27/07/2007, New Carthage
Cartagena means New Carthage, the name given to the town when they conquered it from the Phonecians. People have been fighting over this natural harbour, its defensible hills and fertile hinterland for 3000 years. It's in a great strategic position too, on the trade routes along the coast and a good landfall from the Balearics, Italy and (as for us) North Africa.
We're a bit touristed out after Grenada, but we have visited the Castillo de la Concepcion and the Civil War air-raid shelters, as well as taking the tourist bus. The latter is just right; not too long nor too short and a good bite of information.
The Castillo is very well presented, and must be the most disabled accessible ancient monument we've ever seen. It has a good interactive exhibition, showing how the town grew and shrunk over the centuries. It got a big boost when the fervid swamp of an inland sea to the north was drained, which stopped lots of diseases and allowed expansion. There was another big boost in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, due both to being fleet HQ and lots of mining. Today it is recovering from major economic collapse in the 1980's, and relying heavily on tourism, the large commercial port and the Navy to do it.
In between, of course, lies the rarely-mentioned 'extreme agitations' of the later 1930's, aka the Spanish Civil War. Cartagena was the HQ of the Republican fleet, used both for the navy effort and to keep Madrid supplied. As a result it was very heavily bombed, even by the standards of that war which saw the first aerial bombardments. The council organised a committee for passive defence, which built a big system of air-raid shelters. Some of these were in the hills that characterise Cartagena, and the ones under the Castillo, in the highest hill, are open to the public.
They are very moving, with recorded interviews with survivors, contemporary films and posters and the like. The first time a bomb was dropped, they had never heard of such a thing, and were all out in the streets watching.
The Civil War is hardly mentioned in Spain, and you rarely see mention of Franco. Giles Tremlett, in his excellent Ghosts of Spain, talks of the deliberate policy of oblivio, forgetting, which followed Franco's death. It was essential to help the country to heal. But now, as people are growing up for whom it is history, not memory, and as they dig up mass graves all over the countryside, now it needs more discussion. The shelters seemed a very good place to start.
The picture is one of the four great water cisterns underneath the castle, a spooky place.
|Places and people||
Everywhere we go we look for the dykes. It should be simple. Go on the net, put in the name of the place and 'lesbian', or in a pinch 'gay', and up it comes. Especially places like Seville, Lisbon or Cadiz. Maybe the guidebook will have somewhere, though it may be out of date, given the speed with which bars come and go.
It works in much of the UK, right? Even in Ipswich it led us to the regular group, and various friends there. (Hi, Sally and Penny!)
But we've pretty much failed till Granada, where we hit gold! The picture is us with new friends Rocio (next to Sarah) and her girlfriend Monica. The bar is the lovely La Sal, at c/ Santa Paula 11, just south of the Grand Via. It's been there for an extraordinary 19 years and doesn't bother with the web. We found it in the Rough Guide, and it was open.
To measure this triumph you have to understand the failures. They fit into various categories. There are the places which simply don't exist; you go to the address and there's a shoe shop, or an empty site. Just not a bar/bookshop/hangout at all. This happened in La Coruna. Then there are places which exist but aren't gay; the Levante bar in Cadiz, or the very popular slightly alternative bar in Lisbon. Or you find somewhere which is open (probably only from midnight and is strictly for the boys: stand up, the Poniente bar in Cadiz. Or somewhere draped in rainbow flags but permanently shut: Oporto, Seville and La Coruna all come to mind. Or there is a nice gay-run bar, but which isn't really a gay or lesbian bar in the sense of meeting and talking to other dykes; welcome to the very pleasant Torito bar in Rota.
Pip argues that the solution to this is to find the address, and then sort of hang around in nearby streets. Before long, other befuddled queers will happen along, and lo! A party. The problem is of course that you still don't meet local people, and it means hanging around some pretty weird places late at night.
You can tell from our list that we've tried. Really, we have. Not that we're major bar bunnies or club hoppers or anything. (Stop falling about at the back there). But we like to meet other women. And we also want to meet people in the places we visit, and we'd hoped that finding the lesbians would be one way to do that.
So it was all the sweeter to find La Sal, meet Rocio and Monica, and the lovely Rosa who owns the bar and took the pic. Certainly, we should find somewhere in Barcelona!
|Places and people||
On Tuesday in Granada we visited the Alhambra museum. This has lots of interesting stuff including some very beautiful 'domestic' items from the palaces, such as a folding chair with delicate marquetery.
They are restoring the famous fountain in the Court of the Lions at the moment, taking each marble lion out and cleaning him up. The museum incorporates a fascinating little film on the work, and the completed Lion No. 4. Having done some restoration work, Sarah was intrigued; these days they use lasers to clean the stone, but it's not obvious how you'd use that 200ft up in a cathedral vault. They are undertaking significant rebuilding on the crumbled lions, which is probably controversial in conservation circles, but the right thing to do in such a well-loved and visited monument that has so many lessons for us today.
On the Wednesday morning we visited the Capilla Real, where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried. It is always interesting to speculate what would have happened if so-an-so hadn't been around. Hitler? Herod? Isabella is a character who invites such speculation, because, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth Tudor and Catherine the Great she is a powerful European Queen who seemed to drive conquest and change in very specific ways. It does seem likely, though, that the internal strains and increasing divisions of the Nazrid dynasty would have led to its downfall anyway. Would another kind of Catholic Monarch have maintained the convivencia, which Isabella broke, or created the Inquisition?
Tolstoy would have argued that the great leaders are the least free - at least that's what he says in War & Peace. And Stephen Fry, in Making History suggests that the larger historical circumstances create the person that the society requires. So, maybe the extraordinary levels of repression and cruelty of medieval Spain after the Conquest were inevitable.
Even so, it was interesting to see them properly buried. Isabella's extraordinary collection of Flemish painting is also in the Sacristy and well worth a look for some very beautiful work.
The picture is a view across Granada from the Alhambra with the Cathedral in the centre; we couldn't get in there because the Mass for Santiago (the feast of St James) was about to start, but we were pretty much cultured out by then.
|Places and people||
So many people have written and painted and composed around this exquisite collection of palaces that it is difficult to add one's humble thoughts. We spent half a day exploring the fortified hilltop that dominates Grenada and is the apogee of Islamic mediaeval Spain. It gets hot and tiring by mid-afternoon, but it's absolutely worth it.
There must have been buildings here since the Romans, if not earlier, but the place really came into its own in the 11th century after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordova, when Grenada became an independent taifa (or small kingdom) under the Zirid dynasty, who moved its capital here. In the thirteenth century the Nasrid dynasty began; by then the earlier fortress was in ruins and they really are the first builders of the Alhambra we see now. After Grenada fell to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, which completed the Christian conquest of Spain, the Catholic Monarchs and their descendents made many further alterations. The biggest of these is the enormous palace Carlos V (their grandson) built on the hilltop, but there are many smaller ones, such as the addition of the Virgin Mary to the Islamic key markings over major doorways. The key and the virgin, next to each other, is a Christian/Muslim dualism which dominates the complex; it illustrates the complex relationship between faith and power here in Andalucia.
The Alhambra divides into several sections, all within a massive wall at the top of El Sabika, the last of the hills of the Sierra Nevada, protruding like the bow of a giant, landlocked ship into the fertile vega or plains. At the pointed end, looking west, is the Alcazaba, the military fortress, itself a small town and wholly enclosed away from the court or the medina. The picture shows one edge of the fortress, seen from the Generalife, with the plains stretching away behind.
There is the medina itself, a town supplying the many needs of the court and garrison, from fullers to armourers. Very little of this remains except floor plans and the ancient public baths.
There are the palaces, which provide many of the famous images of Islamic architecture. Of these, the most complete are the Comares Palace, the Lion Palace and the Palace of the Generalife, but there are the remains of many more. (The Generalife complex, separated from the rest of the Alhambra by a deep ravine, was the 'home farm' of the court, and also houses a pretty summer palace. It is pronounced something like Henerallifay.)
The palace of Carlos V is very different indeed, and houses the Alhambra museum. This is shut today (Monday) so we will go back to it tomorrow.
Finally, there are the gardens. Many of these are of course integral to the buildings, but can also be written about in their own right.
(This is not the traditional division, which divides the Alhambra into the fortress Alcazaba, the royal palaces, and the Generalife. But we're going to say a bit about the different bits as we've carved it up, which allows us a few more pix.)
Although we are neither of us qualified to comment on the history or symbolism of the Alhambra, we are sure that its beauty and history, together with the places we have seen elsewhere in Morocco and Andalucia, will continue to echo in our hearts, and will emerge in different ways in Sarah's writing and Pip's silver-smithing.
|Places and people||
This garrison is at the steepest edge of the crag, with vertiginous walls interrupted at multiple points by highly defensible watchtowers. In plan it is a triangle, and sadly for us, quite a bit of it is closed for restoration at the moment.
We climbed the cylindrical Torre del Cubo ('bucket'), where this picture was taken. The bulky corner on the left of the picture is the Tower of Homage. This is not the tallest tower in itself, but is on the greatest elevation so the top is the highest. This was probably the first Nasrid building, and the first sultan may even have lived here for a while.
On the right hand side, with the flags flying is the Watch Tower, the apex of the triangle of the fortress. This tower (surmounted by a 19th century belfry) has amazing views for miles and miles. This is where the Catholic Monarchs hoisted their flags on 2 January 1492, after receiving the keys from King Boabil.
Inside, the fortress does have a large space which one would normally expect to be an open parade ground. In the Alcazabar, it was built up, with one narrow street running its length, and warehouses, barracks or residences filling most of the space. At the end, under the Watch Tower, is a large bath complex. Underneath there are big spaces with narrow vertical entrances (like an upside down funnel). These were used for storage - grain, water, salt. And people: they were also dungeons.
|Places and people||
If we had not seen the Alcazar of Seville and the Mesquite of Cordoba we would have been even more amazed and awed by the artistry and beauty of these palaces. They bring the beauty of true proportion and the exquisite artistry of work in plaster, stone, wood and tile to a new peak.
A particularly interesting feature are the mocárabes, complex structures of prisms within prisms made in plaster or stone, that hang down in ornate, geometric stalactites. These are suspended from domes and arches all over the palaces.
The picture shows one amazing archway in the Palaces, but they are difficult features to photograph from ground level. The only other place we (Sarah really) have seen such a feature is in the Mogul buildings of sixteenth century India, notably the deserted city of Fatephur Sikkri, near to Agra. The inscription around this one starts 'Sublime piece of work/Fortune wishes it to surpass all other monuments.'
The palaces are built on the same patterns as most Islamic traditional homes. There is a central patio, with water in it in some form. Off this are rooms, often rectangular with an alcove at each end. The surrounds are in at least two stories. There may well be roof terraces as well.
In the beautiful Court of the Myrtles in the Comares Palaces there are four arches leading to rooms said to be the quarters of the sultan's four wives. These quarters are again rectangular rooms with alcoves. We were interested to see that this is exactly the pattern of the riad we stayed in in Fes. A flexible and effective layout in places of extreme temperatures.
|Places and people||
Many books have been written on these beautiful buildings, by people more knowledgeable than we will ever be. You go from one room to another, gazing at the extraordinary detail. Each room is covered in either stucco or ceramic tiling or wood.
The stucco or stone is carved into intricate patterns, which do not represent living things (as this is forbidden in the Koran). They are inspired by plant life, and you see many stylised leaves and fruits, as well as pure geometric design resting on advanced mathematics.
Also, there is a lot of Arabic script, highly stylised and flowing. Some of it is quotations from the Koran, glorifying Allah, or citing the revelatory basis for successful conquest or the centrality of water to the design of the palaces. Other scripts are poems, many specially commissioned, exalting the sultan or marking major events such as the circumcision of the eldest son. The picture shows just one small example, where the letters are inlaid into the surround.
Ceramic tiling is brought to a very high pitch here, with complex geometric patterns with colours that often have specific meanings. (In a palace in Fes, to compare, our guide pointed out the blue of Fes, the green of Mecca, the brown of Marrakesh). There is a particular viewing place, a lovely covered balcony called the Mirador de Lindajara ('the eyes of Aixa's house') which has tiles thinner than a little finger and less than the length of a thumb. These are laid out in complex regular patterns, fitted together with precision and grace.
Many ceilings are coffered in ornate wood, one in particular providing an extraordinary stellar depiction of the seven levels of heaven. These were (some still are) heavily gilded. The Christians continued this tradition, and you see many gilded insignia of the yoke and arrow, used by Ferdinand and Isabella.
|Places and people||
The Alhambra must be fascinating to serious students of garden and landscape design. The rest of us can luxuriate in the lovely flowers and scents and the cool sight and sound of water. (By the way, if you´re reading this in chronological order, ie oldest first, this is one of 5 posts on the Alhambra, which could be read in any order, you might like to go the Contents page and decide.)
As you explore, you can trace the progression from the rigid formality of Hispano-Islamic Classicism, through the stately majesty of 16th century empire, the soft and multiple flowerings of 19th century romanticism and the re-imaginings of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In all of these, water plays a central role. For the Moors, Paradise was very like a garden. Water is glorified and blessed, and the garden patios of the Alhambra bring these beliefs together. In the severe lines of the great courtyards of the Nasrid palaces, the pools are great rectangles of still water. They reflect and soften the hard edges, right angles and severe geometry of the courtyards, shimmering and colouring the entire space. Here water moves quietly, making only the smallest of whispers, giving cause to reflect on the bounty of Allah and the fragile thread on which life depends.
These evolve into ever more complex arrangements of plants and water. The Arabs loved the date palm, and many remain in Grenada. (In Cordoba, by comparison, the palms that were planted in the courtyard outside the Mosque were replaced by the orange trees which still grow there.) In addition, an early sultan installed a complex hydraulic water system, fed by the Acequia Real (Royal Conduit) which brought water from the Generalife into the waterless crag of the palaces and the fortress. In the gardens of the Generalife, this allowed the creation of the wonderful Water Staircase, down each side of which runs, at hand height, a rill of fast, cold water refreshing as you climb up from that palace to its highest view point.
The later gardens of the Catholics have more luxuriant planting, including many more plants in the water itself. Here we find lilies and reeds, the interplay of fish in the leaves, and overhanging branches bringing a different effect of light and shade. Their fountains became more elaborate than the earlier ones, and you can hear the movement of water in jets and streams.
By the nineteenth century the Alhambra (largely ignored for some 300 years) was 'rediscovered' by the Romantics. Gustav Doré made engravings and painters such as Mariano Fortuny, Owen Jones and Lopez-Mezquita recorded and fantasised about the palaces, fortress and gardens. Their works, even when distorted by orientalist romanticising of the past, are a valuable help to the archaeologists today. This is particularly important in recovering the magnificent polychrome on the stucco work, only fragments of which survive.
Their impact is clear in some of the planting, even much more modern developments such as the Cypress Walk.
In the 20th century some areas of the gardens were re-laid out, including the 'New Gardens' in the lower part of the Generalife. These were informed by all sorts of elements of the past, including, in 1951, a reinterpretation of an Islamic garden (designed by the architect Prieto Moreno). The picture is a fountain from that garden.
If we had a garden nowadays, we would rethink the whole design to learn from the tranquillity and inspiration of these outdoor spaces. These gardens manage heat and cold, provide spaces for gracious living, and are both a feast for the senses and a stimulation to the mind. For Sarah, who had the good fortune to live in the gardens of Stowe as a child, they would be yet another dimension to the long view that is required of any serious gardener.
|Places and people||
We have finally given in and bought a washing machine. A very small one. It takes 1.5 kg at a time (about one double duvet cover), and can easily be picked up. It doesn't spin, so we are still interested in a small, cheap mangle.
It is however very practical. It fits in the fore-cabin hanging locker when not in use. It takes much less water than a big one, and it seems to get stuff pretty clean. Unless and until we find one which does spin, which we can wire and plumb in and will fit in what is currently the locker housing saucepans and the calorifier, it will do.
In the meantime, it fitted neatly on the back of our ever-useful folding bikes. We got some funny looks, cycling through Cartagena with a washing machine on a bicycle, but it worked for us!
|Life on Roaring Girl||
The site only shows the 3 latest postings on the front page, and also only allows 1 pic per blog. And of course, we can't make a posting every day. Our solution is to write lots of entries as we go along, assigning pix, and then post them all at once when we get an opportunity.
There are two ways to find out whether you've missed anything. At the bottom of this page there's a blue text saying 'older'. Click that for the next page. If we've made more than 3 new posts in a day, there will be ones you haven't seen before.
Alternatively, in the right hand section of the screen, there's a blue text saying [Contents]. Click this and it will list every entry. You'll be able to see from this if you've missed anything. We put the date covered by the entry in the heading (eg 190707), as quite often this is different from the date we actually manage to put it on line.
Hope this helps anyone following our wanderings.
20/07/2007, No prizes for guessing
This is another town that has changed hands a lot, from Carthaginians to Romans to Moors to Christians. Here, Hannibal prepared his famous elephantine exhibition across the Alps.
We haven't really explored yet beyond a stroll or two. We were very hot and tired after the trip and the very tight squeeze of the moorings.
To our delight the marina has a washing machine, our first since Portimao. Handwashing gets tiring, and is a pain for sheets! Fitting a small washing machine on Roaring Girl is high on our list of priorities, but in the meantime, we are covered in drying clothes and haunting the ablutions block.
On Sunday we are going to Grenada for our long awaited trip to the Alhambra. Very exciting!
|Life on Roaring Girl||
The 16th July is the feast day of Virgin of Carmen, who looks after the sea and sailors. When we arrived in La Coruna on her fiesta last year it was being celebrated with great gusto, as it is all over Spain. It felt good to leave Melilla for the 160 mile passage to Cartegena on her feast day.
The forecast was westerlies 3-4 all the way across the Alboran Sea and then south-westerlies once north of Cabo de Gato, the south eastern corner of Spain. A good wind for a passage almost entirely set for a course of 034°.
Life at sea is never that simple.
In the lee of the headland of Melilla the wind was a northerly, so we bounced our way up to the rocks, where our helpful neighbours at Melilla had told us we would find a nice east setting current. To our delight, we found the current, and the wind came in from the west. For a short while, we creamed along at 5.5 knots. A pitifully short while. As the dusk fell, so did the breeze and eventually the engine went on.
About midnight, we were both on deck, peering anxiously at red flashing lights unmarked on any chart and unknown to us. They had that peculiar intensity that looks a long way away until you are right on top of them. Suddenly the first one was almost beside us, and from it streamed the plastic bobbles of a tunny net. We managed to get out of gear and the engine off before our propeller met the net. The main and mizzen were still up and we sailed gracefully over the top, sweating.
A fishing boat came bustling up, not prepared to use the radio but flashing lots of lights. He used a very powerful search beam to direct us on to a new course. Due west. We got the genoa out, furled a bit to help our view, and sailed along the net, directed by the silent fishing boat. To our great good fortune, the breeze stayed both strong enough and in the south west to help us sail while within the most dangerous area.
After about an hour, we sailed over the next edge, and hoped to turn back onto our course. Not a chance. After some 6 miles and two hours, our sentinel peeled away and we found the corner. We settled back on the right course for Cabo de Gato, and Pip got her first shut-eye of the night.
We chugged along in very little breeze in the dark, past the corner of another large net (or maybe a dogleg of the first one). This corner was alive with dolphins, maybe showing us the safe water, or hoping for their own by-catch. At dawn, the breeze returned, and we could sail, albeit pretty slowly, towards the cape.
There's quite a lot of traffic in the area. The mid-morning breeze allowed us to jibe and sail directly west, keeping south of the lanes. The big excitement was seeing another turtle. They move surprisingly fast; we were doing about 3.4 knots, and before you knew it, going the other way she was out of sight. By early afternoon we could turn back north and continue sailing. But, again at dusk, the wind died and we motored during the dark.
The dawn breeze filled in a little, and the picture shows Pip at the helm as we sailed north east close hauled. This is Roaring Girl's fastest point of sail, but even so there was so little wind we barely reach 4 knots.
We saw a large marine animal we are almost certain was a whale. It was a completely different shape from a dolphin, with a large square head and a fin that was almost shovel shaped. It stayed on the surface a long time, too, quite still, which dolphins don't do. A book of marine mammals is urgently needed, as we only have one about fish on board!
We sailed to within half a mile of the breakwater at Cartagena, and finally arrived at 46 hours at sea, with a dismal average speed of 3.5 knots. But we're not complaining. Whether it was the dolphins or the Virgin of Carmen, we are grateful that we escaped the tunny net, and had enough breeze at the time we most needed it!
|Life on Roaring Girl||