Ibsen and Negotiating the Use of Candles

‘I should not like my dear sister to know, but I am reading the Plays of Ibsen, and I was finishing Hedda Gabler.’

Mrs Bradley nodded comprehendingly.

‘And of course, Ibsen being What he is, and the light in my room being Quite Invisible from my sister’s room, and our having agreed From the First to consider candles a Separate Item so that neither of us need make the burning of them an Affair of Conscience as, of course, we should be obliged to do if they came out of the housekeeping, I read on until past ten o’clock.’ (210)

An incredible passage about the ‘naughtiness’ of both reading late and Ibsen and the constraints on both that the economics of housekeeping can produce, if not carefully negotiated. Also, the wonderful use of capital letters.

Not until now do I realise how much luck it is to be born at a time when we do not have to negotiate the cost of a candle to read as late as we would like…

Mitchell, Gladys ([1935] 2014)The Devil At Saxon Well. London: Vintage Books.

Zaragoza Cityscapes

I liked Zaragoza, and for the first time in a long time felt properly hot. The old part of town with narrow streets kept cool and shaded by the unbroken rows of several-story buildings on either side. The ways that they suddenly opened up into small plazas, most of them filled with tables and chairs for food and drink, somewhere to sit for those who bought nothing. Wonderful public spaces, full of generations. The way that this old town centre was still so residential, full of life and children and a mingling of different kinds of people. We only found the wealthy area by accident on our last day, it relied more on trees for shade, and everyone wore the same well-groomed discontented faces. I didn’t like that part so much.

We were privileged to dine at Montal, delicious food and the best of brilliant post-viva company, and it gave a better sense of these old  residences with their open colonnaded centres stretching up two stories. They are so lovely. I explain them badly, so one individual picture.

Zaragoza

Too lovely for such a terrible hierarchy of aristocrats as once were found here. We were let down into the cellar to see the museum of the great leaning tower that once stood in this little plaza, there are hundreds of drawings of it, interspersed with gated doorways beyond which sit dusty bottles of wine.

The Museum of Goya is nearby, he lived here for a time and there is such a collection of his prints as will amaze you. They are wondrous, able to rip your heart out. We started in the print room as advised, and that was undoubtedly the very best way to experience the museum.

Roman ruins, the basilica, a river and ancient bridge, the mudéjar architectire and Aljafería, the graffiti…I did very much like this city.

 

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Zaragoza Graffiti: For the Women Who Gave Their Lives…

Penultimate post on this short holiday that already feels so so far away. I’ve finished a report, an executive summary for a second report, and edits on two short articles since then. So sad. Unlike the awesomeness of Zaragoza’s graffiti scene, which brought me immense happiness. This says:

En recuerdo de todas las mujeres que dieron su vida por la libertad y las ideas anarquistas | In memory of all the women who gave their lives for liberty and anarchist ideas

On this wall, with its many small fishes eating the large one, and long incredible figures almost disappearing into plaster:

There was so much that was brilliant, I miss this.

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Palacio de la Aljafería, and Zaragoza’s Mudéjar architecture

El Palacio de la Aljafería is an incredible building, containing within it the material remains of many periods of Spain’s troubled history as well as the ways that each of these histories has been reimagined and retold. It is built over an Islamic fortified enclosure, and the semi-circular turrets date and base of one of the towers date from the 9th Century. They are massive — and the contrast is wonderful with the delicate columns and arches of the inner courtyard, the carvings, the sound of running water, the oratory with its traceried windows. This dates from the period of the Taifas, or the independent kingdoms of Spain before the consolidation of the Almorávides. This period saw the building of the Alhambra as well, but this building predates it, and our guidebook describes it as a model for both that glorious place and the Reales Alcazares in Seville, which I have not seen.

This was the extent of the Taifa of Zaragoza as it was expanded under Abú Yaáfar Áhmad ibn Sulaymán al-Muqtádir, who had this exquisite courtyard built.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

This also remains.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Other remnants sit engulfed in the architecture of Christian kings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza was conquered by Alfonso I (El Batallador) in 1118, and this was converted into the Palace of the Aragonese monarchs. This period remains visible through some of the interior rebuilding, above all these carved ceilings with their heraldic paintings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

In 1492, a new palace was plonked down on top of both the old by Ferdinand and Isabella — 1492 was such a terrible year. They did not have anyone as capable of the work as the Mudéjar architect, Faraig de Gali, and he blended the styles together as best he could. These, then, are on the top stories, with lovely tiles and interesting (if gaudy) carved and coffered ceilings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

From here it enters its decline, Phillip the Second ordering it repurposed to become a fort in 1593. He built more defensive walls with pentagonal bastions at the corners and the moat and the drawbridges.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

You have to wonder why this fort was necessary in the middle of the Spain, the little pmaphlet states:

…the real reason for building this fort was none other than to show royal authority in teh face of teh Aragonese people’s demands for their rights as well as teh monarch’s wishing to curb possible revolts by the people of Zaragoza.

Nation building wasn’t entirely smooth it seems. The building later became a barracks. Many of the islamic carvings were removed and put into museums, and it was a very slow process (1931 declared historic, excavation and reconstruction began 1947) to convert this building into the palimpsest it represents today where original and reconstruction sit together, and they do it rather beautifully.

I remember reading of the Marranos y Moriscos, Jews and Arabs who to some extent or another or not really at all converted to Christianity and remained after Aragon and Castille conquered the Peninsula, who stayed through the Inquisition. But before this point in 1492 (and for how long after?) there were the Mudéjars. This is from the Encyclodpedia Britannica:

Mudejar, Spanish Mudéjar, (from Arabic mudajjan, “permitted to remain”), any of the Muslims who remained in Spain after the Reconquista, or Christian reconquest, of the Iberian Peninsula (11th–15th century). In return for the payment of a poll tax, the Mudejars—most of whom converted to Islam after the Arab invasion of Spain in the 8th century—were a protected minority, allowed to retain their own religion, language, and customs. With leaders assigned by the local Christian princes, they formed separate communities and quarters in larger towns, where they were subject to their own Muslim laws.

The Mudejars were highly skilled craftsmen who created an extremely successful mixture of Arabic and Spanish artistic elements. The Mudejar style is marked by the frequent use of the horseshoe arch and the vault, and it distinguishes the church and palace architecture of Toledo, Córdoba, Sevilla (Seville), and Valencia. The Mudejar hand is also evident in the ornamentation of wood and ivory, metalwork, ceramics, and textiles; and their lustre pottery is second only to that of the Chinese.

Such architecture is everywhere here in Aragon, what I think of as the heart of Spain. It is everywhere here, particularly churches, and very beautiful.

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Pyrenees Wildflowers

Pyrenees wildflowers get their own post, from irises and lilies and roses to orchids and tiny flowers hidden among the windswept rocks, they were all extraordinary.

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A Most Beautiful Place: In search of the Dolmen of Izas

An amazing walk, starting from La Estación de Canfranc and walking up and up. We stopped first at the Coll de Ladrones, hill of thieves — we had been staring at it the day before.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

The first fortifications were built here in the 16th century. But this incredible space is from the 18th Century, started after the war of independence and built to guard the valley against France. It sits amongst many more modern defenses built by Franco here beginning in 1944. None of them are as amazing as this. You walk up to the main gate, and it’s only then that you realise this hill is essentially moated:

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

You can’t get down there.

We continued up from there. Across rubble and through flowers.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Up to the fields

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Absurdly beautiful.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

We walked along this stream most of the way

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

This is as high as we got — we did not find the dolmen, and it seemed no one else was as keen on such things as me, so it was not seen on any of my maps nor marked after that first sign that sent us astray.

Looking up to the right

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Back down the valley

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

More beautiful places. And cows, each with its bell.

Estación de Canfranc casi hasta la dolmen de Izas

Walk Almost To The Dolmen Of Izas

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La Estación de Canfranc — Canfranc Station

La Estación de Canfranc was an incredible place, Spain on one side and France on the other, built to be opulent in 1928 and opened by the King of Spain and the President of the French Republic. Two separate tracks of different gauges met on each side here, so passengers had to transfer from one to the other. Now it is only a station on the Spanish side, a one-car train toiling up the mountains in its three hour and forty minute journey from Zaragoza, lost in front of this faded magnificence.

Estación de Canfranc

It was a passage used by the resistance against Franco and the Nazis, an escape route for Jews and others fleeing Germany and Vichy France and a centre for anti-fascist spies and the forging and distribution of necessary travel documents and other papers. People who fled through here:

Max Ernst
Marc Chagall
Josephine Baker

I was sure Walter Benjamin had also come through here but now I can’t find anything about that, so I can no longer say and it seems possible it isn’t true at all. But still…

In 1942 the Nazis took control of the area — the only part of Spain where they did so. The gestapo began pulling people off of trains. The Nazis moved their plundered Jewish gold through the station.

The station was closed in 1970, fell into ruins. Part of it’s been brought back to some of its former glory

We walked through a damp tiled tunnel.

La Estación de Canfranc

Came out into the station

La Estación de Canfranc

Where each country has its own booths of beautiful carved wood.

La Estación de Canfranc

And outside onto the French platform into a beautiful evening

La Estación de Canfranc

From here, the French train once left the Tunel de Somport

Tunel de Samport

Tunel de Samport

It now holds a physics laboratory deep beneath the mountains to study dark matter. If we’d only known and given three weeks advance notice, we might have seen some of this, but we did not. Still, there were many trains.

Estacion de Canfranc

And this station that we kept catching sight of as we walked.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Something more to read:

https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/canfranc-station-spain/index.html

De la Estación de Canfranc al Mirador del Epifanio: Pyrenees walk

We’re in Zaragoza! Mark is examining a PhD even now as I sit in relative luxury. We spent two(ish) days in the Pyrenees and they were amazing, this is our first short walk up to the casita blanca y el mirador del epifanio…I imagine these woods full of partisans, makes them as magical as they were beautiful. The Station itself has an amazing history, but more on that later…

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

La casita blanca is relatively recent, built as part of the work to reforest this hillside to control avalanaches and landslides.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

A little higher is the ‘lookout’ over the Epifanio, a wide dam from which you can look down to La Estacion de Canfranc

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And up to the peaks.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And if you look very closely you can see the group of chamois we saw drinking there. There was a whole large group of them, but almost invisible in the shade. They are almost in the photo’s center, on the rock just to the left of the stream.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

And then back down again, to the welcome shade of the forest. It was very hot, the forest very beautiful.

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Estacion de Canfranc -- Mirador del Epifanio

Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.