Monday, December 31, 2018

A Sojourn of THE DREAM

Can it be we have arrived back to where we began? It feels as though a thousand suns have risen and set; not the sixty we experienced.

Amy and I began our sojourn exotically enough in Oaxaca, Mexico during the peculiar celebration called Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Dancing skeletons, candles in cemetaries, masks and music on the street all began us in a sojourn of THE DREAM.

Next, Mexico City brought us face to face with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Streets teemed with moving masses of humanity, rather childlike . . . even as little boys strummed guitars for endless hours gathering small change from tips. We found fake money in our wallets that local people spotted right away and refused to take.

Onward to Granada, Spain, in the “Old World.” Alhambra and its exquisite moorish castle perched above the city looked over to Sacromonte flamenco caves where every evening plaintive guitars, singing, stomping feet and castanets held forth.

Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes, entertained us each night before sleep. We read his knight-errant quests with his squire Sancho Panza, and attack upon windmills that he thought to be giants . . . then we visited the windmills, set high on a hill above a sleepy town called Consuegra.

Our rental car took us through seemingly endless landscape of olive trees to Cordoba, another famous Spanish city. I took plenty of photos of Andalusian horses and riders of the equestrian shows there.

We arrived by chance to Ronda and found it entrancing . . . so much so that Orson Welles chose to have his ashes thrown over the grounds . . . not far from the famous bull ring where Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso took in the action.

At Gibraltar, on a Mediterranean beach under the famous ROCK looming nearby, Amy collected tiny seashells strewn on the shore. A short boat ride across the sea and Morocco captivated us with spices, veiled women, donkeys, sheep, hashish, and ubiquitous mosques calling to prayer five times daily. Chefchaouen and its blue walls painted poetry all around us in the Atlas Mountains. By taxi we reached Fes and found ourselves living in a mansion with courtyard in a labyrinth old town surrounded by thousand year old wall. A modern train ride to Tangier gave us respite from the chaotic grit and grime of street life and quickly we fell under the same spell that bound the beat poets and writers.

Back in Spain we rented a car again and found a hotel in Seville, then an apartment in the old walled part of Toledo where vehicles aren’t allowed. Narrow cobbled passages lead from church to church, castle to castle, with shops lining each side. El Greco spoke to us through his portraits from the sixteenth century in his own museum.

At last Madrid and an apartment for a week one block away from Plaza de Espagna. There is found Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—at a monument with Cervantes himself looking over them. Every day we ambled among masterpieces of art in museums Madrid is famous for. These artworks celebrate THE DREAM in all its facets. And now we are far richer for the adventures it has offered us.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Tokens Along The Way

View of the old tannery, Fes, Morocco

Our taxi drive from Chefchaouen to Fes, Morocco, took just over three hours. After a brief wait at an arranged meeting place, a middle aged woman in long gown and head scarf gently approached and peered inside our car. Seeing two foreigners, she smiled. “Rachida?” I asked her name. She nodded.

Dining area and kitchen

Rachida works for Tara, the British owner who lives in Fes and Barcelona.
We gathered our things and walked a few minutes to a plaza and mosque. A couple zig-zags took us into dark, grimy passageways having to unlock gates. I felt bad for Amy’s fist impression of Fes. This would be our living experience for a week. It all changed when the massive wood door to our home opened. Rachida began showing us around. The house is an artist's delight. Intricate tile mosaics abound. Doors from previous centuries adorn, as well as tapestries, candle chandeliers, two bedrooms and baths, two kitchens and a delightful rooftop veranda with views over the city. The place is in the shape of a square. An inner courtyard is in the middle and goes straight up three floors—so each floor has rooms surrounding the inner court, connected by a flight of stairs. As we toured the second floor we turned a corner and found a reading room. Curled in one of the chairs we found Tiger, the resident calico cat. He is a welcome housemate.

We did not know that Rachida would be our breakfast cook and housekeeper. One special afternoon we went with her and her twelve year old daughter, Doha on a walk through the old Medina. to a famous restaurant called Cafe Clock. An Englishman started it and the woman who owns the house we are in in produced a cook book with Moroccan recipes for the restaurant. She has employed Rachida for about ten years.

Fes is a complicated maze of boulevards, hills and narrow passages filled with shops. So many things to delight the eyes. The second largest city in Morocco, (pop. 1.1 million), it first established itself in 8th century. Kingdoms have risen, fallen and risen again, leaving historic symbols and tokens along the way.

Tomorrow we leave for Tangier. We must be at the train station at 08:30 for the five hour trip. In three days we return to Spain. This is THE DREAM we are in.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Blue the Color of the Sky

Blue the color of the sky covers the walls in Chefchaouen, Morocco—founded in 1471. It is said to symbolize the sky and heaven, and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life. Some say that it didn't get its distinctive color until 1492, when it received an influx of Jews escaping the Spanish inquisition, who brought a tradition of painting buildings blue. Since nobody seems to have a definite answer, and the town is high in the mountains and close to the celestial vault anyway, I like the sky and heaven story.

This is my second visit to Chefchaouen also known as Chaouen—and the first for Amy. It is great for picture taking, writing, poetry, painting and being refreshed spiritually.

Chefchaouen’s soul reminds me of Venice—another totally unique city.

Amy and I are staying in a quaint “Dar” or house. A family lives here and has let out apartments beautifully decorated with Moroccan flourishes.
Dar Aldea is in a Medina, the walled historic city center off limits to cars.

Cats make for good portraits in the Blue City. They are abundant and know that they are honored. On the other hand, dogs are second class and far more scarce. Amy has encouraged me to do a picture story called The Cool Cats of Chefchaouen.

Also see: The Worn Tracks of Common Man
and Destiny

Sunday, December 02, 2018


The little cobbled streets bend and turn in every direction. An average sized American car would be useless. Amy and I have arrived in Ronda, Spain driving a rented Peugeot that is small enough to get through narrow streets, but at times I get frustrated how close I am to other cars, curbs or walls. Looking around I am amazed that I do not see vehicles with dents and scrapes. Getting to our apartment using Google Maps proved almost impossible. We stopped from frustration and walked, knowing we were close to where we wanted to be. It was then that we we felt enchantment for we were in a very old part of the city, with winding cobbled paths, a bridge built by Romans over deep gorges with a spry river running underneath, and little plazas with statues. Eventually our proprietor met us at a plaza and guided us to our flat.

We have learned that Ronda has enchanted and invigorated some very famous artists including the German poet Marie Ranier Rilke, American writers James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, and actor Orson Welles—who chose to have his ashes scattered over the earth here. He loved Ronda and said, “A man does not belong to the place where he was born, but where he chooses to die.”

Hemingway came for the bull fights. Ronda’s spectacular bullring is the oldest in Spain, built in 1785.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was suffering terrible writer’s block and overcame it after leaving Paris and sojourning in Ronda. He said, “The spectacle of this city, sitting on the bulk of two rocks rent asunder by a pickaxe and separated by the narrow, deep gorge of the river, corresponds very well to the image of that city revealed in dreams. The spectacle of this city is indescribable and around it lies a spacious valley with cultivated plots of land, holly and olive groves. And there in the distance, as if it had recovered all its strength, the pure mountains rise, range after range, forming the most splendid background.”

We knew nothing of famous people, bullfights, or legends when we arrived. It is on our way to Algeceris, Spain near Gibraltar where we will be in a few days to hand over our rental car and take a boat to Morocco. On the map it looked like an attractive stop on route. Today, Amy said, “I like Ronda better than Granada or Cordoba . . . it is my favorite place so far.” We extended our stay.
I have to agree because the setting is wonderful, it has a historic yet urban demeanor, is lively, but respectful and in short, a great place to be creative.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Windmills To Vanquish

After leaving cosmopolitan Granada, Spain, Amy and I have gone north. Every night in bed we read from Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605 - 1615. “The story follows the adventures of a noble (hidalgo) named Alonso Quixano who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to become a knight-errant(caballero andante), reviving chivalry and serving his country, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote's rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story.” (Wikipedia). How appropriate that I have also followed in his footsteps—referring to my life as THE DREAM. Amy is totally with me, so we have gone searching for windmills to vanquish, and found them.

Our first stop was Baeza. In the two days we stayed there we saw hardly a soul. Some if its streets are a thousand years old and the town is so preserved with antiquity that in 2003 it was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.It seemed we were in a movie, with a stage set in the renaissance and all the actors were gone.

Heading north again, following road instructions on Google Maps, we immediately found ourselves amidst immense tracts of olive orchards. Both of us were amazed at countless olive trees in neat rows as far as we could see. They sometimes overtook entire mountains; marching up one side and down the other. At one point, a gleaming golden wall caught my eye in passing. It was shrouded on a hillside not far off, amidst trees. I knew from my previous trips to Andalusia that there are many deserted estates. “Oh, I want to explore!” I said. Amy replied, “Well stop and turn around.” We found a little road and it was slick with mud in places. Adventure called and I managed to get to a dry place and stop, almost entirely confidant I could get us out again. We walked in wet grass and slippery clay to get to the place.

I felt such excitement and nostalgia too. The walls were holding up but the roofs were caved in and gone. Rubble filled the inside but I found a way in. Just then the sun came out from behind clouds and I felt the grand nature of the place as it once was. I took pictures as Amy sat  pondering by an old well. When we reached our car we were both covered in clumps and splatters of white clay. “Oh well, “ I said as we drove out, “it was worth it.”

Now we are in Consuegra, Spain. Our flat is spacious but does not seem to get warm enough. Our first excitement was to find the windmills that stand on a hilltop next to a castle built circa 1183 overlooking the town. Amy and I imagine these are the mills that Don Quixote took to be giants and charged at on horse with his lance intent on doing battle—heedless of the entreaties of his squire Sancho Panza that he was only fighting windmills.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thick Of Tradition

Until death it is all life”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Now that we are in Spain, a curious ritual has arrived unexpectedly. In bed at night in our quaint apartment tucked on a hillside along a stream we read to each other Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel Cervantes, (Spanish, 29 September 1547 (assumed) – 22 April 1616). At separate times in our youth both of us attempted reading the famous work from the Spanish Golden Age of literature but were daunted by its idiosyncrasies. Now in the land of its birth and on our own Quixotic journey of sorts, chasing windmills of our imaginations, we feel the pathos and understand the humor—exclaiming out loud and laughing with one another. When lights go out we continue to adventure side by side in dreamland.

Our first sojourn as a couple in the Old World begins in Granada. Years ago I lived here briefly and liked the part of the city called Sacromonte. It is best known for the flamenco venues. Caves in the mountainside are home to troupes of dancers and musicians. We will go tomorrow night and be in the thick of tradition. I am taking Amy to the same cave I experienced earlier. It is a narrow room with whitewashed earth walls and wood plank runway down the middle. The audience sit on either side within touching distance of the flamenco dancers as they strut and twirl to the strident notes of the musicians just behind them.

My fair lady Amalia de Córdova of Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico USA is wounded but carrying on gallantly as a woman of high lineage does. Before we left Mexico City less than a week ago, she was bitten by bed bugs. Maybe I was bitten too, but it had no effect. Our hotel was highly rated and we were pleased, yet I saw a bug on the bed our last morning and killed it, thinking nothing much about it. When we arrived to Europe after a long trip, Amy had inflamed bites on her chest, back and neck. It got worse. The red circles around the bite centers expanded so much that a bright red welt became one mass the size of Texas on her torso. It has hurt terribly. So with some difficulty we ventured forth to Alhambra, the awesome palace overlooking the city—and just above our apartment. Amy has refused a doctor so I have been concocting home remedies to help. Thankfully, a paste of honey and turmeric applied over the welt is slowly helping. A spice shop just on the cobbled street out front along a little river has all the herbs we need.

Don Quixote and  Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada would approve.
Amy has said she feels “at home” here although it is her first visit. Even more so than when she stayed in Córdoba, the town that is her namesake.

We will venture forth soon in quest of windmills that stand like giants and once battled Don Quixote at Consuegra, then on to Córdoba.

Take my advice and live for a long, long time. Because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

(For more from my previous adventures here, type Granada in the search bar at the top right of this blog.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hasta Luego Mexico!

Goodbye Mexico, until we meet again . . . hasta luego!

As the Grateful Dead said, “What a long strange trip its been.”

Tonight we board a plane at the Mexico City Airport and fly overnight to London, then board a flight to Madrid. We board again and fly to Granada.

To taste Mexico City, imagine if you will boarding in the middle of the “historico” center. The place is called “Chill Out Flats” and has high ratings on . The owner and his mom speak good English and rent out five apartments in an office building with security. Breakfast is served every day.

A walk to the National Gallery of Art is about two blocks. Along the way, next to a perfume shop, a queue of young people wait to enter a museum of torture (Museo de la Tortura). The place with the masterpieces of art has no line.

Taxi’s are ubiquitous but beware of being overcharged. One day a driver refused to take our money. We could not figure it out until later when the maid at our hotel brought our clean laundry to our room and also refused to take our money. Turns out a bank machine had delivered us fake bank notes. Oh well, the mariachi musicians are out on Garibaldi plaza playing old time Spanish favorites for anyone who stops to listen. A few dirty songs are tossed in that make the young girls blush.

Streets are full of shops and some districts are known for perfumes, others for clothes; including blocks full of shops dedicated only to gorgeous, voluptuous wedding dresses or white baptismal clothes for children. Families arrive in preparation of big domestic events, then linger and choose.

Walking on streets is a carnival, day and night. Musicians play for change, as do organ grinders and young children strumming guitars or pumping accordions.

Frida Kahlo is everywhere—on the sides of buses, adorning posters and graffiti walls. Her lover and husband,  Diego Rivera, is also prized by Mexico. His immense murals are to be seen in museums and government buildings. After the Rockefellers paid him to make an immense mural in New York City, the subject matter was communist, celebrating workers rights and later destroyed. So Rivera made it again in Mexico City where astounded visitors at the Bellas Artes Museum can stand entranced by its grandeur and passionate appeal to rights for the common man.

The Museum of Anthropology is free, and a rich experience cataloging the earliest beginnings of human culture in Mesoamerica. The botanical park is across the street, near the Museum of Modern Art and the Rufino Tamayo museum. In the little park out front men dressed in Aztec regalia climb a giant pole then begin spiraling down, their ankles tied to ropes, in sweeping circles playing flutes and beating drums on the descent back to earth.  It is called “Danza de los Voladores” (Dance of the Flyers).

I have thought more than once that I want to live in Mexico City. Amy too. We can be so creative and the crazy ideas flow freely.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Oaxaca and Day of the Dead

Now that Amy and I are in Mexico, we give ourselves to surprise and the unexpected. Being in Oaxaca during the celebration of Dia de Muertos, (Day of the Dead,) takes our experience to another level altogether.

We are situated in an apartment just two blocks from the town center. Our comfortable room is in a complex belonging to an elderly Mexican woman, Maria, who shares her extra space.  Amy is conversational in Spanish.

We have been in Oaxaca four days but it feels like we are living lifetimes. Mornings start out quiet and relaxed with barely traffic, then as the day progresses everything intensifies. By evening lines of cars move slowly on the avenues that are open and people flood streets in the center that are closed to traffic. Families are in costume and many people parade with painted faces. Clusters of musical groups abound, often accompanied by costumed dancers. I love the strong brass sections that always have tuba players that huff and puff along with the drummers belting out percussion.

Naomi, along with Maria's family
The multi-day Dia de Muertos holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember those loved ones who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. It is common to see “ofrendas”, altars decorated with marigold flowers and items like food that are made as gifts to the deceased. Supposedly the dead can follow the pungent scent of the marigolds and arrive home. Copal incense is burned too. Maria set up an altar in her home and when she learned that Amy and I were going to make a little altar for Naomi, my daughter, she told us to include Naomi’s picture with those of her family.

The first night of the holiday, Amy and I hired a taxi and went to Xoxo (pronounced ho-ho) cemetery, an old, intimate resting place for the dead that is known by locals as the best place to have the real experience. We arrived at dusk and stayed until after nightfall. Families brought huge bundles of flowers and marched to the graves of their loved ones to place the blooms and light candles. We were careful at all times not to step on graves. We saw a big foreign man sitting on tombs while taking pictures and knew he did not know how to respect the place. I could hear Amy praying in Spanish as we went. I took photos of candles and tombs. Early in the evening we came upon a small group of locals sitting by the grave of a loved one. An old woman caught my eye and I asked to take her picture. She said something and nodded. Afterward Amy told me she had agreed and said, “Yes, because I will fly away very soon.”

The next night we painted our faces in our room and found a cab to drive us to another cemetery, called Panteon Generale. It is bigger, but to our chagrin, after walking down a closed street with festive booths on each side we found the gates had closed at 6:30 PM. Oh well, that is how THE DREAM is sometimes. So we mingled with families having fun at a mini-carnival. At various times proud parents asked to photograph their children with us.

Isais Jimenez and Amy Cordova

Events continue to unfold and yesterday a wonderful wood carver whose father is very famous drove with his wife from a nearby village to retrieve us and take us home. Isais is the son of artist Manuel Jimenez Ramirez (December 9, 1919 – March 4, 2005) who is a legend in southern Mexico. He and his family carry on the tradition begun by the father of painted wood carvings that are magical (alebrijes). Amy illustrated a book about Manuel, called Dream Carver. It is about a young boy who has visions to make wooden animals. He wants them wild and wonderful, different than the traditional carvings of his people. The animals he sees in his dreams are ones that he carves and decorates. The text is written by Amy’s friend, Diana Cohn.
Isais, with the carving he gave us.

To our surprise Isais has made a museum to his father and on the walls surrounding the museum are huge mural copies of Amy’s illustrations. We were treated very warmly and talked with Isais about how to revive the book, which is out of print. He said he is asked every day for copies. As our time with Isais concluded he took us into the showroom and with a wave told us to choose any painted wood carving we wanted. Amy and I both gasped because the artwork is very valuable—and masterpieces. Isais would not let us offer any money. We chose a sculpture and Isais had his son wrap it, then we got back in his Chevy Suburban and drove the forty five minutes back into town.

Before we left he said, “You are both part of our family now.”