Wednesday, May 26, 2010

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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