October 4, 2014
We have loved our stay in Cordoba, will leave tomorrow to go somewhat north to the olive country, passing through Jaen on the way to Baeza. A little higher there so may be cooler, we have been enjoying the warm days and evenings here.
Finally made our way into the Mezquita yesterday morning. It is a large mosque which morphed into a church — like so many of the churches here, when the Christians took over 700 years or so ago, they sensibly made use of the Muslim structures that were in place and embellished them with their ideas of a place of worship — heavy on the lugubrious depictions of Christ’s sufferings, but that’s my minority opinion. This one is particularly attractive as the arching pillars of the mosque have remained and when one stands at the original front door you can see right through the vast space to the holy place of the mosque — supposedly pointing to Mecca of course, but in this case slightly off kilter! A vast patio full of orange trees outside, with the fountains used for ablutions by the Muslim worshippers still in place.
If we are to travel in Europe we will have to get used to the hordes of tour groups — October is not the high season but these places are just thronged with them. The only place we experienced anything similar was in Beijing, but these here have at least eliminated the guide’s blaring megaphone, everyone walks around with a little receiver hanging on their necks and an ear bud in their ears and can hear the guide’s voice without her shouting. That said, the lone tourist is pretty much trampled and shoved out of the way as the herd, intent on following the fan or umbrella or some such held aloft by the guide, stampedes through looking to neither left nor right!.
Even that couldn’t dampen our enjoyment of this quite spectacular site, and the audio guides we used at least helped make sense of the convoluted chapels, and the interwoven history of the place.
In the afternoon we visited the palace of a marquis, occupied by the family until 1980, and containing 12 “patios” or courtyards, a feature for which this part of Andalusia is famous. The patios were very interesting from a gardener’s perspective and we were able to wander at will. For the private rooms we had to join a guide who spoke only in Spanish at machine gun pace, but we had a bit of a printed handout in English and we were glad we went as it was a behind the scenes look at how the rich have lived for ever in Spain. The house was 700 years old but had been renovated by different owners. It did make me think how lucky we are not to be lumbered with tons of family heirlooms, which in this case are so valuable you couldn’t just take them to a garage sale if you hated them. I particularly dislike Sevres style porcelain, those ghastly cherub ridden bright blue monstrosities, but can you imagine if you had to display them every day on your mantel? Not to mention keep the servants from smashing them with their incessant dusting? The room where the royals did most of their relaxing had the most uncomfortable looking sofas in it, tufted velvet, not at all cozy! So no envy from us.
In the evening we went to a flamenco performance in the Sephardic Museum. Absolutely different from our first one in Seville, where we were on tenterhooks that the dancer would collapse with a nervous breakdown and the ambulance have to be called. This one was more of a performance in a way, though still heartfelt. The first half was quite light hearted and flirtatious, with the dancer wearing multicoloured ruffles; in the second half she was in all black and it was more balletic and dramatic with more anger and passion in it. The singer, the guitar player, and the dancer seem to kind of riff off each other, sort of like improvisational jazz groups do. We wonder if the singing would be easier for us to appreciate if we understood the words, the emotions come through though.
I have been meaning to tell you of an interesting phenomenon that we have been observing here. At least one of every 20 people we pass has an arm in a sling or an arm or hand in plaster. Have never seen anything like it, a bit like all the people on crutches from their motorbike accidents in Thailand, but these people run the gamut from old to young, as many locals as tourists. It is just bizarre, can’t help wondering if whatever you go to a clinic in Spain for, they put your arm in a sling before they get on with the rest of your problem.
The other thing that is just so strange to our eyes is the constant, non stop, totally ubiquitous smoking that goes on. Young, old, parents, grandparents, — you name it — all apparently chain smokers. It is at least 40 years since I have seen someone smoke while holding a baby, or pushing a baby stroller. Everyone smokes while walking in the streets and they throw the butts down whenever they finish them! I saw a young, very smartly turned out clerk from a tony women’s clothing store, emerge and retrieve her butt from where she had lodged it on the shop windowsill earlier and relight, finish it off and throw it down on the store steps. Doug remembers guys doing that 50 years ago when he worked in the sawmill, so very strange in young affluent people. And the kids must grow up wreathed in smoke, though I have to say they are very well looked after and their clothes are extraordinarily nice, all the little girls play on the playgrounds in beautiful smocked dresses with white ankle socks, leather shoes, and bows adorning their heads. Ella would not enjoy it, but it sure is cute.
Something else I like is the spirit of the female over 80 set who seem to meet for coffee and sherry in the mornings at the cafes with which these cities absolutely teem. It seems one does not give up one’s fashion sense after a certain age here, and no qualms about looking like mutton dressed as lamb either! They all come out in short stylish shift dresses, high heeled sandals, perfectly coiffed, all made up, carrying their lovely leather handbags, just to go to the corner cafe and meet friends for coffee. Quite makes me ashamed of our casual attitude to our appearance — and of course all that smoking keeps them very slim so that helps. No worries about veiny legs or wrinkled cheeks, just forging on and looking like a million bucks! And we’ve seen a number of wedding parties heading into hotels, the men all wear tail coats, the women amazingly short, tight dresses in brilliant colours, with sky high spikes (remember the streets are cobbled) and fabulous fascinator hats.
We devoted today to some very interesting art museums so feel we have really covered Cordoba. We plan on an earlier than usual start tomorrow as we want to do some sight seeing on the way, notably in Jaen, before moving on to Baeza, a very small place. Day trips from there.