Andalusian Impressions, Take Four

Still with me?  We’re just about at the end. Here, and one final, easy, sunny, slow finale in Sevilla before heading back to snowy winter at home.

Malaga. Why Malaga?  Last spring I followed a friend – a very seasoned solo traveler – as she made her way through Andalucia. She was taking three weeks, had the first two booked and posted how she might spend the third. I suggested visiting Finca Buen Vino (our first stop) and she took it from there. She spent a few days in Malaga, visited the “de rigeur” Picasso Museum, and did some other meanderings and musings. I was intrigued, found a great Air BnB (my first overseas booking and IT WAS TERRIFIC! just like the pictures and a perfect location) and took it from there.

From Granada arrived by bus. By taxi found our apartment. And then set off.  Here are glimpses into those two days. Wished it had been two more as it’s a city I loved, with its  more local, less “tourista” vibe. I day-dreamed out loud coming back to that sun-filled apartment, using it as a base to explore the Costa del Sol, the sherry town of Jerez, Cadiz, and Ronda. Hmmmmm, maybe some day…..

IV  Malaga

trade high speed train for bus, ease our way south through mountains and groves
at a pace more in rhythm with our being – from 350 km now to 80 at the most
takes more time but it’s siesta for our souls and soles

 

cabbie confers with his mates, the route to our first Air bnb
finds the street, but the number disappears
“una momento” as I scurry across before the next wave of taxis, cars and motorcycles
seeing three anonymous doorbells, I ring numero dos – una, dos, tres
seeing the woman through the open office door, peek in and ask for her help

“si, si” she is to meet us, has keys and text confirmation
cabbie gathers bags with relief
a most generous tip for his kindness, staying with and not stranding us

climb three narrow twisting stories of blinding yellow stairs
the better to see in the dark, perhaps
thinking mimosa blossoms in the dark forest hillside,
Monica murmurs apologies – “the way it is in a two hundred year old building”
door opens, shutters open, sun streams in, I see exactly the photo that captivated me on the website
“si, si, si” it’s three for three my sleeping selections so far

even better, the location was not exaggerated
within minutes we find our way to galleries, cafes, mercado and museum
this entire trip different as I make time for art
permanent collections depict a curated intention, temporary thrill with exception
late tapas lunch, a contemporary take on an old form
it, too, thrills

 

Picasso.
his birth and childhood only here and then into the bigger world
following intuition, drive and art that inspired, of forms he would create
working in mediums beyond canvas and paper – ceramic, wood, metal
each in response to a curiosity that knew no, would not be, bound

his palette fierce with audacity, courage, bravado
Duende.
his deep and utter, ruthless truth

 

from coffee and torte to sea and port
a walk along the palmed promenade brisk with sea breeze
no beach bathers here, that’s further down and later in the season
though tourists disembarked from cruise ships, baring legs, shoulders, and sockless
have me dressed in down shivering

 

last day shines sunny and blue
a final walkabout reveals artisanal creations and collaborations in ceramic and steel
the most beautiful and innovative work I’ve seen so far
glorious to behold, and that will have to do
as travelling light with little space for extras is intentional in all ways

 

 

 

Andalusian Impressions, Take Three

So much has changed in our precious world since we departed for and returned home from Spain. During our travels, we saw very little evidence of the impact of COVID-19 in the airports of Amsterdam, Sevilla and Madrid. During our last days abroad, we began to read of cases in Italy, though none had been yet reported in Spain. But now, home eighteen days,  much has changed. Spain follows Italy in its exponential growth of confirmed cases; in its closure, cancellation and lock-down containment strategies. Here in Canada, we wait, close and cancel, practice self isolation, prepare for what we don’t really know.
Thankfully, my husband and I have been well, limiting our social engagements, and will continue to do so, more strictly, during these next weeks. And as most everything has been cancelled, I’ll spend my time preparing my taxes, cooking good food, walking with Annie.
I’ll stay connected with family and friends via email, text and phone.
I’ll create spaces – as are many others –  for kindness and solace, in my home, writing, blog, social media platforms, in my heart and mind.
I’ll listen deeply to self and others, and “make something beautiful,” which, after all, are one in the same.

_________

After walking that beauty and magnificence of Sevilla’s Alcazar in 2017, I knew I’d appreciate seeing its more famous cousin, the Al Hambra in Granada. So when we decided to focus our time in Spain to Andalusia, Granada was right up there on the list of “must sees.”

Donning my former travel consultant’s hat (one I really like wearing!), I booked a cozy little hotel in the Albayzin neighbourhood, purported to be right below and across the river and down below that hillside, iconic palatial fortress. Sure enough, that’s exactly where it was. Not a fifty steps from the foot bridge and steep path up the hill, we timed it to ensure we’d arrive on time for our morning tour the next day. Fifteen minutes, door to door, with some panting to accompany the gurgling creek and small waterfalls by the paved path. (The next morning, chagrined as a fellow, a bit younger than me, and obviously fitter, ran up the path for his morning workout!)

One of those serendipitous travel hits, we were across the street from the walkway and plaza bordering the Rio Darro, where on the third Sunday of the month, the “I Love Granada” gathering of local artisans convened in booths to showcase their creations. A  street festival feeling as friends and families met, patrons filled the outdoor tapas patios, and the sun shone warmly on us all.

Below, my collection of vignettes from our two days in Granada.

III   Granada

patchwork quilts of orange and olive groves
for as far as the eye can see
travelling by train allows this kind of noticing and taking in

glimpses of snow-capped mountains
the Sierra Nevadas soar ten thousand feet into an azure sky
ice glistening glacier mirage like in the distance

 

Al Hambra, another andalusian paradox
my raison d’etre – here in Granada
the mix of cultures,
conquest, construct, create homage to
Allah – God
Sultan – King
Sultana – Queen
love letters in bas relief

gardens and groves
water flows through trough and fountain
purple iris, pink magnolia, one lone yellow rose
rainbow ranunculus foretell of lushness and colour to come

cyprus keep stately silent vigil over a past sultana’s secrets
oleander arches shade soon with innocent poisonous blooms

 

despite the sun, I feel the cold in the shade of these ancient walls
built so solidly along the hillside above so many centuries ago
but walking along the Rio Darro,
amidst that monthly Sunday gathering of local artisans
bubbles glisten as we revel in the warm exception of an early spring

 

red pomegranate stiff skin broken open
red wet seeds spill out staining the paper doily
homage to the virgin statue standing in the dim church alcove
a prayer for what? for whom?
holding and hiding whose cherished secret?

pomegranate, the city’s namesake and symbol
an artist’s rendering pressed into my journal
a small silver orb with red crystal seeds now hangs above my heart

 

red lacquered nails text “I love you” in Spanish, or so I imagine,
watching her stand outside the bus, bid adios and
blow one last farewell kiss to her lover
as I give one to mine

 

Traveling

Finca BuenVino, Perspectives with Panache, 2020

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.

– Antonio Machado –
Border of a Dream, Selected Poems, 2004

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.

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

Winter in Spain

It’s early morning, still dark, cold, snowy and winter. When this gets posted, hopefully winter will be the only carry forward for us as we’ll be en route to Spain. Reading last July, a solo traveler’s post on spending a couple of weeks last January in Andalusia got me thinking. Last winter, having bailed on Mexico, we stayed put and endured the coldest February in forty years. Not complaining, as making home in Alberta comes with making peace with winter. And while my tolerance for cold has lessened considerably after a thyroidectomy in 2017, I’ve come to love the soft, enveloping quiet of falling snow, the invitation to turn inward during the long dark, the slow, the still. But I wondered aloud about shifting direction this winter. A quick email to Sam, who with his wife and sons host an exquisite b’n’b in the mountains west of Sevilla, confirmed winter can be a lovely, low season time to visit. Confirmation from husband that yes, Spain would meet his destination criteria of good food and wine, gave me the go ahead to don my travel consultant hat and design our itinerary. Barcelona and Madrid would give way to a more focused, yet leisurely experience of Andalusia. A circuit starting quickly but ending slowly in Sevilla, with an easy few days Finca Buenvino in Aracena, then onto Cordoba, Granada, Malaga.

“Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’d already visited some of the region. September 2017 I was scheduled to co-host a circle gathering in Germany when a friend suggested we travel to her favourite part of Spain, an area she was certain I’d become as enamored of as had she. Rather magically, the email invitation to attend a writer’s retreat at Finca Buenvino a few weeks’ preceding. Afterwards, five days soaking up elements of Sevilla – hot sunshine, cold manzanilla sherry, tapas and flamenco, Mudejar architecture, colourful tiles and gardens – and a day in Cordoba. As the scout for some of the travelling I do with my husband, I’m delighted to be stepping back into the familiar, while anticipating the fresh and new with him.

“Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I know we’ll be beautifully hosted in Aracena. Sam and Jeannie, British expats, built their pink villa decades ago as a guest house and cooking school. Specializing in fresh, local Andalusian inspired cuisine complemented by sherries, vermouths and wines, I knew this would be an easy way to my man’s heart. I’ve reserved for luncheon in Linares, a nearby hill town, at Arrieros, the Michelin recommended café I’d walked by that September where the owner invited me in for gazpacho, which I had to regretfully decline due to the day’s writing retreat schedule. Another luncheon booked at Sevilla’s ConTenedor, returning to that terrific slow food restaurant featuring a pastiche of local flavor and colour. We’ll see flamenco, compare the vast beauty of Al Hambra with the more accessible Real Alcazar, sip and savour at tapas bars. I’ll visit the art galleries missed the first time.

“When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’ve been living a slower spaciousness.  I completed a contract in January, filed the report a couple of weeks ago. Intentionally set timelines to have time to prepare.

The practical. After the brilliant, brittle cold last month, how will long-range forecasts of mid teen and low twenties temperatures feel? Which layers to stay warm at night, at elevation? What are the best footwear options to safeguard against a flareup of the plantar fasciitis I’ve been tending for the month? Which medicinals to shore up and stay healthy? The corkscrew and sharp knife for the impromptu. The swimsuit for the hammam.

The heart. Travel lighter. Make time and space for writing and painting. Bring the journal from last time, the new notebook that matches. Paints and brushes. The camera. Receive what the heart would love to say, to see. Maybe the gift of my sore foot, “to move at the pace of guidance.”

“May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Often I travel solo. Typically, an “alone, together” small group experience where I can immerse in the moment to moment unfolding, nurturing impressions in the quiet of my own creative process; then coming out to engage with those around me. Travelling with my husband is markedly different. The focus and energy shifts to us, together, to us, alone, in new spaces, and made new by our travelling them together. I wonder what invitations wait along the way for us, for me?

“May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Seven months since the idea to go to Spain this winter. Almost here, and soon enough home again.

Epiphany

January 6, the feast of the magi.

Thirty-nine years ago, after four days of driving from Ontario, with my husband and our first English Setter, Beckey, in our VW Scirocco in record breaking cold, we arrived in Edmonton, Alberta. Just married six months earlier, we made, what hindsight has proved again and again, the right decision to accept the offer of a new position for him which included moving expenses, and set up home east of the city.  I’m always mindful of the day and its portent of a new beginning for us. 

Fast forward.

Today, a day that looks and feels much like that day we arrived thirty-nine years ago – brilliant sunshine in an Alberta blue sky, light snow cover, cold but not too cold. Another English Setter (our fifth), Annie, keeping us company in our home office. Ubiquitous truck and SUV have long replacd that sports car. Still east of the city in a house that’s been a comfortable home for decades. Both of us self employed with consulting contracts that fulfill and affirm and leave time to pursue other pleasures and dreams.

Recent shifts in work and relationships have conjured within the persistent archetypal image of magi wandering in the desert, with only the star and intuition to guide them. Recalling that night thirty-nine years ago, driving across the cold, flat Saskatchewan prairie, lit only by a billion stars and luminous moon. Wondering, what new beginning harkens? Then? Now?

“Pick a date and do the thing. There is no rule that says
you have to feel ready before you say yes to your dreams.”

Story People

Today, a new year, a new decade, a new blog. Saying yes, once again.