Sunday, March 29, 2009

Birthplace of Myths

Plazza d'Espana

No wonder Seville is the birthplace of well knowm myths such as Don Juan, Carmen, Figaro (the Barber from Seville). There's something in the lively atmosphere of this vibrant city in the South of Spain that inspires writers, composers, musicians, dancers. It is a city that never sleeps, a late night city.People all over it look cheerful and with a big lust for life. It is said that
the sevillians are accomplished actors, and that this talent is displayed especially at times of festivals. And ,of course, the Flamenco has its origin in Seville.

The red cut bricks of the La Giralda

The town of Seville which is one of the oldest in Spain and the largest in the southern Andalucia region of Spain, has several attractive sites: The Cathedral, one of he biggest in the world, which houses the tomb of Cristhopher Columbus ; The Giralda (the bell tower of the Cathedral), the Alcazar , a palace with spectacular gardens; Plaza d'Espana - a semi circle with buildings that have tiled alcoves on the walls, some beautiful bridges, and a fountain in the center.

pony ride at the Amusement Park

With all the beauty around, what I recall best from Seville, is a small, trivial incident : I entered an amusement park and stopped at the site where children of various ages were riding a pony. Cute kids and cute ponnies as well. It was a lovely scene to look at. The loveliness was interrupted by the screaming of one of the younger kids who refused to get off the pony and demanded another round; his mother was against.

I remembered I had something in my bag that could perhaps solve the crisis . It was a small colorful ball that I had found earlier on the ground near the entrance to the park. I opened my bag, took out the ball and handed it to the screaming child. At that moment, the screaming of another child was heard. It was the child who recognized his lost ball, called his father and pointed in mine direction and in the direction of the ball, now in the hands of the first screaming kid.

I was standing helpless because of language barrier. I turned around and left the spot like a coward leaving the two parents and the two kids to solve the mess. I felt a total Failure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Espagna- Spain, the craddle of Flamenco dancing and guitar playing, Corrida (bullfighting), the inspiring figures of the libertine Don Juan (play) and the gipsy Carmen (opera) , the divine voices of Victoria de Los Angeles and Jose Carreras, unforgettable Eurovision spanish songs, attractive cities and amazing landscapes.

(The title of the post QUE VIVA ESPANA is the name of a spanish Hit song in passadobles rhytm).

When I was a school girl in a little town in north-east Roumania, I knew a very musical family of gipsy descent. All the members of this family could sing, dance, and play the violin and/or the accordion. None of them had any formal musical education, except one of the daughters , Maria, who had won a scholarship to study at the conservatory in the county town, afterwhich she went on to study vocal music at the Music Academy in the capital city, where she eventually graduated as an opera singer.

Needless to say she was the Gem of her family and the pride of her little native town.

As an opera performer, Maria was a constant choice and favourite for the part of Carmen ( the protagonist of Bizet's famous opera) due to her mezzosoprano voice , her looks (dark hair, dark eyes. olive skin), and her flexible and sensuous body. She was a great success in the role of Carmen ( the gipsy from Sevilla) and appeared on stage in many world opera houses.

Well, the trouble with her, was that she could not draw the line between her personal life and her role on the stage.. While on a tour in Spain, performing in the role of Carmen, she decided to stay there and not return to Roumania. She fell in love with a bullfighter (like in the opera's plot) and neglected her career.

After a few years, she came back home, ill and with no money. Her elder and married sister persuaded her to come and stay with her and family in the county town for as long as she needed. I didn't see her anymore, but I heard things about her spanish affair. It appeared that the bullfighter had dumped her and got custody of their child. She tried to fight back, but with no success as the bullfighter had friends in high position. This destroyed her completely. At a certain phase, she felt threatened, wanted to leave Spain and return to her country of origin, but she had trouble with the roumanian communist authorities as she was considered a deserter artist.

The story doesn't have a very happy end , but it ended not so badly considering the circumstances. Maria recovered from her illness, and got a job as a choir girl at the Opera . Moreover , with help and good will from various factors, she succeeded in establishing some connection with her child in Spain.

[My Mom used to say to me and my brother:" Don't go too far from your source". Maria got carried away ,went perhaps too far - away from her family, her country, her career- and she was forced by Fate to learn her lesson the hard way].

Sunday, March 22, 2009

..where the earth ends and the sea begins..

This place is called Cabo da Roca ( Cape Roca) - and it's the very westernmost point of mainland Europe. It's located 18 Km west of the beautiful portuguese region of Sintra , a region with castles and palaces ,wooden hills and vast parks which has won UNESCO heritage status.

Cabo da Roca is a cliff standing out from the Atlantic Ocean. It has a lighthouse, a cafe with a gift shop where one can get an attractive certificate to mark his visit on the rock, and a monument with a plaque bearing the following inscription in portuguese :

"Here..where the land ends and the sea begins (Camoes). Westernmost Point of the European Continent".

It was very windy up there on the day of my visit , and despite the dramatic beauty of the place, I was eager to buy the certificate as a memento and leave as soon as possble, especially as the topic of 'suicide' was brought up by someone among the visitors, and I felt quite bad about it. It was the edge of the cliff , the raging waves of the Atlantic ocean, and the isolation of the place , that triggered the discussion .

My thoughts in those moments, led me to a nurse at our public family clinic in my hometown - a skillful nurse and a kind , smiling person. I was shocked one day to hear the news of her death. It appeared that after being at her husband's grave, she drove her car over a nearby cliff facing the Mediterranean Sea - and that was the end of her.

She was not the depressed sort of woman and she had a lot what to live for. She was blessed with children and grandchildren , and was very appreciated at the clinic where she worked. And yet she felt she could not face life without her husband (a note in her handwriting was found , and that's what it said).

I read somewhere on the Web that suicide occurs when there is "imbalance of pain versus coping resources". Well it seemed indeed that her Pain was much greater than her abilities to cope with it. How tragic !!!

Palace of Pena

The extravagant palace, one of the main landmarks of Sintra municipality, was built on a rock ridge overlooking the town of Sintra. It used to be summer home of portuguese monarchs. The exterior is colorful and has a cyllindric bastion, a clock tower, arches, two gates - a blend of european and arabic style. The view from the palace and its gardens is stunning.

The impressive Palacio da Pena

romantic view of the palace

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Zigzag on the way up

panoramic view from Sao Jorge Castle

I like autumn , but with all its grace and pleasantness it nevertheless has days with grey, cloudy skies which are bad for our mood, bad for panoramic views, and bad for photography ( especially when one uses a very basic camera as I did). Such was my main Sightseeing Day in Lisbon.

Like any other big city , Lisboa has several high places that offer a good panoramic view of the city . The most recommended is the St. George Castle which is on top of the highest of the city's seven hills . The historical castle and its gardens could be reached by bus or tram , but I decided to climb up the hill ,which was no light matter at all.

On the morning of my heading for the castle, I noticed at some point on my track, a young woman walking unsteadily, as in a zigzag . Her shoes appeared to be of a good quality ,with a good solid shape and flat heels, so I suspected she was either under the influence of alcohol, or she had some neurological problem affecting her legs , in which case she should have taken a cane with her for support, or even better, taken the bus. But ,what do I know .

I felt the urge to approach her and give her a hand but something stopped me from doing that; perhaps it was my shyness with strangers or some unpleasant inner feeling about her. Anyway, I walked slowly behind so that I could keep an eye on her in case she stumbled . When we finally reached the top, I addressed her with a smile and said something like "We did it, maybe we should rest for a while " She returned me a smile and said in a somewhat broken English , that she was not tired at all , on the contrary, she felt full of energy ,and ...having said that she just vanished from my sight.

I had a 'crowded' agenda for that day which included visiting places on foot, by bus and by tram, and so I entirely forgot about the lady. In the late afternoon hours, tired and hungry, I entered an eatery and ordered a portion of grilled sardines and a glass of beer. ('Grilled sardines' is a very popular dish in Portugal during the summer months , till the end of October. These are not the canned variety sardines but freshly caught ones, cleaned, brushed with olive oil and grilled on a small charcoal fire for only several minutes each side. It's delicious. One serving has about six sardines and it comes with a small salad and bread, or with some other additions}.

When I lifted my head from the plate, I saw her. What a coincidence, I thought. She was sitting at a table not far from mine. I couldn't see what was on her plate, but I definitely could see a....large bottle of wine near it. And yet, even after this revelation, I was not sure alcohol was behind her zigzag walking that I witnessed in the morning of that day.

on the bus in Lisbon

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Young Girl Putting On The Stocking"

'Young girl putting on the stocking'- that's the name of a fine stone sculpture in the greenhouse of Estufa Fria located in Park Eduardo VII in the heart of the city of Lisbon. Estufa Fria is a botanical garden which houses vegetable species from all over the world, a fish pool, waterfalls, creeks, statues, ponds, exotic plants etc.. It has three main areas (three greenhouses: the hot, the cold and the sweet).

The garden of Estufa Fria
A great attraction in Lisboa:
The nude, the stork , the trees
Exotic plants, shrubs and seeds.

young girl putting on the stocking

Stork in the Estufa Fria

Various plants in the greenhouse

In Portuguese , the name of the naked young woman statue is: 'Menina Calcando a Meia' -'menina' -meaning "girl'. Well, she seemed rather a big girl , in a very sexy posture. Anyway, the statue looked beautiful , and so did the contrast between its light color and the lively color of the greenery around.

The Park , inclusive the greenhouses, is visited by many children. When I was there I scarcely saw any, as it was school hours time. It would have interested me to see their reaction to the nude. And this reminded me of an episode in my hometown - a visit to the house of an acquaintance of mine, a school teacher whose hobby was painting. When I entered the living-room, my eyes caught a painting on the wall representing a woman in nude. "Who painted this"? asked I politely. "Me", came the reply from the school teacher "and if you look closer, you''ll notice that it's Me in the picture. I'm not ashamed to tell you that I like my face, I like my body, and that's the result".

Well, I liked her attitude, and so asked no further questions, although I was curious as to how her two boys and their friends reacted to Mom's nude.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Attractions and "attraction" in Lisbon

Tagus River (Rio Tejo)

The city of Lisbon rests on seven hills overlooking the Tagus river which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In the area of of the river 's right bank there are some famous historical attractions built in honor of portuguese explorers and navigators of the 15&16 centuries : the Monument of the Discoveries (built as the front part of a ship) , the Tower of Belem ( a fortress built to protect the river and guard the entrance to the city) the two-storey Monastery of Jeronimo (where seafarers have prayed before departure to unknown lands) .

Monument to the Discoveries

On the day of my visiting the above mentioned sites, I stopped at an outside cafe for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. While sipping my coffee and enjoying the scenery, two women approached the place looking for a table. The younger woman had no eyes, no orbits. It was a tough sight. All the heads turned in her direction. She could not see the looks , but I was sure she felt them, and she was aware of the fact that in her condition ( and not wearing black sunglasses as she didn't have earflaps either) wherever she goes she immediately becomes an "attraction" .

Two things came to my mind: one that she was probably a victim of the Thalidomide drug for morning sickness , prescribed to pregnant women in the sixties. This drug caused women to give birth to babies with missing limbs and/or various deformities. The other thing was , that ironically, the whole scene at the cafe 'went well' with the fado singing that could be heard in the vicinity ( 'fado'- portuguese sad, soul-tortured songs that could move the audience to tears. The famous portuguese singer Amalia Rodriguez was the most outstanding representative of this music genre).

And then , a third thing crossed my mind : that it is in moments like these that we don't want to resemble movie stars and models; we just want to be ourselves, simple, plain looking people, and with intact organs . It is in moments like these that we thank God for what we have and ask Him to take care and protect those less fortunate people, like the young eyless woman who was sitting at the cafe table in the Belem quarter of Lisbon.

Tower of Belem- facing the river

The balcony of the tower

Monastery of Jeronimo

Friday, March 6, 2009

A night at Vila Real de San Antonio

Ferry crossing the river between VSRA and Ayamonte

Back in the 80's , I was persuaded by a friend of mine , a native speaker of portuguese and spanish, to join him in a mini tour to Lisbon , Madrid, and their immediate surroundings, after which he was to fly to Argentina to visit his ailing mother and me to return home to Israel.

Two days after our arrival in Lisbon, he got an unexpectedly urgent message concerning his mother's condition and was asked to take the plane to Buenos Aires without any delay. I decided, sadly, to go on with the tour without him, and that required some change of itinerary. On the whole it turned out to be a smooth, enjoyable tour except for one very traumatic event.

Here it is:
After several more days in Portugal, I decided to go to Spain for a week , and then return to Portugal for a direct flight back home.
I don't remember exactly why and how that happened, but the fact was I took the wrong train from Lisbon and got off at the wrong frontier point for Spain (it was a border town in the southerneast tip of Portugal), and at a very wrong time- in the late evening hours.

The place looked deserted, the tiny office at the railway station closed, no living soul around .The only sound heard was that of barking dogs coming from what I imagined was a nearby fishermen village on the outskirts of the border town of Vila Real de San Antonio. I headed towards the village to find myself a place for the night. I approached some houses that had the sign 'Pencao' (pension, guest house) , rang the bell, knocked on the door. Nothing. No one would open the door or window to me. They just shouted something like ' it's full', 'no vacant bed' etc..

I was completely in shock. They could have directed me to another pension or helped me in some other way. Afer all , it was dark outside and me just a young female carrying a suitcase. But no. No opening of doors, no attempt to help.

I kept on going and looking for some sign of a hotel or pension ,when suddently I came upon a guy who had the looks and clothes of a respectable middle aged gentleman . I tried to explain to him my situation in the few broken portuguese words that I possessed, and asked for information on accommodation for the night. He was very polite and ...invited me to his house, but before I could even answer with a 'yes' or 'no' to his invitation, his hands were all over me . I panicked and started running back to the railway station. Once there, I found some bench and had myself seated on it . I made up my mind to wait here for the morning. It was cold , I felt tired and sleepy, but I made an effort to stay awake all night, as I had to keep an eye on myself and the suitcase.

I had plenty of time to think about what had just happened to me, and I realized that this was a border town , and as such it had different rules and codes of behavior. There was probably a lot of smuggling and illegal activity going on here on both sides of the river, and people were afraid to open their doors. As for the middle aged "gentleman" - unfortunately, this sort of people trying to take advantage of a person in distress, can be found everywhere.

In the morning , I took my suitcase , glad to leave the area. and started to walk in the direction of the Guadania river. It took me about 15-20 minutes to reach the ferry terminal. Upon arrival at the terminal,, I bought a ticket, showed my passport to the border authority man ,and didn't even once look back to see the place in daylight.

on a bench in Ayamonte (pale, after a sleepless night)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Genius of the human mind

Nature is beautiful everywhere on this Planet. Each of the following categories has its specific beauty: deserts, fiords, glaciars, mountains, forests, lakes, valleys, etc...The great diversity of people inhabiting the planet has also a beauty of its own.

But when I travel I look for the genius of the human mind which displays itself in innumerable ways: channels and bridges that connect seas and lands shortening distances and making transport easier (Corinth Canal in Greece): vast open-air theaters that bring culture to the masses (Epidaurus amphitheater- Greece), fine architecture of public buildings and homes, impressive monuments to glorify heroes of the past (monument of the Discoveries in Lisbon), parks and gardens of rare ingenuity (the Generalife Gardens in Granada) etc...

Europe, considered the craddle of human culture and civilization, has it all over in: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, France, you name it - and from Europe it got to other parts of the globus through european immigration and/or colonialism.

It seems the genius mind can do a lot about Nature ,Science, Music, Art, but little about People. There's still much ignorance, poverty, disease, chaos among people in many parts of the world and, unfortunately, it doesn't look as if this situation is going to change in the future.