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Hacktreks European Travel

The Mezquita and Rabo de Toro
Christian J Perticone

Coming upon the Mezquita with open doors there was little I could do to resist going in. At first we were just going to sit in the walled courtyard under the orange trees, splash our hands in the fountains...
Like St. Mark's in Venice, the Mezquita was literally constructed from the ruins of past civilizations. Many of the over 1,000 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite that form the splendor of the Mezquita were lifted from the Visigoth cathedral and before that, the Roman temple, that used to exist on the site. You think about all this afterwards, or maybe as you run your hands over the time-smoothed contours of the columns. At first though, you are lost in the woods.
The columns fill the rectangular space in perfectly regular rows; depending on your point of view, you are either looking at one column and are unable to see those aligned behind it, or you are looking at the whole thing from angles and all the columns fit right in the middle of the space created by the two columns on either side of it. While the interior walls give you some kind of bearing, they do not offer any great landmarks. Amongst the columns you turn every which way to the same sight, you get lost in the interior world of the dark mosque. Above your heads, horseshoe arches sit on top of more horseshoe arches in a reverse cascade that broadens up to the ceiling. The horseshoes are white and red striped and contrast against the dark reds, greens and blacks of the stone columns. After spending enough time inside, you forget about what's beyond the doors and just wander about among the tree trunks.

It was everything that I hoped it would be, and more. I never anticipated the magnitude of the structure. It's rare to find a space that can take you away from the outside world so completely. The Pantheon in Rome can do this, where else? Although you could see the seams of the building – the floor changed in the newer sections, maybe the bases of the columns varied in the cut of their stone – the overall continuity of the building additions was incredible and a testament to the Caliph's building methods.
I was truly ready to sleep after this.
After napping and then wandering between the twisting white passages that are Cordoba's streets and avenues, we returned at night to a courtyard that we had passed during the day. Many of Cordoba's interior courtyards are open to the public, so that proud gardeners can show off their vertical gardens of potted plants, which run up and down the stark white walls in bright contrast, red and purple.
This garden was different though, one because it issued forth a sound of trickling water from two fountains on opposing walls, and two because it had a name El Choto, and a menu.

Refined and cordial, the service made the already superb meal even better. The setting was ideal, and our choice. Although the tables in the courtyard were only set for drinks, the manager said there would be no problem dining outside and then sent the waiter in for a tablecloth and two settings. Besides the occasional footsteps on cobblestones passing by on the street, the only other sound was that of the piano which lay behind our table and some open double doors. Inside, the yellow light from the restaurant shone on the white tablecloths. The restaurant had no other guests, so we received the full attention of the manager, the headwaiter, and another waiter who liked to make jokes. When we told them where we were from, they played, for our pleasure, En Mi Viejo San Juan and New York, New York. As we ate our first plate, the traditional Cordovan cold soup, Salmorejo, we looked in through the restaurant window and watched the fully decked out waiters in the middle of setting a banquet table. They folded napkins and layered plates, they radiated soup spoons and dessert spoons, salad forks and steak knives, all away from the central setting, they did everything deftly and carefully and then they undid it all. They were either practicing for future guests, or putting on a private show for us outside the window.

As for the food, it was legendary. Salmorejo and Rabo de Toro are both Cordovan originals, and the desert was some kind of sugary, custardy, tort, which I have sadly never seen the likes of again. El Choto is Michelin recognized for its meat stewing chef, therefore I should have expected that his Rabo de Toro – his bull's tail – would be nothing short of amazing. The meat fell off the spinal knots in succulent juicy strands, like a great American Pot roast. Salmorejo is my favorite invention of Spanish cuisine. Rehydrated toasted bread, fresh tomatoes, an Italian pepper, sherry vinager and garlic, are all blended together and then garnished with a hard-boiled egg, tuna, jam on and olive oil drizzlings.

After the meal we strolled around, in a state somewhere between Thanksgiving full and hazy content, and appreciated the blue tint of the white walls under the night sky. Just as we were deeming Cordoba a bit too sleepy of a town, we heard music coming from a doorway up the street. When we looked in, we saw an outdoor bar with tables, trees and a dance floor, all open air. On one stark wall, magenta flowers formed the shape of a cross. Flowers, drinks, smiles -- everyone was festive in the cool night air.
© Christian James Perticone July 2007
christian perticone <cjperticone@gmail.com

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