Red-knobbed coot

Spain has saturated my posts and photographs for some time now; with this series done, my eye hankers after water, marsh, sky and birdlife. So the next few posts mark a return to Marievale Bird Sanctuary, and a trawl through the images from my last visit, in November.

There are flamingoes, widow birds, ducks of all persuasions, and of course coots – the common, humble, red-knobbed coot, ubiquitous and unremarkable.

Except that these two images, to my mind at least, say more than just ‘coot’ – they say something, I hope, about the stillness, the absorption, the quiet miracle of watching another creature go peacefully about its business.

Cava and tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel

Cava and tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel – could there be a more perfect way to celebrate the end of a fabulous trip to Spain than in Madrid, a stone’s throw away from the Plaza Mayor, washing down olives and shrimp and delicacies galore with some fine pink fizz?

Two weeks on the road, and we had come to our journey’s end – tired, tanned, sweaty and footsore, but more than content.

Would we do this again – visit Spain, I mean? Are you kidding! We’d be back in a heartbeat.

Would we do it the same way? Well, yes and no. By the time we were done we were done, if you know what I mean: just a wee bit too much scrambling, from city to to town to pueblos blancos. Next time we’d probably do less, and stay for longer in each place we visit – yet at the same time, neither of us can think of any place we would have left out, at least on this first visit (for Rob) to Madrid, and our first visit to Andalucia.

And next time, I imagine, we would want to explore other parts of the country – Barcelona, obviously, but also places like Bilbao (to take one end of the country) or Malaga (at the other). And always, I imagine, we’d stop for a few days in Madrid – and for cava and tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel.

Night, Puente Romano, with La Mezquita in the background

Two weeks’ discovery of Spain – first Madrid, then Sevilla, Ronda, Granada, ends in Cordoba, in some ways the most subtly engaging place of them all – and the few days in Cordoba end, in turn, as they should, with the warm stone of the Puente Romano under our feet, moonlight over the Guadalquivir River, the glowing mass of La Mezquita bright against a velvet sky.

Night, Cordoba

So what do you do on your last night in Cordoba? You wander the streets, of course, stopping off here for a drink, there for something to nibble on, all the while soaking in the light, the atmosphere, the sense of place.

As the night winds down, you end up on the Puente Romano over the Guadalquivir River, if you are lucky with the moon rising in the sky above you.

So here is an image of people entering and leaving, under a gateway, on our final evening – a fitting symbol I think, of the end of our journey. My next post will take you across the Puente Romano, under the moonlight.

La Mezquita, Cordoba – a photographic portfolio

La Mezquita in Cordoba, I wrote in a recent post, is a Christian cathedral emerging from the ribs of a Moorish mosque – and it is precisely this amalgam and emergence, this blending and superceding, that I find so infinitely absorbing and rewarding, such fertile soil for the kind of historical imagining and understanding that we need so badly in an age that seems, at least in its politics, so partisan and diminished, so limited and narrow.

In these images, Moorish arches frame and reveal Christian figures and motifs; different ages and tastes are overlaid; a place of worship becomes a human record.

And they interest me, these photographs, not merely as records, but as meditations of a sort. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Circumnavigating La Mezquita in Cordoba

La Mezquita simply takes possession of old Cordoba: vast, sprawling, the Christian cathedral emerging from the ribs of the Moorish Mosque, its bulk and presence are unignorable.

It’s a good idea to circumnavigate before you enter: wander the surrounding streets, catch glimpses of the spire from narrow alleyways or see it from up high, from the old stone towers of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, to get a physical sense of its mass and antiquity – and then go in, to a fantasy world of pink and white columns, horseshoe arches, chapels and pulpits, tiles and paintings, silver and gold, light and shade, a timeless and yet particular blending of cultures, faiths, visions and religions.

To give you a sense (I hope) of place, of time and locality, here are some exteriors.

The palace gardens of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain

The gardens of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, in Cordoba, Spain – set within the medieval walls and towers of a palace that the Catholic monarch Alfonso XI built in the 15th century upon the site of Visigoth and Moorish forts – have that ‘Cordoba quality’ I mentioned in an earlier post: a sense of peace, of warmth, of open skies, an easy and comfortable humanity. The gardens may not be as grand as those of the Alhambra, in Granada, but they welcome you in.

Mind you, you are met at the entrance to the palace by a rather formidable gentleman, with his bible and sword (the sword being more prominent) before you descend into the garden itself.

From the entrance you walk down wide stone steps to blue-green pools dappled with fish; there are more pools below, and formal gardens, a lushness and ornamentation that is always absorbing, but never overpowers.

Speaking of formidable gentlemen, though, one of those you will find in the gardens, standing before the king and his queen, is the stony figure (yes, this is a play on words, but it is also a comment on what is a pretty humourless and po-faced trio) of Christopher Columbus.

When you are done, there is one more thing you should do, and that is climb to the top of the towers, and look out over the gardens, and the town, with its silvery green palm trees and look to your right: there you will see the steeple of La Mezquita – the topic of my next blog.

Cordoba Portfolio, in colour and monochrome

This portfolio of black and white images of Cordoba includes one image in colour – a quiet corner, two buildings intersecting, and a tree and its shadow intermingled. And then there is that splash of red, like blood…. I could have done it in monochrome, but suffused as it is with the afternoon light it just wouldn’t let me. And that dramatic splatter of red, of course, would have been lost.

The other images, when seen in colour, are essentially representation – ‘this is what it looks like’ – whereas the monochrome, to my eye at least, allows for interpretation and expression.

I hope you enjoy them – both the black and white and the colour. See what you think.