Friday, January 2, 2015

Four Days in Spain

   What I learned in four days.

  Sevilla is both a port and an inland city. It has a bull ring with the grace and delicacy of a roller coaster. Yes, orange trees everywhere.
  Granada to the north was originally called Elibiryg or Illiberis by the Romans.  Not Gra-nat. Even though the pomegranate "una granada"  became the city's symbol.
  It grew up along a river- a mountain stream, called the Beiro. "Elibiryg"- By the Beiro. River of the….Iberians. Or as the Catholic Spanish call her now with their eliding Bs and Vs - Elvira.
  So next time the dull and painful thud of that fateful country chorus reconquers your memory : fight. Fight, fight, to envision a stunning hill town - like a Venice laid among quiet foothills racing toward the peaks of the Sierra Neveda with a fierce little brook running below a palace and right by a street so gorgeous it's listed by UNESCO. And on that street is an Irish bar that didn't stay open late enough for me watch the Steelers win the conference. A bar in Spain shutting down before I did…I've seen it all.
   "And do people living in Toledo know that their name doesn't travel very well ? And does anybody in Ohiiiiiiiioooooo dream of that Spanish citadel. L L. "
   Google it. 
   At the other end of this famous riverine street is a cemetery and a hill- called Sacramonte where legend has it the Sephardim and Mariscos - the Muslims who met the same exiled fate- went and hid from the Inquisition. And it was here they say that the cantors and the muezzin met the wandering folk of the day - Romani- living at the edge of the wilderness and created a thing called …Flamenco….to put their sorrow somewhere into words and music. And of course, stamping feet.
   You're told often that the Jews "were given" 4 months to decide whether to leave Spain (with nothing) or convert. That order was given from the throne of a Moorish castle sitting 300 feet above me- as I typed this four days ago- called the Alhambra. On that day in 1492, with a little dramatic pressure from the inimitable Torquemada, Ferdinand and moreso -I get the impression- Isabella, decided to turn on Spain's "creative class".
  The Dictat of Expulsion. Even though "their Jews" had paid recently for a trip by a man named Columbus. Even though Isabella let no man - even Ferdinand more and more so I'm beginning to believe- let no man touch her but her physician. Who was Jewish.
   200,000 Jews. Probably more. Out of a population of 6 million.
   How many left? How many stayed? It's all recorded and stored in neatly written files on the third floor of a stately building in Sevilla that handled the Office of The Spanish Inquisition - katty corner from a Starbucks- an offshoot of the Vatican's Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Inquisition which changed its name in 1908 but which, "in name" at least, continues to this day.
  The Spanish expulsion held sway until the mid 19th century.
   Ive heard stories about catholic Portugese families in Providence Rhode Island who up to the late 50s lit candles on Friday nights …well, because they always had. Certain Spanish mother's have pans for meat and pans for dairy.
  In 1992 King Juan Carlos formally invited Jews with any record of their Sephardic roots to return.
  There are 30 families in Grenada.
  There are 15,000 total, mostly in cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla.
  There are more Jews in Poland. And Uruguay.
  And there are families in Istanbul, in Israel, in Greece, in the United States that have keys they've kept in vaults, wrapped in drawers, or hung from their bedroom walls made in the 15th century or sometimes earlier. House keys their ancestors walked out of Spain with, thinking, this madness will all be over soon and we'll come back.
   A family from Turkey returned not long ago and discovered that their ancestors had lived in a house in the Arab section of medieval Granada, rather than the Jewish quarter which was leveled and of which nothing remains. Possibly they were counsel or physicians to a prominent family that wanted them close by. A few palaces and homes from the time of the Moors still stand in the Arab section, the Albaicin. One of them has several ancient doors which this now Turkish key still opens.
   Thus far Spain hasn't invited back the Muslims.
   Who ruled it for 7 centuries.
   And I wonder, when you kick out a group that's run "your" land for 7 centuries are you really kicking out someone else or just other Spaniards that have land and power you want and happen to practice Islam? I mean maybe at one point they were them but after 3/4s of a millennia aren't you they and them you? By then hasn't - to paraphrase True Romance- hasn't blonde hair and blue eyes become black hair and dark skin? Can someone say Sarajevo?
  But Hell, look at the Irish.


  1. Very interesting publication Mr Conrad :-)
    From beginning to the end... speaking of which:
    to make a long story short, and it's only my point of view, the bottom line is that we are all simply human beings. We are all one and the same kind of mammals, with the same basic neeeds and cultural differences we should try to learn, understand and cherish, for these make us all richer and stronger as this so-called "mankind" group we belong to. And yes, granted, I opened up a larger thought based on your last paragraph, but hey, nobody's perfect ;-)

  2. Wind

    This is the wind, the wind in a field of corn.
    Great crowds are fleeing from a major disaster
    Down the green valleys, the long swaying wadis,
    Down through the beautiful catastrophe of wind.

    Families, tribes, nations, and their livestock
    Have heard something, seen something. An expectation
    Or a gigantic misunderstanding has swept over the hilltop
    Bending the ear of the hedgerow with stories of fire and sword.

    I saw a thousand years pass in two seconds.
    Land was lost, languages rose and divided.
    This lord went east and found safety.
    His brother sought Africa and a dish of aloes.

    Centuries, minutes later, one might ask
    How the hilt of a sword wandered so far from the smithy.
    And somewhere they will sing: 'Like chaff we were borne
    In the wind. ' This is the wind in a field of corn.

    --James Fenton

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  4. I live in Baltimore but my parents are from Spain and my dad lives in Andalucia so I visit every 6 months or so. Anyway- if you ever return to Spain - go to the city of Antequera right outside of Malaga. You prolly passed by it on your way to Sierra Nevada- there is a mountain there named La peña de los enamorados. It looks like a face looking up at the heavens. The legend is about two lovers- a Christian boy who falls in love with a Muslim girl and yadda yadda they run away and end up in Antequera where they hide out for a while until they are caught but instead of giving themselves up they make a suicide pact and throw themselves off the mountain. Oh. And by the way- I'll be in Pittsburgh in a few weeks and I'll be judging everyones shoes.

  5. Right, heard this beautiful story between Tello and Tagzona, but never seen this amazing rock!

  6. Paulie - love the Antequera story, thank you. And I think Pghers will give Barcelonans a run for their badly shod money. Enjoy