Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December in Andalusia, Spain...this adventure begins.

Join us for the next ten weeks as our European adventure begins. I am keeping details of places we visited and thoughts for myself and for those who like to travel via this blog. From time to time will be words from Ricardo as well (see below). 

This trip began in San Miguel and the travel was 3 legs which included two buses a plane and two trains with the destination of Seville, Spain which is located in the south in the area called Andalusia. We are traveling a bit differently this time - much less advance planning and staying in Airbnbs when possible as it gives us a chance to feel "at home" and have a kitchen so we can cook at home rather than eating out all the time. (Note: I am also going to be keeping up the vegan food adventure travel blog so will keep the food details for that one - just know that this is a country that so far has been very easy for this plant based eater.)

So, we began with a walking tour in Sevilla to get the lay of the land and found the city to be SO very walker friendly that we spent hours walking in various neighborhoods and seeing the usual sights - Cathedral, Alcazar, etc. We discovered (via internet) that some of the places we were thinking about going to where filling up fast for the two weeks of Christmas and New Years that we had to sit down and spend some time making a few plans so we did so and are set now until Jan 4th.
Silver alter in Seville Cathedral

Cathedral tower-used to be where the Muslim
call to prayers was held. We walked to the top for
an incredible view.

Typical street in Seville

Another street scene of Seville


View of Seville from Triana side of the river
Palace de Espana (from the 1929 Exposicion)
On Wednesday, Dec 16th we left for the little village of Aracena which was 1.5 hours away from Sevilla by bus. This was a small but beautiful spot with a ruined moorish castle and church at the top of the town - made for a nice walk and view of everything. Amazingly we found delicious vegan paella (with tofu) in a little tapas restaurant in the middle of this town. The town is famous for its underground caves called La Gruta de las Maravillas. This was used for filming famous films including "Journey to the Center of the Earth". The next day included a 10K hike to and from Lineras de la Sierra, a smaller village and then the following day another 10K hike to and from Cortoconcepcion before getting our bus back to Sevilla. 
A view of Aracena from Castle ruins
Coming into Aracena
Dec 16th - my mother's birthday.
Lighting candles to honor our mothers

Gruta de las maravillas

Gruta de las maravillas

Linares de la Sierra

Red pottery of this small village

Every house in the town had its
different design in front of its door

Along the way were many local farms

First time with our jackets off while hiking

We are in the country of "Ham".
These Seranno pigs feed on acorns.
(If that is all, they must eat a WHOLE lot)

Linares de la Sierra

We returned to Seville at night to stay this time at the Nomad Hostel, recommended by our friends Stan and Marcia who had visited several years ago. A fun place with lots of young people in the very lively center of town. Saturday we walked to the neighborhood of Triana and Santa Cruz and at night went to a Flamenco Show of 2 dancers, a singer and guitarist at the Casa de Flamenco - a very rewarding experience.
After the Flamenco show - photos
not allowed during the show

Some of the many holiday lights in Seville

Mercado de Triana

Mercado de Triana - mushrooms
On Sunday, Dec. 20th we came to Granada where we will be until Dec 26th. We are now much farther south in Spain and the Muslim influence is much more prevalent here. Since we decided not to go to Morocco this year, I am happy to be able to feel this and to see the amazing artisan crafts and taste some of the foods and teas that we might have experienced. On the train from Seville we met a lovely Australian family and have had fun with them over the last several days.

In the Palace (of the kings)
Monday was the day for the Alhambra. This is the most visited spot in Granada and worth every moment. It would be fun to return in a different season to see the gardens and greenery in a different view. Here you will see many photos but they cannot do justice to the real experience of this amazing World Heritage Site. Remember these buildings were built in the 1300s.
Amazing tile work and carving in every room

Notice all the detailed carvings

Many rooms were situated with beautiful views
of gardens outside

The Generalife, the recreation area of  the
Alhambra for the kings

A view of the Alhambra from the Albacin
area of Granada at sunset

"graffiti of the times" These names were
written on the walls to advertise people
who had finished their studies and were
ready to begin their careers (a resume
or CV of sorts)

Granada Cathedral against a very blue sky

Cloistered nuns who never leave their
little church in Albacin area. They take
2 hour shifts to sit and sing praises and open
to the public to come and meditate and listen
to their beautiful voices.

We did not go to Morocco as we had originally
planned but have the chance to feel
the feelings and see sights similar to what
we might have seen there. This is a restaurant
and teteria - a place to experience the Moroccan
mint tea.

Pouring mint tea

As we wrap up our first two weeks in Spain my observations include: The Spanish people seem happy and friendly and like to enjoy life. The food is good for us but there are many local delicacies that we are not including in our days. Cannot help but notice the square toilet seats everywhere - why???  Most of the cities as well as small towns are white with red roofs - beautiful geometric designs. (BTW, in San Miguel I recently took a geometry class and realize that mostly what I look at when I walk around is the shape and designs of structures, tiles, fabric, etc from a geometric point of view. I am not sure that everyone sees things the same as I do which always gets me thinking that none of us really know how anyone else thinks or sees....hmmmm.) 

Now we are getting ready for two days of doing our own Christmas celebrating - to include a visit on the Eve to the Hammam Al Andalus for a Baño, Masaje + Kessa Tradicional  (Hot baths of 4 temperatures, massage and body scrub. These are the traditional (though remodeled) Arabic baths. Seems like a great way to spend the holidays. Our plans for Christmas day are to watch the whole current series of Downton Abbey that we brought with us from Mexico.

And now some thoughts from Ricardo....

In the "halo" of the Alhambra
Sometimes when you travel you hear a word or two and then you hear it again and again.  I don't really know if this describes a culture or just a form of speech and nothing more. We have traveled now to different parts of southern Spain and these two words keep on coming up.  The first one us VALE which most people will say after a statement or a question.  It translates into WORTH literally but means OK or "you know" in English.  The second word most used here is CHULO which is translated to cute but means cool or awesome.  I find that when I have a opportunity to use these words people will smile as if I am one of them.  I have gotten this same response for certain words that I have learned in Mexico.  Another interesting thing about language is finishing the word or adding words together or just changing the ending.  I am sure that I do this when I am in New York talking fast, for example, saying "FORGETABOUTIT as one word.  When we went for some hikes outside of Sevilla in a town called Aracena which is like going to the country people often chose not to complete the endings of words and why should they if we all agree with what they are trying to say.  I like language and in learning Spanish I have come to understand the language of my birth better. This is just an observation and nothing more.

Another observation is food.  People here in Spain eat small meals called TAPAS. They also seem to be able to spend more time in groups just being together, often late at night. Most businesses open by 10 or 11 in the morning and close from 2 to 5 just to reopen again until 10 or midnight.  This is very interesting way of life and very different to my New York upbringing where time is a commodity and time is money.  I don't want to make  a judgement but maybe they know something that we don't.  As far as being vegetarians here it hasn't  been a problem especially in Granada where so much of the food is Arabic and meatless.

On a personal note Susan and I have become gypsies without borders.  We have seen so many people living here from other countries, without a strong sense of homeland.  This lets me think more about the U.S.  We also are a country of immigrants where our fore fathers came in search of a better life and to raise their families. So what does it mean to have a border especially when the immigrants are providing a source of profound energy like the life blood running through each of us.  We all more or less want the same thing which is a strong sense of security, food to nourish our bodies, a roof over our heads and respect to believe what one chooses to believe.  I think that in our differences, life offers so much more pleasure. So in traveling we are able to multiply this pleasure and it just makes me feel so lucky to have a great partner to share all of this with.

Thank you for following our travels and we are sending love.

Ricardo and Susanita

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2015 Libros para Todos weekend with Juan Villoro

We love "El Libro Salvaje"
Thurs., Nov 12, 2015

The big weekend finally arrived after much planning and logistics. Our first moment with Juan Villoro was meeting him at the “Pollo Feliz” (sort of like a Mexican version of KFC) on the outskirts of SMA to head to the first rural community. Out of the taxi stood this very tall distinguished author. Days later I can think back to that moment, the nervousness I felt before getting to know him - he is so well known and respected in all of Mexico and the world and now was here to join our little Libros para Todos team for the weekend.

Walking to Los Ricos
We were on our way – we drove to the outskirts of Los Ricos (barely can say outskirts as the community itself is so small) where we parked at a little convent and off we walked for about 20 minutes through the woods and crossing a little river by bridge (We walked because the water was too high this day for the cars to go on the road).

Crossing the river to Los Ricos
Los Ricos with La Cuadrilla
Drawing - El rio en forma de corazon
The event in Los Ricos went wonderfully with 68 children from La Cuadrilla bused to join the 40 children from Los Ricos along with their teachers and many mothers. The principal Lucha and teachers were very welcoming. All the students had read the book “El Libro Salvaje”, and had used their notebooks for stories and drawings about the book. Juan Villoro seemed happy and was a great speaker for the kids. Here we spent time while he signed each and every child’s book to talk to the children, read some of the notes and see their drawings. We were invited to a special lunch prepared by the mothers of the community while all the children were also given a meal. It never ceases to amaze me that here in these rural communities where there is little to no resources whatsoever that they are able to get together enough money to prepare beautiful meals – on a white lace tablecloth with flowers on the table. We tried to offer some money for reimbursement and were told in no uncertain terms that this was the mother’s gift to us – how touching. These are the special moments to stay in my memory forever.
On their way back to La Cuadrilla

So…. back to SMA where Juan Villoro went to find an internet so that he could write his weekly column for the newspaper which appears in Mexico City as well as Spain and had a strict deadline. With only minutes between he was off to the next scheduled event.

At the Literary Sala talk
This was an event, in English for the San Miguel Literary Sala. A completely different audience than the morning, yet his connection to each of us was the same. He talks from his heart to our hearts. His talk was about himself and how he came to writing. He spoke about identity (he was sent to a German school in Mexico City at a very young age by his parents.) Both were academics. Lots of the details of “El Libro Salvaje” were autobiographical (parents divorced, one uncle loved books, another loved animals and expressed life through animals, Catalina the young girl who worked in the pharmacy, etc). He connected his belief that libraries are like pharmacies – pharmacies provide cure for things that ail the body and books help to cure the mind and spirit. Again, there was time for questions and answers and to sign some books.

Friday, Nov 13, 2015

El Huizachal
Large crowd at El Huizachal with El Tigre and Estacia de San Antonio
The day began by meeting at Liverpool (our local department store) on a cold and windy morning to head out to El Huizachal with 65 children where we were joined with El Tigre (16 children) and Estancia de San Antonio (50 children) making a total of 128 plus teachers and parents. I would like to add a little note on how we encountered this small community. During our first year of Libros para Todos, one of our volunteers, Jo Sanders offered that year’s book to her ayudante (house helper) Horte who read it and then shared it with her children. They live in El Huizachal. With the help of a few of us, we encouraged Horte to finish her high school equivalency and to apply to University. With a scholarship from another organization – Mujeres en Cambio (I am on the Board of this organization as well) she received a scholarship and now is in her second year of University. Her children, excited by this first book, talked to their teachers and when it came time for the author to come, the teachers with several students came to San Miguel for the Sat event of that year. Because of their interest, we included many more last year and we saw how enthusiastic the teachers and students were so we felt that they deserved our going to them this year. They were so welcoming to all these other communities and to us as well. As the day before, the mothers prepared food for all the children and for us after the presentation. You will see me with Horte’s daughter Arely getting her book signed in one of these photos.
Horte's daughter Arely
The talk again was special and there were questions by many of the young children both personal and about details of the book that they loved. It is hard to explain in words the visual experience of seeing more than one hundred children all holding, close to their hearts, their book and notebook – a new treasured gift. Patiently they stood in line to receive their autograph and look into the eyes of a new hero who did not seem to tire of talking to them, having his photo taken with many of them individually or in a group and giving them the attention that they surely deserved.
One of the reason for the great success (even more than earlier years) is the fact that we held a teacher’s training class for several hours in September, before any books were distributed. Daniela Franco organized this event and Carmen gave the course – about this year’s chosen book and about reading with children. Each participant was given a notebook and their copy of the book and through exercises and demonstration Carmen supplied tools to go forward. With this success, we plan more of this for the coming year.

Cruz del Palmar
After El Huizachal, we were off to another community on the opposite side of San Miguel with a little 15 minute stop in town for a cup of coffee for all and to warm up as the day was cold and most of the time was spent outside.
So, we walk up to the area where we could see the 125 children of Cruz del Palmar sitting and what do we see. Several girls with gigantic pompoms cheering "Chiquitibum a la bim bom ba, chiquitiboom a la bim bom ba, a la bio, a la bao, a la bim bom ba, Juan Villoro, rah rah rah!!!" What a welcome to yet another community with beautiful children waiting for this talk to begin. This as the other communities has the children all in uniforms and clean and shiny faces though many do not have the luxury of plumbing and infrastructure as we are all used to. Here again Juan Villoro received a gift of a beautiful mirror and followed his questions and answers with another round of book signing.
Signing books at Cruz del Palmar

Inauguration of Sala Literaria
Friday afternoon we headed back to SMA with a few hours before the special Inauguration and ribbon cutting of the beautiful Sala Literaria – a room especially dedicated to reading and literature that is run by the Literary Sala with Armida Zepeda as the director and is in our treasured and historical building in San Miguel – Centro Cultural El Nigromante Bellas Artes. Juan Villoro was the invited guest along with the new mayor of San Miguel Ricardo Villarreal. Director of the SM Literary Sala Susan Page and Alberto Lenz Director of Centro Cultural Ignacio RamírezEl Nigromante” Bellas Artes.

Saturday, Nov 14, 2015

Front row - Ojala Ninos
Back to our beautiful Bellas Artes to the large auditorium with room for 200 people for an 11:00 talk. We were never sure exactly how many children and adults would come as this was the only event that was publicized as open to the public. Happily we filled nearly 95% with a varied audience of children, workers in people’s homes, writers, gringos, parents with children from local schools, after school programs from Guadalupe and Ojala-Ninos from San Miguel Viejo and others. There were two buses bringing children and parents/teachers from La Palma and from El Salitrillo.
Waiting on line at Bellas Artes
The long line for autographs at Bellas Artes

For me it was another very special day, the culmination of another year of Libros para Todos and 4 of my Spanish teachers were there – Miguel, Jose, Antoinetta and Maria Elena. How proud I was to introduce Juan Villoro in Spanish before this great audience. Once again, attentive with great questions and answers. Juan talked about his connection to the book, his deep thoughts about reading and books. He is mesmorizing and expressive with his hands as he speaks. Imagine so many of us able to listen in Spanish as we might in English – maybe not even realizing the difference.
I know that this project helps many children, but I would be remiss if I did not say that it helps many of us that are making it happen. To do something from our hearts, helps our hearts. These children could warm the hearts of anyone and Juan Villoro helped to touch their soul, as well as my own.

A few notes from behind the scenes:
Each day had one or more buses leaving SMA for rural communities to pick up children and transport them to other places. Several times they were lost but eventually found. It was a big logistical problem. Thanks to our transportation angels, Miguel from Liceo de la Lenga who organized all the buses, to Richard who went out early on Friday to El Tigre with the bus and to Mariana from Apoyo a Gente Emprendedora who went with two of the buses to rural communities.
A huge thank you to Daniela Franco without whom I could never have done this project either this year or the past two. She is our “connector” to most of the rural communities through her work with another fantastic program call Apopo a Gente Emprendedora (Help for people in small businesses or entrepreneurs).
A huge thank you to Carmen Rioja who managed the teacher training, took good care of Juan Villoro during the whole weekend and offered the “reading circle” in Spanish for adults for “El Libro Salvaje”. Again, such an important team member.
A huge thank you to Armida Zepeda who directs the Sala Literaria at Bellas Artes and was there for me for hundreds of emails and details coordinating lots of things.
Thanks to the SMA Literary Sala – Susan Page, Dorit Arazi and Maia Williams for your support.
There were many from our “Team Libros para Todos” who also deserve thanks for their individual tasks during the year and on the weekend – Agnes Olive, Cynthia Claus, Kim Fairbanks, Pat Miller, Paula McGuire, Betse Davis, Gracie Kirn, Tina Buesch, Marc and Bobi Salish, Jo Sanders, and especially to my wonderful Servidor, Media Naranja (other half) and special husband Ricardo. I hope that I have not left out anyone and if I did, it is not because you were not there to help – blame it on my memory!!!
Thanks also to our sponsors: Centro Cultural Ignacio RamírezEl Nigromante” Bellas Artes, Liceo de la Lengua, Hotel Posada Corazon, Apopyo a Gente Emprendedora, Biblioteca Publica, and Rural Education Institute of Mexico.

Special Thanks to Juan Villoro.

Lastly, and most importantly – THANKS to all of you who are reading this long story as you were probably a donor or supporter in some other way. This is one of the best ways you can help as money is what we use to buy book! Thanks so much.

I will also add....YES, I am proud of myself for directing this awesome team and helping to make it happen. In the memory of my parents, I love being of service and this was a way to always keep them alive in my heart.

Now I would like to add a summary, in his words, from Ricardo – who always has a great way of expressing himself from his heart.

We just finished another successful event called Libros para Todos. This is the third year and we have grown from 250 young readers to almost 600 and with many more communities wanting to be a part of our project next year. The program believes that through reading the world will open up with new possibilities and delights for these 4th, 5th and 6th graders. For so many of our readers this will be the first book they will own or possess. Many of these participants will never have the opportunity to leave or even travel in their own county, Mexico. I am happy to say and to be a part of this project, where I saw with my own eyes the joy of reading that these children experienced. Meeting the author and having their book signed, gave each one a deep sense of pride and the hope of further possibilities in life through the act of reading. Sometimes the smallest of things produce the largest effect. Even through I'm not able to measure it, in my own heart I can feel the joy that I saw and even if it was only for a day, the world is a better place for it.
This is only half of the story because so many volunteers helped make this happen and too many to list here but they know who they are. This project has legs now and will continue for many years ahead and thanks also to the donors for giving so much of your treasure to support Libros para Todos.
Richard entertains while Juan signs books
For me there was another gift this year. After living for almost 6 years in Mexico this week helped to make me feel like a citizen. It gave me a link or a tie to my communities here in the state Guanajuato and has shown me that the world has no borders and that we are all brothers breathing the same air.

We had 3 Spanish events outside the city and 1 inside the city as well as one in English. They all were well attended and each reader not only had their books signed by the author, Juan Villoro but he was able to talk to them at length and answer their many thoughtful questions. I can assure you that each child that attended left with the joy of reading and a realization that they may not be able to travel due to having minimal resources but through reading and with a good imagination they can sprout wings and fly,
I am looking forward to next year and so are the many children that will take part in this precious program. I just feel so lucky to of been a part of this work and to my many new friends.  Sending love from Ricardo.

                                             Photos by Barry Weiss and Susan Neulist