Thursday, April 10, 2008


Buenos Dias!

It’s my last day here in Madrid by myself. I fly to Germany this afternoon. I’m a little sad to leave this place as a solo traveler . My friend Andrea will return with me and it will be exciting to share it with her, but I will definitely see things differently. I’ve realized that when exploring on your own, you dig down deep for that strength, confidence, and allow yourself to fully reflect on your thoughts and senses. You value those around you in such a powerful way. When you’re alone in a different place, you search for that common link to others and open your heart to them--regardless of how long you’ve known each other. Our intense need for human contact and connection is so plainly felt and experienced when we don’t have the luxury of moving through the unknown with someone we’re comfortable with. The barriers dissolve. The fortress around you disappears, and it is truly a beautiful thing!

The walls around me had disappeared, and that is when I found an ancient fortress of my own! Traveling by high-speed train, RENFE, I went about 30 minutes south of Madrid to the golden hilltop city of Toledo. Perched over the river Tajo, this city’s skyline has barely changed for three centuries. Before Rome fell, this town (now at around 10,000 people,) was the trading and transportation center. It had a huge Jewish community as well. After Rome fell, the Moors (Muslims) made it a regional center in 711. Then in 1085, the Christian conquered the city but many Moors and Jews remained as respected scholars and craftsmen. During this medieval period, this city of the arts grew strong in its cultural diversity. People of all three faiths lived in peace, and God was known by many names. (Imagine that! What a beautiful idea.) In the 16th century, the unique harmony of Toledo disappeared when the Moors and Jews were expelled, and Spain made Madrid its new capital.

The city is so dramatic. The architecture, the colors, the smells. At the center sits the magnificent cathedral. Holy Toledo! (they think this phrase was coined by the Jews from Toledo who immigrated to the US) I have never seen such a remarkable cathedral. (sorry, not allowed to take photos inside) The Gothic, gold and wood high alter, two massive pipe organs, the archbishops’ massive throne, rich carvings, alabaster relief, frescoes, and my favorite were the hundreds of detailed stained glass windows that adorned the incredibly high domed ceilings. Believe me, my neck was aching! I gazed at them for a few hours, trying to determine the stories they told, reminded of the many ancient methods of storytelling. In the outdoor cloister, I met a guard named Carlos. He took me under his wing, and for the first time this trip, I felt pretty good about my Spanish (I was rustier that I thought, and the accent here is quite different.) Birds sang in the outdoor garden area, their voices echoing off the ancient granite archways. Time stood still. El viento, the wind rushed through the openings of the archways, send its own melancholy, peaceful message. We talked about Spanish music, and then Carlos proceeded to teach me a Spanish dance, the “colpa” right there at the cathedral!

Outside the cathedral, I met a great woman from Peru, Ana Maria. She also was traveling alone (France, Spain, and Italy...lucky her!) so we decided to explore the rest of Toledo together.

The medieval street plan led us round and round the city. The narrow, windy cobblestone roads are filled with pedestrians as well as cars and buses. We had a few tight squeezes to make as we edged are way around corners with buses inches away! Whew. No one got squished, so we were lucky! We visited the home of the famous artist, El Greco—who lived in Toledo for the last 37 years of his life. The Sinagoga de Santa Maria Blanca was absolutely beautiful. An earthy, pure smell swept through the white, Moorish-horseshoe arches. Built as a mosque, but used as a synagogue, church, and stables by Napoleons’ troops during the French invasion. It’s pure, simple nature gave me a deep sense of peace. The San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio was equally beautiful with a grand courtyard and gothic design. We ended our day by eating pizza (and a little marzipan) together in the Plaza de Zocodover as small white, flower-seed blossoms floated down from the trees above us. So nice to share this experience with someone like Ana Maria!

Back in Madrid, we walked the museum (cool, massive art outside the Prado) area together and trekked through Parque del Buen Retiro. As light rain fell, this beautiful, 300-acre pristine park brought much peace to the end of a busy day. I headed over to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia which holds four rooms of Picasso’s work. As I wandered through the rooms, I was once again awed to be in the presence of greatness. Picasso has always been one of my favorites, so I tagged on a tour with a very dynamic guide. Each room depicted a period in Picasso’s life and style—his Blue Period, Cubism, classical, Surrealism. It was thrilling to watch the process of an artist change and grow. And I was reminded again of how these transformations are reflections of the artist’s own emotional growth, as well as symbols of the times. Guernica was by far the highlight. Listening to an expert speak of this humongous painting made it even more enjoyable. The symbolic statement against war hit me in such a profound way. To hear, step-by-step, the brilliance of Picasso´s intentions as we moved through the painting was incredible! It truly has re-inspired me as an artist. Art can bring about change.

After a trip back on the metro, I had a tasty dinner at a local restaurant—tomato salad, pasta con queso, vino Rosado, and sangria! Ate with a new friend, Phillip, who works as a British diplomat. Wonderful conversation about the ways of the world! What a gift to meet people and appreciate perspectives.

I am continually amazed here in Spain by the textures. The textures of the architecture and of the people I have met. It is the wonder and wisdom of all things old and all things new. And the beauty truly lies in the connection in between.

BTW, my luggage arrived yesterday, and I had a little celebration to honor my things!

With paz, amor, y belleza,



P.A.S said...

Hola aventurera,

I am so happy to hear about the wonderful experiences you are having in Spain, la madre patria de I read your blog I found myself roaming the streets of Toledo and admiring the city of Madrid (brings back memories!).

No doubt that the arts bring HUMANITY together...we are unique race with different experiences. Sharing these experiences, encuentros, allows us to reflect, learn and grow.

Thank you so much!

In solidarity,

Tu amiga que te quiere,


Yvonne said...

Wow Lori, how awesome is this experience....I am glad you are on this adventure.

I read a portion of what you wrote to your students yesterday and they were excited. I had a fun class.

Take care and can't wait to hear more! In fact I check every moment I have and get really happy when you have written something.

Lots of love,

CC said...

Hola CC!
Oh I just love reading about your daily adventures! Kudos to you for your bravery and determination in making this trip very special. I truly feel like I am with you as you are exploring the streets of Toledo or spending hours observing the specatular cathedrals and other ancient buildings. Oh I am glad to hear your luggage has been returned to you. Hope you have a safe flight to Germany and then back to Spain. I am looking forward to more stories...
Big hugs & lots of love,