Disorientation 6.23.2005

The first couple of days after traveling abroad, I find myself completely disoriented once I settle down in my bedroom at home.

It's odd. I can stay in a random hotel in some random place in the world, wake up in the middle of the night and know exactly where I am. But as soon as I get home to the house I've lived in for nearly a decade after being gone for two weeks, and I'm walking into walls completely lost. Last night I woke up, saw the time in large glowing green letters in the corner of the room (which I decided in the middle of the night was octagonal, the built-in bookshelves becoming in my mind large baroque gold-covered religious statues), and wondered what would cost EU 2.30? I wandered around bumping into furnature looking for the bathroom, seeing a window, and not knowing where I was, looked out--and didn't see our side yard and the neighbor's house, but instead a windy side street of Toledo through the gates of a courtyard garden. The bathrooom wasn't where it belonged, and it was huge and incorrectly shaped.

I woke up at 6am, unable to sleep, so decided to take a shower. Fortunately enough sunshine was present I could navigate the room--which looked like my bedroom again, the side yard like a side yard again.

I'm now importing my pictures from my laptop; as soon as that is done I may spend the day organizing the best of the photos and publishing them on the web. In the meantime, some interesting facts--at least things that caught my attention.

1. Light switches are "up-side down" from U.S. light switches. You flick them down to turn on the lights, up to turn them off.

2. With one exception, every hotel room we stayed in had a master "on/off" switch which took your hotel key. When you insert your key, all the lights and power (and air conditioning) turns on--remove your key, all the power to your room is completely cut off.

3. Southern Spain (which is where we spent most of our time) reminds me very strongly of a slightly hillier, slightly less rocky version of the San Joaquin valley in Central California, where I grew up. Of course the association wasn't helped by the fact that the vast majority of the radio stations playing english music was playing 80's power ballads, which is what I grew up on in Fresno, in the heart of the San Joaquin.

4. Young women and men dress up in Spain. Most women's fashions I saw there were very nice and sophisticated. Most young men's fashions in Spain sucked horribly: it's almost as if the women's fashions came from the best fashion centers of Italy, while the men's fashions were uncovered from a 25 year old time vault burried in the back yard of a fellow named "Wally."

5. When it's over 100 degrees (F) outside, gazpacho and bread makes an excellent lunch. And gezpacho in Spain doesn't taste like someone took a can of V-8 and dropped some onions into it: a specialty in Spain was white gazpacho made with ground almonds.

(I bought a couple of local cookbooks, I was so impressed.)

6. Spain is definitely the Olive Capital of the World. Not Italy, Spain. Trust me: about half ways between Toledo and Granada, we encountered olive trees. Millions of them. For hundreds of miles. Everywhere.

At one point we crested a hill top along the A-4 highway and, for perhaps 20 miles in every direction the only visible green thing for hundreds of square miles was olive trees.

And they are damned good. Not the little black rubbery rings we get in the can in California, either.

7. Catholic Spain has a major Mary fetish. Every church we went into had as it's centerpiece symbols of Mary everywhere. The main Cathedral in Granada even had a precessional (and me without my camera!) of a statue of Mary about twice life-sized, in a gigantic silver box, decorated with hundreds of flowers and candles, which they carried out of the church and down the main street in Granada.

8. Everywhere we went in Spain, we saw Moorish architecture and read about the accomplishments of Arabic Culture of the 12th century. And while impressive, we were clearly being fed an endless stream of propaganda--meaning that it was pretty clear Spanish history was being rewritten in order to make it sound like Spain under the Islamic Caliphates was a harmonious blend of religions and cultures--only to be crushed and utterly destroyed by the western (Catholic) forces.

While it is true that Spain, as the heart of the Catholic Inquisition, suffered major economic setbacks by running Jews and a large portion of the middle class out of town--a middle class who weren't sufficiently Catholic enough to the Catholic King's tastes--it also wasn't some sort of cultural paradise under Islamic rule. That much is painfully obvious when you realize in Cordoba and Granada, both had a "Jewish Quarter" (segregation), and when you note that the mosque in Cordoba spans acres and acres, while the Jewish synogog was someone's covereted courtyard.

It's also pretty clear to me, having spent some time studying classical history, that many of the accomplishments attributed to the Moors rightly belong to the Romans that proceeded them. For example, in one area we were told that "houses in Toledo are kept close together to keep cool, and the tradition of inner courtyards come from the Islamic ideal that beauty comes from the inside, not the outside. Thus, houses have plain white exteriors but are built around beautiful interior courtyards with all rooms opening inside to an inner garden."

Okay... then the same museum admitted that most of the houses (built along the "Islamic ideal" of an inner courtyard reflective of Islamic spirituality) in fact date from the Roman era. Amazing how Islamic spiritual ideals could be passed back in time 500 years to the Romans...

Not to belittle the Muslem accomplishments there. I'm particularly a fan of Islamic carvings of abstract patterns. I also like the woodworking I've seen in a number of places, and the candy-cane archs at the mosque in Cordoba are spectacular. However, rewriting history to fit a political agenda does little to our understanding, and giving the Muslims in Spain too much credit is just as bad as giving them too little credit.

Further, rewriting history in that fashion causes us to utterly be incapable of answering the question "why was it Islam came in the 12th century to represent the absolute height of civilization--only to be stuck for the past 800 years in that century?" But when you appreciate that much of Islamic fashion, architectual accomplishments and the like build upon Roman imperial accomplishments, then the answer becomes easy: like most of Western history, that entire period is best defined as Roman cultural "inertia" keeping progress moving forward even after Rome fell. For both Catholics and Muslims, that inertia petered out around the 12th century. And it was only the appreciation of the individual and the individual's power to contribute to society that caused a rennasance in the West--a rennasance that could not happen in the Muslem east, where everyone and everything was considered near anonymous property of the King.

9. Sugar packets come in long slender tubes and not little rectangular packets, as they do in the United States. (After the stuff in my last point, it seemed good to end on a sweet note.)

posted by William Woody at 7:27 AM

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A moderate conservative living in the left coast, surrounded by the sureal, wonders if there is a sane life living amongst those who have lost touch with reality.

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