This afternoon I had one of the most intense memory-sense associations I can recall.  In a lovely little candy shop down the street, I bought myself a small bag of piñones, which are candy-coated pine nuts.  I already enjoyed some of their big brother, peladillas, the equivalent of Jordan almonds.  I eat Jordan almonds all the time, but had not touched piñones in, I suspect 25 years.  Then I shared them with my father, as piñones were some of his favorites (though truly what Spanish candy did he dislike?).  The second I popped the first one in my mouth, the memories hit me like a blow.  Though it has been nearly 20 years since I heard the man’s voice, my memories of my father were suddenly crystal clear, as if I was just talking to him.  It is amazing how the mind works sometimes, and despite the inherent sadness of the situation, I am thankful for my bag of candy-coated pine nuts.


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Roman Málaga 

Málaga, like most of the other cities of southern Iberia, was a Phoenican settlement. It’s name, Malaka, is derived from the Phoenician word for salt, and the city, founded about 750 BC, was from its earliest existence dependent on trade in salted fish.

This seafood economy was of some interest to the Romans, who took control of the city in 218 BC, during the course of the Second Punic War.  Málaga became, by the first century BC, a center for garum production. 

Garum fermentation pits

Garum was a fermented fish sauce, in many ways akin to modern Thai and Vietnamese products, and was essentially the ketchup of the ancient world. Malaca, as the city was called by the Romans, was one of the major production sites for the stinky condiment (alongside southern Italy and the Peloponessus). Garum production involved placing a mixture of chopped fish and salt into baskets, which then sat in the above pictured fermenting pits for at least a month, before the liquid could be siphoned off and bottled. 

First century shipping container

The economic integration of the city also sped along the process of romanization. By the early first century AD, Malaca, while still officially an allied federate city, incorporated many of the institutions of Roman culture, such as wheat/grape/olive agriculture, baths, temples, and most prominently today, a theater.

Delightfully, Málaga schools hihold Roman themed events in th theater, and parents dreas up too.

The process of integrating the Iberian Peninsula, or at very least its southern half,  was largely complete by the end of the first century AD. In 74, the emperor Vespasian issued the Lex Flavia Malicitana, which officially made Malaca a municipum granted full Roman citizenship to the people.  The Lex itself was a series of regulations for the organization of municipal government. They were recorded on bronze tablets, a full set of which were unearthed in the city during the 1950s, and now reside in the Museo Arqueológico in Madrid.

This is not the Lex Flavia.

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More Málaga

Mostly just more images of the beautiful city.  I had no idea, for instance, that poinsettias could grow to be huge:


Yup, the plant you throw out after Christmas.  All it wants is to live in the sun at the beach.

The flowers here really are a dominant theme.


But, of course, this is a beach town, and the Mediterranean dominates the landscape.


View from the small park above the Cerrado de Calderon

The beach below my accommodations here, the Playa del Carmen, is home to a nearly century-old restaurant with atrociously bad service and amazing views.


I guess the million-dollar-view means the waiters don’t have to try very hard?

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I have lots to say about the beautiful city of Málaga, where I get to spend nearly three full weeks.  I have visited before, but my first impression this time has been shaped by the flowers.  Late May is the perfect time to be here, as the parks and countryside are all in bloom.


The Parque de Málaga, which divides the center of town from the harbor, has the most beautiful collection of tropical plants and trees.  It is also full of Quaker Parakeets, who add to the tropical setting.  They are hard to photograph, so no pictures yet.  I do have plenty of pictures of the botanical wonders, which hold still much better for photographs.IMG_7215Among the most striking of the flowers are the Paulownia trees, which grow everywhere here.


Paulownias on the flank of the Alcazaba


The Paulownias are simply the largest of the flowering plants.  The park is full of smaller but no less wondrous denizens.


Orange Hibiscus


Bird of Paradise


Mock Orange


A member of the Datura family




Russelia, aka the Firecracker Plant


African Lily





Bougainvillea must be one of the most ubiquitous Mediterranean flowers.  I have seen it all over Spain and Italy.

But, all that being said, the flower I most identify with Spain is and will always be the rose.


This city is also chockfull of water features, the park no less than everywhere else.

Exploring the park and surrounding gardens was a wonderful introduction to the city.  I will have a lot more to say in the coming days.

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Ermita de San Eugenio

IMG_7190Just when I think I know everything about Toledo, I stumble across something new.

So a while back I remember seeing something in the treasury of the Cathedral of Toledo about the arm of San Eugenio, the first century bishop of Toledo.  I came across the story again while reading a history of the archbishops of Toledo this week.  The whole story of this arm, of the first bishop, and the above pictured church is a bit interesting.

In 1148, the archbishop of Toledo, Raymond de Sauvetât, traveled to France to participate in the Council of Reims, called by Pope Eugenius III.  On his journeys, he made his way to Saint-Denis, probably in the company of that church’s famous Abbot Suger.  During this visit, Raymond was apparently surprised to discover that the church of Saint-Denis preserved the relics of the first bishop of his very see, Toledo.  He inquired about getting a relic before leaving.

Apparently this request put some wheels in motion, though Archbishop Raymond would not live to see the destination.  However, his successor, Juan (incidentally the first Castilian-born Archbishop since before the conquest of the city by Alfonso VI in 1085) did indeed receive the sought-after relic.  In 1156, King Louis VII of France traveled to the Iberian Peninsula, in part to visit the great pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, and in part to arrange a marriage to Constance, the daughter of Alfonso VII.

During this visit, King Louis delivered the relic of San Eugenio, his right arm.  The transfer of relic must have been planned well in advance, because Alfonso VII had a special chapel built about a kilometer to the north of the Bisagra gate to receive the precious relic, which still stands today.

So far my research has not made it clear how long the relic stayed in the little Mudejar church, but it eventually became a thriving religious community.  However, over time the church of San Eugenio faded in importance.  It was likely closed and sold as private property during one of the dis-entailment projects of the late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century.  I certain hope the Circulo de Arte can get their hands on it and preserve what remains of this neat little church.  Also see this nice website about the church.


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Toledo, 2016

My return to my favorite city came in the form of the first real event of the study abroad program which I am helping to teach/lead this year.  Traveling with 35 other people is rather different than what I normally do.  However, I think teaching the history of Spain in Spain is going to be great.  The students seem enthusiastic.

Toledo students

The UD group above the Puerta de Bisagra

But beyond sharing Toledo with the students, I did get a chance to do a little new exploring.  Stay tuned…

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El Escorial

This is such a strange little town.  Two towns, truly, the wealthier San Lorenzo at the top of the hill, clustered around the palace-monastery, and El Escorial proper at the bottom.  In theory the upper town is wealthier, and the lower humbler, but La Crisis is an incredible leveler, and both towns are suffering massive commercial vacancies, and everyone seems to be selling their vacations homes here.  Se Vende indeed.  In fact, much of my first few days here has been a crash-course in the massive expense involved in keeping up these vacation homes.  Dios mio.

But the setting in the mountains remains lovely.  I have not yet had the chance to really get out into them.  I walked across town and up the hill to the Silla del Rey Felipe II, but sadly forgot that it was the Fiesta de San Isidro, and so half of the Comunidad de Madrid was up there as well.  I love the mountains, but mostly for getting away from the things of man, as Joe said.  Crowds and nature don’t mix.


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Back in Madrid

Contra the stereotype, Madrid is a beer city.  The boring Iberian (or, as often as not these days, non-Iberian) lager goes perfectly with the warm weather and tapas.  Sadly, it can be hard to do tapas right these days.  The basic equation is, if you are paying for it, it better be something exceptional.  Otherwise you are doing it wrong.  Thankfully I know 3 or 4 places in el Centro which do indeed do it right.  I wont be listing them on the internet, for fear of ruining them.

But when it is right, it is really perfect.  The long springtime twilight is the perfect time to sit and enjoy a cold one (and in Madrid they are co-hold ones.  After all, a warm one is hardly a one at all).  A slice of manchego, or a plate of bravas goes perfectly, but I think my favorite tapa tipico de Madrid is bacalao frito.  One has to seek it out, but it is worth it.

And so, watching this intensely blue sky darken, when it is already nearly ten at night, and you are on your third or fourth caña and second tajado de bacalao… perfect.  Then a quick run back through the pleasantly-cooling evening, across Plaza Mayor and Sol, through the always-teeming crowds, hoping to time the train perfectly.  I can ask no more.


Signs of the times in Madrid


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I’ve seen some things.

I wouldn’t say it has been an action-packed return to Spain, but I did see the first dead body (or, mejor decir, out-of-place dead body) I have seen in a minute.  My daily commute into the city from El Escorial was interrupted by a woman who decided to spend some time on the train tracks in a narrow gorge in the foothills of the Sierra.  Needless to say, it did not end well for her.  The delay was prodigious.  I contemplated including my photo hear, but I think perhaps I will demure…

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Accounting for last year… again. And starting anew.

Once again, I dropped the thread on the blog during last year’s marathon summer trip.  I have a lot of stuff sitting around in Word files though, and will update with 2015 material as well.  But for now, I need to press ahead with 2016 as well, and so…

My first few days back in Spain were relatively uneventful.  May is, as usual, somewhat cold in Castile.  As my grandmother always said, hasta la cuarenta de mayo… Weather aside, it is very good to be back to a place that is really home now, or certainly more home than Ohio.  Gloria la patria and all that.


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