Tag Archives: viajes

Edimburgo Part IV : ¿maíz escocés?

One of the more interesting day trips you can take from Edinburgh is to the quaint little village of Roslin. All you need is £1.20 to catch the #15 bus from the city center, and then just sit back and enjoy the 35-minute ride.

If you squint and make that 2 look more like a 1, this could be the number 15 bus!

But you won’t be the only tourist in Roslin. The village has seen an astounding increase in visitor traffic since 2003 when a little old book you’ve probably never heard of came out … The Da Vinci Code. I think they may have even made a film version of it starring some no-name actor and with some washed-up former child star as the director. But apparently a couple of people have heard of it, because they’re coming by the thousands to see Rosslyn Chapel, which plays a crucial role in Dan Brown’s thriller and which happens to be located in a green space next to the village of Roslin’s graveyard.

Now whether you believe all the hype about the Templars and buried esoteric treasures or not, Rosslyn Chapel is a beautiful 15th-century structure with amazing stone carvings and is really worth a visit. Vices and virtues are on display, vines grow out of the mouths of little men, dragons surround pillars, and the devil even makes an appearance as a fallen angel. There also just might be some carvings along an arch of … corn?

Some folks posit that those chunky things with crowns and little beady things running up and down them are supposed to represent the stuff. But if that’s the case, then there is a mystery going on with this chapel that has nothing to do with any grail.

El maíz, as we all know, is a wonderful domestic grass that was cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs throughout large parts of what is now Mexico well before any Europeans arrived in the area and shook up the place. It now stands as one of the most important grains in practically every culture in the Americas and is used in cuisines throughout the world. Heck, thanks to high fructose syrup and big agra, it now forms the bulk of the American diet. Oh, and I love the stuff! Not just because I’m a native Hoosier, but because it just plain tastes good.

The problem is that Europeans had—in theory—never seen, tasted, or heard of the stuff when the carvings at Rosslyn Chapel were made. So if those really are images of corn at the chapel … WTF??? (As the kids would say.)

Edimburgo Part III : Museum of Childhood

One of the best things about Edinburgh is that it has a slew of quirky museums, almost all of which are free to the public. One of my favorites is the Museum of Childhood. Not surprisingly, it has a huge collection of material goods associated with children—everything from prams and bottles to toys and games. One large room in the museum is devoted to dolls. And while most of the pieces in it are from the UK—as are the bulk of items from the museum as a whole—there is a little section tucked away in a corner with dolls and figures from outside Britain and Europe. Of interest to me, of course, were a couple of figures from Latin America. (Sorry for the reflection of this old boy’s hand in the photo!)

The one on the left is described as a “Mexican grotesque figure” from the 1960s. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that it is from the Day of the Dead festival. I found it to be an interesting juxtaposition to all the lovely dolls in dresses and nice hats that otherwise fill the museum’s doll room!

The one on the right is a stone figure found at a child’s grave in Peru. No other information is given, which leaves my mind reeling.

Edimburgo Part II : Monkey Puzzle Tree

Part of the reason I was in Scotland was to catch up with my wife who was taking part in a botanical conference there. As part of her work in the UK, we were given a short tour of Benmore Botanic Garden, which is near the Firth of Clyde and is part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh‘s system of gardens. One of the prized features of Benmore is their Chilean Rainforest Glade, which the Garden undertook as a project in 1995. The following is my poor photograph of part of this area at Benmore.

This collection of Chilean flora includes all nine of the Chilean conifers, but the coolest one is that guy in the lower right hand corner, la araucaria or in English … the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana).

Monkey puzzles naturally occur in the south-central regions of the Andes in Argentina and Chile, but they became very popular garden trees in Great Britain beginning in the 19th century. Apparently there are also some in the coastal areas of the US as well, but I had never even heard of the tree before going to Benmore.

Monkey puzzles are considered sacred by some Mapuche tribes in Chile. They are also sometimes used for wood, but are more important as a food resource. Their seeds are edible and similar to pine nuts. Amazingly, however, trees don’t yield seeds until they are around 30 or 40 years old! But that’s still adolescence for a monkey puzzle tree; they can survive for upwards of 1,000 years. But the best thing about a monkey puzzle tree, of course, is its name. It seems to come from 19th-century England when a young owner remarked that the tree’s odd shape and reptilian design would make a monkey puzzle how to climb it. It also leads to many British school children mimicking monkey sounds when touring the garden (an event I’ve witnessed first hand!).

Edimburgo Part I : Romero Place

I was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in Scotland last month, mostly in the capital city Edinburgh. While there, I was comfortably bunking in a quiet residential neighborhood near the University of Edinburgh. On more than one occasion, I made my way along Dalkeith Road, in order to reach Holyrood Park, a picturesque green space with towering hills and great views of the Royal Mile, the Scottish Parliament, and the Queen’s residence in Scotland. The University’s Pollock Halls of Residence are situated on Dalkeith, so I passed by them several times during my visit. But I must have been staring at my feet for the most part because I didn’t notice that one of the halls is named “Romero Place” until my last day in the city.

Even then, my first thought was only that it was just a strange name for a place in Scotland. A British friend told me that a lot of Italians live in Edinburgh, so I figured the residence hall must be named after some generous Italian immigrant who perhaps attended the university or served in its community in some capacity. But then I noticed a relief sculpture embedded in the stone wall near the name plate.

Campesinos collecting culture from a tree that appears to be rooted in the body of a man? Very odd.

Then I noticed the inscription surrounding the image.

Que mi sangre sea semilla de libertad y la señal de que la esperanza será pronto una realidad.
Let my blood be a seed of freedom and a sign that hope will soon be a reality.

The quote is from the Salvadoran martyr Óscar Romero. And I immediately felt like an idiot when I realized that the residence hall was named after this great defender of human rights. How had I missed this when I had passed by the building so many times before?

Archbishop Romero’s story is an interesting one. He grew up in a relatively poor family but didn’t take to his father’s wishes for him of becoming a carpenter. He entered the priesthood instead, and actually spent the early years of his career not as the social justice stalwart we remember Romero as today, but as a believer in church hierarchy and the separation of religion and politics. While he was climbing the ecclesiastical ladder, he was considered a conservative and far from a friend to devotees of Liberation Theology. There was actually a great deal of consternation among the political left when Romero was named Archbishop of San Salvador. But Romero had greatly reconsidered his politics and philosophy before taking on that important place in the Salvadoran church’s hierarchy. He had witnessed first hand the neglect of poor while serving in his previous position as Bishop of Santiago de María, and he had become conscious of the ruthless slaughter of individuals who stood in the way of power. Now in a position of authority to speak out against such atrocities, he did so and became a marked man. Ultimately, Romero was gunned down by the Salvadoran right wing on March 24, 1980, while he was in the midst of performing a mass at a hospital. With the saintly leader now gone, all hell broke out in El Salvador, and the country fell into a twelve-year-long civil war.

Romero’s work for the political freedoms and human rights in El Salvador has since become immortalized in the arts. A sculpture of his likeness fills a prominent place in the Gallery of Martyrs at Westminster Abbey in London. Songs and poems have been written about him. And Raúl Juliá even portrayed the Archbishop in the 1989 film Romero.

But I’m still trying to figure out why this particular residence hall in Edinburgh bears his name. Is there a special connection with the university? or the city? All I know is that I wish I had lived in a dorm named after a human rights champion when I was a freshman in college.

Semana Santa in Spain

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is witness Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) celebrations in Spain. But another year has passed and it still only remains a dream. Here’s hoping that 2011 will be my chance!

Semana Santa is, of course, the week leading up to Easter. It includes Palm Sunday (el Domingo de Ramos), Maundy Thursday (el Jueves Santo), Good Friday (el Viernes Santo), and Easter (la Pascua de Resurrección) itself. In Spain, as well as most other Spanish-speaking countries, this adds up to a celebration and festival season that rivals Christmas.

In particular, the week usually consists of a series of processions through the city. Each procession features incredibly impressive pasos, which are floats with highly realistic sculptures depicting the Passion (the final days and suffering of Jesus of Nazareth) and/or the grief of Saint Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Each procession is organized by a particular brotherhood from a local church. These brotherhoods (hermandades or confradías) are lay organizations that are dedicated to performing acts of religious observance in public. In terms of Semana Santa, this means ritual penance for the Passion and death of Jesus.

A procession usually runs from the brotherhood’s home church to the city’s cathedral and might consist of…

*A large guiding cross (cruz de guía) that leads the procession.

*The nazarenos (more on them below).

*Penitentes (also nazarenos, but without the pointing hats) carrying wooden crosses as part of their public penance.

*Altar boys and acolytes with candles and incense.

*The pasos.

*A band.

All of this means there can be hundreds or more in a procession. And the procession itself can last as long as fourteen hours if the brotherhood is from an outlying neighborhood.

For an outsider, one of the more striking aspects about the processions are the nazarenos, the men (and even a few women) dressed in distinctive robes and conical hats. The nazarenos disguise themselves because they are doing penance and shouldn’t be recognized in public because of it. And the hats probably signify a focusing of energy and spirit pointed at heaven. But most of us folks from the US see their costumes and immediately think of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s unclear if the Klan lifted their design from nazarenos or not. Like the Nazis stealing the swastika from Asia, it would be a sick joke if that were the case. The Klan has always been a highly anti-Catholic movement, and Hispanics and Latinos are viciously targeted in their ideology.

Los Prisioneros : Tren al sur

For all you ¡Arriba! users out there, here’s the music video from “6 ¡Buen provecho!” with lyrics.

Los Prisioneros are from Chile and were hot stuff in the 80s and early 90s. “Tren al sur” is from their album Corazones, which was released in 1990 and was their last record before an extended breakup that lasted until 2001. FYI, they broke up again a couple of years ago. Oh, these rockers.

The song gives me the creeps because it has that eerie synth sound that tormented my youth.

Un viaje al sur puede ser una alegoría de los cambios que se producen en la vida.”

Siete y media de la mañana
Mi asiento toca la ventana
Estación central, segundo carro
Del ferrocarril que me llevará al sur.

Y ya estos fierros van andando
Y mi corazón está saltando
Porque me llevan a las tierras
Donde al fin podré ver nuevo

Respirar adentro y hondo,
Alegrías del corazón, Ajaja!

Y no me digas pobre
Por ir viajando así
No ves que estoy contento
No ves que voy feliz.

Doce y media en la mañana
El olor se mete en la ventana
Son flores y animales, que me dicen
Bienvenido al sur.

Yo recuerdo a mi papito
Y no me importa estar solito
Porque me llevan a las tierras
Donde al fin podré de nuevo

Respirar adentro y hondo
Alegrías del corazón

Y no me digas pobre
Por ir viajando así
No ves que estoy contento
No ves que voy feliz
Viajando en este tren,
En este tren al sur

Tren al sur

Barcelona en mi corazón

"Squat and resist": You probably recognize this from my banner. It was taken from Montjuïc.

I just started reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia yesterday. The book details the British writer’s time fighting for the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) militia during the Spanish Civil War. And as you can tell from the title, much of this war memoir takes place in the Catalonia (Cataluña) region of Spain, whose heart is the city of Barcelona. Reading the book has gotten me romantically dreaming about the (way too short) visit I paid that city almost nine years ago.

*Side note: all these photos were taken with a cheap throwaway camera. Excuse the quality.

Graffiti outside my hotel.

Orwell writes at length about the political factions in the region. Various leftist groups, from Communists to Anarchists, held power in Catalonia at the time of the war, while the right-wing Nationalists were working towards control of the country as a whole. To me, the city seemed to still have strong political currents. Graffiti was everywhere, and it was often polemic: “The bosses are all thieves!” “Resist the global economy.” Beggars on the metro were apt to reference economic policies when asking for change. Leftist parties had booths along las Ramblas—including quaint seniors hawking hammer-and-sickle buttons. And every night seemed to bring a new protest march: gay rights, social reforms, vegetarianism, and so on.

Antoni Gaudí's still unfinished Sagrada Familia, parts of which were destroyed by Anarchists during the Civil War.

Culturally, the city has an interesting mix of architectural styles, museums, and venues. On the one hand, there is the highbrow modernist side: the Miro museum and Gaudí’s works. But then there is also the Erotica Museum in the heart of the city. And on the outskirts of town is Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona’s beloved football team. But my favorite place in the area is Montserrat, which is literally a “serrated mountain” that is conquered by a combination of cable car, funicular, and hike. The view is certainly worth the stomach-dropping ride up and calories burnt once on the ground.

Some of Montserrat's teeth.

But nothing in life is perfect. And whenever I get too misty about Barcelona I start to remember my last 24 hours there. It began with one last excursion to a Gaudí landmark. I don’t even remember which one. But on the way up the escalator from the metro, I was targeted by some pickpockets. In a flash, a commotion started and I quickly noticed a foreign hand in my pocket. Dashing away, I still had all my belongings. In fact, the thief would have only come away with the cruddy camera that I took these pictures with. But it was a definite mood damper. And arriving at the airport to find out that my flight home had been canceled didn’t improve things much.