Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dottore Gianni's Sojourn to Spain: The Last Three Days in Madrid

Day 11

This morning (Friday 4 October) was the first day that it rained in my entire time here – and tomorrow and Sunday, my last two days in Spain, look to be gorgeous, so I can hardly complain. I’m pretty sure I mentioned before that “I’m not half the man I used to be.” The trip, excellent as it is, has taken a toll on my slightly diminishing energy. So after breakfast I decided to stay in bed, wait out the rain, and get some work done on notes for and photos of the trip. So glad I did, as I felt that not only had I accomplished some things, but also that I was much more ready to get out and about after a "time-out." 

So at about 11:30 am I headed vaguely in the direction of the Reina Sofia art museum, my main goal for the day, but on the way went in search of two elusive little streets that parallel each other, but that, for this old fellow less and less sure of direction, have thus far proved not all that easy to find. They are the Calle de Cervantes and the Calle de Lope de Vega. And after several wrong turns and much backtracking, I found them, very near and parallel to the charming Calle de Huertas, which I discovered on the first part of my stay here.

As a good lapsed Catholic I love making confessions. Here is one, not so much regarding this trip to Spain, but about what I have always considered a singular failure in my theatre history course. I know a good bit about European theatre, but
The Calle de Principe at Plaza Santa Ana is the
site of the first major public playhouse in Spain
 no matter how much I learn from books, I always discover a good bit more while visiting the country concerned. And I must say that I have visited almost all the European countries that have featured significantly in the history of theatre. Except for Spain! From the late 1500s through much of the seventeenth century, Spain enjoyed a “Siglo de Oro” – a Golden Age – in its theatre. Its public theatres were very like Elizabethan theatres in that they were outdoor spaces that featured bare platform stages. The plays were somewhat like the plays of Shakespeare as they were very active, ranged freely in time and space, and were very bloody or very comic, and some contained elements of serious as well as humorous drama. There were major playwrights as well, including Lope de Vega, Calderon de la Barca, Tirso Molina…and another fellow named Cervantes. Cervantes is of course fabled for his
Quirky little pizzeria taking advantage of Cervantes
 brilliant early “novel” Don Quixote, and if you know none of the other writers, chances are very strong that you’ve at least heard of the author or the title character – the man of La Mancha, the knight of the woeful countenance.

Brilliant as Don Quixote is, the plays of Cervantes are not as strong as plays by Lope, Calderon or Tirso. This much I know from my study of theatre history via books and lectures by very good professors.
Cervantes and his
creations, Don Quixote
and Sanch Panza
Plaza de España

What I did not know until this trip is that Cervantes and Lope de Vega were bitter literary rivals and while one did not entirely snub the other, they did not much like one another personally. The younger Lope began to have great success on the stage, and Cervantes, who had written several short pieces called entremises, as well as some full-length plays such as The Siege of Numancia (not a promising title), faded before his rival.

As the Rough Guide notes, both writers are probably spinning in their graves as the House/Museum of Lope de Vega is on a street now named for Cervantes, while Cervantes is buried in the Convento de las Trinitarias, on the street now named for Lope de Vega!

I was lucky enough late this morning to latch onto a tour of the Casa Lope de Vega, where Spain’s most famous 
Casa/Museo Lope de Vega
playwright lived for 25 years. The woman conducting it was very good but her accent was strong and I don’t think that everyone (myself included) caught everything she was saying. I was relieved to hear that most of what she said I already knew – and when she asked if anyone knew the plays of Lope, I was able to quickly answer (as do half the characters in the play when questioned at the trial) “Fuenteovejuna!”

The casa a beautifully preserved place, and one of the few in the city to display a typical if rather grand seventeenth century house. The house may be grand, but Lope was never rich – perhaps it had something to do with providing for his many children in and out of wedlock, one at least born AFTER he had become a priest (tsk, tsk). I had a brief chat with the guide after the tour and she informed me of a similar house, on Calle Mayor, where Cervantes was born.

After my lucky tour I took myself to the second great museum in Madrid, The Reina Sofia. And a wonderful place 
Reina Sofia
it is! I did not tour all of it, as I have become a tad museum-worn this trip, but I did do the second floor, which houses much important art, more by Spanish painters than others, perhaps naturally enough, from 1900 to the 1940s. There’s a good bit of Picasso (painted after what you can see in Barcelona), a very nice Dali room, in which the film made by that major surrealist and his compadre Luis Buñuel runs: 
Sculpture in the central courtyard
of Reina Sofia
L’Age d’Or. I watched a good 20 minutes of that before proceeding to the paintings! The current curator of the museum is apparently a film buff, and has placed appropriate films in several rooms – what a great idea! Miro is also nicely represented on this level, as is Francis Picabia, a major Spanish Dadaist. But the prime reason to go to this museum is to see the iconic Guernica by Picasso. And it is stunning! Larger than I expected, and even after all the reproductions I’ve seen, more powerful than I imagined, it is a devastating statement against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, but a great general anti-war painted diatribe as well. I won’t go further into it because my words are not up to the task. One of the best aspects of the room it is in and others surrounding it, is that they are packed with images, some similar to Picasso’s (and possibly borrowed by him) b other painters, some painted before, some around the same time as, and of course some after his own exemplary work.

Guernica - until you've seen it in person, you've not really seen it.

There is apparently a good collection of painting after 1945 up on the fourth floor, but I gave it a miss as I was getting tired and a tad peckish.

This is the rather incredible side wall of the Caixa Forum, another
arts/cultural center in Madrid, very near the Reina Sofia - no
particular reason to show it, except of course that it's stunning!
So I had what I can call a very good Friday of touring. It was a relatively light day, and I ate somewhat lightly as well. I had had a very good salad – the tomatoes here are large and luscious – at the Café Europa (next to my old hotel) the previous week, so I went back and had an equally fine salad that evening. On my way home I stopped at a small 24-hour market for the third time and got myself a large bottled water, some potato chips and two beers, and was nicely rewarded by the man at the register who recognized me as a “regular” customer and gave me a discount! In a country which features perfunctory service at best to English-only tourists, it was a very friendly gesture and a nice way to end my day, before I tippled myself into a slight stupor in the silence of my lonely hotel room.

In spite of the outside noise – my one window, a floor to ceiling affair, looks out on a very popular pedestrian street and the party goes on all night – I slept long and deeply,
My room and "window" at Hotel Francisco I
partly from being tipsy, partly from exhaustion, and partly thanks to the very well sealed window. A note on that window. I am on the first floor and in order to keep the window open and watch the world outside, I’m afraid that I too am watched, so for the most part the shade is nearly always down. I must admit I feel a bit like an Amsterdam prostitute, peeking out to see what’s shaking outside, but for the most part keeping shuttered. Of course I have no thought that I might lure an occasional customer into my room…what a thought! Who in her/his right mind would pay for my favors!?!

Day 12

Mercado de San Miguel
On my penultimate day in Madrid I started out with a trip to the market. But not just any market...the Mercado de San Miguel is special! The turn of the century building has been refurbished recently and the space, created from a lot of iron, 
a little wood and a lot of glass, it's a stunner in itself, but the food inside is fresh, tasty and beautifully displayed. I went early, because the place becomes tourist central and consequently mobbed beginning around lunchtime through the end of the day. Even if you're not hungry when you walk in you will be drooling if you don't taste something while you're inside. 

Okay, not all the food at the Mercado de San Miguel is attractive, but you've got to
love that bif fish on the left!
After the culinary pleasures of the market I took myself across town, just beyond the Prado, to the pastoral pleasures 
One entrance to Buen Retiro Park
of Buen Retiro Park. I have been interested in this park for years as I lecture about it regularly in theatre history. Calderon de la Barca, after lope de Vega the greatest playwright of the Golden Age of drama in Spain, wrote a variety of plays, but wrote more for the court than most other writers of that important time in the seventeenth century. One of his plays, Loosely translated as The Greatest Enchantment is Love, is about Odysseus and Circe (you may
The lake at Buen Retiro
or may not remember she wanted him to stay on the island, and turned his men into pigs) and was presented for the king and his court at a re-creation of Circe's island in the lake that is a central feature of this "buen 
retiro" (nice place for the king to retire to) across central Madrid from the royal palace. The Italian designer Cosme Lotti built a floating stage on a lake, lit it with 3,000 lanterns, and featured incredible effects including a shipwreck, a chariot drawn through the water by dolphins, and the destruction of Circe’s palace. The king and his court watched this spectacle from gondolas floating in the lake.
Boats on the lake at Buen Retiro
So I've wanted to see Buen Retiro for some time, and was not disappointed. The park is a huge stretch of green in Madrid,
 and as the day I was there was beautiful and unusually warm for early October, it was packed with people, other tourists certainly, but many residents as well. I located the lake easily enough, and while there were not gondolas to be had several people had rented boats and were enjoying an afternoon on the water. I found a little place near the lake to have a bocadilla and a large beer before strolling out of the park and back into the busy center of Madrid.

Fall colors in some of the trees at Buen Retiro
The day ended on a less than happy note, with a weird supper at an Italian place just next to the hotel -- chose to sit outside (where I've had just about all my food here) but the staff were not being overly attentive -- only three tables set up, at one me, at another a rather grizzled but friendly couple - he spoke good English and we chatted briefly -- and I think British tourists, an old man, possibly his daughter and possibly hers at the third. We were fairly harassed by beggars, not-very-good street musicians and people trying to sell us things -- mostly just nuisances, but more than I've ever 
encountered in such a short period of time -- I now realize that waiters standing outside are not just looking for customers here, but that part of their job is to chase of a sadly huge amount of people begging. A rather wild woman came up to the Spanish couple and he just told her to get lost, she came to me and I used my standard No hablo espagnol and she muttered something to the effect that I could speak it and tapped me on my back before she headed off to the British trio, with whom she got got rather animated - the old man spoke Spanish and she laid into him with some angry words (meanwhile, no restaurant staff outside) -- and sped off -- then a few minutes later a young man, really mean-looking, came up to the British threesome and before anybody knew it he slammed his fist onto the table right next to the woman spilling water all over the place and her -- she was clearly panicked -- the friendly Spanish fellow shouted at him and he ran off, but all of us were a bit shaken. Finally a waiter came out and the Spanish guy told him what had happened - the waiter brought out another bottle of water to the table and told them it was free (I should hope so!).

Anyway, I've seen a few near-miss ugly incidents while I've been here - but this was one of the worst and even though I had a really nice rest of my day here it is one of the things that has made this trip a sort of love-hate adventure, instead of one that I'd hoped would be all love!

Day 13 and last

First thing I did today is something I wanted to do since I came to Spain, and even more so since I visited the Prado. I
made it to Goya’s tomb! And paid a brief homage to a man who has become one of my favorite painters, as comfortable at court as he was in painting, before anyone else did, paintings so dark and unreal that they can only be called “modern.”  The homage at the tomb, which lies at the center of a small chapel, the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, is only part of the reason to visit. The other is that Goya himself decorated this chapel with beautiful frescos on the ceiling, which you can see rather easily without craning your neck because of four very well placed mirrors. So I was able to see another sampling of Goya’s fine art work.

I then caught the Metro  to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which, while some guide books put it in a distant third place from the Prado and the Reina Sofia, was still 
worth it to me. A distant third from the first two is not to damn it, as the first two are clearly world class museums. Rick Steves, for example, writes that the Thyssen-Bornemisza houses second-class works by first-class painters, and while this may be true in most cases, to see a “second-class” painting by Picasso, such as his Harlequin with Mirror” or a beautiful portrait by John Singer Sargent of Millicent, 
Picasso's Harlequin with Mirror
Duchess of Sutherland, gives me great pleasure. This museum houses two collections, that of Baron Thyssen, a very wealthy and fairly tasteful collector, and that of his wife, Carmen, a former Miss Spain. While there are some pleasures to be had looking through her collection - each floor is divided into some of his work, and some of hers - if you're at all pressed for time I'd stick to the Baron's collections, rahter than Carmen's. One of the things I enjoyed most about this museum is that it contains solid work from Medieval Italian painters straight through to the cartoons of Roy Lichstenstein and the haunting visions of the British painter Francis Bacon. So it’s a fine trip through much history of western art.

Sargent's Millicent, Duchess of Rutherford
I spent a few very happy hours at the museum, and then, at around 1:30 pm went out in search of lunch. I landed at Plaza Santa Ana, and, as has become a tad too usual on this trip, 
Plaza Santa Ana and the Teatro Español
made a mediocre choice in terms of food. I tried to order some tapas (finally – I fear the tapas bars where Spaniards aggressively point at what they want, exchange a few words that I understand not, and get apparently exactly what they want), but my server kept pointing out things on the menu that they no longer had, so I ended up with yet another 
Mediterranean style salad (lettuce, tomatoes, onion, egg, green olives, a spear or two of white asparagus, and tuna – in this case a welcome addition for me was a cucumber slice or three). This was not a bad choice, given many others I could have made, but I have made this choice at least four times now. Still, it could have been far worse, and the day was fine as I sat outside and watched the Madrileños pass by in one of the prettiest squares in town, and the one in which the first plays for the public were performed as far back as the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. 
A pretty fountain in central Madrid.
I then strolled back to the area near my hotel, made a last stop at the beautiful Plaza Mayor, made a search for a few souvenirs, and headed to the hotel for a much needed siesta, and slept longer than I thought I would, but also got a good bit more done on my writing and photo preparation.

My last evening in Madrid was a slight disappointment, as the bocadilla I searched for was the worst I’ve eaten  -- by far – on my trip here. There is Iberian jamon and then…there is Iberian jamon. Ah well…in spite of that and of several other setback and disappointments on these two weeks in Spain, it was all in all quite an enjoyable and educational trip. And what more can one ask than that?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dottore Gianni's Sojourn to Spain: Flamenco in Madrid, El Greco in Toledo

Day 9: 

This morning (Wednesday 2 October) I took a taxi to Barcelona Sants Rail Station and got there in plenty of time to catch the Ave back to Madrid. In exactly three hours we arrived, and I had no wait whatsoever in the taxi queue before being whisked (and I mean whisked – this cabbie was more like NYC drivers than any of the others I’ve encountered here in Spain) to my final of three hotels this
view from my hotel window
trip: The Francisco I on Calle de Arenal, a lovely pedestrian zone between Puerta de Sol and the Teatro Real. I took a short walk to buy some bottled water and stopped for a beer at a tiny outdoor cervezeria near my new hotel. I was pleasantly surprised by the finger food served with the beer – fried calamari. The rest of the afternoon I caught up on mundane matters, then headed out to my one and only night of flamenco! While I remember seeing Jose Greco on the Ed Sullivan show in my youth, this was my first live experience, and it was terrific!
The pedestrian zone on Arenal
The place, Las Tablas, is an easy ten minute walk from my hotel. I was the first to arrive, and was seated in majesty at a 
Las Tablas for flamenco!
table front and center about 4 feet from the small stage! I began to realize that the place was not going to be packed. I had chosen to have a meal there, and seemed to be the only one of eight members of the audience to do so – but I’m so glad I spent the extra, as I’d never have thought to have ordered the delicious tomato based soup, followed by extraordinary oxtail and potatoes, and finished off with pears in a wine sauce. Oh, and did I mention that instead of a glass or two of wine, a full bottle of very tasty red wine from Ribera del Duero, was opened for me, and I’ll admit I drank most of it.

If the food was good the show was fantastic. When I read about Las Tablas I decided that it was the place for me, as the
flamenco was traditional. I think the first thing we think of when we think flamenco is flashy dancers, and that was true here. There were two women and one man that danced at times all together, at times in pairs, and in solos, which each of them offered us. What may be not so apparent but what is essential to the experience is the singer and the guitarist. A small, weasel of a fellow and a chubby nondescript guy came out on the stage and started the program off. The weasel was the singer, or canteor, and what a soulful sound he made. Flamenco  comes from Andalusia, but has roots in Mozarabic music, in gypsy songs, even in Jewish synagogue chants, as well as in Andalusian folk music.

While it is impossible for a non-Spanish speaker to comprehend literally the lyrics, this fellow made it 
abundantly clear that what he was singing about was anguished and dramatic. He was wonderfully expressive in the sounds he made, though his face revealed none of that expression. He was there to tell the story, and tell the story he did.

The very ordinary looking guitarist was extraordinary in his playing, and seemed to take great pleasure in it. I would have been completely happy to have heard him as a solo artist, so brilliant was he on his instrument.

Then of course there were the dancers. The two women looked to be in their later 40s or early 50s – one tall-ish with
sandy colored hair, the other short with the blackest of black hair. They danced wonderfully together, then, during guitar and vocal breaks one each left the stage and changed into expressive costumes, assuming characters that I could not describe exactly, but that through their dancing I felt I understood. The taller of the two did her solo in a gown with a long train, and part of her expertise was to control the train as she danced explosively around the stage. The shorter danced what seemed the story of a woman whose heart had been broken, who was alone, but who managed to get through life, and was proud that she was able to.

Interestingly, as the concert seemed to be winding down when the short dancer introduced each of the artists, the make dancer, younger with a scruffy beard, had not shown much, and I found myself thinking that he was there to 
accompany the more accomplished women. But NO! He was off stage when the introductions were being made, and when he came back on his stance had become more firm and he began to move with a flourish I’d not seen in him in the first perhaps hour that had gone by since the show began. And then he began to move, and his heels clicked faster and faster until the small audience was astonished. Approval is expressed by the members of the tiny troupe with the word Ole! This was either muttered or spoken aloud, or at certain points shouted out, whether it referred to the singer, the guitarist or the dancers. Well, the mostly novice audience, me with my wine bottle and empty plate at the center table, two young Asian American students (I’m guessing) at the table to my left and behind them three other Asians, a mother, father and daughter, began to learn that we too should join in on the word Ole! as the mood hit us. As the performance built in intensity it all seemed spontaneous, five people seated on chairs, one after another getting up and performing, but I began to see that it was very carefully orchestrated, and that the build-up was moving relentlessly to the young male dancer’s fiery performance. He kept astonishing the audience (the other two of whom were seated farther back and seemed to be veterans of watching flamenco performance) with his seemingly impossibly fast footwork and panache, and Ole! was shouted again and again. At one point he was so astonishing that one of the two students on my left, as if in a swoon, shouted “Aaaaahhh!” while the rest of us screamed Ole! It was an almost humorous moment, and the dancer smiled very slightly as if to say, “Mission accomplished.”

Then all five rose and engaged in a finale that was short but brilliant – and left the stage. That was it, and I was bowled over. What I learned more than anything, was that even the brilliance of the male dancer was eclipsed by the ensemble of five. Particularly in the cases of the canteor and the guitarist, you wouldn’t have noticed them passing on the street, so normal looking were they. But all came together with tremendous expertise, in song, instrumental music and dance in one of the most magical evenings I’ve spent. I spoke to the bartender – who I think owned the place – it’s a tiny operation, Las Tablas – afterwards, saying that what was most amazing to me about the evening was how this troupe of five seemed to be playing to a huge auditorium, whereas there were only ten other people in the room – the tiny audience, the bartender, and the sweet server, whose name I think is Marisol.

For my money, that bare stage, those five souls who bared their souls artistically, might as well have been a symphony, a huge troupe of ballet dancers, a Shakespearean drama. The quintet was all the more impressive because they created such great theatre with seemingly so little – except of course their disciplined and wonderful talent.

What does one do after such an evening? One tucks oneself into bed and dreams about it.

Day 10:

And the next morning one awakes and takes his second day trip, to the former capital of Spain, Toledo! I used the same tour company that had provided the very satisfactory tour I’ve already described, to Avila and Segovia. I was once again on a rather comfy bus, along with about 20 other tourists. Toledo is not far south of Madrid, but is in another area of Spain, La Mancha, in fact is its central city. 

A view (if not exactly El Greco's) of Toledo
Toledo is notable for its dramatic location, made even more dramatic by a famous “view” of the city painted by
View of Toledo, El Greco
Metropolitan Museum of Art -
this is the one I'm familiar with
Domenikos Theotokopolis, better known as El Greco. Its cathedral is one of the most beautiful and the most important in Spain and boasts several portraits by that famous Greek whose work is also to be seen in the Chapel of Santo Tome and in a museum which is devoted completely to his work,  the highlight of which is his great painting, the View and Plan of Toledo. One of the most fascinating aspects of Toledo is the interconnectivity between three great faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, apparent in it. While few if any Jews and Muslims live here today, alas, for one brief, shining moment…

View and Plan of Toledo (the one you'll see in Toledo itself) - that's the Virgin Mary
in the sky above it! 

The history of the city is fascinating. Much is owed to its location, as the river Tajo does not so much run through it, 
The River Tajo, and at the upper left, the Alcazar
but nearly surrounds the rocky hill on which the old town was built. Romans realized the strategic value, capturing it in 192 BC, calling it Toletum, and holding it until the Visigoths took it away in the waning days of the Empire and made it their capital. During the days of the Romans and Goths the city was already a cultural and trading center. The arrival of the Moors in 712 saw the city grow in those respects and Toledo became a place where three cultures, Arabic, Jewish and Christians lived together as equals. It was re-taken in 1085 by Christian forces led by King Alfonso VI with considerable help from that soldier of fortune known as El Cid (the romantic legends surrounding that warrior for hire are marred somewhat by the fact that he worked for whomever would pay top peso) in the early days of the Reconquista, but while Toledo served as headquarters for the ongoing Christian campaign to rid Spain of the Moors, the town itself remained a model of tolerance, where Jews and Arabs alike remained some of the most important citizens of the city,
The mix of stone and brick in the walls is aspect of
Moorish building
the Jews primarily as money-handlers, the Arabs as architects. This almost miraculous mixing of cultures (compare it to the Middle East today) came crashing down with the end of the Reconquista, when Fernando and Isabel (we know them as Ferdinand and Isabella), the Catholic monarchs who united Castile and Aragon and therefore the entirety of Spain, began to systematically force out of the country or exterminate any Muslims and Jews who would not convert to Christianity. Their remarkably cruel tool for doing this, the 
One way to know that you're in the Jewish
section of the city is by the symbols of the faith
inlaid into the street, in blue
Inquisition, was extremely effective in what we’d call today ethnic cleansing. Then, in 1561, when Philip II moved the capital from Toledo the relatively short distance to Madrid (some say to separate church from state, some say because Madrid was located at the very center of Spain, others that there was room to grow in the barren area around Madrid) Toledo’s political prowess disappeared. While it remained the religious center of the country primarily because of its great cathedral it was not until wealthy Europeans discovered the beauty and history of the place while on their grand tours that Toledo was “back on the map” so to speak.

So there were many reasons Dottore Gianni was excited to see this city. It is with mixed emotions that he describes the tour, as one day is not enough to do this amazing place justice. The guide, while more than adequate, had a relatively thick accent, and given the number of essential sites in the city, was forced to leave a number of vital places out of the tour.  Had the good doctor to do it again, he would have visited on his own and would have spent one night in the city. To any of you reading this who might contemplate a trip, heed the advice of a now slightly sadder but somewhat wiser Dottore.
Our tour guide took us to a spot where you can almost get a
good look at the exterior of the cathedral
But for the time we had, we saw a fair amount of important spots, and I appreciated that so much focus was placed on the peaceful co-habitation of cultures. We started with the Cathedral, which in fact was built upon a mosque and retains some Moorish décor. It is almost impossible to appreciate this building from the outside (unless you view it from outside the city), as it is so tightly fitted into its space and hemmed in by other buildings, but once inside one appreciates the beauty of the place. It took literally centuries to build, begun in 1226, completed in 1495 (or according to another source 1227-1493, but who’s counting?), and as a result is a mix of styles from the Gothic to the Baroque.  
the high altar is practically hidden by
this screen
but if you cheat a bit and shoot through the bars, you can get
a sense of the splendor
The central nave of the church is supported by 88 (!) columns, and stops at the remarkable choir, which features 
The coro, or choir, is also ornate, and
features this beautiful sculpture of
madonna and child
elegant carving. There are two side aisles to the right and left of the nave, making an unusual five aisles in all. The side aisles carry on to the outrageously ornate Gothic high altar and behind it into the apse which features one of the most fascinating parts of the church, a Baroque masterpiece called El Transparente. In order to properly light it an opening was created in the roof. That hole, surrounded by putti, faces east, and each morning as the sun rises and hits the altar just right, the result is apparently breathtaking, but you don’t need to arrive exactly at sun-up to be taken with the beauty and uniqueness of this part of the cathedral. 
El Transparente
And the opening created to help light it
We were whisked past the sacristy, which contains major paintings by Goya, Titian, Rubens, Velasquez and Bellini – a 
El Greco's Jesus Chrisst
very respectable art museum in itself – but did stop at El Greco’s individual portraits of Christ and the apostles. The painter, in search of other-worldly facial expressions for the disciples, apparently used mad men as models. They certainly don’t look mad, but the portraits are unique. We also stopped at another El Greco, depicting the repentant Peter, before we left the cathedral (too soon, too soon) to see other sights.
and a few of his "mad" disciples
The next (whistle-) stop was at Santo Tome, a very simple chapel which houses what some call his best-loved painting, 
The Burial of Count Orgaz
The Burial of Count Orgaz. It is not Dottore Gianni's best loved painting by the master, but it is certainly a beautiful work, and is perfectly set just above the Count’s tomb, as opposed to in an art museum for example. Worth the visit, and out guide did a good job of taking us through the intricacies of the painting, as it simultaneously gives us two views: in the lower half of the painting we see the burial on earth, with several onlookers, one of them El Greco himself in the upper we see the Count being taken into heaven. It’s a powerful and once again, well-placed piece of work.

One of the views from the Victorio Macho Museum
Our next stop was a spot that some people complained about, saying that it could have been used visits to more historical sites, but the views from the place, the Museo Victorio Macho, are so beautiful that it seemed to me worth the short visit. Macho (what a name to live up to, or to live down, right?) was an early twentieth century of middling talent who is said to be Spain’s first “great” modern sculptor. Whatever the extent of his talent, he certainly knew how to choose a location. The setting is at once peaceful and lovely, but it also serves to show why Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians all vied for this place. Toledo is a very difficult place to attack.
Another view from the Macho Museum - the pedestrian bridge in the disstance dates back to Roman times
The mosque-like synagogue called
Santa Maria la Blanca
On then to a synagogue built by Moors, thus very mosque-like in appearance, now owned by the Catholic Church and used as one: the place has a rather peculiar name for a synagogue, Santa Maria la Blanca, but in 1492 when Jews 
another view of Santa Maria la Blanca
were driven from Spain it became a church. It is also known as Ibn Shushan Synagogue and the Congregational Synagogue of Toledo. This place, said to be the oldest synagogue in Europe, was one of my favorite buildings as I have a great desire to see as much of Moorish Spain as I can. For that I need to venture farther south, to Seville, Cordoba and Granada, and perhaps one day I shall. But this beautiful little place, possibly confused in the particular religious affiliation, is to my mind a nice reminder of those good old days when the people of three faiths managed to coexist in peace.

Here's how to get to the Monastery
of San Juan de los Reyes
Only a short distance away, our next visit was to the Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes (the Monastery of St John of the Monarchs). This Gothic work was to be the final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabella, los Rejes Catolicos (the 
the lovely cloister of San Juan de los Reyes
Catholic Monarchs). That is not the case – they were buried instead in Granada, the last city to be taken from the Muslims in the Reconquista, to symbolize the commitment to keep Spain free of Moors. But it remains a rather impressive late Gothic work, and features a lovely cloister in the style known as “Isabeline.” There is a rather bizarre aspect to the exterior of the monastery. On one wall hang many chains that had been used by the Moors to shackle Christians in Granada – another symbol, supposes Dottore Gianni, to remind non-Christians of who was now and always would be (well, so far) in charge!

chains (dark areas on either side of the window) on the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes
Then we went to lunch, which started fair, with a selection of uninspiring tapas, absolutely brilliant in the main course, 
the main course - lamb!
which featured delicious lamb, and only okay in the dessert, a rather tasteless cake. In a city famed for its marzipan, why not that? But the wine that accompanied the meal was quite nice, and all in all it was a pleasure, particularly as I was at a table with two recently retired women who had taught special education in Denver, and with a Chinese-American teacher of bible studies and his charming wife. We enjoyed some great conversation about our travels.

Courtyard of the Alcazar
But the restaurant was outside the city, and we returned only for a quick and disappointing tour of the Alcazar. As Alcazars go Dottore Gianni definitely favors the one in Segovia.  On from their to see how metal is worked – that a ploy to bring us to the showroom and try to get us to buy some of the overpriced goods for sale there. One of the very, very low points of all too many organized tours. And then back to Madrid.

Toledo blades
What in Toledo did we not see? Many things: the apparently wonderful central Plaza de Zocodover, the Santa Cruz Museum which houses 15 El Grecos, also the El Greco museum, the highlight of which is one of his most famous paintings and perhaps the very best one to see while in Toledo, named The View and  Plan of Toledo…and so much more. But given the amount of time we had to spend, I will never regret the short but sweet visit to a stunning, historical, and at one point in its long life at least unusually tolerant town.
rather pleasing set of buildings in Toledo