Sunday, 18 November 2007

The kids had their homework out while we traveled to Sevilla, Spain this morning. As we were rushing down a train platform in Madrid to get to our train car (we traveled from Toledo back to Madrid, then on to Sevilla), one of Nate’s math worksheet pages blew from his stack and settled down right beside the train track. Being the feisty math hero I am, I laid down on my belly (have you ever been on a train platform in Madrid? Not so clean.) and was able to retrieve the math page with the tips of my fingers. As I stood up, triumphantly clutching the math page,  I noticed the ring of smokers, smoking their last cigarettes before boarding the train, staring at me. Was it amusement I saw in their eyes? Disgust? Disbelief? I brushed the ashes and black smears off as best I could, flung back my shoulders and hoisted our duffel onto our car. Math heroes get no respect.

We arrived in Sevilla (aka Seville) with completed homework, right down to the last math problem. There were a plethora of taxies and within twenty minutes we were at our hotel, tucked into the downtown area of Sevilla. The streets here are skinny, vans can just barely make it down some of the lanes, their side mirrors just inches from the walls on either side. I like these kinds of towns, it means fewer cars and lots of character. After settling we headed back out with an agenda. We wanted to see the cathedral and perhaps do a self-guided walk through the old town, then a flamenco show that night. The kids revolted.

As we pushed them towards the main square of the cathedral I noticed some horses and carriages. Rick Steve’s recommended taking a carriage ride, so I proposed this to the kids, then we’d do the cathedral and the walk. They were game, so while they played tag around a fountain, Clay located a driver and checked the price. We climbed in and tried to understand what our driver was telling us as we clip-clopped around the town. We weren’t very successful. It didn’t really matter once we got to the park, and the kids saw the playscapes. We knew our fate had been decided, the park looked interesting, it had great climbing trees and two playscapes. Lots of families and kids were frolicking around on their Sunday afternoon, the kids were enchanted. Insistent. We acquiesced. We’ve seen a lot of cathedrals.

As soon as the driver dropped us off, back at the cathedral, we walked to the park and located the first of the two playscapes. On the way we admired the architecture of this city, domes and towers, orange trees, and high palm trees that stretched on their skinny, bare trunks way into the sky. As the kids played, Clay and I chilled. They migrated to another playscape. We found some oranges on the ground and played catch with the ones that weren’t already burst. When we were done the kids had fun hurling the oranges at trees and watching them splatter.

Finished with the park, we headed back to the hotel to get some dinner. We’d do the cathedral tomorrow. On the way we planned to get tickets to a flamenco show for that night, located adjacent to our hotel, but when we got there we saw a sign saying they were closed until the end of November. Bummer. We decided to get tickets at a different place the next night and tucked into dinner at a nearby tapas bar. I realized our agenda for the day: cathedral, self-guided walk, flamenco show, was totally unsuccessful. But, we had played ball with oranges, played tag around a fountain, and we were eating at 6:30, so the day was still a success.

We headed back to the hotel for a mini-Davis church service. We’re doing the fruits of the spirit, and that night it was peace. We asked the kids where they felt the most peaceful. I was thinking about places on the trip, like churches or a museum, or maybe just a hotel room at night. But Nate said something really sweet. He said, “Sometimes, at home, I lay on the trampoline with Kyle and we just talk. That’s peaceful.” We also talked about places that were not peaceful. Subway stations came up a lot. We hope, with a little help from the Holy Spirit, to make even those not-so-peaceful places a little “trampoline with Kyle” experience. I’m sure we’ll get lots of opportunities to practice . . .


Monday, 19 November 2007

This morning we did a little housekeeping, I made a solo trip to a launderia and picked up Harry Potter number five for Nate. You wouldn’t believe this book. The English version paperback is smaller than the American one so it’s almost a thousand pages long, and thicker than a dictionary. We are both really amazed and proud of Nate for reading such long books. They captivate him like no other and give us lots of chances for discussions round the dinner table. It just warms the cockles of my heart to see my kids enjoying a good book.

I came home with clean laundry to find the kids constructing a most amazing lego house. It’s fun to see the different combinations they can come up with using just the few lego blocks we stuffed into a bag for our trip. Alayna had made rooms for two lego people, one was modern with all gray bricks and included a toilet with a round seat and a rotating faucet for the bathroom. Maybe she’ll be an architect someday. She’s going to be something creative, whether it’s a mother or an artist or a teacher or an architect. She’ll bring that creativity to the table.

We eventually got ourselves in sight-seeing gear and headed out. Our first stop was the Macarena Basilica, famous for its weeping Mary (as well as that annoying song). This church was tiny and very ornate, tons of gold everywhere. Mary was at the front, like a full-sized mannequin dressed in a beautiful mantle, five large jewels fixed to the front. These had been given by a famous matador who came to pray for safety. Many matadors come here to pray to their patron saint, and leave their matador costumes out of gratitude, which are displayed in a different room.

Mary had crystal tears running down her face, but we couldn’t really see them from the pews. Benji was concerned, he really wanted to see those tears. After all, we’d come to see the Weeping Mary. We were able to see some post cards in the gift shop later with close ups of her face. It is really very pretty, carved, with tiny tears clinging to her cheeks

In some rooms behind the altar, two extremely ornate floats are displayed. They are paraded through town during the Holy Week of Easter. We thought it appropriate that we were seeing floats so close to Thanksgiving, since they probably won’t be televising the Macy’s Day Parade in Granada (which is where we’ll be Thursday). For the parade one of them has Jesus and a cast of characters that are condemning him to death, and the other holds Mary and baby Jesus, adorned in beautiful clothes. The figures were not on them while they are on display at the church, but we were able to climb some stairs and look down on one from above and see where the screw holes are that they screw the characters into.

Teams of 48 men carry these floats through the city while thousands of people cry and sing and make a big commotion as they pass by. The floats look so heavy, I can’t imagine what it’s like, it resting on your shoulder and you try and peer through the thick velvet, unable to see in front of you but hearing the people on all sides. A pretty incredible experience. I wish they had some sort of video of the parade so we could see what it’s like, but there wasn’t any, so we just had to rely on our imagination.

Next stop was the big Cathedral. The Sevilla Cathedral is the third biggest cathedral in the world, and it was certainly impressive. Unfortunately our first sight upon entering was scaffolding and a large canvas barrier. Apparently it’s so big the columns are cracking and they are in the process of correcting this problem. Further in, we encountered a massive organ with pipes sticking out of the walls on four sides, and slathered in wooden carvings. There was a giant high altar, also carved but covered in gold, and a treasury in one corner that contained the largest pearl in the world, carved into the shape of an angel’s torso. This jewel was the big hit with Nate and Benji, it was how I got them excited about going to the Cathedral. Anything that is the biggest, especially if it’s a jewel, is impressive. Nate still talks about the Crown Jewels that we saw in London. I’m surprised how impressed they are.

We also saw Christopher Columbus’ tomb, an impressive structure. Four larger than life kings (I’m not sure which ones) carry a coffin on their shoulders with poles. On a wall nearby was a floor to soaring ceiling painting of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. I never knew we had a patron saint!

This church was once a Muslim mosque, but the only remaining Muslim thing about it is the bell tower. This tower had no stairs but a sloping ramp, so that horses could bring their riders up it five times a day to give the Muslim call to prayer. The kids loved this ramp, racing ahead so they could hide in one of the window alcoves and jump out to scare everyone. At the top we walked underneath enormous bells, hooked to an elaborate pulley system that could trigger their clappers. We decided to wait around until the top of the hour, four o’clock, hoping for a spectacular bell chorus. Fifteen minutes is a long time to wait around at the top of a bell tower, and when the hour finally arrived, we were disappointed with four loud bongs. We ran around like mad, trying to find the bell that was bonging, but to no avail. Oh well, running down a tower ramp is still fun, and there was more hiding and jumping out and scaring going on as we made our way down.

Benji attracts a lot of attention around here. Everyone from security guards to ice cream vendors pat his head and coo at him in Spanish. He looks up at them with wide eyes, and if he ventures an “Hola” they are even more entranced, gushing all over him. Nate got some stares yesterday, he went on a run with me through the city. He was a great running partner. We ran at least three miles, and he kept my pace the whole time. People would smile at us as we cruised by, it’s not a sight you see every day, an eight year old boy running with his mom. He wasn’t tired, either. That night at dinner we sat outside and he kept pestering us to time him while he ran.

We had to stay up late for our flamenco show that night, which didn’t start until 8pm. The kids were really excited about their “free” drinks, a one drink minimum for the show. Nate and Benji snagged front row seats and sipped their 7-up’s while I tried to keep them from spilling them. Alayna settled in next to Clay and me in the second row, as we awaited the show. It was an intimate theater, maybe ten seats per row, and the first row was so close the adults’ knees touched the side of the stage.

Clay and I have never seen flamenco dancing, the kids certainly hadn’t, and I don’t think it was what any of us expected. The show started with one guitar player, flanked by two men singers. The guitar player strummed a few notes, then one of the men wailed a loud “ai-yay-yai-yoh”, and continued to cry out. Almost like what I imagine a Muslim call to prayer might sound like (we’ll find out soon!)

The other man joined him, sometimes they clapped their hands or shuffled their feet, and eventually a woman in a clingy dress with frills at the bottom descended the stairs at the side of the stage. Her high heels stomped, her hands carefully curled around and around, she spun and slid, and her expression is hard to describe. Like pain, or concentration, very serious, maybe angry? I wouldn’t mess with her.

It was amazing how fast their feet could stomp, their feet got blurry and the clapping was all syncopated in perfect rhythm with the singers and the guitar. There were different dancers, one dance was done with castanets, and one was a man who came out in a gray suit and red boots with long, stringy, curly hair. He looked really cheesy, but man he was good. Check out the video to get an idea what it was like. Benji fell asleep about half way through and Nate got really tired, but we made it to the end of the two hour show. I’m really glad we did it, it was such a cool and thoroughly Spanish experience.


Tuesday, 20 November 2007

More housekeeping this morning, then we set off in the rain. We wanted to see the Alcazar, a palace built in the Moorish style for a Christian king, and the Flamenco Museum. On the way the rain got harder. And harder. Wind tore at our jackets and we had to hold our hoods to keep them on our heads. Our pants were soaked so wet it looked like we had jumped in a swimming pool with our clothes on. People’s umbrellas were turning inside out, we were laughing and running and splashing in puddles and looking for shelter. We found it in the form of two golden arches and we made a dash for it.

The McDonalds staff was probably not too happy to see us and our drippy clothes on their nice clean floor. They were just finishing up mopping and were getting ready to soap the vinyl seats at the tables.  We weren’t the only ones who popped in for shelter. The winds got stronger and people poured in until all the tables were full. We watched the storm out the windows. The trees were blowing like wild, like the films I’ve seen of hurricanes blowing in at the coast. Was this a hurricane? We aren’t that far from the ocean . . .

It eventually died down, though it never totally stopped raining. We stayed as long as we could stand it, eating lunch and quizzing Nate on his times tables. The rain seemed to let up a little and we decided to make a dash to the Alcazar. This turned out to be a really cool palace. I’ve heard the Alhambra in Granada is even bigger, we’ll see in a few days, but this place was really impressive. Tile covered all the walls in crazy geometric patterns, and the plaster was carved into intricate borders along the ceilings. Courtyards and fountains and key-hole arches were everywhere. The tile and thick walls and fountains were meant to keep things cool in the hot Spanish climate. On a day like today, when the rain was pouring off the roof, it seemed almost cozy, even with no furniture.

The gardens of the palace were closed due to the rain, and we decided to head back to the hotel and hope the rain slacked off later so we could see the flamenco museum. We hung our rain jackets on the windows, and our socks from lamps. Alayna and Nate settled in with their books, Clay cracked open a guide book, and Benji is listening to Harry Potter 5 on my iPod while I type our journal. The rain is still falling, our window is open since the wind is blowing the other way and the thunder and lightning only make this dry room feel even better.