Sun-drenched II

Bank Holiday Monday

The sky is as low and grey as no sky has a right to be on the 29th of May. The only splashes of colour on Trafalgar Square were the high-vis jackets of the far too many policemen in attendance.

And then it rained.

What we need is honey-coloured stone, wide open skies, blinding white paint, the cool azure of the sea, sharply defined shadows… In other words, what we need is:

The Sun

(Click to enlarge.)

Don Quijote de la Mancha

En un lugar de la Mancha…

When I picked up El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantes last week and opened it on the first page (okay, in my edition that would be page 113), and read,

En un lugar de la Mancha,

de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo…

In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen…

 …I felt the heady effect of a sudden shift in time and space: all at once I was somewhere in La Mancha, under a harsh sun, confronting whitewashed windmills.

Somewhere in La Mancha… Cerro Calderico, near Consuegra. Photo by Manuel via Flickr. [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

(Cervantes once looked at these.)

—¿Qué gigantes?—dijo Sancho Panza.
—Aquellos que allí ves —respondió su amo— de los brazos largos, que los suelen tener algunos de casi dos leguas.
—Mire vuestra merced —respondió Sancho— que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento…

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.
“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills…

It is not often that you pick up a book – no matter how old, how famous – and you’re transported with such urgency before you even finished reading the first half sentence. But the unassuming En un lugar de la Mancha… must be the most well-known and memorable first line in Spanish-language literature – ever.

Somehow it doesn’t quite work the same way in other languages.

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Return from Spain

Sunset over Seville

Perhaps that is the travellers deepest melancholy, that the joy of return is always mixed with a felling that is harder to define, the feeling that the places you have ached for since you first saw them simply went on existing without you, that if you really wanted to hold them close you would have to stay with them for ever. But that would turn you into someone you cannot be, someone who stays at home, a sedentary being.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

The paradox of travel.

The Art of Zurbarán

In the Museum of Prado in Madrid and the Museum of Fine Arts in Seville you can see a number of paintings by the 17th century Spanish painter, Francisco de Zurbarán. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall ever having heard Zurbarán’s name when I was in school, although admittedly art history was no longer part of the grammar school curriculum by then.

The first time I took notice of Zurbarán was, in fact, in the Prado, seven years ago now – I must have seen him in the National Gallery in London before, but the National Gallery is so vast and so full of masterpieces of all styles that I passed him by. The Prado was different. Not that it’s short of masterpieces from all over the world, mind, but I went there specifically to look at Spanish paintings. I wanted to see Goya and El Greco and Velázquez… and while doing so, I came across Zurbarán.

Saint Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664), National Gallery, London (NG230) [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]
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The View from the Ivory Tower

Should we admire or despair of those single-minded people who dedicate themselves to the pursuit of a pet obsession? Who put what we’d consider a ‘normal’ life on hold to disappear into the wilderness spending years in research?

I’m talking about the likes of Milman Parry, who traipsed around the remote mountains of pre-WWII Yugoslavia for a decade, recording folk songs in an attempt to gain an insight into the oral tradition as surviving since the time of Homer… Or Walter Muir Whitehill, who, similarly obsessed, spent nine years in Spain at around the same time, discovering and cataloguing Romanesque churches in the most godforsaken locations. (Both Harvard academics, I notice.) I came across this second one, Muir, while reading Roads to Santiago by Cees Nooteboom.

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How to Survive Semana Santa in Seville

Tips to Make Your Semana Santa Memorable

We spent Semana Santa in Seville this year – and although we enjoyed it, we could have enjoyed it so much better if we knew what we know now. (And it’s not like we didn’t do our research in the internet and guidebooks first.) So read this to find out how to make the most of your stay in Seville during Semana Santa!

Let’s start with…

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Mantillas on Maundy Thursday (Las mantillas de Jueves Santo)

Seville in Holy Week…

Processions, processions. And then some more processions.

Huge floats covered in flowers moving slowly forwards in narrow streets among the throng of people. Hooded penitents bearing crosses or candles, church flags, incense, bands, children handing out sweets, a man singing laments from the balcony at four a.m. People dressed in mourning on Holy Thursday: women in black dresses with black mantillas, men in black or navy suits wearing ties. In blazing sunshine and thirty degrees heat.

I love Spain.

Sevilla en Semana Santa…

Procesiones, procesiones. Y luego aún más procesiones.

Pasos enormes cubiertos en flores que mueven lentamente adelante en calles estrechos entre la muchedumbre. Nazarenos en capirotes llevando cruces o velas, banderas de la iglesia, incienso, bandas de música, un hombre cantando saetas del balcón a las cuatro de la madrugada. Gente que se viste ropa de luto el Jueves Santo: mujeres en vestidos negros con mantillas, hombres en trajes negros o azules oscuros con corbatas. Y eso bajo un sol ardiente, en un calor de treinta grados.

Quiero a España.

Continue reading “Mantillas on Maundy Thursday (Las mantillas de Jueves Santo)”

Save the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)

Date: 14 February 1797 
Place: The Atlantic, off Cape St Vincent (Portugal)

If you’re English and into naval history, you will recognise the time and place as the Battle of Cape St Vincent – one of nine, that is. (Clearly it was a popular place for enemy fleet rendezvous.) This particular Battle of Cape St Vincent was the one which became famous for Nelson’s Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates1 so you’re now settling in for a nice read about Horatio Nelson and various associated heroics of the Royal Navy, right? Let’s go:

It was a cold and foggy day…

Er, no. It was a cold and foggy day but you should have taken a look at the title perhaps.

Rather than detailing Nelson’s heroics of which you can read on plenty of other websites, I’m going to write about a Spanish naval officer: Cayetano Valdés, who had been cast in the role of having to save the Santísima Trinidad, the pride of the Spanish navy, the largest warship of its time.

Twice.

A topic that you won’t find much discussed in English elsewhere (for entirely understandable reasons).

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Spain in Black & White IV (España en blanco y negro IV)

Let’s not let March go by without some pictures of Spain…

Marzo no debe transcurrir sin fotos de España…

P.S. I think this will be the last post of Mediterranean Mondays (unless there are howls of protest). It's been running for a long time and I fancy a change. I will still continue to write and post photos about the Mediterranean of course; it just won't be always on Monday.

P.D. Creo que esto será el último post de Mediterranean Mondays (a menos que hayan aullidos de protesta). Llevo escribiendo esta serie mucho tiempo y me apatece un cambio. Por supuesto, seguiré escribiendo y publicando fotos del Mediterráneo, es que no será siempre el lunes.

The Siege (El asedio)

In a city under siege, the bodies of gruesomely murdered young women begin to appear. And at every spot where the police finds a corpse, a bomb has fallen. Is there a connection?

This is the (brutally simplified) premise of The Siege, a historical novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A novel set in Cádiz during the French siege in 1811 and 1812, in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, two years during what the Spanish call the War of Independence.

Cádiz. [Public domain via Pixabay]
En una ciudad bajo sitio aparecen cadáveres de jovencitas asesinadas en una manera horripilante. Y en cada lugar en que el policía encuentra un cadáver, ha caído una bomba. ¿Hay alguna conexión?

Eso es la premisa (simplificada de manera brutal) de El Asedio, una novela história por Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Una novela ambientada en Cádiz durante el asedio francés en los años 1811 y 1812, la era de la Guerra de la Independencia. 

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Pablo Neruda Explains a Few Things

I read in the news on Friday that in Madrid they are renaming the streets that carry Francoist names – high time. The same afternoon, Sophisticated Young Lady came home for the weekend from university (where she reads Spanish and History) and reminded me of a poem that I haven’t heard for decades… and certainly never read in the original until last Friday night. So today we’ll remember the Spanish Civil War…

Pablo Neruda explica algunas cosas

El viernes leí en las noticias que en Madrid van a dar nombres sustituivos para calles con nombres franquistas – ya es hora. La misma tarde, La Señorita Sofisticada volvió a casa de la universidad (donde estudia español  y historia) para visitarnos para el fin de semana y me recordó a una poema que no había oído hace décadas… y seguramente no he leído en lo original nunca hasta la noche del viernes pasado. Así que hoy recordamos la guerra civil española…

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Sun-Drenched

I don’t know about you but at around this time of the year, I invariably reach the point when I could murder for sunshine, flowers and the ability to go out without a coat.

(Not to mention it’s Monday.)

So what we need right now is a little sunshine:

Wishing you all a happy sunny Monday! (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Last Year’s Best Reads? (Or Self-hosted vs Hosted)

In the past week I’ve been engaged in looking at my statistics… And since the blog moved from being self-hosted to wordpress.com during the year, I had to collate the statistics manually, a task during which I found myself evaluating the pros and cons of…

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Spain in Black & White II (España en blanco y negro II)

No comment.  Sin comentarios. 

(Click on the images to enlarge. Haz click en las imágenes para ampliar.)

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This also doubles as my entry to Cee's Black & White Photo Challenge this week!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (of 2016)

Last year I borrowed the title of this well-known spaghetti western of my childhood for an end-of-year post, choosing a book for each category. I don’t see why I shouldn’t cast a look back at this year’s reading and do so again… (And I hope you appreciate that I’m sparing you an embedding of Ennio Morricone’s theme tune to play in the background while you’re reading this!)

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The Roman Theatre of Mérida

The Extremadura region (in the west, bordering Portugal) is not a part of Spain that’s particularly overrun by tourists. But although it hasn’t got beaches, it’s still well worth a visit for anyone who’s at all interested in history, in architecture or indeed, for anyone who’d just like to holiday somewhere beautiful and atmospheric without the crowds.

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Mérida in the Extremadura

Mr Anglo-Saxonist hates beaches – in general – and overcrowded Spanish beaches in particular. Which is why, despite of us having visited Spain three times so far, we’ve never yet been down the Mediterranean coast. On the other hand his dislike of beach holidays led us to visit a small town in the west of Spain which, quite simply, blew our minds.

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