Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Granada: Home of the "Moors Last Sigh"

Granada would also be my last stop in Al-Andalus - just as it was for the Moors.  Upon the re-conquest of the Alhambra in Granada, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella succeeded in reuniting Spain and driving the Moors back to North Africa.

First on my agenda was to locate my host family in the Albayzin - an area of Granada where I wanted to stay since it was the old Moorish area of the city.
My host family was an Italian couple, Dario and Gloria, from Rome. They were both completing their doctorate programs at the University of Granada while raising two children. At the very least, it was a very busy and bustling home.

As with my other stays, they pulled a map and showed me where all things to see in Granada were located. From their location, it was an easy walk to the shops, the farmers' market and the El Mirador de San Nicolas - an amazing viewpoint. The next day, I took in all three.

If you ever go to Granada, be sure to include the vista of the Alhambra provided by the view. It is breathtaking. I could not photograph the entire Alhambra in a single shot. What a sight! And to realize that soon I'd be touring that very place.

Not only was there a spectacular view, but also the large plaza surrounding the viewpoint was a place of entertainment. There was a wonderful Flamenco guitarist accompanied by a woman selling castanets. She had a wonderful sense of rhythm. What a pleasure it was to take in the view while music played!

To go to the Alhambra, tickets must be ordered in advance. I had ordered mine online from USA. I had only to take the bus to "Plaza Nueva" to pick up my ticket and head to this famous monument to Moorish ingenuity. Well, honestly speaking, I much prefer the train or the subway.

Buses have a way of weaving through a city until I don't know where I am. Usually, the drivers tell me, but in this case, he did not. However, a passenger had heard my request and told me it was time to get off  and so I did. However, where was the Plaza from there?

As I usually do, I stopped and asked a woman - a woman with sprigs of rosemary in her hand. She handed me one and insisted on seeing my palm. Oh, no! I was in the web of a Gypsy!
After reading my palm about long life and a return to Granada, she demanded 5 euros. Five euros! That's a lot of money. I gave her 2 euros and got the Evil Eye.(My car broke down the day I returned to USA. It would have been cheaper to give her the other 3 euros.;-)) I still needed to find the Plaza.

I asked two taxi drivers and got 3 answers. Finally, I found the bookstore where the reservation is changed for a ticket. One of the taxi drivers was right! Next was to find the bus that goes to the Alhambra. By now, my mood was not good.

Beyond a ticket for the day, there is also a time when you can enter the Palace Nasrid. Before that time, you can enjoy the extensive gardens. As I walked up to the top portion of the gardens, I found that the tree-lined paths and stream gurgling down the side of the path did wonders to calm me. How peaceful it was! All the tension left and I was free to enjoy this beautiful place.

Finally, it was the time to join the line to enter the Palace - another spectacular experience! As with the Alcazar in Seville, the images I post here only represent a small portion of the total.

The next day I left the land of the Moors and  caught the plane to Barcelona. I had only a few days left in Spain and they would be spent in a big city - something I didn't want to do. Ah, but Barcelona had some surprises for me. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Glories of Seville

Heading a little further south via train into Al-Andalus, I arrived at the depot in Seville. The day was warm and sunny. I hailed a taxi to take me to my host family. As the taxi pulled up, Klara, college-age daughter in the family, waved to me from the second story balcony. What a welcome to Seville!

 Klara took me on the tour of where I'd be staying.  The whole place must be at least 3000 sq. ft. I remember there were 4 bedrooms, but it could've been 5 since I lost count - each with a bathroom en suite. My room had a balcony from where I could watch the comings and goings of the Sevillianos. (Her Dad is a highly-educated man, who speaks/reads several languages. I had my choice of any books in his extensive library. Wonderful! )

Klara had maps and brochures all ready for me.
She orientated me to everything I wanted to see and where it was in relation to her home.

As in Cordoba, I took the city tour bus to get familiar as quickly as possible with my surroundings. Seville is quite a bit larger than Cordoba. It is the capital city of Andalusia (al-Andalus) and has a history that can be traced back about 2200 years. There's even evidence of colonization by the Phoenicians, who named the area "Spal."

The tour bus covered all the city highlights including old narrow streets with their wonderful balconies. Some balconies were festooned in flowers and flags. Others showed a great deal of humor - even using cardboard cutouts of people or mannequins. One in particular made me smile. Sadly, it appeared so quickly I didn't have time to shoot a picture of it.

As I looked up at the balcony from the bus, I thought it was a man about to dive off the balcony. At first, it startled me. His hands were in the position to cut through the "water." At second glance, I realized that he had on a horizontally-striped bathing costume ala 1920s along with swim goggles and "he" was a mannequin! What fun!

Again, my home stay was close to all that I wanted to see.  A large, lovely park was a couple of blocks away. It was directly on the path to the Alcazar; which was one of the sites on my list.

All the gardens I saw are reminiscent of the time of the Moors.They all have heavily-packed dirt paths with boxed-in areas of trees and plants, and water features such as fountains or long, rectangular pools. I found myself thinking about the paths as being the arid desert and the assigned areas of green and water as the life-giving oases. It didn't feel austere. Instead, it felt highly organized.Yet, there was also a bit of whimsy in the benches and planters in the park.

Walking through the park and around a few winding lanes was the Alcazar.
Originally a Moorish fort, it was converted by the Moors into a palace; which is now the oldest palace in Europe still being used as a Royal Residence. It was dazzlingly beautiful. Although I think it must have been even more so before an earthquake in the 1700s caused the removal of the sunken gardens that visitors entered before taking the steps up to the palace. (These photos show a very small part of the entire complex and the beautiful gardens. The "orange" photo is the ceiling in one of the rooms.)


The only part remaining of the gardens prior to the earthquake are the "Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla." To reach the baths, you go down into what feels like a cave.Before the earthquake, the pool opened to the sky and had orange trees surrounding it.

On my last day, I walked in the Barrio de Santa Cruz area. Again, very near to where I was staying. It was a once the Jewish quarters of Seville. Being a very old section of the city, it has cobblestone streets, interesting alleyways and very narrow streets. (The narrow streets kept in the shade.) The barrio had lots of interesting information about the Sephardic Jews' contributions to the city during the reign of the Moors.

The  next day, I caught a taxi to the train depot for the long journey through the countryside to Granada. I had already secured my ticket for the famous Alhambra and couldn't wait to see it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Beautiful Cordoba

When we next find our much healthier traveler... the train is entering the depot in Cordoba. The days are very warm in this ancient city where there are still Roman ruins, reminders of the Visigoths and Moors and a mixture of all past cultures and conquerors.

This is the first stop in "Al-Andalus" (Arabic for the region of southern Spain) and the seat of the Moors empire in Spain. Small city by today's population, in
the 10th century it was the most populated city in the world. It was the vibrant center of education - medical, mathematics, astronomy - and the intellectual center of Europe.
It was a time of tolerance between Muslims, Jews and Christians. It excited me to be on the trail of what remains of the Moors' art and architecture.

You see, I've long been fascinated with the stylized representations of nature and the beautiful calligraphy at the height of the reign of the Moors in Spain. I took an art history class on Islamic Art and Architecture in college and vowed someday I'd visit the region in Spain and now... Wow! I had arrived!

My hotel was perfectly located to everything. It was in the "old" portion of the city- an easy walk to the Guadalquivir River, transportation, and the famous Cordoba Mosque. I had only 3 full days and nights with so much to do.

To get my bearings, a bought a ticket for the city tour bus and a ticket for the ruins of Madinat al Zahra. The bus was a wonderful idea. I saw so many areas and that gave me an overall feeling for the city. Next, was one of the goals on my list.

For the final in that art history class, I wrote about Madinat al Zahra( "beautiful town" in Arabic). This walled city was built by the caliph about 13 kilometers outside of Cordoba as the administrative, governmental and palace for the region and to rival the caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad. The gardens, buildings and location accomplished all that the caliph desired to display the power and richness of his kingdom and more. Sadly, it would be sacked and almost disappear within 80 years. Now, about 10% of the entire complex has been restored. 
A tour ticket to the site includes transportation to a low-build building where you find the theater featuring a 15-minute film with wonderful animations picturing how the city must have appeared. You see an ambassador and his aides entering on horseback completely in awe by the splendor of the gardens and buildings against the backdrop of the Sierra Morena mountains. Then, the scene dissolves and shows the viewer where it is in the restored area at the ruins. Very well done. With those images in mind, you board buses to go to the site. 

On my final day, I visited the famous Cordoba Mosque. Let me say that no photos or paintings can prepare you for its size and grandeur. I was so awestruck that even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. What magnificence! I kept thinking I was experiencing one of the wonders of the world. I shot photo after photo in the hope that somehow I could capture the scope of it. (Everyone who's seen it comments on the size. I read that at the city's zenith 20,000 worshippers prayed there!) 

When the Christians conquered Cordoba, they plopped a church in the middle of it. At least they had the good sense not to destroy and replace it. I'd like to think that they realized how extraordinary it was.

That evening, as I sat at an outdoor cafe enjoying my dinner, I realized that there was one more thing I wanted to do in Cordoba. I paid my bill and hurried to the river just in time to photograph the sun setting over the Guadalquiver River which passes through to
the next stop on my journey - Seville. Yet, saying good-bye to Cordoba wasn't easy. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Arriving in Madrid, Spain

Now that I've been home for almost two weeks and have loaded 700 images to my computer, cleared out a month of emails and snail mail, I'm ready to share my experiences and impressions of Spain with you. To make it easier for both of us, I'll divide the blog into 5 weekly segments - one for each city I visited.

The order of the 5 blogs as I visited them are: - Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Granada and Barcelona.

As part of the cultural experience, I decided to stay with families via AirBnB. As much as possible, I wanted to repeat the opportunity I've had by staying with friends in Paris and Naxos. The only exception was Cordoba. I just couldn't find anything that met the criteria and so I stayed in a wonderfully located hotel.

In Madrid, my host family was Jose and his partner, Marcello. Jose sent me directions for arriving at airport Terminal 4 (T4) to take the train to their home. Try as I may, I could not find any sign of a train. The entire plane unloaded and left with their baggage. I was all alone trying to find the blankety-blank train. I must have roused the interest of security cameras. Finally, a guard asked me what I was doing. This is how I found out that I was at T4S (S=satellite). No wonder I couldn't find the train!

By the time I arrived at their apartment, I was concerned that no one would be waiting. As it happened, Marcello greeted me and showed me to my room. It was a lovely, large bedroom and  my own bathroom equipped with everything I could possibly need. Given my interest in fine art and the Moors' time in Spain, Jose put together a map of the most important places to visit in Madrid.

My plans got a big kick in the head, so to speak. You see, the trip to Spain was arduous... a train to Seattle, a flight and overnight in San Francisco and two flights the next day - first to Dallas and then on to Madrid. By the time I arrived in Madrid, I had caught a bug. Jose was so compassionate. He raced around the apartment locating a heating pad and decongestants; which helped immensely.

I couldn't imagine being in Madrid and passing on all the art museums for a dang cold. I had three museums I wanted to see. I rallied enough to take the bus to the Prado. It's a huge museum and I only managed to see a portion of it.

Most outstanding for me was a special exhibit of Valezquez's works, a stunning self-portrait by Albrecht Durer and the statue of Goya in the beautiful gardens surrounding this enormous museum. (see images below)

On the 5th day, with the cold bug passing, I headed for the high-speed train that would take me to Cordoba and what would be the most exalted and overwhelming site of my journey. Ah, but that's for next week.

The Prado:

Diego Velazquez "Las Meninas" (1656):

Albrecht Dürer "Self-Portrait" (1498):

Statue of Goya in Park at the Prado:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Greetings from Spain - Posting #3 and Last

After Granada and now in Barcelona:

 The day before my reservation to the Alhambra in Granada, I went to a lookout point. All of the buildings and gardens that make up the Alhambra were so much bigger than I had anticipated. It took 3 shots with my little camera to include all of it. The viewpoint was also a source of some enterprising Spaniards. A man played guitar and sang while a woman selling castanets did a wonderful job of displaying her ability to hold the rhythm of his songs. It was a pleasure to put something in the hat when they finished.

On the day of my visit to the Alhambra, I took the bus to the place where I was to pick up my ticket. I got turned around and didn´t know which way to head, so I asked a woman - the wrong woman. She handed me a sprig of rosemary and then demanded to see my palm. "uh-oh" came to mind. Of course, my palm indicated a long life, a return to Spain and all sorts of wonderful things for which she them demanded 5 Eu. No small sum. To get rid of her, I gave her 1 Eu, but she was insistent, so I gave her another and told her I needed the rest of my change for the bus. It was clear that I had been caught by one of the gypsy, who are very clever about wheedling money out of the unsuspecting.

When I finally arrived at the Alhambra, the meeting with the gypsy and various other problems with directions found me in a foul mood. However, once I started walking along the tree-lined, cooling pathways with the sound of water as it splashed down the hill, my mood lightened immediately. It was the most beautiful series of gardens, fountains and pools imaginable. I think I should be allowed to live there. That way, I could always be in a pleasant state of mind.

Another wonderful bit was the place where I am staying in Barcelona is only a block from a museum which happens to have a wonderful exhibit of the works of Camille Pisarro - known as the "Father of the Impressionists." There were 67 paintings of his and I took them all in today. Whew! It was an unexpected but thrilling experience since he is a personal favorite of mine.

Two more days in Barcelona and I start my journey home. Sorry for the lack of images. When I sort them all out, I´ll post a few. No worries. It won´t be a case of lots of vacation slides. For the rest, you´ll see them as paintings. Until soon, R.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Greetings from SPAIN!!! Posting No. 2


It was a stroke of luck that I happened upon an Internet Cafe quite by accident. I was heading back to my room when I spotted the word "Internet" on a building.

Here´s what has happened to date:

I completed my time in Cordoba and the absolute highlight was the Cordoba Mosque. I have looked at so many photos of it and I can say that none capture the grandeur and the sheer size of it. I was truly awestruck. (I understand that at the peak of the Muslim time in Cordoba, the Mosque would have 40,000 followers praying there at one time!) It felt as if I was looking at one of the wonders of the world.

The next day, I left Cordoba via train to Seville. Here, the Alcazar was wonderful to view - especially the gardens. Originally, the gardens had been on a lower level and the buildings above, but an earthquake in the 1700s caused the engineers to bring the gardens in the front up to the level of the buildings. However, there is still an entry into what feels like a cave, but is actually what was once the lower level. All that is left to view is a wonderful lap pool. The posting reported that at one time it was open to the sky and was surrounded by trees. (I took photos of it and I´ll try to post soon. I don´t have my camera with me at the moment)

Tomorrow, I move to Granada. As promised, I will try to find a place for internet and include photos. This is all I can report now as I have to pack for my journey. Hasta luego! R.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Greetings from SPAIN! Posting 1

Hello and Hola!

It´s been almost a week since I landed in Spain. Presently, I am in Cordoba - having already left Madrid. I had a wonderful stay with my hosts in Madrid. The location was just great for transportation, markets, and quiet. The only fly in the ointment was that I arrived in Madrid with a sore throat, which matured into a full head cold.

In spite of that, I managed to make it to the Prado and the special exhibit of Velasquez as well as two of his successors as court painters. Funny enough, Velasquez´ style of painting the faces realistically but the clothes in keeping with Impressionism got me thinking of John Singer Sargeant. Maybe it´s true that there´s nothing new under the sun.

Cordoba personifies the southern Spain experience. It is a wonderful old city that has ruins dating back to year 1 CE! In the taxi from the train to the hotel where I´m staying, I could see the old Roman columns. Cordoba certainly shows the blend of so many historic times.

Today, I boarded an open-air bus for a tour of the city. I´m hoping to share the photos on this posting.

I´m sufficiently recuperated to go to Madinat al Zahra tomorrow. I wrote my final paper about the ruins in an art history class. What a thrill to actually see it!

For now, I´m going to try and post a few images.

Here´s the courtyard in the hotel in Cordoba:

For all the Northwesterners, here´s what a clear blue sky looks like:
This is a typical Street in the old section of Cordoba:
It´s not many images, but it´s a really clunky process trying to post them on this computer. This is just a taste of more to come. Hasta pronto! R.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Pierre Soulages at 94: Painting Reflective Beauty

On the previous blog posting, "Is it REALLY Black?" I mentioned that the next posting would be about an artist who has been painting black art pieces since the late 1970s. If you haven't heard of him, his name is Pierre Soulages. (1919-)

Pierre Soulages was born in Rodez, France and moved to Paris to study art. However, he decided not to go to art school and returned to his home. In 1940, he was called to serve in World War II. After the war, he returned to Paris, found a studio, and had his first exhibit at age 28. Since then, he has received many awards and recognition. One of his outstanding achievements is to be the first living artist to exhibit in the The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

During his long career, Soulages has dabbled in many different media. His works range from stained-glass windows to lithography, engraving, set designing and painting. He is most famous for his black paintings.

According to his bio, Soulages has always been fascinated with black. Even as a child, he used black to express himself in his paintings. (He doesn't find any of this strange because even the ancient drawings were made with charcoal.)

While traveling in East Asia, he was taken back to his childhood painting by the beauty of the Japanese black calligraphy on white paper. It was part of what influenced Soulages to paint a series in black which he titled, "Outrenoir." This series would mark a turning point in his career.

To quote Wikipedia: He sees light as a matter to work with; striations of the black surface of his paintings enable him to make the light reflect, allowing the black to come out from darkness and into brightness, thereby becoming a luminous colour"

Now it's your turn. Do you agree that black can be a luminous color ?