Toledo | Rio abajo rio – the river beneath the river

By Limor Shiponi

We traveled out of Madrid to reach Toledo. The buss drove around the small town and stopped where a guide would usually stop a tourist’s bus – to capture a panoramic view of the ancient town. The minute I got off, tears started pouring out catching me by surprise. The scene is of great beauty and for a reason unknown it felt like coming home.

Adding a detail my readers might not be aware of – my formal education is in music. I’m a practicing orchestra conductor and early music performer (medieval and renaissance music). As the latter, I’ve been playing and researching early Spanish music for years. That could be a good reason for tears, I thought. On the other hand, visiting Montserrat near Barcelona, being an important point of interest for any musician dealing with early music, didn’t touch me in the same way. Hmmm…

It could also be that as a musician I’ve met and played music from the period when Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures coexisted in Spain and Toledo was directly connected to that phenomenon. I wasn’t sure. Toledo was also a place where harsh religious persecutions were held against the Jews. Was I crying for that? It didn’t feel like the right answer.

We entered the town and walked through, heading towards several points of interest. Every single detail I captured on the way made me feel for it one way or another.

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo. For such a small place, this is a very impressive building.

Toledo steel is famous world-wide but most of the weaponry I saw while window-shopping were commercial replicas. I even spotted out the commercial series of swords after the tools used in “The lord of the rings” and eventually found myself gazing at an-as-if replica of Excalibur… which made me laugh. Storytelling can be a haunting pursuit.

In front of the cathedral I got a chance to see some real steel-work; simple yet impressive.

Look at the interior of the cathedral – you can gaze at every centimeter for long minutes.

We visited a small church hosting a single painting by El Greco – comparing with many other works by this artist situated in the cathedral which are very good but poorly placed, this one is simply astonishing.

El Greco, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. Source: Wikipedia

Eventually we reached Santa María la Blanca, the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing, now owned by the Catholic Church. The story and sight are difficult although restoration tried to do as much as possible.

We walked back to the bus through what was once the Jewish quarter and crossed Puente de San Martin, across the Tagus. Climbing the bus I looked back – there are no Jews living in Toledo these days. Sad? in a way, but that’s the way it is. Once upon a time Toledo was called “Jerusalem in Spain” and they had a good life there; the tears felt more in that direction. Knowing many stories and poems from that period I had the feeling I wish I could meet them and hear the stories and songs in their original language and setting. The language still exists – known today as Ladino, known in Spain as Sepharadita. It was time to leave knowing I would like to return one day.

When I reached the hotel late at night I wrote my mother an email, telling her about the tears and my feelings; for some reason it felt like the right thing to do. Besides I know my mother – she likes this kind of ‘spiritual stuff’. The reply I found in the morning left me flabbergasted:

“My dear daughter, the reason for your tears could be any of the reasons you’ve mentioned. Let me add that you’ve been to Toledo when you were two and a half years old but I wouldn’t consider such a minor experience. The real reason, if I relate to the feeling of ‘coming home’ as you’ve mentioned, is the fact that your family originates in Toledo. That’s where your ancestors lived before the Jews were deported from Spain.”

My mother’s family is from Libya. They got there from England which they reached through the Netherlands after being deported from Spain during 1492. I just didn’t know they were from Toledo…

Rio abajo rio forever flows and when the time is right it surfaces to reveal stories never told.

3 thoughts on “Toledo | Rio abajo rio – the river beneath the river”

  1. A circle closed, that you never even know was open, a small, deep persistent ache finally acknowledged and healed? I hope so.
    Beautiful, just beautiful.
    I think the most profound tears are those of recognition, that spring from the deep knowledge of connection.
    It hurts because we may never have been aware of the gap, the lack, in any conscious way until that very moment, but we weep out of thankfulness, joy even, that the newly recognised void has been so surprisingly filled.

  2. Your words are brave and beautiful. You are right – joy and healing were my feelings even though I didn’t know why. Thank you. I’m just realizing that the healing is even greater – it’s solved a dream I had for many years. My perspective about it has just shifted, matter solved. Boy…

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