Thursday, November 30, 2023

A Summer Week in Madrid

We made it to Madrid.  Our Air Europa flight from Lisbon could not have been more uneventful.  We are in a taxi in a traffic jam between the Airport and central Madrid.  So far, it has much more of a European feel.  Once you fly to one EU country, you can visit all of them without going through
customs until you leave the EU.  It's like traveling the United States. 

Flying from Portugal to Spain is like going from Tennessee to Kentucky.  Like Americans, Europeans are over COVID-19 and have no masks except on public transportation and flights in the EU Zone.  Going through security at the Airport was a breeze; it's highly automated, and the trays automatically come to you.  No laptops or other devices out of the bag.  No shoes or belts off.

Well, we are settled in for the next 5 days.  We are beat; I went to the grocery store after we checked into the Apartment.  I took some pictures on the way.  Madrid is much busier and more modern than Lisbon.  Can't wait to get out to see it.  For dinner, we had a store-bought empanada and sautéed Pumpkin in butter with Dates and Raisins.  I bought the Pumpkin by accident and thought it was papaya.  It was very good.

We visited the Madrid Central Market for some Tapas on our first day.  We then walked Rick Steve's Historic Madrid City Walk.  Then, we took the Metro down to the Toledo Gate. 

The original Central Plaza Mayor was from the 1500s when the Spanish Inquisition executions were held.  Up to 50k people would crowd into the square to watch the new creative ways they killed them.  Most were burned alive, but some were slowly strangled with a garrote while a priest prayed over them.  Phillip III is on a horse in the center, and you can buy an attic studio apartment on the Plaza for around 500k euros, and the prices increase from there.

After the Plaza, we walked by The Royal Palace of Madrid.  Europe's largest palace, with 2800 rooms and 1.5 million square feet, was very impressive.  When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo, and the new money had no cathedral.  Plans for a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena were discussed as early as the 16th century.  The cathedral seems to have been built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI reconquered Madrid.

Still, even though Spain built more than 40 cities overseas during that century, with plenty of cathedrals and fortresses, the cost of expanding and keeping the Empire came first, and the construction of Madrid's cathedral was postponed.  Making the cathedral the largest the world had ever seen was a priority.  So, the structure of Almudena did not begin until 1879.  

Visiting the Prado was the highlight of our week in Madrid.  It is one of the great museums in the world.  There were no photographs in the exhibition rooms.  The building is being renovated, so it's cloaked.  I did get some photos in the lobby of the Prado.  The Prado contains extensive works by Rubens, Goya, Titan, and Poussin, to name a few.

 The guidebook says to allow 2 1/2 hours, but more time was needed.   We arrived at 1345 and left the museum at about 1745, about 4 hours, and we still needed to see everything.  It was fabulous.  The Goya and Rubin collection is the biggest I have seen.  And the haunting El Greco's.   It is well worth the 50 euros with a 500-page guidebook.  Below is an original sculpture of the Roman Emperor Augustus and Hadrian.  I walked Hadrian's Wall in England, which was very interesting.  They had a whole room of Roman Sculpture dating back to 10 BC.

The Gran Via.  Called The American Gran Via, Madrid's 5th Avenue.  It is an upscale shopping district built in the Chicago Art Deco style.  The Schweppes building dominates the Avenue.  I've been to Nutbush, Brownsville, Tennessee, where Tina Turner was born, and some clubs she started singing at in Memphis.  A Gran Via musical show highlighting Turner's musical career caught my eye in Madrid.  This street seemed to be their Broadway.

Spain's most famous writer, Don Quijote, is their Mark Twain.  Much like North America is a product of  England and France, South America is a product of Spain and Portugal.   Although it ravaged the indigenous communities in the north and the south (9 out of 10 died from European diseases within 80 years after 1492) and some colonial injustice continues today, The Columbian Exchange was inevitable.  It would have been someone else if it wasn't Columbus.

On two hot days, we visited El Retiro Park, an expansive park in the heart of Madrid.  It is their central park.  We sat in the shade and walked by the lake and the Crystal Palace.  We ate ice cream overlooking the central lake.   This was a refreshing break from the regular sightseeing schedule. 

It was a fabulous week in Madrid, a busy and cosmopolitan city.  I'd recommend that everyone spend a week there.  

Friday, November 10, 2023

Muscle Shoals Music Studio: Hitsville Alabama

All of our lives are set to music in some way.  We start young, and then usually, by the age of 30, it is set in stone.  Sure, we listen to new and different music, but our tastes and what we listen to always go back to our youth.   Today, we are visiting the Muscle Shoals Recording Studio. 

When you take the tour, the rule is not to touch or lean on the piano.  This piano has an insurance value of over a million dollars.  Lynard Skynard wrote Freebird on it one afternoon.  Then, I recorded that song on the same evening.  It was also used in many other artist's recordings.  If you listen to classic rock radio, you will hear this piano at least half a dozen times in just a few hours.  

This studio holds the keys to much of the music of my generation.   From 1969 to 1979, this studio recorded 312 Albums, 75 of which went gold or platinum.  Only Motown produced more hits than this little town.  The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Lynard Skynyrd, Cher; I could go on, but you get the picture.
There are many cool things to see in the Florence, Alabama, quad-city Area, which comprises Florance, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals.  Yesterday, we did the Tuscumbia walk, which included Hellen Keller's birthplace and home.  There is a nice downtown and a veterans memorial at the courthouse.  After the tour, we drove back into Florence across the Tennessee River to see the Frank Loyd Wright House and then over to see WC Handy's birthplace.  The father of the blues spent most of his time not far from Memphis and Clarksdale. 
Muscle Shoals is a magical place.  Glen Fry of the Eagles vacations here.  The Stones could go and shop downtown in relative anonymity.   In the heart of the American Music Triangle is something about this place; you can feel it, but you can't put your finger on it, but it's here.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

First Time in the Middle East : Egypt, Israel, and Gaza

A long time ago, in the early 90's, I crossed from Epygt into Israel several times at the North Sinai Rafah Border crossing.  When you leave the Egyptian Rafah Crossing, you can see straight into the Gaza Strip.  You must immediately take a right and travel a road between Egypt and Gaza in a kind of no man's land.  Once you travel down to the Kerem Sholom Israeli Checkpoint, you enter Israel, where Egypt, Israel, and Gaza meet.  

After leaving the checkpoint on the road to Tel Aviv, you follow the Gaza Strip Fence; you can look into Gaza.  It looked like a war zone with bombed-out buildings, wrecked cars, and trucks with a lot of sand and desert emptiness.  This was on the left; on the right was Israel; the contrast was incredible.  There were crop fields, forests, and orchards.   We passed through small European-style towns along the way.  The Israeli side was a virtual garden of Eden; to the left was the apocalyptic despair of Gaza.   I will always remember that contrast.   I can still visualize it like it was yesterday.  

Those towns we traveled through sat within view of Gaza and apparently were the ones attacked this past week.  Sadly, it stirred memories of stopping for lunch or a drink while chatting with the town's locals before our final push to Tel Aviv.  I remember Israeli soldiers standing at bus stations, men and women with weapons headed to their Armed Service Drills.  There were children playing in schoolyard playgrounds.  It was normal life like you see in America.

In the early 90s, I spent 9 months traveling throughout Egypt and Israel.  My duties as an Army logistics officer required these travels.  It really was mundane work, but I did have a lot of interactions with the Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian people.  When I was off camp, I wore civilian clothes to blend in with the local population as much as possible.  It was a good duty, one of the highlights of my Army career.  

What I learned in that 9 months is, it's a complex situation.  I had some understanding of one that I now realize is clearly limited.  The two religions there fail to mix, like Oil and Water.  Sure, you can shake it up, and it looks mixed, and it seems to get along for a while, but it always separates.  There is a never-ending cycle of violence, reprisals, and vengeance.  I'm sure more sons will see their fathers killed, which will continue this hate for another few generations.  

In Jerusalem, at the Western Wall, the foundation of the old biblical 2nd Temple.  Some call it the Wailing Wall or Herod's Temple.  This is one of the most sacred sites in the Jewish Religion.  On the other side of the Wall sits the Dome of the Rock Mosque.  This is where Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended into heaven.  One of the most sacred sites in the Muslim religion.  Some in the Jewish faith believe the mosque must be torn down and the Temple must be rebuilt before the Jewish Messiah will appear.  This is how deep the conflict goes.  Jerusalem, which should be an international city, is the intersection of the world's three major religions and all the conflict that goes along with it.

Mostly, these people get along with each other and want nothing but peace and stability.  It is the extremists on both sides that keep the conflict going.  The lack of a viable Palestinian state contributes to the violence by creating a power vacuum filled by extremists/terrorists.  Until a Palestinian State is created, we can continue to see more violence.