Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day 6 in Cordoba: Life is four days (La vida es cuartro días)

As I sit watching the countryside from the window of my high-speed train, I've been reflecting on the tumult of the last year. A friend said to me on e-mail that she thought this trip would mark a turning point in my life, and I believe she is right. Day by day, my confidence grows as I navigate around Spain successfully by myself, perhaps auguring well for other, more metaphorical, journeys.

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The landscape between Madrid and Cordoba reminds me of Central California; it looks very much like what one sees when driving north on Highway 5. The topography makes me appreciate (in a way history books never did) why the Spanish settled California. I wonder too if that accounts for my ease here: everything, the weather, the light, even the language bring me back to my Angeleno roots.

As we approach Cordoba, I'm starting to see haciendas with horses. The area immediately around Cordoba is known for breeding Andalusians; indeed, if I can make arrangements, I'd like to visit a farm tomorrow. I also notice that trees and plants are beginning to flower.

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This trip has been nothing if not an emotional roller coaster: the eager anticipation of my train trip disintegrated into wrenching loneliness as I wandered the streets of Cordoba. The city is certainly worth a visit, and the famous cathedral cum mosque, the mezquita, is breathtaking, but that fact alone may have induced my despair. As I marveled at this striking blend of Catholic and Islamic cultures, I, of course, thought of Rod and how much he would have enjoyed this moment. We shared a geeky passion for history, and we complemented each other's curiosity, with me assessing art and Rod analyzing how things worked.

My gloom deepened over the afternoon. From the mezquita, I walked across the bridge to the fourteenth-century Tower of La Calahorra, where one takes a hokey if nonetheless entertaining audio-visual tour of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian cultures that once comprised Cordoba. The audio commentary was heavy-handed and, I expect, utopian in its depiction of a golden age of intellectual and cultural harmony. By mid-afternoon, I was finished. Tired and fighting a sinus infection, I attempted to wind my way through the maze of streets comprising the old district of Cordoba, but ended up walking in circles for two hours. I asked for help to little avail, and taxis ignored my attempts to flag them down, even those advertising that they were libre. By the time I reached the hotel, I was blubbering and causing consternation among the staff.

My room at the Palacio de Bailio is truly five-star, and a long soak in a freestanding bathtub improved my spirits, as did a nap. I thought about ordering room service, but I forced myself to put on slacks and a pretty blouse, brush my hair, and apply a little lipstick. I went down to the tapas bar, hoping to find someone to chat with over a light dinner, but the bar was empty except for Alberto, the half-French/half-Spanish bartender. I took a deep breath and sat down. Alberto, like many bartenders, is something of a philosopher, and over the ensuing two hours we exchanged confidences in the manner of strangers who know they will never see each other again. I learned of his disastrous marriage; he learned of my strange history. Before I left, Alberto grasped one of my hands, leaned forward, and said, "Señora Deborah, la vida es cuatro días: be happy," words I will try to take to heart for the remainder of this trip.

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