Saturday, July 7, 2012

Aventuras en Madrid—2

The last several days have been quite hectic. Classes started on Wednesday, and they are hard. But, they are manageable. I'm taking a grammar class (plus practice), a class in which we learn some colloquial expressions, and a conversation class. Homework is tough. I had no idea that choosing between ser and estar could be so subjective!

Two days ago, I went to the Prado museum, which is a large art museum in Madrid. There I saw paintings by El Greco, Rafael, Rembrandt, and Velázquez. My favorite painting was Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez.

Yesterday, I went to the Palacio Real and saw some of the most beautiful and obscenely opulent decorations I have ever seen. My favorite rooms in the Royal Palace were the Throne Room and the private chapel Ferdinand and Isabella worshipped at. The ceiling of the chapel is domed, and the entire thing is sculpted with the centerpiece at the cornice of the dome a dove descending from heaven. I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped open when I saw the room for the first time.

Also yesterday, I went to the Temple of Debod, an temple donated by the Egyptians and assembled in Spain. I also saw the Cervantes monument in the Plaza de España.

Today, I went to Toledo, which is in the running for the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The place is reminiscent of Tuscany: winding, narrow streets and colorful buildings that rise above the streets so that there's almost always some shade. We saw the El Cristo de la Luz, which was a mosque in 999 AD, until the Christians drove the Moors out and converted it into a church. We saw the Santa María la Blanca (the oldest synagogue in all of Europe, now owned by the Catholic Church) and the Sinagoga del Transito, home of the Sephardic Museum.

Toledo is known for the quality of its steel for sword-making and has made some of the best swords in the world since 500 BC. Toledo was also the home of El Greco and the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, a Franciscan monastery I saw there.

Tomorrow, I hope to possibly see a bullfight, if I can get my homework done.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Aventuras en Madrid

Day two of my trip to Spain. I'm tired and jet-lagged, if that's even a term, but I suppose the concept comes across pretty clearly. Even so, classes start tomorrow.

The people here are wonderful. They are nice and friendly, and they don't care that we, the group and I, sound like gringo fools when we speak Castilian.

Today, I toured the Plaza Mayor, which was perhaps one of the most beautiful and amazing places I have ever seen. It was built by Phillip III around 1619.

I even think that Madrid is the most beautiful city I have ever been to, topping Kiev, San José, Rio de Janeiro, and New York.

I ate at the oldest still-operating restaurant in the world. It's called Restaurante Botín. It was started in 1725.

The city and the people simply drip (I hesitate to use the word ooze because of the negative sorts of connotations associated therewith) culture and affición. This is a wonderful country.

Pura Vida.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One Honest Man — 2

I knew it too. A fool knows himself a fool: knows he should turn his back on his foolish imaginings, knows he should come back to Earth and stop living with the stars. Yet, he stays a fool.

But fools are sometimes the wisest men. So says Feste. So says Lear's Fool.

So says me and my fool. He says wise men are fools, that all men should bow before him who has no success, him who knows life without comfort, him who knows not the smell or the sound of sweet release. Do I believe my fool? Do I dare believe my fool? him who has no knowledge of the things of this world?
This world that says to be happy we must have, to be fulfilled we must take, to obtain our full potential we must control every facet of our lives or give up that control to another, trusting a stranger to decide what is best for us. For me

I didn't know everything then, back in fourth grade. I don't know everything now. I didn't want to know everything then, only the things that gave me life, the things that took my fantasies to new heights. We raced through the forest, Valacar and I; we leapt through great meadows of tall, brown grasses; we scaled the highest mountains to find the most sacred places, the places that few ever reach. It was there we worshiped: creator and creation, together, as one, kneeling in the temples of aged monks, of devout believers in a religion of mountains, a religion that knows no limiting-yet-still-high-but-safe heights. Valacar showed me places I never could possibly dream of on my own. I was the apprentice, the student, the grasshopper. He was the master, the doctor, the sensei. 

He was my guide, and I followed blindly after him.

Still, I was a fool; still, I knew things no other boy could possibly know. My mind was opened wide. I engineered strange games on the playground, at recess. We played, friends and enemies, wise men and fools. We gave and we gave. We gave. We gave. We gave.

Nathan, my friend, a man—a boy—of nature, called out across the grounds, "Jack! Hey Jack! I got an idea for a game!" Inspired, he raced over. Had it been his idea? Had it come from his own mind? Had I not committed the crime of inception? giving him the idea through my games, my means of inspiration. 

"What if we were wizards? Knights? Lords? Warriors? The woods are right there, and I've got these!" He shot out his hand. In it lay hundreds of tiny gold pieces—broken glass and plastic that glistened with the sun. I still have my bag of gold and my gems.

"The teachers won't like that, if we go in the woods," whined Z. Amos Claytor, degree in heresy by the fourth grade. Always on the up, always had the best answer for everything. A real wise man.
But I was a fool, a Feste, a Touchstone.

We went into the woods to live, to drink of the drink of Thoreau. We drank the marrow from the bones of the trees, we sipped the blood of Pharisees, the wise men, the Z. Amos Claytors of our dark age.We reveled in our games in our worlds unknown, where possibility was foreign to our lips. We knew no bounds; no mighty hand of some wise man could keep us from venturing into the woods.

We went into the woods because we wanted to live and live so deeply that from the depths of our souls we could look up and not see the surface. We were fools, and no life-killing, peace-mongering Z. Amos Claytor—great wise man of our time—could make us wise.

There was war in our souls. There was war for our souls. We heard the wise men preach their peace to us on the playground, heard the crusty doctrinaire proclaim his testament was the true testament and every other was false. I preferred the sermons of the kickball, the teachings of the ants, the hymns of the jay: sweet saccharine honey of nature's marrow, of the life that we drank daily. We were fools. I was a fool, a Feste singing his songs of the wind and rain. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One Honest Man — 1

It was 2001. A year after the doomsday prophecies were proved frauds. The first year in the new millennium. I was a boy, a fourth grader, young and smooth-skinned without a care in the world about anything but being happy. I had faith back then too. I suppose I still do, but not like the institutions would think of it. Back then, I had a structured faith, by the book, concerned about keeping all the rules. I was a fool.

It was a Saturday morning, early and bright. I always slept in; I never woke up before eight A.M. I leapt out of bed, full of a child's energy. I ate my breakfast, and watched my television. A normal day's work for me.

When I turned on the water, letting it heat to a soothing temperature, and clambered into my shower, I felt something. A stirring. A touch of divine inspiration, perhaps. I didn't know then. There came a moment when my mind spoke with a clarity that I can never experience again. The novelty of it, at least.

I heard it, that voice. I heard it speak to me in the voice of a child foreign to me. I started to draw on the fogged-up glass: symbols, maps, names, anything I could think of. It was all there. In the land of Miarda, in the city of Lesotho—which I know to be a country—there lived a boy named Valacar. His father was Elfstan Fairbairn, and Valacar was poised to embark on a journey so great that J. R. R. Tolkien himself would smile and shake my hand.

That Saturday in 2001, I was inspired to write my first novel: a three-part epic that would transcend both time and place. The Forsaken Blade would be my masterpiece: completed by fifth grade, published before middle school. It was perfect, except that it never happened.

Here I was, a naive ten-year-old who wanted to be an author by age twelve. I was insane then. Shy, keeping my thoughts and visions to myself, I would wander in a daze, lost in my dreams and fancies. I was a ten-year-old Romantic. I had no idea what that was, but I certainly was one.

I would stand, en garde, at the training school, waiting for the Elvin swordsmaster to show us a new technique so I could pass the test. I would sit in the great libraries of Telar, listening to an Elvin maiden teach us the finer mechanics of Latin so I could butcher it with my friends. I battled the evil Maivan on the great plains of the playground, never ceasing until I had vanquished him each and every day. I befriended Elves and searched for the lost Dwarf Colonies. I learned to use magic; those were my favorite days: casting invisible spells upon invisible enemies, growing in power until I was the wizard extraordinaire.

Those were the greatest times of my boyhood; they were the best of days. Still, I was a fool.