The defense of Madrid

Since I am thinking about the Civil War, I might as well add one more post on the topic.  I read that another one of the bedroom communities on my train trip between Madrid and El Escorial, the district of Las Rozas, preserved a battlefield from 1936 in the Dehesa de Navalcarbón (a dehesa is a pasture or prairie).  During the winter of 1936, the fascist rebels attempted to seize the capital, with attacks from the north and the south.  This was the frontline in the north.  The Dehesa is full of Republican bunkers, or the remains of them at least.

These bunkers are relatively intact.

These are rather less intact, though I don’t know enough to say if they were destroyed in battle or after the war.

The bunkers were all connected by earthworks, many of which survive.

IMG_7165Lest we think this is all history now some 81 years in the rearview mirror, behold some local graffiti here in El Escorial.  The yuga y flechas, the badge of Fernando and Isabella, is also the symbol of the falangistas.  Someone thought this was something acceptable to spray paint on a wall.  Thankfully, someone else thought it was important to cross it out.  Spain, 2018.

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Calvo Sotelo

This is the monument dedicated to José Calvo Sotelo, in the middle of the Paseo de la Castellana, in the north of Madrid. It was erected in 1960, during Franco’s dictatorship.IMG_1620Back home people are struggling to reframe the history of the Civil War, and remove monuments which celebrate the Confederacy.  In Spain, the same struggle exists, only the Civil War here was only 80 years ago and the bad guys won, and ruled Spain until 1975.  All that is to say that Spain is just beginning to deal with the fascist past, and the monuments that celebrate it.

So Calvo Sotelo was a splendid guy, as you might expect.  Born in Galicia in 1893, he became a lawyer pretty young, and moved to Madrid in the early-teens.  He immediately fell in with ultra-conservatives, like the Maurists, who advocated street violence against leftist political groups several years before Mussolini and the squadristi.  Calvo Sotelo was elected to parliament in 1919, and had success in government.  Then in 1923 Miguel Primo de Rivera launched his pronuciamiento (military coup) against the parliamentary monarchy.  Primo de Rivera was unquestionably a conservative military dictator.  He aggressively repressed working class and regional separatist organizations.  On the other hand, he was far more a benevolent figure than the later Franco, and intended, from the beginning, to only rule for a short time, like a classic Roman dictator.  Of course these are the sorts of plans that go sideways fast.  Primo de Rivera surrounded himself with the best people.  His son, José Antonio (another young lawyer), would go on to found the Spanish fascist party, the falangistas, a few years late.  The dictator also tapped Calvo Sotelo for his cabinet, and made him finance minister.  This was apparently José’s Peter-Principle moment, because he proved to be no good at the job.  Of course, the times were against him, and the Great Depression brought him, and Primo de Rivera, down in 1930.

Calvo Sotelo left the country for a few years once the Second Republic was formed, because he rightly believed that all those leftwing groups he helped to suppress under the dictatorship might be upset.  But in 1933, the CEDA, an umbrella organization for Spanish fascists disguising itself as the Catholic party, won the elections.  They offered an amnesty to all Primo de Rivera’s people, because they were openly fans of totalitarianism, and so Calvo Sotelo returned.  He rejoined parliament by May 1934, and promoted his own vision of ultra-conservative politics.  Calvo Sotelo openly despised the Republic, and called for a return to traditional, by which he meant absolutist, monarchy. He gained support from the random handful of Carlists who somehow still existed in dusty corners of the country.  However, his antiquarian style of dictatorship was not to the liking of CEDA, or his much more fascist buddy, José Antonio and the falangistas.  So the conservative government, despite finding time to ruthlessly suppress the miner’s strike in Asturias, spent most of its time on factional infighting.  When the 1936 elections rolled around, they were solidly defeated by the Popular Front, an alliance of nearly all the leftwing political parties.

The fascists began openly plotting to overthrow the Republic after their electoral loss.  Then, as now, the right only likes democracy if they are winning.  While most of the plotting was in military circles, Calvo Sotelo remained in the parliament, now the loudest anti-Republican voice.  This did not serve him well.  On July 12th, some falangistas assassinated one of the socialist police chiefs in Madrid.  The police decided to seek revenge, and when it wasn’t immediately clear who the assassins were, they just decided to go to Calvo Sotelo’s house, because any Nazi will do, I guess.  He was dead before the next morning.  He certainly had nothing to do with killing the police chief, but when you make yourself the mouthpiece of a gang of fascists, bad things can happen.  Sadly, this fool’s death accelerated the plans for the military coup, which was launched July 17th, 1936.  The Civil War was on.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the medievalism of the monument.  The right side appears to show someone prone, presumably the murdered Calvo Sotelo, mourned by women in traditional head coverings, because these guys were definitely Taliban, and men with swords, because Nazis love to cos-play.  The left side is a little less clear, but I think shows an angel welcoming Calvo Sotelo into heaven.  Given his role in starting a horrific bloodbath, I suspect this is a grand fiction.

Perhaps nicely illustrating the somewhat schizophrenic way in which Spain deals with, or fails to deal with, its past, this advertisement for a photo exhibition about Auschwitz is hanging on a water tower literally across the street from this fascist monument.


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This is the medieval tower which gives its name to the Madrid suburb of Torrelodones.


Torre de Lodones

I see this thing every time I take the train from Madrid to El Escorial, so eventually I had to stop and explore it. The tower has an interesting history, and apparently an interesting mythology.  In reality, it is a Hisn, or atalaya, or watchtower from the ninth century.  It was part of a system of defensive towers watching the passes over the Sierra de Guadarama and the approaches to Madrid.  It is situated such that one can see all the way to the Puerta de Navacerrada to the northwest, and all the way back to Madrid to the southeast. IMG_0897

The name of the tower comes from the tree known as the lodón, or Mediterranean hackberry.  I have never heard of, nor to the best of my knowledge, seen one of these trees.  The apparently incorrect myth, which was told to me some years back, was that the tower is actually named torre de ladrones, which means tower of thieves.  According to this version of the story, the tower was used by early-modern highwaymen who would fall upon travelers on the road from Toledo to Segovia.  The problem with this version of the story is that by the sixteenth century, Torrelodones was right on the road between El Escorial and Madrid, a route well-traveled by the king and his people.  One suspects that there would have been no chance they would allow a den of thieves to operate in such a prominent locations.  So a neat story, but almost certainly a myth.

img_0893.jpgAt some point in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, the tower was repaired, and got the net-gothic flair on the crenelations which you can see in the pictures. Today the tower is in the middle of one of Madrid’s wealthiest bedroom communities, in the middle of a park full of wildflowers.

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The rainy, humid, and warm spring here lasted well into June this year, for me a new experience. Climate data suggests it happens from time to time, but the Madrileños I talked to were mostly surprised by the muggy June.  As the rains subsided, cool weather returned for the end of the month.  Now, in the second week of July, a proper Castilian summer has arrived, but the fact that it was late worries me.  One of my favorite things about this area is the climate. I don’t want to see it turn in to Florida.


Normally the damp springs here (and usually the rains are slackening off pretty quickly by May) are also cool. I have seen snow in mid-May in El Escorial, and been the only person sitting outdoors at bars and cafes countless times.  As my grandmother liked to remind me, hasta la cuarenta de mayo, no te quites el sayo, which is to say don’t put your coat away before June 10th.  Usually that old saw is very accurate.  Any springtime hot spells are likely to be passing, and temperatures are guaranteed to drop considerably after the blazing Spanish sun sets.  Madrid, and even more El Escorial are at elevation (about 2200’ in Madrid, and over 3000’ up here in El Escorial), and so the potential for cool weather is not surprising.  But by July, typically, the characteristic heat of the Spanish summer arrives. Madrid can be brutal.

But more than the heat, it is the lack of humidity that really marks the climate here.  The mountain air is typically very dry, especially in the summer.  It is really fantastic.  Mold is almost unheard of, and so are clothes dryers.  Sweating is effective.  The sky is an especially intense blue due to the lack of humidity.  When you climb up the mountains, you can see for miles and miles.IMG_1623

So the Communidad here has a lovely climate.  Wet winters and springs (and even late autumns) means that the countryside is green enough, with plenty of trees, abundant wildflowers, and plenty of agriculture (wheat).


The dry summers ensures that we get the benefits of a desert climate: warm, no humidity, cool nights.  For me, this is one of the quintessential characteristics of Spain, one of the things I look forward to when I come here.  It is perhaps the thing that makes Madrid Madrid.  As Hemingway said, the buildings here might look like they could have been built anywhere, but when you see them against that sky, you know it is Madrid.  I have thought (and written) in the past about how my ties to this place, because of the weird, episodic way they have been built, are happily based on permanent things:  the landscape, the culture, the weather.  Climate change is a dreadful existential threat to all of us, but usually it doesn’t feel very personal, at least for those of us lucky enough to live in places that have yet to be dramatically affected.  But the weird weather here scares me a little.  I genuinely hope I don’t live long enough to see these impossibly blue skies become hazy.


Sky or paint swatch?

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Not too far from the capital, in the Wienerwald (Vienna woods) lies Austria’s first and most important Cistercian monastery, Heiligenkreuz (Holy Cross).  img_1103.jpgThe Monastery was founded in 1133 by Leopold III. His son, Otto, had pursued a church career that led him to the Cistercian order, eventually becoming abbot of Morimond, and eventually bishop of Freising.  The abbey is so-called because Duke Leopold V, sometime after his 1182 pilgrimage to Jerusalem, presented the abbey with a piece of the True Cross, gifted to him by Baldwin IV. Since this relic dates from before the loss of the Cross at Hattin in 1187 it is, unlike many, many others, a piece of the cross the twelfth crusaders believed to be the cross discovered by the Queen-Mother Helena in the early fourth century.  Is it the True Cross? Of course not.  Is it a relic that people believed to be genuine 850 years ago? Yes, indeed it is.

Heiligenkreuz and the Cistercians served to help the Margrave Leopold, and soon enough his sons, Leopold IV and Henry Jasomirgot, to settle Lower Austria, introduce profitable agricultural projects, like viniculture, and populate the vast plains between the Alps and the Danube.

The monastery is one of the most impressive medieval monuments in this country which seemed to have had such enthusiasm building over its heritage with ecru-colored baroque monstrosities.  At Heiligenkreuz, the twelfth-century church and thirteenth-century cloister remain somewhat intact, or at least recognizable.

IMG_1128This was also my second experience staying in a Cistercian guesthouse (see my Poblet experience here). It was very impressive.  The large community of monks (around 50 in residence, over 100 total) made for a robust prayer cycle.  Heiligenkreuz and its attached seminary are part of the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, and closely allied with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. While that may mean I don’t agree with their official theological positions, I was very happy to find that they pray the hours, and conduct the mass, all (almost all) in Latin.  This was the one part of the experience missing from Poblet.


Ratzinger was here

All things considered, this was a terrific experience.  I got to see the monastery virtually alone, and in all the gory detail I might want.


Memento mori!

This included the tombs of all its VIPs, including Leopold V, Otto of Freising (brought from Morimond in the seventeenth century), and Frederick II, the last of the Babenberg dukes.

The beautiful thirteenth-century stained-glass (very un-Cistercian!) preserved around the fountain of the cloister is especially impressive.  It is essentially a family tree of the Babenburg dynasty.

Not every baroque change was necessarily negative.  For example, this early-modern mural is pretty impressive.


Memento more some more…

Perhaps less impressive was the twentieth-century monument to the local men who died in the world wars.  I’m sure that not all of the Second World War dead were Nazis, but many doubtless were.  I am not sure how the church should handle that…


I guess one can morn dead Nazis?

Anyway, one of the best monasteries I have visited.

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Vienna, First Impressions


Prince Eugene of Savoy, the Empire’s most successful general.  Not Austrian.

European capitals basically reflect the era in which their country, kingdom, nation-state peaked in power and wealth.  For Austria, of course, that means the eighteenth and nineteenth century, when the Habsburg monarchy was at its height.  Or at least at its Austria-only height, as before that, during the real apex of Habsburg power, the focus was Spain.


So, as a result, Vienna is an imperial, baroque nightmare.  The city is grandiose and ornate.  The Hofburgcomplex, once palaces and gardens and now public buildings and parks, dominates the center of the old city.  It is impressive to look at.


The Michaelplatz side of the Hofburg

I worked in the Österreichische Nationalbiblothekfor a couple of days this week, which is housed on the Heldenplatz side of the Hofburg.


Yes, all that is the library.

It is rather imposing, and slightly difficult to use.  While requesting books is straightforward enough, and the collection is absolutely massive, the reading rooms sorely lack for space, and one has to pay a 3€ daily use fee (or 30 per year).  These things ought to be free.


Otherwise, I did not get a chance to see a lot in Vienna.  The city is expensive, especially if you stay inside the urban core.  The beer is simple and good, which as the unusual craft beer malcontent, I welcomed. The food is interesting.  If, like a normal person, you find fried veal abhorrent and fried pork OK but a little dull, the best alternative I found is the abundant Turkish food.  The irony of eating “oriental” food in the heart of the empire most challenged by the Turks is just a nice bonus.  Also, there is a “wienerwurst” stand off the Stephansplatz that claims to be the original hot dog stand, for what it is worth (mediocre hot dog).

From the perspective of a medievalist, Vienna is a little disappointing. There isn’t a lot.  Domkirche St. Stephanis an awesome fourteenth-century gothic pile, but c’mon, the second half of the 1300s might as well be the seventeenth century—barely medieval.


St. Stephan’s Cathedral

At least part of the façade of the twelfth century church survives (from the original church built by Duke Henry II; more on him below).  There is one other gothic church, in a section of the city which used to house the docks along the Danube, dedicated to the Virgin.  The Rathaus (delightful German word for city hall) is a Neo-gothic beauty, but again, it reflects the nineteenth century grandeur of the Empire, and not Vienna’s medieval past.


The Rathaus decorated for Pride Week

One of the oldest churches in town (1155), belonging to the Schottenstift, has, like most things medieval, been built over in baroque style.


Apparently ecru or pale yellow was the color of baroque architecture.

The monastery and church are so-called because this was an Irish monastic foundation. Unfortunately, the only medieval section which is preserved, the “Romanesque chapel”, is closed most days of the week.  Still, the church and monastery are pretty interesting, since it is one of the few places with direct connection to the Babenberg dukes inside the city, having been founded by Henry II.  Since I am in Austria to study these dukes and their era (twelfth and thirteenth century), I was particularly interested to see this church.  There is a nice statue of Henry II “Jasomirgott”.


Well, Jasomirgott may have been the first duke… but I don’t think he wore a crown!

Henry was the first scion of House Babenberg to rule as duke, not just margrave, having received the Privilegium Minus from Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1156. The Privilegiumwas essentially an internal political rearrangement made by Frederick to come to terms with his Welf rivals.  The result, however, was to elevate the eastern marcher territories of the Holy Roman Empire to an independent duchy and, eventually, independent of the rest of Germany.  Frederick and Henry were apparently army buddies from their shared experiences during the Second Crusade.  Both nearly died trying to cross Anatolia when the German crusaders were relentlessly hammered by the Seljuks.

Henry’s nickname, “Jasomirgott” may stem from his status as a crusader– it appears to come from a middle-high German phrase meaning “so help me God”.  Henry is buried in the church of the Schottenstift. So, Henry and his Irish monastery were the most interesting “medieval” thing I saw on my first trip to Vienna.  Also, there was a man selling outstanding local cherries in the platzin front of the Schottenstift, always a bonus.


My on-going quest for the platonic ideal.

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Córdoba- Sinagoga

N.B. Continuing with the clearinghouse of old, unpublished blog posts, this from May 2016…


Obviously not the synagogue

No trip to Andalucía would be complete without a visit to the center of the Caliphate, melting under the sun in the middle of the Guadalquivir valley, and so I took the students on a lovely 100-degree-plus day in early June.  This was my third visit to the city.

I have written about Córdoba before (on this blog, in 2009 originally), and don’t have a lot to add.  The only site we visited which I had not previously seen was the fourteenth century synagogue in the heart of the judería.  This tiny building perfectly replicated the Andalucian architectural style which surrounded it in the Middle Ages.  It also incorporated all of the traditional elements of a synagogue, including the women’s gallery above, and the ark/niche for the Torah scrolls.



Women’s gallery


Torah scrolls went here

Our trip was somewhat marred by an idiot of a bus driver, who, despite repeating them to me, misunderstood my directions for pickup.  He also gave me the wrong number for his mobile phone, and so it took us an hour or more to find him and successfully leave the city.  A valuable lesson for the future: don’t trust that the bus drivers know what they are doing.

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N.B.  I am adding some old material that I wrote for the blog sometime back, but never managed to publish.  I was inspired to start with this post, which is from June 2016, because I am in the middle of a very similar experience…


On a whim, I contact the monastery of Poblet to see if they happened to have any vacancy in their HostageriaInterna, that is the hostel inside the monastery.  As a Cistercian house, they take seriously the responsibility of hospitality, and so after convincing Fra. Borje, the hostager, that I was not some creep, I was off to live with the White Monks for 24 hours.


Santa Maria de Poblet was founded by the Cisterican Order in 1151. It quickly became one of the most important monasteries in the Order; it was directly dependent upon Morimond, one of the chief Cistercian houses.  It also became of central importance to the Crown of Aragón.


Eventually, Alfonso II, Jaume I and a half-dozen other kings of Aragón chose to be buried there, beside the high altar.  Jaume entered the monastery and took vows ad sucurrendum.  The practice was popular amongst the nobility in the twelfth and thirteenth century and while cynical to modern eyes, I think reflected, at least on the part of kings, a genuine effort to reconcile their often contradictory spiritual and political selves.

It turns out that the Hostageriatakes people ad sucurrendumas well, so to speak.  The monastic hospitality is aimed at people (well, men) looking for a place of spiritual retreat and comfort during crises and difficult times. The monks even appeared to be counseling one of the two other gentlemen who were availing themselves of the monastery. When I contacted Fr. Borje, he was reluctant to accept my request, but I convinced him that my interest was deep, and that I was not just coming to take pictures.

The Hostageriais in a small house, probably dating to the sixteenth century repairs and upgrades to the monastery, very much inside the inner walls.  The outer walls enclose the monastery’s vineyards, attached hotel (the Hostageria externa), and the visitor center. The inner walls surround the church, cloisters, monastic residence and the guest house.  To reach the inner compound, I had to pass through the portageria, talk to the portero, and then wait for Borje to meet me.  The busy monastic schedule meant that he could only admit guests between breakfast and midday prayers or between lunch and vespers.  My arrival time, delayed by a horrible line at the Barcelona airport car rental office, fell squarely in the afternoon.

Borje was, I think, about my age, perhaps slightly older.  Though he is from Barcelona, and, like most of the monks, a Catalan, he spoke flawless Castellano, and we chatted pleasantly.  He grew up in the El Born neighborhood of the city, but had been in the monastery for over a decade.  I did not pry too far into his background, but he told me he still goes home for visits regularly.  He was warm and friendly, but also immediately pointed out the monastery’s schedule, and the importance of punctuality.  He also mentioned that, while not technically sworn to silence, the monastic community preferred to live in quiet solitude.  I could speak to him, and the brother who manned the portageria, but otherwise I was told to let the monks talk to me, if they were so inclined, but not to address them.  After seeing me to the simple room, he left, saying “receuerdes visperos, a las siete en la iglesia, puntual por favor”.

Vespers is the evening prayer service of the monastery.  Historically, following Saint Benedict, the monks prayed 8 hours a day (matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline). The Cistercian Order, in the twelfth century, were strict observers of the Regula (Rule of Saint Benedict), but their modern descendants are not quite as strict.  The monks at Poblet today have 6 services throughout their day. IMG_7650 Vespers, the traditional evening prayer, is at 7pm.  When the bell rang, about 2 minutes before, I walked up from the guesthouse, into the magnificent twelfth century cloister, and then in the monk’s door to the church itself.  Vespers, Lauds, and the Mass are popular with visitors and people staying in the Hostageria externa, and so for those services, guests of the Hostageria internaare observers from the church pews.  The monks themselves (all 17 of the 18, one played the organ) sit in the choir, towards the front of the church.  As with all the hours, the ceremony consisted of the monks singing part of the cycle of the Psalms, the spiritual focus of monastic life.  The psalms and antiphons are chanted in Catalan. Somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, only some hymns, and the Gloria responses were sung in Latin.  Readings from the Bible were also in Catalan.  Thanks, Vatican 2, for diminishing my medieval experience!

Next came supper, and again, the 1300-year-old influence of Benedict was clear.  The Regula reads “Therefore let two cooked dishes suffice for all the brethren;
and if any fruit or fresh vegetables are available, let a third dish be added.”  My experience broadly conformed.  We walked from the church into the cloister, and then into the refectory at 7:30 sharp. The refectory is frequently among the most striking parts of a Cistercian monastery.  The high ceilings and windows, combined with their extremely austere aesthetics is interesting.  The 80-foot-long room had ceilings which peaked more than 40 feet overhead.  The room otherwise had a low door on the left into the kitchen, a pulpit from which one monk would read during meals, and a low bench for utensils in the middle of the room, near a medieval (not working) well.  The lower walls were trimmed in dark wood benches, with dark wood tables in front.  I was directed towards a table near the front with the other guests.  Dinner consisted of some sort of cabbage and bean dish, tortilla (Española), and hard brown bread.  Cherries for dessert, which worked for me.  Throughout dinner one of the monks read an article about theology from the pulpit positioned halfway up the right wall of the refectory.

Dinner ended promptly at 8:30, and we all exited the refectory together.  After a few minutes of milling in the cloister, we gathered on the north arcade for the lecture.  The evening air was just starting to get pretty chilly, and sitting on the stone benches did not help much.  I began to understand how the monks could wear their white tunics and black scapulars: even in mid-June, the nights at Poblet are chilly.  And older member of the community read a couple of passages from the Bible for about 10 minutes before the bell rang for Complines.

The evening office was considerably more interesting in that the guests of the Hostageria interna were allowed to participate with the monks in the choir of the church.  One of the other guests, an older gentleman who was exceedingly kind to me, showing me where in the hymnal and psalter I could find the text for the service. Being up close and personal with the monks, sitting and standing with them as they proceeded through the psalms, and reading a long with them brought the whole thing to life in a far more profound way than sitting in the pews had for Vespers.

Compline ended by about 9:30, and despite the fact that sunset was still an hour away, the inner gates of the monastery were closed, and the monks retired.  Luckily, I found myself tired enough to also fall asleep somewhat early, but not before a walk along the walls to admire the gathering evening.


Borje had hinted to me the day before that we were not compelled to join in all of the monastic offices, and I believe specifically he had the 5:15 AM Matins in mind. Nevertheless, I woke in the cold dark and stumbled to the church as the bell started ringing.  Like Compline, I was able to sit in the choir stalls and participate in the ceremony.  Two of the monks greeted me, and showed me the proper places in the hymnal and psalter to find the morning readings.  Borje, who led most of the antiphonal chants, encouraged me to sing along.  I tried, but was much more comfortable simply reading along with their chanting. The church was mostly dark, but over the 45-minute-long service, the sky began to lighten perceptibly, and by the time the appointed psalms had been sung, the church was glowing faintly in the morning light.  It was again an impressionistic experience.

Morning offices continued apace quickly.  After briefly retreating to my room, it was time for Laudes.  The dawn service actually falls somewhat after dawn in midsummer, and is of sufficient interest to draw a few of the hotel guests to the church to watch.  As a result, it was back to the pews for the guests.  I found myself struggling to stay awake for the service.

At 8 AM sharp, we headed back to the refectory for breakfast.  Breakfast was somewhat of a self-service affair, as we found the central bench laid out with cereal, yogurt, and bread.  After grabbing some bread and cereal, I retreated to my table, hoping that the coffee would present itself shortly.  Sure enough, one of the monks came out of the kitchen with a carafe wrapped in a napkin, approached the table, and asked “quieres café?”  I am confident enough in my Catalan to know what he was asking, and so I gave an enthusiastic nod.  Smiling, the man poured hot coffee, pre-mixed with milk… all over my cereal.  This unexpected twist brought on a moment of panic on my part.  Here I was in a Cistercian monastery in Cataluña, that is to say nearly out of my linguistic and cultural depth.  I assumed I had made some sort of mistake, until I glanced at my fellow guest, who was contentedly slurping down his coffee-cereal slurry.  The coffee-bearing brother had already moved on to repeat his bizarre breakfast concoction for the monks, and so I relaxed and accepted the situation.  Of course coffee over corn flakes is about as good as you might imagine, which is to say not good.  It isn’t undrinkable (or uneatable?), but it isn’t really two great tastes that taste great together.  Reflecting on this unusual breakfast choice, I can only conclude that, as individuals cloistered away from the real world, monks get confused about how things work for regular people.

The busy Sunday morning continued with a full Mass at 10 AM.  Like Laudes, the Mass attracted many visitors, and so once again I was relegated to the pews.  For some reason I was surprised to find that the Mass was much the same as any Catholic mass.  The presiding monks (the abbot and two others, who wore green scapulars denoting their role as priests) were quick and efficient with the service, and one even gave a very brief homily (in Catalan).

Other than all that, I got to tour the monastery, which is beautiful, and flanked by vineyards in which the monks work.IMG_7646

Architecturally, the twelfth-century cloister was the most impressive part, after the church, where I could not take pictures.IMG_7661All things considered, it was an amazing experience.  I did have to wait nearly two hours after lunch to leave, as Borges had disappeared with the gate keys, but other than the slight delay, I enjoyed my live Cistercian experience.

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Dusting off the blog…

Wow, nothing since November. Typical, I supposed, but here I am six months later, in the midst of another Europe trip.  I didn’t add anything to the blog from my second trip to Mexico this past winter.  Too much beer.  But I am going to try to add a few posts this trip.  I am visiting Austria for the first time, which should give me plenty to talk about.  Italy and Spain as well.


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Residencia de Estudiantes

For the final four nights of this unusual but lucky quick trip to Spain, I stayed in the Residencia de Estudiantes, an institution which I knew nothing about before this week.

Though founded in 1910, the current campus, part of CSIC, was opened in 1915 and, it seems, amplified in the early 1930s. The Residencias were opened by the Junta para amplicifacion de Estudiantes, in order to provide a hub for intellectual life in Madrid, and accommodations for visiting academics, artists, writers, etc.

The glory days were the 1920s and 1930s. Guest from that era include some obvious Spanish luminaries like Miguel de Unamuno, José Ortega y Gasset, and Gabriel García Lorca, but also some notable extranjeros like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.

The Residencia rooms are spartan but comfortable enough. The building is old but renovated. The restaurant was pleasant (especially the breakfast), and the bar a nice touch.

On the other hand, there was some super bourgeois event for Hyundai, celebrating the introduction of 4WD compacts to the Spanish market, because everyone needs an off-road Hyundai. Apparently important people attended, judging by the photographers and ambiance of the whole thing. It likely brings in the money for CSIC, but strikes me as not in the spirit of the place.

Anyway, this was a very interesting part of the trip. When I first heard that the Residencia Estudiantes was to be our accommodation, I was expecting a dorm. It is not perhaps much more than a dorm, but it is certainly filled with interesting history.

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