Sunday, June 29, 2014

Grasslands Sojourn

Though there are bits and piece left undisclosed from our Spanish adventure I’m tapped out on the subject for now.  It’s time to move on to new victims and fresh locales. So there’ll be no more Spain till I’ve returned to the scene of the crime. And, yes friends and neighbors, that’s a done deal.  I’m tagging on an eighteen day hopscotch of the Iberian Peninsula in late September just after our two weeks in the south of France. Can’t promise a faithful reprise of the May trip.  I'll start in Barcelona but who in the world knows where inclination and serendipity will lead?

Nearer to home I took a two day jaunt to the Amache Relocation Camp by way of the grasslands of northeastern New Mexico and bookended the camp with a long intended visit to Old Bent’s Fort near La Junta, Colorado. It was a highly condensed road trip in which I left on a Thursday mid-afternoon and was back for some good Guadalajara Grill Friday night. Let’s just say there were more driving hours than photographic ones and that I relished both.

For what it’s worth, not all of these disparate subjects will make this post.  We’ll just see where this goes.  Don’t ask me, I’m just the typist.

Since I had been intrigued by Capulin Volcano near tiny Capulin and barely larger Des Moines, New Mexico and because I could plot a path to La Junta by way of Capulin that’s the route I picked.  Just past Raton the land turned earnestly pastoral and the volcano loomed above the plains.  Alas, the Capulin Volcano National Monument has closed for the day.  It was just after 5PM and that’s the kind of result you’ll get when you’re planning averse and can’t tell time.

All was far from lost however and the Comanche National Grassland gave up a three old homesteads that grace these pages today.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Gaudi's Obsession

La Sagrada Familia on completion in 2026

Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is undoubtedly the landmark most associated with Barcelona. In a city of grand architectural themes, Gaudi’s extravagant church stands above all others.  It’s also Barcelona’s number on tourist attraction which is not a surprise given the line stretching for two blocks when we were there.

If you wonder how the ongoing construction of the lavish monument is paid for please refer to the queue of visitors who cough up 25 million Euros a year to take a peak.   That covers most of the costs and donations pay for the rest. And so La Sagrada Familia is an expiatory church which means that it’s paid for by donations and entrance fees and not by the Catholic Church.

The construction of architectural marvel began in 1882 and as of 2014 is deemed to be one third complete.  The current architect pledges that the church will be finished for the centenary of Gaudi’s death in 1926. 

For Gaudi La Sagrada Familia was his life’s work and an effort that left him penniless when he was run over by a tram on Barcelona’s Gran Via.  Because he appeared to be a vagrant his body was not identified for several days after he was killed. He was 74. It’s a tragic counterpoint to the design and construction of a building of which art critic Rainer Zerbst writes, “It’s probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art.” The intricate fusion of Gothic and Art Nouveau forms supports the hyperbole.

La Sagrada Familia is not a cathedral which must be the seat of a bishop but was designated a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVl in 2010.   One does ponder what it takes to be a major basilica.

The images shown herein are from the single unerased memory card that survived the trip and that’s only because the hard drive was dead before I shot them. I was perfectly capable of losing it too

And for those who are clamoring to know the results of my informal yet highly sophisticated but not exactly solicited poll asking whether I should to return to Spain to capture a semblance of my lost but not forgotten photographs the tally is eight for and three against. That’s a super majority or something like that.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

La Toma

Starting on May 9 Gaucin, our Pueblo Blanco in Andalusia, reenacted the sacking of the village by Napoleon’s troops in 1810 and the subsequent peasant uprising of 1812 called La Toma which the drove the French from the town.  Just two years later the French were chased out of Spain for good. 

Each year the citizens of Gaucin and surrounding towns reenact the French takeover and their overthrow on a spring weekend. It’s some fiesta. It’s like celebrations of Paul Revere’s 1776 ride and the shot heard round the world in Concord, Massachusetts but with more revelry.  That’s Spanish for drinking.

There's one hell of a lot of frivolity given the carnage.

Like the reenacters of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, their Spanish brethren, especially those playing French soldiers, have spared no expense in acquiring period specific regalia for the big battle.  These players belong to the Napoleonic Association of Abuera. Who knew such a thing existed? The rebels are played by men and women from Gaucin and Ronda and their costumes are more modest. They are after all peasants.
This is as close as I’m going get to being a war correspondent.  “This is Steve Immel reporting from the front lines near the Plaza Mayor in Gaucin, Spain. Back to you, Chet.”



Short sighted in Taos

WD, the ailing hard drive, was pronounced dead after a lengthy surgical procedure at a hospital in Novato, California.  According to doctors the drive had sustained severe head trauma and numerous broken bones and was unable to survive the delicate surgery.  No usable organs were harvested for future use.

This begs the issue of the sheer stupidity and lack of foresight that caused this crisis not to mention the quandary, read expense, of going straight back to Spain to recapture the magic. When I got the news Friday morning my reaction was mixed.   Certainly I was disheartened that Drive Savers couldn’t recover the data but my penurious self was $2,500 richer at least for the moment.

Those of you who have asked about the outcome know that I have jestingly said that I will have to go back to Spain, retrace my steps and get the lost shots. On Friday when I got the news that WD had died I concluded that I didn’t deserve to reward myself for failing to take measures that would have backed up the images. I deserve what I got.

Then again, this is a monumental loss for somebody who is possessed with recording his adventures and this hair shirt is really itchy.

According to those whose opinions I hold in high regard, namely three people so far, it is unanimous that I should go back to Spain and complete the job.  Still I waffle.

The thing is, if I take the “saved” $2,500 and put another $1,500 or so with it I can probably engineer a boots on the ground data recovery process of my own and, one could argue, do it better this time since I know the lay of the land and there would be precious little searching for places or subjects.  Just sayin.’

Here’s what’s at stake, amigos.  I lost the middle three weeks of a four week trip. So I don’t have images of Granada and the Alhambra; Seville and the cathedral (the third largest in the world) and Alcazar; Jerez with its sherry and famed equestrian academy; Ronda and the new bridge from which the partisans threw officers of Franco’s Guardia Civil; the beach and market at Estepona; all of Madrid and most of Gaucin and La Castilla del Aquila. That’s a lot to lose.

I'm struggling with this folks.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Best and besterer

I have a penchant for declaring things the best ever. Occasionally I actually mean it.

In Spain we experienced a couple of bests or at least ones that tied for first.  Both involved food, surprise of surprises. In the interest of fairness gained from a lifelong culinary adventure I will name herein the contenders for First Prize in the categories of Orange Juice and Steak.

Zumo de naranja not jugo as used in Latin America is near and dear to my heart and palate. Rich, sweet, viscous orange juice is a top tenner among all foods to me and we had the honor of drinking the best orange juice in recent memory at Casa Antonia in Gaucin.  When we didn’t eat breakfast at home we repaired to the little bar on the plaza for desayuno of Café con Leche, Zumo de Naranja Natural (fresh squeezed) and Pan Tostada. On more than one occasion we ordered a second round of the profound juice from the oranges from Enrique’s trees outside Gaucin. I know this because I asked Enrique where he got his oranges, the very same question I asked the proprietor of an obscure shack between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach more than thirty years ago. These august juices contend for the best ever to pass my lips.  I am unable to show you the rich, viscous nectar from Casa Antonia for reasons well established in these pages.  The best I can do is show the outdoor café at which we partook of the juice. In the event the erstwhile files are retrieved I will post pics of Collins glasses filled to the brim with the stuff of legends.
Ever the thorough researcher, my study did not stop with where the oranges came from but also uncovered the variety of orange yielding this elixir. And here I had a tiny surprise.  In California the regal Valencia is the king of juice oranges while the humble but larger Navel is the one for eating because it’s so easy to peel. Imagine my surprise to learn than Enrique’s oranges were not the vaunted Valencia but the rude Navalina.
And then in a discovery at the opposite end of fooddom came the steak of a lifetime at El Churrasco in Cordoba. The epic steak described as Lomo de Buey and that we would call Sirloin was simply the juiciest, most tender, most flavorful steak ever or at least since devouring The Lindey’s Special Sirloin at Lindey’s Steakhouse in Arden Hills just north of Saint Paul, Minnesota more than forty years ago. Lindey’s is still going strong after 56 years which informs us about doing something simple really well. I recall a visit a mid-winter visit to Lindey’s with our good friend Harold Bissner when the thermoter dipped to 56 below.  Mind you this was in our new, yellow BW Beetle.  In ordinary climes one would have expected a empty restaurant but this was rugged Minnesota. There was a wait.
El Churrasco
And at El Churrasco as at Casa Antonia, the provenance of their magnificent steaks was paramount. The duly proud manager said that the restaurant bought its beef about fifty kilometers north of Cordoba and done so for decades.  The obvious follow up was how long they aged their beef. The steak had some serious age on it. The answer was three weeks off premise and another one to two weeks in-house.  That’s a boatload of aging and it yielded mythic results. The ample fat was as buttery as marrow.  I defy you to have that steak and not sneak a bite of that fat.
Me high on steak
This whole episode had us talking about El Churrasco for the rest of the trip and doing research on how to dry age our own beef.
Thanks to the resourceful and talented Peggy Immel for the supporting images. I got nothing.
Thanks for asking.  The hard drive is in the loving hands of Drive Savers where they are surgically extracting the files, a process that will take four or five business days and at a price on the north end of their estimate.  I am, as they say, cautiously optimistic and still not smiling.  Failing that I will be on the redeye to Spain to retrace my steps and recapture the shots lost due to operator error. I’m only kinda joking.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Edifice Complex

Had it not been for a prompt from good friend Sarah Turner we might not have made it to Cordoba. But for her glowing recommendation of the Mezquita, the Great Mosque of Cordoba, we might have ducked that little adventure and missed the mosque and, worse yet, missed the steak of a lifetime. More about that religious experience later.

And on the lamentable subject of the AWOL hard drive, the new cable arrived from Western Digital but to no avail. It’s not the cable, bunkie. Tomorrow I’ll have a local computer shop try to extract the files from the errant hard drive and, failing that, it will be overnighted to California for the lovely folks at Drive Savers to try to save the drive at the cost of $700 to $2,700. I am not smiling.

The Mezquita cum cathedral was worth the trip.  The mosque is considered to be one of the outstanding examples of Moorish architecture and is certainly spectacular. Muslims have been petitioning the Catholic Church to use it for services since 2000 but that request has been denied by Spain and the Vatican. Given the tourist hordes and their handy Euros I don’t see that changing ever.

This is hallowed ground if history proves such a thing.  A Roman temple initially occupied the site.  In fact, pieces of the temple were used to build the mosque’s 856 columns. From about 600 the building was shared equally by Muslims and Christians but when Abd al-Rahman I defeated Yusef al-Fihri, the governor of Andalus, he committed to build a temple to rival those of Bagdad, Damascus and Jerusalem. So starting in 784 al-Rahman and his successors spent a major fortune over two centuries converting the church into to a mosque. That effort came full circle as the mosque became part of the grand Cathedral of Cordoba in 1236 when the Spanish defeated Moors.
Religions have a thing about displays of opulence which I’m thinking is not quite what religion should be about. Still monuments to piety in all faiths impress.  Muslims demonstrate their faith inwardly.  The exteriors of their mosques are fairly plain affairs but when you get inside,  “Whoa Nelly!” in the words of the immortal Keith Jackson. Catholics get to display their importance both in and out.  I guess that means they win the edifice competition since the poor Muslims are limited to grand interior motifs.
That's not me. It's my stunt double.