Friday, August 5, 2011

Summary Post

I have missed a lot of blogging whilst I have been in Cambridge. Let me sum up;

Germany was a lot of fun. I finished the research I needed to do there in a single twenty four hour period, and caught an earlier train than I intended to Italy. The Germans in my hostel were friendly and courteous, and orderly almost to a fault: as I was climbing into my bed as evening approached, ready to simply wrap up in the duvet, one of them had me get out of bed, and then had me help him make my bed. It was kind, and very unusual to my American sentiment, but the other two German men in the hostel seemed to find it the expected or understandable thing for him to do. I was grateful that they would be so helpful to a stranger, and puzzled that they would take the trouble to have someone else's bed made – with hospital corners, no less. I presume that German culture emphasizes order.

On the train to Italy, I found a friend in a half-Swiss, half American girl who had a lot of questions about the Church. We had a very enjoyable conversation. In Italy, the trains moved unbelievably slowly west from Milan; I didn't arrive in Torino, near the French border, until nearly 11, after getting into Milan at 7. In Torino, due to a mix up, I spent the night trying to sleep in a train station. It was very hot, and a lot harder to sleep than I thought; I would have pulled it off, but a beetle thought that I was providing it dinner and so managed to bite me every time I would almost drift off. I don't think I even managed to squish it. I also discovered that calling cards are absolutely worthless from pay phones. This strikes me as very odd, as phone cards are for when one is traveling, as are pay phones.

That morning, I was dead tired of course, so I caught another incredibly slow train into Nice, or Marseilles, or somewhere that began with a P along the southern French coast. Actually, all of those places. The countryside was beautiful, and our train usually looked out over the sea. In that last place, I finally found a grocery store in a mall connected to the train station, and bought fresh fruit, bread, cheese, water, and carrots, and supped on them with relish for the next few days. It was a LOT cheaper, and I was very tired of train station food, no matter how good the Panini had been that morning in Italy.

In this location, our train broke down, so I rode with two Swedish girls to Barcelona on a bus replacement. We got in VERY late, and so I went with them to their hostel where – fortunately – there was another bed available in one of the men's rooms.

The next morning, I bade them goodbye and traveled, through Madrid, to Cordoba on a fast train; sadly, I didn't have time to stop or sightsee in Barcelona, though my hostel there was amazing. I will post a picture, blurry as it is.

Cordoba was amazing, and I had a blast there. My hostel, Senses and Colors, had a great atmosphere and was right in the heart of La Juderia, the old Jewish quarter; a few of the buildings dated back to the time was Cordoba was the capital of the Western Mediterranean. One of the restaurants nearby was actually housed in the ruins of the Muslim baths from Al-Andalus that I wanted to research. I visited every Muslim site I could find in preparation for writing one of my novels: the Tower Museum of Al-Andalus, the Caliphate baths (both the restored, museum ones and the ones converted to other uses), the ruins of Medina Al-Zahara (the governmental/administrative city built as palace community for the Caliph during the height, and then decline, of the Caliphate. It only lasted 70 years or so, or about 30 years after it was built). Also, I went to The Mezquita de Cordoba, which should rank as one of the architectural wonders of the world. Imagine a forest of columns, in perfect rows on both the horizontal and diagonal axes, in different colors, leading up into arches of alternating white and black or red marble, under a high ceiling with latticed skylights. I couldn't take a picture to do it justice. It was incredible.

The Tower and Medina al Zahara were probably the most useful for my research; the Tower was a testament to the advances, tolerance, and philosophy of the Islamic Renaissance as centered in and led by the city of Cordoba. I don't doubt that a lot of what I heard was historical propaganda, and that many of the messages from ancient Islamic philosophers had been adapted for a modern, Western, primarily Christian audience. Still, as long as the information presented wasn't an outright lie (and I sincerely doubt that) both the doctrinal and technological advances documented there were very impressive.

The Muslim sites were loaded with story hooks – huge sewers under amphitheatres, a succession of leaders murdered by slaves, and an empire that rose on the back of an orphan washed ashore and then fell in two generations under his great-grandsons deserve more literary attention than that which Cordoba has as yet been given. I made more friends in Cordoba, too, including a Thai student studying Spanish in Seville, and a Cuban gentleman with whom I discussed Kierkegaard, Stoicism, Hedonism, and becoming agnostic in a Calvinist paradigm.

More on Spain and the transition to England tomorrow. Also, a justification for not putting anything about education in this post. This post may be edited as well, probably to add pictures.

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