Historical note: The history of Spain is very interesting. First came the Celts and the Mediterraneans and they made up Iberia. Then came the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Arabs then the Romans again at which time Iberia was divided into Spain and Portugal, as it is today. How simple our national history seems in comparison.
Well into our second week of the tour of Spain we were visiting Seville, literally a golden city. The soil and sand used in their brick and flower beds are golden colored. The stucco on their building is that same soft unique golden color. We did the usual tours of the city and that evening enjoyed dinner at a club that featured Flamenco dancing which originated with the Gypsies of Seville. Flamenco is intricate and beautiful and accompanied by castanets in both hands with much staccato heel and toe tapping.
The next destination was Lisbon, Portugal and on the way we passed aqueducts and bridges that date back to the time of Christ. Portugal is a mountainous country abounding in wild flowers, forests, cork and eucalyptus trees. The rooster appears to be the logo of the nation for there were roosters painted on everything that fell into the category of a souvenir. That evening the night time experience included the Club Luso where we watched Fado, a dance always done by women and men wearing black. Fado means “sad” and the music was often very sad, so the black clothing seemed appropriate.
Portugal did not appear as prosperous as Spain and the country needed paint. During the time of the dictator Salazar there were laws that all buildings were painted at regular mandated intervals. After he was deposed things began to show signs of wear and tear and less painting was done, nevertheless their cities were beautiful.
Way high in the mountains is the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. The Shrine has its beginning in 1915 when three children were supposedly visited by the Virgin Mary who conversed with them several time over many months. Pilgrims from all areas of Spain and Portugal, indeed, from the world over, come to the Shrine seeking cures from various ailments and we saw many of them walking on the roads, oftentimes carrying small children headed for the Shrine where miracles were believed to happen.
After leaving the Shrine we headed for Salamanca, Spain on mountain roads that were higher than the clouds and made the landscape look surreal. Salamanca was my favorite city. The skies were the bluest I had ever seen. It has a university that dates back more than a thousand years and two cathedrals, referred to as the old one, built in the 12th century and the new one, built in the 16th century. The campus was a blend of the old and the new and as I looked up at the interesting buildings I saw a cat walking along a high roof capstone, mincing along on its little cat feet with the bluest of skies as a backdrop.
While visiting both the old and new cathedrals and parts of the University we were told the day was a religious holiday, the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was customary to cover the parade route with fragrant blooming wild plants, the aroma of which would permeate the air as the marchers stepped on the fragrant stems and flowers. On the steps in front of the new cathedral men were on their hands and knees arranging flowers of red and white carnation in an immense square to spell out FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI and we stopped to watch them. An elderly woman dressed all in black including a black covering on her head, came up to us selling post cards. We were all taking pictures of this scene but Dolores, the inveterate souvenir buyer, bought some of the lady’s postcards. One of the men addressed the woman in Spanish and said in a very sarcastic tone of voice, “You and those post cards! Do you think if I brought some cards here I could sell them to the tourists?” Without missing a beat the nice little old lady in black said in a calm normal tone of voice, “So why don’t you just drop your pants, and see if they will pay to take a picture of THAT!”
I am sure no one thought we would understand Spanish but three of the four of us understood what she said and were stifling laugher not altogether successfully. I should have spoken up and said, “Yeah, big fella, why not do that and we will decide if you are worthy of a snapshot for our albums!” Naw, I wouldn’t have said that, just wanted to.
Our bus was leaving early so we hustled back to the hotel, left Salamanca and headed to Avilla and the Valley of the Fallen Dead a massive basilica and mausoleum carved out of a granite mountain. The length of 3 football fields, it holds the remains of 100,000 soldiers who died in the Spanish Civil War and is also the burial place of former dictator, Francisco Franco.
Our trip to Spain was coming to an end. We saw many places not mentioned but I touched on some of the highlights of my tour of a beautiful area of the world. I wrote an essay many years ago about my visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. It has been published but I still own the copyright and plan to share it next week. It will end my Traveling With Marge series.
Marge Flados lives in Harlingen and can be eached at email@example.com.