Thursday, November 4, 2010

Days Twenty Three and Four: The Memory of Stone

There is something comforting about train travel. The slow undulations of the carriages, the semi silence of those around you, the knowledge that you’re on a form of transport that for all intents and purposes will get you where you need to go without too much fuss. The gentle rumble of the wheels against the tracks act as a lullaby.

Okay, your 7.15 commuter train from Ringwood to the city doesn’t have this romance about it, but I write this sitting on the long distance train from Madrid to Granada. I’m looking out over olive groves and cypress trees and a desiccated landscape that is not unfamiliar. It is very much like the part of Australia I come from, where grapes and olives bloom and the gentle hills roll about. It’s just as dry as my part of South Australia too, though there is no sign of irrigation and there is no sea to be found. We are in the middle of Spain. There is no sea here.

For centuries, battles have been waged over this land. Ancient armies have conquered and divided this nation. More recently, political battles have taken the edge off this powerful and mighty.

The moonscape before me is haunting. I wonder if greener lands can be found to the North.

Saying goodbye to Toledo this morning was hard, but necessary. I will return. I have more of the streets to walk, places to return to, and other parts to explore. In my two days there I was haunted by the memory of stone. The walls and streets of the city resonate a violent, yet educated past. Place a hand on the columns of the cathedral or synagogoe, or on the wall of the Templars commune and you feel the thoughts and prayers of thousands come into your being.

The chains of the prisoners still hang from external walls in parts. The simplicity of synagogues floor plan barely masks the beauty of the intricate lattice and stonework above – the incantations from the Torah etched for eternity in the eves. God is great. The Lord is my Shepherd. Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I am not afraid. Words that have been uttered for millennia. Words that resonate through every culture. Words that cannot be erased.

Yesterday I managed to redefine bliss. I also tried to get to the bottom of the déjà vu that just would not go away. Turning off my head and turning on my gut, I listened, and listened hard.

The first stop after a necessary round of churros and chocolate (and possibly the worst cup of coffee I’ve had in years – instant would have been better) I made my way to the Cathedral. Unusually, I took the audio tour options, letting somebody else tell about what I was looking at. A great move. Pachelbel’s Canon was playing over the loud speak, interrupted periodically by a message in five languages over the tannoy that photography was strictly prohibited and you risked expulsion and excommunication if caught. For once, this was enforced – and I saw more than one doe-eyed tourist being strong armed out of the joint.

Incredible doesn’t describe the place. A mix of gothic and baroque the enormity of the structure that took nearly 300 years to build does not escape you. The Moorish influences, especially in the Chapter House, are breath taking. Looking up, red blotches appear to hang from thin air. On closer inspection you will see that these are Cardinal’s hats that hang over the resting place of these said men. The hole cut in the ceiling to let the light in over the main alter is inspiring. The museum holds painting from El Greco, Titian and Goya, to name a few. A superb three hours was had.

Lunch was had soon after, taking up Georgy and Thom’s recommendation of this place up on the hill. After a bit of hunting I found the Palacios Restaurant with its 8.50 Euro daily menu. After a kiss and a cuddle from the waiter I entered the dining room. For eight euro you get brilliantly fed. First course, an amazing, traditional stew of white beans and partridge which is served in a bowl that would feed a rugby team. Next course, calamari – there was plenty of choice, but I’d seen the half a huge chicken which was another choice and thought the wiser. What followed was the tenderest calamari I’ve ever had, served with a crisp green salad. This was all washed down with a glass of sangria and postres (dessert) of crème caramel. They feed you good here – it’s a wonderful thing I’m walking for six to seven hours a day to burn it off.

After a final kiss and cuddle from the rather friendly waiter, the next stop, the other synagogue and a couple of churches to check out – including a climb to the top of the tower that overlooks the city, challenging my fear of heights, but well worth it for the views.

The old synagogue proved most interesting. Entering the building I was barraged with another wave of déjà vu. The Kaddish, a Hebrew prayer for the dead started playing in my head. Been here before too. There is something in my spiritual past that has had me in Toledo over and over, whether Templar, Muslim or Jew – or maybe all of the above – the town resonates with me on many levels.

Something not many people outside the Jewish faith know about the Kaddish, this traditional prayer said over the dead. It is a prayer of hope. The words read of continuity and life. God is great. All is as it should be. Trust in life, for this is what life is. (I’m having to do this from memory – no wifi on this train and I can’t google it.) It is a prayer of comfort and grace. It speaks of things positive about the world.

Maybe this is why I had to come here.

My final stop for the day, ice cream. Holidays are about relaxing and having fun, but one must not neglect the diet, and ice cream is the sixth food group as most of us are aware. So finding a sunny square, I find a seller with my favourite flavour – Ron e Pasos (Rum and Raisin), shrugging off my cardigan, placing my back pack at my feet, I watch from my bench as the sun starts to go down behind the hills.

Absolute and utter bliss.

Day’s don’t get much better. Let’s see what Granada brings. I’ve got a Turkish bath at the local hamman booked for early this evening.

Life is really tough at the moment, she grins from ear to ear.

Now if only I could find a way to live over here again, get a European passport and somebody to give me a job as a travel writer – life might just be perfect.



Kath Lockett said...

New career option for you = TRAVEL WRITER. I'd rather read your experiences of travel than anything in the turgid glossies or the Saturday paper.

LOVE THIS: ' In my two days there I was haunted by the memory of stone. The walls and streets of the city resonate a violent, yet educated past. Place a hand on the columns of the cathedral or synagogoe, or on the wall of the Templars commune and you feel the thoughts and prayers of thousands come into your being.'

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pandora,

I totally agree with Kath.

I've written two travelogues - one for China and one for you native Oz and they are great to reread.

This is a fab trip you are on and I reckon it will make a great read.