Self-deprecation is worth its weight in smoldering phoenix-ashes and baby unicorn tears.
or; more Spain stories. You're sick of them, I know.
Published on March 20, 2008 By SanChonino In Europe

More Spain stories - I'm still a couple days behind, but I wanted to get these posted tonight.  We still have to get to the aqueduct, the Holy Week processions, all sorts of stuff.  It's never-ending fun!

--

15 Mar 2008.  9:37pm.

I walk along and through the ancient walls encompassed by the archaeological park, breathing in the dust, and the smells of flowers starting to burst open, eager to announce their birth to the sun permeate the air.  I cautiously hike up the slight incline to the very edge of the wall, looking down into the deep chasm below.  I'm flanked on either side by rows of old cannons, stalwart soldiers left to rust from an earlier age, apparently impotent but still quite imposing.

As I stare out over the bulwarks, I'm carried away . . .

1811.  The Napoleonic troops under Joseph the First are attacking the last stronghold against French rule in Catalonia, the definitive Roman fortress of Tarragona.  The air is thick with smoke as men run from side to side, ducking behind furiously firing cannons long enough to reload their long rifles, poke their heads over the wall, and fire down on the advancing enemy.  Dozens fall, only to be replaced by hundreds more.

A young man (he can't be older than seventeen) continues to reload and fire, reload and fire, reload and fire.  Bullets whiz past his face in quick succession, yet his determined visage doesn't even flinch.  He raises to fire another shot, and a round takes him, right in the chest.  He collapses to the ground, writhing in pain, spraying blood, only to bring himself up against the sturdy walls again, pull himself up, fire his still-loaded rifle in vain, and die, clinging to the heavy stone structure . . .

The soldiers of Tarragona lost that battle, and the city fell to Joseph I's troops.  But they fought nearly to the last man, and decimated their opponents to such a degree that their army had to be disbanded and joined to others.  They didn't have the strength or the manpower to continue after facing this city.

Such is the legacy of Tarragona.  Defeat it may have been, but it was a bitter, valiant fight.

This is the story the walls tell me as I run my hands over their pocked surfaces, feeling the deep holes where bullets tried (and failed) to pierce the spirit of Tarraco almost 200 years ago.

17 Mar 2008.  4:58pm.

The cathedral oozes that musty, ancient feeling that seems impossible to capture in much of anything in the Western Hemisphere.

It's dark throughout most of the building; the votive candles don't do much to brighten the expansive room, but they do grant a certain ambience that is difficult to describe.

I stand in front of the façade, staring up at its vast, incomprehensible face.  I don't know who half of the saints crowded onto its limited real estate are, and I probably won't ever know.  All I can say is that staring at it fills me with equal parts fear and wonder.

(I kinda bet that was the goal . . .)

The silence and reverence is palpable as I move from the front altar to the side chapels.  Each one is completely different; some are totally minimalist, with the small altar and a simple statue, otherwise bare - just plain marble walls and empty pews.

In contrast, others are filled with Gothic representations of dozens of saints, surrounded by hundreds of little fat cherubim singing praises to the emaciated, bloodied, agonizing Jesus hanging limply on the crude cross.

The centuries of tradition I don't share, that I still don't completely understand, hang in the air like a specter, some phantasm that demands my attention.

I step our of the dank cathedral, chased by thin, multi-colored shafts of sunlight seeping through the stained-glass windows dozens of meters above me.

I meander around the enclosed garden in the center of the cathedral complex, breathing in the faint scent of budding roses mixed with a heady smell of ripe, fresh oranges, still clinging to the tree.  The sun filters through the fat cast-iron gates separating the outer courtyard from the inner arches, illuminating vast microcosms of dust societies floating through the dense afternoon air.

I follow the dust colonies out through the huge green gates, walking slowly around the curve of the sanctum wall, until I arrive in front of the Seminary.  The gorgeous girl at the entrance bids me enter, and I concede.  (Who am I to say no to a beautiful woman?)  She leads me towards an inner atrium, and I allow myself to get caught up in her rich, cucumber melon scent.

She guides me towards a small, humble chapel around which the rest of the building has been erected.  The beauty explains that it is the first Christian church built in Tarragona, way back in the second century.

The age, like with the walls, is imposing.  The simple grace of the building, the history that emanates from it, take my breath away.

The guide shows me inside, where candles sill burn and the holy water basin is still full.

She kneels before the statue of Saint Peter - the very statue that Saint Fructuous, the martyr of Tarragona from the 3rd century, used to preach in front of - and bids me join her.  I kneel, join my hands, and remain silent as she recites a prayer.  It's an overwhelmingly religious moment, even though I don't share her beliefs.

She finishes, and I stand and help her to her feet.  She dips her fingers in the holy water and crosses herself, and I timidly follow suit.

She motions me to follow her again, and we cross the building, entering in the inner sanctum of the Seminary chapel.  In contrast to the cathedral, the chapel is very bright, well-lit, and inviting.  She leaves me to my pondering, and as she leaves, I thank her and she kisses my cheeks goodbye.

I stand alone in the inner sanctum and I am overcome with emotion.  I kneel on the padded pew and offer up a prayer of gratitude to the Lord for allowing me to come here, to have the opportunities and experiences I enjoy on a daily basis.

Spain is changing me.

Spain is becoming a part of me.


Comments
on Mar 20, 2008
on Mar 20, 2008
she shines
in a world full of ugliness
she matters when everything is meaningless

fragile
she doesn't see her beauty
she tries to get away
sometimes
it's just that nothing seems worth saving
I can't watch her slip away

I won't let you fall apart

she reads the minds of all the people as they pass her by
hoping someone can see
if I could fix myself I'd - but it's too late for me

I wont let you fall apart

we'll find the perfect place to go where we can run and hide
I'll build a wall and we can keep them on the other side
...but they keep waiting
...and picking...

it's something I have to do
I was there, too
before everything else
I was like you


Nine Inch Nails, "The Fragile"

PS I don't know why I've been identifying so much with NIN lyrics lately.
on Mar 20, 2008

I love hearing the history of places. It sounds lovely.

on Mar 20, 2008

Wow, even while falling under the spell of all the history Spain has to offer you still manage to get a pretty girl to kiss you.  Lucky you   I couldn't think of a better way to learn about places I know little of then under the tutelage of a beautiful guide.

on Mar 21, 2008

I want to go to Spain.  I enjoy your posts since I have to experience it vicariously at the moment.  I would love to see photos too. 

on Mar 21, 2008
on Mar 21, 2008
Wow! Those pictures are amazing. It makes you realize how "new" our country is.
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