Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Antonio Machado

Me with a statue of Antonio Machado in the Plaza Mayor in Segovia

When I was getting my Ph.D. in English at McGill University, I had to satisfy a language requirement.  To satisfy the requirement, students had two options.  Option A was to have basic knowledge of two languages.  This knowledge could be demonstrated by a certain number of college level credits in a language or passing a reading test.  Option B was to do one language at a more intense level.  I demonstrated basic knowledge of Spanish by my six hours of undergraduate Spanish at Tulane.  But I didn't have college credits in another language, and I "disgracefully" failed  the French reading exam.  ("Disgraceful" was the word the Director of Graduate Studies had used while  "encouraging" me, in no uncertain terms, to give it a try.)  So I had to do Spanish at the more intense level.  This  involved finding someone in the Spanish Department who would work with me on some kind  of research on a Spanish writer. 

I should say that Spanish had absolutely nothing to do with my dissertation research.  Since  I was writing about British modernism, French would have been  usesful (if I'd had it to use) because of the symbolistes, etc.  However, I was stuck with Spanish and with what I, and I truly believe, the Spanish professor thought was nothing more than a hoop I had to get through. 

I chose to write on the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939) who was a member of the "generation of 98."  I remembered liking  Machado in Spanish class, and his poems were short and  lyric.  Specifically I wrote about parallels between the poetry of William Wordsworth and that of Antonio Machado.  I chose this topic because I was genuinely reminded of Wordsworth when I read Machado, and  this meant half of the paper I was  going to write would be about a poet who wrote in English.  I was not claiming any direct influence; there is (I think still) no evidence Machado read Wordsworth.  And he was a century older, so I couldn't even say they were part of some  larger contemporary movement.  I wrote the paper in English. That the Spanish professor (whose name I have completely forgotten went along with this project is further  evidence that he thought this was a meaningless (for my Ph.D.) requirement.

When Tony and I were planning our trip to Spain, I read somewhere that there was an Antonio Machado museum in Segovia.  He wasn't born there, but had lived for several years.  The museum  was  his house,and we thought we'd go see it.  We were stunned  to find  out that it was  full of visitors,  and we should have bought a ticket in advance. 

Thinking about Macado, I wondered if anyone else had put him aside Wordsworth and I looked on google scholar.  To my delighted surprise, there were SEVERAL published articles on topics such as "echoes of Wordsworth in the poetry of Machado."  Wow, I had anticipated a cogent scholarly topic!  Most  of  the articles were in Spanish, and my Spanish has almost  completely disappeared, so I couldn't read them.  But I was truly delighted.

Here are three lines  of Machado:

Sólo recuerdo la emoción de las cosas, 
y se me olvida todo lo demás; 
muchas son las lagunas de mi memoria 

And here is my painstaking translation:

I only remember the emotion of things,
and all the rest is forgotten;
many are the empty spaces in my memory.

Doesn't that just remind you of Wordsworth?

"emotion recollected in tranquility"
 "we see into the life of things"
 "gleams of half-extinguished thought"


Sunday, November 26, 2017

What Else DId We See in Segovia?

Segovia is a gorgeous little city.  It sits atop a hill on a plain in the midst of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. The surrounding mountains, as seen from the roof terrace of our hotel are beautiful.  Specifically is in in the midst of a sub-range called Mujer Muerte as it is said to resemble the figure of a dead (reclining) woman.

Segovia has its requisite of interesting buildings, including a cathedral and various churches.

But its real beauty, I think, comes from a kind of aesthetic wholeness I did not experience in any of the other cities we visited this trip.  The wholeness is a product of the rich ochre color of many of the buildings, especially, as the sun lights them; the lack (aside from business signs) of any sense of modernity; the crowded and jumbled streets, creating the feeling of so many more details to see and wonder at.

But mostly I came away from Segovia as a "textured" city:  textured not only by history but also textured on facades of its buildings.  This appears not only in the sculptural and structural details of buildings, such as the images above, but also by the way buildings are inscribed with patterns,

I think all this texture reflects the texture of Segovia's past and all the people who  have lived here----Romans, Moors, Christians, Jews.


What Did We See in Segovia? (Hint: It's an Acqueduct)

When we left Barcelona to fly back to the  US we went through the new extra security protocol for flying into the States.  Most people got the usual "did anyone give you anything to take with you," etc.  But we were pulled over, randomly I have to guess, for extra inquiry.  "Where did you go in Spain?" asked the security man; "Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, and Barcelona," we obediently answered.  "What did you see in Segovia?" he further asked.  Our minds went blank.  (It was an early morning flight, we had gotten up extra early to get to the airport in time, we were barely awake, etc.)  Eventually we fell back on what seemed an accurate, if generic, answer.  "We saw the Synagogue and the Cathedral."  He then asked what we did:  "retired."  "What did you use to do?" "Teachers."  What kind of teachers, high school?"  "College," we answered.  "Where did you teach," he asked looking directly at me.  Finally a question for which I had a specific answer:  "The  University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky."  That must have been enough because we were then told we could board the plane.

I start with this silly anecdote because, as we eventually realized in our drowsy (and in my case still nightly semi-drugged state), the main thing people see in Segovia is the Roman Acqueduct.

The Acqueduct is an amazing sight.  Of course we knew Segovia had an acqueduct, but we had no idea how impressive it was.

It is also the very first thing you see when you get off the bus that brings you from the train station, up the hill. to Segovia itself.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, Tony and  I figured out what the correct answer to the security man's question was.

What else did we see in Segovia?  Stay tuned for the next post.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Eating in Spain or A Tapas Crawl Through Four Cities.

In Madrid we ended up eating tapas at almost  every meal and mostly at the same place.  There was a great tapas bar just across the street from our hotel called Orio.  They feature a kind of tapa called "pinxtos."  This is basically a small delight on a piece of bread.  There are multiple varieties on offer, and you just pick up what  you like and order a drink from the bartender (e.g., cerveza, tinto, cava).  Every pinxto costs the same, about 2 euros, and at the end, they count up the number  of  toothpicks on your plate, add up the price, add the cost of the drinks (which you remind  them of), and there you are. 

At Orio, the variety was great: from anchovies and sardines on artichokes to various kinds of hams, to manchego and other  cheeses, to hot goodies such as little black puddings (Tony likes these) or slices of steak.  It's a marvelous way to eat, as you get to try anything.  And if you do occasionally get something you're not crazy about, you haven't really invested that much.  For example,

In Segovia, the tapas scene was quite different.  We discovered a place called Sitio.  This was a much more "locals" kind of place.  I think we were the only tourists the nights we were there.  They had two bars, one with cold and one with hot tapas.  The portions were large; two tapas were basically a full meal.  And they cost nothing--except for the price of the drink,  That is, for every drink you got a free tapa.  So two drinks each, two tapas; but the bill was just the drinks.  Amazing.

After dinner, we went to another bar that we heard was decorated with beautiful "Moorish" tiles.

We ordered cava, and with that came--you guessed it--another tapa.

In Toledo we didn't find tapas bars but instead restaurants selling what are called raciones or small portions, (which you do have to pay for).  In one I ate something called carcamusas--pork, tomatoes and peas--which is traditionally Toledo (and pretty good).

Our second Toledo meal was at a small restaurant owned by hotel we stayed in, Casa Urbano Adolfo. The hotel had a famous restaurant with a famous chef.  It looked wonderful but was more, in cost and food, than we wanted.  So we went to their small restaurant, Collecion Catedral, and had a great meal.  

Because we were hotel guests, we got lots of treats.  Putting that together with our orders we had a wonderful and really inexpensive dinner.

Free cava to start.  (Remember, Tony is in the middle of bronchitis; he is having more fun than it seems!)

Then we shared an appetizer of scallops with pisto.

Baby lamb skewers with roast potatoes.

And a great, though inexpensive (about 12 euros) bottle of their house wine.

In Barcelona, we mainly ate tapas and ham bocadillos, except for one slap-up, sit-down Sunday lunch, which will be the subject of another post.


Spain! Travelling in Retirement II

Poster from the exhibition on the history surrounding Guernica  in the 1930s
at the Reina Elena Contemporary Art Musueum in Madrid.  

We are home from Spain, and I have lots of delights to chronicle over the next several days. But before I delve into the specific pleasures of our trip, I thought I'd do a kind of meta-reflection on travelling in retirement, as the actions of retirement are a main theme of my blog.

First, we had a wonderful  time.  We were fortunate in so many ways.  We had great weather.  We had made great choices in where to visit and  where to stay.  And none of the things we worried about (me, most specifically, what was happening in Barcelona during what seemed from the press to be the tumult of the independence movement).  And all our flights and connections went without a hitch.

But second, we learned something about our abilities to do this kind of trip: i.e., a multi-city, train-organized, tour over a relatively short period of time.  This is the kind of travel we used to do easily, but it was just a little bit harder this time. And it's very different from a month in Budapest or trips out from a European base (as we did during our Fulbrights).

The long and  the short of it, we had fun, but we arrived home exhausted.  Partly this is because Tony got bronchitis about 3 days into the trip, didn't feel very well, and hacked his way across Spain.  But it's also because we probably planned too much.  We did five days in Madrid, which felt great.  But then we did two short trips, one to Segovia and one to Toledo,  both of where we spent two nights, then went onto Barcelona for four days.  Probably next time, we will stay at least three days wherever we stop, because we felt rushed and too much on the go.  We need, or maybe better to say like, to be   more  leisurely.

I also need to try to not worry before stuff happens  (Yeah, well, that's not just a retirement thing.)  I was so worried about Catalonia, but it turned  out the only signs we saw were more flags (Spanish in Madrid, Catalonian in Barcelona).  In fact, the Saturday night we arrived in Barcelona, we walked about twenty minutes to dinner and didn't see a thing.  Later we learned that 750,000 people  had been peacefuly demonstrating in another part of the city.  I also over-worried about tight connections flyng back, but every connection was exactly on  time.  So good things happened (weather, travel, politics) and bad stuff (Tony battling it through the trip while coughing and feeling not great). Bottom line, as we move into  the next decade of our lives, we can still travel in Europe, going from one place to another via trains, wheeling our little suitcases.  But we will probably do it a little less quickly.

I don't plan to do a chronological recap of our trip.  Instead,  I have several thematic posts in mind.  But just to give  an overview;

Madrid:  Four days (not counting the arrival day).  Spent mostly in Madrid's magnificent museums: the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemizsa, and the Reina Sophia (contemporary).

Segovia.  Beautiful small city.  Relatively untouristed.  Unexpected grandeur of the Acqueduct.  Gorgeous views.

Toledo.  Also beautiful small city, but many more tourists.  Beautiful synagogue and cathedral.  Chasing the El Grecos (many in Toledo but spread out so it's hard to get to all of them).

Barcelona:  Modernisme architecture (the main draw for me).  Catalonian enthusiasm with Catalonian flags everywhere.  Fewer toursits than usual.

Everywhere: the food.  Tapas, tapas, tapas, and an occasional wonderful  sit-down meal.  Spanish ham (jambon Iberico) sandwich on crispy baguette-like bread with beer (I never thought I would like beer again but it goes  perfectly with these amazing ham bocadillas.).  Spanish wine.  Cava.  Well, you get my drift. . . .

If you are interested, stay tuned for some more detailed posts about our trip.