Category Archives: Spain

A Crippled Angel


A crippled angel taught me a hard and precious lesson this morning.  Carolyn and I were walking toward the Madrid cathedral when a badly crippled beggar, his mind a bit addled by his traumatic life, held out a cup for money.  I only had 20 cents in my pocket and I dropped them into his cup.  He took one look and went ballistic.  He got right in Carolyn’s face and yelled “Por que? Por que tan poco dinero?”    (Why so little money?!!?)  He scared me badly, and my husbandly conditioning prompted me to feel protective toward Carolyn.  My heart closed, and with a stone face I fairly yelled back “Es todo lo que tengo!” (It is all I have).   He continued to shout, attracting a crowd.  Just then a lovely woman of about 60 came up behind us.  “Calmate, probrecito,” (be clam, poor fellow) she said, and dropped some money in his cup.  The young man’s anger was immediately diffused, and Carolyn and I moved on with shaken hearts.

We sat on a bench in the sun for a long time, feeling, and thinking, and talking about what had happened and about our fearful and closed response.  It seemed to me that the young man and the older woman were sacred gifts–he to challenge us, and she to show us the power of caring and empathy.

About three hours later, with a pocket full of change and more open hearts, we passed the young man again.  He held out his cup.  We both dropped in an amount we thought appropriate, and I said “Bendiciones y buena suerte, hermano mio.” (blessings and good luck, my brother).  He looked me in the eye and gave  me the sweetest of smiles: a gift far beyond money.  “Gracias, senor,” he said from a deep place.

Those two angels this morning taught me again the deep truth in this famous poem of Rumi:


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


On Stereotypes: Are you in there?

A few years go, Carolyn and I spent a special weekend at a small conference hosted by Ram Dass. We enjoyed his combination of Eastern Wisdom and his clear-eyed acceptance of his own human foibles. One memorable “take-away” was his insight that human beings tended to wrap themselves in their bodies, retreat to the mind, and trudge through the world with little presence. Many of us are too often not where we are or when we are. It can be a problem.

Ram Dass said that he liked to say to people, in effect, “Are you in there? I’m in here. Want to come out and play?” Once in a while this insight takes a hold of my boyish enthusiasm, and on this morning’s walk I opened to the game. It transformed the day from wonderful to magical.

As we walked along this beach,
I watched a German couple approach. They seemed to me to be hidden deep inside, and fearful of encounter. I saw that they had their shoes in their hands, so looking into their eyes, I asked “Is the water cold?” Whoosh! The doors flew open and their souls came rushing out to see and be seen. Before very long, they were regaling us with their recent trip to Grenada and the four hours they spent in the Alhambra. We parted with smiles and handshakes.

The morning’s gifts continued to unfold: a conversation in Spanish with a lovely young woman from Colombia; a woman from Finland who spends half the year here in Spain; two German women, retired economists, who will soon be studying energy healing in an Ashram in India; a Spanish woman with two remarkable children. As we stopped for coffee at a seaside cafe, I asked a man if he were enjoying his carrot cake, and again, all the lights came on. It turns out they were a delightful couple from Wales who were astounded that a philistine American would be a fan of Dylan Thomas.

This last point, is important, I think.  We Americans have earned the stereotype of being greedy to the point of selfishness, loud, lacking empathy, and being generally self-centered.  We, of course, are not alone in being stereotyped–or stereotyping.  I can easily ferret out many lingering prejudices lurking in the shadows of my own consciousness: stodgy Germans, drunken Irishmen, volatile Italians, snotty French, and damp, provincial Brits.  The beautiful thing is that when I actually meet people from these places, the stereotypes evaporate in the warmth of the human heart.  Even when the stereotypes seem to hold, they are quickly seen as incredibly superficial–my own projections, really–and the soulful depths of each unique individual emerge.

I also find that many people I meet are visibly bemused, and very surprised, to meet Americans who are quiet and gentle, interested in other cultures and languages, and doing their best to live respectful and loving lives.   So Carolyn and I have never visited the Eiffel tower, or the Empire State Building, or the Coliseum.  We certainly travel to enjoy nature’s lavish gifts, and the beauty that flows from human hands in art, architecture and–perhaps especially–food.  But the essence of the experience for us is the meeting of the human spirit.  I believe if we all could touch and be touched at the level of the heart, fearful stereotypes would indeed dissolve, and this would be a step toward easing the hostilities that are fed by those stereotypical abstractions.  “You have to be taught to hate,” sings a song in South Pacific.  So, too, we can learn to love.

Cloud Haiku

The prompt this morning on carpe diem haiku kai is Clouds.  As luck would have it, the beautiful sight in the above photo greeted us as we left our apartment this morning in Nerja, Spain.   It gave birth to this timeless moment:

lowering rain clouds

silver path across the sea

eternal longing


Rafael Alberti

Alberti is another Andalucian poet honored in the park in central Seville. As you can see, he is quite modern, living from 1902 until 1990. He began his career as a painter, but turned more and more to capturing the beauty of art in his poetry. Here he playfully brings a painters eye to the life of colors. I find his whimsy delightful, and hope you do too. Here is my reading:
BLUE. How many blues did the Mediterranean give?

RED. Like the fleeting hue of a Poppy.

Yellow. I am afraid of blue because it turns me green.

Green. I am always known by another name: Spring.

BLACK. It turned its back to the light, and darkness was born.

WHITE. Sea spray, galloping in the breeze.

Morning In Seville

Monday morning dawns with a promise of beauty and adventure. Carolyn and I traveled by the high speed train (AVE) yesterday from Madrid to Seville–328 miles–in just 2 and 1/2 hours. We are staying in an apartment in Triana, across the river from the main part of town. We love this area, since it is where the folks live, and is not too touristy.

Part of the joy of travel is the surprising and usually brief encounters with people, both local and international. Martin Buber suggests that real living is encounter, even at a distance if one has the ears and the heart to hear the call of the soul in another. Three times yesterday morning in Madrid I had Spanish people ask me directions, and twice I actually knew the answer. The third gentleman was most gracious when I explained I was an American, and did not know the street he was seeking. We had a lovely exchange, and parted shaking hands. These short but sweet human meetings warm my heart, and reinforce my belief in the positive energies of life. We hear the horrors of the world on the evening news (if we choose to listen), but every day offers the gift of grace and warmth that brings light to those dark forebodings.

This Ebola scare is a good example. None of our lives will have a happy ending–at least from one point of view. We might find some consolation in the belief in an afterlife or in reincarnation, but still, death has its sting. Plato, of all people, warns us not to live a life which is little more than “a rear guard action against death.” I find that inspiring. I don’t want to miss today’s blessings because I am worried about what awful thing might happen.

A student once remarked that this attitude could have me ending up with a bullet in my head. I answered that I would rather live ten more years without fear, and catch that bullet, than live 50 more years in craven fear. So many people worry about life after death. I think it is far more important to give attention to life before death. Whatever happens afterwards will take care of itself.

So we are off for a day in Seville. What will we see? What fabulous tapas will we discover? Who will cross our paths? And if things should “go wrong,” then the adventure begins.

I’ll end by sharing a picture I took last night from our balcony of the Seville Cathedral–the third largest in the world:

Joaquin Sorolla

Yesterday, Carolyn and I visited the wonderful museum of Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923). He was the most celebrated Spanish painter of his day. You can read about his life and career on Wikipedia, so I will simply share some subjective impressions of our visit.

The painting at the top of this post, of the boys at the beach of Valencia, shows Sorolla’s love of people, and his ability to express the magic of color and of life itself. A commentary on the walls of one of the rooms underscores Sorolla’s “ability to capture a fleeting impression, a momentary reflection, of vital and continuous movement.” This seems to me to be an exact description of haiku poetry, and it brings home again the understanding that all the arts–verbal, plastic, dance, and music–have this in common: that they capture the pathos and the beauty of the universal by an exquisite depiction of particular detail.

Here is another example of his love of people and the swirling colors of water:

imageI apologize for the poor quality of the photo, but this painting was high on a wall.  Still, you can clearly see the amazing movement of the water as the girls wade hand in hand.

Many of his paintings are depictions of women at once beautiful and strong:


He once said that the weariness and patience of the women who fished translated directly into the tenderness and care of motherhood.

Sorolla was also most sympathetic to the hardship and contributions of common laborers, as exemplified by this famous painting hanging in the Prado:

imageIt is entitled Y aun dicen que el pescado es caro: And they still say that fish is expensive.  The young man is clearly dying, hurt in the line of work, demonstrating just how expensive fish really are.  I was particularly struck by the compassion on the faces of the men attending the young man.

Finally, the museum is actually the home in Madrid that Sorolla shared with his beloved wife Clotilde and their three children.  Even if there were no paintings, the house itself is an oasis of tranquility.  Here is Carolyn resting in the garden:


Some of Sorolla’s most impressive work can be seen today in New York City, at the Hispanic Society of America’s building in Manhattan.  There are 14 magnificent murals of the various provinces of Spain on permanent display.   His home here in Madrid, however, is a gem well worth visiting.


Traveling with Carolyn


Starting Monday, October 20, 2014, Carolyn and I will be spending two months in Spain, and in the Spring of 2015, two months in Italy. We hope to share the sensuality of these lovely countries, and the joy of the human connections we make along the way..

Our love of travel was nurtured by our careers as university professors, since we were able to attend many international conferences. The years we spent based in Japan also allowed easy access to the Orient. Over the years we have visited 25 countries, and we continue to dream of distant horizons.

We find travel intensified living. New colors, sounds, smells, quality of light, language, and customs are continually fascinating. We therefore travel primarily to drink in the rich textures of our planet, and to interact with the people who inhabit it. Of course, that doesn’t rule out enjoying the unique tastes of each country, and we spend a good amount of time wandering the streets, reading menus, and chatting with the folks who cross our path.

We also feel that language is the key to people’s hearts, so we do our best to learn at least a few words of our host country’s language. We have a good working knowledge of Spanish, Japanese, French, and Italian, and continue to spend part of each trip studying at language schools. This is a great way to travel, since it allows us to practice the skills of communicating, and also to feel a part of the place beyond simple tourism. It is amazing how the faces of people soften when we say “Somos estudiantes de la escula de idiomas aquí  (We are students in the language school here.)”

During the next few weeks, I will be posting from Madrid, Sevilla, and Nerja, a small coastal town in Andalusia.  I hope to share some of the flavor of those places and the people who live in them.

Hasta pronto…