Sunday, April 05, 2015

Holy Week in Spain: a religious tradition and tourist spectacle

Our Lady of the Pillar Church, Zaragoza, on the Ebro River
ZARAGOZA, Spain -- For those of you who like anniversary celebrations, this one is the oldest I know of: the 1,975th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of the Pillar to the Apostle James, and it occurred here in Zaragoza in 40 A.D.

James was discouraged about how hard it was to convert to Christianity the residents of what we now call Spain. The Virgin Mary appeared to him on a pillar and encouraged him to keep at it. Which he did. Today there is an amazing Baroque church dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar in the heart of the city.

Holy Week processions

Zaragoza has dozens of cofradías that are known for their drum corps. Each of these groups has hundreds of members who participate in the Holy Week processions and observances. Each has a slightly different rhythm to their playing, but all beat the big bass drums hard.

Each has its own floats depicting religious scenes. Acolytes with censers fill the air with the smell of incense to create a visual, audio, and olfactory experience.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite

In the Gothic Quarter, 1996. Christine is a freshman at Kenyon College. Patrick is 12.
BARCELONA, Spain -- We were here 19 years ago with the whole family, and at that time Cindy pronounced Barcelona her favorite city. She has always loved Art Deco architecture and its Barcelona cousin, Modernisme. Gaudi is its best known practitioner.

Gothic Quarter, same fountain 2015
The Moorish architecture of southern Spain made her think that maybe Barcelona was just a passing fancy. Manchester, England, wooed her with its Victorian brick.

But no. After visiting Barcelona again in March, she said that now she is sure. Barcelona and its curving, vegetable facades, its wrought iron balconies, and its geometric tiles are her favorite. Along the tree-lined streets, artistic touches are everywhere, from the sgraffito plaster facades to the decorative manhole covers.

Actually, Barcelona has a couple thousand years of architecture on display. You can tour large sections of the old Roman city in the City Museum.

The Gothic quarter preserves the cathedral and religious buildings. There are Renaissance palaces converted into schools.

Invasion of the Anglo Saxons

Barcelona made huge upgrades to its transportation systems and tourist facilities for the 1992 Olympics. As a reporter and editor, I did some stories about all of the investment. It has paid off in attracting foreign investment and visitors. In the process, the city has lost some of its charm.

Sgraffito facade. Layers of plaster of different colors create the effect.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pamplona: Lots of running, no bulls

Pamplona is in NE Spain in Basque country. A 1,200-year-old pilgrimage route passes through the city and goes to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of the country. 
The city of 200,000 sits on a plateau, surrounded by hills. 
PAMPLONA, Spain -- After one week we love this place. It has lots of parks, bike paths, cafes and restaurants all within a short walk of our apartment.

On our block are a butcher shop, fruit and vegetable shop, a small general store and a bar or two. A big grocery-department store like a Wal-Mart is two or three blocks away. Cindy likes all the shopping opportunities.

The local people are generally friendly and very polite, although local people tell us that they are more reserved than the people in the South.

We have been running around getting various documents at various government agencies so we can get paid, get health care, etc. The offices are professional and efficient. Not a lot of waiting.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Favorite photos from Christine and Fernando's wedding

Christine Breiner and Fernando Duarte, on their way to the wedding reception in lower Manhattan, July 12, 2014. Photo by Martin Orozco.

They met at MIT several years ago while playing co-ed soccer. He was finishing his doctorate in economics and she was a post-doc in math. He got a job at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York and she got a teaching job at Fordham University in the Bronx.

They wanted to have a simple wedding. No more than 40 guests. No gifts, please. The week before the wedding, activities included a trip to the batting cages, watching the Netherlands-Argentina World Cup match with family (he is from Argentina), a pizza party on the rooftop terrace rather than a rehearsal dinner.

Fernando's parents and sister traveled more than 5,000 miles from Mendoza, Argentina, which is wine country, just a hop over the Andes from Santiago, Chile. (Moscow is closer to New York.) The photographer was Martin Orozco, Fernando's brother-in-law.

The ceremony was at the Anglican Church in the Bowery that Christine attends and where she does volunteer work, St. Mark's. Music was provided by a trio of oboe, piano and bass, and a song from Christine's friend Allison.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A reef dive with sea turtles in Akumal, Mexico

Today I swam with some green sea turtles as big as a table top. There were three of them sort of nuzzling each other on the reef, about 40 feet down, and a couple of remora clung to the shell of one.

These were big adults. They can reach 400 pounds. I swam slowly alongside one of them, an arm's length away. Its yellow and green coloring stood out from the russet and brown corals.

Even at our depth the clear water allowed the noonday sunlight to brighten its coloring. Later I saw some other turtles hiding in crevices in the reef. One was underneath the skeleton of a motorcyle standing on the sand.

Photo from Green sea turtles swim beautifully.

We were only about a half-mile offshore of the town of Akumal, Mexico, about an hour south of Cancun. The town is famous as a nesting ground for loggerhead and green sea turtles. An ecological center uses staff and volunteers to make sure that when female turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, the nests are protected from predators and poachers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

When you say it, it's like magic: Tepotzotlán

Mural inside the town hall (ayuntamiento) of Tepotzotlan shows its Spanish and indigenous roots.
Big chair in the town square.
 Cindy keeps a list of places she wants to visit in Mexico, and there is usually a church involved. This time the church was just a 20-minute cab ride north from us in a town called Tepotzotlan (tay-po-tso-TLAHN).

I find it highly ironic that a young lady of Presbyterian upbringing should find Roman Catholic churches so attractive. But then the Protestants stripped their churches of the excessive adornment common in the 15th century. So it's somewhat new to her.

This particular church was built at the end of the 17th century to honor a co-founder of the Jesuit order of priests, St. Francis Xavier.  This church and this town were a major Jesuit training center in the New World.

The church did turn out to be stunning, but the town itself was charming. It is one of Mexico's so called Magic Towns (pueblos mágicos) and it deserved the designation. A lot of it has been preserved.

In most of these magic towns you get a good feel for how the indigenous culture and Spanish culture mixed while maintaining their separate identities. In the Spanish style town hall, the walls are decorated with murals showing indigenous heroes and historical figures.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How did you learn Spanish? One word at a time

Parade in El Alto in Bolivia, where I worked with newspaper publishers and editors.
When you go to parties, adults of a certain age often express one of two regrets. They wish they had stuck with studying piano. Or they wish they had learned a foreign language.

That may explain how Rosetta Stone booked $265 million in revenues last year offering its language learning products. They have great marketing.

The advertisements I see for various language learning products all suggest that with their special technique, you can learn to speak like a diplomat quickly and painlessly. I don't believe that.

Languages are a passion of mine. And while I find studying languages fun, interesting, and rewarding, I don't think that the learning is easy. Just like learning to play the piano, it takes practice. A lot of practice.