Welcome to our family blog!

We began in September 2010 by traveling a portion of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that leads to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago, Galicia, in the northwestern corner of Spain. The name of our blog is inspired by the camino, and we'll have many stories (cuentos) to tell! We spent 2010-2011 on an intentional international journey, living and working in Spanish-speaking countries. Since then, we are immersed back in our lives at home but will report on occasional openings and discoveries. Please join us!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Remembered Moments

In no particular order, below are some remembered moments from our recent travels.
Archeological Museum, Madrid - La Dama de Elche sits tall and monumental, life size, despite the fact that she is 2500 years old. She gazes straight ahead, her dark hair pulled up in combs in a style adopted much later by residents of the south of Spain. She is the first Sevillian woman, two millennia ahead of her time. With her beautiful mantilla (scarf), her dark hair and strong nose, she could have stepped out of last year’s photograph of the traditional Holy Week celebration. In fact, she is a burial urn, containing her own ashes. I can tell from the work that she was loved and revered, a holy woman from ancient Iberia.
I was struck by another pre-historic piece, the small statue of a woman whose body is a goblet. The drink is poured in at the top of her head and comes out in a wide bowl that she carries, breast height. The effect is of her breasts offering drink to the hungry traveler. How innocent and unguarded, the desire to return to mother’s milk as refreshment!

Roman chariot racecourse, Tarragona

Tarragona Chariot Races – (a historical vignette) See how the chariots burst out of the tunnel and around the corner! Who will be first? Will I win my bet? One horse is bloodied – it must have grazed the side of the tunnel as it rushed along. The tunnel is barely wide enough for one chariot pulled by a team of four horses. Overtaking might well lead to injury or even death for a horse or rider.  Standing with my family in the amphitheater, I am surrounded by summer’s heat, amplified by the spectators and the dust thrown up by the winning chariot as he takes a victory lap around the stadium.
The Alhambra in Granada, as understood by a modern photographer - “Granada es Oriente y Occidente. Hasta ahí se extienden las piedras germánicas para encontrarse con el Islam. Las columnas del Palacio de Carlos V con las fuentes del Palacio de la Agua de la Alhambra. Granada es el producto de dos ríos de sangre y de dos culturas en un encuentro vivo.”  Translated: “Granada is East and West. Down to here extend the Germanic rocks to encounter with Islam. The columns of the Palace of Charles V with the fountains of the Water Palace of the Alhambra. Granada is the product of two rivers of blood and of two cultures in a living encounter.” This is a statement by Jose Val del Omar, a Spanish photographer who has produced a film project being shown in the Reina Sophia Museum in Madrid. It is an impressionistic piece with water flowing, children laughing and fish swimming. It feels like a dream.

Court of Myrtles, Alhambra

Granada is indeed a “mix of Eastern and Western culture”. It contains those “Germanic rocks”, the palace that King Charles V of Spain built after his takeover of the Alhambra fortress. The Spaniards were impressed by the Alhambra, built in the 11th century by the Moors, and amazingly did not destroy it completely when they took over in the 15th century. As a result, the languid pools are still full of fish, the Arab arches rise over the quiet patios and terraces, and the “fountains of the Water Palace” still flow with cool water. As to the people who created these wonders, they were oppressed, made to convert to Christianity, killed if their conversion did not seem genuine and eventually expelled to Morocco where they swelled the size of cities such as Fez.
Granada is not just the calm and beautiful, but the violent and bloody. The shield held by Boabdil in his final encounter, trying to defend the Alhambra before losing it, his last toehold on the Spanish peninsula, is preserved in the Royal Palace in Madrid. “Granada is the product of two rivers of blood and two cultures in a living encounter”. The same could be said of Spain as a whole. So much of Spanish culture came from this encounter, this mixture of East and West.
The Mezquita in Cordoba Even more so than the Alhambra, the Mezquita (or mosque) in Cordoba is a mixture of Moorish and Catholic culture. Moorish civilization is said to have reached its acme in Cordoba, home to scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers from the 10th through the 15th centuries. The production of paper was brought to Europe here, as was algebra, astronomy and astrology. Christopher Columbus consulted with Moorish scientific advisors before starting on his trip to the “Indies”.

Cathedral in the Mezquita, Cordoba

Synagogue, Cordoba

 Contrary to the tourist brochure newly published by the Catholic authorities, it is clear that the Moors who built the Mezquita in the 10th century respected and preserved the antique Christian Visigothic Church underneath.  Instead of erasing the past, they preserved it; remnants can be seen today in the sculptures inside the mosque. After the Reconquista of Spain by Christians, an entire cathedral was built in the center of the Mezquita. Surprisingly, the Christians did not destroy those old walls either. The forest of red and white sandstone columns built by the Moors is still the main event at the Mezquita. Horizontal, like an enormous forest, the Mesquita allows us to feel surrounded by the divine, not overwhelmed by vertical grandeur pulling us heavenward. Catholic chapels around the edge do not change this perception. The entire building seems a wonderful melding of Christian and Islamic, different faiths interwoven through time. A small synagogue with Moslem calligraphy on its walls nearby in the Jewish quarter adds to the understanding of Cordoba as the very center of Moorish civilization in its day, a tolerant community that welcomed scientists and worshipers from throughout the known world.  
House of the Indies, Seville – This building was originally built by Queen Isabella to house the riches brought back from the Americas to Spain. When we visited, there was a wonderful display on piracy. It led me to think more deeply about my own elementary school education. Though I had learned that Sir Francis Drake was the first to circumnavigate the globe, and that Sir Walter Raleigh was the first to set up an English colony in America, I learned in Seville that they were both scoundrels of the first degree, pirates and corsairs. Hawkins, Captain Cook, all those British adventurers were in fact bent on taking away land that had been rightfully claimed by Spain. Finder’s keepers? What is the difference between an explorer and a pirate?
The Spanish functionary is not dead – We have seen some incredible government inefficiency in Spain. The Prado is free from 6-8 pm every night. So at 6 there is a long line to the ticket office, where people must go to pick up their free ticket. Then, you must walk clear around the museum to the other door where you are allowed in. Though it might be sufficient to do away with the ticket altogether and have one person with a “clicker” at the door, this would eliminate any number of jobs.

My package

The post office is something out of Kafka. When you arrive you take a ticket depending on what you want to do: pick up a package, send a package, or buy an envelope to send something. Do you see a problem already? Then you wait anywhere from 20-40 minutes for your number to come up. When you get to the window, there is no rush at all to do your business. I had a friendly post office clerk help me to send a package to Morocco. He confided in me that though it would be easier to use a postal stamp, he is required to use so many stamps a day, and if he does not, he must buy them personally. So he decorated my package himself. There was no sponge for wetting down those stamps, nor was there a tape dispenser. He had to use his tongue and teeth a lot! Here is a picture of my decorated package.   
A Moroccan street - As I struggle to park the car within centimeters of the wall to avoid being hit on the street side, an old woman approaches the car, asking for alms. She is well dressed and carries a basket. “La, la”, I mutter, “No, no”. I am rushing and I do not normally give money to individuals. In the states, I contribute to organizations that serve the poor, rather than to individuals who might choose to spend the money on drink or drugs. How could I miss the fact that this was different? The woman gave me a look which indicated she was not used to being turned down, particularly on a Friday. Her look needed no translation: “You are going straight to hell, young lady!” It might have been helpful to have used the Arabic phrase, “May Allah help you”.
Traveling around Madrid - We are having fun with language. Here is a store whose owners wanted to ensure that Madrilenos pronounced "happy" correctly. So they added the "j" to help them remember not to use the silent "h"! An apt description for us!


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