Andalusia Memories 3: Córdoba and the Arches of Infinity

Uwe’s camera always captures the exquisite details

We began our trip to southern Spain in Granada. When I stood inside Granada’s Cathedral, I suddenly – and very vividly – remembered what and how I’d seen it 40 years earlier. At the Alhambra, my memories were blurry remembrances of running water.

A few days later in Córdoba, I had a further experience with spatial imprinting. We spent a half day in the Mezquita, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The outer wall to the Mezquita, Córdoba
A door to the Mezquita, Córdoba

The Mezquita was first built in the mid-6th century as a Visogoth church, built up in the 780s as The Great Mosque of Córdoba, and finally re-dedicated as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción) in 1236. The Mezquita’s altar incorporates and blends Catholic iconography and design into the original Moorish structure.

The early Muslim prayer hall is filled with rows of arches in colored bands of stone. They seem to stretch into Eternity.

This hypostyle hall (meaning that the roof rests on pillars) contains a grand 856 columns of finest jasper, marble, onyx and granite. These columns are topped with the arches, which are futher topped with more arches.

No, this is not a repeat of the earlier photo. This angle gazes in another direction in the prayer hall

If Granada’s Cathedral is all soaring heights, the Mezquita in Córdoba is an endless repetition of forms. Gaze in any direction and turn your body in a slow circle. The repeating arches always bring the viewer back to the beginning again.

I didn’t know until later that Uwe had photographed me, standing quiet in awed delight

The repeating patterns are beautiful. They’re haunting, too; it’s no accident that what I recall best from my first trip to Andalusia are deeply buried memories of graceful forms in plaster, stone and tiles.

What would I say if you were to ask me to select one thing I remember most after my first visit to the Mezquita as a teenager, all those years ago? I’d say: A sense of wonder.

Islamic architects and artists are masters of geometric decoration. Their patterns’ deeper purpose is to bring visitors and viewers to a sense of another, underlying reality. Maybe it’s just the beauty in the world. Perhaps it’s the presence of God. I’m perfectly fine with either explanation.

The mihrab niche. The Mezquita’s mihrab ((Arabic: محراب‎‎ miḥrāb) is exceptional because it points south rather than southeast and to Mecca

I rediscovered the whimsical and the wondrous as I gazed at repeating, interlocking, intertwined squares, circles, triangles, flowers, tessellations and stars.

Artwork both secular and sacred is woven into every stroke of calligraphy that embellishes gorgeous walls and doorways and niches at both the Alhambra and in Córdoba. The effect is one of standing in a house of mirrors or an echo chamber with lights and patterns extending on and out into Forever.

No single detail stayed. Just… a fleeting glimpse of the Divine.

NOTES: Sacred Geometry; Crystalinks; Islamic geometric patterns. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. Go to my earlier posts to read more about our visit to Andalusia.

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Andalusia Memories 2: Alhambra Walls and Water

“Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.” ― Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra [1]

 I just made a second trip to southern Spain. It had been over forty years between visits, and I had no idea what – if anything – I might remember. My first trip was with my high school Spanish Club. We were all young, and boy were we excited to be able to drink legally for a change!

In an earlier post I wrote about my spatial memories in Granada. At the Alhambra I had strange wavy recollections of reflecting pools and intricate walls.

To visit the palace rooms of the Alhambra is like stepping inside one gigantic extended scrollwork of interlocking geometric design.

I can remember loving the symmetry. I sure don’t remember any specific part of it. As I say, my memories are a blurry recollection of warm stone walls with ingenious decorations. Just… an impression of a harmony that contains a hundred thousand details you will get lost in once you begin examining the space more closely.

Southern Spain is frequently the hottest region in Europe. At the peak of summer, it stays oppressively hot (100°F and above) and very dry. We visited Andalusia at the very end of September/start of October, and the temperatures were still in the 90s. You seek relief in rooms with the latticed windows that let in light but not heat. Or you walk in the walled gardens.

Water, water, everywhere…. The former Islamic rulers built a sophisticated system of fountains and pools. Those fountains were designed to include the sound of flowing waters, and flowers and fruit trees were planted to delight the senses with their perfumes.

Memory returned vivid and at the same time somehow distorted at the Alhambra palaces’ innermost courtyard spaces. Only those wonderful carved lions at the private fountain were just as I remembered them.

And those were more than enough to make me very, very happy.

“In the present day, when popular literature is running into the low levels of life, and luxuriating on the vices and follies of mankind; and when the universal pursuit of gain is trampling down the early growth of poetic feeling, and wearing out the verdure of the soul, I question whether it would not be of service for the reader occasionally to turn to these records of prouder times and loftier modes of thinking; and to steep himself to the very lips in old Spanish romance.” ― ― Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra 

NOTES: [1] Wasington Irving is a lifetime favorite, beginning with my childhood: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow! Rip Van Winkle! I’d forgotten that he stayed and wrote at the Alhambra in 1829, when it was a neglected  ruin. Now, that’s artistic inspiration. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Andalusia Memories 1: Granada Heights

Uwe and I recently went on a holiday in southern Spain. I was excited when we decided Andalusia would be a good spot for an autumn getaway. We’d each been there before, but it would be our first trip to the region as a couple. He was there in his PJ (pre-Jadi) days. I visited much earlier, with a group for my high school Spanish Club. I was 17 years old and on my very first trip out of the country.

I thought back to that high school trip over 40 years ago and wondered what, if anything, I’d remember. That first trip was so exotic! And I had a revelation as I looked back. I realized the chaperoned trip was what set me up for a lifetime of loving travel.

Memory is a funny thing. For the first day or two I felt somehow disappointed. Nothing I saw struck me with that aha! feeling. I didn’t get that rush that comes when you see a beloved place or face again. And then that sense of wonder arrived after all.

We’d started off our trip in Granada and sure enough, memories came back to me. They weren’t at all what I expected, though. I didn’t recognize the lay-out of old city streets or a particular sight. Instead, what happened is this: we went to the Cathedral.

Uwe was off taking photos, so I wandered around the huge space by myself. All at once I had a memory, but the memory that overwhelmed me was spatial. I couldn’t recall a single religious image or statue. What I did recall was all about proportion. What I suddenly knew again was the thickness and height of the cathedral’s pillars as I gazed up.

Take a good look at how the Granada Cathedral pillars soar over the visitors inside!

I was re-experiencing the vastness of this structure. Then, the instant I looked down from the pillars to the floor, all at once I recognized the pattern of black and white floor tile squares.

The tiles seem to extend off into multiple dimensions, don’t they?
Space both massive and delicate

It was the oddest déjà vu I’ve ever felt. I had visited this space before and tucked a Dimensional memory away in my brain. And it wasn’t just the usual 3-Dimensional memory. I was living an experience occuring on four planes, if you include Time.

In a split second I finally ‘got’ what Einstein told us a century ago about time and space.

It happened several times on this trip. I’ll return soon with new posts to tell you more.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

Kyoto the Opaque

NOTE: The Jidai Matsuri, or Festival of Ages is held every year on 22 October, the date Japan’s ancient capitol of Kyoto was founded. Here is an earlier post from when we attended the festival and parade.  — Jadi

Uwe and I visited both China and Japan on a trip. We were startled when Japan felt  much more foreign than China. For a First World country, Japan is opaque and surprisingly difficult to grasp.

Huh?
Huh?

We made sure we had plenty of time in Kyoto, traditionally Japan’s cultural heart.* Tokyo is modern and young and moves swiftly. Ancient Kyoto also seemed to have an older population, although the Kyoto train station was by far the most wonderfully futuristic we’ve ever visited. Our autumn visit coincided with the Jidai Matsuri, or Festival of Ages, held every year on October 22nd.

For a millennium Kyoto was the country’s capitol. In 1868 the emperor moved his imperial court to Tokyo. The Kyoto Prefecture was afraid that Kyoto’s thousand years of history would fade from memory. To make sure this didn’t happen they built the Heian Shrine to house the spirit of Emperor Kammu, who founded Kyoto in 794. The Jidai Gyoretsu, a parade for the Jidai Matsuri, was first staged in 1895.

Chairs are set up along the parade route and reserved well in advance. The parade  started at noon at the Imperial Palace. We positioned ourselves on the grass 4.5 kilometers away, not far from the giant red torii gates of the Heian Shrine where the parade would end.

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The parade commemorates the continuous ages of Kyoto history with truly spectacular costumes and objects. It begins with participants dressed in the styles of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and then goes back in time to the Heian Era (794-1185). Musicians and buskers, riders on horse back and flag carriers all march.

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The outfits are accurate from the samurai warriors’ headdresses and armor down to the last dot of face make up. Every detail has been researched.** Over 2,000 people take part in the parade.

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The procession lasted for hours and Uwe took hundreds of photographs. Occasionally I made a run for bottles of water and snacks. We fell in love with onigiri, an ingenious salmon and rice treat wrapped in seaweed. It comes in a deceptively simple looking package that holds all of the ingredients separate until you open it.

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I’ll need a separate post to talk about the shrines and temples we visited and the geishas we saw. Or to describe the cloths and scarves I bought, each with its special weaving technique and materials. Or the lacquerware bowls I fell in love with, first developed by monks as the perfect receptacle for rice…

NOTES: *Kyoto contains 17 World Heritage sites and is a UNESCO World Heritage City. **The methods used to make the costumes are traditional, too.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trip to Japan and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. Go to my earlier post 8:15 A.M.to read more about our visit to Japan.

Additional information: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/travel-tips-and-articles/77406#ixzz2zEtAXf7i or www.kyotoguide.com

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Sand Painters of Burma

One of the most unique art forms you’ll ever see is the sand paintings of Bagan, Burma. Artists paint on cloth using sand. I visited a hut on stilts where the artists crouched over spanned cloth, painstakingly applying the grains by candle light.

Buddhist image painted with sand, image from a Bagan temple, Burma

Traditionally, artists reproduce religious murals found on the walls of Bagan’s 1,300 temples. [1] Sand paintings may be black and white, or composed of colored sands. When I visited Burma for the first time with Uwe in 2009 there were few tourists. We reached the temples by horse carriage; now mopeds and air-conditioned vans carry visitors to the sites.

Sand painters still sell their work inside or outside small temples or in the courtyards as you approach. Some artists are branching out and painting their personal riffs on traditional images, or creating their own modern ones. Take your time if you are interested in purchasing a painting. Be wary of any artist who claims too aggressively, “This image is my own. I discovered this new technique.” (Amazing how many sand painters simultaneously invented an image involving contemporary animals.…)  But the work is mostly beautiful, and the artists are carrying on a unique tradition.

Foot print of the Buddha

Bagan is also famous for lacquerware, a costly and time-consuming art form. Sand-painting is an easier and less expensive way for local craftspeople to make money. Unlike lacquerware, sand painters can simply roll up and carry their wares to potential customers.

Eturbonews explains the history and process so well that I’ll quote them in entirety here:

“[T]here are dozens of mostly young artists displaying their paintings on the floor of temple compounds. They generally take inspiration from 700-year-old murals who adorn some of the most famous temples, such as Ananda or Gubyaukgyi, where paintings depict the life of the Buddha.

According to locals, Bagan’s artist community emerged following a terrible earthquake in 1975. In the turmoil generated by the earthquake, which saw hundreds of pagodas collapsing, locals got access to the temples and started to copy the murals on carbon. Paintings sold at temples are drawn using a sand technique, a peculiar aspect of Bagan art.

It consists of sketching replicas of murals with a stylus on a piece of cloth, which is then covered by acrylic glue. Then sand is sprinkled over the cloth, precisely following the lines from the drawing. Once the glue is dried, painting is added, giving the finishing a colorful touch to the motif. It takes a couple of days to finish a large-scale painting. The technique requires patience and skill.” [2]

I have given sand paintings as gifts to special friends.

A painting can be expensive to frame as the canvas needs to be stabilized so it won’t sag. On that first visit I purchased 3 paintings that took me forever to finally get framed. Uwe had selected an image with two tigers: I surprised him years later with the framed sand painting for his birthday.

On my first visit to Bagan I discovered artists had covered a temple’s altar with bags of colored sands. The artists brought them as offerings to Buddha. When I returned to Bagan this past spring, I didn’t find that temple again. But I remain delighted to know that it exists.

NOTES: [1] See my earlier post A Burmese Spirit Guide for more on Bagan’s temples and the talented wood carvers who work there. [2] Eturbonews.com   [3] When I view the sand paintings that hang here in my home, I am reminded of the mandalas that Tibetan Buddhist monks paint with colored sand. When the painting is finished, the monks sweep the sands away. It is art as meditation on the temporary nature of all things. Sand mandalas  © Jadi Campbell 2017. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Seeds of Summer

The sun occasionally shines. But the air has a nip today, the wind gusts, and clouds traverse watery blue skies. (In my head the entire cast of A Game of Thrones mutters, “Winter is coming ….”)

Summer’s about to end. I still hear crickets at night outside our windows, but how much longer? When their voices (legs?) go silent, it’s the final signal that autumn is taking over.

Autumn is a beautiful time of year. We went to the Stuttgarter Weindorf last weekend, the annual Wine Village. My meal included sauerkraut (a food I’ve come to love only since living in Germany) and homemade spätzle, the egg noodles that are a specialty of Baden-Württemberg. For dessert I ordered a plum tart, Zwetschgenkuchen. Uwe agreed with me: the Weindorf version tasted like Mama’s. My mother-in-law baked it often, with plums from the fruit trees in their yard. And there it was, a sense of nostalgia.

I’m listening to Radio Paradise as I write this post. They play Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, from his 1974 album Late for the Sky. Lyrics and melody from long ago weave into this afternoon.

Coins harvested from a money plant and 3 sand dollars

One of my last acts before returning to Germany from the USA two weeks ago was to harvest coins from the money plants in a friend’s garden. I love this description of money plants: “Also known as Honesty, of the genus Lunaria, silver dollar plants are named for their fruit, with pods dry to flat silverish discs about the size of — you guessed it! — silver dollars. They hail from Europe and were one of the first flowers grown in the dooryard gardens of the New World for their pods and edible roots.” [1] I’m harvesting fruit from American plants that were originally European flowers. I myself am a strange kind of transplant, with roots in both places now.

The coins of the flowers are tissue-thin, each containing several dark seeds. I’ll plant them in pots for my balcony, come springtime. What will grow? Will their seeds take root? But I like the uncertainty. These are the seeds of summer, and even as summer dies (don’t forget: “Winter is coming!…”) in them is a chance to grow something new. Numerous chances, actually.

As we enjoy summer’s bounty, reaping what was sown, it’s comforting to know they’ll carry over into seasons to come.

May your summer seeds bloom anew.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] www.gardeningknowhow.com

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Death by Yawning

Open-air museums are inappropriately named. For many people, Museum + History = Death by Excessive Yawning. Not me! A good open-air museum can transport me into other cultures and the past. I think a better name for such a site is ‘living museum’.

Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

In southern Laos, we spent an afternoon at a spot with traditional tribes’ homes. My favorite was the thatched home on stilts. In the middle of the night, a courting youth has to climb a ladder and wait for a signal through a strategically located hole in the wall. The young woman has to approve his advances. Only then can he climb in the window…

Olde Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts was a hands’ down childhood favorite. The site still knocks me out. Paid artisans and trained volunteers dress in period clothing and demonstrate everything from making horse shoes to ginning cotton. Olde Sturbridge contains “the best collection of early 19th-century rural New England artifacts in the world”. [1]

Another favorite open-air museum is Neuhausen ob Eck (amusingly named ‘New Home on the Eck’), located not far from Tuttlingen and Konstanz in southern Germany. In the bee keeper’s house, I learned all about the world of bees. The German language holds bees in special regard. In German, the word for animals is Bestie or Tiere, beasts. But Germans speak of the Bienenvolk, a hive or literally ‘the bee people’, granting them a status with humans. In the Middle Ages, if the bee keeper died in the night someone was sent to the hives to whisper the news to the bees.

The bee keeper enjoyed a special status. Thanks to his bee family he produced wax candles for light, honey for food, and pollen products for medicine. [2]

Fishing nets, Latvia Ethnographic Open-Air Museum

Outdoor museums can teach with their simplicity. On our recent trip to Estonia and Latvia, we spent a day at Latvia’s Ethnographic Open-Air Museum on the shore of Lake Jugla. [3] The spot is incredibly atmospheric.

It’s an easy bus ride from the capitol Riga to the museum. (Go to my recent post Food as Art and salivate over the delicious foods you can order in Baltic restaurants.)

What I learned is that as recently as 100 years ago life here was a different story.

Existence was harsh and hard, like the overcast skies much of the day we visited. [4] Along with simple huts, the site includes windmills.

A store building is filled with dowry chests and traces of Latvia’s long history serving in the Hanseatic League.

My takeaway: How truly thin the veneer of prosperity is. Our sense of progress and the advance of civilization is so recent, and so young. I left grateful for the things I take for granted in my everyday life. In too many places in the world people still live without electricity, running water, or centralized heat.

NOTES: [1] https://www.osv.org/ Go to my earlier posts Old Sturbridge Village Part 1 and 2 for photos and the story of our visit. [2] Honey-based products never rot. I purchased a propolis salve at Neuhausen a decade ago; it’s still good. The bee keeper told me the salve can be used on everything from wounds and burns to arthritis and herpes. Neuhausen-ob-Eck [3] Latvia Ethnographic Museum  [4] For Game of Thrones fans, I kept thinking of the Iron Islands and how craggy-rocks bitter life is there. These Latvian houses would fit the scenes perfectly, except for the fact that Game of Thrones is a fantasy world. Real people lived in the huts as recently as the start of the 20th Century.

© Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.