Sunday, March 23, 2008

On the way home

At Christmas you could buy a belén. In Semana Santa...

A monstrance, a tabernacle, and a selection of crowns and halos - wow.

Madrid has so many fantastic domes, rooftops and rooftop statues. Given the wonderful sky up here, hasta al cielo, it's hardly surprising.

Ah well, it's the last day of the holiday. I'll try to blog again before the end of June!

Easter Sunday

We had planned a trip to the mountains today, to Cercedilla, which lies a little way north of Madrid, in the Sierra Guadarrama. We thought we'd take a long walk (for us!) and a picnic. Then yesterday, we had a small hailstorm. Hmm. Habibi checked the weather forecast, and discovered that we could expect temperatures of between 3 and -4C, and snow.

So we wrapped up warm, picked up our sunglasses, and headed for Plaza Mayor and the drum parade instead. Note the glorious blue sky and fluffy white clouds. What you can't see is the wind, which blows those clouds past the sun like a policeman directing traffic across a junction. With no clouds in the way, and the sun shining directly down on you, it's a beautiful warm day, and you can feel the glow on your face, or back. Thirty seconds and a few clouds later, it's freezing! And then the sun breaks through again. So there we all were,
under the watchful eye of Felipe II,
and his rather cute deputy (What is it about the selection process for Madrid police officers?)
in front of what used to be the headquarters of the bakers' guild(?!).

listening to the drums.

And then we came home, because it was too cold to be out unless you had antifreeze in your veins, or several hundred people to huddle for warmth with. We kept to the sunny side of every street. (Google says it's a max of 9 and min of 0C, with a 19kmph wind from the NW if you're interested. Sheesh! Wind chill factor!)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

First an honour guard.

Then the penitents, carrying long wax candles, keeping slow pace with the drums of the marching band, far behind.
Next, Mary, Queen of Sorrows.
At the church, her bearers turned her to face the open door, and set her down. The band played a slow march, and the crowd began to sing. After a few minutes, the bearers lifted her up again, slowly turned her 90 degrees, and moved on.
As they came closer, we realised that all the bearers were women; thirty-two of them, all moving in slow rhythm. The palanquin was chased with silver, and draped in black velvet, with a circle of silver stars in the canopy above her head. She carried the crown of thorns on a white cloth.

A group of women came next, in formal black, with high combs and black mantillas. The first marching band passed, and we could hear the second one in the distance. Ahead of the second palanquin walked a girl swinging an incense burner, and another group of penitents. These were members of a different hermandad, or brotherhood, from the first group, and wore different coloured robes.

The Crucifixion. This time, thirty-two men carried the solid wood platform banked with red roses. The four candles were unlit. As before, they stopped at the church door before moving on again. When they picked up the palanquin again, the movement was so slow and smooth that it seemed to float up and round. After this, the second band passed, in uniforms straight out of a Goya painting.

Finally the bishop, and a number of clergy and lay people brought up the rear, many of them carrying votive candles. After that, the crowd dispersed, but an hour later, the procession passed through Plaza Santa Ana, and there, I think, having walked, played, and carried those palanquins for two and a half hours, they finished.

Members of the first band.

The women in black.

It was a strange experience. For the people in the procession, and many of the people lining the street, this was a significant silent procession. Yet there were people talking and cameras flashing everywhere, and when the procession halted, relatives of some of the walkers stepped in to take photographs. There were even one or two people taking shortcuts behind the walkers! All religious practices become tourist attractions in the end. I should know, I was there with my camera.

Toledo 4 - a grand day out

Did I mention marzipan shops? Note the marzipan Semana Santa penitents (yes, the ones who like mini klansmen). You can buy your marzipan in the shops, or go direct to the convents where the nuns make it. (It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it...)

I couldn't believe it, first that it was possible to reproduce the interior of the Transito Synagogue and one end of the Cathedral in marzipan for a window display, and second, that I didn't take pictures.......

Something for him - a suit of armour perhaps? Maybe a nice sword?

Leaving Toledo: screening baggage.

I don't know. A tourist. English, I think. Nice.
Toledo's authentic Mozarabic railway station. Built 1319. I mean 1913. Very handsome inside, too.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Toledo 3 preservation

First the Romans came, then the Visigoths established their capital, then the Moors established theirs, then came Isabel of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon, known in Spain as Los Reyes Catolicos. Toledo has a lot of history for a little place. It's called la ciudad de las tres culturas (the city of the three cultures) because in between religious and political upheavals, this is a city where Christians, Muslims and Jews managed in to live in something like peace. It shows in the architecture and the street names.

The city walls are ancient,
as are the bridges which span the river, which surrounds the city on three sides.
Actually, some parts are younger than others, what with assorted armed struggles, the expansion of the city, plus time and weather of course.

The stone ball on the left, for instance.
There are some seriously handsome buildings here, all in daily use.
There are odd signs of delapidation, of course (It's a city, not a theme park.)
but nothing prepares you for this,
and this,
or this. The pristine building with the filled in the window stands at the top of the slope, and the metalwork starts halfway down. Which makes me wonder about the condition of the building at the top of the slope, before they restored it......................
Across town, there's this.
But these are its neighbours. And all the houses in the surrounding streets are sound.
Both the middle and right-hand houses have had a lot of work done on their facades - and some serious structural work throughout, I imagine! In every Spanish city I've visited, I've seen variations on this: brace what can be salvaged, knock out what can't, and rebuild so it looks just the way it used to, only spanking new! Cities expand with modern tower blocks, but the old hearts are preserved.
Consequently, in places like Toledo, they still need stonemasons
and specialist glassmakers.
Oh yes - and housepainters! None of this stonework is stone.
None of this brickwork is brick........
Looking good.
This, on the other hand, is all authentic.
The trompe l'oeil paintwork may raise the hackles of purists (and some examples are better executed than others) but one of the challenges here, as in most cities, is the trickling away of young people. The apartment blocks may not be pretty, but they're modern, sound and relatively affordable. What price handcut stone and traditionally manufactured (i.e. obsolete) bricks? (It's a holiday. Let's not talk about career opportunities and entry-level salaries for Spain's university graduates....)
If these old places can be restored as affordable homes rather than souvenir shops, I think that's a blow for real life. Maybe a bit of weathering and a window box or two?