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Sevilla 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Fourth Stop Sevilla, All Aboard!”

I know, I know you’ve already seen the handsome visage of Sr. Romero, but really, how can I resist this cute pose of my Little Darling? We were checking into The Casa Imperial Hotel in Sevilla and I caught him ready to roll and see that wonderful city literally pulsing with tempting delights. But first a few pictures of our hotel which was a humdinger and once again deserving of the, “Ay Caramba!” exclamation.

The main staircase of Casa Imperial is tiled with a cheerful array of colorful patterns on the steps and running up the walls with figurative panels inset at the middle landing. These designs are typical of the Mudejar style mixing the Moorish and Christian influences that blended after the reconquest of Spain. The early history of Casa Imperial is not documented but structural evidence places the construction date about the mid-17th century, somewhere around 1650.

The four patios that meander back from the surprisingly narrow entrance façade are divided by “screens” of marble pillars and enticing hallways leading to the next open space where delicate fountains fill the quiet with the calming trickle of water. Each courtyard patio has two levels surrounded by suites of rooms that open onto the central spaces. The gardens are filled with neatly trimmed fruit trees and potted flowers. Along the covered walkways surrounding the gardens comfortable seating furniture is grouped and interspersed with antique wooden chests that hold the household linens used in the guestrooms.

On the second floor of the middle patio cloister, a mysterious hallway leads to a narrow set of steps guarded by ancient wrought iron banisters with fancy grillwork. From this passage you can ascend to the roofs of Casa Imperial from whence you can see the surrounding church steeples and roofs of the town.

Sevilla is a city of sumptuous surprises in the form of palace museums. Here we are at the front gate of, “Palacio de las Dueñas” The palace name derives from the monastery of Santa María de las Dueñas, which in 1248 sheltered the nuns and servants of Alfonso X. Today it is the Sevillano residence of the 19th Duque de Alba and before him its most memorable Dueña was his mother the celebrated Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, 18th Duchess of Alba who was the most titled aristocrat of Spain, Europe and the world in her era (1926-2014) and one of the country’s richest individuals.

In the Duchess’s later life she became infamous for her two marriages to younger men, first to a defrocked Jesuit priest who had been her confessor and then after his death to a businessman 24 years her junior. As a result of excessive plastic surgery she presented an alarmingly messed up visage that one would not want to meet inadvertently all upon an afternoon. Despite this loss of face the old broad was beloved by the populace who would call out, “Ole!” in response to her trembling Flamenco dance maneuvers of later years.

In a corner of the main courtyard of Las Dueñas this handsome marble statue of Bacchus is brilliantly lit by the afternoon sun that also casts a clear shadow of a hanging lantern and crenulated arch.

The main courtyard of Las Dueñas is planted with beautiful roses beneath palm and ficus trees with a tiled fountain sounding a trickle of water from a marble bowl.

This is one of a pair of  antique Mudéjar courtyard doors that protects the carved stucco and tiled arch leading to the “Hall of the Gipsy.”

 

This is the “gypsy” dancer the room is named for. Here we see, “Pinrelitos” a bronze statue by Mariano Benlliure, 1909, of a young “Bailaora” or flamenco dancer from Cádiz. Pinrelitos looks a lot more cheery than most flamenco dancers I have seen who tend toward the impassioned heart rending agony of emotional turmoil that a gypsy “outsider” can express with authenticity- free of the restraints of propriety.

I have read that Mariano Benlliure was a friend to Duchess Cayetana’s father. I do not know when this statue came to be in the collections of Palacio de las Dueñas or who purchased it.  I suspect that several other sculptures of the palace that caught my eye are also by Benlliure because of their mischievous and dynamic revelry. In all of these sculptures there is an iconoclastic “twinkle in the eye” of the bon vivant that reflected or perhaps inspired the character of Duchess Cayetana who was an avid fan of flamenco dancing and bull fights. This is the quality that endeared her to the public as when on the occasion of her third wedding when she was 85 she slipped through the front gates of Las Dueñas where the ceremony took place and entertained the crowd with a brief impromptu flourish of Flamenco dance. Putting aside her venerable age and exalted title of Spanish Grandee, the most daring part of this performance was her completely ravaged face distorted by excessive plastic surgery. But judging by the warm applause of the assembled audience on the street, apparently what everyone saw was the indomitable spirit of a woman way beyond the restrictions of Spanish formality, so phooey on you Philip II and all your dour decorum.

And here is a daring little darling held high on a marble pillar gracing the cloister of the main patio. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that it is also by Mariano Benlliure who included various rascally babies in his oeuvre. More to my point, here I feel the palpable presence of Duchess Cayetana permeating Las Dueñas as expressed in this brazen baby tripping the light fantastic and having a dammed good time in the process!

This is a corner of the library of Las Dueñas with comfortable seating furniture and book cases stuffed with a collection of volumes both antique and contemporary. The palace is very much a lived in home with collections of bibelots decorating all available surfaces, some precious and some simply charming.

This is an intimate view of the private chapel of Las Dueñas. The walls are half covered with Mudejar tiles of lush colors incorporating the coppery iridescent glaze that adds depth to the overall impression.

On a table protected beneath the cloister surrounding the main patio these two sculptures reference both bull fights and Flamenco dancing, two of Duchess Cayetana’s great enthusiasms. The jacket of the Maja on the left is recognizable as a matador’s chaquetilla or short jacket and along with her cap tilted at a rakish angle she presents the saucy attitude of a gypsy dancer with her tambourine and rose pinned to her breast.

Leaving Las Dueñas, we wandered the streets of Sevilla and came across an area of fashionable shops displaying glamourous wedding gowns. Here we see a supremely chic evening ensemble with a variation of the matador’s chaquetilla as an evening jacket, proof of the abiding fascination for Traje de Luces (suit of lights) referring to the sparkling “bling” created by the reflective sequins and gold braid of the traditional matador’s costume.

A little further on, at 8 Cuna Street we came across Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija, a gem of Mudejar Renaissance revival style embellishing an original 16th century palace. Doña Regla Manjón y Margelina, Condessa de Lebrija bought the palace in 1901 three years after the death of her husband and spent 13 years renovating and installing her collections of archeological and architectural artifacts including a large display of ancient Roman floor mosaics which were primarily from the ruins of Italica an ancient Roman town near Sevilla. Condesa Lebrija collected many other ancient artifacts from Rome, Greece, Persia and China that are displayed in handsome cases around the rooms and hallways of the first floor of the Palace.

Doña Regla Manjón was granted the title of Countess of Lebrija in 1912 in recognition of her abundant cultural and charitable work. She was a scholarly person who loved and collected books all her life. She and her husband Federico Sánchez Bedoya, who had been the mayor of Sevilla, amassed a considerable library of over 6,000 volumes including the historical archives of their respective families which The Condesa accommodated in an impressive library at Palacio Lebrija. In 1931, when the Condesa was suffering from failing eyesight she donated the major part of her library to the University of Seville. She and her husband also collected fine and decorative art and those collections are displayed in the sumptuous second floor private apartments also open to the public by guided tour.

I think that it is a telling detail speaking volumes about Condesa de Lebrija that she decorated the front entrance of her palace with an ensemble of tiles that incorporate vignettes of women as artists practicing the fine arts and letters. Above we see an attractive and apparently competent young woman practicing the fine art of “La Escultura” or sculpture. In the four spandrels of the two arches in the vestibule one can see, sculpture, painting, music, poetry. These women are definitely not muses of the arts inspiring male artists but rather they are the artists themselves practicing the noble arts. It is my supposition that Condesa de Lebrija who was an educated and creative person in her own right intended to send a message of her pride in the valuable contribution of women to the cultured world.

This is the mosaic floor of the central patio of Palacio de Lebrija. It was created in the 3rd century BC and is from the ruins of Italica an ancient Roman town near Sevilla. The god Pan is at the center with pictures of the various amorous exploits of Zeus surrounding. It was found in an olive grove close to the Italica forum and reassembled at the Palacio in 1914.

This is a corner of the main patio of Palacio de Lebrija. The elaborate Mudejar carved stucco work decorating the arches is characteristic of Andalusian Spain and provides endless material for close examination to trace the elaborate designs. The equally complex geometric patterns and sumptuous colors of the tiled wainscoting provide lively color to the overall design scheme. An unusual ingredient in the collection are the terracotta wellheads scattered about the periphery of the patio, each one has a unique wrought iron stand.  

Here we see a corner of the main patio showing one of the fanciful doors that contrasts dramatically against a festival of textures, patterns and colors. The detailing on the custom made display cabinets complement and enhance the collections within. I especially appreciated the fragment of a diagonally fluted pillar sitting on top of the cabinet. This is an example of the thoughtful arrangement of the art and artifacts in the Palacio de Lebrija. Even though each component part enjoys its own complexity of design the individual pieces are arranged to exhibit their own importance and intrinsic beauty.

The landing of the grand staircase is lavishly decorated with tiles rescued from a 16th century ruined convent. The proportions of the staircase are immense and also includes a carved renaissance frieze with portrait busts and above that a soaring antique ceiling in Mudejar style. These important architectural elements were from other palaces and incorporated into the Lebrija by La Condesa.

 

Here is a marble bust of La Condesa de Lebrija with a lineup of antique dignitaries gracing an adjacent cabinet keeping her company. Would it be irreverent for me to say that she reminds me of Gertrude Stein? In my defense they were both imposing women collectors at more or less the same time although of vastly different tastes and interests in art.  

La Condesa de Lebrija as a younger woman in the costume of Cleopatra at a fancy dress ball. Now, my regular readers know that I am a sucker for fanciful pageantry and this portrait is a wonderful example of what to wear at a grand bash. Right on Condesa!

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March For Our Lives Boston 2018

“If I Die In A School Shooting, Lay My Body On The Steps Of Capitol Hill.”

Cry of the students 

On March 24, 2018 I joined the March For Our Lives student protest march in Boston. The march was inspired by student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. The Boston march was organized by local students and it began at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, wound its way through the neighborhoods and on to the Boston Common.  

This is the third march I’ve gone on since Trump and his nation-less cohorts muscled their way into power. Trump and of his gang of thugs, have already stolen over a trillion dollars with their “Tax Breaks” benefiting the oligarchs. Now they have the lame idea to arm teachers and bring the disease of violence, hate and paranoia deeper into our schools. This abhorrent idiocy was universally rejected by the crowd. My own idea is that there are no “good guys” with guns. Guns are made to kill people in order for the manufacturers and distributors to make money.

But the students of March For Our lives did not invite the adult population to join them on the podium except for a few trusted teachers. They organized, marched and spoke for themselves. I gladly honor their capabilities and invite them to speak through their presence and their signs in my photos that follow. The youth of our nation are the future of civilization and I pray that they, in the wisdom of idealism, will put the brakes on the death machine who only wants to steal all the money and set Mother Earth on fire to cover their tracks.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small gaggle of counter-protesters calling themselves “Resist Marxism” grumbled and growled at the crowd after infiltrating the march. I heard one of them screech incoherently about bloody tampons and one of their signs read, “suck my dick ” (see below)  Here they are surrounded by a circle of Boston bicycle cops who were in turn were surrounded by Veterans For Peace. As soon as the Students started their speeches this motley bunch, seething with hate, started shouting trying to disrupt the rally with megaphones and yelling. As a result, the police swiftly escorted them off the Common.

Counter-protesters hiding behind mangled versions of the Second Amendment.

Counter-protesters hiding behind masks, afraid that they will be exposed for who they are

Looking into the eyes of a poisonous snake

Any idiot can destroy and kill. It takes intelligence and the great effort of cooperation to give birth and create!

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Cordoba 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Third Stop Cordoba, All Aboard!”

Puerta de San José, one of the nine doors in the eastern wall of the Mezquita Cathedral of Córdoba

This vast structure was begun as a mosque in 784 by Abd al-Rahman, first Emir of Córdoba and underwent four major expansions until 987 when it reached its present outward dimension.

Today the Mosque Cathedral has been extensively cleaned, restored and maintained and Puerta de San José, as seen above, is a fine example of the meticulous work being done. In the bay to the left you can see how the mark of time has deteriorated the original façade.

In 1236, King Ferdinand III of Castille reconquered Córdoba and converted the Mosque to a Roman Catholic Cathedral. In 1523 the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was constructed in the center of the old Mosque. The cathedral was in continuous construction well into the eighteenth century.

Torre del Alminar stands 305 feet high and is the bell tower of the Mosque Cathedral of Córdoba. It is in the same position and replaces the original minaret of the mosque. Here we are looking from the cloister of the eastern wall surrounding the Patio of Ablutions where the Muslin faithful cleansed themselves before entering the mosque for prayer. This is now referred to as the Patio de los Naranjos named for the orchard of orange trees neatly planted in rows.

The original fountains of the Patio of Ablutions were supplied with water from wells dug into the then unpaved courtyard and from cisterns collecting rain water. These were later replaced by aqueducts bringing water from springs in the Sierra Mountains. Here we have the Fountain of the Olive and you can see behind the boy, gazing into the clear water, the silver-gray foliage of an Olive tree.

Patio de los Naranjos as seen from Torre del Alminar or bell tower. I was amazed by the good repair of the vast stretch of tiled roofs covering the cloister and original mosque of which you can only see a small section in the upper right of this photo.

While climbing up the interior stairs of the Alminar tower one can see these horse-shoe shaped arches supported by marble pillars which are remnants of the original minaret. In the foreground iridescent tiles cover a dome over the interior entryway of the Puerta del Perdón which is one of the main entrances to the Patio de los Naranjos.

One of the old bells in the Alminar tower

Inside the ancient mosque of Córdoba a forest of 850 pillars upholds the wooden ceiling. Some of these are reused from the original Roman temple on this sight and others were collected from the Visigothic ruins of Saint Vicente monastery that also stood here. Still other pillars were fabricated of granite, jasper, porphyry and marble for the original mosque and the several expansions over a period of 200 years. All the capitals are of different designs executed with highly refined craftsmanship.

These columns support a unique design said to have been invented here. The design consists of double arches with their distinctive poly-chrome masonry enabling the wooden ceilings to be an elegant 35 feet high.

A closer view of the famous double arches of the Mosque

Poetry in stone tinted by the light of stained glass windows

The most important arch of the Mosque marks the Mihrab, the empty niche that points toward Mecca where the faithful direct their prayers. The floral and vegetal decorations are created by tiny glass tiles backed with gold and colored pigments. They make an awe-inspiring effect of spiritual magnificence.  

This is the ceiling dome of the Macsura, located directly in front of the Mihrab. The Macsura is where the Caliph and his court prayed. It is also covered gold mosaic decorations flowing easily over the complex scallop shapes of the dome. In my photo I was thrilled to be able to capture the “ladders” of light penetrating the stained glass windows creating an ethereal effect.

Some cute kids on school tour horsing around when they caught me photographing them

Saint Juan of Avila despairing of respect from the kids on tour or is he just flummoxed by the task of writing “Audi, filia” an ecclesiastical treatise that took him 42 years. Either way, as a writer myself, I can identify with moments of weary perplexity.

In the center of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Córdoba Cathedral) is this magnificent Choir, all carved from Antilles mahogany. It was conceived and created by Pedro Duque Cornejo y Roldán, the most prolific sculptor of the 18th century in Spain. Begun in 1748 he worked on it until his death in 1757 when his sons and select pupils completed the work in 1758. It seems like lightning speed to me considering it is composed of 109 stalls with a blowout Bishop’s Cathedra flanked by additional thrones on either side which you can glimpse behind the shining brass eagle pulpit.

Details of the lineup of choir stalls on one part of one half of the Choir of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The whole ensemble is of staggering complexity, superb artistry and wild extravagance, just my kind of thing!

Christ in glory, the point of it all. For me this depiction of the final evolution of Jesus is the important message of Christianity, revelation of the divine as radiantly beautiful.

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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!

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