Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Now, in the mountains, far from the wet, ancient streets of Cordoba and Sevilla, the rain begins.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Evidence of Spain

  • Long faces
  • Coca-Cola in a glass bottle
  • Ham, ham, ham, ham, ham
  • Terrifyingly beautiful brows
  • Colorful shoes
  • Pleasant dearth of exposed midriffs
  • "Noodley" driving
(In case you're wunnerin', I jury-rigged my laptop so [sometimes, under more or less painful constraints] it "works.")

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Serious physical/electrical problems with the iBook stand between me and writing any more long posts or posting any more photos. I'm only able to write this because I'm holding it vertically, like I'm typing against the wall. Not the epitomy of ergonomic, to say the least.

Orgiva is up in the Sierra Nevadas. Nice little town. More later, perhaps after I get back to the USA and take the iBook into the Mac Shack in Boulder for repairs.

Ciao for now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Last week I had a hunch that it wouldn't be worth my time to track down the Arabist professor at the University of Granada, the one that Besam, the Syrian student, said knew a lot about Ibn Al-Hatib and Sufism. I decided instead to get a hold of Pablo Beneito Arias, an Arabic specialist at the University of Sevilla.

I emailed Professor Beneito last week, told him that I had read one of his translations, and said I'd like to meet him to talk about Ibn Arabi. He responded with his phone number and said to call him this week.

I called him on Monday and he gave me approximate directions to his office. The University of Sevilla, at least the campus where he works, is set in an enormous building that used to be a tobacco factory. These days it's called the Fabrica de Tabaco Antigua. After tobacco was brought to Europe from America, King Phillip III of Spain tried to establish Sevilla as the tobacco capital of the world. Various punishments, such as execution, were in effect for Spaniards who violated the crown's monopoly. The factory produced cigars. Cigarettes were invented by beggars who used paper, not tobacco leaf, to roll something out of the used cigars they found on the street.

In the brief taxi ride from the hotel to the university, the driver gave me a whirlwind lecture about the tobacco factory and the history of the spread of tobacco in Europe. At least that's what I think he was talking about. ¿Entiendes? he asked. Mas o menos, I replied. I had to say Necesito ir ("I have to go") from the back seat of the cab because he kept on with his high-speed lecture even after I paid the fare.

One of the frustrating things about not being fluent in a language is that it's difficult to be polite when you want to. I try to be careful to begin certain sentences with lo siento ("I'm sorry" or, more literally, "I feel that") to establish some ground for patience between me and whomever I'm talking to. There are times, however, when it's difficult to remember the delicate aspects of a language and culture when you're struggling to say something simple. Even if you're not having the most sophisticated conversation, it's nice to have a good sense of fellow-feeling with people. Another thing that gets in the way of this, at least for me, is the fact that I tend to look away from whomever I'm talking to so as to concentrate on what I'm trying to say. It's bad body language, and it must be confusing and frustrating for them, too.

Back to the tobacco factory. The offices of the Arabic department are not all in one place, but two friendly professors guided me to Professor Beneito's office. The office was shared with perhaps a dozen other faculty members. It was a long room with a number of desks, each with its own computer, lined up along the wall facing the windows. There was only one man in the room. He was sitting at the very last desk in the row. It was Pablo. He greeted me warmly and, speaking very good English, suggested that we talk while we walk around the factory.

I didn't have any specific questions for him, so we spoke a little about Ibn Arabi, a little about Rumi, a little about Sufism, and a little about each other. He knows about existing Sufi groups. A number of years ago he visited Irina Tweedie in London, and he has read a few of Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee's books (e.g. Moshkel Gosha). He grew up near Murcia, Ibn Arabi's home town, which was his initial connection to him. I told him that when I read his translation of Contemplation of the Holy Mysteries, I found myself thinking of many of the paradoxes as facile, and that now that I've started reading William Chittick's (appropriately) dense summary of Ibn Arabi, the paradoxes seem much richer. He smiled when I said that. He said that, unlike Rumi or Attar, who are immediately accessible, Ibn Arabi takes some work; his subtlety reveals itself only after you know some of the terminology, context, and so on.

When I mentioned that I had considered seeking out a professor at the University of Granada, Pablo said that he knew that professor, and that the only work he did that I would be interested was from a long time ago and, moreover, his research since then has gone in a completely different direction. So my initial hunch was a good one.

Earlier today, I went to a teteria (tea house) near my hotel to write for a while. I sat down on a sofa in a corner room, laid back, and stared through the courtyard window at (I thought) nothing in particular. I started thinking that maybe there wasn't anyone else in Andalusia to talk to about Ibn Arabi. Right then, the thing I was staring at, a board on the wall above the archway of the entrance, came into focus. It read:

Hubo un tiempo en que yo rechazaba a mi projimo si su religion no era la mia. Ahora, mi corazon se ha convertido en el receptaculo de todas las formas: es el pradero de las gacelas y clausto de monjes cristianos, templo de idolos y Kaaba de peregrinos, tablas de la Ley y pliegos del Coran. Porque profeso la relgion del Amor y voy adonde quiera que vaya su cabalgadura, pues el Amor es mi credo y mi fe.

- Ibn Arabi (1165-1240)
I immediately recognized this as the text of the Arabic calligraphic print I bought in Granada from the Iraqi man, who recited his own English translation of it for me at the time. Roughly (with some expeditious help from Google Translate):
There was a time in which I rejected a fellow if his religion were not mine. Now, my heart has become the receiver of all the forms: the grasslands of gazelles and cloisters of monks, temples of idols and travelers to the Kaaba, books of Law and pages of the Koran. Because I profess the religion of Love and go where it leads me, because Love is my creed and my faith.
So I guess I'm done.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Spanish word for umbrella is "paraguas," which -- if it's a contraction of "para" and "agua" -- literally means "for the waters." Even if that's not true, I don't own an umbrella. This puts me at a disadvantage in Cordova, because it's still raining.

You can't tell that it's raining. I used Photoshop to erase all of the raindrops from the photo. Actually, I kid. I didn't do anything to the photo. The reason you don't see any raindrops in the photo is that I used a relatively long shutter speed, which causes the light reflected from stationary objects to overwhelm any momentary light reflected off rain. People use this fact to eliminate people -- who tend to move around -- from photos of landmarks, buildings, and the like -- which tend to stay in place. The result is a photograph in which the desired subject is isolated.

In rain photos, lighting comes into play, too; when it's raining, more often than not there's not much direct sunlight. (There are, of course, those very cool moments when it's both raining and sunny.) In this photograph, if I had used a shorter shutter speed, the camera would not have received enough light. So there's a sweet spot with rain photos. You need a certain amount of light, so you have to keep the shutter open longer, but by doing so you fail to capture raindrops. (For the purposes of discussion, I'm leaving aside the role that aperature plays in this, but there's probably a huge hole in my understanding that, if filled, would make me approach this subject in a different way altogether, i.e. if I knew what I was talking about, I'd say it differently.)

If you add time to the equation, what happens? How do filmmakers shoot rain? Rain machines. Sometimes they flood the rain with light, which emphasizes the rain as a kind of diffuse, luminous presence. (Contrast that with shooting rain in the dark, where there's only the sound of rain hitting things.) They use lightning. They often hose down the streets before shooting a night scene in a city, but they do that because it's pretty to mirror the lights of the city on the ground (think Taxi Driver). Then there are hurricanes, where the rain is so intense that you can't miss it and -- of course -- you can't miss the havoc that the rain and the wind are causing.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tonight I ate at Teberna Casa Pepe de la Juderìa, Calle Romero 1, Còrdova. The menu was friendly to foreigners (extranjeros), being written in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portugese, English, and Japanese.

Dinner consisted of:

  • Salmorejo Cordabés: a cold tomato and garlic soup
  • Cordero Sefardi (Sefardic Lamb): a baked filet of lamb covered with a Xavier Jìminez sauce and crushed almonds, a slice of potato, sautéed onions, and a shoot of asparagus
No desert tonight.

It's been raining since yesterday. Last night in Sevilla it started pouring. It let up a little on my drive to Cordoba this afternoon. It had been raining softly since I got to Cordova, and it started raining hard here about two hours ago.

It's eight o'clock, which means it's time to open my guide book and find a restaurant. I'll probably eat at ten tonight. In Spain, dinner happens after nine or so. The afternoon siesta makes the rest of the day happen late. Last night I was in a Flamenco bar that opens at midnight.

When I was in Granada I ate for nourishment, not for novelty. I ended up settling into a Doner Kebap groove. A gyro to Greeks is a kebap to Arabs, and there are a lot of little kebap tiendas in the Albaicin (or Albaycin), the old Arabic part of Granada. (I suppose to some a gyro isn't the most nourishing thing, but I think it actually has something from each of the food groups: grains (pita), vegetables (tomato and a kind of cole slaw), meat (lamb), and dairy (yoghurt). Did I forget fruit? That's the story of my life.)

After I left Granada, I discovered that Spain has some amazing food. In Ronda, at the Hotel Polo, I ate alone in the hotel restaurant. Not only was I solo at my table, but the only other person I saw was the waiter. (Fue tranquil.) It was perfect. He only had me to attend to, so he could take his time figuring out my Spanish. We had a conversation about the ontology (although I didn't use that term) of sherry in English, where sherry is a supertype, and the subtypes are the grades of dryness and sweetness. In Spain, however, there's no common supertype (unless the supertype is just "vino"); the driest "sherry" is called Jerez (after Jerez de la Frontera, a city in Andalusia) and the sweetest is called Màlaga (also a city in Andalusia).

Anyway, in Ronda I had lightly crusted ravioli stuffed with small eggs and ham, a seafood paella (a rice dish), a chocolate mousse, a cafe con leche (basically a small lattè), and a small glass of Màlaga.

Last night in Sevilla I had a booze-free beer and a small plate of olives. The entrèe was artichoke hearts stuffed with sautèed lamb, some kind of cheese, and a variety of mushrooms. To top it off I had cafe con leche and a hot chocolate cake with a mint sauce.

I'm going to have to do a lot of yoga to burn off these calories. Tubby me. Now where's that restaurant guide? All of this food talk has made me hungry.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The road between Ronda and Sevilla, and the cathedral in Sevilla.