A longboat of screaming Vikings, …

…. swinging their axes and hurling great stones, would have a long day trying to get through my front door.  It’s 3 ½ inches of solid wood with a steel bolt that extends four inches into a steel clasp.  I wish I had one of these at home.  If everyone had a door like this there would be much less crime.  Not that I’ve seen any evidence of crime here.  The professors at the University joke that this is a city of old people and they don’t have the energy for such.  Whatever the reason, it’s a good place to bring people to study.  I met a nice woman while walking to work this morning who needed directions to exactly where I was going.  I get asked directions once or twice a day and usually know where to find what they’re looking for but describing how to get there in this crazy maze of streets is another thing.  I navigate by up or down.  If you can find a plaza, the wider view will include at least one tall bell tower, usually two or three, and you can tell which way you need to go if you’ve been paying attention to the varied architecture.  As we walked the hill she told me about where she lives, Estremadura the land of the conquistadores,  and insisted I not leave Spain without seeing the most beautiful valley in the world.  I’m sold!  She seemed like she knew her valleys.

I traveled through Estremadura once, not the north where her valley is, but the other part.  It reminded me of West Texas with its mountains and dry, rolling grasslands.  Where Texas would have barbed-wire fences, Estremadura had stone walls hugging the curves of the hills.  It is the only place I’ve ever been where we had to stop the car and let a flock of sheep go by.  Another time, …maybe.

Tomorrow we go on a guided tour of the great Cathedral and what used to be a mosque before the Reconquista.  I’m looking forward to watching the faces of those students who have never been in a European Cathedral when they step through the door.  There is just no way of describing the sensation of standing in such a huge and tall indoor space whose very architecture guides your eyes ever upward.  I extracted a promise from the professor who is taking us that we will make time to climb the great towers (those who want to —-ME!).  This weekend we take our first trip to Madrid where we will visit the Royal Palace of the current Monarchs, the main plaza, and the Prado, one of the premier art museums of the world.

Oh yeah, I took the picture above sneaking into the bull-fighting arena.  There were two men working in there and they left a door open.  They yelled something at me and I waved, took a couple of pictures and skittered out.

Speaking of yelling, I was leaving one of the University cafeterias today after a meeting and could hear someone yelling in the plaza and a decent crowd yelling back.  It all sounded a little revolutionary so I peeked around the corner and there was a crowd assembled in a circle with a man in the middle exhorting them to action.  It would have been worrisome if not for the fact that the ringleader was dressed like someone out of the Bible and was waving a Shepard’s crook.  I recognized his words and the words of the crowd from a book I read in grad school about a little town that revolted against the injustices that the nobility were forcing on them.  Apparently, it was some drama group, street theater, but I wonder what the Chinese tourists thought of it all as they walked by.  They probably hadn’t read the book.  Some looked like they wished they were on the other side of a big thick door with a long steel bolt.

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