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Toledo Spain 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Second Stop Toledo, All Aboard!”

We arrived by train in Toledo to find this charming Neo-Mudejar station alive with color from the tall stained glass windows, surrounding tile walls and floor. This spectacular wall of Mashrabija screens (turned wooden spindle screens) backed with colored glass, was the original ticket counter of the station. I am a particular fan of the eclectic and revivalist styles used so effectively in the second half of the nineteenth century and into the first decades of the twentieth. This marvelous concoction was designed by Narciso Claveria de Palacios (don’t you love that name) and completed in 1919. It references the Mudejar style (a combination of Islamic and medieval Christian designs) that is present in all the ancient communities of Castille or Islamic Iberia of which Toledo was an important city in both epochs.

This is a view of Toledo Cathedral from the 4th floor terrace of our hotel, La Posada de Manolo  Do yourself a favor, drop the burger you’re munching, pack a bag and dash to Posada Manolo ASAP!  The hotel is nestled into the center of Toledo right beside the Cathedral and although compact and small it is also warm, cozy, and every inch is a masterpiece of textual grace with lots of custom wrought iron details that incorporate a variety of   dragons. The fourth floor breakfast room has this same view inside and out on the terrace and its proximity to the ancient masonry pinnacles and towers of the cathedral allows for close inspection of that church. In the opposite direction we could see a jumble of tiled roofs, all encrusted with lichens of surprisingly vivid colors. Beyond these I could see the rural and wild country side just beyond the Tagus River surrounding Toledo.

The bell tower of Toledo Cathedral is 301 feet tall and crowned by a triple tiara referencing the Papal crown. This tower is the great landmark of the city made ultimately famous by El Greco in his painting, “Vista de Toledo” (1596.)  The narrow streets of this perched city built on a steep rock formation rising precipitously from the surrounding Tagus River, makes the tower seem impossibly tall in its audacious reach for heaven.

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo is considered to be the greatest achievement of the Gothic style in all of Spain. Begun in 1226 it was in process of construction until 1493 when the vaults of the central nave that we see here were completed. I am enamored of round architectural shapes in general and when they appear as windows I am particularly enthralled. The vast colored windows known as “Rose Windows” have a strong universal appeal because of their grace of form and explosion of color that refracts light into its constituent parts and thereby reveals the glory of the divine. 

So here they are, Mother and child, Mary and Jesus. They express such a tender love toward each other, especially Jesus’s gesture of his hand caressing the chin of Mary. His tender embrace has elements of mature reciprocation as if the child has presentment of the sorrow his mission must tragically encumber his mother with. To me, mother and child recognize each other over infinite incarnations and by this insight have deep sympathy for the inevitable imperfections each must embody in the quest for resolution in their tumultuous reach for spiritual evolution.

Some you may recognize this photograph as my Christmas card this year. I am deeply gratified to have been able to capture the meaningful alignments that are present in this image. The way Mary and Jesus stand out against the background of the surrounding cathedral has a surreal quality that “pops out” at you and this is fitting for a church that is dedicated to Mary. It is the Mother who brings us the possibility of innocence and the potential of life anew. She is the eternal source of nurture and care, swathed in the strength of generous abundance. She is sure of herself without arrogance knowing that death is the inevitable outcome of her travail. She knows herself to be a window into eternity.

Within a compositional concern, I see the organ pipes horizontally projecting from left to right one direction folding into the other and echoing this construction, in the tradition of contrapposto rhythm, Mary leans her hip to the right, supporting the seemingly easy weight of Jesus. Above them soars the fantastic ambition of the pointed arches of the nave that resolve their tension in the perfect halo of the rose window, embracing the divine pair in an aura of prismatic glory!

I am enormously fond of cloisters and when visiting San Juan de los Reyes, a royal monastery in Toledo originally intended to be the mausoleum for Ferdinand and Isabella. I heard whispered laments of vespers echoing from the shadows of time.

We came across this monastery quite by chance as we wandered the narrow medieval lanes of the city. It was an oasis of quiet in an otherwise tourist invaded world and I sank deep into the peace of the place. Because of its original intention to shelter Spain’s most important monarchs it enjoys a wealth of gothic embellishments that are profoundly beautiful.

Two tiers of cloisters surround the “Paradise Garden” at the heart of San Juan de los Reyes.

The extreme grace of the gothic tracery decorated by a wealth of verdant garlands that are alive with humans and animals both fantastic and real, animate the cloister with a royal celebration of this world and the next.

The picturesque streets of Toledo twist and turn, following the tortured history of Celts, Romans, Visigoths-the original Christians, Moors and then the reconquest by Alfonso VI of Castille on May 25th, 1085. This is, in some ways, only the beginning of the convoluted history of this important Spanish city.

On our way out of town, on a sparkling clear morning, we pause for photos with Toledo Cathedral and the Alcazar in the background.

Here’s looking atcha!

Click here to see more of Toledo 

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Madrid 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“First Stop Madrid, All Aboard!”

In November T2H2 (The Two Happy Husbands) Leo and Iory flew off to Europe for a three-week celebration of Leo’s 84th birthday. It was also a grand finale to our year-long 40th anniversary of nuptial bliss together. Leo chose Spain for our sojourn and here we are in the main train station of Madrid where we purchased our tickets to Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla and Malaga, Ay Caramba!


Because we have visited Madrid several times in the last several years we decided to stay only a brief two days and while in the capital our main destination was El Palacio Real or Royal Palace. As you can see it is an impressive structure especially in the crisp morning light of November. I especially like the long diagonal shadows stretching across the façade and forecourt adding motion to its otherwise static monumentality. We wanted to revisit this grandest of all Madrid’s sights because of the exquisite grandeur of the palace and easy self-guided tour. The interior is well lit by a collection of huge chandeliers of staggering extravagance. The entire palace is in perfect order with vast thick pile carpets woven in the Royal Tapestry factory exhibiting elaborated designs of luxurious beauty.

Across the Plaza de La Armeria from the Palacio Real is La Almudena Cathedral begun only in 1879. Construction was interrupted by the Civil War in 1936 and did not resume until 1950. It was completed in 1993 and then consecrated by Pope John Paul II in that same year. The monumental neo-baroque exterior is intended to harmonize with the Palace and also gives reference to El Escorial, the monastery palace of Philip II, 28 miles outside of Madrid.

The interior of Almudena Cathedral is in the Gothic style and the ceiling decoration was painted by José Luis Galicia in a manner reminiscent of Mudejar decoration. I found these brilliant designs thrilling, infusing the Cathedral with a positive and celebratory atmosphere.

The beautiful organ of the of Almudena Cathedral

I usually shy away from Cristian morbidity but this small detailed Pietà sculpture is seductively exquisite.

On the other hand, these charming Putti supporting five seating stools at the high altar of the Cathedral are unutterably charming. The wee ones have found their job and are doing it well, upholding the posteriors of the prelates

The other highlight of our Madrid stay was a performance by Ballet Nacional de España at the Royal Opera House presenting their dance extravaganza, “Sorolla, Vision de España del pintor Joaquin Sorolla.” Sorolla was a Spanish painter (1863-1920) with an international reputation. In 1912 Archer Huntington commissioned Sorolla to paint a series of murals for Huntington’s Hispanic Society Museum in Manhattan, USA. The finished work is from 12 to 14 feet in height and 227 feet in length and depicts the indigenous peoples of the provinces of the Iberian Peninsula in a riot of color and impressive variety of detail recording the regional people in their local costumes, celebrating life in the richness of their time and place.

The Ballet was an enchantment of traditional Spanish dancing inspired by Sorolla’s paintings with a riveting component of Flamenco dance, guitar, and singing that reached into the heart of everyone present and touched the very center of our emotions with intense passion! Needless to say, the audience of Madrileños went wild for this celebration of their national spirit.

Allow me to present María de León. This gorgeous young woman was a member of the audience at the Sorolla ballet and yes she was wearing this lovely outfit. María’s robe, from Uzbekistan, is woven from ikat dyed silk (a favorite of mine) and as you can see it drapes around her statuesque beauty with alluring elegance and international éclat. As I mentioned above, at the conclusion of the ballet the Madrileños were on their collective feet applauding with an exuberant standing ovation and when the curtain finally fell, this graceful beauty was suddenly in the row before me making her way to the aisle. In a moment inspired by the excitement of the evening I boldly saluted her and told her she was the most beautiful and chic woman present. María graciously responded with an amused laugh, we exchanged a few words and our respective cards.

It turns out, María de León publishes an enticing blog that ostensibly covers travel, food, and fashion but is actually more richly complex, enhanced with many charming photos of her meanderings about the globe accompanied by concise commentary that is informative and upbeat. She is one cyber-savvy lady who is impressively energized with a wealth of posts on her blog, twitter, Instagram, etc. The latter platform is a new world to me and inspired by her example I am now delving into that pulse of modernity-albeit a wee bit bewildered. By all means, go and visit with Maria at www.marialeonstyle.com but remember to return back to continue the tour with T2H2 traipsing about Iberia.

While I was delving into the María’s blog posts, I came across her visit to Palacio de Lebrija in Sevilla which I recognized from my own visit there. Palacio de Lebrija is for me the most glorious private palace museum in Seville and that’s saying a whole bunch because the city is rich with these treasures (see below my post on Seville.) I was astounded to learn that María is related to the Condesa de Lebrija and spent a big chunk of her childhood in the palace. This unlikely coincidence of our chance meeting in Madrid at the ballet and my equally serendipitous discovery of the palace added an interesting wrinkle to my visit to Spain.  María’s blog post on the Palacio Lebrija is especially valuable for me because it incorporates a photographic tour of the second-floor apartments of the palace where the general public can tour with a guide but may not take photos. As you can imagine this made me writhe with agony because these lavish apartments are steeped in opulent atmosphere that begs to be photographed, so thanks, María de León for sharing this with us. You have thrilled me twice over.

Palacio Lebrija

If you go down this rabbit hole don’t get lost in the enticing shadows of La Condesa’s treasure trove, please return here for more from T2H2

For those of you who know me, you will not be surprised by my confession of shameless adoration for late nineteenth century grandiloquent pomposity as expressed in the architecture of “public palaces.” And here is a humdinger! God only knows why agriculture should inspire such hysterical glee as seen in these three colossal bronze sculptures but hey, why not? It sure is a lot more festive subject than war, rape, and ravaging. To give you an idea of the scale of this building, the three celebrants standing on top of the monumental ministry are in my estimation about fifteen feet tall from hoofs to waving hands and maybe more like twenty. Forgive me for repeating myself but “Ay Caramba,” Big time!

To prove my point of extravagant hoopla well spent, this is only part of an elaborate fence surrounding the Ministerio de Agricultura, the fence is fifteen feet tall, made of cast bronze punctuated by stone pilings soaring some twenty feet above the sidewalk.


Now, as you can see by the above, my narrative is not reverential, nor is it a travel guide for the unseasoned traveler or wayward wonderer. My photographs express my personal view of the visual world, most often editing out the mundane or crass aspects of our era and enhancing the color, lyricism, and beauty of what is before our eyes but often times missed or intentionally  dismissed by “modernists.”

 Although I do revel in the delight of being one half of T2H2 rocketing around the neighborhoods far and wide, I am not suggesting that anyone should leave the comfort of their armchair and trudge across the globe. Come to think of it, this is where the tortoise’s measured step resonates most profoundly with me. I have always depended upon intrepid explorers to nudge me in an outward direction. My Leopoldo is one of the people in my life who have drawn me out, opened doors and let me wonder. Because these sights resonate with me so deeply, I linger in the shadows of time and want to savor the depth of experience locked within the precious and brave expressions of art.  Please be my guest and hold in your mind’s eye the radiance of creation. I believe the purpose of art is to enlighten our hearts to the truth of beauty.