Anderson’s Annual Epistle 2019


Well another year is nearly over, and we are still here.  That’s good and so was our year. No single great thing, but lots of smaller blessings that make our life so enjoyable and full.

This time of year, our thoughts turn to all our friends and family with a realization of how fortunate we are to hear from everyone and just how lax we’ve become about keeping in touch.  It is good that Christmas brings cards and letter from all of you.  They are the best gifts of the season.

Life is good for us here on Whidbey and we are in good health and enjoy being close to Seattle and Katherine and Bill’s family.  We how have two grandchildren to spoil: Lise who is now four and Emil which was our Christmas baby last year and now turning one year old on the 17th. Of course, we take grandparenting seriously – no better excuse to get silly and playful again!

Bill’s side of the family will be joining us for Christmas this year when we all gather for the holiday on Orcas Island.  An added bonus is that his parents will be here to celebrate Emil’s first birthday!

One of the greatest advantages to the Northwest (or as we like to call it “the Upper Left”) are arts.  We subscribe to about fourteen concerts a year at the Seattle Symphony, twelve or so concerts brought to the island by Pacific MusicWorks and numerous summer music and arts festivals nearby.  We continue to spend a week each summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, usually seeing six to eight plays.  And we subscribe to the Seattle Reparatory Theater for seven or eight plays.  The arts events in Seattle always give us an excuse to drop by our grandkids (and Kat and Bill) on the way.

Jan continues to spend mornings in the garden (well late mornings) while Terry continues to work half-time (or more) in his basement office consulting on software engineering.  Then we spend the time left (in addition to the above activities) on our other hobbies (sewing, photography, …).

The highlight of our year was a trip to Andalucia Spain, but in between our international trips, we managed to squeeze in a long weekend in San Antonio in October, to visit the Alamo, the Spanish missions and the lovely River Walk with all its great restaurants.

For those of you who prefer a shorter version of our trip to Andalucia, Jan has included her abridged version.  Terry’s follows with more details and background for those of you who enjoy a longer read or have not already fallen asleep.

Jan’s Shorter Version

Travel means to leave one’s culture, to step inside another’s even if it means just as an observer for a few days.  It also means to traverse time as well as space.  We have been drawn to places where the influence of thousands of years of different nationalities have left their imprint on the land and living people.  Such was the case when we elected to travel to southern Spain and visit cities where we could learn from the influence of the ancient Moorish culture still in evidence.  We choose Seville, Tarifa, Tangier Morocco, Ronda, Granada and Cordoba.  Each city had its own stories to tell us.  But collectively what we learned was of a culture that was very sophisticated, one that brought many of the foods and spices that Spain is known for.  The courtyards of Seville, filled with the scent of orange blossoms wherever we went, were constant reminders of the oranges brought to Spain by the Moors.  Our hotel was literally steps from the Alcazar built centuries ago, yet the beauty of its design and integration of building and garden is a primer of how to create a very sophisticated environment.  Much can be learned by observing how they dug their gardens down to a lower level to take advantage of a cooler shadier place.  They grew vines to shade windows from the heat.  They used very complicated water systems involving rills that would move water from fountains outside and inside the building to cool and irrigate.  All this while building a structure that remains in use as a royal residence to this day!  Imagine how I felt, a farm girl from Iowa standing in the room in the Alcazar where Queen Isabella received the report from Christopher Columbus when he returned from his discovery of the New World!  It took my breath away just to imagine it happening in that same space.  The cathedral of Seville has his magnificent tomb.  A memorial to the influence of this city. 

We stayed overnight in Tarifa mainly as a jumping off spot for the ferry to Tangier.  It was an excuse to step a toe onto the African continent and to see a place where many cultures mingle today.  It was a day trip for us and a chance to visit bazaar shops and to engage in some barter with the locals.  Unfortunately, it was lousy rainy cold weather, so when we took refuge under a sidewalk awning to have a cup of coffee, we amused ourselves by observing the various dress and headwear of the men passing by.  We saw fez’s, skull caps, baseball caps, heads wrapped in cloth.  (Not many uncovered heads unless one counted tourists).  Many men wore the traditional djellaba a long loose hooded garment with full sleeves, but just as many were wearing jeans.

We learned an important lesson in ancient traditional hygiene from the well-preserved remains of a spa in Rhonda.  It was located just inside the city gates, a mandatory stop for all travelers.  It was an opportunity to wash off the dust and soil of travel before entering the city.  Thus, reducing the chance of bringing disease into the city.  What traveler today doesn’t long for a bath or shower after a day spent in airports or on the road?  Imagine today every hotel providing a massage upon arrival as well as a steam room?  Must have been very nice indeed.

Granada provided us with the opportunity to see the amazing Alhambra.  Another magnificent palace of Islamic architecture sited atop a tall bluff in a fortified area that once housed a thousand people.  The grounds now host landscaped gardens among other buildings.  Exploring it thoroughly took us two delightful days.

Granada also provided us with a glimpse of what the Roma or Gypsy culture has brought to Spain.   We were privileged to observe the famous flamenco dance performed by a Roma group living in the hills above Granada.  What an amazing display of emotion and talent.  The dancers, accompanied by a single voice and guitar, enacted courtship, marriage, joy, despair, anger, rage…the whole gamut of human emotion.  We were so caught up in the spectacle that we forgot to film the most amazing parts!  We were told the dancers could not be too young.  Only a more mature individual could understand how to depict all those complex emotions.

Visiting the Mezquita in Cordoba was another not-to-be-missed experience.  The Mezquita is a massive mosque that was once the center of Western Islam which provides a look into the 10th century when it was in its prime.  Most the building remains untouched with the exception of a 16th century Christian church constructed in its center.  There are several minor chapels in niches along the walls as well.  What a time-travel experience to see the gilded Gothic church nestled inside this huge Moorish structure!  One civilization replacing another in full view.

The Longer Version

The previous year, we spent two weeks in April in southern Italy and Sicilia and hosted a dinner for friends (about 16) after returning to share some of the foods we’d learned about.  Well, this April we spent two weeks in Andalucía (southern Spain) and hosted a dinner after our return.  We have long been fascinated by the Moorish influence and architecture of the area even though after the “Catholic Kings” conquered them in the 15th-16th century, the Spanish destroyed most of it.  We’d visited central Spain about ten years ago (Madrid, Toledo, Segovia and Barcelona).  Because of that (and the fact that we wanted somewhere warmer than Whidbey), we decided to spend all our time in Andalucía.

We started (and ended) in Sevilla (well, we passed through the Lisbon both ways but since we never left the airport, that hardly counts, but hey, one more country added to our list).  I expected it to be the more modern and developed of the cities in Andalucía, but it turned out to be one of our favorites.  The big sites are the Cathedral (Christopher Columbus’s tomb) and the Alcazar (still partly a royal palace), but the street life, cafes and just strolling in the old city center was wonderful.  There were still touches of the Moorish in the Cathedral, but it was mostly rebuilt as Gothic.  There was also nightlife (especially Flamenco dancing) but we decided to save that for Granada.  We had a great little hotel, facing onto a small, quiet courtyard with orange trees, a fountain and two street cafes (more nearby), strolling minstrels, one block from the Alcazar and three from the Cathedral.

We tried to avoid using a car (you don’t really want to drive in the parts of the cities we wanted to visit), but there were a few places south of Sevilla that we wanted to visit and public transportation to these smaller places is not easy.  So, we rented a car and drove south to Terifa.  It wasn’t so much that we wanted to see Terifa (but it turned out to be more interesting than we anticipated) but it is the easiest port to use to visit Morocco.  It is actually the most southern point of the Spanish Peninsula, and considered to be the point where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean (in fact on the Atlantic side of a small causeway to an island the wind and waves are huge – big parakiting center – while on the Mediterranean side is very calm water with small boats and kayaks).  But it is also the port with the easiest and fastest jet boats to Tangier (one each hour).  We wanted to spend a day there to see some of the sites and add yet another country (and continent) to our list.  The day we went the weather was bad (one of the few bad weather days we had).  The waves were so big that the trip by jet boat, that normally takes 45 min, took nearly two hours and over half the passengers were throwing up (neither of us did).  Then when we got to Tangier it was pouring rain.  Even though we had raincoats and umbrella we cut our visit short, saw the famous market and a few other highlights, nearly bought some silver jewelry, and caught the next boat back (return was bad but not as bad as the trip over).  The primary challenge in a visit to Morocco (if you are not in a guided group) is repelling the hundreds of locals trying to become your guide.

The next day, we’d planned to visit Gibraltar and take the cable car to the top of the “rock”, but it was foggy and rainy and we doubted that we’d be able to see anything, so we skipped it (and thus failed to be able to add yet another “country” to our list) and drove for our next destination, Ronda. The scenery of the trip into the mountains was wonderful and rain reduced to a drizzle.  Rhonda is one of the best (but also most crowded) of the “White Hill Towns” (so called because nearly all the buildings are whitewashed and stand out in this wooded, mountainous region).  Rhonda had been recommended to us by some friends (Oran and Bonnie McNiel) and certainly did not disappoint.  It is a wonderful, historic town with many old buildings and the most well preserved (or restored) Moorish Bath.  It is also famous as the origin of “modern” bull fighting, with the oldest Plaza de Toros in Spain.  It Is high in the Sierra de las Nieves, built on a bluff but with an extremely deep canyon dividing the town into the Spanish and the Moorish part (today just the most historic part and the more modern part), joined by three high bridges – the Puente Nuevo (new bridge) was the last to be built, in 1793.  Here, we again enjoyed strolling the streets, visiting historic buildings (including the bath) and the fantastic food (I was taking notes for our hosted dinner, but we also bought a cookbook – after we got back to Seattle).

From Rhonda, we drove to Granada (across valleys, filled with olive groves, and into another mountain range), where we turned-in the car – enough driving in villages with narrow cobble streets.  Granada was wonderful.  We had a hotel within close walking distances of nearly everything we wanted to see – except, Alhambra which was only ½ mi by air but about 1000 feet up on a bluff and so, taxies.   Alhambra (usually written by Spanish and others as “The Alhambra” but that is redundant since “Al” is apparently an article in Arabic), is the most famous of the sites, built in 1238  by Ibn al-Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid dynasty (but added to for 400+ years by his successors).  Because of its position high on a bluff overlooking the city, it was the most defensible of all the Mooring palace/fortresses in Andalucía and consequently their last stronghold along with Rhonda.  Sevilla was conquered by Ferdinand III of Castile in 1247/8 but Granada held out until 1492.  Keeping a toe hold on the peninsula allowed easier, safe transit between Morocco and Europe for the Moors that remained.  Alhambra is so popular that you need to buy a ticket with a 15 min entry timeslot well in advance (or join guided tour for much higher prices; we got ours on-line before the trip).  Besides being the last stronghold, it is also the best preserved of all the Moor palaces because Isabella and Ferdinand did not get around to destroying and rebuilding it until they died and later their grandson, who liked Moorish architecture, decided to preserve it and build himself a new palace on the grounds next to the historic building.  We were a little disappointed though, that the palace is EMPTY, no furniture, art …  It did allow viewing the architecture and all the little channels of running water (cooling and possibly for plants) but somewhat stark.

Although every city or town we visited offered Flamenco dancing demonstrations, we waited until Granada to attend one, because we’d read about Sacromonte.  Sacromonte is a hillside north of Alhambra and east of the Moorish quarter, Albayzin, of Granada, considered too steep to build buildings on.  The Roma people of Spain migrated from India through Egypt (Gypsy comes from the word Egypt) and mostly settled in the Muslim occupied areas of southern Europe, where they were mostly tolerated, but less welcome after the Spanish conquest.  Many settled in Sacromonte, digging their homes as short tunnels into the hillside.  Some 50,000 Roma reside near Granada today many still in Sacromonte, but many of the tunnel homes have been converted into restaurants and Flamenco dance venues for tourists.  We decided this offered a special opportunity to see Flamenco performances as well as visiting these unique places. The dances demonstration was about an hour in a crowded narrow tunnel (chairs lined both sides) where you had to be careful of your knees and toes (those heels come down HARD).   Granada also has the largest Moorish population in Spain and Arabic shops with local and Moroccan goods.

We took a combination of bus and train from Granada to Cordoba (another Moorish royal city) and stayed in a hotel across the street from the Cathedral.  I enjoyed the Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral, aka Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Mezquita (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption).  It is unique (at least among those we saw) in preserving the Moorish architecture and decoration and is, in fact, the best surviving example of Moorish architecture.  All over the former Moorish territory, when the Spanish conquered a city, they rebuilt the Mosque as a Catholic Cathedral often destroying it down to the foundations, so few show any evidence of the original architecture, but in Cordoba most if the Mosque was preserved.  This was mostly because it had been a shared structure, a Visigothic Catholic church, from about 600, and divided in to Muslim and Christian halves from about 710 AD.  When it was rededicated as a Roman Catholic Church in 1236 (after Cordoba was conquered), it was not totally rebuilt, but allowed sharing the building, allowing Muslim worship in part of it was not hallowed.  Unlike most Cathedrals which are narrow rectangles in the form of a cross, the Mosque is 460 by 280 feet with an open interior but divided into aisles build of posts and Moorish arches (with red and white stripes inspired by arches in the Dome of the Rock).  Muslims usually pray facing Mecca, but here they prayed facing south, because that was their direction to Mecca (by route of Africa).  The major change for the Catholic church was to build a Renaissance nave in the middle of the structure with the alter at the east.  It was constructed with permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragn, but when he visited it, he commented “You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace.”  Many of the alcoves along the outside walls were later converted to chapels with Christian icons but the Moorish arches over the opening were preserved.  The minaret was converted into a bell tower using bells captured from Santiago de Compostela. 

We had originally planned to return to Sevilla just the night before flying home, but after learning that this would be Palm Sunday and that Seville has the most extensive Holy Week and Easter religious processionals of anywhere in the Catholic world, we delayed our flight home a couple of days to observe  a bit of this event.  Since our trip was so near Easter, many of the cities we visited had begun to erect viewing stands along processional routes for Holy Week, but in Sevilla, over 100 churches participate, with seven or eight processionals a day, all proceed from their church, through the streets of Seville to the Cathedral and back.  Each procession includes one or two large floats with statues, icons and decorations, some weighting over a ton.  And all are CARRIED – no wheels or vehicles – by from 20 to 80 men walking under the float and using beams on their shoulders.  They walk for a minute or two and then set it down (kneeling under it to rest).  The captain then hits part of the float with a mallet to signal lifting it up and then continue striking it periodically to keep the group in step.  Many processions also have one or two bands, but ALL have dozens to hundred of marchers wearing robes and pointy mask/hats (yes think of KKK but these are mostly black -- the KKK got their idea from these processions in Seville).  Apparently, the variation in robe/hat signifies the sin that is being atoned for and the mask part of it hides the identity (but on the hot day we watched, the mask was often lifted to drink water or each a sandwich).  Most we saw were teenagers marching with others of their families who were not robed.  The procession we watched took 2 hours to pass us and must have had nearly 1000 marchers.

Every place we visited is a place we’d love to go back to, but then there are the places we’ve not gone yet.

Ah, yes, we did host an Andalucian Dinner after we got home, with Manzanilla, Gordal and Mantequilla Olives, Tortilla Espanola (potato, onion and egg omelet), Berenjena con Miel (fried eggplant with honey), gazpacho, vegetarian and meat paella, and Naranja la antiqua con aceite de oliva (orange sections with cinnamon, sugar and olive oil).

Terry and Jan Anderson, Dec 2019