The Clock is Ticking…

H  ow did the holidays get here so fast?

A  few weeks ago we were eating turkey

P  retty soon the stores were filled with Christmas

P  iles of gift catalogs throughout the house

Y  esterday we hung the lights outside

 

H  ow will we ever be ready in time for Christmas?

O  n December 17th we are leaving for Germany

L  ots of things to prepare for our trip

I   f only the next few days would slow down

D  estinations: Berlin, Dresden, Weimar

A  lot of miles to travel to see people we love

Y  es, it’s the trip of a lifetime

S  ee you in 2016!

Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

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This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

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I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

La Rambla, Barcelona…Before It Lost Its Innocence

(Photo is from You Tube)

La Rambla is exactly 1.2 kilometres long and nearly everyone who visits Barcelona walks along it. La Rambla was laid out in 1766, following the contours of the medieval city walls that had bounded this part of Barcelona since the 13th century. The locals took it to their hearts straightaway. In Barcelona, a city of narrow, winding streets, the Rambla was the only space where everyone could stroll and spend their leisure time. And we mean everyone. Because of its central location, the Rambla became a meeting place for all the social classes.
(http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/page/160/la-rambla.html)

* * * * * * * * * * * *
I have been saving Barcelona, the final stop on our three-city tour of Spain in May, for my last few posts about our journey. But that was before the terrorist incident this past week that happened on La Rambla, a favorite amble for tourists from around the world through the center of this lovely city, turned it into a killing field resulting in the death of 12 people and more than a hundred injured.

I have done some traveling in my lifetime, and I’ve noticed that there are places people like to congregate everywhere I go. It could be in front of the clock tower in Prague; under the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in Times Square, New York on New Year’s Eve or the Piazza Navona in Rome. For some I’m sure it’s an excuse to say “Look at me…look at where I am!” and send some selfies to friends and family. For others it can be a pilgrimage to a place that’s been a lifelong dream vacation. But most people, I believe, just like to celebrate where they are with others doing the same. It kind of amplifies the good feelings by 10, unless of course it’s too crowded (as is happening in Venice).

La Rambla in Barcelona has become one of those beloved tourist destinations. It’s a wide pedestrian boulevard filled with shady trees and tons of people. The streets are lined with souvenir shops and sidewalk cafes. I’m sure that Europeans and the Spanish, in particular, have been enjoying this promenade for decades if not centuries, and finally the rest of the world caught on. Not taking a stroll on La Rambla when visiting Barcelona would be equivalent to not visiting Times Square for a first-time visitor to New York City.

Both my children had visited Barcelona in years past and both highly recommended that I make sure to put it on my list of places to see. They loved the art, the food, the party vibe, and the beauty and accessibility of the city. They especially loved visiting the world renowned architectural wonders created by Gaudi, perhaps Barcelona’s most beloved artist. My husband and I finally took their advice and went to Spain in May. We decided that Barcelona would be our final stop…saving the best for last.

Barcelona was as delightful as they had said it would be. We saw as many of Gaudi’s creations as we could fit into our three-day schedule; wandered the streets and barrios of Barcelona soaking up the vibe of each neighborhood (my favorite pasttime); and enjoyed a few of the thousands of cafes that are ubiquitous and offer tourists both respite, a chance to do some serious people watching and some great tapas if you’re lucky!

During our stay, Barcelona seemed to be enjoying its recent reputation as one of the best spots to visit in Europe. The city is clean, full of fascinating things to do, easy to navigate and very welcoming. Tourists are everywhere, but so are the locals who are clearly proud of their city and what it has to offer. They have reason to be proud; it’s a city with many facets, lots of history to explore, and a place to party all night if you wish to do so (we didn’t).

On our final day we did take a ten minute stroll down La Rambla from the Plaza de la Cataluna. Actually we were looking for Kabul, a notorious hostel where both our children had stayed during their visits. Kabul is legendary as a meeting place for young people in Barcelona, and we were eager to see what all the fuss was about.

There were a lot of people strolling on La Rambla that day, probably most of them tourists like us, enjoying a pleasant afternoon in late May. Although it was much less crowded than I hear it is during the height of the tourist season in summer, there were still too many people for our taste. We questioned a few locals about Kabul, and finally found someone who knew exactly where it was. This allowed us to turn a corner off Las Ramblas and almost immediately enter a magical square: Placa Reial. Suddenly we were standing right in front of the entrance to Kabul.

The appearance of the place completely belies its reputation. It looked very quiet and nondescriptfrom the outside. We peeked through the window but couldn’t see much except for a staircase leading up to what is probably the front desk. We decided to sit at a table nearby in the square so we could bask in our accomplishment of finding Kabul and such a quaint spot to people watch in the Placa Reial.

In a very short time, an elderly man, very trim and dressed like a dancer, began doing some very modified but elegant flamenco moves on the square. He then approached the tables chatting amiably with each person. His pan-handling approach was so laid back and charming that we quickly handed him some Euros. My children later told us that the plaza undergoes a complete transformation at night when the hustlers, drug dealers and ladies-of-the night suddenly appear from nowhere to market their wares. But that afternoon there were only tourists, locals strolling across the square and the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the palm trees encircling the square to keep us company. We enjoyed a delicious cold beer, a plate of pan tomate, and a bowl of olives.

This is what I will remember about La Rambla. That it is a place where people enjoy being with others, part of the international crowd that is making Barcelona a vacation hub. For me, there was nothing exceptional about La Rambla; it has its share of funky street vendors and sidewalk cafes with owners hustling tourists to their tables. Its greatest virtue are the many trees and cafes that line the pedestrian walk. Its charm lies in its acceptance of people from around the world coming together to just enjoy a stroll in one of the friendliest cities in the world.

Its innocence now violated, La Rambla is not only one of many beloved world tourist destinations, but is now also a living memorial to lives lost in an extreme, undeserved act of violence.

CNN.com

A Summer Surprise: A Gift of Poetry from an Old Friend

Just this past week I had a surprise…one that evoked pure joy. Recently I was invited to lunch by a friend who was my boss several decades ago. I’m sure he’d cringe at the word “boss,” since he preferred to think of himself as a leader. Hearing from him after so long, and seeing him again was a true pleasure. Over the near decade I worked for/with him, he became a significant mentor. At a time when I had limited confidence and no clear direction in my life, he believed in my potential and hired me for a position in a university setting that contributed immensely to my personal and intellectual development. His leadership was firm but supportive. I haven’t worked with many other bosses with his outstanding qualities.

Several days after our reunion, a manila envelope arrived in my mailbox. In it was a book of poetry he had written a few years ago. I am a poetry junkie so I was very excited to receive his gift. I don’t think he knew that about me, and I certainly had no idea that in addition to his many accomplishments, he also wrote poetry.

I immediately opened his book and began reading his poems. He has had an interesting life. He was a commissioned officer in the US Marines and served for 6 years during the Korean War. He became a professor at SUNY Stony Brook in the late 60’s where he still teaches and eventually became Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Technology and Society. Late in his career, he began teaching undergraduate seminars and delivering speeches on nuclear arms control and has traveled the world keeping himself informed about that issue.

But all those accomplishments melted away as I read his poems. He had always seemed to me to be a very self-contained, disciplined, but kind and generous person. In his poems, he becomes a very lyrical, sensual person who enjoys cultivating flowers and takes pleasure in household chores. He is fascinated by wetlands and considers the sighting of a blue heron a gift (as do I). He is sensitive to the passage of seasons and time both in the natural world and in the lives of people he loves. He seeks stimulation in sojourns to far away places, yet yearns for his beloved from afar. He is connected to this earth and all its wonders, and is able to share that connection without pretense.

I always thought of him as a very methodical, science-oriented thinker; never did I think of him as a poet. Was I somehow blind to this part of him, or did he keep it a well hidden secret until now? I eagerly read the rest of his poems that very same night, and went to bed feeling a sense of wonder. The best poetry, like an old friendship can do that: it peels back so many layers of ourselves, leaving us exposed and open to wonder. Having my friend (no longer my “boss”) share this part of himself at this stage in both our lives is a surprise I will never forget and a gift I will always cherish.

The Resilience Project

Over the past week, several publications that I read regularly have simultaneously included articles about “building resilience.” Does someone send a prompt out to the universe and wait for responses from journalists and writers?

In any case, it’s a topic that’s of great interest to me. In my experience, resilience is a quality that develops over time in response to challenges and hardships in one’s life. Reading a column about building resilience will not have much meaning to someone who has not been to the “school of hard knocks” as I have. In fact, I think I’ve had more than my share of them but I don’t say that to invoke sympathy; I say it because, compared with most people I know, I think it’s true. It’s also true that there are many whose lives are much more difficult than mine has been.

Instead of reciting a litany of hardships I’ve overcome in my life, I’d like to focus on the process of acquiring resilience. I developed it the hard way: being knocked down, crawling to my knees, then standing up…over and over again. This process, depending on the incident, sometimes took hours, days, weeks or decades. It was debilitating and exhausting. At age 70 I think I can finally say I have developed enough resilience to get me through difficult times with less suffering and more wisdom.

What took me so long? I was raised by a mother who had some admirable traits but was tough as nails; who didn’t believe in whining and offered no empathy or compassion whenever I found myself in a difficult situation. She was not a good model of resilience for me. I learned resilience on my own, in spite of her.

Now I have a daughter who has also definitely been given more challenges than the ordinary person. By age 30 she had had five open-heart surgeries (the fourth one nearly killed her) and has had to learn how to make a life for herself in spite of her PTSD from the many traumas she has suffered and the limitations that she must live with as a consequence of her congenital heart defect.

My daughter is my resilience project. In order to help her survive the challenges she has lived through and to face those we are not yet aware of, I have devoted much of my life to helping her (and myself) learn to develop resilience. Every time she reached a point where she felt deeply discouraged and depressed, I tried to think of a way to help her out of the abyss. This has forced me to dig very deeply into my personal well to find a shred of hope or encouragement to offer her. Over the years, in the process of trying to teach her resilience, I have learned a lot about it myself and have shared with her what I have learned.

For example, it took me a long time to learn that there is a “gray area” in life. I was raised to believe that everything was black or white. That if you didn’t tell the whole truth, you were lying. There was no wiggle room. But decades of living have taught me that for many people this isn’t so; most people live in the gray area and many people either don’t tell the truth or don’t want to hear the truth. Instead, they do what they need to do to protect themselves.

Learning this has enabled me to advise my daughter that it is ok for her to withhold the whole truth if there is a need to do so; that her feelings can be partially shared until she feels a certain level of comfort. When necessary and if no one is hurt by it, she can tell a “white lie” to get through a difficult situation while protecting herself. Most importantly she can do whatever it takes to overcome a challenge, and doing so will help her become more resilient. While I was taught to live along a straight and narrow path, I have taught her about options: how important it is to always have a Plan A and a Plan B…even a Plan C if necessary. We are building our resilience together.

One of the points made by Tara Parker-Pope who wrote “How to Build Resilience in Midlife” in the Science Times on August 1 is: Rewrite Your Story. Since most of us who blog on this site are teachers who share a love of story telling through writing, and who work hard to instill this skill in our students. I found her words instructive.

“Study after study has shown that we can benefit from reframing the personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves….It’s about learning to recognize the explanatory story you tend to use in your life….Observe what you are saying to yourself and question it. It’s not easy it takes practice.”

In rewriting our stories together, my daughter and I are learning that while we have each had more than our share of challenges and setbacks, we are also two people with a passion for life, an innate curiosity about many things, a need to connect with others who share our passions, and a spirit strong enough to get us through the worst times. Oh, and did I mention we share a wicked sense of humor?

“There is a biology to this,” said Dr. (Dennis) Charney, a resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Your stress hormone systems will become less responsive to stress so you can handle stress better. Live your life in a way that you get the skills that enable you to handle stress.” (Science Times 8/1/2017)

That is exactly what we are learning to do…together.

Seville’s Seductive Alcazar Gardens and Palace

We saved our visit to the Alcazar and the magnificent cathedral, which is close by, for our last day in Seville, Spain.

“The Alcázar of Seville (Spanish “Reales Alcázares de Sevilla” or “Royal Alcazars of Seville”, (Spanish pronunciation: [alˈkaθar])) is a royal palace in Seville, Andalusia, Spain, originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings.

The palace is renowned as one of the most beautiful in Spain, being regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of mudéjar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula.[1] The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as the official Seville residence and are administered by the Patrimonio Nacional. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, and was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, along with the Seville Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies.” (Wikipedia)

I suggested to my husband that we visit the Alcazar first. I was very excited about the garden having seen pictures of it beforehand, and because I love Moorish architecture of which this garden is an outstanding example. Earlier in our visit, a tour guide had told us that the garden was spared from being razed following the expulsion of the Moors from Spain because of their exceptional beauty.

The entrance to the garden is quite impressive. There is a great wall surrounding the site with an archway that you must walk through to enter the garden. There were many walls built at different times to protect this area and those that remain are a visible reminder of the layers of history that make this place so special.

The garden and palace are filled with visual and sensory delights. They include the echoing arches throughout the palace; the elaborate ceramic work on the staircases, walls and ceilings and floors of every room in the palace as well as in the gardens; shaded alcoves; a fish-filled exquisite pond; orange and jacaranda trees for color and shade; and exquisite ironware on doors and windows.

Exhausted and overwhelmed (the afternoon heat didn’t help), we decided to take a short break at the cafe before we left the garden. During our brief respite we heard a strange squawking and were visited by a resident peacock.

When we arrived at the gate of the cathedral we were told it was closing in 10 minutes. Somehow we had lost track of time in the garden and never got to see Spain’s most amazing cathedral (except for the one we were yet to see in Barcelona).
We were not disappointed, however. We left Seville feeling very satisfied with our stay, with images spinning through our heads of flamenco dancers, spanish guitarists, ceramic artistry, amazing tapas, an amazing bullfighting ring and a strong desire to return some day.

Next week: Barcelona…the Big Kahuna of modern Spain!

Virtual Forest Bathing at Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau in a daguerreotype taken in 1856 by Benjamin D. Maxham. Credit Benjamin D. Maxham/Thoreau Society and the Walden Woods Project

I am taking a short break from writing about my Spain adventures to share a wonderful exhibit being shown at my local art museum, The Hecksher Museum in Huntington, LI. The exhibit features “24 Tree Studies for Henry David Thoreau.” The 24 photograms are Thaddeus Holownia’s tribute to the bicentennial commemoration of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts where Henry David Thoreau lived for more than two years and whose notes on his experience became the basis of his seminal work, Walden Pond. I love the exhibit so much I visited twice and will probably return once more.

A recent article in the New York Times Book Review (7/23/2017) about a newly published memoir of Thoreau, Henry David Thoreau/A Life by Laura Dassow Walls, provided me with enough information to understand how he became an icon of conservation and the model for all nature writers who followed him.

“Asked once why he was so eternally curious about things, Thoreau responded, ‘What else is there in life?'” (NY Times Book Review)

A nature enthusiast all my life, I ask how can one not fall in love with a man so in love with nature? On the brink of his 28th birthday, this Harvard educated wunderkind moved into a one-room structure he had built for himself on Walden Pond and spent two years, two months and two days living there, observing and recording his observations about nature. Walden Pond sold only 2000 copies in his lifetime but has become the work by which all those which follow him are compared.

After reading about Thoreau I felt compelled to see the photo exhibit mounted as a tribute to him. When I entered the room at the Hecksher Museum where the large-format photos of 24 trees are exhibited, I felt as though I were entering a temple of nature, not unlike how I felt when I first stepped into Anton Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain for the first time two months ago. The tree photograms are mounted in groups of six, four and three on the walls of the exhibit room. Each tree is unique and still alive at Walden Pond. The photos are so vividly detailed, in black and white, that I began to feel as though I was in the actual presence of the trees. Looking carefully at the features of each tree made them come alive: the bark patterns, the hollows and shadows, the wounds (in some cases), and the play of light on the trees within the forest became almost lifelike.

At that point I decided to sit down on a bench and just let myself bask in the glow of the images before me.

I have now learned that I was actually “forest bathing” without realizing it. An article in the New York Times (7/24/2017) features a new form of therapy, borrowed from the Japanese shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing,” which is about taking a walk in a forest and using all one’s senses to experience the forest and benefit from its calming effects. Granted, at the museum I was sitting in a “virtual forest,” but I have spent enough time in forests to know that my experience was very similar to what I have felt sitting in a grove of ancient redwoods.

There is an overall silvery tone to the exhibit which emmanates a very calming and peaceful effect. I could have spent an hour just sitting on the bench amongst the trees surrounding me. I do believe that forests, and any form of immersion in nature, does have calming effects which is why we humans are drawn to them.

With all the chaos going on in our government, people across the nation are experiencing unprecedented anxiety about their lives, their health and our collective future. Children are not immune to these anxieties. I recommend that teachers take their students on a nature walk, if possible, or to sit outside, weather permitting, on a regular basis. Your students may not have opportunities to do this at home or at school, but immersion in a film about nature, or studying a poem with nature as its subject, or even looking at soothing nature photos can be very calming for many students, much like my experience of virtual “tree bathing” at my local museum. If you are lucky enough to live near a wooded area or park, make it part of your own routine to treat yourself to a regular dose of nature; it’s the best spa treatment available and it’s free!

According to the author of Henry David Thoreau’s recent memoir, he died a peaceful death at age 44. His final words are purported to be, “This is such a beautiful world, but soon I shall see one that is fairer. I have so loved nature.” (New York Times Book Review)

Seville: A Visit to a Bullring Followed By a Flamenco Show

Recently I have been writing about a first trip to Spain my husband and I took in late May. I have already written posts about Madrid and am now writing about our second stop: Seville. After a first day of wandering the city on our own and finding it very user-friendly, we were given a tour of the city on our second morning. This included a stop at one of Spain’s most famous bullrings. Never a fan of bullfighting, I wasn’t sure I was very interested in actually visiting a bullring, but once there, I found it fascinating.

The Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla is a 12,000-capacity bullring in Seville, Spain. During the annual Seville Fair in Seville, it is the site of one of the most well-known bullfighting festivals in the world. Wikipedia

As our guide explained, the Plaza de Toros in Seville is especially known and beloved for the unique Moorish architectural style of its building. Painted in bold ochre and deep red colors on a background of white stucco, the building is very picturesque. Once inside the actual bullring, I was surprised by its dimensions. Although it is said to hold 12000 spectators, it felt much more intimate. I was shocked to see how close the front section of seats are to the actual bullring, separated only by a narrow circular passageway through which the bull and matadors pass on their way into and out of the ring. It felt as though you could almost reach out and touch the bulls passing through. I thought how intense the experience must be for those witnessing a bullfight at such a close distance. The outer corridor of the building through which the bulls pass on their way into the ring held an intense animal smell. When asked about it, the guide reported that a bulllfight had, indeed, been held only a few days earlier, but the odor of the bulls still permeated the building. The experience was becoming more and more visceral to me, and I knew then for sure that I would never be able to witness an actual bullfight; it was much too up close and personal an experience for me.

Although my curiosity about bullfighting had gotten me inside the building, and although I found the actual arena a compelling sight, I knew it was not an experience I ever wanted to have. At the end of the tour I did enjoy the small museum featuring photos of the history of bullfighting and many of the famous matodors, as well as samples of their costumes which were impressive.

But as for actually attending a bullfight, I already knew from watching it part of one on tv in Madrid that I could not bear to see the bull being tortured, much less witness its death.

We had a much more pleasant experience when, later that day, we attended a flamenco performance in a small, well-regarded tablao in the Arenal, the same neighborhood that housed the bullring.

Tablao El Arenal
Situated in an ideal location between the cathedral and Guadalquivir River, Tablao El Arenal is a historic 17th-century Andalusian building and is one of the only venues in Seville to be run by a former flamenco dancer, the great Curro Vélez.
http://www.flamencotickets.com/tablao-el-arenal-seville

The club itself was very unassuming in its appearance as we approached it from the street.

Inside it was narrow and dark, but just as we entered a very tall, slim guy with very long legs, dressed completely in black, descended a nearby staircase. He clearly looked like a performer and had smiles for everyone on line. Already excited, I became even more so.

The room in which the performance was held was quite intimate so we were very close to the stage.

The performers entered the stage. The lead singer, the guitarist and two other men sat in chairs very close to each other. The singer began in that haunting way that flamenco singers do, accompanied by the guitarist. The two other men soon joined in, clapping and stamping their feet in unison with the guitarist and singer. After one or two songs, a female dancer suddenly appeared and commanded the stage.

The pace immediately picked up as did the intensity of the guitar playing, singing and clapping. There is such an amazing symbiosis and intensity between flamenco dancers and their musicians; as the performance continues they merge into one very powerful entity. It is obvious that they love what they do and are very supportive of each other as artists. Their power and chemistry is irresistible. After about five or six amazing solo dancers, including two men, the performance ended with all the performers on the very small stage swirling, stomping, clapping, singing, dancing and strumming, uplifting the audience with the power of their passion.

That such beauty and intensity can emerge from such a simplistic setup is a testimony to the art form and their talent.

We returned to our hotel, fully satisfied by the day’s events and eagerly looking forward to our final day in Seville and our last stop: the Alcazar Gardens. Stay tuned.

Second Stop on Our Three-City Tour of Spain: Seville!

Today’s post is a rerun. Because of the holiday last week there was very little traffic on TWT so I thought those of you who are following my trip to Spain would welcome a reprise about the lovely city of Seville, our second stop in Spain.

After two and a half days of taking in the sights of Madrid, we headed south on the high-speed railroad to Madrid. I had chosen this particular vacation package because it included three cities in Spain; each in a very different region. Madrid is located in the central flatter part of the country; Seville is south on the Mediterranean coast, and Barcelona is in the hilly northeastern part of Spain, Catalonia, also on the coast. I was excited about heading south to what I imagined to be a romantic part of Spain. The high-speed train was neat as a whistle, efficient and quite peaceful. We were lucky to have seats in the “silent” car. (The Europeans do trains so well. The USA… Not!)

For about two and a half hours we rolled through the countryside, flanked on both sides of the train by rolling green hills, olive and orange trees, occasional windmills and a castle jutting out here and there on a rocky promontory. They were a reminder of the days when battles were fought centuries ago across these lands.

As we were driven from the train station to our hotel in Seville, we entered an area filled with purple flowering trees on both sides of a beautiful river flowing through the center of the city. It was like driving through a bank of purple clouds. I later learned the trees are called jacaranda, and some areas of Spain aere famous for them in Spring. Adjacent to the jacaranda trees were rows of palm trees standing majestically along the Guadalquivir River. The water was sparkling, the palm trees were gently waving back and forth and the sun was shining brightly. I felt like we had arrived in Paradise.

Hotel Becquer is located about three blocks from the river, on the busy main street. But this was a scaled-down thoroughfare, with plenty of parking and lots of shade trees.

The hotel at first did not appear as fancy as our hotel in Madrid, but once inside I changed my mind. It was very elegant; lots of wood tones, lovely paintings on the walls and a quiet, warm, sophisticated feel to it. A lovely portrait of the hotel’s namesake, the poet Becquer, adorned one of the lobby walls, as did portraits of other Spanish artists and writers.

Gustavo Adolfo Claudio Domínguez Bastida, better known as Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (February 17, 1836, Seville – December 22, 1870) was a Spanish post-romanticist poet and writer (mostly short stories), also a playwright, literary columnist, and talented in drawing. wikipedia

Either we were just lucky to land in the “artsy” part of town of both Madrid and Seville, or the Spanish are just more enthusiastic about honoring their painters and poets than we are. I suspect the latter!

Upon arrival we walked around a bit, discovering the lovely area along the riverbanks. We also walked past the famous bullring, la Real Maestranza, which we toured the following day, and got a glimpse of a famous landmark, the Torre de Oro, so named because of the yellow tiles which once covered its exterior and glistened in the sun.

The Torre del Oro is a dodecagonal military watchtower in Seville, southern Spain. It was erected by the Almohad Caliphate in order to control access to Seville via the Guadalquivir river. Wikipedia

Our bus tour of the city was comprehensive and included neighborhoods on both sides of the river. Once the tour guide mentioned La Triana, the neighborhood directly across the river from us, as the area where the working people of Seville reside, and its historic importance as the birthplace of ceramics in Seville and the place where Christopher Columbus and his crew spent time before their world voyage, I knew I wanted to go there.

After crossing over the picturesque bridge designed by none other than Eiffel (of the Eiffel Tower), known locally as the Triana Bridge, commissioned by the Queen Isabella II of Spain who loved all things Parisian, I immediately felt the difference in the neighborhoods. This was the real heart and soul of the city.

The little square we first encountered was bustling with small shops, people doing their daily shopping, bicyclists, and, of course, some tourists. But there were no grand buildings and overdressed shoppers on this side of town.

A short walk away we came upon the ceramic center where a small museum devoted to the history of the ceramic industry is housed, with a display of its ancient kilns which fascinated me.

I am a passionate collector of handpainted ceramics, so suffice it to say I thoroughly combed several shops displaying their wares.

Along with some decorative bowls, an olive tray, and a house sign bearing the numbers 41, for our home on LI, we purchased a set of counter tiles which involved some considerable back and forth between the lovely owner and ourselves. She did not speak English, and I spoke very limited Spanish, but we were able to get the job done!

There’s more to say about Triana and Seville , but I’m out of steam. Next week: a tour inside a bullring, a cozy venue for tapas, and a flamenco show.