Saturday, February 14, 2009

The View From The Wall

Two years ago, I was standing on the wall, the muralla, that surrounds the old town of Ávila. It is a high point; the town is about 3000 feet in elevation on the high plain. From the wall, you can see the surrounding lower hills, brown and grassless in the summer sun, rough but not particularly menacing. To the southwest lies Extremadura; to the northeast, the rest of Castilla. Yet I imagined St. Teresa or her brother, standing on the wall or even slipping outside of the town, as they were known to have done, and seeing danger.

Spain was not at peace those hundreds of years ago, and Spain has often not been at peace. The 88 towers of the city wall of Ávila were not built as a mere ornamental detail, but were for defensive purposes. Even during the childhood of Sta Teresa, who was born in 1515, the possibility of Muslim attacks was very real. In fact, this was one of the things that made St Teresa long to be a missionary when she was a little girl, setting her dreaming of a life of travel and travail and risk. While she did indeed achieve the latter, it wasn't exactly the way she had expected!

But like any modern city, Ávila is a place where it is hard to imagine that it ever existed as other than what it is now. Ávila is a provincial capital, home of Spain's National Police Academy, a quiet place mostly dedicated to Teresa-themed tourism and the sale of yemas, a traditional local candy made of egg yolk and sugar. But like every place in Spain, it has layers and layers of history, of poetry, of art, of drama, of battles lost and won, of preaching, of saints, of good rulers and evil rulers - in short, it is a small distillation of Peninsula history.

Spain has always been a place where peoples have transited through, some on their way to the Europe on the other side of the Pyrenees and, eventually, some on their way to the New World. And I am adding to this the travels of a lone American as she wanders back and forth across this piel de toro, or bull hide, as the Spanish describe it because of its shape.

I am a Spanish translator and have spent years traveling to Spain. I go to Spain every year, as often as possible, and I have been to the usual places and to truly remote and little known places, eaten remarkable foods, seen great art and walked through many back roads. I look forward to many more years of doing so, because Spain is so inexhaustibly interesting.

So this blog will be my small attempt to share a bit of my travels with other people who love Spain or perhaps will come to love Spain. I'll post photographs, commentary and links. Towers of Avila will reflect some of my other interests, too, of course, such as art, Catholicism, poetry, and - last but hardly least! - food.

Seated here in St Augustine, Florida, on a rainy early spring afternoon, I am seeing in my mind that dusty, sometimes harsh, beautiful land across the sea; I am standing on the wall, and I hope you will be able to see Spain through my eyes.