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Friday, October 8, 2010

Cruisin’ Part 2

After our adventure in Morocco, we return to the ship, pretty tired. The sea is rough and Mom becomes slightly green around the gills. I help her with her sea sickness; I’ve been there before. It is a satisfying feeling, to mother your own mother. It helps me feel in some small way that I am giving back all her nurturing and love over the years.

Big Cathedral
The next morning we arrive in Cadiz. According to many historians Cadiz is the oldest settlement in Western Europe. The city is on an island and has been built upon over the many millennia. Originally it was settled by the Phoenicians some 900 years before the birth of Christ.

We visit the old ruins which has the foundations of a Phoenician temple. More interestingly though are the ruins on top of it; that of a roman hospital and temple to Apollo. Apollo was the father, quite literally, of medicine.

The myth goes that Apollo fell in love with a beautiful human woman and became her lover. However, she married another human on the sly. Apollo, mad with jealousy, killed both of them and ripped his child from her womb. That child, who I’m assuming would have been pretty pissed off at his dad for doing such a dirty deed, became the god of medicine and today, the medical profession still bears his logo: the snake twisting around the staff.
Ruins from the Roman Temple

The Romans believed this temple had many medicinal purposes. Beneath the temple were tidal basins and the cures they practiced were based on the tides, times of year and interestingly enough, the dreams of patients. The doctors bathed the patients in the sea waters and then put them to bed. The patient, probably tired from hours or days of travel and of course their own ailments, slept. And slept. They were supposed to dream of Apollo and the cure he would give them. This would give the physician direction on what to do next.

Of course the Romans left eventually, another group took over, and then the Moors arrived, building on top of the roman temple. And it continues….Cadiz is a beautiful, old coastal town, its architecture coloured by the many invasions; each invading culture dropped its own flavor on top of the older one, subverting the former’s power. But clearly, the Cadizians maintained some of the older culture and there is something distinctly pagan about Cadiz, with its many apothecary shops and interesting shrines.

Cadiz's water fort.
My favorite place has got to be the causeway that stretches out a good kilometer out to see ending in a beautiful ocean fort that protected the harbor. Obviously the Cadizians didn’t do too much protecting; they were constantly being overtaken by empires, eventually ending up as part of the Castillian principality.

Cadiz benefitted hugely from the Spanish exploits to the Americas; many merchants made Cadiz their home base and the merchant quarter is dripping in wealth. Blue and white tiles cover the buildings and the designs are rich. The churches also sing of the wealth there; with gilded baroque designs.

I couldn't figure out how to change this picture...sorry.
One church has a beautiful statue of Mary of Magdalene; her eyes brim with tears and the tears stream down her face. It’s a truly impressive statue.

We eat some tapas and some gelato, as is our habit and we are all sad to leave Cadiz. It has a vibe, ancient in origin…you ge the sense that the Cadizians would be more than happy to be cut off, finally, from the rest of world, happy to sun themselves, fish and live off the sea.

The next day we go to Lisbon, which is almost completely opposite to Cadiz in every respect. Its sprawling, modern and bustling in comparison. Lisbon was razed to the ground by a gigantic earthquake in 1755, so everything was pretty much built since then. It’s a port city and the capital of Portugal. Portuguese is deceptively easy to read; it looks like a mixture of French and latin. But trying to understand it’s an entirely different prospect. There are a great deal of shhhhhes and slurring in the language; it almost sounds vaguely Russian. But the Portuguese area very friendly to Americans and make every attempt to accommodate our bad Portuguese.

Cadiz...I haven't uploaded my Lisbon/Valencia photos yet.
We take a tour bus around half of the city and wind up near the World Expo 1998 (hey do they still have these anymore?) area. The buildings are brand new and it appears to be a bit of a ghost town. It is asad to see such modern buildings and infrastructure go unused by the populace.

We eventually get to the old town in Lisbon, which is stunning. We walk up to an old cathedral, which only as the bare infrastructure left. There is no ceiling, just blue sky. The cathedral was built around the 13th century and the sculptures reflect the conquistadors and knights of days past. I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful cathedral.

Inside is a museum which houses some interesting antiquates, including mummies from Egypt and Peru. And the graves of several kings and queens of Portugal.

Lisbon is certainly not as sunny or wealthy as its larger neighbor Spain, but it has a certain activity to it, a laid back atmosphere.

We sit in a restaurant and eat a huge plate of seafood, with crayfish, octopus, and fillets of fish pilled high, steaming on the plate. It’s delicious (I love seafood) and gets quickly devoured by the three of us.

Back to the boat for a sea day. I usually spend sea days relaxing, reading, sunning and exploring the ship. It’s a lovely break in the schedule and I enjoy the day of rest thoroughly. That night was our last gala night, which meant dressing up. In the restaurant, there was much celebration and dancing…I’ll say one thing for the Italians, they know how to make an evening lively!

In the morning, we take a tour of the kitchens by our English host Sean. Sean, who is actually English, resembles one of the members of Monty Python (no not Michael Palin or John Cleese; his name escapes just now…). The kitchens are immense and we meet the executive chef, who looks surprisingly young for someone who is responsible for feeding 4,000 people a day. It all looks very ordered and calm but I suspect as soon as we leave, Paolo the executive chef, will turn into an Italian Gordon Ramsey and start swearing at the Indonesian sous chef.

Pretty flower...
In the afternoon, we head off for Valencia. I have to say that in the bussing, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the city. It looked cold, industrial and modern. But once we got into it, the 300 bell towers, with their domes covered in cobalt blue shiny tiles, won me over.

The city had a lovely exhibit of four churches being refurbished. The churches, all built either on the former sites of old Mosques or Mosques changed over into churches. The baroque period was clearly popular with the Valencians; not only are the cathedrals covered in marble but so are the sidewalk, the noble houses and the post office. It’s like Queen Marie-Antoinette threw up all over Valencia.

The exhibits were clearly a big deal for the city; they had decorated the sidewalks with a baroque design for visitors to follow the path. What a brilliant idea! We easily navigated our way to the four churches, spread out through the city.

The churches we visit are beautiful though and every possible service is covered in designs, whether they are cherubs, ivy or grapes. The ceilings are covered in gold overlay but one, the Church of Is a light baby blue with white carvings. We pass two nuns in full black and white habits that look like rejects from the Sound of Music. I thought nuns didn’t go for the full costume anymore, preferring a more modern costume. Clearly not. It makes me think what a life of quiet spiritual reflection would be like. A life without men might be quite peaceful but then again, probably deeply boring.

All these churches makes me reflect on my own concept of religion and spirituality. As we pass by the painting of the saints, I contemplate poor St. Bartholomew, who had his skin removed. Or one poor saint who was boiled alive. John the Baptist who was beheaded. Another stoned to death. St. Paul who was crucified upside down. One sculpture of a saint held her own disembodied breasts in her hands (OMFG!!!! WTF????) I don’t think I would be willing to lose the twins for religion, sorry.

Eddy (remember Eddy, my friend from Scotland) and I had a long discussion about whether or not people have souls (and I think we talked about snails having souls too). Mostly I just disagree with Eddy because I know he secretly enjoys the argument; Eds is a man of science and I’m sort of a religious and philosophical a la carte person. I take a bit of everything from everywhere and give it a go.

I guess I believe that there is an aspect of the divine in all of us, so therefore all religious and philosophical belief systems have a bit of divinity. Except fruitarians; I think those people are a bit daft. Anyway, I think arguing over religion or using science to confirm anything about god or spirituality is a waste of time. I’m a big Humist that way; belief will always be stronger than logic and you can’t change someone’s belief, even if pesky things like facts get in the way.

Anyway, so I like old churches; the feeling of communal worship. I appreciate the hard work, dedication and historical context of churches. Because people couldn’t read, art and artifice served to teach the people. And so we have the amazing works of art to look at today.
DOME!!!!  Slightly more impressive than the Church of Mike's Dome.

In the predominately secular world we live in now, it’s good to see that once people believed in mystery. That a man could really be born from a virgin and heal the sick and raise the dead, only to be resurrected three days later after a cruel death. That a saint could walk half a kilometer without her head. That a 14 year girl in France could hear the voice of God and defeat the English. That salt water and a dream from a sun god can cure your raging case of Chlamydia (no I don’t have Chlamydia…in fact the Travel Doctor lady called me up before I left and said “Wow! You don’t have Chlamydia! Everyone has Chlamydia!”…ah travel doctor lady, you provide me with endless hours of entertainment and paranoia.)

Certainly in my own life, things have happened to me that I can’t explain through scientific means or maybe I just chose not to explain them. But I am certainly grateful for every twist of fate and every mishap or missed or badly scheduled appointment that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Kitty in Cadiz...I think he's agnostic.
It’s all very mystical and awe inspiring. That belief that somehow, if we were good people, honest, hardworking, paying our little money to the church, it would all turn out okay. Unless you were a witch, Native American, Phoenician or a Protestant, of course (for old school 18th century Catholics only).

Then you’re screwed.