Jordan West, a cool 12-year-old Brooks Middle School seventh-grader (coincidentally, my son) is in his seventh year of Spanish immersion in District 97. "My Spanish teacher, showed us a poster of Segovia, Spain, and I said, 'I visited that place this summer,'" Jordan told me last week. "She was surprised. I might take Spanish in eighth grade, but if she keeps piling on the homework, I'll switch to home economics. Whatever happens, I'm sure one day I'll return to Spain."
While Jordan, often seen with a tan cap emblazoned with "Espana," immersed himself in Spanish with previous trips to Mexico and Colombia, his month in Spain this summer was his biggest challenge. He used his classroom vocabulary in daily conversations in ways we both found invigorating. I asked Jordan to take pictures as I tried to write picturesque stories about Spain. We visited multicultural Sevilla in the South, cozy La Granja in the near north, lived mostly in central, cosmopolitan Madrid, but it was spiritual Segovia, 40 miles north of Madrid where Jordan heard a riveting story about how three great religions once co-existed?#34;along with periods of religious suppression. Jordan negotiated with a Gypsy merchant in Spanish for a black shawl he bought for his mom. We also encountered a blind actor recreating a historic skit on the main street.
While Americans rustled their reporter notebooks and fumbled their digital cameras amid the picturesque locale of religious/cultural sites, the English-speaking Spanish tour guide revealed the not-too-tightly-held secret?#34;that the former Muslim kings, who dominated Spain from 711 to 1492 were more tolerant than their subsequent Christian counterparts of the Jewish residents of this lovely town of Segovia with its postcard Arabesque palace and Romanesque aqueducts, which have centuries-old histories. Today, Segovia is the capital of roast suckling pig, a dish so tender you can cut it with the plate.
"A little more than five centuries ago and before?#34;even during the rule of the Moorish kings here in Segovia?#34;Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in relative peace," said Christina Cabrera-Navarre, a middle-aged scholar, who spoke in historic and linguistic detail about the past that included how her Jewish relatives were oppressed. "Things changed during the reign of in-breeding Bourbon monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel, who, in consolidating power and attempting to establish a united Spain, were told by some in the Catholic Church that the way to do this was to expel the Jews. Ferdinand and Isabel were reluctant to do that because Jews had been top advisors to the throne, major merchants, scholars and who were woven in the upper-tier fabric of Spanish life; but in the end, the Spanish monarchs capitulated in 1492 when the Muslims were defeated in Granada, and Christopher Columbus set sail to the Americas. Jews were ordered expelled from Spain, including in this lovely area where we are right now."
She pointed to a huge structure she called a "Gothic cathedral" that had been built right over the existing Jewish synagogue, "even incorporating some of the Arabesque themes" inside of the temple. "Most of the builders were Mudaher, which literally means Arabs who were left behind. The more well-to-do Arabs went back to Africa or southern Spain when they, too, were expelled. The workers who converted to Christianity remained, along with their building knowledge. They built Arab-themed buildings for Christian churches as they had done for the Jewish synagogues and before that for the Muslim mosques," the scholar said, punctuating the point as she had in an earlier tour through the castle of Segovia, a palace experts claim was the archetype for Walt Disney's trademark castle logo at Disneyland.