November 15-16, 1989: fly to Madrid
November 16, 1989: walking tour of La Ciudad Antigua (The Old City), Palacio Real
November 17, 1989: El Prado, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Toros (outside), the Gran Via, El Escorial, Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen)
November 18, 1989: La Mancha, drive to Cordoba, walking tour of Cordoba, La Mezquita, drive to Seville
November 19, 1989: Maria Luisa Park, Alcazar, Barrio de Santa Cruz, the Cathedral, El Patio Sevillano (flamenco show)
November 20, 1989: Gibralter (tunnels, Europa Point Lighthouse, St. Michael's Caves), Costa del Sol, Torremolinos
November 21, 1989: Torremolinos
November 22, 1989: Granada, the Cathedral (the Capilla Real), Alhambra, Generalife (Summer Palace)
November 23, 1989: Puerto Lapice, Toledo, damascene factory, the Cathedral, El Greco Museum, Santa Maria Blanca synagogue
November 24, 1989: return to New Jersey
November 15, 1989: Traffic was very light, so it took only ninety minutes from Middletown to the terminal at JFK, and the last twenty were just parking and getting the bus to the terminal. I'd been nervous for the previous 24 hours, but not any more, which confirms that my real worry is missing the plane!
In the waiting area, we met a couple who had been on our Egypt trip. They were going on a three-week cruise out of Barcelona. Small world!
Though we boarded on time, we were almost two hours late taking off. First they had to remove the luggage of a passenger who hadn't boarded. Then there was an enormous line of planes waiting to take off. It was like sitting in traffic on the Parkway.
November 16, 1989: The food on the flight was undistinguished and the sleeping uncomfortable, but we did regain an hour so we arrived about 8:40 AM Madrid time (which is six hours ahead of EST). I wasn't very impressed with the cabin crew--they first announced that everyone not having Spanish citizenship had to fill in landing cards, and then that everyone holding United States passports had to fill them out. When one passenger told the flight attendant he had an Ecuadorian passport and asked what he should do, she seemed totally flustered.
We cleared customs quickly (as usual in Europe) and met our transfer agent. Though she had us listed as "Nieper" she let us on the bus anyway. There were several people under retirement age on this tour--some may even have been younger than us.
We drove through what is probably a typical Madrid traffic jam to our hotel, La Hotel Residencia Florida Norte, opposite the train station and about a block from the Palacio Real, which covers several acres.
After getting checked in, I insisted on a one-hour nap even though Mark was all for hitting the streets right away. So I slept for about 45 minutes and at noon we went out, after working out our paranoia about theft by putting most of our money in neck pouches and the rest in separate pockets. We changed $200 at a bank and I remembered to ask for some small bills (we were originally given the equivalent of four $50 bills).
Our three plans for the afternoon were the Palacio Real, a walking tour of La Ciudad Antigua (The Old City), and lunch. Since the Palacio was closed from 12:45 PM to 3:30 PM and lunch wasn't served at most places until 1 PM, we began with the walking tour. This was a self-guided tour as described in the Michelin Green Book for Spain. (Plug here--I find the Michelin Green Books the best guide books of all the common ones.)
We discovered 1) distances were farther than they seemed on the map, 2) everything was uphill from us, and 3) streets in Madrid are the most confusing in the world. It took all three maps we had to get to the Plaza Mayor, our starting point.
On our way there we were accosted by three girls begging. They were probably in their teens and seemed reasonably well dressed, if a bit dirty. When we shooed them away, they went about a half block and then got into a taxi!
The Plaza Mayor is a square about the size of a city block surrounded by buildings with shops. It gives the appearance of a huge interior courtyard because there is no automobile traffic (though the repaving work they were doing broke the usual quiet the guidebooks mention). I'm not sure how old it is, but it was in use for tournaments in the 17th Century. (Our city guide later said it was finished in 1619.) A large auto-da-fé was held here by Carlos II, who was a bit around the bend as the result of generations of Hapsburg inbreeding. One gets the impression that the Inquisition, like Franco's rule, is ignored by Spaniards today; there is certainly not much emphasis on either to tourists.
Following the route we passed San Miguel Basilica, an 18th Century Italian Baroque church, and arrived at the Plaza de la Villa. In the center is a statue commemorating the Battle of Lepanto (1571)--the Spaniards won this and gained control of the Mediterranean, so there are many reminders around. I haven't seen any statues commemorating the Armada, however. Surrounding the Plaza are the Lujan Tower, the City Hall (an old one), and the Casa de Cisneros.
We then saw the Plazuela del Cordón, the 14th Century Mudéjar tower on San Pedro, and the Capilla del Obispo (which was closed for restoration). (I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunity to see the insides of churches.) (Mudéjar is the term for Moorish style architecture built under the Christians after the reconquest. This is in contrast to Mozarabic architecture, which is that designs by Christians under Moorish rule.) San Francisco el Grande was closed for lunchtime--this might have been worthwhile for the interior artwork by Goya. We then returned to the Plaza Mayor by way of Calle de Toledo past the San Isidro Cathedral.
By now it was about 2 PM and I was hungry. Since we wouldn't be able to eat dinner until 8 PM, we decided to find a cheap place and eat lunch. We had been seeing cheap restaurants as we walked, but now seemed to be in a higher-priced area. Eventually we found a small place where the "menu del dia" was 600 pesetas ($5.32). This included soup, main dish, bread, wine, and coffee or dessert. They spoke no English but I managed to muddle through with my Spanish (though I did try to order tongue ["lengua"] instead of sole ["lenguado"]). We started with big bowls of lentil soup with meat, then Mark had "poupitas de carne" (which seemed to be stuffed cabbage) and I had sole (baked and rather heavily salted). Rather than wine we had orange soda (Schweppes). I had coffee (very strong, in a demitasse) and Mark had something like a sponge cake in caramel sauce. By the end I was stuffed and couldn't even finish the fish. (In part this was because of the saltiness--salted fish is a common Spanish, especially salted cod ["bacalao"].)
After lunch we walked over to the Palacio Real, which was much closer than I had thought. We had somewhat disoriented ourselves in looking for lunch. We managed to arrive right around 3:30 PM, which is when they open in the afternoon (like everyone else, they close for a three-hour lunch). It took a while to get to the entrance since it was at the far end of the building and then we had to wait until there were twenty people for an English-language tour (represented by a British flag rather than an American one).
They must have heard we were coming, because several rooms were closed for renovation. Built between 1738 and 1764 by Philipe V, it was last occupied by Alphonso XIII (always described as "the grandfather of the current king"). The current king, Juan Carlos, lives in a smaller palace outside Madrid (Zarzuela) and uses the Palacio Real only for state occasions.
We got to see (I believe) the state apartments of Carlos III, Francis of Assisi (no, not that one--the consort of Isabella II), and Queen Maria Christina. The rooms are noted for their tapestries, ceilings, and chandeliers (electric since 1906). There is also a collection of clocks, most still working. Carlos IV collected and repaired clocks as a hobby. I frequently found the clocks in a room more interesting than any of the other furnishings.
We also saw the Armory, though again, part was closed off. Here also the Battle of Lepanto was a big thing, with a whole case of arms from it. And we saw the outside of the Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de La Almudena, under construction since 1895. Our city guide thinks it will be finished in five more years--well, there was a long hiatus in the work.
It was still light walking back to the hotel (after 5 PM), I suppose because Madrid is so far west in its time zone. It is four degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian, yet an hour ahead of GMT.
On our return we met our tour director, Anna, and the rest of our group. It's a big group, thirty-five people. We didn't learn a whole lot here but it did give everyone a chance to see everyone else.
Still full from lunch, we skipped dinner and listened to the BBC and wrote in our logs until we fell asleep. (We had brought our portable shortwave almost as an afterthought, but it turned out to be a wise thing to do, since we ended up the only ones in our group who had any idea what was happening in the world, and it provided entertainment while we were in the hotel room.)
November 17, 1989: We got up about 7:30 AM. It was still dark outside, confirming my time zone theory. Breakfast was orange juice, rolls, and coffee--surprisingly weak coffee. We ate with a couple from our group from California, though he was originally from Ecuador. At 9 AM we got on the bus and headed for El Prado.
Although the Prado has works by hundreds of artists, we concentrated mainly on four: El Greco (Domenico Teotocopulos of Crete, 1540-1614), Velázquez (1549-1660), Murillo (1618-1682), and Goya (1746-1828). Since we saw these out of order (and Goya in two parts to avoid crowds), I will describe them in their historical order rather than their order to us.
El Greco is best known for his religious paintings, such as The Adoration of the Shepherds. These tend to show two planes of activity, one earthly and one occurring in heaven. Even before his figures took on the elongation that characterizes his later work, he stressed the vertical much more than the horizontal. His colors are also striking, particularly in recently restored (cleaned, actually, since the restoration consists of taking off the old, darkened varnish and putting on a new, clear layer). His portraits, such as his Nobleman with a Hand on His Chest use more subdued tones but are striking nonetheless.
The Velázquez collection is temporarily depleted, with sixteen pieces (I believe) on loan to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Here at least we can solve this inconvenience--we'll be going to New York shortly after we get back to see the Velázquez exhibition there. But still remaining at the Prado are such masterpieces as The Surrender of Breda (a.k.a., The Lancers) and Las Meninas. The latter is a tour-de-force of portraying depth in painting, with a dog in the foreground, behind which are the princess and her attendants. Then moving further back we have a self-portrait of Velázquez as he paints a canvas with its back to us, then a pair of guardians watching the scene, then a reflection of either the unseen painting or the observers in the mirror (it turns out to be the king and queen), and finally a man on the stairs leading out of the room. Las Meninas is an amazingly complex painting which at first glance is deceptively simple. When you look at an El Greco or a Murillo you can see complex symbolism; here it sneaks up on you that this work requires study.
We also saw Velázquez's portraits of the royal family and character studies such as The Winebibbers.
Murillo tended toward religious paintings, as did El Greco, but where El Greco's were harsh and ascetic, Murillo's were softer and more realistic, particularly in the children that he painted as cherubs. His Holy Family with a Little Bird shows one of the more down-to-earth portrayals that I've seen, with Mary as a housewife and Jesus as a child holding a bird and playing with a dog. But for my tastes I found Murillo a bit too "soft" in his style.
The most important painter represented in the Prado is undoubtedly Francisco de Goya, both in quantity and in influence. His Portrait of the Royal Family, for example, shows an early attempt at pointillism which was later developed by Renoir and Seurat. It was claimed that his early works ("cartoons" for tapestries) showed concern for the plight of the common person--for example, his Wounded Stonemason. Yet later, when we saw some smaller copies he made of the larger works, this picture of one man being carried by two others was labeled The Drunken Stonemason. (When I checked this in Anthony Hull's biography of Goya after I got home, I discovered that indeed the two pictures had different titles. The original supposedly was "inspired" by a 1778 decree of Carlos III requiring safer scaffolding. The later painting was after the passing of that monarch and hence the title may reflect the sensibilities of a different patron.)
These "cartoons," by the way, bear no resemblance to what we call cartoons. These are full-fledged paintings, though done in a style and coloration easy to reproduce in weaving.
Another aspect of Goya's art is his portraiture, both in formal portraits and in such paintings as The Naked Maja and The Clothed Maja. The Naked Maja caused quite a stir over the years, especially when it was used on a stamp which was declared pornographic in several countries.
And finally, though we saw them first, are the paintings from the end of his life, the "Black Paintings." These include Saturn Devouring His Offspring, which was on the cover of an art book my father had when I was young and fascinated me at the time. Other pieces from this period include Two Friars (one a demon looking over the other one's shoulder), The Pilgrimage to St. Isidro's Hermitage (a long line of people being led by a blind man), The Witches' Sabbath, and The Colossus and the Panic. Two paintings which (to me anyway) presage the dark period are The Second of May in 1808 in Madrid and The Shooting by Musketry of the Third of May, both dealing with the beginning of the War of Independence and both very violent pictures.
It's obvious that we could have used more time at the Prado--a week would have been good for a start. The guide did show us the two Rembrandts; in the Hermitage in Leningrad also they made a point of showing us their "treasure" though there it was a da Vinci. Unlike many art museums, the Prado seems to collect only painters of its country (Spain) though Italian and Flemish painters from the period of Spanish supremacy in those areas are allowed.
It was for this reason that we could also see (in the twenty free minutes we had) Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Delights and Peter Bruegel the Elder's Triumph of Death. (Bosch is known as El Bosco, similar to Teotocopulos being El Greco--they seem to like naming people for their country of origin in Spain.)
They have been renovating the Prado, first adding fireproof walls and now air-conditioning. It seemed odd that this could be done without closing the museum (and I believe it was closed for part of the work), but as we were looking at the Murillos we got a hint of how it was done. No sooner had the guide said, "And here we have three more Murillos," than the panel holding one of them slid behind another and three workmen stepped out of the wall!
As I said, not enough time, but we were forced to move on. (For an engaging description of El Prado and its contents, I recommend Michener's Iberia. In fact, in general I recommend Iberia.) (After returning home, we were able to rent a videotape of the highlights of the Prado and spend more time seeing artists' work we had missed in person.)
Our city tour was next. As with most city tours, we saw a lot but remembered little. There's just too much being pointed out and if you're at the back of a long bus, you get the description several seconds before you can see the site (somewhat like the reverse of seeing the cannon smoke and then hearing the explosion after a few seconds).
We saw the Puerta del Sol (somewhat like New York's Times Square), then drove quite a way to see the outside of the Plaza de Toros. The season was over, but I doubt the group would have seen the inside even in season.
The we came back to the Gran Via (the equivalent of Fifth Avenue) with its MacDonald's in an old jewelry store which has retained its old façade. On the way we saw the Post Office building, which looks very cathedral-like and has been dubbed the "Cathedral of Our Lady of Communications." (On the other hand, the AT&T building in New York was built in the post-modern style and resembles a piece of bedroom furniture.)
On the Gran Via we saw several advertisements for a shop that apparently sells "impossible objects"--one showed a coffeepot with the spout and the handle on the same side, for example. It reminded me of Reginald Perrin's Grot Shops. (If you understand the reference, fine; if you don't, it's probably not worth explaining.)
We finished up at the Plaza de España, with its statue of Cervantes (and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza). This was mostly for the photo opportunity it gave.
For lunch, Mark and I went into a small grocery near the hotel and got chorizo de Pamplona (like pepperoni) and manchega cheese. This gave us a chance to write in our logs while eating lunch in the room.
At 2:30 PM we boarded the bus for El Escorial and the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen). We were originally going to go see the Valley first, but the traffic was so bad that the order was reversed, since El Escorial closes earlier.
El Escorial is a monastery built by Philipe II to commemorate his victory over the French in Flanders. While he was at this pious task he figured he might as well build a royal palace adjoining it. The whole thing took only twenty-one years and has 1200 doors and 2600 windows.
The main attraction of the Bourbon apartments are their Pompeian ceilings and magnificent tapestries. The city of Pompeii had just been unearthed when these rooms were being decorated, hence the ceilings. The tapestries included several from the Goya cartoons (Blind Man's Bluff, The Pottery Seller) and others by Teniers. Teniers had an odd sense of humor and always put something not in the best of taste in his tapestries. One tapestry of the courtyard of an inn, for example, has a drunk vomiting in one corner. By the way, tapestries come out the mirror image of the way the cartoon is done.
Philipe II's apartments are more austere. I somehow managed to miss Bosch's Haywain from The Seven Deadly Sins.
The Royal Pantheon contains twenty-six coffins of dark gray marble decorated with jasper and bronze. Almost all the Spanish monarchs are interred here, but after the current king and queen all the coffins will be filled and later monarchs will have to go elsewhere. There are other chambers containing the remains of princes, princesses, queens who produced no heirs to the throne, and illegitimate children. There is also a church, known for the funerary figures of Carlos V and his family and Philipe II and his family, all kneeling in prayer.
After El Escorial we drove to the Valley of the Fallen, a monument to the dead on both sides of the Civil War. It consists of a basilica cut into the side of a mountain in the Guadarrama range and a cross atop the mountain. The cross is 125 meters (410 feet) high and 45 meters (150 feet) across, but since it is hollow, that made it somewhat easier to get to the top.
Although the most commonly quoted figure for the number of Civil War dead is one million (there is even a book titled One Million Dead), our guide said that most scholars put the number at 300,000 (out of a population of 7.5 million at the time, I think). In addition to 40,000 war dead buried here, there is also Franco's grave.
I suppose I should say something about Franco here. He was Spain's dictator from 1936 to 1975. During that time "order was achieved at the expense of freedom" (as one book put it). Freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and religion were curtailed. (In 1968, Spain finally passed a law allowing freedom of religion and the first synagogue in Spain since 1492 was opened in Madrid.) Although officially neutral during World War II, Spain's sympathies seemed to lie with the Axis. As the last Fascist government in Europe, Spain was kept out of the United Nations until 1955.
One of our guides said that, yes, Franco was repressive, but he kept the taxes low. Another said that if Franco hadn't come along, Spain would probably have a Communist government. I'm not convinced that their opinions are representative, however. (Given the state of European politics, if they had a Communist government, they could have ended up as having the last Communist government in Europe instead of the last Fascist one.)
There certainly is a strong pro-Franco faction, though, and the basilica was being prepared for a memorial mass for Franco (who died November 20, 1975).
By the time we got out it was dark and the clouds had rolled in (we were at about 1200 meters [4000 feet]). We returned to Madrid amid traffic jams and rain and decided to eat dinner in the coffee shop. (Another couple who went out said nothing was open near the hotel and the traffic made taking a cab impossible. They ended up in the coffee shop too.) I had the combination plate: veal cutlet, fried egg, fries, bread, and a glass of Valdepeñas wine. Mark had a chicken cutlet and spaghetti. After dinner we wrote in our logs and went to sleep.
November 18, 1989: We got up early and left at 8:30 AM for our day's journey to Sevilla by way of Córdoba. It was raining most of the morning as we drove through La Mancha while our guide gave us a brief overview of Spain (52 provinces, etc.) and then a description of Cervantes's life and magnum opus. Cervantes certainly had adventures: wounded at Lepanto, captured by pirates and enslaved for five years, thrown in jail for suspected malfeasance as a tax collector, and eventually died in poverty on the same date as Shakespeare (April 23, 1616). Note that this is not the same day, because Spain had already switched to the Gregorian calendar but England had not. So Cervantes actually died ten days earlier than Shakespeare.
We saw a few windmills, but none have been in use for about a hundred years. There were many olive trees, but nowadays new farmers plant sunflowers--olive trees take fifteen years to start producing and must be picked by hand, while sunflowers produce right away and can be harvested by machine. No wonder olive oil is more expensive.
We saw several billboards that were just silhouettes, the most striking of which was a large black bull. As part of the beautification effort, signs on highways are banned unless they advertise something right there (a restaurant, for example). These billboards we saw will eventually be torn down but for now are just painted over.
For lunch we had gazpacho and I had Mosto, an alcohol-free wine which tasted like apple juice. We ate with another couple from New Jersey. The people on this tour are from all over--California, Illinois, Florida, Canada, ....
Córdoba has produced four great philosophers: one pagan, one Christian, one Jewish, and one Muslim. The pagan was Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C.E. - 65 C.E.), the Stoic philosopher who was Nero's tutor. The Christian was Hosius (c. 255 C.E. - c. 358 C.E.), a trinitarian and foe of Arius of Constantinople, who in the end gave in and accepted Arianism. The Jew was Moses Maimonides (1135 - 1204) ("Between Moses and Moses, there was no one like unto Moses"). The author of both medical treatises and religious philosophy (best known is his "Guide to the Perplexed") was driven out of Córdoba by religious persecutions (so much for the myth of complete tolerance by the Moors) and eventually ended up as personal physician to Saladin (who didn't have such strong religious scruples). And the Muslim was Averroës (1126 - 1198), contemporary of Maimonides, and also a doctor and also driven out by the persecutions. Were Averroeë and Maimonides acquainted? No one knows, but it seems likely to me.
The tour of Córdoba started at the entrance to La Judería, in front of the statue of Seneca. The streets in La Judería (both here and in Sevilla) are the type of streets one pictures when one thinks of Spain: narrow with white-walled buildings, hanging plants, and grillwork over the windows. Hidden in all this was a building that had once been a synagogue--one of the few remaining in Spain (the other two major ones are in Toledo). After 1492 this one was converted into a church (you can still see the outline of the cross on one wall) but has been deconsecrated and is now a national monument. It is very small (19 square meters [200 square feet] for the main part, with a much smaller women's balcony). Much of the original decoration remains, especially the stucco work around the upper walls. It looks, not surprisingly, Moorish, revealing the common origins and cultures of both groups. A plaque was erected at the entrance for the 800th anniversary of Maimonides's birth, and a little ways further on is a statue of Maimonides (the plaque on it is much newer than the rest of the statue, since one guidebook has a picture of the statue sans plaque).
The main attraction in Córdoba is the mosque (La Mezquita). Originally the site of a Roman temple and later a Visigoth cathedral, the location was chosen by Abdu'r-Rahman I in 785 for the first mosque in Córdoba. One of the largest mosques in the world, it was built in stages: the first section was approximately 70 meters (230 feet) by 35 meters (115 feet), the first addition by Abdu'r-Rahman II in 848 extended this to 70 meters (230 feet) by 75 meters (250 feet), the second extension by El Hakan II in 961 to 70 meters (230 feet) by 129 meters (425 feet), and the third and last by Al Mansur in 987 to 120 meters (395 feet) by 129 meters (425 feet). Its height is approximately 11.5 meters (40 feet). (With the exterior courtyard the measurements are 179 meters [590 feet] by 129 meters [425 feet].) The first section used pillars from the original Visigoth cathedral topped with red brick and white limestone striped arches. Later sections used new pillars and the final section has all limestone arches, with the red stripes painted on.
For some reason the qibla is oriented 16 degrees off the correct direction; it should be 45 degrees southeast, but the wall it's set in is at a 29 degrees NE/SW angle. Why this mosque was built incorrectly in the first place is unclear, but the qibla wall was the one moved in each of the first two extensions and neither time was the error corrected. The last qibla wall built contains a beautifully mosaiced mihrab (enclosure for the Koran) with a triple maksourah, also mosaiced. (A maksourah is a special chapel reserved for the caliph.)
The mosque, as I have said, is large--huge may be a better word. The Alabaster Mosque of Cairo could fit in one small corner. And in fact almost lost in the center of this series of archways which seems to recede to infinity is a full-size Gothic cathedral.
"I beg your pardon?" you may say. In 1236 Córdoba was recaptured by the Christians and the mosque converted into a church. Not content with building small chapels along the walls, in 1523 the Church asked permission of Carlos I to build a cathedral inside the mosque. He gave his permission in absentia and a 50-meter (165-foot) by 15-meter (50-foot) cathedral was constructed. When Carlos finally saw the mosque/cathedral he said, "If I had known what you were up to, you would not have done it. For what you have made here may be found in many other places, but what you have destroyed is to be found nowhere else in the world." I suppose we should be thankful that the Church did not tear down the whole mosque--though I suppose since it was consecrated as a church and had chapels around the outside walls that would have been awkward. However, this should teach us a lesson about trying to direct something from afar. There's a reason that architecture students are taught to visit the sites regularly before and during construction.
The cathedral, particularly in its setting within the mosque, reminded me of the painting The Architect's Nightmare with its juxtaposition of Gothic, Renaissance, Italian, and Baroque styles. Only the choirstalls by Cornejo show any real artistry (in my opinion) and even that is excessive (in typical Baroque fashion).
We spent little time in the Court of the Orange Trees, since it was still raining. Even the pigeons had taken refuge under the portico and flew up in a great flock as we passed through.
Outside we saw the column of the Triumph of San Raphael (erected in 1765 and looking worse shape than the six times older mosque). We also saw, but did not drive over the Roman bridge, which is still in use. However, I'm sure it's been renovated since now cars travel over it. (In fact I found out later that none of the six Roman arches is original.)
In the 10th Century, Córdoba had a million inhabitants, 3000 mosques, 300 public baths, a university, and a library of 400,000 volumes. It had paved streets with lighting. It was the equal of Baghdad or Cairo, the other two great centers of the time. (What of Constantinople? I can find no mention in any list of comparisons. A later check in the encyclopedia revealed that Constantinople was at its height in the 6th Century but wasn't sacked during the Crusades until the 13th.) But that was a long time ago, and all that has vanished. In fairness, it was not the Christian capture that destroyed it, but internal dissension. When King Faisal "longs for the vanished gardens of Córdoba" in Lawrence of Arabia, he would do well to remember that its downfall was brought about by just what Lawrence is warning him about--power struggles among the Arabs rather than external forces. (Though few of Córdoba's inhabitants were Arabs--but the Spanish prefer to think that they were conquered by Arabs rather than by North Africans.)
From Córdoba we drove on through the rain to Sevilla, arriving about 7 PM. Dinner was at 8 PM, where we got to hear everyone's stories of purse-snatching and robberies in European cities. Though Anna blames the crime problem on drugs, I am more inclined to believe those who say it is the 40% unemployment rate. Someone from our group said she met a woman in the elevator whose purse, containing $5000 in cash and travelers' cheques, was just snatched. (One has to wonder why she was walking around carrying that much in a purse.)
November 19, 1989: Sevilla gets twelve inches of rain in a year, so why did it get four on the day we were there? (Well, I don't know exactly how much, but it poured all night and all day. The Sevillanos are happy the year-long drought is over; I said they should have invited us sooner and this would have happened then.) Sunny Sevilla has not lived up to its reputation, but postcards indicate it must be sunny occasionally.
Sevilla is the fourth largest city in Spain (after Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia) with 800,000 people.
We began our tour by seeing (through fogged bus windows and pouring rain) Maria Luisa Park, with its pavilions left from the 1929 Exposition. The United States pavilion was the United States consulate for a while, but apparently isn't any more; others are used for other purposes. The Spanish pavilion (La Plaza de España) with its wonderful ceramic work is now an office building, but was used as the palace in Cairo where the British had their headquarters in Lawrence of Arabia.
On leaving the Park we drove by a monument to Juan Sebastián Elcano. "Who?" you ask. Why, the first man to circumnavigate the world. Now, there are three possible reactions to this statement. The first, rather naive, is, "Of course Magellan was the first. We learned that in school. Who's this Elcano guy?" The second, smug reaction is, "Well, that's right. Magellan died in the Philippines, so the honor of circumnavigating the globe goes to the navigator of his expedition, Elcano, since he made it the whole way around." The third, which I first encountered in Michener's Iberia, is that since Magellan had previously traveled east to the Philippines and returned to Portugal before traveling west to the same location, he had in fact circumnavigated the globe. This seems the most logical conclusion, but Elcano was Spanish and Magellan Portuguese, so it's not surprising that Elcano gets the monument in Spain.
We also passed the "Carmen" cigar factory (now a university) and the Alphonse XIII Hotel.
Having completed the bus part of the tour, we now alighted armed with umbrellas and ponchos to tour the Alcázar. Built between 1350 and 1369, it is a citadel and palace in the Mudéjar style.
The Alcázar uses braziers of charcoal for heating, which we would have welcomed, and thick walls (about one meter [three feet]) to keep the rooms cool in summer, when the temperature approaches 48 degrees Centigrade (120 degrees Fahrenheit). Luckily our sight-seeing was mostly indoors, so the rain was not a major inconvenience.
The floors were mostly tiled, but the walls were mosaic. The ceilings were Spanish in some rooms, Moorish in others. Though Islamic art usually forbids the representation of animals, some of the rooms decorated by Persian artists did show birds. And set in the ironwork of one window was a Star of David--the caliph's prime minister was Jewish, so this was incorporated into the decoration.
The most elaborate room was of course the throne room, with gold leaf on the ceiling rather than gold paint. This room also had balconies added about 400 years ago by the queen, who was not always allowed to sit in the throne room but wanted to keep an eye on what was going on anyway. These had supports shaped like birds, which seemed out of place in the otherwise Islamic room.
After the Alcázar we walked through the Barrio de Santa Cruz. This was the Jewish quarter of Sevilla five hundred years ago and so is also called La Judería. It is similar to that of Córdoba: white walls, grilled windows, narrow streets, and plants and flowers on all the balconies. It seems like the Jewish neighborhoods are the nicest ones in the places we visit. Of course, no Jews have lived there for five hundred years, and the areas are now kept up as historic landmarks, but those are mere details.
There is an old Spanish proverb: "He who has not seen Sevilla has not known marvel." The Muslim historian Al-Sequndi said, "If one asked for the milk of birds in Sevilla, it would be found." In sunshine, this is probably true. As it was, we made the best of the rain by saying it probably cut down on the number of pickpockets.
Our final stop was at the Cathedral. Whoever designed it said, "Let us build a cathedral so immense that everyone on beholding it, will take us for madmen." So they did. It measures 117 meters (385 feet) by 76 meters (250 feet) with a ceiling 56 meters (185 feet) high over the transept. Those of you who have been paying attention have noted that this is about half the floor space of Córdoba's mosque, though more than twice the volume because of the much higher ceiling. There had been a mosque on the site which was knocked down in 1401 to make room for the Cathedral, but the 70-meter (230-foot) minaret was retained as the bell tower. In the 16th Century another story was added, resulting in the 98-meter (320-foot) "La Giralda" that symbolizes Sevilla.
"The interior is striking in size and richness," says one guidebook. It is also very dark, and that made it difficult to appreciate fully. In one corner is Columbus's tomb (supposedly--I've also heard that he is buried in Havana and Santo Domingo). At any rate, the Cathedral is more notable for being the third largest in the world (St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London being larger) than for who is or is not buried inside it.
Unfortunately no one I asked knew where Calle Francisco Carríon Meijas was (or any street name approximating it), so I did not get to see where my father had lived twenty-five years ago, in a very different Spain than now, I suspect.
We returned to the hotel, postponing any decisions about afternoon excursions until we saw how the weather was. At 2:30 PM we had lunch in the coffee shop, getting in the swing of having lunch between 1 and 3 PM, and dinner at 8 or 9 PM, in the Spanish style. (This is one Spanish custom my father is not enamored of, but when I was growing up we usually ate dinner at 7:30 or 8 PM.) All shops and tourist sights such as museums close between 1 and 4 PM (approximately), then re-open until 6:30 PM. It takes some getting used to.
At 3:30 PM it was still raining so we decided to skip the afternoon sightseeing. This was our time "at leisure" in Sevilla, but Sevilla on Sunday afternoon is like Haifa on Saturday--everything is closed. In nice weather we could have just walked around; as it was, the only indoor place open was Pilate's House (a 16th Century copy of Pilate's house in Jerusalem). But even here the second floor with most of the furniture and tapestries would be closed, so we decided to linger over dessert (flan for me and tocino de cielo for Mark) and dry out before going to the flamenco show in the evening. I had a cup of coffee in the coffee shop and discovered that they are serving watered-down American coffee at breakfast instead of their usual.
At 6:15 PM we gathered, settled up our bills for the various optional excursions, and discovered we didn't miss much by not going to Pilate's House from someone who did. (I should note here that the sky did clear and the sun come out briefly around 5:30 PM. But it clouded up again within an hour.)
We arrived at El Patio Sevillano for the 7:30 PM flamenco show. (Every time someone called it a "flamingo show," Mark said he was amazed they could dance like that on those skinny little legs.) Actually, the show includes other music and dancing. There were eleven pieces in all, lasting about ninety minutes. The majority (probably all, in fact) of the audience were from tour groups, this being far too early for an "authentic" audience. In spite of this, and in spite of Michener's extremely negative opinion of flamenco shows he had seen, I thought the show was quite enjoyable. If one of the costumes did show a bit too much leg and the music tended to drown out the singer, the performers did show skill and style, especially in a quartet of a capella "zapateando" ("tapping"). And they avoided camping it up with roses held in the teeth and having audience participants, so it's possible that there has been a swing back to something less touristy.
After a small dinner at 9:30 PM, we went to sleep to the sound of rain.
November 20, 1989: It was not raining when we left and while it wasn't exactly sunny, we did get to see Sevilla a little better. Luckily we had to drive through the main part of the city, including Maria Luisa Park. It does look better when it's not raining.
Our luck didn't hold out and we spent the morning driving alternately through rain (often heavy) and sun. We stopped for coffee at the base of Vejer, which would have been pretty perched on its cliff if the weather were better. We also passed several "beds" where Atlantic Ocean water is evaporated, producing sea salt.
About 1 PM we arrived at La Línea, the border between Gibraltar and Spain. Gibraltar is a peninsula, not an island. Gibraltar's history has been (you'll pardon the expression) a rocky one. Captured by the British in 1704, its ownership by them was confirmed by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The Spanish have tried for years to reclaim it, both on grounds that the British violated the treaty by building an airstrip in the demilitarized zone (the runway crosses the access road!) and by allowing Muslims and Jews in, and on the basis that colonialism was bad. The latter argument was not particularly convincing since Spain retained her colonies until 1976 and still has enclaves in Morocco. The former reason had more legal validity (it led to Spain refusing to recognize Israel, such recognition being held inconsistent with the anti-Semitic clauses of the treaty, yet the Arab [Muslim] nations were recognized), but when the Gibraltarians in 1967 voted 12,138 to 44 to remain British, this made it awkward for Spain. The Spanish response was to close the border at La Línea from 1968 to 1985. It was re-opened when Britain made that a condition for allowing Spain into the EEC. My opinion on all this is threefold: 1) the Gibraltarians want to remain British (though a vote now that Franco has died might not be so overwhelming), 2) the EEC will eventually make a lot of this academic, and 3) if Gibraltar were part of Spain, it would lose its uniqueness.
We had an hour and a half to eat and shop before our tour. Luckily, just as we got out of the buses the rain stopped and held off until our afternoon's activities were over. We even got a bit of sun!
We walked up and down the main street, buying a couple of post cards (all currencies cheerfully accepted), then stopping for fish and chips. Though Gibraltar is no longer a duty-free port (according to one book anyway; another says it is and is also excluded from VAT), there is some reason why it is chock-a-block with liquor, perfume, and all those other items that haunt the duty-free shops in airports.
Our tour began (after finding one lost member and getting diesel for the mini-bus) by heading clockwise around the Rock (as it's called) through Dudley Ward, an 80-meter (260-foot) tunnel. There are also the Upper Galleries, a 113-meter (370-foot) tunnel dug out during the Siege of 1779-1783 (which by the way is technically part of the American Revolutionary War). There are many more tunnels, dug since then. We stopped at Europa Point Lighthouse for pictures if Africa, 15 miles (24 kilometers) away. (The closest European point to Africa is Tarifa, only 8 miles [13 kilometers] from Morocco.) Then we drove further up to St. Michael's Caves, part of a huge underground chain of caves with stalagmites and stalactites. Mark walked around humming the theme music from Journey to the Center of the Earth. We came down past the Barbary apes, quite tame now, and well-maintained since legend has it that the British will remain as long as the apes survive. (It sounds like the legend that the British Empire will survive as long as the crows at the Tower of London do.) The Spanish say it slightly differently--as long as the British are on Gibraltar, there will be monkeys on the Rock.
We came down past the Moor's Castle, built in 711 by Tarik-ibn-Seyad (Gibel Tarik means "the mountains of Tarik") and now in ruins, but with a British flag flying over it. Opposite it was a building that said something about four reservoirs but also had a Star of David on it. Maybe we'll be able to read the whole inscription on the picture we took. (We weren't.)
A drive back down Main Street (at times almost scraping the buildings with the bus) completed the tour, a remarkably elaborate one considering that the Rock is only 4500 meters (2.8 miles) by 1400 meters (0.9 miles). Four hundred buildings the size of La Mezquita would cover it all, yet over 28,000 people live there.
For all this, what I first think of when I hear "Gibraltar" is one of Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" stories (I think) in which time patrolmen can use time travel to choose their vacation spots and the main characters go back to the time when the land bridge between Europe and Africa broke. Anderson's description of the immense waterfall that resulted as the Atlantic poured into the Mediterranean basin has stayed with me for years.
Leaving Gibraltar we had to get off the bus with all our carry-on stuff and walk through the customs area. No one had their items inspected but they apparently "play the border up to the hilt" as Anna said. To Americans who change money back and forth with Canadian money and cross the border easily, all this business of constantly producing passports is odd at first. But we didn't even get our passports stamped here.
The line at the women's room being long, some of us used the men's room after it was empty. One must be flexible to travel.
We then drove for two hours along the Costa del Sol to get to Torremolinos. Between the rain and the dusk it was difficult/impossible to see much of the sea, though we passed through and saw several resort towns such as Marbella.
Arriving at the hotel we discovered that the coffee shop was closed--it closes at 5 PM in the off-season. The restaurant didn't open until 7:30 PM (it was about 7 PM when we arrived), but neither Mark nor I was hungry anyway. So we worked on our logs (and I started Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra), interrupted only by what we first thought was a power failure but turned out to be a blown fuse that shut off power to all the rooms on our side of the floor.
November 21, 1989: Happy birthday to me! We had a balcony outside our window from which we had a view of the water and beyond that the Mediterranean. Yes, it was still raining. (The people whose tour stays on in Torremolinos must have been thrilled!) It was also windy--the rain wasn't horizontal but it was more than a 45-degree angle. The beach is black sand, rather scruffy-looking. Maybe it was the weather, but I think the beaches at home are nicer. Certainly Caribbean beaches are. However, European tourists find it easier to come to Costa del Sol than to Sandy Hook.
Breakfast was a buffet with good cheese, good coffee (finally!), and Sugar Smacks. (Well, everyone's entitled to a little taste of home.)
We had tentative plans to go to Málaga and Nerja (site of some paleolithic caves) since there were no planned activities, but this idea was washed out--literally. The road to Málaga was flooded and nothing could get through. (We began to think we might have to drive the long way around to Granada--normally we would go through Málaga.) So instead we sat around listening to the pounding surf and to the lone trumpet being played in the empty cafe next door.
About 2 PM it stopped raining and we decided to go for a walk along the beach. We ran into some other people from our tour who said that both the doorman and a regular visitor say they haven't seen such bad weather in thirty years. Normally the sea isn't as churned up or the waves as strong, but the heavy influx of water is making it very rough. This is typical of our luck. If your area is having a drought and wants to pay our expenses for a vacation there, just let us know.
We returned to the hotel about 3 PM, and waited until about 4 PM to go out, since that's when the stores open. The room still hadn't been made up. We left at 4 PM and walked up the hill to the main part of town. There's normally an elevator but it doesn't run in the winter (which apparently this is). The stairs by the hotel were closed because of danger from falling rocks loosened by nine days of rain. By now at least the sun was out, else this would be the Costa de La Lluvia.
The main shopping area of Torremolinos is, I suppose, typical of resort areas in general. There are souvenir stores, liquor stores, jewelry stores, and clothing stores. The souvenirs in Torremolinos are damascene, Lladro, and Spanish leather, but otherwise the shops could be anywhere. We managed to buy some souvenirs though--there was a used book store where we got a Spanish edition of The Seven Per-Cent Solution and some Spanish, Dutch, and French science fiction.
We had hoped to go to the Basque restaurant in town but it was closed for November. We decided instead to go back to the hotel, drop our stuff off, wash up, and eat at the Jamaica Snack Bar just down the street from the hotel. This way we could eat earlier (about 6:30 PM) and not have to walk back up the hill. In order to accommodate all languages, the Jamaica has a photographic menu and you can just point to what you want. I had fish of some sort; Mark had curried chicken. I ordered a glass of wine (for about 75 cents!) and ran into a slight difficulty in that I said "roja" (red) and the waiter thought I said "Rioja" (a brand of wine), which he said came only in bottles. Luckily I remembered that red wine in Spanish is "tinto." Otherwise I would have had to drink white wine, which I did remember was "blanco" (white). (Further confusion ensued when at another table a woman asked if the pizza was "hot." "Hot? Of course hot?" was the answer, but when I asked if it was "picante" [spicy, which was what she meant] the answer was no.)
For dessert I had flan santillan (with chocolate sauce and whipped cream) and Mark had a banana split (with fairly small scoops). The whole meal for both was 1890 pesetas ($16.76)--not bad since that includes dessert, drinks, tax, and service (though we left a little extra as well).
November 22, 1989: Up before "rosy-fingered dawn" again--easy when it doesn't arrive until 7:30 AM or so. It had stayed clear--well, not rained--all night, so we were able to get through to Málaga. One the way we saw sections where the fields at the sides of the road were flooded and where the road itself was flooded yesterday.
Because of the road problems, traffic was much lighter than usual and we made good time. We stopped for coffee in Loja, which looked like a stereotypical Andalusian town with its ruined Moorish castle and two 16th Century churches set among the white houses.
We arrived in Granada about 11:30 AM. Our rooms weren't made up yet, but we were early enough that we did get a chance to see the Cathedral before it closed at 1 PM. Or rather, we saw the Capilla Real, the burial chapel of Los Reyes Católicos. Also buried there are Philip the Fair and Juana La Loca. By the time we finished seeing the treasure room and the paintings in the sacristy, the main cathedral had closed for lunch. Walking through the narrow streets near the cathedral we came across a door with Stars of David on the bottom panels, but the door couldn't have been more than thirty years old. I don't suppose we'll ever know why they were there.
After stopping to buy postcards and books, we ate lunch in the room while watching a German-dubbed Japanese animated version of A Dog of the Flanders. (Mark had been feeling under the weather for a couple of days and not up to a real lunch. Of course, this was easy weather to feel under. It was still raining.)
At 3 PM we went to the Alhambra for our sightseeing. I suppose I should say something about Granada's history. Captured by the Arabs in 711 C.E., it declared its independence in 1031, when the Caliphate of Córdoba fell. It was the wealthiest city in the Iberian peninsula from 1241 (the founding of the Nasrite dynasty) until its capture in 1491 by the Christians. It was the last city on the peninsula to be reconquered. When the Arab ruler Boabdil left, he stopped, looked back, and wept, upon which his mother said, "You do well, my son, to weep as a woman for what you could not defend as a man." The spot is known as El Suspiro del Moro ("The Sigh of the Moor"), though Michener calls it El Ultimo Suspiro del Moro ("The Last Sigh of the Moor").
We entered the Alhambra through the Gate of Justice. Above the outer gate is a hand, above the inner a key, and it is said that when the hand reaches down and grabs the key, that will cause the destruction of the Alhambra. I would think so.
We started with something that wasn't even part of the "original," Carlos V's Palace. Though admired by many for its Renaissance architecture and classical form, it seems to me as out of place in the Alhambra as the cathedral did in La Mezquita in Córdoba.
The Alhambra proper began with the Mexuar, originally the council chamber but later converted into a chapel by the Christians, luckily without damaging too much of the stucco decoration. The Mexuar leads to the Court of the Myrtle Trees, a beautiful rectangular inner patio with a reflecting pool (with goldfish) running down the center flanked by two rows of (surprise!) myrtle. Opening onto this tranquil scene was the Hall of the Ambassadors, the most magnificent room of the Alhambra.
A relatively small room (about 10 meters [35 feet] square), the Hall is topped by an 18-meter (60-foot) high cedarwood ceiling. Windows in the two-meter (six-foot) thick walls afford views on three sides of the countryside. The walls, of course, are covered with ceramic tile and stucco, forming geometric patterns as well as verses from the Koran.
From the Court of the Myrtle Trees we passed through the Mocárabes Gallery. This has a stalactite ceiling formed by applying many layers of plaster and then carving them away to form stalactites. This in turn led us to the Court of the Lions, perhaps the most photographed part of the Alhambra.
Approximately 30 meters (100 feet) by 15 meters (50 feet), this Court is slightly smaller than the Court of the Myrtle Trees, yet more interesting. In the center is a large fountain supported by twelve stone lions, supposedly representing the Twelve Tribes. When Mark asked why these animal representations were in a Muslim palace, the guide said they were possibly a gift from the Jewish community at the time. Of course, there was also a Jewish prohibition against graven images, so I'm not sure this explains anything.
A small octagonal channel of water flowed around the fountain. This was fed by smaller fountains in each of the four sides of the Court. (There is a passage in The Arabian Nights describing just such a four-channel arrangement; it may be common in Muslim architecture.) Though some of the fixtures are obviously new, our guide told us the water was all carried by gravity.
At the far end of the Court of Lions beyonds arches and roofs supported by a forest of pillars is the Kings' Chamber. In this the ceilings of the alcoves contain paintings of banquet scenes--such representational art may have been added after the Reconquest, since it is definitely non-Muslim. On the two long sides of the Court of Lions are the Hall of the Two Sisters (named for two white marble slabs in the floor) and the Abencerrajes Gallery (named for the family Boabdil beheaded there). The latter contains a twelve-sided marble fountain that provides one of the feeds for the Court fountain.
We exited the Alhambra through the Tower of the Carts and stopped at a shop there. One of the things they were selling was antique keys that were supposed to be a few hundred years old. One member of our group who knows antiques said they were imitations, and not very good ones--the green patina was too even and so was just painted on. Much of what one sees in shops catering to tourists is fake (several people mentioned items marked "Made in Japan"), but luckily most of the fake stuff is obviously fake. People wanting authentic items of any great value should be careful though, but that's true anywhere.
By the time we were done here, the rain had stopped. Even so, we took the bus to the entrance of the Generalife or Summer Palace, though it is the gardens rather than the structures for which it is known. Of course, since none of the plants are from the 15th Century (not even the trees), what we saw was actually a reproduction of the gardens of that time. There is, however, a palace with a Canal Court with pavilions at either end, a gallery on one side, and royal apartments on the other.
Naturally it started to rain partway through the gardens and it was difficult maneuvering our umbrellas through the archways cut into the shrubbery. (It's also difficult to take a picture while holding an umbrella, though I frequently found myself doing so.) As might be expected, neither the gardens nor the Alhambra was at its best because of the weather, though we all tried to picture them in the Andalusian sunshine that legend says actually exists. Personally I think it's like Brigadoon and only appears once every hundred years.
After returning to the hotel I went out and picked up a couple more postcards of engravings of the Alhambra made in the 18th Century envisioning how it was at its height. Also in the store, and in fact all over Granada, were copies of Irving's Tales of the Alhambra. We had brought our copy, which I discovered upon reading the introduction is abridged. But I was sure an unabridged edition is available at home and preferred not to cart it all over Spain. And, of course, English-language books are more expensive overseas, especially in non-English-speaking countries. (I will probably also get around to reading Don Quixote as well when I get back.)
I also picked up a chocolate croissant which I shared with Mark when I got back to the room (where he had been watching Star Trek in German). This turned out to be the best part of our dinner, which was served (more or less) at 8 PM. The food was mediocre (the main course was a very salty beef stew) and the service very poor. We had to ask for water three times. There is, I suppose, little incentive to provide good service to tour groups--there are no tips involved. Of course, this is true even on restaurants, where service is included in the bill (though a small extra tip is never refused), but a restaurant has to worry about its reputation. As long as a hotel is willing to take (and feed) tour groups, the tour company will continue to use it. (Our tour included "dinner every night except in Madrid and Torremolinos." As Mark pointed out, this meant we got dinner three nights out of eight, but they tried to make it sound like more.)
November 23, 1989: Happy Thanksgiving!
We awoke to somewhat clearer weather and could see snow on the Sierra Nevada. We drove north for about two hours, then stopped for coffee. Of course it started raining just before we stopped.
After the stop I took a window seat, which turned out to be a mistake, because ten minutes later we found ourselves in a long line of traffic creeping past an accident which must have just happened because the driver, quite dead, was clearly visible through where the windshield had been. This trip may well be memorable but for all the wrong reasons.
We proceeded back through La Mancha, stopping at Puerto Lápice in an inn where local tradition claims the innkeeper knighted Don Quixote. (One suspects this local tradition was promulgated by the local innkeeper.) Neither Mark nor I was hungry (he because he was still sick, I because of the accident), though I did try a couple of olives someone offered from their salad. With as salty as everything else had been in Spain, the olives were surprisingly unsalty. The inn itself looked very much as one pictures a Spanish inn, and appeared to be authentic, with thick walls and beamed ceilings. The outside was painted white and a very bright blue the Castilians consider a lucky color.
Our departure was delayed waiting for one of our group who apparently was buying four postcards using her Visa card. We passed through more of La Mancha including more windmills and several castles (the famed "castles of Spain"), mostly in ruins because no one can afford to repair or maintain them.
We arrived in Toledo about 3 PM. Founded by the Romans, Toledo has been successively ruled by the barbarians, the Visigoths, the Moors, and the Christians. It was made the Visigoth capital in 554 and abandoned to the Moors in 711, falling to the Christians in 1085. In terms of Jewish history, Toledo is the most important Spanish city, having a Jewish population in the 12th Century of 12,000. Even under the early Christian rulers such as Ferdinand III and Alfonso X, the Jewish community was accepted and prospered, but pogroms began in 1355, culminating in the massacre in Santa María Blanca synagogue and in 1492 the expulsion decree ended the Jewish community here. (The synagogue was consecrated as a church in 1405, hence the odd name for a synagogue.)
After driving up above the city for a panoramic view which explained the city's strategic value--it is perched on cliffs surrounded on three sides by the Tagus River--we drove into the city itself, our first stop being a damascene "factory."
The first thing a traveler should learn is that in every language in the world, the word "fak-tor-i" (or "factory") means "store." In this particular "factory" we were shown a room where two men were making damascene. The room had workbenches for about eight people all together, but only two were there, and I had the impression that they probably just started as our bus pulled up. After a five-minute description of how damascene was made, we were taken to the showroom where we could buy at "factory prices."
Now, the men working could turn out (let's say) a piece an hour. Smaller pieces might be faster, but this seems a reasonable average. The showroom had somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 pieces, ranging from small pins to platters and samurai swords(!). Basic arithmetic says that all this could not possibly be produced by only eight people working by hand. (If it was, it would indicate that they sell only a small percentage of what they make, and no one stays in business this way.) The pieces were divided into three classes: apprentices', journeymen's, and masters'. The apprentices' pieces were standardized representational pieces, so we saw hundreds of pins with the same swan-and-flower design. Also, since representational art is easier, with mistakes not as obvious, and with less gold needed to form the pattern, most pieces in the lower price range were representational, whereas the most interesting and artistic (in my opinion) were the geometric. And the prices didn't seem all that cheap. (In fact, the tie clasp I bought at the airport was cheaper than comparable pieces I saw at the factory, with workmanship just as good--and airports are not known for their bargains!) The bottom line is that I didn't buy anything at the "factory."
After leaving the factory, we proceeded to the Cathedral. To get there we had to pass the gauntlet of merchants handing out fliers (in several languages) complaining about how the tour guides direct everyone to shops or factories that give the guides a kick-back and prevent tourists from shopping in all the other shops. And this turned out to be the case, since we were not given time to purchase even a postcard as we were hustled along. Only inside buildings was the pace a bit slower. The guide said we could stop if we wanted, but then we would have to catch up with the group on our own--obviously next to impossible in the twisty streets. Toledo in this regard demonstrates the worst excesses of tourism, and provided a somewhat unfortunate final impression of Spain.
We started by seeing the Cathedral, as I said, which was started in 1227 and finished about 250 years later. It contains a very elaborately carved altar-piece and a large treasure room containing an enormous monstrance made from the first gold brought from the New World. More recent acquisitions include items used by Pope John Paul during his visit to Spain. The Transparente caused much contention at the time it was constructed, but I found the baroque carving of less interest than the guidebooks seemed to imply I would. Of more interest historically is the fact that in one corner is a Mozarabic (Visigoth) chapel; after trying for hundreds of years to absorb that sect, the Church (in the person of Cardinal Cisneros) decided that if its adherents were that dedicated, they could have their chapel.
Mark was fascinated by the modern version of lighting candles: you drop a coin in a slot and an electric light (the size and shape of a Christmas tree bulb) lights up in an array. Isn't technology wonderful?
The sacristy contained several paintings by El Greco (notably his paintings of the apostles), as well as those of other artists.
After the Cathedral we passed through some winding streets to the El Greco Museum. On the way we passed a bookstore which had a copy of La Historia de los Judios in España in the window. The bookstore was closed or I probably would have been tempted to duck in quickly and buy it, catching up with the group somehow.
In the El Greco Museum we saw only the painting on the ground floor (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz), because the building was so old that large groups were not allowed on the upper floors. This meant we missed, for example, El Greco's View of Toledo.
After the Museum we went to the Santa María Blanca synagogue. This is one of the two remaining synagogues in Toledo. The other, El Transito, is actually very near the El Greco Museum and I'm sure we passed it, but it wasn't pointed out, so I don't really know what it looks like. It is closed now, since they are in the process of moving the items displayed in it to the Santa María Blanca synagogue, which is being transformed into a Sephardic Museum. Still, I would have liked to know which building it was.
Before going in to the Santa María Blanca synagogue, our guide pointed out the Sinai Coffee Shop, owned by the only Jew in Toledo (who actually lives in Madrid, so I'm not sure he counts). The synagogue itself is, as I said, in the process of being restored to its original condition, so the stucco covering the pillars is being removed, the balcony windows reopened, and the Hebrew texts on the walls recarved. Unfortunately, this means right now it's less interesting, looking very much like a building under renovation. First we went to Leningrad a year before the 70th Anniversary of the Revolution, when everything was covered with scaffolding, and now we come to Spain a couple of years before the 500th Anniversary of Columbus "Discovering" the New World. While there isn't a lot of scaffolding, there is work going on, and parts of buildings are frequently closed. (It's interesting that the Michelin guide talks about "the plain white of the canted pillars and arches," when now the removal of the stucco shows them as closer to the red striping of the sort we saw in La Mezquita.)
After returning to Madrid, I went out looking for a pharmacy to get aspirin in, but the one closest to the hotel was closed. When I got back to the hotel, I asked Anna where I might find an open pharmacy, but she had some aspirin to spare, so gave us enough to tide us over. (Mark had been taking it to bring his temperature down.)
While out I also bought several boxes of candy (turron and marzipan) to bring into work and to parties. This was good, because it turned out that there was no such candy at the airport--the usual place to stock up on this stuff.
November 24, 1989: Not much more to say. We went to the airport and of course while we were waiting for the plane, the skies cleared and the sun came out. I did some browsing in the shops, but there was little of interest. I did get a damascene tie clasp (as I said before) and we bought a couple of candy bars to finish our money off. The security check was a bit more than usual, since we had Egyptian visas in our passports--the security agent wanted to know what our purpose was in traveling to Egypt, if we had traveled on a tour to Egypt, what tour company we used there, etc.
Since it was the day after Thanksgiving, the plane was about one-third full, so after take-off I moved back a few rows to an empty row, stretched out and took a nap. They announced that ten inches of snow had fallen in New York, which left us thinking we would have to shovel out our car (ten inches turned out to be an exaggeration, at least at JFK). We arrived back on time, took about ten minutes from de-planing to get outside (carry-on luggage helps you beat the rush), and then got to our car. The worst part of the return trip was the first hour on the Belt Parkway, in which we traveled about 10 miles!
I suppose I should provide a summary of my impressions and so on. I went on this trip of two minds: On the one hand I had heard such wonderful reports of Spain from my father and others who had been there. On the other hand I was undoubtedly influenced in my attitudes by the fact that Spain was the home of the Inquisition and for the last five hundred years has been a bastion of anti-Semitism (one need only consider the Treaty of Utrecht). So I ended up thinking that Spain was really great--about 700 years ago. And, in truth, I am hard pressed to name any great advances in the last five hundred years, with the exception, I suppose, of a handful of authors and painters. As I noted in my comments on Córdoba, the most recent of the four great philosophers from that city lived 800 years ago. The only other great philosopher from Spain who comes to mind is Ramón Llull (a.k.a., Raymond Lully) (1235-1315) from Mallorca, 600 years ago. One of Spain's major effects on the arts and literature seems to have been the burning of the Mayan codices and the general destruction of pre-Columbian artifacts for the inherent value of the gold they contained. If this sounds negative, so be it. As they say in the ads, your mileage may vary.