Yesterday, I took a trip away from the Big City. I went on a train through the flatlands near Valencia, getting off where the hills started, in Segunt.
Here is a city that’s been important and fought over for millennia, precisely because of those hills. Early peoples settled there, overlooking the sea, trading with Phonoecia, which came to control it. Hannibal’s army besieged the city, and the Romans took over: that’s why the city has a Roman circus and theatre. Much restored, the theatre is used to this day.
Then along came the Barbarians, the Visigoths, and Sagunt became part of the Byzantine empire. By the 8th century the Moors had conquered the town, and transformed agriculture and commerce, building mosques and public baths.
By the 13th century, Sagunt was Christian again, and over the next six centuries, fought over by various Spanish kingdoms. The Jews came too, but they were pitched out in the 15th century. The quarter where they lived is still identifiable.
Even the twentieth century saw no end to conflict here. Both sides in the Civil War made use of the defensive possibilities of the castle.
Ah, the castle. I never mentioned that. It dominates the town. It’s a hotch-potch. Nobody who conquered here left it alone. It’s over a kilometre long from end to end. I know. I stumbled over rocks and through cactus trying to circumnavigate it. Unsuccessfully.
And horror of horrors. I deleted the photos from my phone without checking whether they’d uploaded to Google photos. They hadn’t. And I can’t retrieve the pictures from my camera here. I’ll have to upload them later and let you know when I’ve done it. Grrrr.
The WordPress weekly photo challenge this week is about experiments. Here’s one that’s some five hundred years old.
At that time, Valencia was one of Europe’s Top Cities. It had made its money from silk, and was an established part of the Silk Route from China and the east. Only a leading architect would do when it came to building La Llotja de la Sete: the Silk Exchange.
Pere Compte from Girona was the man chosen. And here’s his take on the main hall, begun in 1482. He created a space some 12 to 17 metres high, with no buttresses, placing massive stone on massive stone by using cranes, which were virtually unheard of at the time.
A forest of palm tree shaped columns spiral from the floor, fanning out as they reach the spherical vaulted ceilings. The windows are unusually large. The polished marble floors reflect the light. This is a delicious space, quite unlike any other Gothic building I have visited.
This is a response to the WordPress photo challenge: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/experimental/
… and the big question is, will I survive Week Two? It’s fair to say that I’m tireder than I’ve been in a very long time. I’m looking after myself, though, taking a good two hours for lunch after morning classes.
The idea is to give me little chance to talk English, so I spend lots of time rehearsing Spanish conversations in my head. They’re brilliant. I astonish myself with my lucid command of the language. Unfortunately, when the moment comes for me to deliver my deathless prose to a real live Spaniard, those carefully honed phrases quite disappear and I’m stuttering and pointing as usual.
Seriously though, my comprehension has increased hugely, and I can have a reasonable chat with my hostess about my day. I decided to reward myself today with a trip to the beach.
Mindful of this week’s WordPress photo challenge, which I’ll publish my contribution for tomorrow as usual, I shot a couple of experimental photos, by looking at the sea and sand reflected in the plate glass windows of nearby buildings. Here’s one. And above, another much more usual I-do-like-to-be-beside-the-seaside shot.
I don’t expect any sympathy for this post. I’m sitting around in a t-shirt in a Spanish square, with a clara and a snack. It’s 20 degrees, sunny, bright.
So why should you care that when I get up in the morning it’s a mere 4 degrees, and hardly better as I set off for school? Why should you be bothered that I never thought to pack any gloves? Why should you mind about the biting winds that whistle round street corners when the sun isn’t around?
This is a café at 9.00 in the morning. Everyone is inside, nursing a hot drink. It makes the mid-day sun seem even brighter.
Woohoo hoo. I’ve been moved up a class. The thing is, I was a move or two ahead of my fellow student. In my new class, I’m two weeks behind. Better that way. Our teacher forces us to dig about till we find a way to express ourselves. I found myself casting about for a way to describe the plot of Colm Tóibin’s ‘Brooklyn’. However did I – sort of – do it? With some help from a fellow student is how. But I’m shattered, truly shattered.
The way forward is to have a long lazy drink and a bit of lunch in a friendly little bar I’ve found in a rather down-at-heel (for ‘down-at-heel’ read ‘picturesque’) square.
Back to school to do my homework, then maybe a bit of culture. I’m not really capable of giving any museum my best shot at the moment, but it was still good today to mooch round the Baroque sumptuousness of the National Museum of Ceramics and Art, once the palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas, and still recognisable as an aristocratic home.
Home to Carmen’s flat. A chat, TV, a meal. That’s it really. Nights on the town need not apply. Exhausted. But in a good way. And I’m beginning to learn that less is more. Mañana.
Sunset over Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
Today, it began, this business of speaking Spanish. Except that in fact it began last night.
Back in England, Malcolm and I had decided it was pointless to go and study together. We’d only go talking to one another. In English.
So here I am, in Valencia, the paying guest of a delightful Spanish woman who speaks no English. We exchanged a lot of information last night despite the language barriers. We know all about each other’s families, and I know about the parrot next door too.
And today the classes started. My only fellow student is an 18 year old from Beirut. He has eight months to get it right. I have a fortnight. But we devised quizzes, inviting each other to guess where we were born, enquired tenderly after each other’s health, and confessed how old we are, all in Spanish. Not bad for day one.
After three hours of all that, I cleared my head with a walk. Here’s the National Museum of Ceramics, closed today. I’ll be there before the week’s out.
Hola! Here I am in Spain. No, not on holiday. No, not to see Emily, though I will squeeze in a quick visit to her at the end.
I’m here to learn Spanish – in a fortnight’s intensive learning. Watch this space.
I’ve landed in Alicante, because I can’t fly directly to my destination of Valencia. With an hour and a half to kill before my onward journey, here’s what I did. A quick boat trip round the harbour.