Thursday, March 27, 2008

mystery in the mezquita

walking in a trance in the continued movement of my feet on the ground, i imagined a type of prayer that didnt rely on looking skywards. it inhabits the earth, looking to your own senses for enlightenment.

the mezquita in granada was built for this kind of prayer. in an unprecedented design, this mosque was built in an expanse of horizontal space, not vertical. the plethora of arches overhead meant to simulate the dizzy shadows of desert trees, the garden an oasis. it was meant to bring attention to its inhabitants life on earth, the use of your own body in space to create prayer.

so, i walked the halls of the mezquita (what wasnt ruined by its later christian inhabitants), and prayed and listened to the sound of my own feet taking me across space, felt the soft wind on my cheeks from my movement and through this horizontal movement i transcended my place in space and time and if only for a moment i found god in those endless halls.

Monday, March 24, 2008

sacrifice in sevilla

easter sunday was sevilla´s bullrings´ opening night of the season, so alex and i coughed up 55 euro each to catch this spectacle of spectacles.

aaaaand nothing spells class like raising an animal to be violent and then slowly killing them while wearing sparkly suits in front of a crowd of jeering plebeians. but this is the classiness that is a corrida de torros, here in the oldest of bullrings in sevilla, spain. first, all of the participants in the fights come out in a procession to greet the dignintaries that sit at one end of the ring. there are 6 fights, 6 bulls, 3 matadors with 3 peones and 3 banderilleros and 2 picadors each, 2 bulls for each group of men. First, the peones come out with pink and yellow capes, and get the bull good and ready to charge, training it to follow the moves of the cloth. then, the horns of the band sound and out come the picadors, men on heavily shielded and blindfolded horses who land the first blow on the bull. the bull charges them, and they stab it with a long pointy rod from their lofty position. usually the bull writhes around a bit, trying to defend itself against what it must think the horse has done, and the horse is just moved around by the bull and acts befuddled.

then, the banderilleros come out, these are men with a set of spears with frilly decorations on them, and they have no capes. the hold the spears to get the bulls attention and then the bull charges them, and they have the stick the spears into its side, where they usually stay, hanging on by the flesh of the pierced animal. i think this is the most dangerous role in the group, because these men have no capes to hide behind or to make them look bigger, they are alone with the bull and their spears.

finally, when the bull is largely weakened, the matador comes out and does the usual posturing, having the bull run circles around him using his cape with the crowd crying ole at every successful attempt. finally, after the bull has been tired out, the matador gets his sword and lands the find blow to the bull, deep into its flesh.

the ensuing minutes are the very very worst of the match. the peones come back out and wave their capes in front of the dying bull in its last minutes of life. it tries to charge, but has lost all of its energy by the constant attacks by this batch of bullies. it is the saddest for me, like a group of scavengers, huddling over this near-dead animal, waiting for it to fall to its knees and for their matador to gain glory. bleeding from its side and out of its mouth, the animal falls onto its front knees and then onto its side, breathing its last in front of the cheering crowd.

if the matador has pleased the crowd enough, everyone holds up their handkerchiefs, and he is awarded the bull´s ear, a prized gift.

to me, this show is barbaric, but one that i am glad that i witnessed. i felt part of the tradition of man overcoming beast for the joy of the masses that has its roots in places from rodeos to the Colosseum.

that was my easter sunday. but im sure the lying around and eating ham you did was cool, too.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

um its pretty much just like a castle

the alhambra. according to a young hippy-type, tucking his blond locks behind his ear and nodding his head in self-congratulation in having such an astute observation.

it is an ancient castle, the fortress of muslim rulers, conquered by ferdinand and isabella, forgotten for centuries until washington irving and the romantics took interest. buildings built upon others, islamic walls holding up a christian ceiling. the confluence of two belief systems. muslim rooms containing imperfections so as not to challenge the perfectness of allah, lots of sets of sevens, depictions through symbol of heaven and earth. christian carvings mostly allusions of grandeur, large depictions of biblical stories and the conflation of ferdinand and isabella as holy rulers.

the gardens are called generalife, places of pleasure for muslim rulers in harems to twentieth century american writers. alex and i sit on the edge of one, listening to the water flow through the various fountains, the budding orange blossoms wafting in the dry sunny air, overlooking the fortress of the alhambra, and this is where i laid down in alex´s lap and let my heavy eyelids close, and took a nap. like an ancient islamic concubine lying among the others in the harem, i relax in this place of pleasure, awaiting my moment of duty.

Monday, March 17, 2008

far-reaching nature in Fes

sitting on the salmon-colored crumbling fortress walls on the moroccan hillside, i let the gusts of biting wind blow my hair over my eyes as i look down at the whitewashed imperial city of fes. the countless minarets of madersas and mosques jut above the skyline, poking at the dusting of clouds in the sunset sky. some giggles over my shoulder draw me away from my newfound serenity, after having spent a hectic day smelling the tanneries and hanging goat bowels in the souqs and the essential oils of roses and lavenders. a group of four boys are tumbling over each other, glancing in my direction. I give them what they want, a moment of my attention, i show them my camera and ask if they want their picture taken. as if soldiers called to attention, they fall into a pose, smiling at the prospect of seeing their own mugs gleaming across the playback monitor of my camera. after the shutter snaps, they sprint over and examine the evidence. I have seen this before, with the children in the orphanage in ecuador. they love to see their image replicated, a celebrity on a tiny screen in this stranger's life. everyone is narcissistic, children just lack the capacity to shield it. we strike up a conversation. they only speak arabic, and are beginners learning french in school, and i only speak english and poorly pronounced french from my western european phrasebook. nonetheless, i manage to tell them that im from chicago, my father is a fireman and my brother a seaman, that i disagree with the war in iraq and that i dont know if i like the Real Madrid or Barcelona or Roma futbol teams better. They tell me that they know the bagdad anthem, which they sing for me, they show me some of their favorite dance moves and the tallest of the 13 year olds tells me that him and i should run away to barcelona together, where we will dance in the clubs and he will make me his chicken couscous that is "tre bien, tre bien." I tell him that maybe he should get a little taller, and his friends laugh at him. he is gracious about it, knowing the far-reaching nature of his proposition.

i gave them my email address, knowing that this communication through hands and eyes and hearts will never translate onto a screen, so i hold a place in my memory for them as i walk away and they follow me down the hill to bid me adieu.

this is merely the best of my many stories of sweet moroccans.

it is amazing how much cultural similarity can be found between individuals brought up worlds and assumptions apart. i found again today how small this place we call the world is, and how pure the spirit of a gaggle of 13 year old boys can be. they always laugh at each other, there is always a goof and a quiet one and a serious one: "hey, come on, guys, that's enough, leave her alone!" they always want to impress older women and they never know how much their sincerity really does.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

the splendor of africa

How do I begin to speak about my time in morocco? It is like trying to explain the second law of thermodynamics and how it relates to the life of a recent college graduate. So, I will start there: it has been death-defying, exhilarating, the most inclusive and invasive and beautiful travel experience of my short life. The warm air swirls around me as I make my way through the plaza; beggars and thieves surround me but I am not scared, I have been here before. Guayaquil, Quito, Chetumal, every place like this has the same feel, at first. I thought it would be one of those trips again: moving through the world trying not to get robbed and holding your breath until it is over. But this time, surprisingly, it wasnt that way.

I have seen piles of multi-colored spices and persian rugs, fire-eaters and children begging for a meal, felt the wind of rushing mopeds, walked the twisting alleyways through centuries-old walls. It is warm here, my cheeks get rosy in the sun but the breeze makes the warmth comfortable like lying on your mothers lap. At night, the grand plaza comes to life, filling with fortune tellers and musicians and lost souls. I can afford anything and everything I would ever want here, and I havent met a nicer nation of people in any one I have been. Tommorow I am leaving the 13th century city walls to go to the city gardens, to lie in the grass and breathe in the splendor of africa.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

sleepy in london

The flight to London would have been my most ritzy flight yet (British Airways), with classical music, new digital technology and food and comfort, but -- even though there were a plethora of free seats available with more room -- the guy who sat next to alex and i did not leave his seat. not only did he not leave his seat, cramming alex and i into a tiny space with his wide elbow stance, he also left his overhead light on the entire flight, even while he was asleep. great. so I got no sleep on the flight and when I noticed the sun rising over the clouds I knew my day would not be a meaningful one.

I have spent most of my day today trying to stay awake, falling asleep in both the British museum and the national gallery, and being asked to not be a public vagabond in this way politely by some older staff members. I must seem like i am on drugs, my eyes rolling back into my head while trying to acknowledge their authority.

London is expensive. Really, too expensive for me to do anything worthwhile. So, on to morocco, the land of plenty for the penny-pinching traveller.