Monthly Archives: April 2013

27 – With friends in Madrid! April 29, 2013

I have had some trouble, worries rather, about the safety on my computer.  I was being attacked by a virus, I was thinking about a couple of friends who during the last year had their accounts hacked or whatever and they had to work hard to restore them.  What I did not think about was that I have a Mac and that they have a great reputation for security and that I have also their scanning programme which, of course, I did not think to use right away.

Friends came down from the north to spend time with me in Madrid, my friend Antonio, his novia, Montse and her sons, Martín and Diego, 11 and 15 respectively. Thanks, Diego, for reminding me to use my scanning programme.  Here we are in my favourite restaurant, Sama, in central Madrid celebrating my birthday.


We ate wonderfully well.  We then spent time walking around central Madrid, visiting the plazas and enjoying the people and the entertainers.


Here I am with my favourite, the bratty kid;  I was singing along with him.


Martín is enjoying swordplay with Puss n’ Boots.


Here he is trying to figure out how this lad is able to suspend himself in mid-air.


I am doing one of my necessary stretches, of course, hamming it up with Montse with Diego looking askance at adult behaviour.


The love birds with some cathedral in the background, from a later century and of no interest to this medievalist.


That’s me trying to be noticed next to the statue of Don Quixote in the Plaza de España.  It is great to have a photographer along.  I have shots of this statue of course without yours truly.


In the garden of Joaquin Sorolla’s house, an amazing late nineteenth century, early twentieth century Spanish artist.  Montse is quite the artist and has painted under the inspiration of this man but had never been to this museum which is absolutely full of his work. Try this link and be ready to spend time with it; <; If it doesn’t work, simply search museosorolla visita virtual.  It is one of the best that I have come across of this type.

I also led them to the tiny church of San Antonio de la Florida where Goya did the ceiling frescoes.  I much prefer them to those in the Sistine Chapel;  Goya actually painted real people, from the neighbourhood.  The basic story is of a miracle but he has little dramas going on in every corner of the cupola, the small round dome that is his canvas, bringing to life all the characters found in any neighbourhood of the period. Hopefully this will give you an idea of it: <;


A final shot of the five of us in Plaza del Sol.  Special thanks to my friends from the north, making the trek to Madrid to visit me.  Sunday we were also celebrating Montse’s feast day, Santa Montserrat.  The Spanish continue with this custom.

This past three and a half weeks has seen many highlights but the final weekend will be the special memory.  I think that it is in post #2 how it happened that the friendship between Antonio and me began.  Absolute serendipity!

26 – La Feria de Sevilla – April 20, 2013

I went to the fair yesterday in Seville, took the high speed train, 250 kilometres per hour,  through las huertas of the valley of the Gaudalquivir, one of the five major rivers of Iberia, joining together and feeding Córdoba and Seville. Las huertas surround every city, town and village in Spain.  They are the market gardens and orchards that feed the local population.  In the villages, of course, they are simply the private and community gardens of the locals.  Through the centuries, these cities had to be fed locally and Spain has ample good land and the weather to eat locally.  The 5 kilometre diet!  I did not recognize them at first, orchards with later maturing dates, but then it was clear.  I was surrounded by orange groves, stretching out in all directions, not quite as extensive as the olive groves between Córdoba and Granada, a bushy, dwarf variety to make the harvest so much easier.  Now I know the source of my morning, and at times, afternoon freshly-squeezed orange juice.

The Feria, ‘fair’ sounds prosaic for this event, takes place every spring and dates back to the mid 19th century, but comes from much older traditions. The focus is horses and carriages and Sevillanos parading throughout the afternoon, continually from around 2 to 8 o’clock.  I’ll start with a video;  I was comfortably sitting in the shade on the ground, enjoying the passing show.

There is a popular expression in Spain, dar paseo, simply means to go for a stroll.  But strolling is a fine art here,  practiced down through the centuries, particularly in the cool of the early evening and on weekend afternoons.  To be out and about, to be seen out and about, and to notice your neighbours who are out and about. (I am from the Valley, you know!) And dressed to the nines. The Spanish and Madrileños in particular have quite the reputation for the necessity of making a good impression.  The Feria is clearly a variation of this.  The horses and carriages, of all descriptions, dan paseo through the avenues of the Feria site, a large permanent site, the equivalent of  15 to 20 normal city blocks.  Casetas, not homes or shops, line these streets, meeting places for eating, drinking, singing and dancing throughout the afternoon and well into the evenings of this week-long event.  The carriages with their passengers simply circulate on a prescribed route for as long as they desire throughout these afternoons. No sense of a competition.  Gradually the casetas fill up;  most are private, associated with clubs, associations, societies, whatever.  Enough are open to the public.


The horses wear distinctive head decorations of different colours and often bells;  close your eyes and ignore the heat and it is time for a sleigh ride.  Just kidding!  35 degrees!  I’m delusional.


They come in all colours;  my favourite were the teams of black ones, short, not many hands high, and with amazing tails.  Breeds of horses developed since the time of the Caesars for conditions in Spain.


The men wear their traditional outfits, a short to mid-torso jacket, tight pants that come up to mid-torso (a curious look), leather boots (at times, leg chaps), and a distinctive hat. We are probably more familiar with this look from what we know of ranch culture in Argentine.  The ships to the New World left from Seville, the river was navigable in those centuries, and the people of Andalucia would have been prominent in the waves of Spaniards heading out to make their fortunes and to find new lives for themselves.


The young son continuing in the tradition of his father and grandfathers, anticipating many years of the Feria in Seville.


And the women of Sevilla are in their absolute glory.


A whole carruaje full, all dressed alike.  Inevitably there are shops devoted to this style; El Cortés Inglés, the very upscale national chain of department stores, has its own department.  A young woman I met on the train back to Córdoba, from Jerez, the home of sherry (how the Brits dealt with the pronunciation of the town – phonetically, Hay (very aspirate)-raithe, proudly showed me a photo on her phone of her outfit.


Some even made it up to sit behind their novio – always discreetly side-saddle.


A feeling of comfortable joy permeated the grounds, an affirmation of a culture that has endured for centuries and will continue to endure into the future.  Happy to be an observer, clearly aware that I was in the presence of interconnecting, overlapping families, societies, parishes, neighbourhoods, villages, etc. Each seemed to be very present and probably very much mindful of their lifetimes of coming to the Feria.  Nothing needed to change, to be different from all the years before.  We can get so caught up in the ‘I wonder what’s new at the…..’.

I made my way back to the historic centre of Seville and enjoyed a plate of shrimps with a glass of manzanilla, a type of sherry from that town down the road, Jerez.  Recommended by my friend, Antonio, from the north.  When in Seville……


Tonight I am going to an equestrian show at the Royal Stables and then a special nocturnal tour of the Mezquita.

25 – the patios of Córdoba – April 18, 2013

Córdoba has welcomed me.  There are almost too many things to see, monuments, museums, parks, historical neighbourhoods, local specialities in the restaurants, artisans, special attractions.  My hotel is in the ancient barrio of narrow lanes, a warren of walkways, occasionally interrupted by a vehicle that has been allowed through, and lined with walls of the houses and shops.  Along any of these quieter ones, closed doorways do not betray what is hidden behind them, some very old and almost forbidding, others more contemporary but alluding to the past.


That is definitely a Moorish horseshoe arch and the fine woodworking detail reflects the ancient Islamic art seen in the many doors of the Alhambra and in many a Christian church.  If the family is in residence, the doors are opened in the morning to reveal an entrance hall and a tantalizing glimpse of what is behind the wrought iron gate.


A traditional Cordoban inner sanctuary, un patio, around which the rooms of the home radiate. LIke the homes and villas of the Romans, Moors and other peoples around the Mediterranean. The exteriors of the home are simply white walls which reveal nothing of the life within.  Absolute privacy and tranquility in the midst of a congested barrio.

I took advantage of an organized tour of some patios the other evening. I joined my guide, Rafael, and two couples, one from Barcelona, the other from Zaragoza, both favourite cities of mine.  We were in a neighbourhood beyond the pale, beyond the concentration of Cordoba’s most ancient streets with its many monuments. I always like getting into the other neighbourhoods of a city, to see some glimpses of how the residents live.  The first one we visited had been built in the 19th century by immigrants from rural areas.  It is now gussied up, partly as a result of competitions for the most beautiful courtyard, like those for England’s most charming villages.


Yes, it’s me, in my sandals.  Too many geraniums and petunias for my taste.  Behind me is the well for the use of this household.


What genuinely surprised and pleased me was that within the confines of this small space four families lived.  Their living quarters would have been small, primarily for sleeping.  The four families, one would have been upstairs, a second on the ground floor, the other two in other corners of the courtyard,  cooked communally in the patio. The intense blue is an Arab influence and is also quite common framing windows and doors in southern Portugal.


A third living quarters towards the rear.  Interesting to imagine this patio without all the potted plants, with four families from the impoverished countryside living together trying to get a foothold in the city and provide for their children.  The trunk in the middle is that of a lofty palm.


I couldn’t resist this photo, not only the enormous lemons but the shadow of that palm tree. With the door to the street closed, this is a world unto itself.  And for those more prosperous, those who pass by would have had no idea of what’s within, another characteristic of Roman and Muslim domestic architecture.

A second house, located in a centuries old building that might have housed up to twenty families at a time has five patios; the one we visited was difficult to capture because of its intimate dimensions, but here is some of the resident canary’s welcome and some of our constant conversation.

The better video, showing the two levels, unfortunately was taken vertically by my camera and ended up on its side in the blog.  One more skill still to learn.

The third patio turned out to be the home of our guide, Rafael.  What is interesting is that it was constructed only about ten years ago, lovingly faithful to the ancient traditions.


I am just inside the outer door looking down the hallway, the walls lined with some of his collection of 18th and 19th century pottery and other artefacts.


What a life?  Daily tours, two hours of interesting conversation, a wonderful way to make a living and contribute to his community.  In the busy months ahead, he will take up to 30 persons at a time and I am sure that he gets the crowds.  Good for him!

Our final one (I am leaving one out), once again in a street of walls and closed doors was built originally in the 15th century as a military barracks, and was at various times, a hospital, a convent, and then privately owned. Over the last 100 years, it has been the birthplace of a well known artist, Anna Lopez and of a much honoured poet, Pablo Garcia Baena.


To the right is the top of the well which is still used for the daily task of watering all the blossoms.


One final picture instead of a thousand words.  A wonderful memory from this week in Cordoba which is daily providing me with a treasury of memories.  Rafael was passionate and very knowledgeable about the history of the tradition and of his neighbourhood. The other members of the group contributed well, each in their own way.


24 – The Great Mosque of Córdoba – April 16, 2013

Clearly one of the wonders of the world, built during the centuries of Islamic rule in Andalusia, expanded by different rulers.  An enormous size, 180 X 130 metres.  Very difficult to capture its dimensions given its location in a neighbourhood of narrow lanes.


Along the sides, amazingly beautiful doors and windows, 12 in total, the doors themselves covered in brass.


The intricacy is breathtaking and note the absence of human and animal depictions, celebrating the ineffable, the unknowable, Allah, in beauty and pattern.


856 columns, in marble, reused from various Roman buildings.  With horseshoe arches in distinctive red and white pattern;  also arches on top of arches to raise the height of the ceiling.


I took dozens of photos;  each captures and doesn’t capture the feeling, the sensation of being in this building, this prayer room for the Cordoban community a thousand years ago.

The mihrab, on the eastern wall, in the direction of mecca, to orient those praying in this direction.


The prayers in Arabic around the arch;  calligraphy is a key element in their art and architecture, almost invariably words from the Quran; the word glimmer in the morning light, coming through the strategically placed windows in the cupola.


And the stunning cupola rising above the interior space.


How about another attempt to capture the interior?


Cordoba was captured by the Christians in 1236.  The residents, a mixture of Muslims, Jews and Christians, continued to live together. Two of the groups prayed in the mezquita;  the Christians did build chapels around the exterior walls.  They closed the fountains, though, the source of water for making ablutions, an essential part of the preparation for prayer for Muslims.  There is some suggestion that in response to the Arab baths and the ablutions before prayer the Christians considered it holier to stay dirty;  pagans bathed, they didn’t.

In the early 16th century, 300 years later, 300 years after this new variety of convivencia, that a Christian church was planned to be built in the middle of the mezquita. The residents, Christian and Muslims, objected together.  The intervention by the distant king, Carlos V, who had never been to Cordoba, made the project a reality.  He came to Cordoba after it had been built and apparently said, ‘you have built what you or anyone else might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world.’  What does he mean?  ‘You have built.’  He made the final decision.   This Charlie also made the decision to build an incompatible Renaissance palace at the Alhambra.  Now look at the mezquita from the Roman bridge.


You have to look carefully;  where the bridge ends, you will see a building of uniform height which stretches quite a bit to the right, just beyond the lower buildings near the river bank – in the first part are recognizable five rounded arches.  This is the eastern wall of the mezquita.  Rising in the middle of the lower building, the Grand Mosque of Cordoba, is the enormous Christian church.  I could easily go into a rant.  I won’t.  The photo speaks for itself.  You can only imagine what the central part is like inside the mosque and the effect it has.  An abomination!  After centuries of convivencia, centuries of intolerancia.   Please Francis over there in Rome, tell them to undo this.  Restore the great mosque to its full original beauty.  Give it back!  What an opening to other faiths, to the equality of these faiths as faiths important to their faithful, the three peoples of the Book.

My shortest post, but the photos tell the story.

23 – Finally, my favourite little church in all of Spain – April 14, 2013

The photo I use on my site forms the backdrop of a spectacular bit of architecture from the late seventh century,  the Ermita of Santa Mara de Lara de Quintanilla de Las Viñas.  In my third post way back in October, I wrote about my first visit there, expecting it to be a relatively quick one, to take pictures of a site that I had read about and how that day became one of the hooks that bring me back here.  In a wonderful bit of serendipity, I ended up hanging around and climbing this chunk of rock called the Pena of Lara.  If you check back, you will have the whole story including photos of my friends and me climbing on a beautiful 20 degree February afternoon.  That same day found me in the Casa Galin, a small hotel in a nearby historical village where I am now writing this post.  It is my home away from home in Spain. I am welcomed back each time and recognized by some of the villagers.

Trusting that you have checked back and seen some of the lay of the land, I present you with a photo of where I was standing at the end of our hike up, taken recently by a friend of Antonio (he is the guide at the church, my friend) a hang-glider. Yes, that is snow.

Pena de Lara hang-glider 1

The church was probably a small monastery built by aristocratic patrons in the decades just before the arrival of the Moors in 711.  Only the apse and crossing survive; the nave would have collapsed at some point after the building had been abandoned and the stones taken to be used in other constructions.  Look at the day – almost 20 degrees perfection! Like my first day here.


The tiny apse has three levels of remarkable friezes on the exterior;  using such a high level of ornamentation was a traditional device to emphasize the importance (in Spanish, you would say la transcendenciaof this part of the church, the apse.  Each level conveys a different message, the importance or transcendencia of the frieze grows from the lowest to the highest.  The first level is a simple series of rolls with palm leaves and grapes or dates alternating.  The palm leaf was a popular motif – the classical Roman symbol of victory here adapted to signify the victory of those faithful to Christ.  The shell signified someone or something of importance, of trascendencia, and in this case, the doorway to the apse.


The second level is more refined, a procession of birds, another symbol adapted from Roman art, symbolizing the procession of the souls.  In the mix, the tree of life.IMG_2620

The upper level is a series of 10 animals, arranged from the middle moving outwards in pairs:  lions (male and female),  deer, griffins, possiby bears, and a type of cattle.  Each has theological signifcance for the medieval mind.  The lion is incredibly ambiguous, the king of beasts like Christ is king of the world, and at the same time, a dangerous animal who could tear you apart, like the devil who could destroy your soul. The medieval people also believed without question the legend that newborn lions were born either dead or blind, were kept in a cave by the female and on the third day the male entered and brought them to life or gave them sight by licking them – all symbols of the saving power of the water of baptism and of Christ’s resurrection from the cave (tomb) on the third day.  A curious doorway into the medieval mind!


The style of the sculpture is refined, sophisticated, almost unknown at this time anywhere in Europe although we only have what has survived for comparison, the influences most  likely from the Middle East.

Inside is another story, a very different style, almost as if the work had been done by children, deeply carved, two-sided in parallel lines.  At the entrance to the apse, columns (reused from a Roman building) and imposts – a large type of capital.  On the right, flanked by two angels, Christ as the sun, the rays emanating from his head borrowed from classical portrayals of Apollo, the Roman sun god.


On the left, Christ as the moon.  I have found this motif in a variety of other places in churches in Spain.  Source?  Very simple, John’s Book of Revelation, one of the key books of the New Testament in medieval Spain, giving insight into their obsession with the coming Apocalypse.  John writes that Christ is the sun and the moon, the alpha and the omega.  To the left and right of Christ as sun god, you can see the Greek letters for the alpha and the omega.


The two very different styles – the same or different workshops?  “Well, I have a theory, it is my theory, and mine alone.” Thank you, Miss Ann Elk.  I shall take over now.

A couple of years ago, at the end of a day, Antonio and I went for a couple of hours walking through the hills.  We returned at dusk and reopened the church.  I came with a supply of candles and saw these more simply carved sculptures in candle light and it all made sense, at least to me.  In the early morning darkness before the sunrise, the time of mass, the effect of the candles on these Christ figures would have been extraordinary, particularly for the lay people in the nave, the shepherds – reinforcing, reinforcing the divinity of Christ in the eyes and hearts of these uneducated ones who would have had a very rudimentary sense of what their faith was all about.  Two different purposes for the sculpture – the ones outside and the ones inside;  therefore, two very different styles done by the same team of sculptors.  At home, I actually have some short videos of the candlelight working on these imposts.

One final shot, of the ermita from up top, taken that day in February 2009 before we made our descent.

IMG_2874On this beautiful Saturday (yesterday), with spring clearly here, I spent the afternoon chatting with visitors to the ermita (Antonio is bored after too many years of doing this), discussing its history and sculpture.  Great conversation, even debate;  one visitor had nothing but disdain for the architecture from this period.  I had fun convincing him of its value and worth, or least, trying to convince him; you know how these Gothic freaks can be!  My brief life as a tour guide.

Yikes, my longest post so far.  No apologies;  this could have been much longer. I barely touched the material in this tiny church.  Count your blessings!

22 – The bit of Salamanca that intrigues me! April 13, 2013

The historic centre of Salamanca is a labyrinth of narrow passageways, a pedestrian paradise,, with limited vehicular traffic, primarily for deliveries in the morning.  Salamancans are clearly the benficiaries of their medieval origins. Along one of these lanes, I spotted the most amazing narrow building.


It is being held up by girder supports.  It is now a copy shop and obviously sells soccer jerseys.  (I am not writing this special post because there is a Leo Messi, No.10, jersey for sale.)  But look at the first level, horseshoe arches with the decorations that only make use of vegetal and geometric designs, with an absence of animals or humans, so characteristic of Islamic art.


And within the one of the right, a metal grill with the Star of David. Was this part of the original design? The second level also amazes.


The metal frame of a window, in the style that is still so prevalent throughout Spain (remember my post on the balconies of Barcelona) with a row of six Stars of David.  Notice the glass work on the bottom side of the window frame.

I asked at the tourist office, even showed them my photos and they knew nothing about it.  I know that there was a very vibrant Jewish community in Spain from as early as the second century.  I also know that during the centuries of Moorish rule,  the three different People of the Book, the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians, lived together in harmony, mutual tolerance and artistic and intellectual stimulation.  The period is known in Spanish as la convivencia. 

Is this the house of a Jewish family?  A bit of research tells me that this street is within the area of the Judaria, the Jewish neighbourhood in medieval times.  The Jews were expelled finally in 1492.  Quick test?  What else of significance happened in Spain in that year?  Top marks if you said the final victory over the Moors by Isabel and Ferdinand in their capture of the kingdom of Granada.  Yes, I know that there was something else.

If it was the home of a Jewish family, did this family have it built with the horseshoe arches, an essential element in Moorish architecture.  Think of the Great Mosque of Cordoba.  There is a medieval synagogue in the city of Toledo which is clearly inspired and imitative of Moorish architecture, the decision to build like this made by the Jewish community.  I am heading back to Toledo at the end of the month to take another look at a Christian church which reflects clearly the same Moorish influence.  And I am left with the growing sense that the Christians and the Jews thrived within and under the influence of the civilization that the Moors developed in Andalucia, their name for Spain, and that their admiration and appreciation of the centuries of convivencia was reflected in their own architecture, to the degree that they chose to build using the styles of the group who dominated politically and militarily but stimulated artistically and intellectually.  At times, the Christians chose to build in the Moorish styles rather than in the dominant Chrisitan (that is, the rest of Europe) styles.  Interesting, provocative!  Another reason why Spain is such an intriguing place to visit. I visited a monastery  yesterday  in Burgos;  a small chapel has an amazing wooden ceiling – Islamic and chosen to be decorated in that style by a Christian king. I have finally found a photo of it on the Web.  Forgive the grey border from the site where I located it.  The jaw drops in the presence of such beauty!

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Food for thought as I nibble on my plates of tapas!  Something to pursue when I return to Toronto and the Robarts Library with its magnificent collection of texts on Spanish art and architecture.

21 – Salamanca, past, present and future – April 11, 2013

I have finally made it to Salamanca, an ancient university city, founded in the 12th century, of similar vintage as Oxford, Coimbra in Portugal and Bologna in Italy, located in the northern mesata, tablelands, with prairie-like fields of grain extending to beyond the horizons in all directions.  It is built primarily of a golden sandstone, very reminiscent of Oxford and of Cotswold villages.  And, of course, it has its own Plaza Mayor, the impressive section on the left with balconies for the royal family when in attendance at events in the square.


I had the opportunity to enjoy a beer in the outdoor café across the way as the sun was setting and was able capture some of the sandstone’s marvellous glow at this time of the day.


If you go back to the first photo, you will notice of course that there are many people in the square;  it is a university town and the streets and squares are absolutely filled with 20 somethings.  I think that the city has to hire old folks to stroll about to maintain some sense of balance.  On top of it all, on this day , just beyond the old walls in the open air, a rock concert was taking place with an estimated 6 thousand youngsters enjoying the live band and inevitably littering the parkland.  And the whole scene dramatized in a curious way the conjunction of past, present and future in this city.


I am actually standing on a Roman bridge which crosses the river to the right, 26 some arches, at least 16 were part of the original span built in the first century of this era.  The church of Santiago in the middle distance is 12th century Romanesque. The curious stone animal is a Varraco that dates from the megalithic period (Stonehenge and other such circles as well as dolmens, burial sites that are found across Europe from around 5000 years ago).  They are found in Spain and their function might have been to assert territorial control or for religious, ceremonial reasons.   And wonderfully loud raucous rock music to bring all these ages together, of course, in the presence of kids between the ages of 16 and 24 and this one old fart. And the cathedrals (Salamanca has two) presiding over the afternoon.


I chose this photo from the bridge to show how it is still used in this pedestrian-intensive city;  the concert is behind those trees at its far end.  Excuse the cloudy skies.

The cathedrals and university buildings are primarily from the 15th and 16th centuries, the Renascentista Style – popularized in Italy and elsewhere.


I do not like this style of architecture.  I prefer Romanesque, 11th and 12th century, rounded arches, with relatively simple sculptural additions.  The cathedral is overdone and quite simply makes me uncomfortable to be around and in.  It is simply my preference, my taste, developed to a degree from the time I have spent in the back valleys of Spain searching out small rural parish churches.  I have done this often enough that the simple stone work now gives me a buzz.  Now if I had been alive when this cathedral was being built, would I have been bothered, even been angry at this new fang dangled style.  Romanesque buildings were possibly and probably torn down to build it.  Would anybody else in the town have been upset by this careless neglect of the old and preference for the new?  Did anyone care about what was happening to their neighbourhood? I have found the keys at times to Romanesque village churches in order to see the interiors only to be disappointed, even angry because of the renovations, modifications, “updatings” – “oh, let’s change this old way for the new way” – so many have Baroque altars, everything painted in gold. I first impulse is to lock up and return the key as quickly as possible, muttering “ba-roken, ba-roken” under my breath.  I have spent time in Oxford, with its many colleges, each built in a different part of a different century, in somewhat different and evolving styles.  We do not notice unless we are art historians.  A noted Victorian scholar was so incensed by the “new” look of a recently built college that he purposely changed the route of his daily walk so as not to have to see what he thought was an abomination.  Would anybody in 16th century Salamanca have thought of this cathedral as an abomination?  Were the residents of this ancient city through the centuries concerned about the urban landscape or is this just a 20th and now 21st century concern?

A wealthy factory owner in Salamanca at the turn of the 20th century would clearly have challenged many a resident with the design of his mansion, built on the walls of the old city, looking down over the park (and the Roman bridge, 12th century church and 5000 year old Varraco).

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This is what this jewel looks like today, virtually identical.


Would you have manned the barricades to prevent  this from being built?  Would you have found yourself saying derisively, “Art Nouveau, what garbage, it definitely doesn’t belong in my city!”

Today within the parameters of this ancient city, with its ancient university buildings and innumerable, it seems, churches, this building contains an amazing museum of Art Deco and Art Nouveau.  What a surprise?


The original door, gate and carvings in the stonework around the door.  The jewel is the central atrium.  I was not allowed to take photos;  what you see now is therefore illegal.


A true devotee of these styles could spend all day here;  I learned a lot, the collection is very comprehensive, worth the trip to Salamanca.

I have to add one more sight and insight into Salamanca, past, present and future.


The Spanish eat a lot of jamón, have for centuries, and will continue to eat this national dish, many of them, I am sure, at every meal.  These sandwiches literally dripping with slices of jamón ibérico possibly say it all.

20 – Madrid’s Plaza Mayor – April 7, 2013

The Plaza Mayor is one of the principal meeting places in Madrid, a large square constructed by royal edict during the 17th and 18th centuries.  Over the centuries it has been the scene of bullfights, markets, theatrical presentations, celebrations, the Inquisition (the subject of a well-known painting),

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and at least one infamous execution, of the king’s secretary;  the why and the who-ordered-it are still the subject of debate among historians.  The largest celebration was apparently the welcome given to Carlos III on his arrival from Italy where he had been serving as regent there in the Spanish dominions in the boot.  He was a king who actually did things for the people, like build them schools.  Unheard of!  Who could have imagined this?  Must have been something conjured up by Don Quixote himself.  I wonder how long he lasted. Today the plaza is a gathering point for Madrileños and Madrileñas.  Their great pastime is  strolling in their finest through the streets of the city on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying a leisurely lunch or glass of wine in one of the many outdoor cafés.

plaza intro

The building on your right has an extraordinary facade.


The registry office is nearby and today a lesbian couple were celebrating their wedding, legal in Spain for quite a few years now, surround by friends and family.


On Sundays, the periphery is the scene of flea market.  The square is only a few blocks from the Rastro flea market, a Sunday event which takes over a whole neighbourhood of narrow streets in the area known as La Latina.  Here we see a vendor of old books.  Behind is a shop that specializes in making hats (gorras), including military ones, a shop which will have occupied this location for many a generation.


In the other direction were stamp sellers;  in the narrow passageway leading away from the square are found a half dozen small stamp and coin shops.  Like antique shops, they tend to congregate.

But a place like the Plaza Mayor will have always attracted entertainers, theatre troupes and solo performers, along with the hawkers of wares of all kinds and probably, most likely, pickpockets. And today is no exception;  they range from a wide variety of costumed ones looking to make a euro from tourists who want their photo taken with a matador, a flamenco dancer, or even an outrageously over-the-top and portly Spiderman.  Hopefully I will have a video of him in action for another post when I return here at the end of April.

I present to you a swami being held up by his companion sitting on the ground holding a piece of thick bamboo on which the said swami is sitting.  I will get a better photo for that later post.


A man with a bucket of the right kind of soapy water creating amazing bubbles to the delight of the children.  He was so tender with the little lad who at first was quite unsure of what was happening.


But my favourite was the bratty child in the pram.  On Friday the actor had a face only a mother could love on payday.  (I grew up with this expression.)


I went back the next day to take a video;  the actor was much younger, but still a delightful performance, delighting children of all ages.

The mud fight in Post #18 took place in the plaza mayor of this village of 700.  Every city and village has its plaza mayor, the site of the important events in the life of the pueblo. In a couple of days I will be getting together for dinner with a friend, Montse, in her city of Valladolid, a few hours north of Madrid.  I have never been there.  Where will we meet?  In the Plaza Mayor, to be sure,  seguramente.