Wednesday, January 03, 2007

La Vida Normal

Happy New Year! Greetings to whoever is still checking this. After several weeks discovering Morocco with my brother, and a holiday week or so in California with family, I'm returning to New York on tonight's red-eye and will re-enter, re-start, resurrect a New York existence.
In the meantime, here, in what may be the last post on this blog, are a couple of shots of the Africa trip. I'll direct you to my brother's blog for the narrative ( I was pretty sick through most of the trip and couldn't muster the energy to check in here. (Sick eventually developed into sinusitis, bronchitis and some sort of digestive malady, but thanks to powerful American drugs, I'm finally getting the upper hand.)
Thankfully, being under the weather did not prevent a pretty amazing trip. Though we spent some time in Fez and Marrakesh--vibrant, bustling cities whose Medina districts layered nearly medieval ways of living with modern ones--the highlight was the time we spent in the Sahara.
We serendipitously came upon a couple of Berber brothers, Brahim and Omar, who treated us more like guests than tourists, spending a full week showing us around the shifting sentient sand dunes with nomadic hide-outs in their folds, feeding us warm hearty tajines and smuggled wine, telling stories in a wild but surprisingly comprehensible mix of Spanish, English and Berber, and putting our fingers to the pulse of their small frontier town, Merzouga.
Everything here was supremely different: Our friends wore thick camel-wool robes and turbans. Women were heavily veiled and tucked out of sight, still baking bread crouched around communal stone ovens in tiny mud rooms. Merzouga had only had electricity for a couple of years, and our "hotel" was a small mud-brick affair with barely existent hot water--and it was one of the only hotels left after a freak flood washed the others away last May.
And yet despite all of the stark otherness, this desert town felt the warmest and most home-like of any on this whole four month adventure. I could have gotten lost there, with those people, in the bewitching pastels of sunset across the dunes.

But that was the end. Back to real life. New job, new bar, new place, new season, new outlook. Thanks for following along.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hasta Marruecos

I´ve pruned down my three months into a backpack and my brother and I are at an internet lab waiting for the next bus to Algeciras, from which we'll jump on a ferry to Tangiers. We've heard that Tangiers is more or less Tijuana, so we're hoping to spend the night a little further down the coast. But we will see what we can swing. From now on it's all uncharted. No reservations, no itinerary, no clear idea of what this country will hold for us. Just backpacks, phrasebooks, and a bundle of days.
For all the looking forward to my brother's arrival, I've hardly spent any time thinking about actually going to Morocco. Here comes the sheer adventure part.
We've spent the weekend skipping around Granada re-seeing in one weekend all that I've seen in a month. Tapas, hookah, the Albaicín, the Alhambra.... There are so many stories to tell in all that, and some staggering beauty slivered in photos. I hope to tell you and show you all some of that. But these stories will have to wait--over Christmas, for some of you, or maybe, for others, over a good American drip coffee, or a post-bar attempt at tapas in my living room in the spring.
For now, we are boarding a bus and heading towards the desert. Maybe there will be more posts from Morocco, or maybe none until Christmas. In any event, thanks so much for following my travels here thus far; I've enjoyed taking pictures with an eye towards showing them here, and appreciated feeling cared for by all of you who've read, followed, been here with me.
The pictures here are simply what I had uploaded previously--Cordoba. The last two are of the enormous Mezquita, a mosque built in the 10th-14th centuries and later rechristened as a Christian cathedral, as--lucky for us--the 16th century Christians didn't have the funds to tear it down and create a giant cathedral from scratch, as they did in Sevilla. But the mix is confounding. Huge triumphant angels guard the altar just 100 yards from the 99 names of Allah, here, in the final picture.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Nine notary publics later...

I'm officially registered for the New York bar. Here's the story: on Tuesday night, with the registration deadline 48 hours away, the firm confirms that I should take the bar in February. And thus begins the mad scamper through Granada's roster of notaries public. After getting the hang of the office hours (scant and unpredictable) the next trick was to find an office with a notary in carne y hueso, rather than solo en the door plaque.
On day two, the first real live one informed me that he could not confirm my signature without understanding the language the document was written in. (This despite the fact that the document in question was merely a one page summary of all my vital information.) Same story at the next four. Hmm. I could, I was told, submit the document at a government office for an official translation, which would take about a week, and then return to get that notarized. Hmm again. In the office of Notary 8, minutes before the hours of siesta, hours before the postmark deadline, I lost it. But I was gifted with the magical word "tranquila," usually a cue that some sort of generosity is imminent.
And it was. Notary 8 began calling through her entire directory until she found Number 9, who reads English, handed me a map and a few reassurances, y ya está, my luck had turned. Tengo vergüenza decerlo, pero estuve en punto de llorar. Mente en blanco. On only my second trip to the offices of Number 9, the honorable himself sat me down for a fascinating discussion of how Spanish notaries fit within the legal system here and how they differ from US notaries.... and he notarized my document.
His secretary then kindly informed me that I had to find a second notary to affirm the notarization of the first notary in order for the first to be valid in the US... but I have the immense pleasure of reporting that it's postmarked and off and all is well. And I have two pages of complex official seals and affirmations to prove it.
My other mind numbing pile of logistics has involved my bicycle, which inspired the series of pictures in this post. Vale la pena? Creo que sí.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


in Spain.

And the country continues to be beautiful.

And the time full.

And the rides big alive remember-forever.

I am more than grateful.

But the Spanish has slogged to a stop.
And today the snow came down to my ride.

So, it is time.
My brother arrives Friday.
(Can't wait can't wait can't wait.)

We head to Morocco.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


If you were here you could be having this for dinner.
I didn't think so.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cuentos de Andalucía

Sevilla: una ciudad en la que, a partir del siglo octavo, tres grupos distintos vivían juntos.... and continued to do so throughout the next nearly eight centuries, with a sometimes harmonious and sometimes tumultuous history, until 1492, when the Reyes Catolicos came to the height of their power. Then the Christians took over definitively, forcing the Jews out of the country and forming an accord with the Muslims that, although overtly pacific, led to forced conversions and massive burnings of Arab books. Perhaps not surprisingly, most Arabs decided not to stick around. The story has been Catholic ever since. But those years between 711 and the turn of the 16th century have marked southern Spain--Andalucía--profoundly. Sevilla draws a bold yellow marker over the mix. Standing in the central plaza you can turn around in one spot and see (a) the world's biggest gothic cathedral, built in a display of excess in the 15th century on the site where the city's main mosque previously stood, (b) the Alcázar, a complex palace made up of a fascinating maze of buildings, courtyards and gardens, originally constructed by 11th and 12th century Muslim rulers and updated by rulers of both religions throughout the ensuing centuries, and (c) the entrance to Barrio de Santa Cruz, a tangle of winding streets that served as the medieval Jewish quarter, before the tragedies of later centuries. The first three of these pictures are portions of the Alcázar. In the second you can see how this palace complex folds together layers of history... the bottom levels are Muslim, the top Christian, built to mirror the style below. The third shows the Muslim women's room--note the screens in the second level. I was struck by a few miniature faces in the detailed plasterwork on the lower level. A guide explained that these were probably made as a joke or provocation by Christian slaves employed by Muslim rulers, as it is (was?) against the Islamic faith to create human images. The fourth is a tiny little sliver of the confoundingly huge cathedral (the third largest in the world after St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London). You can get a sense of its size by looking at the miniature people at the bottom of the picture. The fifth is a shot of the gardens.  Some 17th or 18th century king (I forget which) built the long second-story corridor so that his queen could take some fresh air without being exposed to the sun--an important consideration for anyone wishing to preserve their status as a blue-blood.   (Is it common knowledge that the word blue-blood originated by people distinguishing between the aristocracy and common folk by color of skin?  Brown signified fieldwork while naked blue veins under white sunless skin carried status.)  
And enough history. The last two are this post's gratuitious shots. This past weekend's ride.  Sheer unparalleled being alive.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sierra Nevada Mountains

First: super close.
Second: cool rocks.
Third: check out the picture.
Enough said?

This is an artificial lake that provides Granada's drinking water. Roads snake along both sides of its source river up towards the snowier parts and back down the opening valley towards Granada, at the base.
Can you see how beautiful this is?
Fall sun. Glinting raucously off yellow, green, brown; skimming sidelong around almost-sentient rocks; just missing bitter breezy folds of living shadow.