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…sadly, I never made it to 365 photos.  I may try again this fall, with a new blog, we’ll see. I’ll be moving to France at the beginning of September and I’d like to start over with the 365 project then!

 

In the mean time, check out my current blog for pretty pictures of beautiful places! :

The Most Beautiful Places in Europe

If you like Europe, or travel or just pretty pictures, then I hope you enjoy!!

DAY 202

“I’m just fascinated by visiting actual castles in the countryside.”

§ Lily Collins §

I love castles. Do you want to know why? Well, it might be because we are flat out of castles in Washington, so the whole idea of a castle in each ancient town is…well…what a novelty. What’s even better is that in Europe in general, we’ve got castles, castles everywhere.

It’s not just me.  Now, yes, it’s true that castles fascinate some for their historical importance. But for many people, castles are fascinating because of the life that Hollywood and fairy tales have made us associate with castles. Fairy tales gently glaze over the extreme conditions—the bugs, the rats, the lack of food, the disease, the lack of running water or ever clean water, the constant fear or battle or plague or mass starvation.   The whole taking a bath once a month, wearing the same clothes day in and day out—skipped over.  Fairy tales glamorize castles and I can say with 100% certainty that I am not immune.

To me, castles are the place to go, the highlight of the weekend. What did you do last weekend? Oh, I found a castle. And you do always have to “find” it. Castles always involve walking…because they are always at the top of everything to afford the best views and the best defenses.

To get the Xátiva castle, I refused to take the train, electing instead to go walking.  It was so worth it.  I found so much on the way—castle walls, magnificent views, a hermitage, a watchtower I climbed on, blooming flowers, forests of catii, so much. And the castle itself—about a kilometer of walking just to see it all—was amazingly intact.  It had at least 4 sets of gates, so that in times of war, the inhabitants could literally blockade themselves off in sections depending on how far the invaders got.  It had several wells, a dungeon that once housed kings and noblemen, stores for food, for weapons, for people.  And it was gorgeous as well, both the views and the castle itself (which, with the way it was perched on top of the cliffs, almost reminded me of photos I’ve seen of China’s wall).

And at the top, I did what I always do these days—I asked for a photo. Asking for a photo gets me all kinds of interesting stories…but this time, it got me a new English-speaking friend.

Xátiva and it castle? Fantastic.

DAY 201

“maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as the world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”

§ ee cummings §

 As a general rule, I don’t like beaches.

That said, I adapt quickly. I moved to Spain. Spain has lots of beaches. Spanish people love beaches. Spanish people spend a lot of time on the beaches.  Therefore, I go to the beach.

But why? Why are beaches so popular? Because there isn’t much variation to beaches. Sand, grit, water. Hot sun, sunburns, suntan lotion (the Brits call it sun cream…I think that sounds nasty).  Some have more people and therefore more trash. Both Ocean City MD and Ocean City NJ have so many people that finding the sand is a full time job. In Costa Rica, they have palm trees and monkeys. In British Columbia, they have bald eagles.  In Maine, the water is freezing.  In North Carolina you have to watch out for things that sting and bite. In England, no one goes in the water, they just have these atrocious boardwalks (it’s good that my love of England isn’t hindered by it’s less-than-attractive beaches, as beaches are never a priority for me). In Italy, you can find beaches with locals in various states of undress.

And in Spain, well, is there anything special about the beaches here? In one sense, no. Sand, water, sky.  I like the beach by night better than the beach by day. The nighttime beach is quieter—and for some reason, I feel like if I stare out at the depths of the sea, the waves will spit out the answer to my nagging questions. As ee cummings put it, “it’s always ourselves we find in the sea…” and maybe that’s true.  So in another sense, yes. I am used to the water being an ugly sheen of dark grey that we call blue.  Here in Spain, the Mediterranean Sea is a brilliant turquoise, the most beautiful colour you can imagine! The photos can’t even capture the true colour.

But why are they so popular? I don’t know. Perhaps because people enjoy running around in fast-drying underwear (going off that, why is it okay to wear a speedo or a bikini on the beach, but if I were to walk around the street in my bra—which covers more than most bikinis—I’d be considered insane?)

But maybe that’s it. The beach allows behavior that is normally not allowed.  Undressing until most—if not all, on some beaches—of our skin is exposed, is not only normal, it is encouraged, even necessary.  You can lie in the sand and ignore the world. So-called beach-reads are nothing more than cheap paperbacks, the kind that even the authors tend to admit are crap.  You can be as loud as you want, you can invade each other’s personal space.  Packs of beer and bags of chips–none of those green vegetables we eat at out dining room tables. The rules are chucked out the window.  And in the process, you can get a tan, which is of course today’s fashion. (Though just as dangerous as the white skin enhanced by white makeup mixed with lead that the Victorians used to find fashionable).

The beach will probably never be my thing.  But alright, I’m here, so time to enjoy it!  (By the way, that book in the photo is a collection of children’s stories in French…not your typical beach-read…)

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DAY 200 !!

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages…”

As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7, 139-143, Shakespeare

I have always loved history, old things. Art, beauty, architecture.  Maybe that’s why I love Europe so much.

But what I love even better than old things is the melding of the old with the new, preserving the old, yet keeping it in use today. Restoration rather than mere preservation.

One of the best things I love about my community here is the Roman Theater. And okay, I don’t live IN Sagunto, I live some kilometres away, but I can get their easily enough. (In fact, I ran there today. A killer run, truly. I did take some breaks, but I ran about 12 kilometers at 7 minute pace…). 

This theatre is OLD. The town as founded about 219 BC, and the theatre dates back to the first century! (And here I was, thinking the 1800’s were a long time ago…) It was used by Romans, Moors, Iberians, probably some others along the way, and then finally, the Spanish.

And they–we–still use it today.

They’ve built modern (but not ugly) bleachers over the crumbling originals, but only in the center. In age where progress means bulldozing entire forests to build a useless highway, this intertwining of modern and ancient is rare.

On the sides, and of course, the Roman nosebleed seats, are still the originals. Now, we can’t stomp our modern feet all over the pretty Roman rocks, but we can settle down onto the modern rock benches and enjoy the same view of the same stage that people have enjoyed for, well, a heck of a lot of years.  SO that posses the question…have we really changed? We still do the same basic things for entertainment–of course, not we prefer motion pictures over live actors, but the theater is still a night out on the town.  I recently read a BBC article equating our current economic decline with that of the decline of the Roman Empire. Was that historian right? I certainly hope not. I don’t want Europe to decline, I love it here! It has become home.  But in the end, it makes you wonder…how much, in the past few thousand years, have we actually, truly changed?Havewe progressed, or are will the same, just with fast cars and power tools and nuclear weapons, and this wonderful thing we like to call the internet.  The world has certainly grown smaller, and more connected. But actual change? Perhaps not. 

All the same, I find this place just…so damn impressive. 

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DAY 199

You walk, meander among little Spanish streets. White buildings, white towns. Pueblos Blancos. Spanish floats from second-story windows, vendors attempt to thrust cheap goods in your hands.  A clank of forks sounds, the clatter of cooking escapes from the open doorways, enticing smells encase the air.

Starving, you search for a place to eat, a place to settle into a chair, listen to the sound of the sea, pull out your novel (which, incidentally enough, happens to be in French), sip your sangria, enjoy your food, fall in love with life itself. 

But, suddenly—you stumble upon this—La Casa de las Conchas.  It is unexpected. You didn’t know much about this town, aside from the castle. You came here for the castle. You came here because you had to go somewhere. You came here because someones else told you to. Word of mouth—the best way to travel, the best way to find the local flavour. 

But now that you’re here, you’re ready to discover—and you do! See what you’ve found? Here is house, a tall narrow house, a house that is completely covered with beautiful seashells.

How? Why? Who?

Even utilizing the internet, it is difficult to know, difficult to find the answer.  Who covered this building with shells? And why would one go through that much work?

This house, it is a work of art. Sadly, the only thing that is inside is more tourist traps.

I didn’t go in.

I took a photo, and moved on.

Later, if I translated the webpage correctly, I got the full story.  In the 1950’s, a family of five needed work.  The woman, Justa, intrigued by history and full of love for her city, became a the first local tour guide. She found enough tourists to eventually buy this little house by the sea, a house for her and her family to reside in.  The father loved the sea so much that he began designs of sailors and ships to decorate the walls. He added a shell, then another.  With the support of the townspeople, he kept going, Another, another. All shells found in the area, all shells collected from the local sea, until the entire façade was covered. Thus, La Casa de las Conchas was born. By 1961, it had become a local landmark.

So the family went from giving tours of the local monuments to creating them. A full about-face.

I find that fascinating.   

DAY 198

§ Longed for him. Got him. Shit. § – Margaret Atwood

It seems like everyone is getting married in Spain. A line of cars covered in flowers or squares full of loud music and people in pretty clothes are not uncommon.  Or else they are already married, very young of course, with plenty of kids. Or they have boyfriends who they seem inseparable from. PDA is an everyday thing here.  (Someone told me the age of consent is 13? Maybe not true.) But it is true that my 11 year olds act like 13 year olds, and my actual 13 year olds act like they are 15 or 16. I’ve had eight and nine year olds ask me about my love life. I’ve had complete strangers ask me point-blank if I had “un novio” and when I said no, they just seem really confused and ask “why not?” like it’s the simplest thing in the world. How are you, where are you from, do you have a boyfriend…wait, you don’t, why not?? My answer: I don’t know! Maybe because I haven’t met anybody?

It’s frustrating, mostly because I want to meet people here, it’s just that not living in Valencia makes things rough.  I live in a suburb, and I don’t really know anyone besides my workmates and a few vague acquaintances, like the baker, the barista, and the fruit-stand guy. Everyone anywhere near my age who lives in this town is either pregnant, has children or is a beach bum. Sometimes all 3. Or else they are scared away by my shaky Spanish.  (Because it is a fact that Spanish people cannot speak English…).

The solution? Move to a city.  Check! Go to a country where people actually speak some English. Okay! Join clubs.  Will do! Seek out the expats. Right! Get involved, do more.  Got it!

I’m moving to Poland.  Warsaw, to be exact, and I want to live near the center of town so that I can find other people who speak English, and befriend them. Finally, for the first time, I get to be IN a city, not just near it. There will be English-speakers and young people and students.  Or else I can travel, stay in hostels, and befriend my fellow (generally European) tourists.  So exciting! And then if I return to Spain to visit, maybe I can provide a different answer to than most annoying question: “tienes un novio?” And hopefully, Margaret Atwood’s terse response to romance is not true.

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DAY 197

§ A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. § Oscar Wilde

 Oh I am so terrible at this!! I am always too busy. But I shouldn’t be. There is always time for photos, there is always time to write!

That said, I am obsessed with photos, I really am. I am obsessed with beautiful photos. And okay, Oscar, maybe, in some ways, they are as useless as pretty flowers, but…but…I love them, I can’t resist taking them, I need to have the photos. I can’t just go someplace beautiful and NOT take a photo, at least, not without feeling sick and terrible.  They are beautiful, yes, like flowers. Perhaps useless to others, but to me, they are so much more.

I went to this castle in a place called Peñiscola (yes, you can laugh) which is possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.  In the center, there is a castle. The blue of the Mediterranean goes on as far as the eye can see, row after row of white houses blanket the ground, topped by row after row of orange roofs. It is the perfect combination, and sort of makes you think that maybe you’re dead after all, and this is what heaven looks like. Or maybe you’ve fallen down a well and are now in wonderland. Or perhaps this is just paradise.

I fell in love with those photos. On the train-ride back to my flat, I was antsy with anticipation to look at them. I tried to resist temptation—no, you can’t look at them on the tiny screen, wait until you can view them on the computer!—but I failed, and couldn’t resist a peek. Oh, so gorgeous. I almost died again.

Then what happened, you ask? Well, I went home. I plugged in the card reader. And….nothing. The card reader was dead. It had committed suicide somewhere along the way. Oh NO! I tried everything. I looked it up online, downloaded programs, tried and retried and retried. I went to the camera store, and then he told me the sad truth, the truth I already knew but didn’t want to admit. My baby was sick, and the card was unsalvageable.

I was so sad, so depressed. You see, I am obsessed with the photos. It’s as if having no photos of something means it didn’t happen. I know it makes no sense, but bear with me!  It doesn’t help that I have a terrible memory. So I use my photos to make sure I never forget something worth remembering.

What did I do? The next weekend, I paid another €25 for the train ticket, spent another couple hours on the train, bought another pricy (but delicious) meal of sangria, pizza, and ice cream, enjoyed the views all over again—because I went back. Yup, I went all the way back to Peñiscola to get back those photos.  I’m glad I did. I found a lot more this time. I appreciated it even more than the first time. I met some interesting, and very proud, Dutch tourists who were fond of telling me about Holland’s Golden Age and how they made America what it is today (they voted for America to be it’s own governing state way back when) etc. I saw the cliffs.  I enjoyed the views. I didn’t get lost.

In the end, both days were perfect…and the resulting pictures were so worth the return!