Monday, July 31, 2006

Recreations of a Past

From time to time, I write poetry. Whether or not I write well is immaterial to me--I write poetry because I like the economy of form that poetry requires. A poet must select words just so--choosing the most evocative word to describe the subject.
I wrote the poem that follows in 1981 as an attempt to understand my childhood.
Recreations of a past

Always when in my eye
I see Africa
I see greygreentan
Khaki tinged
Garnished with a
Splash of brilliant red
A fireball rainborn from cracked ground?
A bleeding sunset?
Or Zulu life
Slow seeping out for white supremacy?

The fringings of that recollected picture
Strobe flashes of landscape
Africa—seen through jeep window—
Trees that some god
With artistic hand drew
In quick horizontal strokes
Glimpses of kudu
And delicate duiker leaping
(As my heart now in remembrance)


They say
“So, you grew up in Africa
What was it like?”
As though in one word
The whole essence of
A place is caught


Why did they go?
Those straight backed missionaries
With dark flowing clothes
Pith helmets, Bibles, soap & monogamy
(To cement my heritage—
Third generation in an alien land?)


The caught time is Zambia
In the afternoon
Stretched eternally over that sky—
Unworldly blue with flicked
White clouds—
Same sky reaching down into the hills
Which fall away from the mission station
A manufactured point of civilization
Whitewashed and dropped
Into that infinitude.


(Why did I not learn
That Tonga lesson
Exorcizing the demons
But I—I cannot
Rid my soul of the demon
Of Africa)
What happened in eight short years
To rivet me?


This past is mine
Going back I touch,
Make links with things I cannot see

How did is feel
Standing by the grave of the sister you never saw
Born and died
Before you were conceived
How did it look
That strange small clump of African earth
Heaped over her bones
In sweet repose
Dead fingers still clutching
One moldy rose
What communion with your past
Transpires when you honor
Her whom you never knew?


And it was the rich rain
Which destroyed the beauty of
The parched earth
Ah—the rainy season
We said
As we sat on our veranda
And watched
The torrents draw
Needle curtains across the sky
(How could they know—
Those missionaries—
The delicate balance
Of parched earth and rain?
One more drop drowns)


I smooth the dark auburn earth
With my child hand
Clearing it for my imprint.
But no sketching follows
Only filigreed tracings of a past
All woven up with the solemn
Morbidity of self-introspection.


It does no good to wonder
Or listen—earcupped—for the rumblings
Of the gods bouncing around granite hills
Like the howling of baboons
Uttering the oracular deliverance of truth.
There is only the rush of a curved question
Marking the edge of the world.

By Donna F. W.
© 1981

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Iberian Adventures come to an end

DAY 11--4 July 2006 Tues

Today we drive to Granada—quite a different trip from our prior visit there (by train). As we approached Granada, I kept looking for something familiar, but to no avail.

We went straight to the
Alhambra for our guided tour. I was glad we had been there before because we saw far less than our prior visit there. We toured the old palace, and the Generalife, but did not go up in the towers in the Alcazar at all.

After the Alhambra visit, we went directly to our hotel and checked in, then out to get some lunch.
At 3 p.m. (the temp outside was the hottest day we had—37 o C) we went to the Albaicin for a walking tour—
much the same as we had 3 yrs ago only then it was at night and in winter.
Next we toured the Carthusian Monks Monastery—an example of Spanish baroque. Sadly no photos allowed inside—there was stunning variegated red marble and lots of gold. Stunning carved ornate altars.

Last we went to the cathedral where los Reyes Catolicas are buried. We walked back to the hotel afterwards through the twisting alleys with little shops. A bit of disorienting, but we found our way back.

After a so-so dinner in the hotel, we watched World Cup semi-final (Italy vs. Germany—Italy won).

DAY 12--5 July 2006 Wed

Our last day of vacation—we left Granada to return to Madrid by way of a stop in Toledo.
Our first stop was for lunch in a small village in La Mancha with a small farmhouse converted into a restaurant. We had pepper stew!

Then to Toledo driving past some of the millions of olive trees in Spain. We stopped first at the Damascene Steel works where we bought some gifts for home. In Toledo we went on a walking tour where we saw: first, Toledo Cathedral, a fine example of Gothic architecture—88 interior columns, 4 rose windows, 20 + cardinals buried there (their red hats are hanging over the burial spots), and 3 organs.

Second, the church of St. Thomas which has an el Greco painting: the
Burial of Count Orgaz. Again no photos. A quick stop to be told that along with the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, this is the best painting in the world! I can just hear Kristen now.

Third, after a walk through the old Jewish quarter (Toledo had a large Jewish population during the Middle Ages) to see the older synagogue in Toledo, which is now a church.

Fourth, as we left Toledo we crossed a 900 yr. old bridge—the Tagus River surround ¾ of Toledo and walls guard the remaining ¼.

Back in Madrid, we had our farewell dinner in a restaurant in a cave. Carlin had lamb, and I had suckling pig. Excellent meal complete with musicians—supposed university students. Our group is exceptionally bonded, so as we drove for one last sight of Madrid at night, we said goodbyes. Back at the hotel, more farewells and goodbyes hugs.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Iberian Adventures Part IV

DAY 9--2 July 2006 Sun
Images of Morocco:
*People walking everywhere
*Herds of animals—sheep, goats, cows—always with a herder
*Casbah—fortified part of town
*Medina—part of town not fortified
*Morocco—population predominantly Berber
*Doctor monthly salary: $900/ teacher $450
*Tangier at one time was an international city

Our morning began with a brief bus tour of
Tangier. For many years, the city was an international zone run by 9 foreign governors + 1 Jewish and 1 Muslim. Morocco gained independence in 1955.

We then took a walking tour of the Casbah—as soon as we entered the walled area, we were besieged by vendors, peddlers & hawkers of various wares—jewelry, clothing, leather goods, carvings. The streets were incredibly narrow, winding around (sense a theme here?) going off in all sorts of angles, up stairs, down stairs, but mostly narrow. We were heading to a government regulated bazaar—but the vendors stayed with us. Finally, one who had been trailing me trying to sell 5 copper bracelets for 20 €—I kept saying no; then he said 15 €, I said 5; he said 10; I held at 5 and started to walk away. So he quickly said—OK 5 for 5 AND my Pilot gel pen. SOLD.

Inside the carpet bazaar, we were first given a demonstration showing levels of quality, how carpets are tied, etc. Good carpets can be shown on both sides. With each new level, a man came out carrying a carpet that he unrolled in front of us. After the demonstration, suddenly a whole group of men appeared, seemingly from nowhere to herd each of us around trying to make sales. There were carpets, brass ware, ceramics, clothing—two women in our tour group had asked Carlin to help them bargain: one had picked a blouse, the other two caftans. As it turned out they did their own bargaining without help (except, I suppose, the moral support).

As soon as we left—once again, the street vendors swarmed. One picked out Carlin, offering a djellaba. Carlin kept saying no, and when we went into an herbalist shop, the street vendors left. The herbalist showed us all sorts of homeopathic items—sort of bizarre—very showman in his presentation. There was a cream or a powder for every ailment: acne, snoring, weight reduction, and asthma. The minute we left the shop, the same street vendor appeared to continue his sale to Carlin. Just when we were ready to leave the casbah and get on the bus, he suddenly agreed to a price, about $20.

Leaving Tangier, we drove slowing past all the new hotels, then drove back to the ferry connection to go to Terifa—back through customs. The bus then began our drive to Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol. We first passed the Rock of Gibraltar where we made a photo stop.

The drive to Torremolinos was a 2 ½ drive, all along the Mediterranean coast. The amount of construction is unbelievable—an explosion of growth. Once at the hotel, we had supper on our own for the evening, so we linked up with a couple from NYC (Lee & Barbara) and two teachers from California (Lucille & Kim). We walked along the beach until we picked out a restaurant. Carlin and I got paella and red wine. A Spanish treat!


DAY 10--3 July 2006 Mon
We had today at leisure, so we slept until we awoke (i.e. no alarm)—after breakfast, we went walking through a shopping area: part NJ shore and part class jewelry stores. I got a white cotton skirt, and we also got various items for gifts.
We stopped for beer, and people watching. We also went looking for a local bank to break a 500 € note.

Once back in hotel, around 2:30 (all the stores closed at 2 for siesta) we relaxed, had a bottle of green wine, and got ready for dinner.

Our tour group went first to Mijas—a charming mountainside village with white washed houses and donkey carts and a spectacular view of the Mediterranean.
Then we drove to Carihuela, a former fishing village, for dinner. We had various fish dishes—clams, sardines, grouper, and calamari as appetizers; then sea bass baked in rock salt.

Carihuela is right next to Torremolinos, so we walked back to the hotel—a 10 minute walk, while the bus took about 20 minutes, since it couldn’t go straight down the beach. I did a quick detour to dip my toes in the Mediterranean.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Iberian Adventures Part III

DAY 6--29 June 2006 Thurs
For today’s journey to Seville, we took a newly opened super highway that reduced the time of the trip, so we were able to do the city tour of Seville upon arrival.
The result was an uneventful drive through unappealing countryside. We did see many oak cork trees—they harvest cork by removing the outer layer from the bottom of the tree every 9 years.
We crossed back into Spain just after our lunch. Now in Andalusia. We saw many olive trees—our guide says there are 260 million olive trees in Spain!
We arrived in Seville about 3:30 and began city tour immediately. We went first to cathedral—said to be 3rd largest in Europe after St. Peter’s in Rome & St. Paul’s in London. Where the cathedral stands was once the site of a mosque—so the bell tower replaced a minaret. In the church, the altar is a huge gold one. The cathedral houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. There are also several paintings there by the Spanish artist Murillo, who was born in Seville.
We then went to the old Jewish quarter with tiny winding streets and shops & restaurants.
From there we went to the Parque Maria Luisa which has buildings from a World Exhibition held in Seville in 1929. The primary building there is at the Plaza de España, which was Spain’s building.
On the drive back to the hotel, we passed the university , with one building which had been a factory, the setting for the fictional story of Carmen.

DAY 7--30 June 2006 Fri
All day in Seville—a group of us had signed up for a trip to Carmona, a nearby town with extensive Roman ruins.
The first stop was at a necropolis where had been excavated. In the distance, we could also see an amphitheater outline, apparently not yet excavated. The necropolis was quite open for us to walk around. Two large chambers—the Elephant Grave (so called from a figure of an elephant that had been unearthed) and the Servilia tomb complete with a small temple. The remains of those who died would be cremated then the ashes buried in small niches.
We drove to the Parador, a government built and run hotel (these are all over Spain, existing in old castles, etc. to preserve the buildings). It blends in with the overall architecture of the fortress at Carmona. The bus had a time driving through the narrow winding streets. We went into the Parador, had a refreshing drink, and did a bit of shopping at a very nice little gift shop. We then went back to the town, and continued a walk around, past unique doors, hallways tiled covered, narrow streets with awnings drawn across for shade. We ended at the fortress at the far end of town where we climbed the Torre de Oro.
Once back in Seville, we had tapas for lunch, shopped at El Cortes de Ingles, then returned to our hotel to watch a bit of world cup soccer (Germany vs. Argentina). Our evening entertainment was flamenco dancing and dinner. Watched more world cup (Italy vs. Ukraine).

DAY 8--
1 July 2006 Sat
Today we go to Morocco—we need to catch a fast ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar at 2 p.m. We arrived at Algeciras with time to buy lunch. As it is the beginning of July, and Moroccans head home from jobs in Europe, we expected many other travelers. The ferry was full, with many family groups. With birth rates so high, poor countries’ populations will pass European countries easily.
The ferry also took cars—each car was LOADED to the hilt with possessions! The overall ride took 2 hrs., sailing right past the Rock of Gibraltar. When we landed, we all went through a very brief security check. Our tour guide had given all our passports while we were on the ship for entry stamping. We met up with our local guide—Rashid—and the local driver Mohammed (we had left our bus in Spain). We drove first to a small village called Asilah—again narrow winding streets. There were vendors of many kinds following us and trying to persuade us to buy brass, copper, red coral. Carlin finally bought a flask made of brass & copper.
We then drove along the coast to Cap Spartel. We passed some lovely homes along the coast, side by side with absolute squalor. On the way, we stopped by some camels and some in the tour group decided to go for a ride, with the camels protesting all the while. We went to a hotel where we were served hot mint tea and cookies. I bought a silk caftan there and two stone carvings, a camel and an egg.
Delicious dinner tonight of lamb, prunes and almonds all baked together.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More Iberian Adventures

DAY 3--26 June 2006 Mon

Left Madrid traveling first to Segovia where there is a 2000 yr old aqueduct. Then we drove to Avila where the town wall still stands with 88 towers intact. The town was an important stop on the medieval pilgrim routes—so one of the photos I took is of the four posts & cross, to mark the pilgrim’s way. The pilgrims were going to Santiago de Compostela (Santiago meaning James in Spanish).
By afternoon we arrived in Salamanca, which has a marvelous series of medieval vintage buildings. There was an old (vieja) and new (nueva) cathedral. Carlin & I walked from the hotel (a lovely hotel named Alameda Palace) to old quarters. The whole area has been declared a World Heritage site. We ate lunch along the way, then walked all through the university buildings. Salamanca was a famous university in medieval days.
Once back at the hotel, we had a group dinner. It turns out we have many teachers in our group—2nd, 3rd, and 5th grades, also kindergarten and a speech therapist. These folks are in addition to the university professors!
Tomorrow—Carlin’s long held dream of visiting Portugal will come true!
DAY 4--27 June 2006 Tues

We left straight after breakfast and drove for Portugal. On the way, we stopped at
Fatima to see the place where the shepherd children had a vision of the Virgin Mary & subsequently received 3 prophecies. Hard to get into the scene as a Protestant. But there were some petitioners there going on knees to the chapel to pray to Mary. There is a long shiny sidewalk that on holy days is filled with people, all going on their knees to the chapel. Mass is constantly being said—or at least Hail Mary in whatever language. I am too Protestant.
From there we drove to Lisbon. Amazingly, it is wonderfully cool here right now, some 22 o C. We got to our hotel—a Marriott which is another lovely facility.
This eve, we went across the Tagus River (major river on the Iberian Peninsula, beginning in Spain and continuing for some 625 miles, emptying into Lisbon harbor) for dinner. We had a wonderful meal, described as “typically Portuguese” food—mostly seafood based. Big hit of the evening—green wine. Also Carlin bought roses for all women at the dinner. What a guy!

DAY 5 28 June 2006 Wed

We began the day with a city tour of Lisbon—or Lisboa as it is written in Portuguese. Our city guide, Helena, was excellent. She pointed out that Portugal is the oldest country in Europe, having consolidated into a single nation long before other European countries. The Romans were in Portugal, then barbarians, then the Moors, who were finally expelled in 1136.
We went first to Alfama, an old section of Lisbon that still has tiny winding streets and old houses close together. The whole area is gradually undergoing renovation with outside walls being retiled. Depressing amount of graffiti everywhere.
Our guide told us that any words in Portuguese or Spanish with AL as a prefix come from Arabic, so Alfama was where the Moors first settled. Also many towns have an old section called the Alfama.
We then went to see the Torre (Tower) de Belen—it was originally a fortress along the Tagus which is so wide at Lisbon it appears to be a sea. This tower was also the place where explorers sailed from as they launched out into the world. Nearby the tower is a monument, modern vintage, to Prince Henry the Navigator, with portraits of various explorers such as Vasco de Gama.
We next visited the Monastery of St. Jerome (Jeronimo) where Vasco de Gama’s tomb is. The architectural style is uniquely Portuguese—called Manueline. Among its features—rope, carved in stone.
The big historical event in Lisbon was an
earthquake in 1755 on Nov. 1 which destroyed much of Lisbon—either the earthquake itself or the resulting tsunami which killed thousands.
When Lisbon was rebuilt, then Prime Minister Marques de Pombal took charge and required wide avenues to be built. Lisbon’s appearance reflects his design.
In the afternoon, we went to Cascais, a sea resort. What a lovely place. We had lunch, walked around a bit. The weather is cool & breezy, atypical.
Then we drove to Sintra, a World Heritage site—it is a valley in the granite Serra Hills. The location protects it & gives it a cooler climate than Lisbon. We shopped buying some pottery to take home.
On our way back, we stopped at the Palace of Queluz (pronounced Kay-loosh), the “Versailles” or Portugal. We walked through the whole palace and exited into the gardens. Ahead of us was a group of school children with one little boy who had slipped away from his classmates to urinate in the garden. Surprise to him—he was in FULL view of our group as we all walked toward him. He beat a hasty retreat.
Tonight we went to a restaurant where Fado singing is held, along with folk dancing. A bit of local culture. Tomorrow we leave Portugal to go to Seville, Spain.

Iberian Adventure June/July 2006

And so it begins. . .I join the world of bloggers. For now, I will use the space to report on our most recent vacation.
NOTE: accompanying photos available at (send me an email if you want an invitation to see them)
DAY 1--23 June—24 June 2006 Fri/Sat
Our flight for our 2006 vacation leaves at 8:10 p.m., so Carlin went to work for ½ day while I worked to prep our home—changing sheets, putting out cat food, etc.
We left at 1:30 p.m. to drive to Newark. Once there we encountered a LONG line at the Continental desk—Newark is a main hub for Continental, but when we got to the front of the line, we had a most helpful agent. We had tried to pick seats online, and kept being told that seats would be assigned when we checked in.
Flight itself was fine although thunderstorms in the Newark area delayed us about 45 min. on take-off.
Arrived in Madrid; another long line at customs. Once at our hotel (Agumar near Atocha Train Station), we went for a quick stroll. We stopped at a local café for beer and pizza. Seemed to be all locals eating there—no one speaking English at all.
Back at hotel, we took a 3 hr. nap, then showered & dressed for evening meeting with tour group. 35 on tour—met a most interesting couple, Janis Stout & Loren Lutes, both had taught at Texas A & M, now retired. He taught civil engineering, and she American Lit. Turns out she is a Willa Cather scholar.
Tomorrow—day tour of Madrid.
DAY 2--25 June 2006 Sun

Today—we toured Madrid, stopping at Cervantes Park with a monument of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Sadly, strong smell of urine & lots of trash; also a bratty kid crawling all over the statue, egged on by (presumably) his grandfather.
We drove by many buildings and squares—things being pointed out briefly. Thankfully, when we were here in 2002 we saw more.
Only stop—the Prado where we had 2 hrs. to stroll through the gallery. We headed for Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delight—a pleasure to see it again. Worked our way through museum. We were most happy the city guide did not try to take us around. Some guides warble on about this or that painting as THE BEST—that’s a decision each of us likes to make.
In the afternoon, we went to the Valley of the Fallen and el Escorial. The city tour guide gave her version of the history of Franco—he just wanted to restore democracy in Spain! The monument at the Valley of the Fallen is where those who died on both sides of Spanish Civil War are buried, including Franco and Jose Antonio.
El Escorial was built as a summer palace for Spanish monarchy and is also the place where many monarchs are buried in the mausoleum.
Once back at hotel, we rested and watched World Cup Soccer (Eng 1/ Ecuador 0). We then went out for dinner, walking past Atocha Train Station (site of the
11 March 2004 Madrid train bombings) to the T/B museum square and ate in a little restaurant there.