Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We made reservations weeks ahead to take Ben to the Alhambra in Granada, the last palace of the North Africans and the first palace of the Spanish kingdom. Completed towards the end of Muslim rule in Spain by Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Muhammed V, Sultan of Granada (1353-1391), the Alhambra is a reflection of the culture of the last days of the Nasrid Kingdom. It is a place where artists and intellectuals had taken refuge as Christian Spain won victories over Al Andalus. The Alhambra mixes natural elements with man-made ones, and is a testament the skill of Muslim craftsmen of that time.

Again, as we've seen before, the Arabic architecture was astonishingly light and airy! I caught myself thinking several times, "I wonder where they studied engineering?"

We were amazed by the intricate wall carvings and the beautiful tiles, typical of Islamic architecture. Although their religion bans them from making "images," their walls are highly decorated with inscriptions from the Koran, as well as geometric patterns. Balance and equilibrium brought a sense of stability to the architecture.

When Ferdinand and Isabella ran the last reigning North Africans from the Alhambra, they did very little in the way of remodeling. Thank goodness! the whole place is a wonder and a beauty to behold.

Rows of arches, repetitive shapes, matching elements, and other features make the Alhambra a jewel of a place!

Within the Alhambra is the Palace of Charles V, built in 1527.

The monarch certainly enjoyed their privacy and the beauty of these gardens! everything was enchanting.

One can easily spend all day enjoying the beautiful architecture and the many gardens. John and Ben had a hard time dragging Jan away from the flowers – there was every shade of pansy imaginable

Come and see us and we’ll make sure to reserve a day at the Alhambra – bring your walking shoes!

Cazorla is a small town up in the hills east/southeast of Ubeda, in the middle of a national park. We went up there with friends John and Pam, from JBU days. The castle in the background guarded a border crossing in the old days, but became outdated after the conquest. they've turned it into a great museum, and you can climb all the way to the top (inside, of course)! The town boasts winding, narrow streets, and if you don't know exactly where you're going, and how to get there, I'd suggest parking the car and walking! which we did!

Surrounded by mountains, and fairly high up, Cazorla gets a lot of winter snow. the "snow chain" sign was still up on the highway, although it wasn't too cool out. we need to come back in the fall, and see the trees turning colors.

You can still see evidence of the Arabic architecture in the town, with light-weight arches and columns set against the heavy European stone construction.

Took a trip in the countryside, up in a Cazorla national park near here. We ate lunch by the roadside – baguettes with ham and cheese, chips ahoy, carrots, etc. The view from the lunch shelter was a beaut! You can hardly see it from the photo below, but there’s a quaint little town down in the valley below. Back to the right of this shot are the head-waters of the Guadalquivir River that finally winds its way down to the southwestern coast - the principle river of Andalucia. Crystal clear and VERY cold water. We went back later on with a church group from Ubeda, and did a lot of rock jumping, reminded me of the "good old days" back at school. Somehow Ben's glasses got lost, so he'll have to get a new pair in the US.

This was such a beautiful sight - looking down on soaring eagles and up at sailing vultures. clean air, fresh breezes, clear skies and deep valleys. We wandered all over on graveled country roads looking for a waterfall. never did find it, but we had a great time.

Ben climbed down a little ways form the lunch shelter – and if you can see him there, perched on the rock, you know how far it was! He went down there looking for the rusted out carcass of some vehicle that left the road at one time, and never made it back up. Of course, Ben made it back, it just took a long time to climb back up!

We took a trip to the royal palace, and did the tour thing. They said there were around 2800 rooms, of which we only saw about 28. That was enough! Tired feet and weary bodies demanded a rest! The palace was really beautiful, with lovely statues, decorations, wallpaper and even the molding around the ceiling. It must cost a fortune to keep up, and those poor house-girls who have to do all that sweeping and mopping! Seriously, myriads of tourists kept pouring in and out of the place. Maybe it IS a going concern after all!

Even though we all wore jackets, I got a pretty good sunburn. We rode a “topless” double-decker bus all over town, stopping off whenever we wanted to see something; museums, statues, plazas, and even a “Friday’s” restaurant! Ben found stuff on the menu that he loved to eat in Guatemala, but didn’t show up on the US menus in Dallas.

These "living" statues in Madrid provided a lot of fun. drop a nickel in their basket, and watch them move!
We took Ben to Cordoba to see a former mosque turned into a cathedral for Ferdinand and Isabel, kings of Spain in the late 1400’s. The light airy Arabic architecture had been slightly hidden been the overpowering northern European heavy stone style, where modifications had been made. However, several niches were left unoccupied, no doubt waiting for worthy (rich, famous, handsome, and enchanting) individuals?????

The Arabs used light, well-chosen materials, and several tricks to give a light feel to this very big mosque: slightly bulging columns, stylish capitals, pointy arches, repetitive, well-spaced members, stripes and colors among other things. High ceilings and well-placed sky-lights added to produce a great effect.

The changes made by the Spanish conquerors produce an almost heavy effect to the building, filling in arches, large massive monuments to by-gone heroes, and burial crypts for all the rich and famous. Still, it was easy to imagine thousands of devout Muslims standing, bowing and kneeling as they chanted their “sala” five times a day.

The adjacent “kings gardens” were absolutely beautiful, and very tranquil. We just sat and watched for quite a while.

Spaced out in the garden were different statues, well-groomed trees and bushes, as well as other attractions. My favorite was Columbus with Ferdinand and Isabel, seen here. It was the same F & I who finally subdued the Arabic/North African kingdom in the south of Spain the same year that Columbus sailed to the new world.

We took a trip to the state capital of Jaen, about an hour from here. They had a marvelous castle there, and we able to look out over the great countryside! We were even able to recognize the great smoke stacks from the olive processing factories outside of Baeza. The castle has a great history of occupation, from the Moors, the French, and the Spanish. We met fellow-CAMers the Saxes there, and had a great picnic in the woods. The hill was real steep, and there was something dizzying about the whole thing. Turns out the trees grew perpendicular to the ground, not vertically like most trees. So, as we walked along, everything was “cattywompussed!” reminded me of the “spirit beings” in the C.S. Lewis science fiction books, that were never quite vertical with our world because they were oriented with a different other-worldly axis.

The town of Jaen down below had a fairy tale cathedral. Looks like a post card, but it’s the real thing! We wound our way down the twisty roads and streets of town, and stopped for a coke in the shadow of the great building. Warm day, cool coke! Great combination!

Had to take a shot of Jan for the record. Looks as good as ever. Right? I think life in Spain agrees with us.

Ben has been visiting for a few months, and enjoyed being a tourist in Spain.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A team from Dallas and Mexico visited during Easter week. A couple of artists from Mexico did some evangelism in the park. Using their painting talents, they attracted lots of kids. Several kids knew the Bible stories, and they all got to take home some comic books with stories in them. The adults showed some curiosity over the art works, but remained cold to any discussion or presentation of a religious nature.

We took a short trip to GUADIX during Easter week. Apparently, when the Spanish re-conquered the area, they allowed the Moors to stay, but they preferred to move out of town into the nearby hills. There, they carved out houses in the hillside (caves), and put “house facades” on the fronts. So, they lived underground with beautifully finished facades.

People still live there. no need for heat in winter or air conditioning in the summer. It sure is strange to see smoke stacks poking out of hill-tops!

We’re always amazed at how religious people seem to get around Easter! And Baeza’s no different! There were processions all week long, at all different hours. Some even involved little children at 10:30 or 11:00 at night. The “floats” are fairly heavy, as noted by the number of people carrying them. I guess that’s not the only heavy load they’re carrying!

Different floats were carried by different groups and cofradias. Even the civil guard got in the act, and carried a float!

There were several bands that accompanied the processions, even some little kids got in the act. There was some similarity with holy week in Guatemala, but some distinct activities, too. We didn’t see any of the floral carpets, but they tell us that’ll happen on Corpus Cristi – next week.

We always love to visit our good friends in Decatur, Alabama, where the First Bible church is. While in the US during March, I had a chance to attend FBC’s missions conference. Along with that great experience I got to spend a couple days with Jim and Lynne Burleson and do a little “work.” They’re re-modeling their log house, and agreed to an extra hand in putting up the last of the logs for the roof, and a few of the columns. The first day we worked in the drizzle all day, and the second under a snowflake-filled sky. Sure was cold! But it was great to be back in the construction business. And having that handy “heavy-log-lifter” was a boon, too!

I (John) spent a few days in Dallas, helping with some family matters, and would you believe it snowed! That’s the first snow we’ve seen for almost 20 years. Didn’t last long, and I was glad to let it go! Our three boys are living there with my sister Barbara, and really enjoying it. Tim and Ben are still in college, and Andy is working in the film industry, traveling in the Dallas area. At present, you can look for his name under the “gaffer” in the credits. He’s hoping to do some actual shooting, and maybe work into direction some day. Tim has a couple of semesters left, having transferred from John Brown to the UTD. Ben just spent three months with us here in Spain, and will be returning to Dallas in early June. He’ll be working at a local Christian camp during the summer, and probably pursue studies in journalism in the fall.

There’s always a warm welcome at FBC, and I had a great opportunity to give a report about what’s happening here, and just renew good friendships in general. Time in a Sunday school class allowed us to challenge folks’ thinking again, and get us out of our comfortable ruts.

The music at the conference was outstanding, as usual. I came home recharged, and challenged again. We’d like to see some young folks from that church do an internship here, when we get all settled in.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

We talked to someone recently who had visited Spain in the past. Their impression of Spanish food was summed up in four things: bread, tomatoes, ham and olive oil. Although that’s not all they eat, it was certainly an interesting observation. There’s always a big rack of hams at the grocery store. There are also shelves and shelves of olive oil. One of the favorite ways to use tomatoes is to peel them, grate them, and spread the “sauce” on toasted “French” bread covered in oil. And bread – well, when we walk into the bakery, the girl there almost automatically reaches for a “bar” of bread. And everyone heads for the bakery right before lunch every day. There are, of course, all kinds of other foods, but if you don’t like one of the above-mentioned ones, you might have a hard time when you visit.

Olive harvest is almost over. John went out one Saturday to help a friend “harvest” black – ripe - olives. (And did you know that green olives are really black olives that haven’t ripened yet? And that the little red thing inside isn’t really part of the olive? You can buy olives with anchovies, pimento, cheese or even jalapeño in them – yum!) anyway, big canvas-like nets are spread under the trees, and then the workers either beat the tree with light rods, or use some kind of vibrator to shake the olives loose. After about 15 trees, the olives are all scooped into a light utility trailer (if you aren’t a big-time producer) and taken off to the “Co-op” where they are cleaned, washed, weighed, analyzed for oil content, and processed right then. The farmer then gets credit for so many pounds (kilos) of oil. After a whole day of beating olives, the neck and shoulders can sure hurt!

Over Thanksgiving we went to an “English camp,” put on by a different mission. The greatest part was the one-on-one conversation time. John learned all about the political structure of Spain (not ALL ABOUT, just enough to understand the elections coming up this March, 2008)

Jan had a chance to learn about all the great vacation spots in and around Spain. (not ALL, just enough to wish we were going somewhere!) We hope to offer some kind of English camp like this in Baeza in the future.

Over Christmas we had a visitor – a future colleague! Krista spent about two weeks with us, got to know the church folks, and got a better idea what to expect. She’ll be back in the summer for a one-year internship. As it turns out, she’s also going to have a companion here for the whole year! We’re also expecting a short-term intern this summer. Jan and Krista posed in front of our favorite sidewalk café where we’ve spent many a summer evening watching the town go by. We see the hosting of interns as a key ministry – whether from North America, or Central America. Christmas dinner lasted two days (we prepared two different dinners for two consecutive days), and had people from Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Spain, and the USA, of course. Good thing we found two small turkeys!

We’re also beginning to branch out a bit, as time permits. We visited Tomelloso one Sunday to help in a church, with Angel and
Raquel, missionaries from Mexico and Spain who met at the Rio Grande Bible Institute. Issac and Lidia are also missionaries who will be moving to a town about 10 miles from Ubeda (Sabiote). We hope to be an encouragement for them, too. Our friends who commented on the dietary practices also commented on the spiritual conditions they found. Their observation? This is a very Godless country. By the way, who has a higher per cent of believers – Japan, Thailand or Spain?

Thank you, Krista, for the photos!