April 21, 2011 Toledo
Rain. Rain has been falling for the past six or seven hours and it appears ad if it will go on all night. And, if the weatherman is right, it might be with us tomorrow and the day after that.
It rained hard in Madrid last night but, fortunately, it came down after I had reached my hotel room for a break. By the time I went out for dinner, the raid had mostly stopped, but it rained later in the night. I did a very Spanish thing last night: I had a late dinner. As in after 10:30. I had thought about having dinner and then checking out a place that, according to the New York Times, is great for flamenco dancing. It may be, but I’ll never know: The Times said the performance started at midnight but when I checked out, around 10:30, I was told it had taken place at 9. That’s what I get for relying on a two-year-old article.
Dinner was not that great. I ordered way too much after the waiter assured me that what I wanted to order would barely be enough to satisfy my hunger. For once I had the sense to not eat it all. The place was neatly empty, as were most restaurants. I think most locals were home watching the much-anticipated soccer game between Real Madrid and Barcelona for La Copa Del Rey. If I understood the news report accurately, RM had not won the cup in 18 years. It won by one goal, scoring just as I turned on the TV when I got to my room.
The celebration started immediately. Car horns blared for hours and I could hear bands of fans chanting and singing through much of the night. Apparently there was a rally not too far from my hotel. I woke up at one point hearing a strange noise, like that of a muzzled kazoo. For a while I thought my next door neighbor had a snoring problem and wondered how his wife could put up with him. Then I realized that the sound was that of someone speaking through a loudspeaker. I couldn’t make out much of what he was saying but I could understand, from the cheering if a crowd that interrupted him periodically, that what I was listening to was nit a neighbor snoring but a city celebrating.
I didn’t do much this morning except have my morning coffee and muffin while reading the paper, then packing and walking the few blocks to the train station. I stopped to rest for a few minutes in the square in front of the Reyna Sofia Museum. I suddenly found myself wishing I’d had mire time in Madrid to visit this museum.
The train station is a beautiful, soaring structure. A busy one too. My train was scheduled to depart at 1:50 and it departed at exactly 1:50. While not one of the high-speed trains that crisscross this country, it moved mighty fast. And smooth. And quiet. And it arrived in Toledo a minute early.
I’m staying at the hotel Pintor El Greco. Part of it dates back to the 17th century and part of it is only three years old. My room is in the older section. Although it has all the modern amenities, there are two old brick arches, one in the main room and one in the bathroom. They look as if they were fireplaces at one time.
I set out almost immediately after I checked in to explore and I right away fell in love with this small city. It is one photo op after another, just the opposite of metropolitan Granada. Unfortunately, the rain started soon after I set out, and it kept on raining most of the afternoon. I wouldn’t have minded it if the rain had kept indoors most of the thousands of tourists that have descended on Toledo for the Holy Week holidays. It’s almost impossible to move without bumping into a tourist.
I had lunch at what appeared to be unpopular place, but I don’t know if it wad popular because it is good or simply because people wanted to get out of the rain, which wad my reason. The food was good if not spectacular. Grilled steak with shoestring potatoes, a salad and tiramisu. And a beer.
Defying the rain, I continued to explore the city, trying but not always succeeding to find streets and alleys (hard to tell the difference, really) that were out of the way. I ended up at the cathedral several times and the last time I got there they had started to let people in for Maundy Thursday (I think that’s the right word) services. I followed the crowd in and resisted all efforts by the ushers to force me into a pew. I wanted to be able to move and to shoot some pictures even though I new photos weren’t allowed (my motto when it comes to picture is, there’s always a way, especially if you have an iPhone). Because the interior was so dark, it was difficult to get good shots but I managed a few decent ones.
But the photos were not the evening’s reward. It was the mass. A high mass with the bishop presiding, it was filled with pomp and pageantry. The choir – an all male choir with boys who appeared to be milord than 9 or 10 all the way up to young men in their 20s – sang beautifully and stirringly. Half of the liturgical sings were in Spanish but all the oldies but goodies – the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Agnus Dei and others – were in Latin. Beautiful, stirring Latin, the Latin from my youth, the Latin that brought joy and humility to my heart. And I remembered the words. Or most of them (…qui tolis pecata mundi, miserere nobis) and I found myself wanting to sing this beautiful melodies along with the choir. But I refrained, wisely.
There was one particularly stirring moment, during the Gloria, when an acolyte began ringing a set of bells in the choir loft. The bells were mounted on a wheel and they looked like a waterwheel as the attendant spinned it round and around and around.
I though of my grandfather, Alejandro Palomo, who was the official ringer of the bells at our small parish. He’d rise early every morning of the year to make the mile walk to the church in time to summon worshippers to mass, pulling on a thick rope that hung from the steeple. He was proud if his role and he guarded it jealously.
And I wondered what he would think if he were present At a ritual such as this, and of the bells that were being brought to noisy and joyful life by some young young seminarian or alter boy.
During most of the mass, the rain and the thunder could be above the singing and the massive organ’s strains. I worried about getting back to the hotel, but by the time the ritual had ended, so had the rain. I hung around for a bit, hoping to hear that the planned procession through the city’s streets of the ornately decorated floats, carried on the shoulder of local parishioners, depicting crucifixion scenes would take place. It wasn’t to be. The threat if rain was still present and the organizers weren’t about to take a chance that their handiwork might get ruined by additional rain.
So I walked back to the hotel. I was disappointed that i would nit get to witness a procession, but elated by the spectacle I had just witnessed in the vast cathedral.
What really lifted my heart, though, wad the beautiful light that was filtering through the still-ominous clouds. It was the kind of light photographers dream of , and I found myself stopping every few feet to shoot yet another picture. I’ll share them with you later.
(Because of the difficulties in connecting to the internet and posting to this blog, I ended up writing this post on my iPhone. I’m way too tire to go back and look for typos, of which I’m sure there are plenty. My apologies.)