Thursday, May 27, 2010

Off Schedule

Yesterday (5/26), on our way from Cordoba to Seville, I got Liz to stop the bus for a short break at a small hotel/gas station along the highway. Nothing spectacular, but just such a relief to be off-schedule even for these few minutes.

Inside, we found the same kind of roadside place that would be selling walnut bowls along I-70, and a restaurant with 3 local guys vaguely astonished at this surge of strange visitors.

We tried the tapas--those small portions displayed in a glass case at the bar, then scooped up in 5 inch shallow bowls. Robert got the pork-in-brown sauce which we had the night before at dinner. I asked, but couldn't make out what the white stuff was, so I got it anyway. It turned out to be what they call Russian salad--some vegetables, perhaps lumps of potato and tuna, and a lot of mayonaisse. Great stuff. David got a plate of churrozos--spicy sausage chunks drowned in oil. And a round of Alhambra draft beer. A perfect afternoon break from the bus.

Just now, I ventured out for a snack. I didn't wind up with expresso, but picked a second outdoor cafe in the Plaza de los Venerables--an open space filled with orderly cafe tables, postcard racks bright and inviting, Spanish fans on one wall, a display of colorful skirts, and an out of place Ben and Jerry's.

The waiter asked if I (just) wanted tapas, and pointed me to the no-tablecloth table, a bare plain table that wobbled on the cobblestones. From the list of tapas, I didn't choose the "Spanish raw ham," nor the "Manchego ewe Cheese," nor "Small croquettes of ox-tail." I was tempted by the "Chick-peas Andalusian style," and could have gone for the baby squid, or the squid, or the sliced hake. But I stuck with the Seville veal stew (I know, I know--not PC), and the Sevillian Olives and a glass of red wine. The olives turned out to be pickled along with chunks of green and red peppers, lemon peel, and whole cloves of garlic, which I peeled and ate along with the rest. 2.40 euro each for the tapas, 3 for the wine, and .90 for the bread I didn't order, but ate anyway. Very nice.

Meanwhile, a group of 4, then 6 German tourists arrived. I heard "trinken," "olives" in English, and soon they had a few snacks and large glasses of beer. Not long after this forward expeditionary group, there was a crowd surge from one of the narrow corriders that make up the old city, and 25 more Germans arrived. They all chose to sit under the umbrellas of the adjoining business, the one that had the tables already set with olives and glasses and napkins. The guitar player over at the side went back to work, the volume of the plaza increased, and the head waiter at my place glared out at all the business he had lost. I felt vaguely guilty, as if he blamed me as the jinx, rather than the bare tables he offered.

I finished my wine, and left the Plaza to its odd cacaphony of Spanish chords and German verbs.

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Seville in Bloom

Thursday, May 27

This is our first full day in Seville. We got to sleep in past 7, had an almost leisurely breakfast, then started the morning's activities. A few folks stayed at the hotel, under the weather, or some, like John, "churched out," or someone else who was "burned out on cathedrals," or Taylor, waiting successfully for his cell phone to be shipped from Costa del Sol, where he didn't pack very well.

We're staying in the city center, the old city. We had a short walk through the Murillo Gardens to the bus. Impressive, lush--American magnolia trees, one still in bloom, but with corded trunks some 10 foot thick, pink and white azaleas reaching 8 or 9 foot tall, lantennas growing as a woody perennial, not as a quick summer flower in Missouri, and trees whose name I didn't catch, full of crayon blue-purple blooms hanging down like clusters of paper lanterns. Other trees from Asia, eucalyptus from Australia, white doves released by Argentines in 1929--now both a nuisance and a spectacle. Not a native landscape, but rich. We are in Oz.

Our bus took us past various pavilions built for a 1929 Spanish cultural exhibition, which I think didn't quite take place because of hard economic times. Glad we're past that kind of chaos. The Peruvian pavilion catches the eye with its mahagony balcony, a white dove perched on it as we passed. The American pavilion had once been our consulate here. The Colombian is topped with a stone-sculpted pomegranate, split open to show its red seeds. (And pomegranate = granada in Spanish, I think I heard). But the Spanish pavilion was, obviously, the most elaborate--an impressive facade surrounding a large open circle, stone pillars, four ceramic bridges into the center, and 48 ceramic benches, each representing a Spanish state, with its history and contributions set in mosaic--with the addition of the not-actual, but necessary extra that features Don Quixote.

And of course, the open area filled with gypsies, some selling fans and shawls and trinkets, others agressivesly pushing sprigs of rosemary at everyone, "free," but requiring then a donation.

Back on the bus, we returned to the center, and toured the Alcazar, a Moorish influenced building that echoed the Alhambra, and served as a palace for various dynasties since the 14th C. I was most impressed with the Ambassador's Room, where the King received Columbus on one of his returns.

Others can write more details about this palace. I did stay and snap pics of sections of the enormous tapestries near the exit--enormous, hmm, 30 by 50 foot each? Full of scenes of struggle, travel, conquest--and a dog.

The rest of our morning we spent at the Cathedral of Seville, the 3rd largest in the world. Rich, elegant, but being just a bit "churched out" myself, I most enjoyed the tomb of Columbus--bronze statues of 4 soldiers bearing the body, over the marble tomb itself. There is some dispute whether Columbus rests here, or in the Dominican Republic. Our guide said that DNA tests prove that there is at least 150 grams of Columbus himself here.

Several left from there to go visit the semi-traditional Arabic baths, the hamman. "Semi" because these are not sex-segregated, and are not in the nude. Swimsuits and massage. A few of the guys instead went to a military surplus store, and others are off to an old bullring, now a museum.

And I'm about to go look for an expresso.

bob in Seville

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another day, another continent

Tuesday, May 25--

Our excursion from Costa del Sol to Morocco made for another very long day—a couple hours of bus ride to the port, not much waiting around time, since that bus driver took us slightly to the wrong place, an hour on the ferry, another bus, two border crossings, and of course, reversing all that to return to a late dinner. But still, our afternoon there gave us a good slap-in-the-face introduction to North Africa.

We had a lively guide who knew how to put on a show, including his claim to have 3 wives already, and his flirtatious, funny, just-shy-of-sexual-harassment proposals to Ericka. When her brother, Steve, offered to barter for her, our guide gallantly said there weren’t enough camels in all of Morocco to buy such a beauty. (In Egypt I was offered first camels, then a whole silver shop for my niece. Might have been a good deal).

We stopped for quick camel rides, 1 euro a ride, without the problem we had in Egypt of being semi-kidnapped and having to bribe the camel guide to let us return. I didn’t need to repeat this experience. (I’m still working on trying out all modes of transport—car, bus, train, planes, ox-cart, camel, elephant, hot-air balloon. Still haven’t made it onto a dirigible. Is there still a dirigible at some of the MU football games? Can anyone sneak me aboard?)

Robert has already written about the markets, the open-air stalls in the winding streets which create a kind of community very different from our more rigidly separated lives. What seems a barely-contained chaos to us is highly structured, personal, traditional. And we were much out of place, taking pictures that were sometimes resented, sometimes welcomed, rushing in our long string through the close walls, our guide, his helpers, and several security guards in dark sunglasses and leather jackets making sure there were no “problems” with this lucrative tour.

And so, we rushed through the markets (I managed to buy a couple loaves of bread to pass through the group, but no time to pick up a bag of dates or select from the dozen different mounds of olives), stopped for a Berber woman to dress Ericka in a traditional costume, saw the locals kick too-slow cats out of their way, saw no dogs at all, and listened to our guide’s very good explanations of the market and the principles of Islam. For instance, he talked about each district in the market having public access to water, a Koranic school for very young children, and a mosque. We also learned the outer facade of buildings may be very plain, while once past the outer door, each household is oriented inward, toward a central courtyard, and often very richly kept for generations.

And so we arrived at the rug shop, certainly, yes, plain outside, but huge and ornate within. We were quickly ushered upstairs, and a new show began. The head salesman, at least for English speakers, explained the quality of the rugs, their Persian style, the way to examine both sides, how they will not burn with a lighter, the value of such an investment. Then he began unfurling rugs, the largest first in a dramatic fling, then more and more. When he finished, he began asking who might be interested in each rug, and at the slightest hmm... a rug would be stacked at the lucky person’s feet, for later pricing. Well, this took a while. It was an early day without sufficient coffee for me, and I nodded off a few times. The same for Ann and a few others. But rugs did pile up, and several people made purchases—and from what I could tell, these really are high-quality rugs. In some richer life, I might bring home a Tree of Life or one of the brilliant red rugs.

While all these negotiations went on, I tried on a white gellaba (traditional loose robe) downstairs, and felt ready to walk onto a movie set, but at 180 euros, well, no. And just as well, no pictures of me in my gellaba have yet surfaced. Then the group began to disappear down through the market for dinner. I saw Kelly still in the dark corners of the rug-domain, and then Dennis leaning over the balcony upstairs, so I waited on them. They had been almost ready to buy, but were about to turn them down, when the real pressure began. The sales folk weren’t at all happy to see me, and tried to steer me away. Fortunately, we managed to escape and find the rest of the group.

Lunch consisted of soup, beef-kebabs, cous-cous with carrots and chicken, a coke, sweets and hot mint tea. A nice touch was the cake and candles for Kristina’s birthday.

Our last stop was at an apothecary shop. The main, um, doctor, showed us various remedies—sniff this bag of black methol for lungs, snoring; rub orange-and-something-else oil on your temples for stress; an aphrodisiac; skin creams and musks. A quick demonstration and quick sales, while Robert and Kelly got back massages, and Chrissy and Liz had henna designs painted on their arms, the thick paste “dried” with a shower of glitter that spread everywhere by the end of the day.

And then back on the bus, through the two borders—while the poor people on the ridge above stared down at all of us.


Granada, and the Alhambra

May 24, Day 6
Ah, but it’s not really May 24 just now—it’s Sunday morning and I’m back at the Heidelberg in Columbia, in my corner booth with both sunlight and electricity, having the buffet breakfast—all-American mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, pulled pork... This all keying in to Liz telling us one reason for the immense popularity of pork in Spain. Back after the Moors had been pushed out, and the King and Queen—Columbus’ patrons—had kicked out all the Jews, with that low-pressure choice leave, convert or die, eating pork in public was one way to demonstrate good Christian loyalty. The more slabs of ham, the less likely to visit the friendly folks of the Inquisition. And the Spanish do like pork. I could have gotten an appetizer plate of “raw ham” somewhere we stopped, but couldn’t quite get past that American injunction, never eat undercooked pork. Might have been in religious trouble there, but the bacon bits in the green beans and that second plate of pulled pork should keep me out of religious dungeons.

But Granada...

Strangely, one highlight was a transportation glitch. We got off the not-bullet-train in Granada, in our transit from Madrid to Costa del Sol, and the bus hadn’t arrived. It had a fan-belt problem somewhere, and as the minutes drug on, Liz urged us to go look for a cafe. That failed, but even better, I found supermarket. You know, a non-restaurant food place for real people. Suddenly we’re off the menu, and there were mounds of plums and bananas and pears, stacks of bread, cheese, and no longer 8 or 10 euro bottles of wine, but decent wine for 1 or 2 euros. Much of the group made pilgrimages over to this amazing Spanish invention, the supermercado.

Granada is itself a beautiful city, but the focus for our tour was the Alhambra, a massive Moorish palace built among the hills where cold water could flow down. It’s hard to describe all the aspects of this place—started in the 9th Century, expanded for the last great Moorish rulers over centuries, a Christian palace added later. So there are Renaissance courtyards and gardens, strangely mixed with Arabic mosaics and arches. One small courtyard centered around a small pool, bordered by orange trees in bloom. Whole rooms, walls and ceilings, are carved with intricate lacy patterns, the remnants of brilliant blue and red still showing faintly.

One room, facing an arch and a long outdoor pool, was built of 8-sided geometric tiles. The ceiling was formed of hundreds of shaped pieces of wood, in 7 concentric rings, to show the seven layers of heaven. Our large tour group had divided in two, and my half-group’s guide was Nick. In this room, he began to talk about the natural appeal of mathematic structure to the human mind, how such structure engages our sense of order. Alas, Ann was not in this group.

Another small sky-open courtyard was in itself rather plain, but at the center set another working fountain, still gently flowing with very cold water from the springs far uphill. After a loud tour group of Spanish women left, Nick urged us to listen to the sound of the water, that the sound of water is the sound of life, the basis of life. This space would have been meant to invite quiet contemplation, the rim of the basin where the water spilled out evenly on all sides once inscribed with mystic poetry. (And I thought of my across-the-ocean dogs, our nightly walks to the creek, which always has its own voice, a different voice every day, even when it is silent.) Fred B. was much taken with Nick’s sense of how the architecture itself invites reverie. I can’t think of a good edition/translation, but I suggested he might look at Rumi’s poetry someday.

Well, there is a great deal more to the Alhambra, which others need to describe. I perked up at the literary link—a plaque on one wall inside the palace dedicated to the American author, Washington Irving (you know—“Rip van Winkle,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—that guy). In his travels through Europe, he had lived for a while in Granada, haunting the then-decayed and nearly abandoned palace. His 1832 book Tales of the Alhambra inspired interest and sudden tourism, which led to the palace’s restoration. Irving remains a celebrated literary hero in this dusty center of Spain.

Amy was intrigued by Nick’s odd accent—which we eventually determined was an ex-pat Swedish. She revived a bit of her college Swedish lessons and chatted with him, and is more dreaming of a school trip to Scandinavia. I’d vote for that, though wish it could include a week in Iceland on the way. So much world to see.

Outside the palace are the extensive gardens, including the sculpted-labyrinth hedges—grown of some kind of cypress (?). Evie and Roger kissed over rose bushes, and everyone posed in a green archway with a long fountain behind, or at the garden wall overlooking a panorama of the city. There was enough garden we could have walked for hours along the winding paths.

And leaving Granada, in the hillsides not facing the palace, the caves are full of gypsies, who cover the entrances with canvas or plastic sheets, and make a home.


Excursion to Toledo

May 23, Day 5

We visited Toledo as a day-trip out of Madrid. The medieval capital sits above a winding river, with a Roman bridge (I think I heard that), houses of the rich outside the city, old city walls, and the seeming chaos of winding stone streets. A hot day, it made sense of the decorated cloths that hang through the center of streets—sunscreens, or equally a break from bad weather.

In the Cathedral itself, we couldn’t take pictures, a shame, since this was one of the early, over-awing visits. (Great place for others to chime in with their impressions!). I much liked one ceiling vault which combined painting with sculpture that spiraled up to a scene of heaven. Strange depths and illusions in that.

Then there was the barred Cripta, which led to some dark-tunneled depths we couldn’t enter (but why should I be surprised? All these years, and I’ve still never gotten to visit the tunnels under Columbia College...). And the Sacristia, full of ornate robes, vermillion and gold and jeweled, stiff elegance from generations of bishops. And just before that, another room lined with paintings—so much that it’s hard not to be flippant: a Titian, a Greco, a Caravaggio, a Rafael, another the first 15 feet inside the room. Dennis noted that beyond church figures and saints, so many paintings would retell stories from the Bible, that other way to teach (just like Online now wants us to be more visual and multi-media in our courses.) Thorough Christianity—though one almost wishes there had been a century of sincere, devout pagans in the middle of this, to tell some of the world’s other great stories.

I much liked another chapel inside the Cathedral. This one had wooden choir seats on both sides, with bishop’s chair elevated between the two rows. The chairs were the most interesting—each carved with unique facings, hand-rests, backboards, with unlikely figures—a unicorn and maiden on one, two demons quarreling on another, deer, trees, gargoylish figures, and a sleek dog. I really wanted a photo of the dog.

Still in Toledo, we also visited another chapel where Greco’s “The Burial of Count Orgaz” decorates a high wall—a surreal, to me, flow of spirits and watery ascension. Lee and Abby should probably talk about this in more technical art terms.

And a visit to a sword-maker (that “Toledo steel” thing) and a demonstration of making the black-and-gold damascene jewelry and plates, which led, inevitably, to a gift-shop full of earrings and pendants and swords, and the only “free” toilets anywhere nearby.

We ended the evening back in Madrid at the Museo de Vino, not a museum at all, but a nice restaurant where we had a tapas dinner.

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The Prado

Sunday, 5/23.

We got up early in Barcelona, to get through morning traffic to the train station. So early, the hotel gave us a cold breakfast in a sack, and no coffee. Big point loss for that hotel.

But the train--we rode the high speed bullet train to Madrid. Fred R. kept watching the digital velocity display--and we did finally top 300 km/hour. Smooth, fast, efficient--so pleasant. Hard to believe we won't do this in the U.S. One woman in our group wondered--"they have so many good ideas here--why don't we?" Huh.

Later, we loaded up and bussed over to the Prado. We focused on Spanish artists in our very brief visit, though the collection there is extensive. Lee, one of our art pros, will have lots more to say here. Me, I enjoyed the "black paintings" from Goya's kitchen wall, especially the witches, and the iconic image of Saturn devouring his children. I also liked the painting of the dog's head, sticking up just behind a sand dune, barking at empty space.

Later, we zipped past a collection of Velazquez's jesters--the dwarf, the "simpleton" shown with the gourd, others. I rather liked the one we didn't stop for, the Bacchus, crowned and shirtless, at the center of a peasant crowd. And we spent quite a while with the intriguing Los Ninos--the artist himself looking out at us, his subjects mirrored in the background. And then a quick room of El Greco's religious paintings, the unreal images, flames dancing from the heads of apostles--the "tongues of fire--, strong colors, El Greco himself painted in as a disciple in one place.

But no stop is complete without our human drama. This time, Kelly left behind. Liz stayed to find her, and met us not too much later. We drove past Madrid's center--a huge medieval plaza. There was a protest going on. I could read the in-English sign, "Stop All Animal Abuse," but don't know more about its focus. We also cruised past the church where Simon Bolivar married his Spanish bride, and past the Museo de Jamon, which is not a museum at all, but a trendy restaurant. Our local guide said the Japanese tourists often stop by and try to pay an entrance fee. Ah, cultures.

We had stopped at the Royal Palace for a photo op (and to give them time to catch up). A huge palace, no longer an actual residence. The curious thing, we got out, and the nation's military band, gathered at the main entrance, at that noon moment began to play the score from Phantom of the Opera. Shelley and Fred were delighted--they have seen productions of this several times. Shelley said this made the whole trip for her. But then, she will be saying this several times more.

On to Toledo.


Last Saturday

Well, my apologies that all of us are behind on posting. Liz, our tour guide, cleverly left off the times on the early version of the itinerary we started with. There are quite a few early mornings, fast breakfast, immediately to the bus or train, a full day of walking and sights, and dinner often at 9 p.m. Sometimes that involves leaving in the morning, sight-seeing, traveling to another region, and then getting to our hotel by 8:30 pm., quick check-in, fast jog to dinner. All good, but a little rushed. And our hotel in Costa del Sol didn't have wi-fi, which collapsed all our high-tech sensibilities.

So, catching up...

On Saturday, 5/22, our excursion to Montserrat. A beautiful, if again coffee-deprived ride into the northern mountains--very different landscape than we would see later when we headed south. Rivers, winding mountain roads, lots of grafitti on bridges and overpasses, mostly having to do with the Catalonian difficulties with the rest of Spain. Though there was one nice triple-mansize grafitti of Bart Simpson on a slab of concrete near one river.

History bits--that the Abbot of Montserrat sailed with Columbus and became the first vicar of the New World. That, our guide claimed, the statue of the 12th C. Virgin at Montserrat, whose image appeared in the vision in the cave to simple shepherds, had weathered from its original white, and now is the Black Virgin. The line to go kiss the icon was too long, so I didn't see it directly, but the postcards show her quite black. The part I somewhat doubt is that here they claim the notion of the Black Virgin of Montserrat directly "caused" the image of the dark Virgin in Mexico. I've heard alternate versions which talk about the vision of the Virgin of Guadelupe by a humble Native in Mexico. I rather more like this American-continent version, which stresses the synthesis of the Native world with the "alien" Catholics. But alas, I'm not a historian.

And yes, if you read Kristina's post, the walk out of Montserrat was lined with vendors of local foods--I bought some honey, a block of quince jam, John got some strong, tasty goat cheese. All good. But not enough coffee!

Free time! Afternoon off in Barcelona. We had lunch at a cafe beside a hostel. Cheap, and delicious. Taylor and John had sausage sandwiches, I had pork, with a dish of fresh olives. Nice, though John was somewhat offended at the no-sound, America-critical music videos playing on the big screen. Later, walking around La Ramblas, souvenirs, the street full of interesting people [I didn't encounter the "Elephant Man"--I'll leave that for someone else to comment on...]. Tried the Xocolate amb churros--thick chocolate, somewhere between syrup and hot chocolate, in which you dip deep-fried, sugary donuts shaped like oversized Twizzlers. It's a customary food here. Interesting. Not something anyone health-conscious should develop a taste for.

We visited a big department store. Not so much of interest there, though while John shopped for his girlfriend, I browsed souvenirs on the 5th floor. Lots of trinkets that reference Gaudi, authentically or not. More strange, a row of statues, bobble-heads without the bobble. Instead, each figure has dropped his or her pants, and is "sqatting down." The figures represent political figures from Spain I didn't much recognize, various soccer players, and then the Americans--Mr. Obama, Hillary Clinton, some Republicans... Just odd encountering such political commentary in the form of tacky souvenirs.

A nice day, despite swollen feet, various blisters, not enough coffee...

Chrissy's quote of the day: "We're all falling apart!"


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Moroccan Trip

Hello Everyone!

What a trip to Morocco! It was such an eye opening experience. First we took a bus ride from Costa Del Sol and a ferry ride to another bus past the Moroccan border. Although the ride seemed to take forever, it was definitely worth the optional exploration of another country. Most of us seemed to have expected another country stamped into our Passports, but we were all surprised to not see anything.

On the way to the city of Tetouan we were all excited to partake in the camel rides. The camel seemed like such a serene creature. However, they are generally very mean animals.

Soon after arriving into the city of Tetouan we were heavily immersed into the Muslim culture found within the narrow streets and villages. A pungent odor of fish and meat permeated through the air and life was busy for most of the merchants trying to sell their products to us. The goat cheese and bread was absolutely phenomenal!!! After walking through the village for awhile, we were introduced by our tour guide Michael Douglas (aka Abdul) into a home owned by a local carpet merchant. Poor Erica!! All the guys were hitting on her and wouldn't leave her alone.

Entering into the home revealed the most beautiful tile floor with intricate patterns and rugs hanging from the inner terrace of the building. The city was such a wonderful experience that reminded me of my own culture and my mom's heritage. My grandma would have been very proud to have known that I visited a predominantly Muslim city rich with cultural heritage and identity. After visiting the country, I am curious to visit other parts such as: Marrakesh, Fez, Casablanca, and Tangier.

Thanks Liz, Anne, and Michael Douglas for your wonderful time and excellent experience.

Photos of this experience will be posted as soon as I return to the states.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 3

Since Bob has pretty well covered all that we have done in the past two days I will start with day 3… and just for the record; yes my jaw did drop when we saw the cathedral. The cathedral was BEAUTIFUL even with all the construction that was going on and all the preparation that was being put into it being consecrated by the Pope in November (however we were not sure on if it was November this year or next). The outside of the church was under like I said a lot of construction but words cannot event describe how magnificent this place was.

Today started off with a later morning with an hour bus ride to Barcelona Montserrat, which is a monastery located near Barcelona. The mountains that surrounded the monastery were rounded and made us question that how in nature could that happen? A lot of people chose to go to the top of one of the mountains in a “tram” that took about five minutes to rise to the top. Once at the top you saw this magnificent view of the Spanish country side. Some chose not to ride the tram and toured more of the monastery itself and even lit a candle for loved ones for a blessing. On the way back to the bus, many stopped and picked up fresh cheeses, honey, and meats that were located along the sidewalks. Once we got back on the bus we had another hour long ride back into Barcelona for some it was a free afternoon and others it was an opportunity to go to the Picasso museum. I had gone to the Picasso museum yesterday and WOW… It was amazing to see how his work progressed throughout his life time. From some of his very first pictures that his father showed him how to create to some of his later works that the family had donated. The museum consisted of about 11 rooms and had different periods of his life and the different works that he created at those times. I got a discount for being under the age of 25 and only had to pay 6 Euros instead of nine which saved a little bit of money. Today, however, I took a trip to the beach. Relaxation was needed sense we have been going nonstop sense we took off on Wednesday. Laying out in the party cloudy skies and watching the Mediterranean just relieved the stress level just a bit. We ended our last evening in Barcelona with a buffet meal at the hotel (they had meat that was not fish! Not that fish inst appealing to some participants but I am not one of them). We are all gathering in one room for some reflection and some laughs about our time so far here in Spain and can’t wait for the next place which is Madrid and Morocco in the morning. I am not really sure how a 4:30 wake-up call is going to work out but I will push through! Check back tomorrow for more

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Park Guell

This is a picture of the entire group at the Park Guell. So far besides the church that was "jaw dropping" was the best part of the trip for me. I have not heard anyone say a negative thing about this park and I think most wish we could have spent more time at this location. I hope to get more pictures posted soon!

Greetings from Barcelona--Bon Dia!

No, it isn't just that my Spanish is bad--that is 'good day' in Catalan, the regional language, a source of great local pride, and once great political danger. More on that later.

Friday was our first full day here in Barcelona. It started early, and just kept going. A walk to our tour bus (which can’t fit on the windy, hilly streets where our hotel is located), past fruit markets and flower shops, where Suzy can identify everything!, then we drove a bit to Parc Guell. Once, this was a real estate development, intended to be divided into 40 lots for splendorous houses. But Liz informs us this failed, because in 1900, when the development began, it was too far from the city center, and without cars, no one was interested in the impossible commute. Only one show house was built, in which the Parc’s main architect, Gaudi, lived for 20 years. By 1914, the project was abandoned, and the land donated to the city.

We’ll need pictures to really see this place—the massive iron gates, the flowers, palm trees; what look like Roman arches—almost, strung together like an aqueduct; gathering places, ceramic benches, fountains; and a market place among the huge stone and fractured tile columns, which reminds me of the murky Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Perhaps on purpose—we learn that the flat top surface of this market is used to catch rainwater, to use through the long dry seasons here. Today, there were a few vendors, but also a class of very young children sitting on the floor with bright crayons, learning to draw.

Then back on the bus. We see buildings and pavilions from the 1929 World’s Fair, from the grand “castle” of the Spanish exhibit, now a vast museum, to the squat green marble German exhibit, a sample of the Bauhaus movement. We zip by bits of Barcelona we’ll never return to—parks and immodest homes, the Restaurante Tibet, a “telepizza” business, an ad for a Zen meditation center, green neon crosses marking each farmacia, the Miro sculpture, Woman and Bird, a strange 3-D collage of red and blue and yellow ceramics. All this on the way to see La Sagrada Familia—the masterwork cathedral.

Again, pictures will be necessary, and other people’s reactions. We caught glimpses of the cathedral as we passed side streets. Kristina’s jaw dropped. People got cameras ready for the next side street, even though we were on our way there. I heard the whispers up and down the bus aisle, “it’s like the Emerald City.”

And it is, in its excess and grandeur. Started in 1882, with private donations, the cathedral is still unfinished. They say at least another 25 years, depending on those same donations, though they will hurry to finish the interior, since the Pope will visit in a little over a year. So long in construction, we can easily see where the old stone is weathered (smogged) dark. Despite all the construction cranes, La Sagrada Familia offers the imagination rich material to work with.

Back on the bus, we see more of Gaudi’s work on private residences downtown, including the Casa Miller, with its irregular wavy walls and the equally irregular cast iron grillwork balconies.
We zoom to the top of ‘the Mount of the Jews’ (named for the long ago Jewish cemetery), where much of the 1992 Olympic city had been built. We passed the seafront statue of Columbus, and shortly after, the naked man on the bicycle—not at all a statue, and more of a sensation...perhaps not a picture this time.

Back at Catalunya Plaza, the center of town, we split up for the afternoon. Many went to the Picasso Museum, many went shopping. I wandered La Rambla Avenue with John and Tayler. We had gelati on one corner, found a bottle of local sangria at a tent booth and shared that on the steps in a small plaza. We zoomed here and there on the Metro (a 10-trip pass for about 7 euro), sometimes going the right direction, and got to the beach. We waded, touched the Mediterranean, then stopped for a late lunch, trying to satisfy John’s need for fresh seafood. We wound up with a platter of steamed mussels, two cross-sections of grilled fish, a large steamed squid (I ate the tentacles), prawns, and a sad crispy minnow that wasn’t supposed to be there. We also had a small plate of deep fried chipparones, not quite identifiable, except for being some slip of sea creature with two enormous black eyes in each crunch. (Tiny squid, I find out now.) Tayler had doubts about all these sea critters, but managed to not starve. And we found the cable car that arches over the city, from the beach back up to the Olympic city—but alas, it was closed due to high wind.

That night, the whole group met for a dinner of traditional paella—quite good, as is most everything with rice. Liz, our guide, was horrified that John wants coffee before, rather than European-proper after the meal. This struggle continues.

At dinner, we did decide that several in the group will attend a bullfight, though we won’t have open time until we reach Portugal.

And there is nightlife. I leave that for other storytellers.

Folks at home: I’ve been cautioning people on the tour about some cellphone use, especially texting, phone-based email, and web apps on the phone. Perhaps your plans cover these web/data plans internationally, but if not, these can cost a fortune in a few minutes. Someone there do some research for us...


Endurance Day

We met at CC at 8am Wednesday morning, got on the bus with Graham Higgs our cheery driver, and made it to St. Louis, slowing gathering people as we went. Then followed a short flight to Newark, a few hours there, a long overnight journey to Barcelona. Long for me, since I can't ever find a way to contort and sleep on a plane, so I didn't even try the more exhausting activity of fake sleep and head-jerking. I did read a long chunk of Louise Erdritch's A Plague of Doves and watched Invictus and bits of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. A productive stretch of airborn captivity.

With Ann's haranguing about preventing jet lag--and the hotel not having our rooms ready—none of us got straight to sleep. We dumped our luggage and went exploring in small groups for a few hours, until the last members of the tour arrived on a different flight. We noticed the prevalent balconies, full of geranium and roses, the presence of deliberate public art, from streetlights like twisted desklamps, to elevated beams of gray steel with purple flowers spilling over, to a myriad of building fronts all competing for attention--modern and comfortable, but very much not an American city. My group found an outdoor cafe, some calamari, some olives, some red wine. A pleasant hour, despite the construction noise and all the attention the American women got from passersby.

Back at the Catalonia Park Putxet Hotel, we met the last of the group, and with our tour guide, Liz, all of us set out for our first Metro experience, then a walking tour of the old quarter of the city. Impressive, but a lot of walking for us, and our group rather scattered out. I confess, much of that first day is a haze—and we haven’t slowed down at all.

A nice dinner of cold pasta salad, salmon, and red wine, starting arguing about whether we wanted to see a bullfight, and got back to the hotel about 11 p.m.

Quick notes—

Shelly broke the ATM at the airport—something I didn’t know was possible.

Marcia didn’t fry her camera battery, luckily not plugging it in without a current converter. And ask her about her theory of the safety of pink luggage.

John managed to dramatically shatter his glass of wine at dinner.

Brittany reports it all but impossible for an online student to sign up for our Study Abroad classes...some glitch in the system we need to work on.

And Christina tried to befriend an African gray parrot, but started with “hello,” which put the poor Spanish-speaking bird into English-shy muteness.

But we have arrived, and we have survived.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane...

For most of the CC travelers it took 2 plane rides to get to our beautiful destination of Spain. We arrived at the STL airport about 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning ready to take off. We took a flight to Newark NJ and had about a 3 hour layover before we got to depart on our 7ish hour flight to Barcelona. The first plane ride wasn’t too bad and the layover was surprisingly fun. We sat around and talked getting to know some of the fellow members of our group and listened to presentation that both Abby and I had to give for our class with Ann. Abby's presentation was on artist of Spain and little did she know that in the days to come she would have to put that knowledge to use (more to come on that later) and mine of course was on blogging. We got back to the gait right on time to take off. We sat on the runway for a long time waiting to taxi out ... when we finally got air born a baby started crying and needless to say that lasted the entire trip. With NO sleep and no movie screens to watch the flight seemed like it took FOREVER! However it really wasn’t that bad... We finally made it to Barcelona, got all of our luggage (it all arrived!) and was off to meet Liz our tour guide. She's from Britain and lives in Madrid the next city that we are going to be visiting and well she’s great! We all loaded the bus and heads to our first hotel... the beds are small and like rocks but we will get use to them, sooner or later.

As for sell checking this the first time ... it all turned yellow! It then came to me, I am logged on through a Spanish internet connection, of course it is!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Luis Buñuel and an Andalousian Dog

One of the most revelatory courses I ever took as a student was the History of Experimental Film. I won't bore you with the details of the sensory overload that seemed to take place each and every week with films by Maya Deren, Michael Snow, Fernand Léger and others. One of the most harrowing and infamous films we screened was Luis Buñuel's 1929 collaboration with fellow Spainaird Salvador Dalí Un Chien Andalou (An Andalousian Dog). I will tell you up front, like my professor did, that Un Chien Andalou contains a very graphic shot of an eye and a razor. Enough said. Even now when doing an internet search on the film you will find countless stills of the moment preceding and during that. Even now, all these years later, I shiver and shake at the thought. But if you want to say you've seen a landmark of film history and experimental art check it out.


Sunday, May 16, 2010


Food-wise, I’m perhaps not easy to travel with. You have to feed me often, and I will eat just about anything. Doesn’t sound too bad? Um, the other side is that I reject all fast food, all global franchises, even when it’s convenient, and I’m not quiet about my scorn for Big Macs, Whoppers, etc, ad nauseum so to speak. (Want some reference points? Try George Ritzer , The McDonaldization of Society; Fast Food Nation; the film Food, Inc.; the film/book, No Impact Man—well, and lots more. Oh, of course, Super Size Me ).

When I got my Ph.D. sometime last century, I treated myself to a trip to Peru, tagging along with a university biology class. Two nice, sweaty weeks in the rainforest, mosquito netting, no AC, don’t drink the tapwater, close your mouth in the shower, tree trunks lined with enormous thorns, and a forest that glowed in the dark from some luminous fungus. At one eco-station, they would hang bunches of bananas from the rafters, always available. Meals were in a thatched hall. The people there were proud to provide chicken almost every day (an extreme luxury), several kinds of beans, palm hearts, fruits I couldn’t identify, and one evening fried up the piranhas that we had caught from our boat in the afternoon. Granted, the night we came in and there was a 30 foot boa drooping down through the thatch in the hall was a bit disconcerting, but we obeyed our hosts and didn’t stand underneath it. All good. Sadly, half the students on the trip rejected the local food out of hand; 3 young women refused to eat anything there and had to subsist on whatever granola bars and peanut butter crackers the rest of us could scrounge from our packs.

On our study tour to Greece a few years ago, I complained about the set dinners at our hotels, which every night included French fries. I don’t eat French fries here—fast death by cholesterol—and I was sure there was more interesting food hidden somewhere in Greece. Out one night with our tour guide, at a sidewalk cafe, we tried various octopus and squid, and Suzy encouraged me to jump right in and bite off the head of the small fish set in front of me. I did. Crunchy fish head and brain wasn’t a taste I acquired, but not a bad experience. The ouzo chaser helped, and everyone enjoyed watching me make faces. (But I still complain bitterly about that tour company’s idea of how to feed us. Passports, I think.)

In Egypt, a different tour company took what I thought was a much better strategy—we had fairly authentic local food, though upscale from what most of the starving local folks could have afforded. (There had been food riots in Cairo only the month before, when government bread rations had run low.) On the Nile cruise, lots of local fish, a dozen types of bread every meal, beef, vegetables, soup, desserts, plenty of other choices. In Cairo, one breakfast included an amazing selection. I especially liked the various kinds of breakfast beans, and loved the brown, syrupy bean-paste and noodles. Great stuff, though after I got my niece to try some, she swore I was trying to poison her.

The group as a whole that trip got more and more depressed at all the interesting new tastes we got to experience, so much so that by Alexandria, I asked our tour guide to please provide them with some American food. The next day at lunch, the tour bus pulled up to a T.G.I. Fridays, met with applause, tears, delight. Sigh. Even though I had asked for it, I chose to stay outside on the steps in the sun, and nibbled a biscuit and some dried fruit. I publically announced I hadn’t come all the way to Egypt to eat a hamburger. But the group was in a great mood the rest of the day, no doubt induced by excess fat and sugar.

In Spain? I promised Patti that the food in Spain would be much more appealing than in Egypt. What will EF Tours provide for us? We will no doubt have quite a few set meals, given the logistics of a large group on a schedule. Will it be a steady stream of French fries and complaints from me? Strange concoctions none of us can identify? Something else? In any case, how we experience the food in Spain will tell us not only about the Spanish, but a great deal about ourselves.
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Los Abrazos Rotos (2009)

I have to admit something. I've not been much of fan of Spanish 'stuff.' It goes back to high school and signing up for foreign language classes. I thought I was being erudite taking Latin and French. I could never understand why someone would want to learn Spanish-- it just wasn't as pretty as the lovely French words tripping off my tongue in the classroom next door. While I was studying for a Bachelor's degree in French I gawked at La Sagrada Família, the monstrous work by Antonio Gaudi that television commentators were raving about during the Barcelona Olympics. "This is no Notre Dame," I thought to myself. But eventually I came around and it was because of Pedro Almodóvar, Academy Award winning writer of Hable Con Ella (Talk to Her) and director of Volver and Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother).

Born in Calzada de Calatrava, Spain, Almodóvar moved to Madrid at the age of 16 to learn the art of filmmaking. Thank goodness for youthful desires! Almodóvar's most recent film, available on DVD, is Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces). Not exactly a meta-film, Broken Embraces features the classic psychologically and sexually taught narrative that has become an Almodóvar standard. Luminous acting performances by Penélope Cruz and Lluís Homar make Broken Embraces one of my favorites by Almodóvar. (Avert your eyes if you don't want a spoiler!) One scene in particular has a Baudrillardian hyper-realism akin to Christopher Nolan's Memento , as Cruz's Lena confesses her affair with Mateo as her then lover Ernesto watches her confessing the same information on film. For this cinephile, Almodóvar's Broken Embraces reminds me why film has been described as the ultimate art.

For a complete list of Almodóvar's work, including several collaborations with Cruz check out titles available from Netflix. If you've never been a fan of Penélope Cruz do yourself a favor and see her work in Volver and Broken Embraces-- you'll be a fan after.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Free Communication?

Want a great way to communicate face to face with friends and family while in Spain? Check out Skype! This social utility allows you to communicate free of charge via video chat with any Internet accessible computer with a web cam. This online tool also allows you to make phone calls to people who do not have the utility for pennies on the dollar. Setting up an account is really easy, and is going to be one of the main ways of communication that I use to get in touch with family while on the trip. Check out some of the great things Skype does below.

Do AMAZING things for FREE!
Voice and Video calls to anyone else on Skyp
Conference call with 3 or more people
Instant messaging, file transfer, and screen sharing

All you need to use Skype:
A PC or Mac Computer
An Internet connection (broadband is best)
A web cam to make video calls
A microphone/headset

Antonio Banderas and Spanish Film

The Huffington Post has a fascinating interview with Banderas about the film series he currently curates in NYC.

Check it out here.


Friday, May 14, 2010

What is a Blog?

My name is Kristina and I am taking Dr. Bledsoe's Spain study tour class. For my project we decided that I am going to blog my way through Spain. I hope to figure out the ins and outs of what a blog is and how we can better utilize it in the future with the different excursions that are taken. Throughout this process I will be posting at least once a day on all the fun, exciting, picturesque events that occur during this 12 day adventure. Check back to see picture slide shows of the day's festivities and my own take on what the day was like. I hope to get some of the other members of the tour group to share their photos and make some blog posts as well about their experiences. Wish me luck! I am super excited for this trip and can't wait to share my experiences with you. Make sure and check back daily while we are on our tour to blog your way through Spain with me!

Joan Fontcuberta's Photography

In Visual Communication and Culture (COMM 344), Columbia College students are asked to research and investigate the significant cultural contributions of noted photographers-- from the safe and staid Ansel Adams to the incendiary Robert Mapplethorpe. One photographer often overlooked when choosing subjects is Joan Fontcuberta of Barcelona.

A conceptual artist whose medium is photography, Fontcuberta is a true living legend as he continues to exhibit his work worldwide. Among his most recent works are: Albarracín. Santa Iocencia.; Deconstructing Osama: The Truth about the Case of Manbaa Mokfhi; and Landscapes without Memory.

The Museum of Contemporary Photography provides a succinct description of his work: "The work of Joan Fontcuberta makes able use of narrative, wordplay, and visual arrangement to press questions about photographic truth and representation. Complementing a history of painstaking photomontage and other fabrication, Fontcuberta also produces straight images of chance encounters and curious juxtapositions. The frost-damaged cacti of Costa Llobero Garden, Barcelona, Spain play with the authenticity suggested by the camera and the dubiousness conjured by an odd and unfamiliar situation. Interpreted as exotic creatures, staged event, or seasonal botanic response, the image and its origins take a second reading in context of Fontcuberta’s other projects.

Joan Fontcuberta was born on February 24, 1955 in Barcelona. His work has been widely exhibited internationally, including solo exhibitions at Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, Madrid; Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; Museum of Fine Arts, Fukui, Japan; The Photographers’ Gallery, London; and the Art Institute of Chicago. It is also well-represented in public collections around the world, including those of the Musée d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pomidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Ludwig Museum, Cologne; Fons d’Art de la Generalitat, Barcelona; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In addition to his activity as artist, critic, and co-founder of Photovision, since 1996 Fontcuberta has also been a professor of audiovisual communication at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona."

For more information about Joan Fontcuberta visit his official website


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Trip tips from Ann

More from Ann, though I can't get her to post stuff on her own !#**!

Weather: The weather in the Spain will range from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies. The warmest it will be is in Seville . In Seville it may reach the low eighties.

Clothing: Liz Mitchell, our tour guide, has suggested you pack layers such as jackets and sweaters that you can put on remove throughout the day as you need. You should also bring shoes that are good for walking as we will be doing a lot of that.

Luggage: You need to pack light! I cannot emphasize that enough. We only have a limited amount of space in the cargo holds of the bus we will be traveling in and you often have to carry even your big rolling suitcase, so be sure you can do that! There are weight limits as well on the airlines. If you go over the weight limit, you have to pay. You may check one bag on Continental Airlines. Maximum weight is 50 pounds. Dimensions width + height + depth = 62 inches. Information about carry-on luggage can be found at this link:

Packing Tips: My mom taught me to iron my clothes first and then roll them up tightly instead of fold them and lay them flat. That is a hint from Ann’s Momma Joyce. Take it or leave it. Not only do they take up less space but they are less wrinkled. ;) [Wrinkles are our friends--at least on our clothes, not our faces...bob]

Another hint from Momma Joyce is to take more shirts than pants and then you can look like you are wearing a new outfit because more people look at your face than your bottom. ;) [though we will have a photo contest, the 10 best shots of Ann's bottom]

Bring a few nice outfits for our nice dinners. Nice… not too fancy. (Sundresses for the ladies and nice shirts for the fellas.) [I think t-shirts cover about any situation. T-shirt, cargo pants, tennis shoes...bob]

Guys, you should bring some pants (or pants that zip into shorts) for times we visit churches to show respect. Gals, you should bring a sweater or a shawl to cover your shoulders when we are entering churches for the same reason.

You may want to bring that EF backpack empty in your suitcase (or another foldable bag) to bring home your souvenirs… you always end up with more stuff than what you started with. [and several plastic grocery sacks, for wet shoes, wet suits, to triple-wrap that bottle of wine that will break in your suitcase on the way back. Or that huge bottle of olive oil that got crushed in one woman's suitcase on the way back from Greece. Fragrant, not fun....bob]

There may be a chance to swim, so bring your swimming suit… if you would like.

And of course bring sunscreen and a hat if you are pale skinned like me. [Ann at the beach.]
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Background information...

Some travelers want to curl up on the plane, go to sleep, arrive in a new world with no preconceived notions, and burst naively from the customs gate to encounter whatever comes their way. I don't have a problem with sleeping on the plane (I can't ever manage to do that, contorting one way or another--though I might get the whole summer's reading done high over the Atlantic), but I suspect that travel becomes more meaningful if we start with some basic information...

For instance, here's a bit from the journal of good old Columbus, first arriving at San Salvador, Oct. 21, 1492:

This island even exceeds the others in beauty and fertility. Groves of lofty and flourishing trees are abundant, as also large lakes, surrounded and overhung by the foliage, in a most enchanting manner. Everything looked as green as April in Andalusia. The melody of the birds was so exquisite that one was never willing to part from the spot....A thousand different sorts of trees, with their fruit were to be met with, and of a wonderfully delicious odour. It was a great affliction to me to be ignorant of their natures, for I am very certain they are all valuable...I saw a snake, which we killed, and I have kept the skin for your Highnesses....While we were in search of some good water, we came upon a village of the natives...
Well, this is a historic moment, but Columbus won't win any awards for nature writing--he can only see things in terms of what he already knows, and he doesn't offer us any vivid detail--"trees," "green," "wonderful." At least nothing vivid until he gets to know the natives and begins his unrelenting search for gold, and that, well, that's not a happy tale.

On a less grand scale, I have the same limitations wandering up and down the road walking the dogs, or trying to manage the weeds in my grassless yard. How do I write a poem or even a decent journal note about 'that big green weed with the leaves I'm a little allergic to that we used to make spears out of when I was 10"? Or, "those really pretty flowers that smell so good in May on the big trees over by the railroad tracks"? Jim Metscher told me, from my sad description, that the weed, if the same as in Oklahoma, he used to call "horseweed"--though it doesn't look like the images I find; Pam McClure has told me the trees are "honey locust." In any case, those are words to build a poem around.

In my Travel Writing class [ENGL 377], one pre-trip assignment I made was for my students to become an expert on something in Spain or Portugal. An expert, really, on anything we might see or encounter. Perhaps they will share some of their focused knowledge with all of us [Christina? Hyun-Ji?]. I'm urging the instructors to do the same--Amy might tell us about Spanish movies; we might learn about the environment of Spain, or human trafificking, or the history of science. Ann even claims that there's something about math going on in Spain, but I'm not sure I believe it.

But let me urge everyone on the trip to become an expert, on one or two things. Maybe the Basque people. Or the Spanish Civil War. On Picasso. On flamenco dance, the days of the Grand Armada, the Spanish soccer team, how to order/eat tapas, the best wines, some of those trees or flowers, recent politics/economics, Granada or Lisbon, or a castle...

Be an expert--and be delighted when the real country exceeds your knowledge!


[Hey, you can post some of what you find out attached below...]
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New destinations...

A slight change in our schedule because of the massive soccer raves in Madrid:

Tourist info

and an afternoon option, the beach, or the Picasso Museum...

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Tour update from Liz

Hi Ann,
How are things going?You are lucky as the San Isidro fiestas start in Madrid in May, they are presenting today the calender of bullfights for the festival, but it looks like that while you are here there will be bull fights on and this festival is the most important for Madrid's bullring so if anyone wants to go it will be have to be in Madrid. There are no bullfights while we are in Barcelona or in Seville (they have already had their big fiesta).The football season is coming to an end and as there is the World Cup in June all teams are having a break to train for those matches, and looking on line you are too late for any games, unless there is a friendly match which will be posted nearer the time, but the season seems to finish on 16th May.

A spanish film is certainly possible in Madrid or Barcelona, just to warn you that the films are in Spanish with no English subtitles so the students need to have a certain level to understand them. I know your students are over 18 years old, but just to warn you that Spanish films very often have a lot of sex, nudity, swearing, and maybe drug-taking, more so than in American films! The films are changed every Friday so once you arrive we can see what films are showing, the cinema here costs between 6-9Euros depending on the cinema and time.

Nightlife is good in Madrid, I still don't know what hotel we are staying in in Madrid but I imagine it will be the centre so that's easy to manage. In Lisbon there are lots of very nice bars and places with African, Brazilian music, but we have the Fado show on the last night. In fact everywhere in Spain there are nice areas with lots of bars to go to and if the weather is good they have tables outside so is really nice to hang out in.

Robert contacted me about visiting an organisation about human traffiking, I'll see what I can do but as you know the programme is quite full.

Do you have questions about the pre-departure? Is everybody sorted out with banks, cards, money etc? Some hotels have Wifi so if they have laptop, itouch etc they can connect in wifi hotspots.

I'm sure you have already talked to everyone about security, but just to repeat, pickpockets come out in the summertime and love to deprive people of their belongings so we must always be careful when carrying money, documents and valuable things. I recommend having a small daybag to carry camera, water, money etc not a huge backpack as this only attracts pickpockets.

I think that's it for the moment.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010


When we think of Spain, we often think of bullfighting, and many of us think of bullfighting with mixed reactions--part of Hemingway's grand romance with Spain, or a barbaric custom that celebrates cruel treatment of animals.

A travel friend of mine is so sensitive to such issues that she fled the Science Center in Kuwait City at the first glimpse of a lynx, or some great cat, in a small enclosure. The same friend kept us out of Romania for years because of net-legends about the legions of starving stray dogs. And we did see quite a few in Brasov, from which we fled to a somewhat grim, Stalinist hotel in Moldova...

Mark, our ethics teacher here at CC, said that there's a theory that high levels of animal cruelty will correlate with similar levels of human cruelty in a culture, and he suggested I test that out in Spain, because of the bullfighting. (Though I'm not so sure how to measure that--rude waiters? a certain jagged spike on the MMPI? a National Cruelty Index?)

Arthur C. Clarke certainly condemned the whole notion of bullfighting. In his early novel, Childhood's End, the alien Overlords, without hesitation, formed a sensory link between the bulls and the people in the crowd, and the sport ended immediately. But then, that book didn't turn out so well for anyone on earth.

Hemingway, our old pal, savored the sport. His perhaps last long work, The Dangerous Summer, follows rival matadors through the 1959-60 season. (A still dangerous enterprise: ). And his early novel, The Sun Also Rises, takes us not only fishing in rural Spain, but also to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, at the festival of San Fermin ( ...Wikipedia is our friend :) ), though Christina, one of my Travel Writing students, reportedly says that "Hemingway makes me ill." Alas.

An Evening student, Thad, has a more direct experience. He tells of growing up in a military family, here and there, including Portugal for a while in high school. There, he reports, a very traditional and strict society keeps the boys and girls apart, and the boys are eager to show off to catch the eye of any lucky girl, so running the bulls is as popular as drag-racing in 50s films. Thad tried once, stumbled, and while not trampled exactly, recalls vividly laying on the ground while hooves and enormous bull testicles passed overhead. He smiles telling this story, but seems just a touch traumatized, even now.

I don't think I need to experience bulls quite as up-close as Thad did, or at best, I might try to catch the annual June "Testicle Festival" that takes place somewhere in the Missouri Ozarks. On our trip, we aren't scheduled for any bull-related activities that I know of, but certainly this is a key/curious piece of Spanish culture. We'll let you know.


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