What Traveling Gives Me

Iceland, Perspectives with Panache, 2018

What’s needed are eyes that focus with the soul.
What’s needed are spirits open to everything.
What’s needed are the belief that wonder is the glue of the universe
and the desire to seek more of it.
Be filled with wonder.

–  Richard Wagamese –
Embers, 2016

Andalusian Impressions, Take Five and Final

This is my final collection of vignettes and photos from our time in Andalusia. Over the month, they have become my love letters to Spain, sent out to thank her land and her people for hosting us so beautifully in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic swept over her and the rest of our precious planet.
So much is uncertain, may be impossible, but these love letters hold my heart’s desire to return one day to help restore Spain’s people to their livelihoods. Perhaps they will inspire you, too. Kindest regards…and thank you for reading, liking and sharing.

Sevilla has a place in my heart much like Tuscany’s Florence. Maybe it’s the easy-to-walk accessibility to art and architecture, and abundance of cafes with good food and wine.  Or that, unlike at home, I’m quick to orient and have a keen sense of direction and memory for where I’m going. (His first time in Florence, my husband, lost in google maps, swore I’d had past lives there, given how quick I was to mark the way with street signs, remembered sights and feelings, and paper map my references.) Making this return, with several days to linger, and then a couple more, was a charmed and cherished way rekindle my affection and conclude our time in Andalusia. And given we spent more time here than elsewhere, this collection of vignettes is longer, and interspersed with photos along the way. May you enjoy!

V   Sevilla

coming full circle, we finish where we started, Sevilla
what stayed the same, what changed in that ten-day absence?
what continues to shift in the days remaining?

luxe bus from Malaga, leisurely drive north
white stone walls, white lacy almond trees
grey green globes of olive trees row upon row, up and down hillsides
broken by a village, a road, now a mountain range
contrasted by a cerulean sky, and clouds heavy with sea water from the Costa del Sol

arrived and settled into the perfect Santa Cruz apartment,
thoughtful amenities compensate for the lack of light in this classic courtyard setting
shuttered windows will be a blessing in the frying pan heat of a Sevillian summer

famished, we stop at the local plaza for a platter of the fresh fried catch
cold cerveza, chilled manzanilla – could anything taste better?
then to walk and discover along this residential maze of dusky corridors, we really are only ten minutes away from it all

tourists milling in touristy places
servers tend to the calle lined tables, patrons anxious for their mid-afternoon tapas
Giralda continues to command my attention as she did from the first, shining against that afternoon sky
recalling she was my first photo that first evening that first trip in 2017
predestined next step to make the easy cobbled climb of her interior, thirty-four rounds in the sky
and feel compelled to photograph her again and again, morning, noon and night

the cathedral, Giralda’s raison d’etre, the world’s largest gothic church
rose glass window
first elliptical ceiling
Columbus’ final resting place
all bedecked in gilt and grandeur

 

 

the Alcazar continued to please, though the growing crowds had us make quick haste
grateful for the grace and space, hush and lush of its gardens
my enchantment with Mudejar beauty
that confluence of east meets west design unique to Spain
deepens in appreciation and respect with every sighting
and the local artist’s rendering brings even more to those moments and my regard

and now, those once tight green buds bursting to reveal
waxy white petals and golden centre, scattered like wedding confetti
sweet fragrance of orange fills the air
evokes childhood memories
belies the bitterness of its fruit

Ole! Flamenco!
I dance it at home (or try, how I pine I didn’t start at six, or have another lifetime to learn)
I’ve seen flamenco at home and on this very stage
even with reservations, urged us to walk fast, to be early in line,
to get front row seats in the small casa, as it’s first come first seated


welcome given, performers take the stage, I recognize the “bailaor”, the ”cantaor”
I know it will be a good show, but who was to know how good
never had I seen before such ferocity, such passion,
I feel rise in me, in him, in us – with every “golpe”, every “tacon”
he knows, we know – Ole! Duende!
Ole! Ole! because there aren’t words to acknowledge what we witness
if I’d had a long stem rose, I’d have tossed it on the stage

 

caught up in this sunny Sunday Sevilla Marathon, plans to visit Plaza de Espana now dashed
as 14,000 runners pace themselves to qualify for the 2020 Olympics
(this, before the global coronavirus threatens to quash Tokyo’s summer games)
African men and women break records for the win and places, in mere minutes over two hours

detoured, we walk along the river, same one we meandered along in Cordoba
past bullring, and cafes
a chance turn and we see a sign: La Vermutera de Sevilla
my kind of place for my kind of drink
served over ice with a slice of orange and a green olive
a closet sized bar
walls lined with bottles of Spanish vermut (vermouth) never seen at home
platters of home-made tapas elegantly displayed
local DJ spinning vinyl this Sunday, another serendipitous stroke of luck
lovely young couple with a 16 month daughter – realizing their dream

 

restless, anxious, dream-filled sleep, always the same the night before I travel
tomorrow the early morn departure, to be soon enough homeward bound
and too, will I remember the way to the hammam today?
wondering, down which alley did my intrepid travel nature go without  me?
it’s OK to be afraid, I’m OK, I found my way, I remembered, I arrived

 

so the universe has given us the gift of 36 more hours
Sevilla, not yet ready to bid us “adios”, what does she have in store?
Mercury in Retrograde an astrological blessing, and fog as thick as gazpacho (hey, it’s Spain)
45 minutes later new tickets, new hotel reservations in here and in Madrid
and hey, look, is this a business class upgrade? Madrid to Amsterdam? Amsterdam home?

 

Ash Wednesday in Triana, this old gypsy town across the river revers the holy ritual
red velvet draped balconies and wafting incense signal this Catholic church is open for ceremony
I step past the heavy curtained doorway
into this darkened, silent, hallowed space
to mark the beginning of Lent
dozens of six foot tapers burn, baskets full of purple alstroemeria,
the setting for the life sized Mary holding the crown of thorns,
for Christ bearing his cross, and ours
I sit and watch as one by one, each steps forward, bows, kisses His hand
I sit and hold the sacred space for their prayers and mine
acutely knowing how the distance from home had coalesced
into the timelessness of faith that knows no borders

 

the pup tied to the grilled gate, its water bowl filled, its soft bed on the sidewalk
still it cries for its person, wagging its tail
is it you? me? us?
missing our Annie dog suddenly pierces my moments before freshly pierced heart

 

coming full circle, that final lunch of fresh fried fish, and longed for salad
your cold cervezas and my three chilled manzanillas give us a glow
we’re easy targets for earnest, busking troubadours with Spanish guitars
African women selling bracelets, men selling sunglasses
those still warm, soft and crispy, Portuguese tarts from the wee bakery by our hotel
a sweet farewell to Sevilla
a portent of our next shared adventure

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