Andalusian Impressions, Take Two

Our time in Andalusia was book-ended by a slow start at the villa in the Sierra Morena mountains, and a slow finish in Sevilla (which ended up even slower with the aforementioned flight cancellation and two day delay getting home!) In between, we’d spend two nights in each of three key cities – Cordoba, Granada, and Malaga. We’d thought about squeezing in Barcelona and Madrid, Valencia, too. But in the end, experience won out, focusing on what might be warmer, sunnier weather, and the wish to take our time, and sink a bit deeper into this region.

I’d made a day trip to Cordoba from Sevilla during the dog days of late summer in 2017. I remembered the “mile high” Spanish omelette at the corner tapas bar outside the walls of La Mezquita. I remembered what appeared an optical illusion, but wasn’t, of those eight hundred plus striped stone pillars inside this UNESCO World Heritage site. The awe-inspiring beauty of Moorish architecture, first seen in the mosques of Istanbul, the domed starry ceiling and intricate stone carved walls. The artisans hand tooling leather. Blue potted, flower adorned walls of Callejas de Las Flores, evoking the “Blue Pearl City” of Chefchaouen in Morocco. I remembered and wanted to see it anew with my partner.

II Cordoba

subdued luxury secreted behind the latched and locked iron gate
what was once a medieval convent, now a quiet respite of ten rooms on three floors

greeted first by the patio’s still beauty
water plays soft music in a rose petaled fountain
the resident two hundred year old orange tree holds court
its full leaved canopy brings perfumed shade during the heat
its fruit, the morning jam

dark wood glows warm against cool white stucco walls, gleaming cotton sheets
blood red rose petals and long-stemmed blossom mark this day of love

 

steps away, down the cobble-stoned calle
La Mezquita’s thick walls command attention
her inner courtyard filled with stone and sunshine
her hallowed halls, an infinity of striped pillars, an optical illusion or is it?
her bell tower anchors the prime piece of real estate
as it has for centuries

the paradox of andalusian architecture:
heavy gothic and baroque Christian catholic cathedral
insisted within the spacious lacy lift of Moorish mosque

statues ablaze in gold gilt and blue and crimson
angels and king, virgin and saints
images fixed in time by time and the artisan’s skill

white filigree, stalactite and inscription on bas relief
blue and gold studded domes evoke star-filled heavens
invite timeless breath and a glimpse into eternity

 

herons stand graceful guard in the silt islets of the Guadalquivir
that once mighty river made cities along its shores rich and mighty –
Cordoba, Sevilla, Cadiz
the still standing roman bridge spans old and new towns
we make our way midway, sit in the afternoon sun,
watch people, listen to senor playing his accordion

 

a morning to view paintings from the past and near present
we have the gallery to ourselves, take our quiet time
the gift of rising early, of being first to enjoy the splendid spread of breakfast
walk past plazas and through neighborhoods
a quick stop at a notion store to purchase a small length of lace
to evoke the flamenco mantilla and shawl

mid afternoon tapas on the street corner up from the river
fino warm, sunshine hot, lunch a forgettable, overdone crusted roll of ham
later dinner on the balcony
the remarkable night view of the golden lit La Mezquita and her bell tower
a chance shooting star
a flamenco guitarist serenades from under the resident orange tree
dinner an unremarkable, overdone grilled shrimp

but after all, it was never about the dinner

PS. Our Cordoba hotel, the sweet boutique, Balcon de Cordoba.

The Coming of March

winter frost 1

Wind blew strong yesterday morning.
Rattled the leafless branches. Made the tall spruce and pine dip and dive in
a pre-dawn dance.
Egged on clouds to race across the still dark sky, streaking it with stripes of
early sunlight.

I smelled the first fresh fragrance of Spring on that wind.
She said, “I’m coming. But be patient. You know Winter likes to take her time leaving.
A bit slow and sluggish, that one.
Almost as if she digs in her heels when she feels my insistence to get things
going and growing.”

Come noon, I saw Sun reigning higher in the sky than it had been for months.
Nudging warmth into Wind’s still icy chill.
Together, though, they partner well to melt Winter’s now tiresome gifts of snow and ice,
leaving puddles the size of small ponds on streets and drives,
revealing sodden black soil and mushy remains in gardens and fields.

“I’m coming.”

Whispers the promise carried by March in these northern climes.

“But remember, I’m moody, ambivalent. You might even call me Caprice.”

–  KW –

Andalusian Impressions

Our winter sojourn in southern Spain was a beauty- filled collection of experiences. The range of accommodations I’d selected were perfect in location, amenities and comfort – everything either photos or words said they’d be. I got my fill of fine art and architecture and we both got our fill of tapas, temperanillo, manchego and manzanilla, gelato and vermut. The weather was exceptional. No rain. A few days of cloud. Blue skies, sunshine and a warmth that brought on an spring early with the fragrance of orange blossoms.

The original two weeks and a bit became nearly three as our first leg, early morning flight from Sevilla to Madrid was cancelled due to fog. You’d think we would’ve been forewarned driving in the cab in the dark shadow and mist –  or realized we’d were in clutches of Mercury in Retrograde, infamous for communication, travel and technology glitches – but our anticipation was focused on being homeward bound. Hand gestures and broken English at the gate indicated the plane was hovering but unable to land. Then the flight sign suddenly switched from “delayed” to red lettered “cancelled” and we hoofed it back to through security to the Air Europa office to learn that while we could get out that day, the next Amsterdam to Edmonton flight was two days away.

Thank god for devices and the memory of that simple, family owned hotel I’d stayed at my first visit to Sevilla, as the terrific Air BnB we’d just left that morning was no longer available. One room left. Booked. Then the consistently reliable Hilton at Madrid’s airport with free shuttle service to and from.  Outrageous price, but again the stroke of good fortune in that I’d slipped my CAA card into my wallet and it gave us a substantial discount. Forty-five minutes later and we were set to enjoy thirty-six more hours in warm and sunny Sevilla. Oh, and the business class upgrade, Madrid to Amsterdam to Edmonton. Sweet finale!

Travelling for me is about expanding my awareness and presence into the new – vistas, people, ways of being, food, art, culture, sounds. It’s about, as I was told by the couple of elder artists years ago during a layover in the Rome airport, the gathering of new impressions, and being changed by them. Both as a way to deepen into, and practice soulful self care, I always journal and include post cards, brochures and business cards, and other colourful “what nots” to conjure up those sights and tastes. I sometimes paint – quick pen, ink and watercolours on the pages – my personal post card. And I always photograph to hone in, compose and then relive the memories in my photo books.

When I travelled to Morocco last September, I wrote haiku every day as way to “grok” each location visited. This time, I’d quickly jotted down words and phrases that have become vignettes of each place seen and savoured. Here is the first.

I   Aracena – Finca Buen Vino

a welcoming embrace
to be met by friends when travelling afar, brings the heart quickly home to rest

fire burning in the open grill lifts away the mountain chill
iced manzanilla warms from the inside – another remembered, welcomed embrace

baked courgette and goat cheese stacked and layered with sweet jam of tomato and pimento
quails roasted with tea and Iberian jamon
vino tinto glistens claret in crystal goblets
white damask and stamped silverware rest heavy in hand

soundless night
waxing full sleep under feather beds under the waning full moon

 

morning walk on the grounds to get one’s footing, to land more fully

enveloped in low cloud and birdsong, sheep bells ring tunelessly,
their owners hidden among chestnut and oak treed hillsides,

those nuts have fed pigs and people for generations,
bringing acclaim to a region known world-wide for its jamon, paste and castenets

white stucco villages nestled in valleys, suddenly appear like mirages when the cloud veil lifts
only to disappear when the breeze blows in a new thick white layer

cork trees scored around their middles, every decade stripped below of their thick bark
plugged into bottles of local specialties – sherry, “vermut,” vino

wild mushrooms foraged for stews and sausage
bitter oranges gathered for thick sweet marmalade

an afternoon camino through farmland and forests
along paved path, stone path, dried mud trail

grazing dark pigs come running for hoped for handouts,
snouts sniff through fence, beady eyes intelligent with curiosity as I mimic their call

blackberry brambles hug old low stone walls, naked until summer

sudden splashes of yellow vivid against the grey white green
feathery globes of mimosa blossoms into an early spring

Waiting

Do not try to save the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing in the
dense forest of your life
and wait there patiently
until the song that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
And you recognize it and greet it.
Only then will you know how to give
yourself to this world
so worthy of rescue.

– Martha Postlewaite –

Wild Things

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The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my childrens’ lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry –

A Blessing for This New Year

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Beannacht
an excerpt

…May the nourishment of the earth by yours,
May the clarity of the light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

– John O’Donohue –
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

And

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The Shining Word “And”

“And” teaches us to say yes
“And” allows us to be both/and
“And” teaches us to be patient and long suffering
“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration
“And” does not divide the field of the moment
“And” helps us to live in the always-imperfect now
“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate towards everything
“And” demands that our contemplation become action
“And” insists that our actions is also contemplative
“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things
“And” is the way of mercy
“And” makes daily, practical love possible

– Richard Rohr –
A Spring Within Us, 2016

Where I Am Today

Shoveling Snow with Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.

– Billy Collins –

Click here to hear Billy Collins read with pianist George Winston.

A Gift from Winter

Perspectives with Panache, 2006

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.
Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

– David Whyte –
The House of Belonging, 1997