Sailing with Columbus

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Among the things Doris found startling when she moved East a few years ago were all the “Washington was here” signs around the Washington DC area. It seemed like every little crossroads town had a sign somewhere that said George Washington passed through two or 12 or 20 times during the American Revolution.

Christopher Columbus occupies the same iconic status in Andalusia. Though he was Italian by birth and initially tried to enlist the Portuguese to finance his adventures, it was ultimately in Andalusia that Columbus secured funding and set sail. No surprise then that you don’t have to scratch the surface very deeply in these parts to see Cristóbal Colón streets, statues and memorials or hear Cristóbal Colón stories. His tomb in Seville is vastly more elaborate than those of the queen and king whose money put him on the map, literally, and if the darker side of the Spanish conquest is taught to Spanish schoolchildren, it is not obvious to the casual tourist.

We knew all that before reaching Cádiz, where the plot thickened further.

Cadiz

Residents of Cádiz still call themselves gaditanos, from the names given the city by  Phoenicians and Romans

First settled by the Phoenicians around 1100 BCE as “Gadir” for “walled city” and renamed “Gades” by the Romans, Cádiz is the oldest city in Spain and one of the oldest in all of Europe. Columbus not only slept here, his second and third voyages started from a village on its bay.

We knew when we booked the AirBnB that our host was a sailor, but that doesn’t begin to describe Miguel’s relationship with sails, the sea and Columbus.

Miguel

Our host with a friend 25 years ago

When Miguel built the one-bedroom rooftop apartment we currently occupy 84 stair-steps above the sidewalks of Cádiz, he built sailing into it. That’s the porthole in the shower at the top of today’s Partout. The apartment’s signature décor item is an intricately rigged model of a sailing ship from Miguel’s personal collection. Pictures of sailboats and a poem about sailing deck the walls. Model lighthouses sit on shelves.

Sailing model

Miguel’s aery is an AirBnB match made in heaven for Louis, still in mourning from selling his own sailboat in order to launch his life partout. (This is the decor, not Louis’s boat.)

Then on an amble one day, we came across what appeared to be a historic painting on a wall not far from the apartment. Examining it more closely, we thought that might be our very own host, tricked out in 18th century attire,  in the wall art. The next time we saw him, we asked. Sure enough ….

Miguel in costume

That’s Miguel (and his niece) with the spyglass

It turns out our host is not “just” a sailor. He is also a student and replicator of Columbus journeys. In the early 1990s, with a corps of other devoted Spaniards, Miguel helped build replicas of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, the fleet Columbus commanded on his first voyage in search of India. Miguel’s job was rigging the sails of the Santa Maria. He worked on them for close to a year.

Rigging

Though he is not in the picture, this was Miguel’s job

Then, on the quincentenary in 1992, with a merry crew of other history and sailing devotés, Miguel set said for the Bahamas on the Santa Maria, Columbus’s largest ship and the only one outfitted with cannons for defense.

Ships

A photograph of the replica Santa Maria under sail  

The crossing was blessed with kinder winds than Columbus experienced, and the celebrants made land in 30 days. Miguel shared with us the beautiful book he co-authored about the construction of the ship and the voyage it made: Santa Maria: Cruzar El Atlantico Quinientos Anos Despues.

Book

Our Miguel is the first author

The following year, Miguel made a second crossing, this time as captain of the Niña, the smallest of Columbus ships by about a meter, which sailed an estimated 25,000 miles in its long working life.

As all this came tumbling out in Miguel’s charming English after we asked about his likeness on the city wall, followed by a remarkable invitation: Let’s go sailing! Because, of course, Miguel has a sailboat (actually, more than one).

And so it was that, on our seventh day in Cádiz, we set off with Miguel for a marina in the self-same village of Puerto de Santa Maria where Columbus’s second voyage began. Miguel’s lovely wife, Mara, and lively young sons joined us there. Alas, there was little wind but, as Louis always reminds Doris when she mutters about how little of what passes for “sailing” takes place under sail, it’s all about being on the water. On this day, we were on the water in the wake of Columbus.

Columbus

Captain Miguel and his happy matey

In the rear-view mirror:

  • Thanksgiving: We dined on pulpo (octopus) salad and sautéed prawns and raised glasses of good cheap Spanish wine to our friends and family back at home.
  • BLACK FRIDAY!?! There is no Thanksgiving in Spain, but there is a Black Friday the day after it, and there were thousands of signs and a special lottery to prove demonstrate the long shadow of American marketing.
    Black Friday
  • Shopping for olives. In the land that produces nearly half of the world’s olives, how could we not head for the open market to load up on Louis’s favorite stone fruit?
    Olives

Still coming soon: Havana in Spain

Porthole open

Our shower porthole looks out on the monument commemorating Cádiz’s status as the only Spanish city that successfully resisted Napoleon’s occupation

 

 

 

 

Our Tale of the Alhambra

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Music is never far from earshot on the sidewalks of Granada

Doris first saw Granada in 2006 on a trip to Spain, where Greg and Carole were teaching. It was February and cold. Madrid is a big city and crowded. Greg and Carole worked five days a week. Rental cars were cheap. The sun and romance of Andalusia were a few clicks of the odometer away. Fabled Granada became the first stop on a run to the sun.

There is nothing in Europe quite like Granada’s Alhambra. Topkaki Palace in Istanbul comes closest, but it wasn’t even under construction by the time the Alhambra’s sultans were kicked out of their Granada digs. Globetrotting Louis was overdue for a visit.  After 10 days with los Sevillanos, we set off by train and bus for the last redoubt of the Muslim empire in Iberia, the foothill city where the plain meets the Sierra Nevada.

Alhambra distant

The Alhambra includes a military fortress, three surviving Nasrid palaces, assorted gardens and the renaissance imperial palace (flat roof) Charles V Holy Roman Emperor built for himself

Muslims (more often “Moors” in Iberian history) ruled parts of Spain and Portugal from the early 700s until 1492 – longer than the Christians who succeeded them. Their capital, Córdoba, became the largest and most modern city in all of Europe. Half a millennium later, architecture and art created under their long reign continue to give the region a distinctly Arabic flavor, nowhere stronger than in Granada.

It was in Granada in 1492 that Isabel I of Aragon and Fernando II of Castile completed their “reconquest” of what would become Spain and where the last sultan surrendered to them. Also here, the royal couple commissioned Christopher Columbus to sail west to India, expelled the peninsula’s Jews, burned 80,000 books written in Arabic, initiated the Spanish Inquisition, ruled, died and are entombed in simple lead caskets beneath the royal chapel.

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They don’t allow photos within the royal chapel but take our word for it that Isabel and Fernando are buried under the wedding-cake spires in the background.

Of course, Isabel and Fernando wasted no time claiming the Alhambra for their own, and no wonder. The theme of the palace was “paradise on earth.” Column arcades and keyhole doorways connect courtyards and lead to soothing fountains and still reflecting pools. Sunlight dances everywhere. Huge and grand as it is, its rooms manage to remain intimate, inviting and cool.

 

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L1160333The royals also wasted no time in remodeling to their taste. They broke through walls to connect interior palaces and removed privacy lattices to improve the views. Their grandson Charles V continued the embellishments by erecting an immense renaissance palace inside the compound commensurate with his status as Holy Roman Emperor. All this was nothing compared to the modifications of Napoleon, whose armies flattened palaces and buried courtyards with the rubble in retaliation for local resistance, ripping out the cedar of intricately carved ceilings for firewood.

 

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It is said the entire Koran is spelled out on the walls of the Alhambra. Detail like this have survived the centuries because they are molded from plaster of Paris instead of valuable salvage, like the marble that has long since been stripped from the Coliseum in Rome

Time also exacted its toll. The whitewash on the Alhambra’s outside walls washed away, uncovering the earthen red of the palaces building materials. Inside, the vivid geometric shapes remain preserved in the tiles and stained glass, but vibrant reds, blues and golden yellows that once covered the walls and friezes faded.

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Here and there, the pigments that originally covered the interior walls are still seen 

By the time Washington Irving (founder of Sleepy Hollow, sire to Rip Van Winkle) became a literary squatter within the palace walls and published his best-selling Tales of the Alhambra in 1829, Granada had been on the map more than two thousand years and the Alhambra a fortress in some form for a thousand, but its continued survival was not assured. Our Spanish tour guide said the monument’s condition and worldwide fame today owe much to Irving’s book, which introduced the palace to the West and led to the tourist boom still echoing today. By the end of the 19th century, Spain had declared the site a national monument.

Granada is actually much more than the Alhambra – home to 50,000 Roma (as gypsies are more often called today), who planted the roots of flamenco in the caves of Sacramonte, where many still live across a ravine from the palaces, and to the Arabic labyrinth of streets called Albayzín, where defeated Muslims retreated after 1492 and stayed until they were expelled or otherwise eliminated once and for all.

Improved bar

Fixing colorful pots and plates to walls is common in the medieval and Roma quarters 

Granada in the rear-view mirror: 

 

  • Sunset at Mirador San Nicolas – Merrymakers converge nightly at this viewpoint to watch the sunset west of the Alhambra and see the monument illuminated after night falls.
    Wall waiters
  • Tea rooms in Albayzín – Typical of enduring Muslim influence in Andalusia is this narrow street lined with teterias (tea rooms), hookah bars and pastry shops specializing in Syrian and other middle Eastern sweets.
    Gran - Night streets
  • Hustlers on the plaza – North Africans continue to migrate to southern Spain. These get by, Times Square-style, by selling knockoffs to tourists from blankets and tarps they swiftly close around their wares when police come into view.
    Gran - street venders
  • Free tapas! – Granada is one of the last cities in Spain where tapas are still free and come with every drink you order. Yum.
    Tapas
  • A photographer at his trade – If the ground is the only place to set up a tripod for a night shot of the royal chapel, you do what you have to do.

    Louis on ground

    Despite appearances, this is not one of Granada’s abundant homeless (crummy photo from old iPhone)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY!
Coming soon: Havana in Spain

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We’re with Queen Isabel. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Los Sevillanos

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It is hard to learn much about the character of a nationality as a tourist. The locals tend to be putting their best (or, occasionally, their worst) foot forward, and the real life of a country goes on elsewhere than in hotel lobbies and on-and-off tour buses. T-shirt messages and souvenirs often play to stereotypes while real life mostly unfolds off-stage, unseen and unknown.

What’s more, appearances can deceive or, more benignly, be no more than appearances. The posture of the woman in the photo at the top of the post suggests dejection and defeat. Spain suffered those mightily during the financial downturn of 2008. Are people in Spain (or Andalucia or, more specifically, Seville) still suffering greatly? Or is this merely one lone woman lost in thought?

At the same time, impeccably turned-out women and men – especially older ones – are a common sight in Seville. Does this mean the Spanish are thriving now, or especially stylish, or just that men of a certain age are inclined toward rainbow suits?

Red manPurple manGreen man

And then there is Spain and religion. Wandering the streets on Saturday night, we stumbled into horde of Sevillanos jammed into the plaza outside the baroque L’Eglisia del Salvador (Church of the Savior). People of every age and possible situation had  crowded into the square, all eyes trained on the open double doors, all obviously anticipating … well, what? Doris whipped out her trusty rusty Spanish to find out.

Una virgen was the answer. A virgin, soon to emerge from the church. Nothing special, the woman added helpfully. Hay muchas virgenes in Sevilla – there are many virgins in Seville. This happens all the time.

Within minutes, a brass band under the church portico struck up and began a solemn march down the steps and into the crowd.

Brass band

Brass bands mostly accompany floats of the virgin Mary (there are other themes)

Next through the great wooden doors came a thurifer (new word of the week) swinging a thurible and trailing clouds of incense, followed by a clutch of richly dressed clergy.

Thurifer

That’s the thurifer with his thurible leading float through the streets. 

Finally, the virgin herself swung into view, a gilt icon reigning from atop a dazzling two-ton platform born on the shoulders of costaleros, costumed men concealed by a red velvet skirt. The crowd pressed toward the float – all the strutting teenagers, the mothers and fathers steering baby strollers, the limping pensioners. A great show of Spain’s enduring faith and religiosity.

Virgin in silver

We don’t know which of Seville’s virgins this was. There are many.

Or maybe not.

To get beyond appearances, we took a class on Spanish culture at the language school where Louis is studying Spanish and Doris is studying French (another story). The teacher said stereotypes are imposed from outside, not assumed from within, and tend to be stronger outside a country than inside.

She tested the group on their ability to divine the true from the false in 32 generalizations about Spain and Spanish people, statements like –

  • The Spanish are a little lazy
  • The Spanish drink a lot of sangria
  • The Spanish often eat paella
  • The Spanish are very punctual
  • Spain is a country that is extremely religious.

The answers: False, laughably false, very true, depends on the occasion and … false.

The Spanish are not particularly religious, she said. Like elsewhere throughout Europe, religion has faded as a force of life. The churches don’t have congregations any more, mass is not said in many of them. What appears religious to outsiders is, in reality, “anthropology” – a love of custom, tradition and fiestas.

Parade hand

Weighing in at about 4,000 pounds, los pasos (floats) only appear to be floating. The truth is not quite hidden beneath the velvet drape.

Floats like the one we saw are the centerpieces of one of the city’s oldest and dearest customs/ traditions/ fiestas, Semana Santa. During the week before Easter for the last 450-plus years, nearly 70 church brotherhoods have carried their pasos through the streets for as long as eight hours at a stretch. Some of the floats (typically gold if depicting Jesus, silver for Mary) are so ancient and elaborate they are regarded as priceless works of art.

Somehow, we had stumbled into a display in miniature of this particular anthropology. We even joined in eventually, trailing the float as it stopped and started through the streets, so close we could see the white sneakers of the costeleros beneath the red skirt and hear the knock as the overseer dropped the heavy hammer fixed to the prow of the float that lets the bearers know it is time to move on.

Why one of the brotherhoods and its silver virgin and brass band were on the loose on a Saturday night in November, it will take a Sevillano we haven’t asked to tell us. What we know for now is that affirmed the stereotype that some of travel’s most memorable experiences are the ones that weren’t on the schedule.

Seville in the rear-view mirror:

  • Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede de Sevilla (better known as “Seville Cathedral) – the world’s fourth-largest church building and home of Christopher Columbus’ magnificent tomb
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  • Plaza de España – a Moorish-themed fantasy of extravagantly tiled pavilions, bridges, benches and more, built (much like San Diego’s Balboa Park) for a 1920s exhibition and then preserved because people fell in love with it.
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  • Alameda de Hercules (“the Alameda”) – a public promenade named after rows of poplar (álamos) trees that line it. Alternately elegant and derelict over its 443-year history, it is lined with cafes and recycling bins so we visited often. Its southern entrance is marked by columns salvaged from a Roman temple of early Seville.

Coming soon: Our own tales of the Alhambra

Sevillianos

True or false? The Spanish don’t much like hanging out in bars.

 

 

Chasing Gezellig

Sharp Delft night
We are now in Andalucía, Spain, for nearly a month, but we can’t move on to the land of flamenco and sherry without at least a brief backward glance at the first three weeks of our five-month travel adventure—our house exchange in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Groningen is where Doris’s few and far-flung immediate family members—Greg, Carole and Abby— live, work and play. On the surface, we spent our time there hanging out with the kids, learning our way around the youngest and bikingest city in the country and taking overnight getaways to fabled Dutch destinations.

Underneath it all, we were being gezellig.

Men with fish

Old friends, sharing fried fish on a bench in the sunshine – gezellig.

Gezellig (pronounced pretty much like it looks but with a lot of throat-clearing on the g’s) is such a uniquely Dutch concept that it is considered the essence of untranslatability to English: a word for which nothing comparable exists in the language. The most common translation the Dutch use is “cozy,” but that is too limited. Gezellig is more like a state of mind, a sensation of being snug, warm and sociable, with quaint thrown in for ambience. It is invariably positive and so essential it has been called the heart of Dutch culture, even a national religion. When President Obama made his first visit to the Netherlands in 2014, it probably was inevitable he declared the visit “truly gezellig.” If someone were to make a word cloud of all the online reviews written by Dutch people for hotels and restaurants, “cozy” would take over the whole cloud.

And places are just the start of it.

Woman on bike

Parents biking babies is invariably gazellig.

The English-language story hour Carole has started at the Groningen library is gezellig. Home birth (still quite common) is gezellig, as is the enviable Dutch policy of providing every new mother a full-time nurse at home for the first week after baby’s arrival. Doting grandparents are gezellig, along with the day a week retired ones commonly spend taking care of their grands. Foursomes spending an afternoon playing cards in the corner bar are gezellig. Music, the moon, a cuddle with your cat can be gezellig. (People walking their cats are fantastically gezellig in my book.)

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Connecting with animals definitely counts.

Gezellig’s opposite is onzellig or “not cozy” and, seriously, if you hear anything in the Netherlands is onzellig, it’s the direst of warnings: Don’t go there.

On our trip, an afternoon nibbling snacks and drinking beer with Greg and Carole in a pub with a playground for Abby was gezellig, the Delft hotel with a room in the gypsy caravan pictured on Partout was gezellig, and the magical Il Illusie apartment in Gouda that we entered through the flower shop below was fragrantly gezellig. Beer may not technically be gezellig, but since it is so often shared with friends in cozy place, it may well be.

Beer in bar

By any name, gezellig was the essence of our three weeks in the Netherlands, and we flew south to the sun of Spain wrapped in the cozy warmth of it.

Abby on swing

Many playgrounds in the Netherlands have cafes and bars in them, the better to promote gezellig.

Now in the rear-view mirror

    • Kinderdijk, Unesco World Heritage site of 19 working windmills
       
Windmills

Windmills, by provenance, are gezellig.

  • Apeldoorn, home to Paleis Het Loo, the Dutch equivalent of Windsor Palace
  • Gouda, where gouda cheese is not actually made
    Gouda

    The gezellig welcome at Il Illusie

    Heit Loo

    A gezellig table in the royal family’s palace

  • Apenheul, a primate reserve where monkeys are on the loose and among the guests
  • Delft (pictured at the top), home of Vermeer but not to his paintings (which were all sold out of town)
  • Leeuwarden, capital of ancient Friesland and the only Dutch province with its own official language (West Frisian). Visiting the local museum, we learned it is also the birthplace and girlhood home of the convicted (and executed) World War I spy Mata Hari, who was little Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod back home.

    Mata Hari of Leeuwarden … not so gezellig.

Coming next: los Sevillanos

Couple at brown cafe

You need not be warm to be gezellig, just connected and cozy.

 

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Introducing Partout with Louis & Doris

Partout is French for “all over the place.” Anyone who knows either or both Doris and Louis knows we are always pretty partout and getting more so by the day.

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Doris’s co-workers looked into the future and sent her into retirement with this Kate Spade scarf.

In Partout with Louis and Doris, we can let you know where we are faster and more graphically (yes, that means getting more of Louis’s great photos), and you can keep up with us by merely opening an email. We started putting Partout together in Groningen, the Netherlands, while spending three delicious weeks of family time there with Carole, Greg and Abby Fuller. We are launching the blog from Seville, Spain, where we miss the kids but welcome the sunshine.

From here on, we are all over the place until spring 2018. This is a sneak peek at what lies ahead:

  • November – the Netherlands and Spain
  • December – the 3 P’s (Portugal, Prague and Paris)
  • January – the Netherlands, UAE, Oman, Zanzibar
  • February – Tanzania, Kenya, Sicily
  • March – the Netherlands and home

Fasten your seat belts and please come along for the ride. All it takes is clicking “Follow” and filling in your email address or watching Facebook for new posts.