In our blog, you’ll find information about metaphysics and spirituality from Lazaris and Jach, excerpts from Lazaris recordings and interviews, and travelogues from Jach’s adventures around the world.
September 21, 2018. Today was delicious. India finally came alive for me and it was hot and sweaty and exhausting and wonderful. I could feel the juice of India and I could inhale the scent of this land and its people.
We had been in Trivandrum for two days. Our tour group of 17 were packed and lining up to board the bus. We would travel most the morning to our day’s destination. I don’t remember the town. That wasn’t significant. Our destination was the canals that had been all man-made centuries ago. We would board a house boat, three couples per boat, and we would cruise the wide canals as we ate a tradition Kerala cuisine lunch. After lunch we would board smaller boats to tour the narrow canals -- the neighborhood canals -- up close and definitely personal. As the sun set we would have dinner on our house boat and eventually retire to spend the night.
The houseboats were converted rice boats: table, dining chairs, and lounge chairs on the front deck under a thatched roof, three bedrooms, each with its own air conditioner and private bath, and then there was the kitchen for the three-man staff and a chef. We had a sweet afternoon with a delicious lunch.
At 4:30 we boarded our small canal boats and headed into the narrow canals. I first noticed a pile of books with swollen pages, books. lots of them, that had gotten wet. They were spread out on the retaining wall which was made of brick and dried black mud. Then I noticed pillows, couch cushions, and mattresses piled on those crusty mud retaining walls. Oh! I remembered, this area had been flooded about two weeks ago. Our boatman said the water had been chest deep. The water had retreated but the scars were still visible and the sadness was almost palpable. Even in the midst of that tragedy, even as much of the beauty had been flooded and washed away, there were telltale signs of recovery. Laughing children. People greeting each other as they walked the pathways lining the canals.
We returned to our houseboat. We traveled a bit further and then they moored the boat. Dinner was at 7:30. We had planned to play Euchre after dinner but everyone retired to their rooms by 9:45. It had been a full day.
After breakfast on Tuesday morning we disembarked, and we were off again on the bus to the Cochin Airport for our flight to Mumbai. 17 of us and our guides, each with luggage to be checked and with carryon, yet it went elegantly. A bit slow but easy.
Mumbaii didn’t speak to me. It’s the financial capital of India. There are 18 million, that 18,000,000 people in the city. Over 7 million of them ride the metro system each day. It’s big, it’s sprawling, and the traffic is insane. As we were inching along in bumper to bumper traffic midday on a Tuesday, I thought this insane traffic is just like the traffic in Colombia. The drivers are crazy wild yet they never collide with each other. There are shockingly few traffic lights or stop signs. It’s a free for all. And then add the swarming motorcycles and motorbikes. Like cockroaches, they scurry in between cars doing everything they can to get to the head of the line of traffic. On a mission to nowhere.
I realized, I am still in my safe place. This crazy traffic is so familiar, so comfortable, and it so at home in Colombia. I also realized that it’s much harder to get outside my safe place than I thought it would be. We stayed at a beautiful hotel in Mumbai -- Taj Land’s End -- even so, I didn’t feel I had touched India yet.
We flew to Udaipur on Thursday morning after two nights in Mumbai. We are staying at The Taj Lake Palace Hotel, and it’s one of the most elegant hotel I’ve encountered. It’s a beautiful hotel in the middle of a manmade lake in a region of manmade lakes. It’s beautiful and elegant, but mostly it is the impeccable service that we are receiving that makes this place special. But no matter who grand the hotel is, it was are very busy day today that has awakened my passion.
We went into the city and headed for a tour of the Palace, the Crystal Palace, and then to the Monsoon Palace that sits perched high above the city. All of that was really wonderful, but for me it was the walk down a street lined in small shops with vendors trying to lure you into their place that was alive and wonderful. Groups of locals standing around talking about their day, beggars quietly asking for money, people just living their daily lives. A boy, five maybe six years old, was struggling to push a rickety wheelchair with an obviously crippled old woman. Shriveled body, crippled crumpled legs, arthritic fingers. He was opening and closing his hand asking for money, screaming at me without uttering a sound. We walked to the Hindu Temple which was alive with music and chanting and dancing. It was enchanting. As we walked up the countless number of very steep steps, there were two very young boys sitting on the side. Their hands were opening and closing. I recognized the language. One had to be only 5 and the other couldn’t have been more than 3. On the other side of the steps an ancient man cradling an infant sat silently quietly blessing anyone who gave him money. The smallest gift -- $10 in India rupee (14 cents USD) was appreciated. It was painful and it was beautiful. I didn’t “love it,” but I thrived on feeling it.
India came alive today. Maybe I came alive today. I definitely stepped outside my safe place.
September 18, 2018.If it weren’t for all the electronic equipment, entering the Trivandrum Airport would have been akin to stepping back into a simpler time, a more comfortable time. It was balmy hot but 30 degrees cooler than Dubai. The breeze was soft but yet springtime sweet even though Fall is approaching. We had to stop to finalize our e-visa which we had purchased online months ago. It was fast and simple. Luggage came and we were out the door.
We traveled to Dubai with friends. In India our friends and we joined a small tour of 14 other people. Some from the States, but most are from Canada. By 2:00 p.m. we were checked into the Taj Green Cove Resort in Trivandrum, India. It close to the lower tip of India, on the west coast on the Arabian Sea.
First impression: it felt a bit like Bali and a bit like Colombia to me. Lush green, an abundance of Palm Trees. Hot, muggy yet balmy and delightfully inviting. The multicolored building -- bright pink, turquoise, lime green, and drab white or beige -- were made of concrete block with flat roofs and stucco finishing. Litter -- plastic bottles, scraps of paper, miscellaneous junk -- everywhere. The stucco was stained by age, mold and mildew, or neglect. Ugly and beautiful in the same moment. Yet even the ugliness seemed to have a certain undefinable stature. As we bounced along on the bus from the airport to our hotel, I thought about how my first impressions of India were a mix of Bali and Colombia. It’s a mix of my past, of places I’ve been to and of places with which I am familiar, comfortable, and safe. I am begin this quest for “my safe place,” which is in the mix of the past, even in the seduction of the past, and it’s time to break free. So I will step beyond my safe place, but first I will acclimate here -- here in Trivandrum. From here, I don’t know but I realize that i am seeking a new kind of freedom. Freedom to become other than who I’ve been. Yes, this trip is going to be significant.
We arrived at Taj Green Cove Resort. Off the main road, along a short open road, we quickly came to the gates of an elegant resort. The sweeping wood floors and the lobby without walls, the local juice drinks as we waited to register, and the golf carts eager to escort us to our rooms, yes the resonance of Bali thrives everywhere here.
It’s a unwind and recover from jet lag day. However, having flown in for Dubai, it was just an unwind day in my ‘“safe place.” Down the cobblestone pathway we reached our room, a cozy cabin with a balcony looking out over the lush foliage that crowded the view.
On our second full day in the Middle East (Thursday), we took a tour to Abu Dhabi. The drive across the desert was uneventful. What stood out was the vastness of the desert. Baron. Lifeless. However, when we enter the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, there were green trees lining the highway. More life amid the vastness. As we approached the city, it seemed to all of us, that the resonance was very different here. Our tour guide explained that Abu Dhabi, the largest Emirates among the seven Emirates still has a massive supply of oil so it’s development remained “local” while Dubai’s development became foreign. There is a clear sense that Abu Dhabi has mainly local residents -- Emirati. However, currently Abu Dhabi is following Dubai’s map and tourism is on the rise. And again, the biggest, the best, the first are the key words.
We had lunch at the Emirates Palace Hotel. It was built in 2002 and it was the most expensive hotel ever built. The room rates more or less begin at $1,000.00 USD per day and can reach $25,000.00 to $30,000.00 USD per day. Insane. But the buffet lunch that caters to tourists was delicious.
We then went to the Grand Mosque. It truly is grand and majestic. Powerful. The white marble with its floral inlaid design and the jeweled chandeliers, made the Mosque so light with such radiant beauty. It was stunning. Breathtaking. It’s grandeur captured the light of spirit and the religious experience transcends organized religion. It was a divine place regardless of what name you give divinity.
It happens to be the 7th largest Mosque in the world. The first and second largest ones are in Mecca. It also has the largest hand woven rug in the world; over 1000 people worked on it. I couldn’t help but thinking of the Lemuria women working weaving magic at a Lemurian Festival. Such magic still unfolds. The Mosque however is new. It was built in 2007.
Enrique and I had seen Mosques in the Andalusian region of Spain when we were there last March-April. They are build of regional stone and mostly in the Gothic style. Dark. Closed in. But not gloomy. They were also majestic in a different way. They were also rich with history and with tradition. They were build for the purpose of worship and to express gratitude. There was the sense of divinity and that sense was mixed with something that I call regal. I think I appreciated the depth of those Mosques more than the radiant light of the Grand Mosque.
We returned to Dubai, took a nap, and then headed out to dinner at the At.Mosphere Restaurant in the Burja Khalifa. It is the tallest building in the world and on the 123rd floor there is a fabulous restaurant with amazing views of the Dubai. We had a window table. We sat down to dinner at 9:15 and after an elegant evening we left the restaurant close to 1:00 a.m. Our waiter, Bruno from Croatia -- 80% of the people in Dubai are expats – was amazing. We won’t forget his name nor the quality of the service. This dinner was one of the highlights of our time in Dubai.
Friday was our quiet do-nothing day. We did nothing. It was too hot –114 degrees. We packed and got ready to go the airport. Our flight from Dubai to Trivandrum, India left at 2:50 a.m. (early Saturday morning). We would arrive in India at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, September 15.
So we said goodbye to Dubai. I am glad we stopped for a few days. Had never been and I wanted to see and to feel the place. However, I wouldn’t return. It feels too man-made with too little green. It’s progressive and inventive, innovative, even, but it’s not a place that I would like to vacation. So, goodbye.
More to follow.
I love olives! I didn’t used to. As a kid I hated olives, especially green ones. In almost every restaurant, almost as soon as you sit down, they serve green olives along with various types of bread and olive oil. As we were sitting in a charming little restaurant in Córdoba, I turned to Enrique and said, “I love olives!” as though it were a discovery.
We left Granada Monday morning and drove to Córdoba, stayed for two nights, and then moved on to Toledo. Both cities with their old towns and historic districts are enchanting and charming. Each has a renowned Cathedral, a rich Islamic heritage, a Jewish section characterized by remains of Synagoges and narrow maze-like streets, and clear evidences of the conquering Christians. In each city, once we arrived we “hit the streets” exploring as much as we could in the afternoon and evening. On the next day, our full day, we were up and out in good order and continued absorbing each of these amazing cities.
Córdoba is vibrant and sizzling with energy. It is renowned as a beautiful city and for its annual Festival of Patios in May. Each year the homeowners open their homes (their patios) for tourists to see. They compete for prizes but mostly it’s the joy of sharing the beauty they have nurtured. Part of its beauty is its amazing history. Our hotel was on such a narrow street, we had to walk in for several blocks. The hotel, with its nine rooms, was built on a Roman foundation. Across the street, about 4 feet away, was a house that is now a museum that was once a royal home in the 15th Century (Islamic time) and a prison. The street’s name is Calle de Cabezas (Street of Heads) because according to legend, the seven children of the one prisoner were beheaded and their heads were hung on display. Córdoba is rich with history and it has an incredible Mosque-Cathedral. I could not fathom the vastness and the richness. I cannot describe it.
Toledo, built on a bluff at the edge of a river, is beautiful and there is an elegance here that is hard to describe but easy to relish. We walked and walked and walked some more. Thursday, we began our day with a visit to the Cathedral. We planned a short visit because we’ve visited many Cathedrals, right? Well this one, like each of the others, was special. The recorded tour was also the best of all the recorded tours we taken. We spent 4 hours in the Cathedral.
Then we moved on to the El Greco Museum. I learned a lot. One thing, El Greco, who spend much of his life in Toledo, was not Spanish. He was born on Crete. He was Greek, thus El Greco. In Italy he studied in Venice developing his unique expressions of color, and in Florence with Michelangelo developing his techniques of space and depth. In Italy he was called an artist; in Spain, an artisan, and not respected nor paid well. When he died, his art was lost and not revived until the 19th and 20th Centuries. The museum was small but wonderful. Great afternoon.
Yesterday we were on our feet for nearly 10 hours. Just as I was ready to call it quits and go back to the hotel, we’d round a corner and something else beckoned us on. Finally we stopped for dinner in a small Arabian restaurant. The waiter was Syrian. From Aleppo. In Spain -- Toledo -- for two years. Learned his Spanish on the streets. Yes, there is an elegance here woven into the beauty.
Today, Friday, we pack up, drive back to Madrid, and fly to Barcelona. What an amazing three weeks, three weeks to the day, it has been.
I don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, a rush of energy and tears were flowing down my face. I was laughing. I was overwhelmed with caring and compassion for humankind.
Saturday was Cathedral, museum, and Procession Day in Granada. We skipped breakfast, walked out of the Parador de Granada Hotel at 11:00, and caught the bus down from Alhambra to the Plaza Nueva. From there we walked the side streets toward the Cathedral, and stopped at a tiny pizzeria for a slice – breakfast. We continued along what seemed an alleyway that was lined with little restaurants, bars, and cafés. We rounded a bend, and there was the Cathedral. Grand. Looming, but not majestic. It took more than 180 years to build, and its architecture expresses three different styles. It’s bell tower is shorter than it had been planned – cut off – because the foundation of the building was Gothic while the bell tower was Renaissance. A Gothic foundation couldn’t support the weight of a Renaissance tower.
We waited in line for tickets and marveled at the human statues standing so still waiting for tourists to give them change in exchange for a photo. There was one that I thought really was a bronze statue until Enrique pointed out he was looking at, not a book as I had first thought, but at an iPhone. I gave the guy a big tip for his creativity and got a photograph.
We did the Cathedral tour; I wasn’t impressed although it’s a really significant Cathedral. Second largest (next to the Cathedral in Sevilla) in Spain and it has the authentic tomb of the Catholic Monarchs and the remains of three other Royals, one of which was Michael who would have been king of both Spain and Portugal except he died at age two. His was the small coffin at the side of the tomb.
From the Cathedral we walked to a museum of the Inquisition in Spain, and specifically in Granada. It was fascinating and disappointing. Fascinating because it had a collection of torture devices used in the Inquisition along with vivid descriptions. I was amazed at how sexually “erotic” so many of the tortures were: The prisoner was strapped naked on this device or naked to that device or placed naked in a cage in the public square for all to see. Anal and vaginal probes were used as well as nipple clamps for men as well as for women, and hot pokers were prevalent. These uptight, prudish, and “pure men of Christ” played out their dark sexual fantasies. Reminds me of the pious evangelist who is having an extramarital affair or the Pro-Life zealot who encouraged his mistress to have an abortion. Hypocrisy is timeless I guess.
The museum also had a section about the Jewish population of Granada and how they were persecuted during the Inquisition. For many the Inquisition was inspired as a way to rid Granada of its Jewish population and to punish those Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Ironically, they were considered heretics and had to confess their sins. Their punishment? Often death, but for sure the confiscation of their property and their wealth. Amazing. But I was disappointed because the information around the Inquisition and the Jews was very limited and pretty superficial.
We kept watching the time, well, I kept watching the time, because at 5:00 one of the most famous and beautiful processions – the “Maria, Virgin of Alhambra” Procession – was scheduled to begin. A Procession is a parade with usually two bands and with church participants, many in colorful costumes, and carrying religious symbols and artifacts. Lots of candles and robed men and women. Children too. The focus of the processions is to carry the religious float-statue from the church to the Cathedral. I say float-statue because I don’t have the proper words. It’s a huge life-like statue depicting a scene in Christ’s life especially around the crucifixion and resurrection. Easter. There are often two or more figures on a float, countless candles, other elaborate gold or silver ornaments, and lots of flowers. These statue-floats weight 2,000 to 3,000 pounds.
In this procession on Easter Saturday, it’s two statues – Mary overcome with sorrow as she holds a crucified Jesus. The statues, as with so many others in other processions, were crafted in the 1700s and have been carried to the Cathedral for what seems forever. This procession begins when they open the church in Alhambra. The marching band plays and the participants take their places as the Stevedores (they are the young men who carry the float-statue on their shoulders, Stevedores, that’s what they’re called) leave the church and begin their march to descend through the Gate of Justice, down the switchback narrow roadway, and then on to the Cathedral.
It was 4:00 and we hadn’t eaten since our slice of pizza in the morning. We ducked into a side alley and found a delightful little restaurant for a fast lunch. 4:30, we returned to the street and began walking up to get close to the beginning point of the procession. The procession should begin at 5:00 and it should arrive at the Cathedral at 9:00 -- four hours later -- to travel a distance that would take 30 minutes to walk. The street was filling up as we continued to climb the street to get closer to Alhambra. Finally we found a place and we sat on the stoney curb to wait. It was 5:00. We hear the band playing.
5:45 -- “Hey, it’s Colombia ... no it’s Spain!” The procession finally began. Now I have no particular affiliation with the Catholic Church, and I am not particularly enamored with other expressions of the Christian religion or with any religion. Religious experiences and a personal relationship with God/Goddess/All That Is and with my Soul? Yes. So I am curious and I am enjoying the procession. Many of the marchers wear pointed hoods. They were hoods used by knights in the medieval times. They looked akin to Ku Klux Klan hoods. Spooky. Or like dunce caps. Funny. Others are obviously church dignitaries and elders. They march very slowly, and they stop frequently. The Stevedores are carrying lots of weight, and they have to stop and rest regularly. Suddenly everything stops. No movement for 10, 15, 20 minutes. What’s wrong? People moved into the street to look. Nothing.
Suddenly movement again. Applause begins flowing down the street ahead of the approaching float. The Stevedores, carrying 2,500 pounds on their shoulders, had to kneel down and walk on their knees for 30 feet or more to get the statue through the Gate of Justice! On their knees! A stoney path for 30 feet! On their knees! OMG. Devotion. Responsibility (returning to their promises to God). Stunning.
The statue came along. The statue of Mary in her sorrow was amazing. Without warning tears streamed down my face and I was laughing with joy. Not for the church, but for the honor and responsibility of the Stevedores and joy and caring and compassion for humankind and humanity. It wasn’t about religion, it was about a religious – a re-aligning – experience that transcends form.
I thought I would include a photo of the float-statue, but I didn't. My photographs didn't capture the richness or the beauty. It fell far short of the reality. So no photo.
I came away with understanding beyond accessing, with understanding that involves inference, appreciation, and valuing valuation. These processions have value historically and ritualistically for people of the Catholic faith, but I think they can have value for so many more and for so many other reasons -– reason other than the obvious.
For me, Saturday and the procession was unforgettable and it was life shifting and life changing. More than memorable. Magical.
A palace, a fortress, a walled community, a self-sustained village, Alhambra was all of this and more. Now a World Heritage Site, Alhambra began as a Sultan’s summer home and governmental palace as well as his homage to Paradise. It was also a strong hold of Muslim power in the Iberian Peninsula for 12 Sultan before the Christian Conquest by the Christian Monarchs, King Ferdinand, along with Queen Isabella, in 1492. The Monarchs worked to preserve and enhance the palace and summer home. They also added to the grounds with their own buildings. Carlos V also worked to preserve the beauty as well as the integrity of Alhambra. He also added his own palace with the ancient walls as a honeymoon gift to his bride, Isabella (a different Isabella). However his palace was never finished and never occupied. It remains unfinished now.
Wednesday: We arrived in Granada mid-afternoon, and after a few wrong turns even with our GPS guide, we found our way to the Parador de San Francisco -- the Parador de Granada. We chose this hotel because it is within the grounds of Alhambra, a plateau in the heart of the city. Of the Paradores we’ve visited, it is the most elegant. It was once a monastery built on the orders of the Catholic Monarchs, where there was once a Muslim palace; remnants of the palace remain. Muslim and Christian architecture are intermingled, and the hotel, with its grand interior courtyard, is now totally refurbished and remodeled with an additional “new section.” Now it’s one of the exclusive hotels in Granada. Our room with a view is in the old section. The hotel is a bit of paradise in its own way.
Before sunset we walked down to the city. Out the Gate of Justice and down a very steep hill, we reached another gate to the city of Granada. The narrow street was lined with shops and small cafés and busy with tourists walking up and down. We continued walking down and arrived at the Plaza Nueva (the New Plaza). We explored a bit and found an outdoor café for tapas and Sangria. As night surrounded us, we could hear the percussion of a distant Easter Procession. In time, we hailed a cab to drive us back to Alhambra. Because of all the Easter Processions during this week, he had to take the long way around. It took 30 minutes to walk down and another 30 minutes to drive back.
Thursday: Yesterday afternoon, we had scheduled a private tour -- the only way to enjoy the rich history of Alhambra --for today. We met our guide, Maria, in the hotel lobby at 2:00. Since our hotel is within the walls of Alhambra, we had a short walk to the vast formal gardens so characteristic of the Muslim style and sensibility. Sculpted shrubbery with low bubbling fountains and water canals embedded in the tile floors create a mystical ambiance of tranquility and peace -- exhilaration and serenity spontaneously. The summer houses and the palace were resoundingly reflective of the Moor and Arabic expressions of beauty. The courtyards held visions of glorious serenity and of peaceful yearnings for the unfathomable of the divine. The words I write are not enough but they are the best I have to describe the wonder of Alhambra.
Our three hour tour lasted 4 hours. Maria, our guide, was gracious and so eager to answer all our questions. She was a sweetheart. The tour was in English, but she was delighted that Enrique spoke Spanish. That reality enhanced our private tour.
A full and fulfilling day was even more. Enriching. Enchanting. Alhambra is almost overwhelming. The beauty of the Muslim art is astounding. The precision, the attention to detail, the symbolism, and the vision all augment the richness of color and light and wonder. Room after room, courtyard after courtyard, fountain after fountain, it is unending.
There is so much that I could say about Alhambra but the thing that stood out for me was how the Muslims and the Sultans created enchanting beauty and the Christians worked to maintain and to enhance that beauty. Even as they destroyed mosques to build their own churches, they didn’t destroy Alhambra. Again the realization: Beauty is eternal. It speaks to our soul and to wherever is divine in each of us, and it speaks throughout the Ages.
Thursday was full. We were fulfilled. Granada is an amazing city. A triumph of beauty.
Five days of enchantment. I don’t know how else to describe the last five days after leaving Sevilla. We visited three “Pueblos Blancos” in the Andalucía region. Each village nestled in the foothills dates back to at least 400 A.D., the Roman times. Maybe earlier. Narrow cobbled streets, all of them either ascending or descending, are lined with small houses and in the mix there are now apartments or offices or stores.
We arrived in Arcos de la Frontera (Arches of the Frontier) so named because during the Christian conquests, it was at the border, the frontier, of the battles to conquer the Moors and to push the Muslims out of the Iberian Peninsula. We weaved our way through too narrow streets following the GPS voice as we tried to find our hotel. We came to an arched tunnel. Enrique stopped unsure if he could drive through. We folded in the mirrors, turned off the radio, and didn’t speak as if silence would make our car narrower or the tunnel wider. Creeping through and then a sharp right turn and up a steep incline and there were were at the plateau atop the village, and our hotel, the Parador de Arcos de la Frontera. A sigh of relief.
It was a rainy afternoon but we went walking anyway, and we found a lovely hole in the wall restaurant bar, Taberna de Los Jovenes Flamencos, the Tavern of the Young Flamencos. The service was charming and the food was incredible. We were there for nearly three hours. The drizzle stopped and we made our way up the hill to home, in the morning we continued our exploration before leaving for our second stop.
Grazalema is the tiniest of the towns we visited. High in the foothills, it is the most remote of the three villages. We stayed two nights in a small Bed & Breakfast. We found it by accident as we tried to follow the GPS voice which was directing us the wrong way on one way streets. Suddenly there was a sign and an arrow: half way down a street no wider than 5 feet we saw the open door to La Meyorana! High in the foothills, it was cold and drizzly when we arrived and it rained hard the entire next day. We stayed in.
Glorious sunshine and warming breezes greeted us Sunday morning. We explored Grazalema for half the day before leaving for Ronda. On our way, we spontaneously turned off the road and headed toward Zahara de la Sierra, another White Village. As we drove around a huge lake and then up into the hills to the town, we noticed an ancient tower high above the town.
“I’m not walking up there.,” I said as Enrique parked the car.
We walked the village streets, stopped in the main church, marveled at how elaborate it was for such a small out of the way village, and walked on. As we approached the path that would eventually lead to the tower, I could see it in his eyes and I could see the yearning in his body language. Okay, I would climb the ramps and steps to the tower, but I get points.
Over 200 steps. Yes, I tend to always count steps. As strenuous as it was to walk up, it was more difficult to walk back down. The ancient stones, worn from centuries of walking, were slippery even on this sunny dry day. We stopped for lunch before getting on the road again.
Ronda is the largest of the three villages and the oldest dating back to 300 or 400 B.C. It is also distinguished because of a grand gorge that runs through it. The gorge is breathtaking. Incredible. We visited an estate currently being restored: Casa del Rey Moro -- House of the Moorish King. In the Arabic gardens, there’s a doorway, more like a portal, that descends to the base of the gorge. Yes, we walked down the spiraling stone steps, wet with condensation. 230 steps down and we were at water’s edge. Beautiful descent. Beautiful destination. Lots of photos. The return was arduous. OMG.
I kept telling myself: “Michelle did it; I can do it.”
At the entrance to the Casa, there were photographs of Michelle Obama’s visit, along with their daughters, to Ronda and to the Casa and to the Cave.
Ronda was a Roman city, then a city of the Moors, and then a city conquered by the Catholic Monarchs. In the 1800s into the 1900s it was a city of poets and writers, now it’s a thriving tourist city and it’s rich with enchantment. We were there Monday and Tuesday, and we could have stayed on for several more day, but Granada was calling.
There is a powerful sense of peace in the White Villages. The rolling hills covered in brilliant yellows of mustard plants and stunning greens of newly sprouting wheat, and dotted with olive trees and strewn with boulders left over from the prehistoric glacier age, create a bold backdrop for the scattering of white houses with red tiled roofs. There is something ageless, perhaps eternal, and it touches you. Well, it touched us. As we drove along we would spontaneously look at each other and smile, or I’d reach out or Enrique would reach out and we clasp hands. No words. We just knew.
Each village was different -- different energy, different character, different level of awareness, each with a strong sense of integrity -- even though they look alike. The tourists were there, mostly from England or France or Germany. Few Americans. But the locals were there, too. Strong, present, unyielding. These were their villages, their homes, and they were willing to share them. For a while. We were in the region for five days visiting three, no four, White Villages. Then it was time to move on, but I suspect we will be back someday. I think our souls will call us to return. For now, it is on to Granada.
“I love this city!” Those were my first words at the welcome dinner, Sunday, April 8. And it’s true. There is magic in the air in this city. Most large cities that are growing and changing, tend to have an aliveness within the hustle and bustle of city life. They have a dynamism that can be exhilarating or exhausting. I suppose Barcelona has that, but there is something else, something special, unique to its hustle and to its aliveness. There’s a freshness here, an eagerness, and a buzz. Barcelona is a juicy, passionate city, and I love it. Probably my most favorite city: Barcelona.
Enrique and I had arrived on Friday, April 6; a few others had already been in Barcelona or Spain for several days, but we all gathered for the Welcome Dinner at Hotel 1898 Sunday evening. Following an elegant buffet, I made my opening remarks and Lazaris welcomed us all. It was immediately clear: This was going to be an amazing vision quest for each of us and for all of us. Well, all the Lazaris workshops are amazing, but this one will be even more so. I could feel the excitement as people said goodnight and made their way to their rooms. The energy was exalted.
We spent two full days in Barcelona. One day was complete with an excursion: The morning within the exquisitely beauty of Sagrada Familia. I feel it is the most beautiful building, temple, structure in the world. We had a terrific tour guide and also plenty of time to explore on our own or to just be with the beauty. Throngs of tourists, of course, but once you are inside, the beauty is so immense and so intense and so sacred that all the milling people and the din of whispering tourists disappear. I felt delightfully alone in the presence of my soul and suspended in a timeless moment in the sacred beauty that was everywhere. Vast. Mighty. Majestic. I suspect others felt the same. Oh, and the light, oh my, the rainbow of light – luminous colors moving with the movement of the sun – was utterly breathtaking. I could have spent the full day there. I will be back.
We moved on to a classic Spanish lunch. We sat down at 1:30 and ate and talked and drank some wine and talked and laughed and finally pushed back from the table. It was almost 4:00. Satisfied. Full. Determined to “never eat again” or at least until the next opportunity. Tapas anyone? Our excursion continued with a walking tour of the Gothic section of Barcelona. Our evening was free as was the other day in the city, free to explore, free to drink in the marvel, the wonder, and the magic.
It was a drizzly morning when all 95 of us gathered in the lobby. We boarded the buses, arrived at the airport, unloaded the luggage, raced to the group check-in counter, and finally boarded the place for Bilboa, in the heart of the Basque country in northeastern Spain. Back on a bus we rode through the enchanting countryside to San Sebastian. A beautiful drive. Our excitement grew as we passed small villages in the valleys and snapped photos of the wooded mountains and the many waterfalls. The greens were stunning. The richness of the land was grand. We arrived at our hotel in San Sebastian. Registration? Fast and easy. Our luggage? Either it was right there or one of the porters delivered it to our rooms. At 6:30 we were off to an enchanting restaurant for a buffet of typical Basque food. Our excitement grew as were already were basking in the wonder and beauty of this amazing place. Wow. Too simple a word, but an appropriate one.
One major ingredient in all meals in the Catalania and the Basque area, and perhaps in all of Spain, is conversation. It was a lively ingredient of our first evening meal in San Sebastian. Throughout our time here, I noticed that so many of the Pinxtos Bars and Cafes were overflowing with locals, groups of men or men and woman, eating Pintxos and lost in boisterous conversations peppered with laughter. The volume is as intense as the energy but it’s all fun and wonderful. You just join in and become a part of the community and create your own conversations with friends or strangers newly met. It all feels like a celebration of life. It sizzles here in San Sebastian.
The workshop got underway Friday morning but this vision quest began on that Sunday nearly a week before in Barcelona. It was in full swing Sunday, and continued Monday morning and for a full day Tuesday. Tuesday evening we said farewell (fare well) to many who were here only for week one. Wednesday evening we welcomed another group, and the wonder and the magic and the fun continued for another nine days. The first week we worked with the triumph of our personal freedom. The second week we worked with embracing the unfathomable. Each week was breathtaking and stunning. Each week was a pivotale watershed of growing and changing. I would like to say more, but I can’t. The entire experience reach for and touched the unfathomable.
Tomorrow we all make our way back to Barcelona for three nights. The journey continues as the circle ends where it began. Amazing. There are no adequate words.
Yes, I am loving it. We are all loving it.
419 steps. That’s what I figured. There were ramps not actual steps, but I took 12 steps for each inclining ramp, and there were 34 of them. 34 up, up, and more up. At the end, just when I thought I was done, there were 17 stair steps, steep stair steps, to the top of the tower. The views ... there was all of Sevilla. In all directions historic center, old city, new city, expanding city, the river that once was the gateway to the sea, a once thriving trade capital for the Iberian Peninsula and for all of Europe, and now still a growing city finding its new identity. Sevilla. Yes, it was worth the climb.
We had left Madrid Tuesday morning, and we had driven nearly 6 hours to arrive at our hotel in Sevilla, a grand city that is still the capital of the Andalucía region here in Spain. Our hotel, an actual palace in the 1700s, had been restored, refurbished, and transformed into a boutique hotel close to the historic center of Sevilla.
After we checked in, it was early enough to go exploring so off we went. We walked for nearly 2 hours and finally stopped at a delightful restaurant advertising tapas and wine. It was Michelin rated and the food was excellent. It was after 10:00 when we walked out into the cool crisp night air. A sliver moon over head and we were content. Fulfilled. We turned on the GPS on the iPhone and began our journey back to the hotel. Twisting and turning through the charming tiny streets, past tiny tapas bars and hidden courtyards, and soon we realized we were lost. The GPS voice kept talking but the directions made less and less sense and apparently we were getting further and further away from our hotel. When the GPS said we had 2 more kilometers to go, Enrique hailed a taxi. Our driver laughed and told us that it was impossible to find our hotel with Google Maps. I think he was just being polite. He drove us through a maze of alleyways and in roughly 2 kilometers we were home.
Wednesday: We walked the old town and spent the afternoon at Real Alcázar, the major Moorish and then Catholic palace that is still the Sevilla residence for the current royal family. The palace is breathtakingly beautiful with strong Moorish influences that remain from it inception and that were enhanced in the 15th Century, mainly by Charles V and Isabella, and again in the 16th and 17th Centuries by the Catholic Kings. I came away amazed and sad.
Amazed at the beauty of the Moorish and Muslim traditions expressed in the Royal Alcázar Palace. There was such a sense and respect for the romance of life and such a respect and honoring of beauty. The geometric elegance and excellence were fascinating and mesmerizing. I stood in this room and that one -- rooms meticulously measured and designed and adorned with intricate precise tile patterns or mosaics -- and just took in as much as I could. Almost overwhelmed.
Such beauty, such mysticism, such science, such mastery. My eyes often blurred with tears. “Beauty is eternal.” I remembered.
I also came away sad because of what has happened to that richness and that honoring of humanity and humankind that was so profoundly woven into that tradition. Ignorance, a lack of understanding, along with bigotry, anger, hate, and revenge have ravaged so much of human goodness and truth. I also walked away remembering. “Goodness and Truth shall prevail, and Beauty is eternal.” It’s important to remember. There’s magic in remembering.
Thursday: We spent much of Thursday exploring two churches: “El Salvador Divino” (The Divine Savior) and the Cathedral of Seville. In the 12th Century, the conquering Christians pushed the Moors (Muslims) out of Spain. In Sevilla, the conquerors tore down the majestic Mosque and built an even more massive Cathedral. Not more majestic but more massive. The legend says they wanted to build a Cathedral so that (paraphrase) “All who saw it would think they were madmen.”
The smaller church was amazingly beautiful. Stunning. Currently they are cleaning and preparing the huge statutes that will be carried during next week’s Easter Week Processions. The men will be carrying massive statues that weight tons. The platforms rest on the men’s shoulders. Only their feet show as they march slowly and with precision through the streets of Sevilla from noon until 2:00 a.m. Yeah, 14 hours. Unbelievable, but it’s the tradition; it’s the ritual.
The Cathedral, not so beautiful, is huge. Gigantic. It is the third largest in the world next to St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St Paul’s in London, and it’s the number one largest Gothic cathedral in the world. As we were ready to leave the Cathedral, we decided to climb the tower. It was initially the Mosque Tower. Rather than stairs, there were ramps so that the cleric could ride a horse to the top five times per day to call the people to prayer. The Christians didn’t destroy the tower. Instead they added height to it, and the two architectural styles are evident. As I walked I counted steps. Each ramp, 12 to 14 steps so I did the math at 12 steps. For someone young, eager, and naive, it probably would be 10 steps per ramp, but I am not young or naive, so 12 steps. It was a worthy and fitting finish to our church/Cathedral exploration.
Within that historic center there’s the Santa Cruz barrio which is notorious for its even narrower streets that interweave to create a seemingly endless maze. It’s easy to get lost; we did a couple of times. It’s an enchanting area of the city. Tiny shops, tapas bars, small houses with their interior courtyards normally hidden from view, little garden parks, and more tiny alleyways leading to who know where. We returned to this area several times in the daylight just to explore and to feel the energies and to get lost. So alive.
Friday we are on the road again heading to Arco de la Frontera, one of the “Pueblos Blancos” -- the white villages -- of the Andalucía region.
We bought our tickets late Sunday night. We had slept most of the morning adjusting to the six hour time change. It was sunny, brilliant sun, luminously bright, and crisp, refreshingly crisp, sharp, when we began wandering Metro Centro in Madrid. Our first stop was Plaza del Sol and as we were walking into the vast open space the name was obvious. There were hundreds of people strolling through the plaza, a Mariachi Band was playing by the central statue as perhaps 200 people, families with kids and pets, looked on. Enrique stopped to get a Sim card so he could stay in touch with the world, and then we checked our map and headed off to walk the narrow streets. I’ve mentioned it before, I am enamored with the architecture of the apartment buildings that line the narrow streets. There aren’t any daring designs like the Gaudi designs in Barcelona, but there is something that speaks to me. I suppose that something speaks to my soul. As I walk along I look up. I stop. “Oh, my isn’t that beautiful?” I say out loud to myself. The words tumble out. Goosebumps. Then I move along.
We ended up at the Plaza Mayor and then to the San Miguel Mercado again. This time we stayed.
With a glass of Rioja in hand, we went looking for a space to sit. There are long rows of tables with stools lining both sides. Young, old, families with babies in strollers, groups of friends huddled together laughing, all sorts of individuals and groups, mostly tourists from all over the world, gather to enjoy the tapas and tasty treats. Once we found a place, one stool and then another stool, we took turns going off to explore. Enrique would come back with some surprises, we‘d eat them, and then I would go off. I found a Paella stand with six or seven variations. Enrique stopped at the Olive Bar. Amazing “Olive Kebobs.” I had to go to the Mozzarella Bar. It took me a while to find it. The eating was fun but it was the sitting there amid the flow of people that made Sunday afternoon and evening in Madrid special. After three hours, we were ready to leave but first Enrique went looking for a special dessert to share. “Milhojas” -- a thousand leaves -- which is a delicate dessert of flaky pastry filled with lush cream.
We quietly walked back to our hotel. We stopped to talk to the Concierge. We bought tickets to the Prado Museum for Monday.
It was drizzly. A perfect day for museums. With tickets in hand, we walked past the very long line of people waiting, and were shaking off our umbrellas and moving through security in no time. We entered the main hall. The Prado is huge. Second largest museum in the world next to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Wow. We turned around and went looking for a guide, not just the recorded tour, but a live person. We had a wonderful four hours at the Prado. We went back to our hotel to rest a while and then we went out walking again.
We had wanted to go to the Reina Sofia Museum but as we looked at our map, it seemed too far away. So just went walking the narrow streets again. Can never do that too much. Before we realized it, we were only a block away from the Reina Sofia. It’s a beautiful museum. The main building was once a hospital and now it’s a museum of eclectic art with an emphasis on Modern Art. We focused on Cubism. Why? Well, it was close to where we had entered, but once we went into the first exhibition hall, we focused on Cubism because it was an intriguing exhibit.
It was 8:00 when we returned to the street and to our walk. We had dinner plans with friends. We would meet at 9:15. Our friends are Colombians living here in Madrid. Mario, is a marvelous chef and owner of two very successful restaurants in the Metro Centro area of the city. His husband, Juan Pablo, a relative of Enrique’s, is a very successful architect. We had dinner at “Hortencio.” Only Juan Pablo, Enrique, and I sat at the table. Mario was busy preparing an incredible meal for us. A delicate Morel Mushroom soup, Morel Mushrooms garnished with foie gras or egg (egg for me), and I had “La Soup aux Trufa,” which Mario prepared as an homage to the deceased famous French Chef, Paul Bocuse, who first presented this soup on February 25, 1975. It was delicious beyond words. Enrique had a tender lamb dish that was sensational. A dab of Pistachio ice cream added the exclamation point to a culinary delightful evening.
The day was full, and it was wonderful. In the morning we’d be off to Sevilla.
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