Sights for St. Valentine’s Day

imageThese are white goats, not sheep. The rams had long grey horns, not tightly curled but twisted close to the head and then jutting out. We saw them just outside a rather touristy sea-side town. The shepherd looked like a professor of philosophy with his grey beard and stick. He nodded gravely when we asked if we could take a picture of his flock but his black and white border collie fixed us with his steady eye as if to say, “Take your silly picture, but if you go near even one of them, you’ll have me to deal with!”

The other wonderful thing we saw yesterday was a hoopoe, quite close up. I have learned not to fumble for a camera when a bird or a fox or anything that might take flight is the wonder of the moment. I just look and look and afterwards I can find a picture and read all about it. How I remembered this was a hoopoe, I cannot tell. Please take a moment to look for a picture and you will see why I was so enchanted. This pinky/brown bird, about the size of a small pigeon sat beside our car and he very politely unfurled his crest of black and white and then flew off as we gasped at the beautiful patterns of his wing and back feathers. Wikipedia says he was the messenger to King  Solomon about the Queen of Sheba so seeing him was a fitting end to Valentine’s Day.

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To Cordoba!

Some cities strike me as being a good fit for human beings. Cordoba is one of these. It is easy and pleasant to walk about the old city, for so long the capital of Spain. It’s famous “patios” or courtyards constantly surprise with tempting glimpses into the colourful flower-filled lives of residents.

How wonderful it is to walk along the boulevard that runs parallel to the Guadilquivir River and to look down on the wide banks, preserved as a natural habitat for many water birds. Yesterday we approached the Roman Bridge to walk over into the Old City. We were puzzled by the sound of intermittent bells. When we peered over the parapet we saw a large flock of sheep making it’s way along the bank of the river. We never saw the shepherd. How wonderful to see this in a modern European city in the 21st. Century!

The Roman Bridge is just that. Recently designated a pedestrian walkway, it is guarded by a statue of St. Raphael ( an archangel, in fact). He is the guardian of the city and in the past he was credited with saving Córdoba from the plague as well as other misfortunes. As we stepped off the bridge we faced an arch marking the walls of the city. There was a particularly tall column with another statue of St. Sebastián. No building in the Old City can stand higher than this statue! No Cordoban family is without a namesake of this patron and he is also the protector of travellers. ( read the story of Tobias in the Old Testament to see why)

Next time a little about the Great Mosque of Cordoba ( now the Cathedral). It is a truly astonishing mish-mash of architecture, art and devotion sitting in the shadow of the Jewish Quarter, birthplace of Maimonides.

Cordoba, my new city heart-throb!

Winter in Andalusia

Everyone is complaining about how cold and cloudy it is this winter here. We are not. It is wonderful walking weather. Not too hot or dazzlingly sunny. Yesterday we went to the famous Playa de los Muertos…beach of the dead! It is a wonderful long stretch of tiny pebble beach well protected from the ravages of commercialism by being just inside the boundaries of a national park. On one side, just over the boundary, is a large commercial port. It is surreal to turn one way and see the ancient remains of volcanic outcrop and then turn the other way to see a huge ship and cranes. That seems to sum up Spain in many ways. We shop at a modern supermarket that might be anywhere save for the special section devoted fo ham ( the culinary  religion of Spain) where several large pork legs, complete with trotters are fixed ready to be sliced. We drove to a village, Lucainena de las Torres, reputed to be one of the prettiest in the country. Indeed it was. The drive of over twenty kilometres was made over a road carved across stony mountains with hardly a guardrail to be seen. Few were the stretches where two vehicles could safely pass each other. Approaching one of the many blind hairpin bends therefore became a white knuckle exercise in case we came face to face with a motorist going the other way! One of the few places it was safe to stop and regain our composure was a jaw-dropping site of many acres of solar panels. This plant was out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by many blossoming almond trees. Sometimes I think I am in a science fiction movie.

Although it is too cold to swim, a little paddle in the clean clear waters of the pebble beach was in order before the scramble up the steep hillside to the car park.

My Heros

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The long bitterly cold period that lasted over the holidays has finally broken. In a day or so we will go back to the usual grumbling about shovelling the steps and dark days. We will forget the anxiety over the possibility of frozen pipes that had our taps trickling and our kitchen cupboard doors left open. We will forget the little pang of visceral fear that struck as we dug out a car. ” I could die out here” . We will forget the dismal conviction that our battery needed a boost and the disbelief at hearing a tape on the CAA call response that informed subscribers that ” Due to an overload of calls………” No rescue for you, darling.

One thing I will not soon forget however, is the sight of garbage collectors collecting post Christmas feast rubbish on a dark evening serenaded by a howling wind. I was stuck behind the truck as it inched its way down the narrow street, clogged with snow and cars parked every which way. Unusually, the driver got out from time to time and helped. It took a long time to creep down the street. There was no impatience from any driver behind the garbage truck. Yes, the workers get ” good money”. Still, the physical stamina, the resistance, the constant exposure to the elements make for hero status for these workers, in my mind. Is it better in summer with the heat and stench of rotting food and the effort needed to haul and throw heavy bags and bins?

I have other heros, of course. Firemen, policemen, teachers, politicians, priests ( catch the humour when you can folks!) are all in positions to perform honorable deeds. The difference between them and my grimy sweaty, swearing heros is that mine have no opportunity for corruption.  They have a hard job and they do it or they are fired. The difference between a street lined with garbage and a clean street is easy to see. No ambivalence, no moral grey zone, no slacking the pace.

Next time you’re stuck behind a garbage truck, don’t toot the horn  . See if you have a spare bill to slip the driver at the intersection just so the crew can warm up with a well deserved coffee.  It feels good to show appreciation and to see an amazed garbage collector’s face.

An unusual Christmas concert

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Snow, fir trees, Santa Clause, all these and other wintery things are what we usually think of as Christmas traditions. Music played or sung at this time of year is often carols or jolly ditties. How much earlier in the year can these be played at the mall, I wonder.

So, it was a surprising and wonderful change to be entertained by The Boston Camerata, an eminent early music ensemble on Tuesday evening. The concert was put on by the Arte Musica Foundation. I didn’t really know what the program would be. It’s such a busy time of the year that I was just glad to have tickets to what was billed as “A Mediterranean Christmas Concert”. I was rather wary of “early music”. I must admit. I had visions of  solemn reedy singers accompanied by slender reedy instruments singing Hey Nonny No interminably. “Oh, well, ” I thought, “It is Mediterranean so there will be a few Italian or Spanish pieces.”  I lured a kind companion into coming with me.

Bourgie Hall was about three quarters full. There were a few chairs and mysterious looking instruments on the stage.  We congratulated each other on having battled our way through a blinding snowstorm and relaxed into that pre-concert torpor that settles in before the artistes appear.

This was not to last, however, as we were galvanized by the piercing note of the ram’s horn or shofar being played from the balcony behind us. Certainly not the usual beginning for a Christmas concert. As soon as the opening piece, which was quite amazing in its length and variety was over, a magnificent contralto also singing from the balcony continued the opening of the concert. The program notes were mercifully enlightening and laid out to my great pleasure the selections we would hear. The emphasis was on the influence of the Near-East and North Africa on the musical culture of medieval Iberia, Southern France and Byzantium. Works from all three Abrahamic religions were well represented in the concert and the performers (four men and three women) came from diverse backgrounds.

The musical  director, Anne Azema  spoke a little about the spirit of this concert. She felt it highlighted our similarities, rather than our differences. In the midst of war and terrible suffering in the whole Mediterranean basin it was wonderful to hear the verses from the Coran on the solitude of Mary, hymns to the Virgin from Spain and the South of France and even a Sephardic song from the Balkans. This concert has been revised and modified since it was first performed in the late 1970’s. A 2015 CD edition of the Mediterranean Christmas by the Boston Camerata is available.

Many of the selections were verses set to music by the king of Spain, Alfonso el Sabio. (Alfonse the Wise). He was king of Castile and Leon in the 13th century. I hung my head before my Spanish companion and confessed I had never heard of him or his glittering court. I know my education resembles Swiss cheese in that it consists of delicious morsels and large unexpected holes. I fear I fell from grace as I admitted  my total ignorance of this man’s contributions to the culture of Europe. Ah more to read! I had better hurry up!

Alfonso promoted in his court Jews, Muslims, Christians and even women and permitted them to contribute to the arts and letters of the day. His poetic and musical work was prolific and contributed to the development of the modern Spanish language. His catatas are a huge body of work that influenced Iberian, French and Italian music. If only a few of our leaders, and we ordinary citizens,  took a leaf out of his book we perhaps would not be in the morass of intolerance, cruelty and materialism that is our modern life.

The music was divine. Some of the singing by the trio of women was in stunning close harmony and the men’s voices were excellent too. The concept and choice of pieces was unusual and thought provoking. The texts were beautiful and conducive to meditation.  The whole, performed under the beautiful Tiffany nativity window of Bourgie Hall, combined to give me a new standard for Christmas Concerts.

Look what I’ve been doing!

For the whole month of November I’ve been dong the Novel in November thing 

 Ever heard of this? Neither had I until last year when I was too lazy and unmotivated to produce the 1500 to 2000 words per day to give me  some sort of mish mash that is to be edited into, ta da! a novel. Well today is the last day and I still don’t quite know how I will get the father of that murdered guy to forgive the  perpetrator ( who is the hero of the story, btw). I have over 60 thousand words and I am glad of that. The numbers are how many words I did that day.

I am so excited about this as I will have a great project to work on for the next month ( year?) or so. There is a bit of research to do as well. How did hunter gatherers stop bears eating their prey anyway? Well, that sort of stuff is less important than characters so I suppose all will come out well in the end. 

If you love my calendar pic you can order from my very talented friend at Simone  Ritter Art. She produces wonderful art on commission and has a series of the cutest camper calendars and cards. Go check out her site for nice  Christmas gifts.