Friday, December 30, 2011


Human Kite

The other day there were over a dozen of these creatures flying above me on the drafts from the cliffs so close to shore, right above ‘my spot’ on the beach.  They have motors you know! so not entirely dependent on the fickleness of the airwaves.  The take off is always a bit ragged, as they try to catch the wind; but the landings are very precise.  They have a couple of red and white 15-foot poles about 20 feet apart, on the beach to guide the landings.  The day after I wrote this title, I saw my first landing.

Landing the kite

The words, ‘coming to ground in Andalusia’ have been haunting me.  There is more darkness apparent in this part of Europe than elsewhere, even Montenegro.  Haunting, because it has been hard to put my finger on it.  I mentioned in the earlier blog that there is a “lighted merriment in the people and joy for living the day to day… a sense of the past and the present as one” (Gothe); but there is also the shadowy, just plain dark part of Andalusia… and there is an intensity which brews.  With this combination I have found it overwhelming.  I would say madness is close to the surface here… not just mine!  It has been an adjustment that has ended up being kind of fun, so I will try to put words to my ‘coming to ground in Andalusia’.  I find a strength here that I have not encountered in other places.

The roots of a 300 year old olive tree  

It seems I could talk about Andalusia forever.  I counted the pictures I recently took in Granada.  I knew it was ridiculous.  I have over 260 of just the Alhambra and the General Life Palace.

  One of many patios

  A detail of a floor

 A detail of a ceiling

(That is madness!) It has been the same in Rhonda, Cordoba, and Malaga… even here in the little pueblo of La Herradura.

This morning I was at the window at 6:30 am trying to capture a very unworldly yet simple ‘happening’.  It has been going on for a few days.  It is so subtle I hardly know it is happening.  It is a heavenly sound that comes gently into the sleep, so it could be dream.  Then as it comes closer you realize there is music passing your windows.  It took at least 2 days before I just had to see it, and leapt (teetered) out of bed to get to the shuttered window and get it open.  Quietly, in the dark outside, walking in slow procession, as if down the church aisle were over 30 people, muffled up for the early dawn cold, playing the most gentle of instrumental music (a triangle, a recorder, some bells, a soft guitar??) and chanting a most sweet and gentle song (The only word I understand is ‘Maria’). 

Click for a video of the music in the street 
(Sorry! You must log in to Facebook for this link to work.)
Leading was a man holding a lantern.  Already I am planning if I can be in a different place and wide-awake tomorrow morning, with the hope that I can get a better take (video).  Tomorrow is Christmas.  It will be the last day; or today’s procession was the last?  I hope I get one more chance!  That! is what it is like.  Every time I try to capture Andalusia, it slips past me.

I get pieces.  It is like my leaping on the fragments of glazed tile on the beach, which are a tiny hint of the culture.  They are broken then smoothed by the sea, so hardly make a statement, yet still I am in ‘awe’ at finding them. I try to find as many colours and patterns as possible.  Somehow it is never enough.  I say, “No more! I have a table top full.”  Yesterday, I decided I would just hunt for blue ones… and I found two!!  Whether it is taking pictures; or picking up pieces of tile; or going out for a glass of wine at sundown… to catch yet another sunset;

 The end of a day in La Herradura

and try yet another tapas! I can’t seem to get enough of it to feel I have grasped it. Andalusia is both overwhelming and illusive.

There is the Mediterranean part, which is as full of Life as all the places I have stopped at on the Sea.  I do love it… the light; the salty air; the virile fertility.   With just a drop of water it is a vigorous garden.  The ‘Garden of Eden’ images are ever present, particularly here in Andalusia (the snake too!)  It is said that in Malaga you can take a snip of a plant, stick it in the ground, and you will have flowers in a week. The name ‘Andalusia’ comes from the Moorish,  ‘Al Andalus’, meaning garden.   This that is ‘Mediterranean” and so full of Life, I can talk about, loving every minute of it.

 Christmas Alter to the Mediterranean (flower, olive oil and honey)

But that is not the whole truth of Andalusia.

The African continent is within a few miles of the shores of Andalusia.  Apparently the two continents were one in primeaval geo times. Later in history, there is evidence that the early peoples came from that direction, an easy boat ride away.  This part of northern Africa brings not just Africa, but the Orient as well.  There is one story that tells of the early pre-bronze period people, and their connection to the Dravidians of southern India who have perhaps the most ancient heritage on earth.  Once again, the images and stories are never ending.  You catch a glimpse, but it is not the whole.  You know you have come upon a fragment, but it is not even a full piece of a ‘part’ of the structure that once stood:  The seas of time have smoothed the edges and weathered the pattern: passions, stories and myth take over.

When one struggles to comprehend Spain, particularly, Andalusia; Africa and the Orient cannot be left aside.  Try that on.  What happens when you take the picture of 15th century Europe with Queen Isabella & King Ferdinand; then add Africa; and the Orient?   The Moors ruled for 800 years here in Andalusia.  There is a haunting darkness, along with the light… and the images get very strange.

 The Alhambra at night

There is also intensity.  Queen Isabella was perhaps the greatest ruling Queen of all time.  Her qualities span Joan of Arc (she rode all of Spain), Florence Nightingale (the first to give nursing aide on the battle field), and Queen Elizabeth 1 of England (Isabella sent Columbus to the New World).  Now add the bullring.  Think of the bull cult of Crete and the labyrinth… adoration and a God sacrificed; then the matador… knowing he will be gored, yet a dedication to fight clean, ‘a handsome young athlete with death in his eyes’. 

Go to Cordoba and walk into the Great Mosque spread over 6 acres:  originally 1, 013 columns (now 856) “creating an illusion of space with no defined axis, static whilst at the same time dynamic, opening in all directions at once.”   That is not all… there are a series of early Catholic chapels at one end (the Moors built on the grounds of a church they bought from the early Christians); then there is a full baroque Cathedral set right in the center open to the vastness of the columns… built when the Catholics took over from the Moors.  Every column is different, collected from all over the Mediterranean:  the Visigoth, the Roman, the Greek, the Egyptian, and the early Christian.  It goes on… and on.

  Columns of the Mosque

 And again...

I took over 20 pictures of Madonnas… in Andalusia, always a young woman, a budding girl (never a matron) 

with a slight smile on her face, and the symbol of the crescent moon of Astare or the horns of Isis.  The belief in myth and magic persists.  Below the patriarchal face of Andalusia is a matriarchal spirit. 

St. Francis (as the Madonna) with Jesus

My second night in Cordoba I watched the Andalusian Extravaganza, where to the music of the guitar, they put the horse through it’s paces...  the graceful moves necessary for the bull ring.  They dance with a man on their back to the music; they dance in step and! in response to a flamenco dancer; they dance around a long pole… in front of it, around it, beneath it; and they dance together... 4 horses at once.  The manes and tails flaring; the hoof stepping precise; the haunches rippling; the body so light it is as if on a spring  The Andalusian horses are the forerunner of the magnificent Lipizzaners of Vienna.  I add this comment now, to bring in the image of the magnificent, instinctive vigor of the bullring in contrast to the Madonna.  In both cases, such intensity… overwhelming!  Always.

 After the horse show

How to go on?  I haven’t touched Granada:  the Alhambra and the General Life Palace…  both places so amazing as to have influenced such diverse men as the American, Washington Irving who wrote fairytales set in the Alhambra Palace; and the Dutchman, M.C. Escher, a mathematician whose art manipulates reality through optical illusions (to get the full effect in some rooms, one must sit on the floor… the incoming light modifies the room’s shape) and impossible designs.  There was an exhibit of his work by the palace, “Universos Infinitos”.  Very appropriate for our current world, I thought: yet, after seeing the gardens and architecture, I just couldn’t take it in.  Such a stunning exhibit!  I can’t believe I chose to bypass it.

In Granada, there are over 2000 Gypsy caves.  I bumped into a Gypsy cave when I got lost walking along the river, which runs below the Alhambra. 

A gypsy cave

The next night I watched Flamenco dance in a Gypsy cave (Flamenco means ‘deep song’… see the video I put on Facebook).  I must! mention ‘the Don’ of the clan:  He stood by the door of the cave ‘allowing’ us (it did not seem an invitation) to enter; when we left there he was again, ‘ensuring’ our exit (it did not seem he was wishing us a “Good Evening”).  What an extraordinary man: such impressive dignity.  My GOD! he was good looking.  (Madness!!)  Earlier that day, I went shopping near my 16C hotel, along an avenue that is like 5th Avenue New York,

 Shopping in Granada
to look for shoes of Spanish leather… the softest of leather!  Beautifully luxurious on the feet!

Then there is Cervantes…  who lies “in the hearts of all Spanish peoples in a way that no other work of fiction in any other country can be approached.”  You see the characters everywhere!  And Picasso! Goya, and mob rule.  Anarchy.  The Civil War began in Almunacar, the town next to la Herradua. (This was also the landing place of the man who set up the Moorish Kingdom in Andalusia… it’s just a little! town.)  “Unhappy Spain!  Such natural wealth; such original and virile people beggared by incompetent rulers: One of the tragedies of Europe.  God denied to Spain only one blessing – Good Government !”  There is Spain’s dogged individualism on one hand; and on the other, the fact that the Jesuits taught wholesale ‘domestication’ until the 1970’s.  Live with those two pieces!

Christmas Day is celebrated (you have seen the banner of Jesus that hangs from the Andalusian balcony) but the real holiday here is January 6th, when the 3 Kings parade through the streets; and the children get their presents.  The even bigger celebration is Easter, when every church brings out their Virgin (not a Christ on the cross) to parade it through the streets (by the way, a guild owns the statue, not the church).  

 The Virgin

I need to tell Caroline to go to Seville for Easter… they dance the Flamenco in the streets of Seville for a week! “Dancing like they are in the Cretan Labyrinth!” it is said. 

The ethos of the sherry of Jerez… 35 varieties… always a blend… some include a 100 year old sherry’; the ethos of pressing the olive… the best tasting is from trees over 100 years old (do read the tiny print on the label); the ethos of ‘running the brandy bull’… the cape is to quiet the bull… the matador is to kill cleanly; the ethos of ‘gold’… Columbus sailed from here… they plundered for gold not land.  It goes on and on… a steady stream of conflicting, maddening (don’t forget the inquisition), stunningly beautiful, fun! images and experiences.  Andalusians are fiercely independent, “Anarchist by nature, perhaps the last of the European to maintain this:  they are fierce, virile, beautiful and pagan… and never dull. “

Of the men in Andalusia it is said, “The Arabian Spaniard is like steel among men; like wax among women.”  Goya said of the Spanish woman:  “She is a Saint in church; a Lady in the street; and a Devil in bed.”  A New York executive was quoted as saying, “The Spaniard stands for the individual instead of the machine.”  And when an Andalusian commented on this man’s dithering about whether to stay and live in Malaga, he said, “In Andalusia we swallow people.  He will stay.”  I think perhaps I have met my match!

I believe it!  Inside every Christian there is a pagan lurking, just gauging the moment… to leap forth.   I’m thinking about taking up ‘The Flamenco”!!  My ‘R’ hip says, “Madness!”

Flamenco dancer


PS:  Quotes that are not referenced are from Alban Allee’s “ANDALUSIA  -  two steps from paradise”.  1974. (I have used his spelling of Andalusia.  These days it is usually spelled Andalucia.)

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