Love at first sight

300px-patio_de_los_arrayanes

Old school magazines lent to me by friend Alan have been my bedtime reading for the past few weeks. They have proven to be very useful for clarifying many points related to school life during my years at Stogs. I came across the following article about the first school trip to Spain in which I took part (Easter 1965, when I was nearly 15). Bearing in mind that it was written by a 16-year-old fellow student, I think it is a very commendable effort.

CORDOBA IN THE SPRING

During the Easter holidays, thirteen boys from the school, accompanied by Mr. Lloyd, went to Córdoba in the south of Spain. The journey started from Victoria with the boat-train to Folkestone, then across the Channel and then our first step on foreign soil. Our first experience was of a somewhat windy Calais which, fortunately, we soon left by train for Paris. In Paris we spent several hours sightseeing. One of the most exciting things to see in Paris, though perhaps not listed in most guide-books, is its Underground [Subway]. Here it is possible for the not-so-agile to leave a limb on the platform, having had it amputated by the doors worked by an over-efficient guard. We did, of course, see the more usual sights of Paris, the Eiffel Tower [which I remember as being totally rusty] and the Arc de Triomphe. Although closed, the Eiffel Tower was a truly magnificent sight.

The journey from Paris to the French-Spanish border passed quickly since it was made during the night, and we soon arrived in Irún, at about eight in the morning. The journey from the border to Madrid is quite a long one but the route is through some wonderful countryside, full of Spain’s rolling hills. After a quick taxi dash between stations in Madrid, we were on the last leg of the journey. This lasted about seven hours and was again made during the night, so we all tried to catch up on some sleep, only to be interrupted by a rather official-looking gentleman, who entered the compartment and smartly turned over his lapel to show us he was a member of the secret police. He wanted to check our passports, which were in a collective one; after counting ten people, two of whom were not with us, he left quite contented.

We arrived in Córdoba at about half-past six the following morning, to be greeted by our hosts for the next three weeks. Four of the party were on an inter-change with four boys from the Instituto de Enseñanaza Media (Grammar School) in Córdoba, while the other boys stayed in the Internado (boarding section of the school). A party came from Córdoba to England last summer on the first visit of the school link organized by Sr. Ariza. While we were there we were treated with great hospitality and kindness by the families. We went to school there and found it very different from St. Olave’s and at first rather tiring. There is no registration and lessons start at nine o’clock and continue until five past eleven when there is a half an hour break. Then, according to the year one is in, there are one or two more lessons. The students study the bachillerato, which is a seven-year course, after which they proceed to university. They take exams every year and have to pass every subject before going on to the next year. From the classes I attended, I formed the impression that the sixth year is just below our “A” Level in standard. The masters were very helpful and many spoke slowly so that we could follow more easily.

Córdoba, with Sevilla and Granada, make up the three most important cities of Andalucía and of Moorish Spain. Córdoba was overrun several times by different races and each wave left its mark. The Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir, still in use, is a fine example of Roman architecture. In the centre of Córdoba is the Mezquita, once a Moorish mosque and now a cathedral. Begun in the late eighth century, it remained a mosque until the city was recaptured from the Moors, and finally it was consecrated as a cathedral in 1236. Now the cathedral is actually built inside the original mosque, surrounded by the hundreds of arches supported by marble pillars that are the building’s most striking feature. The courtyard of the Mezquita is a very pleasant spot for a quiet walk; the paths themselves are covered with a sort of stone mosaic and are lined with orange trees.

We were fortunate enough to be there during Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is their most important religious festival and is marked by very colourful processions each night throughout Holy Week. Each procession contains two floats, one of Christ and the other of the Virgin. In front of and behind these floats walk penitents dressed in long robes and on their heads a tall, pointed hood which covers their faces. The floats, which are richly adorned, are borne on the shoulders of thirty or forty men. Because of the weight, frequent stops are necessary and as a result the procession takes a long time to cover the short distance. As they walk, the float sways, which produces a very pleasant movement that Spaniards call bailar (dancing).

Apart from being a cultural centre, Córdoba is the centre of bullfighting – not, of course, that the noble sport of bullfighting is lacking in art. We in England always think of bullfighting as cruel and inhuman, but it is, in fact, a very colourful spectacle, showing the bravery of man against the strength of a beast. Bravery is the keynote of the fight, which is taken to its logical extreme when the crowd whistles or applauds the carcass of the bull as it is dragged out, according to how bravely it has fought.

We also made excursions to Sevilla and Granada. Sevilla is considerably larger than Córdoba but more a product of the twentieth century, which makes it more like a small English city. When we went to Sevilla it was the beginning of the Feria, which has many bullfights, dances and something similar to our Motor Show. Sevilla’s greatest attraction is the Giralda, a Moorish tower started in the twelfth century as a minaret that is now used as a cathedral belfry. Another notable feature is the Maestranza, a very fine bullring, which is used continuously during the Feria and from which we saw three fights televised. Sevilla stands on the same river as Córdoba, the Guadalquivir, which still has a reminder of Moorish conquest on its left bank, the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower). This was the last tower on the ramparts that once defended the harbour.

The trip to Granada was perhaps one of our most enjoyable experiences. Granada, although slightly larger, is more after the style of Córdoba with many narrow streets and small buildings. In Granada are the Alhambra and the Generalife. The former is a wonderful building, a palace built in the thirteenth century with some exquisite stone carvings on the walls. Each patio has a pond surrounded by all sorts of trees, shrubs and flowers. The whole palace is centred around two courtyards, the Patio de la Alberca and the Patio de los Leones, and is a fascinating maze of rooms. The thing that impressed me most was that in an area of such water shortage so great an amount of water is used to decorate the gardens in the form of fountains and open channels. The Generalife is the summer palace of the Moorish rulers and is famous for its gardens.

Unfortunately our holiday had to come to and end and we had to leave Córdoba where we had been so warmly welcomed and so well treated. We left at three o’clock in the morning – or rather at half-past three for, which with typical Spanish punctuality, the train was late. On the return journey, we spent two days in Madrid, which is a wonderfully clean city and has many interesting sights.

Our thanks must go to Sr. Ariza for arranging the trip and the exchange, and to Mr. Lloyd who accompanied us.

End of article.

If you have read this rather long article, give yourself a treat by listening to John Williams play part of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez on YouTube at this address. If you close your eyes, perhaps you’ll be able to see the garden and smell the scent of the blossoms… I know I did.

For me, the trip was simply magical. It was my first time out of England and I saw, smelt, heard and tasted a whole host of new things. I fell in love with Spain – particularly Andalucía – and couldn’t wait to return. The following year I was lucky enough to return two times…

This is a photo of me standing in the same place as the people pictured in the photo at the top of the post. It was taken in the Patio de los Arrayanes in the Alhambra, in Granada.

me-alhambra

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