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Posts from the ‘Spain’ Category


“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering–remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
– Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa

I loved learning about the history of Cape Town during my time in South Africa. I was grateful for the time I had to reflect on my journey thus far. I especially enjoyed fitting the pieces of the historical “world puzzle” together in a new way while I was here.

Learning about the age of exploration while in Spain and Portugal just a few months ago had a great influence on my understanding of world history while I was in South Africa.

Now, I was able to hear the other side of the story. Now I had a chance to hear the side of the story from a country that was explored. I was able to gain new insights of the effects of the explorers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on these other lands. The lands where the riches and gold were taken. The people were taken.

One thing I finally realized during my time here is that in every country I have ever traveled, there was a people who were injured, wronged and even wrongfully put to death. Sometimes the victor becomes the loser, and sometimes the wronged become the oppressor. I also realize at some point, for the cycle to stop there must be forgiveness. The countries where I have seen an end to cycle of revenge proceeded through a process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Unfortunately, all over the world we are reminded of peoples that have not forgiven the past and do not seek peace. Demond Tutu also said that “Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.”

Countries must forgive to get past hurts and move forward. And, likewise, individuals must have forgiveness to move on from the past. I think this is something we all should consider as we move into a fresh new year and do our part to spread peace.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
― Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, Anglican Church of South Africa



Sevilla is the heart of what we think is Spain; The red flamenco dresses, the flat black hats with flat rims, the painted fans women use in the the extreme heat, the music with the strong vocalist and the lighting speed guitar. Yes, this is the Spain we see in movies and it is real. This is also the Spain that keeps stricter siesta hours and your options become more limited for everything between two until eight in the evening; things really just start going at about ten at night.

We did see the cathedral in Seville, the third largest, after St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s, and largest Gothic church in the world. It was large but not quite as ornate as some of the other religious sites we had already seen in Spain. We were surprised to find the tomb of Christopher Columbus inside the cathedral. The tower was impressive and was worth the thirty-five floor climb to the top. The bells of various sizes were all connected to ring with a single pulley system. The view of Seville was outstanding from the bell tower.

We also visited the Alcazar, which was a palace built in the fourteenth century by the conquering king. It is still a residence of the King and Queen of Spain while staying in Seville today. The tile work inside the residence and the gardens were the highlights of the palace visit.

Our favorite parts of Seville were the cultural entertainment and a late night buggy ride in the lighted parks and surrounding buildings of old Seville. The first night we had our introduction to flamenco. From the lighting fast tapping to the stomps that would kill any bug. The flamenco dancer is in charge and getting “egged on” by the palmists who cup their hands in a way that sounds like additional stomps of the feet. The vocalist commands out to the dancer and the dancer plays out the song. Together they tell a story while the skilled guitarist looks up and smiles at the scene.

Several styles of flamenco were demonstrated. The single male, straight back, with feet so quick that his body appeared to vibrate. The single woman in a fitted dress to the hips and ruffles to the floor demonstrate strength and grace. Every limb and every finger in complete precision. Next a woman with a fan, flinging and snapping the object into submission. The woman with a scarf danced in another style while the most complex seemed to be the woman who danced in a dress with a train behind her. When she turned or twisted she had to fling the skirt around to the desired position with a kick of the foot without missing a tap of the dance. Finally the female balladeer describing with her facial gestures as much as her words the meaning of her pain. This prepared us for the event we were very lucky to attend the next evening.

Every two years, Seville holds a flamenco festival where the “stars” of flamenco preform. Since the website for the event was only in Spanish and there were not advertisements on display I had a feeling that it would be tricky to get tickets. We were very lucky to obtain two of the last balcony tickets for a performance. The company of Mercedes Ruiz took every part of the dance we had seen from the night before to the next level. Mercedes Ruiz preformed the entire event with a few short costume changes. When I was in college a professor once told us that standing ovations should be saved for the “out of the ordinary” or a performance that is the culmination of a life’s work. I thought that this would be a performance that warranted such an ovation. After the performance the crowd clapped in a uniform way that sounded like unified stomping back to thank the performer. Cheers echoed in the theater. In all my life I have never experienced such an ovation.

Finally the theater itself was quite spectacular. There was floor seating but most of the upper seating was in individual balconies that circled the theater. The usher escorted us to door twenty-one on the first balcony. She unlocked the door and there was a small room with a mirror on one side and a coat rack on the other. Below the coat rack was a small bench. Directly in front of us was a second curtain, parting this curtain to the side we found two seats and our individual balcony. What a wonderful experience. When you come to Seville, remember to take a siesta, stay out late when the city comes alive and attend at least one cultural performance during your stay.













Celebrations in the World

My favorite festivals are the unplanned surprises one discovers in a country. I think that is because there are no expectations. Just a feeling of being very lucky you are here on that given day to experience something with the people who live there. What is interesting is that the locals try very hard to communicate what is happening and why this celebration is important.

We were luckily to have found that very kind of a celebration when we were on stopover in Tarifa, Spain. It seemed that many foreigners, like us, were here to take the short ferry ride to Morocco. After dinner we noticed what looked like a couple of secondary school bands gathering at the end of the street. “Is there something happening tonight?”, I ask the older men standing on the street corner. “Yes, there is a parade in honor of Maria de la Luz. She is the patron saint of Tarifa. It’s over there.” He pointed to the north. “In the town center by the church.” That was in the direction of our hotel so we walked on.

The sleepy little street we had booked a room for the evening had completely filled with people, young and old, waiting in anticipation. We stop at the corner of our hotel and wait with the crowd. We are told that the statue of Maria de la Luz was found in the harbor and ever since she has been the patron saint of the city. She would be paraded in celebration of their saint. This was the final day and to be the grandest celebration of the entire week of festivities. What followed was a very slow and well orchestrated tribute to the saint. Everyone was dress in their finest clothes and it was obvious that it was a privileged to be invited to walk in the parade.

Men on horses holding silver staffs wearing light blue suits with short jackets followed by alter boys dressed in red robes who swung an incenser whose aroma wafted above the crowd. The soft smell rose up in the streets. There were also acolytes in white holding crosses and staffs. There were young girls dressed as princesses with sashes. Several dozen women wearing high heels and Spanish mantillas proceeded in linear order followed by men in suits with staffs. The focus was all on an alter that was dressed in blue velvet and silver. Large vases with flowers covered the altar. There were also sprays of flowers laying on the alter. In the center there was a large statue on top of a pedestal. Then I looked down. I could see two rows of four pair of feet moving only an inch forward with each step.

Then like a layering of a cake there were more men with staffs and rows of women, priests and other liturgical officials followed by the selected queen and princesses of the celebration. City officials including the mayor and city council were part of the the entourage. The highlight was the second altar with the Maria statue. It was even larger than the first altar. Locals were touching the altar as it passed by as if asking for a blessing. There were two rows of six feet under this altar.

At the corner we were standing, a block from the church where the procession had started, I finally understood the reason that the parade was moving so slowly down the street as someone handed a bottle of water to the men under the veiled altar. Then two men appeared from under the altar, drenched in sweat and completely drained. The parade just started at nine and it would be almost three and a half hours later that the parade would be making its final entry back to the church. I wonder if the men under the altar signed up for this honor or maybe they would receive a special blessing for this duty or maybe their wives simply signed them up for this role?

How often do we hear, “We used to…”, when remembering a holiday since that tradition became to hard to fit in our lives or when we use a twentieth-century substitute that will make life easier but still “somewhat” observes an old tradition. Sometimes we lose part of our traditions when we chip away at them. Traditions are important, they bond a family, community and a nation. It was an honor to watch a total dedication to tradition in a community in the twenty-first century. I believe a lesson we should all remember.











A pleasant resort on the Costa del Sol for the sea to take you away. There are more foreign tourist here than locals who come for the sun and the waves. No need for going to see entertainment in town. All the theater you could need is right here, playing out on the beach.









“It’s not that important of a cathedral according to our guidebook.” I state as we approach the entry of the Granada cathedral complex. I step through main door and look up. Wow. As my eyes finally rise to the top of the arch that seemed like a football in height. The side arches were as tall as a basket ball court. There was gold everywhere including on the two large pipe organs in each side of the nave, where the congregation sits. Large paintings were covering the walls several stories high. In awe I whisper, “I guess we really do know where the gold of the new world went.” And I realized that some of the less important sights in Spain would be main attractions in the United States.

Leaving the cathedral we continue on our walking path to find the Alcaiceria, which was a silk market in the Moorish quarter. We entered the arched entryway to find ourselves in a marketplace that was a feast for the eyes: fabrics, purses and light fixtures of all colors. The jewelry and other home decorations, it all was a shoppers dream. Shopkeepers were on the entry of each stall ready to make a deal. It was a delightful way to see the local crafts from the region.

Nearby the area, we are approached by several gypsy women holding out bunches of herbs and wanting to give blessing on our way to the old caravanserai. This was a stopover point on the silk road where merchants could rest their camels and spend the night. I am sure there was a bit of trading going on here as well. This particular place was used more recently to store coal after the Reconquista.

Our favorite stop in this medieval city was the Alhambra. The Alhambra was a Moorish place named for a red headed sultan who first lived here. This was a great place to visit to see an earlier civilization and the place they built. We hired a guide for this visit and it was interesting to learn of the social customs and history of the people who called this place home.

The arched doorways ornate with tile, small columns, tile floors and cedar ceilings with intricate designs are some of the memorable detail work in the palace. Written in Arabic throughout the complex over and over on the walls, “God is the only Victor” ensures that the people of this time do not forget their focus.

When foreign guests arrived from a long journey the first thing they would receive is water before having a meeting with the sultan. Water was an important and generous gift in this hot and dry climate. The water system was built before the palace. It is a system based on gravity from the mountains using the aqueduct techniques similar to those used in Roman times. All the water runs down the mountain and runs through the gardens and inside the palace. There were streams and fountains and pools of water throughout the palace wherever one looked. The gravity from the slope powers the fountains we see throughout the Alhambra. Different irrigation system flows the used water out of the Alhambra.

The garden was my favorite area to roam. I loved the garden fountains and was amazed at the height the water achieved without a mechanical pump. There were specific areas for the production of food but gardens inside the Generalife walls were only for flowers and green vegetation, a place to enjoy life away from the palace.

In the evening, we watched the sunset on the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas. As darkness overcame the earth the lights illuminated the Alhambra in all its glory.

Upon leaving Granada I must mention the 650 year old hotel we were privileged to stay at for a short time on our journey. The Santa Isabela la Real was restored to its original glory as a medieval mansion. I loved the thick wood shutters that could open on each side or as small window doors in each of the four corners. When the shutters were closed all light was removed from the room even during mid day and even better any noise was halted on the outside. The staff was beyond helpful and this was just a pleasant oasis.
























Medieval Magic!

We are in Toledo to see the art of El Greco and one of the best cathedrals in Europe. As we walk to our destination point we are quickly sidetracked by cello music in the air. We turn right to find ourselves treated to a concert for two. My mother asks, “Will you see if he can play, Out of Africa?”. I translate and the young man smiles and promptly changing his expression and puts the bow on the cords. We were transformed by this place as we walked the pebble paved streets. Most streets were not much more in width than my arms stretched out.

On the way we were also drawn in to an exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci. This was one of our favorite finds while in Toledo. We all know Da Vinci the painter and his interest in anatomy but I had no idea of his interest and skill in engineering, design, science and mathematics that would transform the future in so many areas. In the nineteenth century, a German cataloged all the inventions made to that point. I was surprised to learn that all but one had been invented or improved by Da Vinci – from ball bearings, anemometer and rotary joints to an underwater breathing machine, parachute and helicopter to an army tank, crane and motor vehicle. Da Vinci had designs on display of them all. He even had drawing of a transmission differential system which allowed wheels to rotate at different velocities on a curve. Interestingly, our early twentieth century vehicles did not utilize this technology yet. I couldn’t help but thinking what a wonderful project this would be for a group of students. It did not matter what your interest was: art, mathematics, science, history, machinery, music, arm forces, the air or the water, there would be something to peek any students interest when thoughtfully studying the work of this individual.

The beginning of the reconquering of Spain by the Christian Catholics
over the Moors was done from the center of the enemy territory. Toledo was the Vatican of Spain. It had been and still is the religious capital. The entire church was overwhelming by the immense size of the main church but also the side chapels. The cathedral was completed in 1495, it took 250 years to build, and every religious leader and monarch added their own permanent mark during that time. Your eye will surely be drawn to the ornate gold work throughout the site including the gold leaf work painted on the ceiling. Some of the religious vestments on display were from the fourteenth century. The fine embroidery and beads on the heavy cloaks was as intricate as a medieval tapestry. The walls in chapter room, where the current cardinal presides, was lined with wood carved seats and above the chairs were paintings of every cardinal who presided over the cathedral since 1515. One realizes pretty quickly where the gold of the new world ended up when visiting this cathedral and this city in general.

If you want to see the work from El Greco this is the place to do it. El Greco lived the last half his life in Toledo and his artwork is throughout the city. His paintings often focused on the connection of earth and heaven and have an unmistakable movement in his figures caught in a moment. He often used a red, blue, yellow or green color to highlight what he wants you to focus on in the work.


























Our Favorites Things in Madrid

Walking out of Retiro Metro Stop we found ourself in a 300 acre park with young and old enjoying the weekend life. This was the park of kings but more than 200 years ago “the good king” or “the best mayor of madrid” gave the park to the public…..And the locals are using the park. In the center is a pool eight to ten football fields wide, now people rent row boats and enjoy time on the water. Others are sun bathing but most stroll in the streets watching the free entertainment that sprouts up. The children, more than anywhere in Spain seemed happy here. If you have children you must venture to the Retiro Park.

We were lucky enough to catch the last night of “Carmen” preformed by the Compania Antonio Gades. It was a stirring performance by the dancers who received many ovations. The strong mature voice that rose above the flamingo caught my heart. There was no better place to see Carmen performed.

Our favorite was the Prado. This museum contains over 3000 works of art. There is no way to see the Prado in a day. We were fortunate enough to secure one of the most amazing teachers I have ever been aquatinted with for a private lesson. Hernan Satt, the owner of Madrid Museum Tours and a former professor of art history in Madrid, challenged and guided us through the art and through the history of the art. After two and a half hours we absorbed a semester of art and history of the Iberian Peninsula in a morning. We were very grateful for his expertise in making the art come alive from canvas. Among many new thoughts, I walk away with an appreciation for the contributions Diego Velasquez to the world of art and learned of the political risks he was willing to take to express himself.