already been burned for their writing. In Geneva, 1553, Free Thinker philosopher Michael Servetus Villeneuve  was condemned by both Catholic and Protestant leaders including John Calvin. He was burnt to death on a pyre made from his own books.

The curator noticed my reaction and any attempt on my part to explain failed. I left Casa de Sefarad in a fruitless effort to compose myself. Returning I engaged in an emotional conversation with the curator on why, as a writer, I’ll live with this image the rest of my life. Censorship, the attempt to erase collective cultural memory, is the eighth deadly sin.

poster at Casa de Safarad: “Music banned by the Holy Inquisition”

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights











Recipe for a Spanish inspired salt cod stew

Salt Cod for sale in the Basque market town of Ordizia
Salt Cod for sale in the Basque market town of Ordizia

I was a boy when I first became familiar with salt codfish. Racks of salted fillets would line the docks of our ancestral Nova Scotia Bay of Fundy village where my parents maintained a home. I loved sautéed Acadian cod cakes made with potatoes and the salty fish served with pickled chow chow.

fillets of salt cod before soaking
fillets of salt cod before soaking

Salting cod is at least 500 years old and became a staple food product and cash crop for Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Northern Europe and the Caribbean Islands. I grew up on stories of the infamous triangular trade route before I knew its full implications. The stories were romance for my early wanderlust as generations of my family caught, salted and transported this easily preserved fish to hot Caribbean islands in return for the dark rum and molasses that would warm my relatives during cold, wet Maritime winters.

ingredients for the recipe
ingredients for the recipe

While living in Puerto Rico as a young adult I immediately recognized the wooden boxes of salt cod marked with Canadian port towns I was familiar. Nothing had changed for centuries, except being introduced to the breadth of recipes this simple fish had inspired. Light fritters of salt cod – bacalaítos – became a favored comfort food.

Some years later traveling in Basque Country I enjoyed Bacalao a la Vizcaina, their codfish stew including hard-boiled eggs, capers and raisins. In France I scarfed down copious amounts of rich, elegant Brandade de Morue, a whipped spread with olive oil, cream and potatoes on crusty baguette slices.

ingredients for the recipe
ingredients for the recipe

As a chef I’ve often played with salt cod. With the worldwide decline of cod stocks due to over fishing salted pollock is a suitable substitute available in North American stores. I feel my recipe for a salt cod stew appeals to most North American tastes.

Salt Cod Stew – 6 servings


  • 1 pound salt cod prepared 2 days ahead of using
  • 3 cups prepared or canned, drained & rinsed garbanzo beans
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 4 ribs celery
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 scallions – green & white part.
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup chopped green olives
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 – 28 ounce can diced stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 baking potatoes
  • chopped parsley for garnish


(Two days before making the stew)

  1. Place the salt cod in a stainless steel or glass dish large enough to completely cover with cold water. Refrigerate the cod changing the water 2 to 3 times a day for two days.
  2. prepared garbanzo beans (chick peas)
    prepared garbanzo beans (chick peas)

    If using dried garbanzo beans start their preparation the same day as the cod. Cover ½ pound dried garbanzo beans with 2 quarts cold water. Cover and soak for at least 12 and up to 18 hours. Drain and rinse the beans. Place into a heavy 2-quart pot and cover with two quarts cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. The water should simmer not boil or else the beans may break up. Check after one hour. The beans should be tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse. Refrigerate until ready to use.

(Cooking the stew)

  1. Drain the cod and pat dry with paper towel. Slice the cod fillets into chunks about 1 to 1-½ inch squares.
  2. Dice the sweet onion, celery, green pepper, scallions and garlic.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart pot. Add the onion and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat slightly and add the green pepper, scallions, basil and oregano. Continue cooking for 5 minutes stirring frequently.
  4. Increase the heat and add the salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, cod chunks, chopped green olives, the entire can of diced tomatoes and the 2 cups of cold water.
  5. Bring the stew to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes.
  6. While the stew is simmering, peel and dice the potatoes. Place the diced potatoes in a bowl & cover with cold water to prevent browning until ready to use.
  7. After 45 minutes of simmering the stew, drain and add the diced potatoes and the prepared or canned and drained garbanzo beans.
  8. Return to a simmer. Taste test the stew to check for salt and add more if desired. Cover and simmer the stew for an additional 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  9. Ladle into bowels and sprinkle with chopped parsley. You may spice it up with hot sauce to taste.

Like with so many stews, you can make this a day ahead of time. Allow the stew to cool for an hour and refrigerate. Gently reheat before serving.

This stew is excellent accompanied with a green salad and a good dry wine such as a Spanish rioja.

My Spanish inspired salt cod stew
My Spanish inspired salt cod stew


You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights




Purveyors of fine foods since 1512

                Ordizia, Euskadi (Basque Country), Spain
 Still a modest sized town of 10,000 founded in 1268, Ordizia (on some maps Villafranca de Ordizia) lies in the heartland of Euskadi’s prized agricultural abundance. Iberico and Serrano hams – from pigs who diet on wild acorns –  Idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese, and flawless lemon-yellow peaches are only a few of the products from farms following ancient as well as state-of-the-art green methods: organic, grass-fed and chemical-free. In Spain, these methods are not only tradition but in many cases codified in law.      
San Sebastian

Leaving the beautiful Basque seaside town of San Sebastian on an early morning train for the 60-minute trip south to Ordizia, the countryside speaks its beauty. Vistas of lush green hillsides are dotted with cattle and centuries old white-washed red-roofed farm houses. Yet there’s resilience as over the years it was at the center of wars and atrocities. The past four decades has witnessed resurgence and affluence.


Like all towns in the Basque country, Ordizia is built on a hill close to water, in this case the Rio Oria. Easier to fortify, this topography also makes these century old villages  picturesque and a decent aerobic workout. With perfect early October weather – high 70’s, sun, deep blue sky – I walked hilly, cobblestone streets lined by old narrow, townhouses whose window boxes were bursting with a profusion of flowers. Ordizia’s Wednesday Farmers Market, in continuous operation since 1512, occupies the plaza in the heart of the old town, but, unlike most plazas, it’s covered by an open-air Romanesque-Renaissance structure befitting an important 500-year-old institution.

This is not just another farmers market.  Along with the variety of customers who come to purchase goods for their homes and socialize, there are serious negotiations going on among commercial buyers, restaurants and farmers. These negotiations usually result in setting the prices for many products throughout Spain – until the next Wednesday market. Food here is serious business.

The food stalls glisten with vibrant colors: peppers, squashes, fruits – fresh and dried – pickles, olives and preserved foods. Bushels of freshly picked mushrooms, varieties I’ve never seen, vie for my attention with dozens of Euskadi’s famous sheep and goat’s milk cheeses. Baskets of breads studded with herbs, grains and seeds are close enough to local sausages and hams to make me desire a sandwich.

Fish, especially fresh sardines, anchovies and salt cod (bacalao), are well represented, as well as services – like knife grinding. Serious cooks can purchase freshly executed pigeons, feathers and all, a Basque delicacy – of course most households know how to dress and prepare them.

A milk dispensing machine is a standard farmers market service. Sterilized quart glass bottles are removed from a refrigerated compartment and placed under the dispenser. Empty bottles are returned to the attendant. A local dairy co-op operates the kiosk.  It was very popular.

Cafes, butchers and cloth shops line the edge of the market plaza. Sitting at an outdoor table listening to a musician playing Basque accordion compositions, sipping espresso, watching the bustle of a serious farmers market, I was struck by the permanence markets give to life. For the past turbulent 500 years the same hustle and bustle has occupied the Ordizia Farmers Market sustaining and celebrating every day life.

For an interesting “birds-eye” view, follow this link for Ordizia. Move the map a bit east (to the left) and the white covered structure of the market will come into view.