Thursday, October 30, 2008


NB: There are a ton of photos to accompany this post. They aren't linked up yet because I haven't gotten around to it yet, but you can see them for yourself by going here.

So I arrived in Rome on Friday night. I found the convent where I was staying easily enough* and wasted a large number of my minutes by calling home.

Saturday morning I set my alarm clock for a ridiculously early time (6 a.m.) and was still trying to convince myself to get out of bed when the sound of the nuns singing Lauds came echoing up from down stairs. That right there is a better alarm clock than any electronic device.

I started the morning in St. Peter's (if you get to the cathedral before 8:30 you beat the crowds, any later and you spend the rest of the day standing in line). I thought that I remembered that photography isn't allowed inside the cathedral, but a review of my hard drive revealed that isn't so. Photography is allowed inside the cathedral (as it is most places in Rome), but none of my photos from two years ago where any good. This time I had a little bit better luck with the photography, but not much. Taking photos inside a space that large is tricky at best. I loitered around the cathedral for a while, went down to the tomb of the popes (no photos allowed in there, which is a change from last time), and then loitered around the piazza for a while. Piazza San Pietro is a good place for people watching. There's plenty of free seating (anywhere along the colonnade), and tonnes of people day or night.

To that end, I have formulated the following theory**:
For every four normal tourists (t) visible, there is/are also: 1 priest or monk (p) or 3 nuns (n, any order).

4t = p where p = 3n

(Buy this you can see that one tourist is only worth 3/4 of a nun, and if you really want to enjoy your trip to the Vatican City, you should bring a priest with you to act as a tour guide and read the Latin signs.)

After St. Peter's, I went to Piazza del Popolo (a large piazza in the north of the city) and started walking south, map in hand***. I did a lot of wandering, saw a few things that are on the normal tourist crawl, and a lot of odd things that aren't really. Some things were old favorites, others were things I can't believe I didn't see before, and others that had opened since I left.

Just in the churches around Piazza del Popolo I saw two Caravaggios and a 3rd century martyr. A little south and east of the Piazza, along the Tiber, there is the recently (re-)opened Altar of Peace, one of Caesar Augustus's many monuments to himself. The museum is pretty simple: there's the altar (which is about the size of my parent's living room), a model of the altar with all the people in the exterior panels neatly labeled, a row of plaster busts of Augustus and his family, a chart showing the line of succession from Julius to Augustus, and through the next few generations of his successors (which makes it all look a lot more tidy than it really was), a model showing the Campus Martus (i.e. the local area) at the time of the altar's construction, and a sign giving some back ground information. The building itself was a shiny modern glass box, which I disprove of in general, but like in this instance. It was all marble and glass, the former always looks natural in Rome and the latter is by nature transparent, and does not obstruct the view. As for the museum itself... well, there's also a gallary in the basement, so if you're interested in whatever the temporary exhibit is (I wasn't), then it's worth the price of admission (6 Euros, 4.50 for a student). If you're not interested in the exhibit, then the glass and stone architecture of the museum means that you can stand outside and see the altar for free.

Also, the church across the street from the altar was celebrating St. Rocco's day (no, I've never heard of him either), and the crowd was big enough that the festivities were being held outside. That was pretty entertaining too, but since I could only understand every fourth or fifth word of the homily, I went back to the Via del Corso (one of the longest streets in the city, built over the top of the Via Flaminia that Augustus had built) and headed south again. I paused at the column of Marcus Aurelius (the forward thinking emperor's alternative to the triumphal arch) long enough to take a photo and do a map recon before continuing to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon continues it's long tradition of being really cool looking and really crowded. It was the first pagan temple in Rome to be converted into a Christian church, but certainly not the last (and officially, it's name is St. Mary's of the Martyrs). It's home to the graves of two kings of Italy (Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I) and Raphael (the artist, not the ninja turtle). It's dome is made of concrete and features a giant hole at the center that would confound architects until the Renaissance (and it's still the largest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world), which is even more impressive when you consider that the modern building was built in the time of Emperor Hadrian (c. 125 AD, you may also have heard of a wall in Scotland he had constructed) and has been in continuous use ever since. The original bronze roof tiles were taken in the 7th century (some to Constantinople, must to Castel San Angelo) and most of the exterior marble went soon afterwords, but the brick and concrete are still holding strong.

Next I stopped for lunch. Most of the eating type places around the Pantheon (or any other landmark, for that matter) are ridiculously crowded and over priced. I would however recommend a place around on the back side of the Pantheon called Pizza Minerva. Despite being surrounded by tourist traps on all sides, this place serves good pizza at reasonable prices (pizza in Italy should be sold by weight, if it's not, you've made a bad choice in restaurants, try again), and the crowd inside is composed entirely of Italians. I discovered this place two years ago (in fact, it's the pizzeria mentioned in this story) and I was happy to see it still thriving.

My next stop was catercorner to the Pantheon: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (St. Mary over Minerva). There are a lot of St. [pick your favorite] over [pagan god] churches in Italy, the name just means that it is a pagan temple converted into a Christian church. This particular church is home to a Michelangelo statue and the relics of St. Catherine of Sienna, both of which were new discoveries for me.

From there, I hit Largo Torre Argintina (where Julius Ceasar was assassinated, now home to a large bus stop and a lot of stray cats) and the Campadolio, as I attempted to enter the forum. I had been for warned that the forum now charges admission, but I didn't get instructions on how to enter it, so I spent some time wandering the back side of the Capitoline Hill, looking for a way in (as opposed to an exit, of which I found several).

As I was looking for the way into the forum, I found the Marmetrine Prison, something that had been around for 2 millinia, but which I still unaccountably failed to visit the last time I was here. You might recognize it from the write-up it got in the best selling book of all time. It's teeny-tiny, with a ceiling so low I felt like I had to duck. All the signage is in Italian and Latin, but as there are only tow rooms (upstairs and down in the cell), even if you don't know either, it's not hard to figure out what's what. It's not crowded (cause it's tucked into an out of the way corner) and admission is only whatever you want to give as a donation (give generously, that hand-rail needs fixing). If you go, take a moment to sit down in a quiet place out of the sun, and think about whose footsteps you've following.

I never did get into the forum, because the entrance was blocked by a political rally (It's always and election year in Italy). the signs posted all around town said that the event would be in Piazza Republica early in the afternoon and at he Circus Maximums later in the day. Italy being Italy, there was only one rally and it was sort of between those tow times, and sort of at the half way point between the two locations (sort of, I say, If I were walking from the one to the other, it's not the route I would have taken, but if you've got a mob to direct you have to stick to the main streets).

Instead, I went to Trajan's forum/markets. There's a museum explains a little of what's what, and a whole swath of Roman ruins I'd not been able to see before because they weren't open to the public the last time I was here. Unlike the forum, which is mostly official Rome -- temples, the senate, and law courts -- this area is public -- shops and public gathering places. I spent the rest of the day exploring. It's interesting to me how archeologists are able to piece so much together from so little information. For instance, they know from 'contemporary' accounts (i.e. ancient letters home, "Dear Mom, I have arrived safely in Rome. Today I went to the forum and I saw...") that there was colossus of Caesar Augustus at the site, and that copies (existent today) were made in the colonies. What have they found of it in Rome? 3 pieces of one hand, and a foot print. The original bits are on display, while replicas have been attached to a wire frame skeleton to give some idea about what the original hand would have looked like. You did read that right, one foot print. the building it was in was built around the statue, so they didn't bother paving the floor under it's feet. The statue is gone now, but the floor remains with a footprint where the colossus once stood. It's about as long as three of my paces.

I did lots of climbing, even though heights make me nervous and just because something has stood for thousands of years doesn't mean that it hasn't just been waiting to collapse when I get there. Also, the stairs were installed by Mussolini's architects in '36 and the railings are an even more recent addition. Prove to me that they are stable.

After that it was dinner time and back to the convent. the next day, I had just enough time to go to the Trevi fountain at the crack of dawn and toss in a coin before collecting my luggage and heading to the airport.


*By "easily enough" I of course mean that I did far more walking than I needed to because I got tired of waiting for a bus that only comes twice a,n hour (if the driver feels like it) and re-routed to a bus that dropped me off on the other side of the Vatican City. It wasn't that bad, except for the fact that suitcase wheels and cobblestones don't like each other. [back]
**If you, or anyone you know is heading to the Vatican City in the near future, I invite you to collect more data, so I can refine my theory. [back]
***I purchased this map at the train station on my way into town. Fully unfolded it's over a yard long, and, at a scale of 1 to 17,000 (the units arn't specified), it's appropriate for use in planning your invasion of the city.[back]

Sunday, October 26, 2008

When in Rome...

Well I'm back from a whirlwind weekend visit to Rome. I had a lot of fun, and I'll tell you all about it once I get the photos in order (it takes longer than you'd think to write caption). For now, a couple of anecdotes.

I was riding the metro back from the Trevi Fountain this morning when, one stop before I exited, an Italian Boy Scout troop got on with all their hiking gear. Is there anywhere else in the world where one would use public transportation to go on a camp-out? One kid even had a guitar with him.

Then, I walk through the Vatican City to the bus stop, so I can go back to the guest house and check out, when a car pulls up to the curb and stops just long enough to let a bishop (wearing the official black dress and hot pink beanie) hop out. The car spreads away, and the bishop just walks down the street, talking on his cell phone and carrying a briefcase. It's strange to think that for some people, a trip to the Vatican City is just another day at the office.


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the first sock I've knitted all by myself. There's actually more photos where that one came from: I've been showing off all afternoon.
I also hit an office supply store to purchase a new notebook (as my current one is nearly full) and some colored pencils. Right now life is good, and I'm flying to Rome tomorrow for a long awaited trip.


P.S. I finally got the Columbus Day pictures up, they're linked below.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Luggage Restirictions

For your consideration I submit the following statement from a confirmation e-mail for my trip to Rome this weekend:


Do they mean that infants don't count as baggage, or that infants don't get a bag? I'm not sure which interpretation is more disturbing.

On the subject of baggage, I was stubborned into purchasing a bag with wheels as my new backpack. It's really more of a laptop bag/roll-aboard suitcase than a backpack but it meets the "doesn't put any weight on the injured right shoulder"* requirement. It also means means that I now have the perfect size carry on bag. How I am going to get all of this home, I have no idea. Something will have to be shipped, and now I'm thinking it'll be the messenger bag just because it weighs the least.

In totally unrelated news, Ana's mom is a frequent guest in the apartment. She usually stays here on the weekends and with Ana's brother (he and his wife are both opera singers, how cool is that?). The reason mom stays with the kids is because she has Alzheimer's and really shouldn't be left on her own. She's nice, although none of us really know Spanish well enough to talk to her. Mostly we just smile and nod. Sometimes I'll get out my knitting and sit next to her while she's working. Anyway she's been getting worse the past couple of months. Today Ana and her mother left for a doctor in Andalusia (in the south) who Juan says is one of the best doctors for Alzheimer's in Spain. After this guy, the experts are all in the US. They'll be back in Madrid on Wednesday, but for right now, it's kind of quiet around here.


*The shoulder is doing much better, thanks for asking. I still don't have my full range of movement back in my neck, and it still hurts to move my right arm too much, but it's getting a little better everyday. A weekend of sitting around playing World of Warcraft and only leaving the apartment for food (even though I really wanted to attend the Dickens conference but traveling across town seemed like a terrible idea when it still hurt to get out of bed in the mornings) seems to have helped greatly. [back]

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Yesterday evening I tripped on the stairs at school. I managed to catch myself before I fell, but something in my shoulder decided that was enough and quit on me. I've got a throbbing pain from my neck and spine, across my right shoulder down to my elbow. It hurts to turn my neck, bend at the waist, or make any sudden movement with my right arm. I took some Tylenol and waited, but this morning there was no improvement. I went to the doctor the school works with (a very nice guy, and his English is perfect). He says I pulled a muscle. I've been given a cream to apply 3-4 times a day (still working on the logistics of that since its a muscle in my back and it hurts to move my arms that direction), a muscle relaxant to take at night, and Ibuprofen. The Ibuprofen is in a powder form that I'm supposed to mix with water and drink, but some fool decided that adding a mint flavor would help. It doesn't. Those of you who know me, know I don't like mint. To me, this is like trying to drink tooth paste. It's taking me all afternoon because drinking more than a sip at a time triggers my gag reflex. Other then that, I'm supposed to take it easy, and not do any work, especially not anything that requires putting any stress on my right shoulder.

As if that wasn't enough, no one at SLU seems to know where my insurance card is, nor do they seem to be able to locate any documentation that I ever applied for insurance in Spain. I know I registered, because I had to present proof of registration in order to apply for my visa. I've got my documentation and I've requested a statement from last summer from the bank, so I'm going back in tomorrow to see if I can't get this sorted out. Today, I had to pay out of pocket for the doctor's visit and the medicine, and once I get my insurance information I'll have to present the receipts and in theory I'll be re-reimbursed. In practice, I have no idea if I'll ever see my money again.

When I got back to the apartment, Ana told me that the reason I had hurt my back was because my backpack was to heavy (probably true). I got a lecture about how "that's the only back you've got" and how I need to go to el Rastro on Sunday and buy one of those little backpacks with wheels (I good idea).

The good news is that my absentee ballot finally arrived. I should have it in the mail on Monday. Would someone who lives in Denton County send me an e-mail and tell me what's the deal with Bond Propositions No. 1 and 2? No. 1 is "The issuance of $310,000,000 general obligation bonds for constructing, improving and maintaining roads and bridges within Denton county and the levy of a tax in payment thereof". No.2 reads "The issuance of $185,000,000 general obligation bonds for constructing, improving and equipping existing county buildings and facilities to wit: county government centers, service centers, county administration facilities, detention, probation and law enforcement facilities and, related technology improvements, and the levy of a tax in payment thereof." (The punctuation mistakes in both quotes are, sadly, copied straight from the ballot.) What I want to know is exactly what are they planning on improving with this money, and what (and how much) is the tax that goes with these improvements? (Income tax? Property tax? Another sales tax hike?) I'd ask if there was any reason no to re-elect the sheriff, the tax assessor, or the constable, but since no-one's running against them it sort of a moot point.

I'm going to finish lunch and spend the rest of the day sitting very still.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus Day Parade

There are all sorts of holidays and festivals here in Spain that they don't tell Americans about. I just get up on the weekends and, because I live in the center of town, there is usually some pretty interesting street theater going on just underneath my window. A couple weeks ago there was a religious procession (it took two and a half hours to walk a statue of Mary out of the church, to the end of the block, and back), and before that there was a horde of cyclists (apparently they're a pretty regular occurrence, and ride nude in the summer*).

I've started to accept the idea that I probably will never understand why these things keep happening around me, so it was kind of a shock to find a familiar celebration this past weekend. Columbus Day is a national holiday here.

It makes sense, 1492 was a very good year for Spain: the Reconquista ended with the fall of Granada in January, and Columbus's discovery of the New World brought prosperity to Spain for the next century. At one time, Spain owned all of South America except Brazil (which was Portuguese), all of Central America, Mexico, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and parts of the Caribbean. Then the British defeated the Spanish Armada and the Spaniards backed the wrong horse in the 30 years war, and after that things just sort of collapsed slowly for the next three hundred years or so. The country hit rock bottom either just before, during, or after the Civil War (depending on who you ask). But, to get back to where this story started, Columbus brought good times to Spain, and Columbus Day is a holiday here.**

There was a big fancy schmancy military parade in down town Madrid, with all the different units with their own uniforms. For instance the Spanish special forces wear a hat that looks like the hat an Aggie would call a bitter (What does the rest of the world call it again?) except it has a dangle-y red tassel in front. That combined with the fact that they wear the top button of their shirts unbuttoned (with no undershirt) makes them look pretty ridiculous. That and their mascot is a goat with golden tinfoil on its horns (for no reason that anyone could tell me, and I'm not even sure how to begin to Google an explanation). Remember, they're special forces and if you laugh at them they can totally kick your ass.

I watched this parade on the TV in the living room because 1.)I didn't know about it until it came on and 2.)it's been raining all weekend. After the parade the king traditionally hosts a reception at the Palace (down the street from me on the other side of the Opera House) for the president, the cabinet ministers, any visiting heads of state who might show up, and the commanders of the military units that were in the parade. The upshot of this is that the parade came to me, as it's easier to march (or ride?) a mounted unit down pedestrian streets than ones open to cars (because you don't have to worry about stopping traffic), and the palace guard rode right under my window. [I will have pictures up as soon as my computer decides that it will read my camera's memory card.]

Fun fact: while normal troops march in parades, equestrian troops 'bailar' ('dance'), at least in Spain.


*I'm still not sure if Ana and Juan were kidding about that. It was a source of great amusement for about an hour, then we finished dinner and that was the end of that conversation. [back]
**But it fell on a Sunday this year, and that did not translate to a Monday off like it does in the States. Apparently it's felt that there are enough other holidays disrupting the calendar already.[back]

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Law of Elevator Function

The elevator in my apartment building is one of those old fashioned things with two sets of doors that open in opposite directions (one is in the stairwell, the other set is in the cage itself). You can't call it if it's already in service, you have to wait fifteen minutes for whoever is using it to finish before you can push the button. [Or you can stand there and push the button like an idiot even though the light is on, it just won't do anything.] There's no real air circulation, so if anyone smokes in there you smell it the rest of the day. Only three people can use if at a time (or four children), and even then it moves slower than cold molasses in January.

The Law of Elevator Function is this:
the more tired you are, the more frustrating your day has been, the less it is likely that the elevator will be there when you need it, or even be working at all.
More simply: elevator function is inversely proportional to the users existing level of frustration.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Am I Real Student Now?

The graduate semester finally started!

There are a dozen or so English MA students (all in varying stages of "I just have to finish my thesis and then I´m done") here and about twice that number of Spanish MA students. My cohort in the English department is a whopping three students (including myself), although there are supposed to be two more joining us in January.

Coincidently, three is also the number of classes I'm taking. There's the graduate class which is basicly an introduction to literary research, in which we're focusing on the genera of the pastoral. It´s either going to be really good or really tedious. The jury is still out on that one. I'm also in a linguistics class taught on the undergraduate schedual. I just turned in my first paper there (not my best work, but improving it would have required starting over completly and I just didn´t have the time for that, but it will probably be good enough) and took the first partial exam (a piece of cake). Today was also the first partial exam for the Spanish class I'm taking. I think I did pretty well there too, but that one doesn't really matter since I'm just sitting in, instead of getting a grade.

The important thing is, I am learning Spanish. Yesturday at dinner (half a chicken each and curry rice, with marizipan for desert) Ana was asking us all about how our exams were going and she complemented me on my Spanish. She said out of the six of us girls I had made the most improvement. I´ve gone from practically nothing to nearly always speaking in complete sentences in one month.

My absentee balot still isn´t here. (Any day now the lady in the mail room says, they've started to arrive.) I did recieve my admission ticket for the Subject GRE test I'm going to Berlin to take in November. When I registered for the test, I thought the name of the university there sounded kind of familiar and figured that it wouldn´t be to hard for me to track it down. Now that my ticket is here I have the street address and realized that the reason it sounded kind of familiar because it's right smack dab in the center of the city, on Strasse des 17 Juni. In other words, if you start on Under den Linden Strasse and walk under the Brandenberger Tor into the Teirgarten, once you enter the park the road changes its name to Strasse des 17 Juni. Just keep walking strait down through the park, past the Victory Column and out the otherside, and the place for the test is right there.


P.S. If the wear on the keys of the computers in labs here at school are any indication, the least used letters in English and Spanish are (from least to slightly more used) ç, ñ, q, z, x, and p.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hot Garlic-y Goodness

Ana, my host mom, made humus for the first time today. It was a great success: full of garlic. We've been promised pita bread at dinner tomorrow. Life is good.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Holy Toledo!

Last Saturday I went to Toledo, a half an hour trip by high-speed train. It was such any easy trip to make, part of my wishes that I had gone sooner. The sensible part of me is glad I waited until the weather started to cool off*, because it would have been a miserable trip in the summer heat. The joke is that all of Toledo is uphill. That's not entirely true, there are some flat bits on the other side of the river from the bits that you come to see**. So, for the most part Toledo is all up hill, add in streets that are almost all cobblestone, and walking three blocks becomes a serious hike.

I caught the first train from Madrid, which was itself an adventure. I had help from a professor who has been living in Spain for the past 30 years in buying my ticket Friday afternoon, for which I was extremely greatfull, as I don't think I could have found the correct ticket counter on my own. Fun fact: the main train station connects the metro with two (unconnected) train networks, a food court, more magazine stands than you can shake a stick at, and a greenhouse complete with turtle pond. You can't buy an AVE ticket at the RENFE counter, and you're just expected to know which trains are which. When you take a number and wait 15 minutes for your turn, the ticket minion will tell you that contrary to what the time-table says, the first train on Saturday leaves at 8:20. After you've bought the ticket, getting on the train is comparatively easy. There's no line at security, where your luggage goes through a metal detector but you done. There's a short wait in a departure lounge, and boarding begins twenty minuets before your flight train leaves. Your ticket is checked by a minion before you're allowed down the gangway to the platform. Arrivals are in a different part of the station, if you want to change trains you have to leave the secured area and come back in. The whole deal is pretty neatly run, but feels more like getting on an airplane than a train.

I arrived in Toledo at 9:50 and took a bus up the hill to Plaza Zocodover. The plaza is the city center, not because it's particularly central or nice to look at, but because it's the largest open area left up there. One of the results of the Moorish occupation is the labyrinthine street plan. The streets are almost all twisty little alleyways that would not be out of place in Morocco or Algeria. The sub-folder Side Streets and Go Betweens is full of pictures off some of the little buildings and streets that aren't anyplace particularly special, but caught my eye anyway***.

I started my guerrilla tourism in the Cathedral. The local legend is that one day as Saint Ildefonsus(d.667) was saying mass the Virgin Mother herself came down from heaven and presented him with a chasuble. A story that the diocese has used ever since as its claim to primacy in the Spanish Catholic church. Even in Visigothic times, there was an important church on the site, which was knocked down in order to make a mosque when Toledo was captured by the Moors in the 8th century. Because the city was so important to the church, Toledo was the first city to be taken by the Reconquista (in 1085, for those of you playing at home). The mosque was then re-converted to a church and the current cathedral was built between 1226 and 1493. The cathedral has been remodeled more or less continually ever since (the current work is cleaning the exterior). The most dramatic change was the addition of el Transperente, essentially a giant hole in the roof behind the main altar, with a clear window, and a huge baroque painting/sculpture/altar/thing-that-doesn't-fit-at-all-with-the-Gothic-architecture showing an assortment of saints and angles descending form heaven, unless they're ascending. Mary is near the top, with St. Ildefonsus and the chasuble just in case you forgot where you are. The second most interesting bit of the cathedral# was a collection of 16th and 17th century vestments. The plainest of the group are just silk with more silk embroidery. The fanciest each have enough precious stones on them to start a jewelry store.

The vestry has painting of every bishop Toledo's ever had starting with in the late 300s and going up to the present day. The portrait's have been painted from life since the early 1500s, so it is interesting to see the development of both art history and clothing. There are red hats hanging throughout the cathedral (I counted 4, but I might be forgetting one): according to local tradition when a cardinal dies they hang his hat above his grave until it rots his soul arrives in heaven. I found enough to see in the cathedral## to keep me occupied for two hours. I have pictures only of the outside because "It is not allowed to make photos or film inside the cathedral". As crowded as it was in there, I probably could have gotten away with it, but I didn't think I would have difficulty finding postcards of the largest building in town.###

I went to the Alcazar next. It's an old fortress that has been many things over the years: it was the Spanish military academy for over a century. In the 30s, Republican (that's Franco's buddies) forces were besieged there by the Nationalists (not Franco's buddies), until other Republican troops arrived to break the siege. Because Toledo was rescued* the Nationalists were able to fortify their positions in Madrid, thus dragging the war out for several more years. Reconstruction on the Alcazar began almost as soon as Franco's rule was secure. Currently, it's closed for remodeling but it will open next year as a military history museum. If you visit now, there's a big monument to the civil war outside, some bits of the original Moorish architecture, and some nice views over the river in a nearby park. The 8th floor houses the local library, so it's also a nice place to use a free public restroom and do a map recon in a quiet air conditioned place with comfy chairs.

Then it was back down to Plaza Zocodover, past the statue of Cervantes at the top of the page, to the Museo de Santa Cruz. It's an old monastery with free admission to see a bunch of things that don't have any thing in common other than coming from Toledo. The courtyard has interesting architecture and some bits and bobs left over from a recent reconstruction. Photographs were allowed in the courtyard, but not inside, and the guard-to-tourist ratio was about 1:3, so they were able to enforce that ruling pretty well. There's a museum on the ground floor with some processional crosses and other assorted religious articles, along with the one El Greco** that another church in town didn't claim. Up stairs there's a little museum about the history of the ceramic industry in Europe. The explanations were all in Spanish however, so while I found the recreation of an artist's studio interesting, the rest got the reaction of "meh".

After an early lunch (1:30 is early in Spain) I made the hike (uphill both ways) to the other side of town for a marathon tour of the remaining sights.

The Church of St. Thomas (Santo Tomé) hosts the "Burial of Count Orgaz", one of the few El Greco paintings to be left in situ, or at least it's in situ until someone thinks of a way to move the wall it's painted on without damaging the painting. I don't like El Greco (he starts off in Manarism, and ends up with something like Surrialism, two art styles that have both made my Top 10 least favorite art movements list), but I do like this painting. [N.b.: I don't necessarily agree with the interpretation on this page, but it has a good copy of the painting and some nice close ups)The scene of the Count's body being lowered into the coffin is balanced perfectly by the scene of his soul (that's the ephemeral baby the angel in the center is holding) being carried into heaven. The count's body and one of the clerics look up towards the scene in heaven, the rest of the earthly figures look at the body. (Except El Greco -- in the back row -- and his son -- the boy in the very front -- both of whom look straight at the viewer, inviting you into the scene.) Meanwhile, in the heavens, the attention is focused to Jesus at the very top of the scene, in the center with the brightest light. Jesus and Mary both look down towards the earth, showing their care for those who must remain below while Count Orgaz is able to rise (with the help of an angel).

The rest of the church looks like any other parish in Spain, which is to say, it received a lot off money up until the last century, and every available surface is either marble or gold-plaited. The other surfaces are either carved wood, or painted wood. As the Vatican apparently demands nowadays, there is a pro-life poster on one of the confessionals, and a rack of fliers in the back. I risked a photo of one of the side chapels, where they had not one but two statues of Mary that caught my eye.

I then went to the Synagogue of the Transit, which is now a memorial to Spain's Jewish heritage. Jews first came to Spain with the Romans, and established large communities after the destruction of the Temple by Titus. They were tolerated by their pagan Roman neighbors, then their Christian neighbors after Constantine changed the official religion, then their Visigothic conquerors#, then their Moorish conquerors, then their Christian re-conquerors. In 1492## the Christian Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I captured Granada, the last remaining Muslim territory in Spain (freeing up funds to allow a crazy Italian to take three ships on a long cruse to the Dominican Republic, but that's another story...), and they turned their attentions to solidifying their rule of Spain. As a result of the Inquisition, 1/3 of Spain's Jewish population remained and converted to Christianity, 1/3 refused to convert and were killed, and 1/3 left Spain. The last third, called Sephardic Jews, mainly went to large trading centers in England and the Low Lands and got rich in banking and the far east trade, so it worked out mostly all right for them. The synagogues (and mosques as well, the Muslims faced the same persecution, but those who chose to leave went to North Africa, not central Europe) that were left behind where converted to churches or demolished, which is why Toledo has a Sinagoga Santa Maria la Blanca (Synagogue of St. Mary the White) and a Mezquita del Christo de la Luz (Mosque of Christ of the Light).

The Synagogue of the Transit was interesting architecturally, but you can see that same style of architecture anywhere in town. The exhibits of the museum were only explained in Spanish, and no audio guide was available. There were explanatory sheet in other languages (I spotted English and French, I think there were more) offering poor translations full of misspellings of the text at each exhibit, but nothing to indicate when it was referring to which displays. If it hadn't been randomly free admission day, I don't think it would have been worth the price. The Sinagoga Sta. Maria la Blanca definitely wasn't worth the 2.30 I paid to get in: one room, empty except for part of the altar piece (the rest has been removed to another museum), and the only signs were a floor plan and a "No Photo" warning.

The House and Museum of Victor Macho was a pleasant surprise though. I'd never heard of Victor Macho before making this trip, but Rick Steve gave the place a nice write up and he usually has pretty good judgment (even though he does like El Greco). He described the house as having good views of the river, and the art as being art deco, so I gave it a go. It was not very crowded (unlike the cathedral, St. Thomas's, and the Synagogue of the Transit), and a short film of the history of Toledo was included in the ticket price. The lady even put the English version on for me, even though I was the only person there. (A Spanish-speaking couple came in as I left.) I found it very informative, and at that point my feet welcomed the break. The promised views of the river where indeed there, as was the art deco statuary scattered all over the buildings and garden.

My last stop was the Monastery of St. John of the Monarchs (Monasterio de S. Juan de los Reyes). It was originally built to be the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella, but after the capture of Granada they chose to be buried there instead (as a symbol that they were not going to give up the territory again). The outside of the church is hung with chains belonging to Christian prisoners freed from Granada. In the courtyard there's a nice opportunity to play the guess the saint game, in addition to some other fun carvings. The church itself is technically no-photo, but there was no one to enforce that ruling, so I rebelled along with most everything else. The walls are covered in giant eagles (the symbol of St. John, for those of you playing at home) carrying Ferdinand and Isabella's coat of arms, just in case someone forgot which monarchs had the place build. The side chapels have most of the color: such as St. Peter facing down a rooster (the one that crowed after he denied Jesus three times) or this painting of a group of 30 Franciscans martyred during the civil war (they're buried in the crypt).

At this point, this point it was time to hike back to Plaza Zocodover (uphill both ways) for the bus back down hill and a walk back to the train station. I was back in Madrid just in time for dinner.

Total cost of the trip: 65 Euros, including 14.40 for a round trip train ticket, 18 for a damascene rosary, and 10 for lunch. The rest went to admission fees, postcards, and gelatto.

My pictures are all up in the photobucket, but they got scrambled when I uploaded them, so they're more or less in the reverse of the order in which I took them, except for where they're not. Sorry for any confusion. The good news is the foot notes now have links so you don't have to go scrolling up and down.

Ely, or Elise, or Isabella
no one can quite agree on what the Spanish equivalent of Elizabeth ought to be

*yes, dear reader, fall is starting to arrive in Spain. [back]
**the ruins of a Roman horse-racing stadium with a 10,000 person capacity are also in the flat bit, but I ran out of time and had to skip them in favor of catching my train [back]
***It's also part of my ongoing quest to make an absurdly long, but still logically arranged, URL [back]

#at least to my eye [back]
##the 5th largest in the world, according to a tour guide I eavesdropped on for a while[back]
###I was wrong, I found two. The Spaniards are really missing out by not selling a photo license. I would have been willing to pay the admission price (7 Euro, no negotiating) again in exchange for photos. [back]

*and Franco made Toledo a priority for the same reason it was a priority for the Reconquista: Toledo is the cultural heart of Spain [back]
**El Greco was a Cretin who studied art in Italy, who came to Spain to work on El Escorial but was turned down because Phillip II didn't like his work***, and who made it big in Toledo
***for the record, I think Phillip was right [back]

#Fun fact: the last place in the world where the Visigothic Catholic Rite (they're in communion with Rome, they just never followed the same service as the one in Rome because the one they had was just fine, thank you) is still held is Toledo Cathedral, in the Mozerabic Chapel at 9:15 in the morning. Mozerabic chant is also one of the ancestors of Gregorian chant. [back]
##Conveniently for Americans who don't want to learn anyone else's history, 1492 is also a very important year in Spanish history. [back]