It’s time again for the Weihnachtsmärkte. Stuttgart’s Christmas Market runs from 29 November to 23 December. Uwe and I always go to drink a glühwein with friends. You should, too!
The Christmas Market began as a short winter market.  Europe has held seasonal markets for centuries. Vienna, Austria’s Dezembermarkt dates all the way back to 1294/1296. But a Weihnachtsmarkt is special, and signals the beginning of the Advent season leading up to Christmas. This tradition is found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Alsace region of France. 
Medieval guilds tightly controlled who could produce or sell wares, so each city market was unique and had a distinct, regional flavor. This remains true today. At a German Christmas Market, you’ll find these items for sale at open-air booths:
Tin, blown glass, wooden, and straw ornaments
Round wooden presses or molds for cookies known as Springele
Gebrannte Mandeln (candied toasted almonds)
Magenbrot and Lebkuchen gingerbread (Lebkuchen is often sold in beautiful and reusable decorative tins)
Clothes, including hand knit hats and gloves and scarves
Hot sausages and
Glühwein: a magical drink of mulled wine served from huge brass vats, with a shot of liquor added if you want to get extra-warm 
Our city of Stuttgart’s Weihnachtsmarkt is famous for its decorated booth roofs.
The market attracts more than 3,000,000 visitors each year! Tour busses pull up and unload shoppers from all over Europe. The Weihnachtsmarkt takes over several piazzas downtown; the 3x weekly Wochenmarkt for fresh produce and flowers moves to the Königstraße, the main pedestrian street.
I try to go a couple times each year. I head for the weekly market for fruits and vegetables and then meet a friend for a Bratwurst and a Glühwein. Or I arrange to meet Uwe after work.
We wend our way through rows of booths, enjoying hearing so many different languages along with the local Schwäbisch dialect.
NOTES on NOTES:  ….and nothing is better than a starry winter night, a hot mug of Glühwein, snow gently falling as you stand with your sweetie, the sounds of talk and laughter of other Weihnachtsmarkt visitors all around you as carolers sing in the courtyard of the 16th century castle across the plaza. Prosit, und Fröhe Weihnachten!
Uwe and I spent a recent holiday in southern Spain. My first trip to Andalusia took place when I was barely 17, and the memories that flooded me so many years later are all from deep recesses in my senses.
We traveled by bus between Granada and Córdoba, and later to Sevilla. I didn’t remember a thing about what Sevilla looks like. Memories came back anyway. In Granada they involved spatial proportions; in Córdoba, infinity and water. In Sevilla, my recollections arrived with sound.
We strolled through the lovely Parque de María Luisa to the Plaza de España.
The Plaza was constructed in 1929 when the city of Sevilla hosted the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair. A building façade curves, with lovely tilework depicting each Spanish state. Uwe took photos while I admired the details.
I heard an insistent, rhythmic clacking: a young man with castanets stood in the plaza. Near him a guitarist played as a dancer’s heels pounded out a hypnotic dance.
She was astonishingly poised, with the self-confident grace required of flamenco dancers. Her skirts swirled as she dipped and turned. Her dance in the square the pluck of guitar strings the click clack click clack clack clack clack of castanets…. I was thrust back in a relived moment so deeply entrenched that I cannot tell you when or where it first occurred.
For as long as I recall, flamenco always moves me to the edge of tears. I never understood why until my mother told me that she’d developed a short-lived taste for flamenco guitar music when she was pregnant with me. After I was born the craving promptly disappeared. So do these relived audio memories come from the womb? From that first trip abroad so long ago?
I had my coins out and ready when the dancer came around with a hat. I was surprised to see how young she was under her make-up. She might have been 17… just the age I was when I first visited this beautiful region.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Traditionally, artists reproduce religious murals found on the walls of Bagan’s 1,300 temples.  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.
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.” 
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.