Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday scenery: Toledo, city of concurrent and successive faiths

The Spanish city of medieval Toledo is a well preserved treasury of multi-faith historical religious edifices. A schematic history of the city: the Jews came along with the Roman Empire's legions; most Ibero-Romans eventually adopted Christianity as did the northern European "barbarians" who conquered this rich land; these kingdoms were pushed to the peninsula's margins by Muslim invaders bringing a rich pan-Mediterranean civilization; and the Muslims in turn were eventually expelled by Spanish Christian monarchs in the Reconquista ending in 1492, along with the remaining Jews who became the Sephardim of the Diaspora. It's a bloody, tangled story and Toledo proudly displays the cross-fertilized remnants.

Today the Sephardic Museum occupies the Synagogue of El Transito, a worship space built by the merchant Samuel ha-Levi in 1356 by permission of the Christian king Peter of Castille.

The synagogue's intricate artistry suggests comparison with the contemporary Moorish palace of the Alhambra in Granada.

Incongruously the Jewish worship space thought to be the oldest synagogue building in Europe is now maintained by the Roman Catholic Church as "Saint Mary the White." (Yes, Catholic Spain also boasts black madonnas, black representations of the mother of Jesus, but not that we saw in Toledo.)

Far more than El Transito, despite the cross belatedly hung over the main open space, this building is infused with a feeling of its historic sacred use. The only religious edifice I've ever experienced to equal this holy feeling is the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus.

Far more incongruous is this interior from what is called the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz. The small square Islamic structure surrounded by fountains and a garden was built in 999. The Muslim city of old Toledo was conquered by King Alfonso VI in 1085 and the mosque converted into a Christian chapel in 1186.

Today Toledo throngs with gawking tourists staring at this religious melange. Do we hunger for a glimpse of religions co-existing? I certainly do.

Friday, September 29, 2017

North Korea, Washington, and the end of US empire

While we were walking the Camino, I got persistent questions from friends watching President Blunderbuss heating up tensions with North Korea (and Iran, and everyone else with half a glimmer in the wide world), "why aren't we in the streets screaming against this madness?"

Returning to the unhappy USofA seems to mean I can no longer dodge thinking about this.

Serious people, including that wise historian of things vital and military Thomas Ricks, pictured here on tour promoting his book Churchill and Orwell, opine that there is a 50/50 chance of war with North Korea, a war that would almost certainly be nuclear. Oh shit, another generation has to live under the threat of fiery annihilation as mine did in the Fifties.

The usual campaigners for peace are making the usual appeals to Congress, but this does not seem equal to the horror of the prospect. The Orange Cheeto gives us unending white supremacist distractions; Congressional GOPers continue their crusade to transfer the nation's wealth to plutocratic sponsors; and most of us just try to get along.

But also, I don't think either the peace movement, or the left, or the Democratic politicians who dissidents are stuck with as a vehicle for influence in Washington, are ready to articulate the central reality that makes war so likely at present: US empire, US hegemony, is over. Cemented in place in 1945 when World War II had flattened the rest of the world, US pre-eminence has been eroding for decades. (Many of us knew this during the Vietnam war.) But mainstream US politics has never quite found a way to deal up front and honestly with this reality. So for all the handwringing over Trump and Korea, there's hardly any mainstream debate about how this powerful country should act as a force among many in a plural world.

Obama certainly had a glimmer about this, though like all of them, he couldn't allow himself to articulate clearly that the current object of US foreign policy has to be to manage the decline of empire. He was willing to suggest some US adventures were "dumb wars"; he knew his efforts at power projection would be undercut by too many dead US soldiers, so he favored drones and spooks over troop commitments; he generally eschewed loud displays of imperial dominance.

Since we mostly lack even language to talk about this, I was heartened to read a smart article by Jeet Heer that lays out Democratic pols' tongue-tied inertia over the country's stance in the world. The entirety is a good survey of the situation and highlights Bernie Sanders' attempt to find ground that mainstream Democrats might join him in.

Sanders’s recent foreign policy speech, notably in its strong defense of the Iran nuclear deal, was a careful attempt to claim Obama’s legacy by arguing for a liberal internationalist approach of alliance-building to solving the world’s problems. The central theme of the speech was the need to re-conceptualize foreign policy not just as a matter of military policy. “Here is the bottom line: In my view, the United States must seek partnerships not just between governments, but between peoples,” Sanders argued. “A sensible and effective foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with the safety and welfare of others around the world.”

I'm no across-the-board Sanders fan (too often he reminds me of thousands of old white lefty men who never understood why women and people of color and queers might have different priorities) but if he can drive Democrats in this direction, he is serving the country well.

Friday cat blogging

Morty gave the returning pilgrims a bit of the evil eye, but soon enough reverted to his affectionate self. Before meeting this fellow, I never had known an affectionate cat. Previous cats were aloof, but not Mr. Mort, most of the time.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

We get by with a little help from our friends ...

as the Beatles once reminded us.

How to help recovery from the Mexican earthquakes:
My good friend who teaches teaching at the Autonomous University of Mexico suggests this group which has a long history of working with poor families in the most harmed communities:
The information included in the graphic is how to make a bank wire transfer. You can learn more about the Grupo de Educación Popular con Mujeres here.

How to help recovery in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria:
My friend Norma has been trying to figure out how to do the most good for her island territory and writes this:

... as you have heard and seen in the news, a week after the catastrophic disaster that Hurricane Maria caused in my country and the Caribbean, about 97% of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without electricity today, more than half of the residents do not have running water and fuel, and food is being rationed in some parts of the country. With supplies running out and no water, people in isolated areas (the countryside) are starting to drink from mountain streams. Out of the island's 69 hospitals, only 11 are open and depending on generators fueled by diesel. Two people who were on life support died in the past days in a hospital in San Juan because the generator run out of diesel.

Residents are relying on generators to keep appliances, medical devices and refrigerators running. Soon they will run out of gasoline and diesel. The biggest problem is getting supplies from Point A to Point B as the country is still battling destroyed and flooded roads. Frustration and fear is mounting because aid is not getting to the residents and people are starting to get desperate. Looting is growing and people are violating the curfew. The situation now, according to the San Juan mayor, has reached humanitarian crisis proportions.

[President Trump has bowed to pressure and belatedly waived the Jones Act which was enabling shippers to extract gross profits from Puerto Rico's pain.]

For many of us here so far from our loved ones, this situation brings up a lot of anxiety and feelings of impotency and deep sadness. That is why I'm turning to you. Many of you are wondering what you can do.

I’ve looked into the places to donate money or supplies. The situation is still so chaotic that I don’t yet feel 100% sure about the options and with time, this all will become much clearer. But for now, I have three places to suggest if you want to donate funds. I think they are trustworthy, supported by some key people and organizations, and will get the funds there.

 I’ve also included a link to an organization that can coordinate volunteers. They are not ready for that yet but you can sign up and when they know how to best use volunteers, they can get back to you. ...

These are the organizations to donate:

Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund
This fund is managed by the Center for Popular Democracy which many of us know. They seem to be connecting with some of the most grassroots orgs in PR, some of whom we know and surely want to support.

During a time like this it may be that large NGOs like UNICEF are in the best position to deliver and distribute mass aid. This fund specifically supports children and families.

UNIDOS: Program of Hispanic Federation
This fund was started by Mayor Di Blasio and some of the Nuyorican electeds who we trust (and supported by Hamilton’s Lin Manuel). From my research the Hispanic Federation seems to have a good record of financial management and integrity.

The volunteer organization where you can sign up if you want to consider on site work is called Puerto Rico Voluntary Organizations in Disaster.
We don’t know much about them. As many of you might recall from Katrina days, it took a long time for all of this to settle -who was doing what, what level of infrastructure did orgs have to manage money, volunteers, who was supporting what areas and what kinds of people, who could be trusted. I’m sure we will see that work itself out.

Fortunately we have many good friends and activists on the ground in PR, who are in the center of all of this, and are keeping us updated and informed. ...

It is time (as always) to stand with friends around the world.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Goodbye Spain

Hello ordinary responsibilities. Ready to go, whether ready or not. Such is life.

On pilgirmage

Any blog posts are likely to be single photos for the next month; I don't know how much connectivity or communicative energy I'll have, but walking 321 km is sure to teach me much as well as take a lot out of me.

Tend your souls; resist and protect much.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Just when I was weaning myself off football . . .

This was last year. Now the Cheeto seems to have declared a culture war on the brave athletes of the NFL standing up for themselves, free speech, and Black lives. Guess I'll have to pay attention to the national game again. Thanks Colin!

Basque Country welcomes refugees

In keeping with the generally sophisticated design consciousness in Bilbao and environs, Euskara-speaking activists have redesigned the familiar fleeing family on these banners. The image hangs on private houses and some public buildings. The ongoing tragedy of refugee drownings in the Mediterranean feels very close here. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stubborn for earth and sustainability

The mountainous hills and valleys north of Burgos where Spain's long river Ebros arises are breathtakingly lovely.  

The people who live there want to keep it that way.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

The bear and the madrone

The heraldic emblem of the city of Madrid as it appears on manhole covers throughout the city. 

The city's bear as created out of aluminum foil by a cheerful Metro artist. He gave it to EP in response to her interest.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hints of civilization

The Palacio de Cibeles is the seat of the City Council of Madrid.

Within, the better part of one floor was devoted to an exhibit about the history of LGBT struggle in Spain. That struggle has been part of the wider movement to restore democracy after the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975 and has achieved a remarkable turnaround in social attitudes in a conservative country. 

All very heartening on a day when a U.S. president blustered before the world, threatening to annihilate a country of 25 million people ...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The iconography of the pilgrim: part 2 -- Saint James

In Santiago, we visited the Museum of Pilgrimage. This excellent institution grapples with the different representations of St. James -- as Apostle, Crushing Caballero of Christian Spain or Matamoros, and Pilgrim. In the early iteration above, he carries the book and is shoeless as is proper for an apostle, but also wears the hat and carries the shell for scooping water and the pack (or sporran) of a humble pilgrim. 

By the Renaissance, St. James the Pilgrim had acquired an intercessory cult, attached to the Camino, the Way

The very different features of these two representations of the saint provide a glimpse into the history of the peoples of the Iberian peninsula and particularly of Spain itself. In Roman times and through the period of Islamic rule, the region was as much tied to North Africa and beyond as to Northern Europe. There is no reason to believe that Spainards were monochromatically "white" or as we might say today "European" in appearance. That changed as the militant Christian Reconquista seized the whole land and expelled Others, Jews and Muslims.

In some eras the saint, though still bearing the staff of a pilgrim, became quite regal.

In this contemporary mural in a remote hostel in Galicia, St. James has become a welcoming almost Santa-like friend.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Repurposed signage

The image on this banner in Santiago might seem familiar to some Californians. The fleeing family used to appear on freeway signs near San Diego, warning drivers not to run over unauthorized immigrants. 

Here it reads "Welcome Refugees" in the Galician language. Somebody has a heart. 

Arrival in Santiago de Compostela

Arrival was less an event than a process for this pilgrim. We walked into the city Thursday night, having completed the 334 kilometers (over 200 miles) from Oviedo. The Cathedral of St. James looms over the old city. We felt "zombified" at that moment; the hard flagstones, the crowds of tourists, the residual physical strains, left us ready for nothing but sleep.

In the morning we were ready to complete the "business" of pilgrimage: standing in line along with hundreds of other pilgrims from all the various routes to receive our Compostelas, the Latin certificate affirming we had completed the walk we set ourselves. 
Outside the Pilgrim Reception Office, a charming Irish nun offered me the text of a prayer.

We thank you, God, for bringing us safely here and for the many blessings and gifts of our pilgrimage. 

The company and kindness of strangers, the beauty of the way, the joy of traveling light, the strength to go on even in difficulties are reminders of your presence within us and among us. 

Now that we have arrived, we remember all our loved ones, especially those who have been in our hearts and minds as we walked the Camino. As we return home, give us courage to live in the spirit of the Camino so that we make this world a more loving and peaceful place for everyone. 

We make our prayer through Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.

She also offered a suggestion for where to eat dinner. She was spot on.

In the evening we attended the pilgrim mass at the Cathedral. Remarkably, for this Episcopalian, in that gold encrusted setting, the theme - expressed through women liturgical leaders and by the presiding priest's homily - was as much the redeeming power of the Mater Dolorosa who shares human sorrows as her son's redemptive sacrifice. You never know what you will encounter in a church.

This sunset on the plaza as we emerged seemed a fitting close to an intense day.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Friday cat blogging

Watching the river of pilgrims go by.

Close to Santiago de Compostela, the trickle swells to a human flood. 

In the background of both pictures are Galician horreos, graneries, used to dry corn for cattle feed. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

For the Day of the Holy Cross

In many Christian traditions, September 14 marks the (mythologized) story of the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in 326 C.E. and the relic's installation in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (Various Christians have been fighting over this site's possession and meaning ever since.)

This powerful 14th century stone cross sits adjacent to the chapel of San Rogue in Melide, Galicia, where the Camino Primitivo merges with the better known pilgrimage route, the Camino Frances. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pilgrims on the road through Galicia

The Way of St. James -- the "Original Path" or Camino Primitivo -- proceeds under big skies,

past carefully tilled fields,

along forest paths,

over rocky high places,

 under glorious sunrises,

and through the ever-threatening Galician drizzle. 

We have less than 50k and two more days walking before we reach our goal, Santiago de Compostela. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Such a peaceful figure

We asked ourselves on passing this modern "San Jorge" at a roadside spring, is this also the Buddha?

Friday, September 08, 2017

Pilgrims pause in a Roman, modern, and woman affirming city

We've just spent a couple of rest days in Lugo, once Lucas Augusti, a city proud of its Roman origins. 

Its intact Roman wall encircles the old city. 

Outside the wall there's a bustling modern city. 

Meanwhile, the local high end Galician brew (excellent) has a feminine tilt ...

And the city harbors some kick-ass feminists.

On the road to Santiago again tomorrow. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Friday cat blogging from the Camino Primativo


Yes, the little black critter is a dog, but it is not hard to see who runs this yard.