What to say about Spain? Well for one thing, Cedar and I finally got to unpack after four-and-a-half weeks on the road. Given all our schlepping of heavy bags, that in and of itself was big. Having flown back from Morocco and spent yet another night at our Barcelona digs, the Hesperia Fera Suites in the Bellvitge District near the Airport, we took an early Spanair flight to Granada. An hour-and-a-half later we were getting our automatic Citroen Picasso, eating a quick breakfast, and preparing to find “our” country house in Orgiva. Another hour and a half, including a harrowing drive on a one-lane dirt road (“the track”), brought us to perhaps our biggest surprise of the entire honeymoon.
What awaited us was not a townhouse, an apartment, nor even a modest separated bungalow. Instead, the place our Subud friends, Amalia and Samuel in Vienna, generously made available to us turned out to be a large country estate. Imagine a roomy stone house in the Moorish style of Andalucía set on multiple acres of manicured lawn. The land contained a garden; fruit-filled orange and lemon trees; gnarled thousand-year-old olive trees (milanarios); a full strawberry patch; and a tiled swimming pool. Then there was the unbelievable view to the nearby mountains separating us from the Mediterranean, about 25 miles away as the eagle flies, at Motril. (My word-addled mind insisted on calling the city “Motrin.”) Finally the house itself, naturally cooled by its all-stone composition, consisted of numerous bedrooms, two studies with overflowing bookshelves, a spacious livingroom, three baths, several pantries, a kitchen replete with a large breakfast nook, and several vine-covered outdoor spaces where we ended up taking all our meals and snacks. Please visit my photo albums on Spain at my Facebook page to see what I’m talking about. Go to “Reynold Feldman”; click on “Profile”; click on “Photos” (on the left-hand panel); then select the albums “Spain-1” and “”Spain-2.”
Kim and Steve (Jelaluddin), English members of Orgiva’s Nakshbandi Sufi community some 50 strong, helped us get settled. Having met us at the large BP station in the village, Jelaluddin led us through the challenges of the track to the estate. Kim, who is responsible for maintaining the finca (country house) in the owners’ absence, came over to explain how everything worked. On Amalia’s instructions, she had strewn our round bed with rose petals from the estate. It being Friday when we arrived, Jelaluddin invited us to participate in the Friday afternoon Jumaa service at the mosque. Cedar and I thought that it would be an interesting addition to our experiences of Islam and Sufism during the honeymoon thus far. So, after a nap, we donned our Moroccan jellabahs and walked the three hundred meters to the mosque. The shaikh was on hand to lead the service and give the Khohtbah, the former in Arabic, the latter in Spanish. Cedar was in the back section, out of sight, with the ladies. I sat through the first part but managed to do the prostrations for the last part. I didn’t participate in the zhikr afterward, however, since I didn’t know the words of the song. Later Cedar and I, invited to stay on for a simple soup-and-bread supper, sat across from the shaikh—a former Jesuit who looked like the younger Fidel Castro (another former Jesuit!). She was the only woman at our table. The other ladies were clustered at their own table 20 feet away. Occasionally, they would look over to us and smile, as if to say, “That’s okay. She can sit there, since you’re guests.” Anyway, the Shaikh in serviceable English repeated the gist of his sermon, which basically argued for living according to Islamic morality versus the materialistic values of the increasingly secular society characterizing Western Europe. Unless a critical mass of the population did so, he didn’t hold out much hope for the world.
Our days at the finca included long, restful nights; leisurely meals; lots of freshly squeezed orange juice (in the evening enhanced with vodka); swims; and visits with our neighbors. In addition to the Sufi group, the area, called “La Alpujarra,” has a Subud group of about 25 members. Most are retired ex-pats from England, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and Austria. Several are Spaniards, though the main Spanish member, Sergio, had died unexpectedly some six months before, leaving his German widow, Karla, in another large house which she had tastefully decorated and where she mourned his loss. The group had also purchased and added to a cluster of houses called the Jarramuza, Arabized Spanish meaning the Land of Moses. One of the members, a Swiss architect named Marc Vouga whom I had met in Germany in the early 70s, had built additional houses there as well as a latihan hall, where Cedar and I were able to take part in our spiritual exercise. The group currently runs a small retreat center and is planning to add a small conference center, the dream of Marc, who at 80-something is still quite active and engaged.
While based at the finca in Orgiva, Cedar and I traveled to a beach town south of Málaga, Benalmádena, to visit my old grad-school friend, Tutu Lahiri. The three-hour trip took us along the coast (the Costa del Sol) on the autovia (Spain’s excellent expressway system), where we spent the night in Tutu’s livingroom. An artist and writer, she showed us her memoir based on encounters as a girl with her maternal grandfather, the last Maharaja of Mymensingh (Bengal), who was the wisest person she’d ever met. The book’s a treasure which we hope she can publish before too long. We made two other car trips: one was a day trip north along the Costa del Sol, then inland to Sorbas, to meet with Cedar’s good friends John and Noela from New York City. Over 20 years ago they had bought an adobe cottage in a small hillside community a few miles outside of town. They had been fixing it up over time and nowadays spend a few months there every year. (Again, see my Spain photos for pictures.) The other trip was an overnighter to Seville, where the local Subud group was using our being in Spain as an excuse for a Sunday gathering. We came a day early so we could hang out with my Subud sister of 46 years, Dr. Vivana Brodey, a retired Spanish professor from New York City, who found she could live cheaper and better in Seville than in the States. She had been there for several decades now and had more or less created the local group, who with the exception of herself and one other woman, were all Spaniards. This time we took the bus from Granada (another three-hour trip) and returned with an English Orgiva resident, Andrew Bromley, who had driven down Sunday morning for the gathering. Cedar and I both had a chance to use such Spanish as we had, since most of the members spoke no English. I surprised myself by being able to tell the group a Subud story totally en español after the spiritual exercise was over.
Besides Andalucía, we spent five days over four visits in Barcelona, capital of the autonomous region of Cataluña. The Catalans are proud of their separate language and culture; their clean, ultra-modern capital; and such cultural heroes as the two Pablos (Picasso and Casals) and the incredible modern naturalist architect Antonio Gaudí. Please see my Facebook photos of one of his palatial residences and the world-famous but still incomplete cathedral, La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family). Catalan, the language, seems positioned between Spanish and French—reflecting the province’s geographical location. It apparently most resembles the French-based language called Provençal. All signage is in Catalan followed by Spanish. Exit signs, for example at the Airport, first say Sortida (cp. French sortir, to leave), then Salida (cp. Spanish salir, to leave). Similarly, Metro stations are estació (Catalan) or estación (Spanish), with the “c” appropriately lisped in both cases.
Besides the beauty of the country, Cedar and I were impressed with the many active wind farms we saw during our various trips as well as several large solar arrays. The government has invested heavily in sustainable energy, and apparently on windy days as much as 60% of Spain’s electricity comes from the wind turbines. As a Mediterranean country, Spain has a different sense of boundaries—think anthropologist Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension—than we or Northern Europeans do. I mean, people stand closer to each other, touch each other while conversing, and seem uncomfortable when we stand too far away from them. I personally like this approach. However, one aspect of it that annoyed me was the constant blaring of popular commercial radio on the bus. I mean, who cares about the top 50 songs this week in Spain? Not me! But I had not been consulted, and my objection to the driver would have been misunderstood and not acceptable.
Anyway, this is my longest blog ever, so let me stop here. Clearly, we had a wonderful time during our entire honeymoon, not least in Spain. By the last few days, though, we were growing testy and eager to get home. Six weeks is a long time, and too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing.
Anyway, we’re home now, or rather, I am. It’s been a week since our return, and Cedar is sitting on yet another airplane, this time enroute to Japan, where she’ll spend eleven days teaching the Hakomi method of body-centered psychotherapy. As part of my back-to-normal strategy, next week’s blog will be on a topic other than our travels. What that will be is still with the stork. A ver, as the Spanish say; we’ll see.
Meanwhile, Cedar and I send all of you warm regards, saludos y abrazos.