Good to be Home

“‘Come on, John,’ he said, ‘the longer we look at it, the less we shall like it.'” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

Every time I walk the long corridor toward the open door to the long tube I will spend a day sitting in, taken high up into the clouds in, waiting and waiting in, I like it less. But considering the miracle of flight — and the distance I can cover in an extraordinarily short time — not to mention that my generation possesses the opportunity to light into the air like the birds, I can’t justifiably complain. It was a 10 hour flight from Charles de Gaulle to YVR and the time flew with me.

We are home on our little Island in the sun. My garden delivered up a large bowl full of ripe strawberries this morning. The potatoes compete with the garlic and the weeds have adopted an attitude of permanence, thinking they can hide from me. All is lush and lively in my tiny subdivision-sized plot.

Oh, it’s good to be home!


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Spires and Turrets

“Then I dreamed that they came in sight of the city, very old, and full of spires and turrets, all covered with ivy…” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

Park Guell isn’t old, but it is full of spires and turrets, all covered with lush gardens — a vision and architectural wonder — another of Gaudi’s creations. A Humanist, the father of Modernista and a devout Catholic, Gaudi drew on the Catalan culture, Creation and Christianity for inspiration. His friendship with Eusebi Guell was the catalyst for the project, which was built initially as an estate for wealthy families. Due to lack of interest and the difficult terrain, it failed as a residential building and was opened to the public as a park in 1926. In 1984 it was named a UNESCO Heritage site and welcomes visitors from all over the world.

The metro is on strike today so we hailed a cab and arrived a little early to take in the gardens. As we climbed the staircase up the mountainside, vendors laid their wares — mosaic geckos and elephants, necklaces, scarves — on white blankets (a quick and easy way to “scoop and hide” for when the police make their rounds). Buskers played jazz and Spanish guitar, hordes of tourists couldn’t decide where to point their cameras, and the sky threatened rain. My impressions of Park Guell? I felt as if I were inside a live exhibit, not viewing it objectively, but a part of the creation itself. I wonder if that’s what Gaudi intended — that through imaginative participation we continue to be drawn to God.

It’s our last day of touring in Spain and we have loved being here, learning about the culture, tasting the foreign dishes of octopus, sea bream, pintxos, and experiencing a culture that lives out loud. We will miss the spontaneous singing in the streets, the double kisses of greeting, and the siestas but we’re ready to board the train for a 6 hour ride to Paris tomorrow. Adios, Barcelona!

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He Kept On

“He kept on singing his song…” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

I read an article in Time magazine once that said it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become accomplished at whatever is practiced. We visited Picasso’s museum today where the prolific work of the artist is on display, except his most famous work, Guernica, which we saw in Madrid at the Prado. The man lived to a ripe old age and produced over 50,000 works, comprising 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, many thousands of prints, and numerous tapestries and rugs.

In his later years he said, “When I was a child, I painted like a man. When I am old, I paint like a child.”

Sadly, photos were not allowed.

The Catalan people who occupy this part of what we know as Spain, have a proud and distinct culture — closer to French in language — with their own sense of national pride. And their music reflects that. Understanding another culture often means experiencing its music and arts, so we took in a choir/symphonic concert this evening at the Palace of Catalan Music. It’s known for its Modernista interior and it didn’t disappoint.

We also happened upon the Catalan dancers, who, after Sunday service, fill the Cathedral square, join hands to form a circle and dance their proud history in slow-stepping tradition. These folks get their aerobic work-out each and every Sunday before heading home to share a family meal. It was no different today, on Corpus Christi Sunday.

All that culture gave us an appetite so we headed back to our favourite pintxos bar — late night tapas in the Catalan tradition is something we can embrace!

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A Little More Tea?

“Will you not have a little more tea?”

“Thank you,” said John, ” but if you can give me some directions, I think I would like to continue my journey.”

CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

It’s awfully tempting at times to just sit and people watch or hole up in our apartment with our feet up or indulge in just one more cup of tea, before remembering that we are on a journey and we really must be on our way. After all, there is a great deal to experience in a city like Barcelona.

Yesterday we walked the Rambla, an relatively new pedestrian zone that sits on top of what once was the city’s sewer drainage canal. Today it’s a bustling connector between the waterfront — its malls, marinas and monuments — and the main plaza with its fountains, major departments stores and expansive marble plaza.

Next we took the metro to Antonio Gaudi’s architectural wonder, still in use today, La Pedrera apartments (Casa Mila). We learned a little bit of history and gained an appreciation for Gaudi’s inspiration and unique style before our tour of the Sagrada Familia church today. About mid-way along La Ramblas sits an extensive shopping spot called La Boqueria Market. At its entryway is Pintxos Bar where a tourist can pay exorbitant prices for crayfish and prawns with a million other tourists. And so we did. Also, I’ve been looking for saffron to bring home and apparently, this is the place to find it. But at 80 euros for 25 grams, I think I’ll look for it at the World Spice Market in Seattle instead.

We returned to Sagardi for our typical 8:00pm Spanish pintxos, strolled down to the beach and back before calling it a day.

Today, we took in Sagrada Familia church and climbed to the towers for a full view of the city and Gaudi’s remarkable sculptures. The artist’s vision for creating a space for worship that reflects our natural world rivals any we have seen. The inner columns reach heavenward in soft curves. Green and blue hues imbue a sense of serenity — a canopy of cool lushness, leading the worshiper toward peace and tranquility. Even amidst tens of thousands of tourists, the atmosphere is conducive to prayer with several small chapels inviting the faithful to stop and consider God.

All that wonder gave us an appetite and so, to our guide book.  We were looking for a lunch experience — not too expensive, lovely setting, excellent food — and found it at La Crema Canela. Rick Steves was correct on all accounts! Another gluten-free find in Barcelona!

We felt we had earned a nap and so are resting before a brief outing this evening to find that artisan yarn shop we passed the day of our arrival.

But not before another cup of tea.

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Some Other Place

“Thus we know we are near to some other place on the map which is not yet visible on the countryside.” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

About noon we hopped aboard the 30 minute train to Madrid where we waited an hour before boarding the 2.5 hour train to Barcelona. The countryside, with its rolling hills and farms did indeed hide the city until we were upon it. First impressions of Barcelona? It’s a cosmopolitan community on a grande scale with treed parks, charming architecture that reaches to the sky creating labyrinthian lanes laced with boutique artisan studios and eateries. We’re staying in an apartment near the Bohemian neighbourhood so there’s a young vibe and a lot of late night noise. But nothing like little Toledo that rocked into the wee hours of the morning and awoke us at 8:00 am sharp with echoing cannons booming from river bank to river bank. Ladysmith will seem like a monastery after Spain!

After a second attempt we found a tapas bar, happy to serve gluten free for me. Delicious! We meandered through Santa Maria Cathedral — simply structured with granite in the Romanesque style. Barcelona is our last stop in Spain and we plan to be here for 5 nights before boarding our train to Paris on Tuesday for our Wednesday flight home. And now for bed.

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A Great Company of Other Pilgrims

“Then I saw that they were received into a great company of other pilgrims…” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

On our way out of Toledo, Corpus Christi celebrations were in full swing. What a send-off!

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All the Crowd

“He could not get free…and all the crowd of people were moving on in the same direction, with a sinister happiness on their faces.” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

There are some things in other cultures that bewilder me and bull fighting is the thing that stumps me in Spain. I’m not sure I would say the participants walk about with sinister happiness but the crowd is key and by some strange magic, there is exuberance.

By late afternoon on our last day in Madrid after having visited both the Prado Art Museum with its 3,000 canvases by world renowned painters, and then a visit to the Reine Sophia Art Museum where mixed medium, paint and sculpture takes the viewer from Modernity into Post-Modernity, I was really done for the day. My feet burned and once I sat down, they refused to be stood upon any longer.

That’s how it came about that my man took a 30 minute metro train to the bull-fight all by himself. I relaxed in the bath, and then in bed with a book while he engaged in one of Spain’s most notable traditions.

Travel sometimes means observing and engaging in activities that feel strange to our sensibilities. I try not to judge another culture but rather attempt to understand how a tradition came about, why it continues to be important and what it says about the people who practice it. I have much to learn.

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Folk Tales

“And the sweetness came not with pride and with the lonely dreams of poets nor with the glamour of a secret, but with the homespun truth of folk-tales…” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

No sooner had we arrived in Toledo, than the town began its transformation from stark, stone medieval walls — plain and warm — to flower-bedecked balconies, 16th and 17th century tapestries hung with pride from private windows and public spaces like the town hall, banks and storefronts. Preparations for Toledo’s most important holiday, Corpus Christi, were underway and celebrants gathered in plazas and in churches singing and kissing one another with the joy that marks the occasion. The holiday celebrates the body of Christ, or as far as I can tell from my Protestant enculturation, Jesus Christ Incarnate.

Not a block from our hotel sits the Plaza de Mayor (the main square). Stage construction started early afternoon and by 8:00 sound checks were nearly done — fine tuning for the open-air concert to come. We hung around with the Toledoans until 8:45. Apparently, a hometown girl-turned-famous (Ana Alcaide) and her band were giving a concert on the Spanish legends put to music. Her interest and impressive education focus on instruments and music of days long past, better known as folk. Although we speak very little Spanish, her story-telling through music broadened our Spanish history. The evening’s magic will linger long from the sweetness of these 2 days in Toledo.

And I’ve enjoyed another sort of sweet — that of finding a gluten-free gelato spot run by a young woman, who went out of her way to ensure a good Toledo gelato-eating experience. And that’s how folk tales begin, isn’t it? One story upon another, passed along in the company of fellow pilgrims. A little bit of homespun truth from Toledo for your day, friends.

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Plodding Along

“‘The young gentleman is soft, sir, very soft,’ said Drudge. ‘He is not used to this sort of thing. We’ll have to help him along…Then they plodded on for many more miles.'” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

Many months ago when plans to travel in Spain were in their infancy, and our research encouraged us to spend 3 days in Madrid (a top destination), we booked into a small hotel in the centre of the old town. I’m uncertain where my presuppositions took root but I had always thought of Madrid as a sprawling, noisy metropolis that was better travelled through than stayed in. If my graduate studies have taught me anything about presuppositions, it’s that it’s good to have them challenged. I can either defend previous held ideas with good reason, or adapt them to a better argument.

All that to say, Madrid is what I expected. Maybe I am soft and unaccustomed to big city sprawl. Maybe I’ve hit a wall and am feeling some travel fatigue so need some helping along. I’ll give it that. But maybe the city does lack charm and being here feels a little like plodding along. I am looking forward to old world Toledo a few miles down the road.

But all was not lost in Madrid. Here are just a few things we observed: a higher than average police presence, a stamp and coin market, touristy “Segway Human Transporters” for rent, street buskers, children dressed in their Sunday best, soccer garb, a hearty welcome for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, an impromptu choir practice accompanied by pipe organ at the “Catedral”, and a lovely, warm sunshiny day!

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And Some Carried Water

Then I saw that chairs were brought for the travellers and some of the young men of the house carried water to them to wash.” CS Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

2,000 years ago the Romans built a nine-mile aqueduct from Rio Frio into the hill town of Segovia to water thirsty Roman militia. The 100 foot high structure still carries a stream but functions more as a backdrop to the town’s social calendar and draws tourists from all over the world. Today, the finish line of a cycling race marked the lowest point of the arches where MacDonald’s has set up shop. It’s a wonder the golden arches weren’t painted on the Roman ones.

The town functions as a bedroom community to Madrid with its cooler high mountain temperatures and quick, 30 minute commute by train. The tourist industry is also in full swing in little Segovia!

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