Monday, October 16, 2006

Alcalá de Henares

Julieta and I made two trips last weekend, one to Alcalá de Henares, and one to Ávila. I'd like to say I'm sticking around Madrid this weekend, buuuut I'm going to Burgos with SIJA, a university group. I don't really like joining clubs, groups with paid membership, etc, but membership is part of the AYA program. It's probably a good idea, because it will put me in nodding acquaintaince with more Spanish students.

Right. Alcalá de Henares:

The buildings have huge birdnests on top. They are so huge and perfect, placed at the very peaks of the rooftops, secure, absurd. I wondered if the city PUT them there, they are so perfect.

Julia and I then stumbled upon the house Cervantes was born in. There was a room full of different editions of Don Quixote, including one illustrated by Salvador Dali (like the amazing bible in the chapel at Bard. Oh I have thumbed carefully through that, have I ever).

'nother nest.

Not pictured: Julia and I eating fantastic truffles.

Soon to be pictured: Ávila. Then Burgos. Then dinner. I took a photo of dinner once, and now whenever María José makes anything slightly interesting she calls "Sophia, you can take a photo and eat dinner now." Look, I take pictures because I like writing captions, okay? Okay.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Last weekend we "did". Toledo is a big once-holy stone of a tourist trap, and I admit I enjoyed being able to goggle at everything and take pictures without feeling self-conscious.
Toledo has a fascinating history which you can read about on Wikipedia, and many beautiful sights which you can find with a google image search, but I'll tell you this and I'll show you these.

This: Toledo has three cool religious backgrounds and a motto. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all, uh, chipped in (I'm trying not to use the words "rich" or "melting pot") to make it a great old ancient, uh, place. I mean, nowadays it's very disneylandesquely full of shops selling suits of armor and punny t-shirts, but really, after my experience at Auschwitz* I will never be shocked by touristy tactlessness ever again.

[*My german class stepped off the bus, all grim-faced and ready to tour the worst of the concentration camps, and the first thing we saw?: "McDonalds Welcomes You to Auschwitz." They really, honestly made a sign saying that. Golden arches and all.]

Anyway, despite the plague of people such as me, there were also: really tall walls!

Roman author Titus Livius was the first to write about Toledo. He called it a "small fortificated town." I learned this from The Internet.
Anyway, narrative. We look up!

We walk around the corner and look up and across! Lo! A castle shineth forth! It is on the map, though not in the guidebook!

It is not in the guidebook because it is being used as a youth hostel! One cannot enter the garden without a key!
A youth exits, leaving the hostel door ajar. We trespass!

We look across the way. Why did we leave that beautiful place?

Why, to take better pictures! Right, I'm tired of the narrative! Here are pigeons in pigeonholes.

Toledo, besides being holy, is famous for its marzipan. We ate that box in one sitting, America.

It's about time to mention that the motto of Toledo is, and I learned this from María Jose's sister, "Either you crush the stone, or the stone crushes you."
Catchy! Here's Matt, crushed.

Here's Julia (hoo-lee-yah), fortified by marzipan.

There are two gorgeous 14th century synagogues in Toledo we wanted to go to. We made it to the first, Sinagoga del Tránsito, which contains the Museum of Sephardic Judaism. Informative! Here are the windows of the synagogue not letting you see anything else:

And here they are surrounded by their surroundings. Oh the difference, the difference between one step back and two steps forward:

The garden across the street from the synagogue Santa Maria la Blanca (terribly tragically clos-ed when we arrived), taken from the uh negative space of the wrought-iron fence keeping us out.

And here, the holiest part of Madrid: The Nun Café. We didn't enter, but this is my favorite part of the window display: a Mama Nun freaking out that her little baby nuns have been baked into cookies.

Lovely weird painting of Toledo by th' Greco. Off center because there was a tall man with his arms crossed Experiencing it for the whole twenty or so minutes I spent in that little room.

You see, kidsl, we have to leave beautiful places. That's the other half of traveling.

"Bye, Toledo."
"Bye, man. Come by sometime, see the synagogue, you know."

Thankfully, there's an AYA trip to Toledo next semester, when I'll be the fluentesque cosmopolitan member of the group, instead of the one who's only had one year of Spanish and always loses her keys.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Madrid is a great city in which to be carless. The metro is clean(-er than restaurants, bars, my hair), brightly colored, and easily navigable. There are cheap flights, bright green buses (other colors also available), comfortable trains, and oh, oh, ten minutes walk from my house there is the Atocha train station. Or rather, there is the forest inside the Atocha train station.

Really lovely, larger than it looks here, turtles in the pond, and, this week, an exhibition of photos and biographies of women rebels, titled "Women in Jail." Women who resisted Franco, women who fought on the battlefield, English suffragettes. I didn't have to time read most of it (see the blue thingums that the people are reading from? That's the beginning of the exhibition, which continues twisting through the "jungle,") but there was a lovely foreward which I photographed (in Spanish, so I won't put it up here), which talked about how rarely acknowledged most of this history is. It contained one of the many references to the gender system of the Spanish language. One of the many lies I was told about Spanish was that nobody thinks about the genders of the words. This is absolute nonsense. Even on that vapid American Idolesque show I watch with Maria Jose, it's come up. Male is the default for words that go both ways, such as the martyrs* of the resistance to Franco, and the thesis of the exhibition was that historians, like the Spanish language, tend to ignore the contributions of women.

I was there yesterday, waiting for an hour (Madrid is a terrible city in which to be carless) to get three train tickets to Toledo, where I felt very litte, but took lots of pictures. I will post them! I'm doing well.

*That is, if you are speaking of a male martyr, you call him "el mártir." A group of male martyrs is "los mártires." A female martyr is "la mártir," and a group of female martyrs is "las mártires," but a group of male and female martyrs would be "los mártires," every time.