Monday, June 28, 2010

To Have or To Be?

While in Madrid, we spent time in the city's three most famous art museums - The Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Each were very different. The most famous among them, the Prado, is full of works by Dutch Masters, Renaissance painters, and finally Spanish works works from el Greco to Velasquez and Goya. Thus, it is heavy on the religious iconography with a mix of royal portraiture thrown in. The Reina Sofia is focused on the modern and post-modern. There are plenty of Picassos, Miros, and Dalis to go around. The Thyssen-Bornemisza consists of work from famous private collections, and thus spans the two.
All were lovely, and yet at the end of the day, left me feeling lacking. I have a hard time with bloody religious iconography, and there are only so many pictures of the martyrdom of St. Jerome that I can take. I find the Dutch Masters incredibly dull (there I said it). Even at the Prado's best (I'll admit, I do love Goya's Black Paintings), it left me feeling a little bit empty. The other museums left me feeling little more. With the exception of the Spanish Civil War room at the Reina Sofia and Picasso's truly emotional Guernica, I just didn't feel much aside from tired feet. I wondered to myself - is this really it? Can I really claim to be an appreciator of art when what I am told is great art leaves me feeling so little?

But here is what I realized, I spent three days in museums looking at things that are collect able instead of things that just are. Sure it is aesthetically pleasing, but it is a weak substitute when I spent the prior week seeing beauty in its purest form. This is the kind of beauty that you can't just look at on a wall and collect in your home, but rather, you must experience. After your five senses experience that, a painting or a sculpture is a pretty weak substitute.

Take for example the day we spent on back roads through the Andalusian countryside.

Driving through Spanish olive, almond, orange, and lemon groves, your entire five senses experience the beauty all around. Some of the oranges were in season and you could taste them too.

You see the pueblos blancos built into the hillsides.

You touch the gnarled old olive trees and see the early signs of this fall's harvest.

You can feel cool mountain streams and the wind as it whips over the tops of the mountains.

You smell the wild herbs growing along the roadside (in this case sage blossoms and French lavender).
You hear the bird calls (and see the colors) of migratory European Bee-eaters (that migrate from Africa) and Hoopoes.

(You may not see it, but in the center at the bottom of this picture is an Bee Eater.)

Even the smell of the back of the Land Rover is familiar and evocative - the smell of country dust on leather seats reminded me of truck rides with Pa-Paw in the Mississippi of my youth.

After all of that, how can any picture in a museum possibly compete?

I can't wait for this!

I should have spent all weekend packing and organizing, but I didn't. It was too hot. Our air conditioner is broken. I couldn't get any sleep at night.

So instead, I re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Then today, the official trailer to the film was released. At least something from my weekend came together nicely.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Portugal/Brazil Thoughts

Under normal circumstances, I think of Christian Ronaldo as just another Eurotrash slut. Under the passion of this game, though, wow, what a hottie.

I love Kaka. He is, under no circumstance, a Eurotrash slut. However, he is out with a red card after two yellow cards in the Ivory Coast game, so he isn't playing today.

And yet, I am cheering for Portugal. When I think of the Portuguese Team, it reminds me of being in the Azores during the Euro 2008 tournament. I loved the excitement of it. I haven't yet been to Brazil. So that is why I have to cheer for Portugal in this matchup of colonial master versus subject.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Hero

For those of you who haven't heard, Manute Bol passed away last weekend in Reston, VA. He tirelessly worked on behalf of the Sudanese people, and is the definition of someone who truly gave all that he had on behalf of his people. He used most of the money that he made to help reconstruct war torn Southern Sudan, and gave the ultimate sacrifice, his life, when he refused to let his health ailments stand in the way of his service. Nicholas Kristof wrote this beautiful column in today's New York Times honoring this great humanitarian.

We can all honor the tremendous legacy of Manute Bol by not forgetting about the people of Sudan. More specifically, we can ensure that his work continues by contributing to his organization's goal of building 41 schools across Southern Sudan. Please contribute through Sudan Sunrise. Next year, Southern Sudan holds an important referendum for their independence from a regime that has brutalized them and made war against them. Every day, I become a little more concerned that Khartoum's regime, led by an indicted war criminal, will not let these people go peaceably to build their own future. I plead with everyone, that we cannot allow this to happen again. Every Sudanese person with whom I have been privileged to associate has been remarkable. In spite of tremendous hardship, they number among the kindest, most hardworking people that I have ever met. We have to push the Obama Administration to be more resolved when it comes to Sudan. I haven't been too political on this blog in quite some time, but I cannot be silent about this.

Fortunately for me, our ward at church currently is privileged to have one of Manute Bol's nephews serving as a missionary in our ward. He absolutely possesses that characteristic good spirit that made his uncle such a great humanitarian. I get to help him, in some small way, by helping him file for US citizenship. It is the small way that I was able to help a few Sudanese people in Seattle, through the work of the Southern Sudanese Community of Washington. My limited involvement with that organization introduced me to some of the greatest people that I have ever encountered in my lifetime. Frequently they were taken advantage of by unscrupulous bosses, requiring them to labor in unsafe work conditions, or dishonest salesmen, who took advantage of their trusting nature. Nonetheless, they remained cheerful and kind. They worked hard and spent every spare moment in pursuing their educational goals (because uniformly, they all wanted to gain a university level education to become skilled experts and help rebuild their country). Whenever they had any money at all, they believed someone else in their community was more deserving than they, and would pass the money along to others in need. That is the Southern Sudanese way, and Manute Bol was the most wonderful example of it.

Manute Bol, you will be missed, but I pray that your legacy will serve to remind us of those in Southern Sudan and elsewhere who we can help through small and simple means.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Backlogged Again

I have been negligent of the blog again, and there are still stories of Spain that I want to tell.

Of a thousand year old olive tree:

Of the deliciousness that comes from an assortment of amuse-bouche dishes like strawberry gazpacho and foie gras truffles (because who doesn't love chocolate covered duck fat?):

Of the affinity that I feel for San Roque, the Patron Saint of the village of Tolox:

Of the amount of Coca Cola Light I consumed in the span of 11 days:

But all of these stories will have to wait. This week has been a stressful one of packing and planning, and although I am hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel eventually, I keep procrastinating necessary things for the sake of trying to enjoy my last days in DC with my wonderful friends here. So far, I have only broken down into tears once, which isn't bad at all for me.
Plus, there is the added distraction of the World Cup. Who isn't distracted by an epic French breakdown, the haunting background noise produced by the vuvuzela, and the opportunity to cheer along sport with a side dish of nationalism?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sweetness Follows

We are all pretty thrilled with the newest addition to the family, Harrison Street McInroe, or as we call him, Harry. We just spent a weekend in Katy, Texas celebrating his arrival.

The new Aunt Sarah kicked things off with a Lion King-style introduction, where Sarah played the part of Rafiki while all of the well-dressed animals of the McInroe household bowed in reverence before their new king.

Harry immediately indicated to the crowd that he would be a kind, but firm ruler. When the whale and octopus started to get out of line, Harry's strong arm knocked them back into place.

Of course the new first-time grandparents took an immediate liking to the new little king. Mom, sensing this new kid had a keen sense of rhythm dubbed his rap name - Mr. Tricky Sweet, or just Tricky Sweet for short.
Not to be outdone, the new doting grandfather reminded us all that Harry has a more pensive and serious side as well.
Already Harry shows how proud he is of his papa, Jordan, for his keen sense of style and his musical prowess.
The proud parents show off their new cub. Harry already wins high marks on the cuteness scale thanks to his successful inheritance of Melissa's baby button nose and facial features.

I will admit that I am terrified of newborns and was afraid that I would make a mistake when holding him and break poor Harry. The caregiving instincts may not be strong with this one (meaning me). Nonetheless, Harry's cuddle reassured me that I wouldn't break him and that he was stronger than he looks at first glance.

Of course, Harry's mom shows us how the real baby cuddling is done. I love being reminded of the bond between a new mother and her son by looking at this picture.

It was a great weekend all around. In fact, it was very tough to say goodbye. The moments before I left for the airport, I rocked an increasingly sleepy Harry to the strain of "We're Going to the Zoo" from the Peter, Paul, and Mommy album, while singing along with Mom and Melissa. It was the same Peter, Paul, and Mommy album to which we sung along when we were children. Sharing that generational moment with Mom, Melissa, and Harry allowed me to feel for a moment what heaven must feel like.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Moorish Fortresses, Palaces and Gardens

One of the parts of Moorish Andalucia that I really appreciated was the juxtaposition of the hard, durable fortresses with spaces set aside for beautiful gardens. In Moorish gardens, water plays a central role and is featured as prominently as the plants to which water gives life. Certainly water served as a cooling feature to mitigate the hot hiltop summers, but I like the think that the water was a more meaningful choice beyond that.

I also love that in these defensive fortresses that made the Moors in Spain (particularly in Granada) so unconquerable for so long, time was taken to tend the living through the creation of beautiful gardens.

Here are some of the scenes that I loved.

From Granada/the Alhambra:

These gardens are from the Generalife - the Summertime palace of the Nasrid Emirs that is a part of the Alhambra complex. Slightly at higher altitude, the palace was also set in a much shadier place.

From the Alcazaba in Malaga:

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Home is...

I once again am interrupting the Spain coverage to announce that as of today, we are officially under contract to purchase this home in Durham, NC. We are thrilled. It is pretty much all that we could have possibly hoped for in or first home plus much, much more. I'll admit, I feel a little bit silly purchasing such a large home for just the two of us plus Knightley, but from the moment we saw this house sitting up on a hill we fell in love with it. It gives us plenty of room to grow into and we will appreciate it more in the years to come. We close on July 21, and we are crossing are fingers that everything goes smoothly from now on with the process.

Tomorrow, I am going down to Texas to visit Melissa, and I probably will not update more until I get back. I will try to return to the Spain coverage then.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Fourteen Strikeouts and a Home

My favorite of the Nationals' "Presidents", good old George, was sending positive vibes before the big game. We were there to witness history, one of the most highly anticipated major league debuts of all time -
That is right. We were there to witness the young phenom, Steven Strasburg's debut with the Nationals. Here he is walking out with one of the coaches (we had pretty good seats thanks to our good friend, Matt):

And was the performance worthy of the hype?

Well, lets see - he struck out fourteen hitters in his debut in the seven innings he played, including retiring the last seven batters with strikeouts. In his debut, he set a franchise record for number of strikeouts. So yes, I, along with every other Nationals fan, am safe in saying that he is most definitely worthy of the hype.

Here are Matt, Erin and David enjoying the game (a game completely worthy of enjoyment):

Game Bonus: Ken Burns through out the first pitch. No one was more excited about this than me.
While at the game, I had two phone calls with our realtor in North Carolina, trying to work out the terms of a deal with the house that we put an offer on. By the end of the night, we had a W for the Nationals and an agreement on a purchase of a home that David and I fell in love with. Of course, nothing is final until the contract is signed, but it certainly felt like a historic night.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Rock the Kasbah

The Plague. Battle of Algiers. There are not many people who are attracted to a destination based on a novel about a deadly infectious disease and a film about a war for liberation from the yoke of colonialism, but I have wanted to go to North Africa ever since my encounter with both works while in high school. Then, throw in an obsession with the desert scenes shot in Tunisia in the film, The English Patient, and you have a full on obsession. Granted, Morocco is certainly not Algeria. It isn't even Tunisia, and I didn't come close to touching the Sahara desert. Nonetheless, Tangier, a 45 minute ferry ride away from the historic Spanish port of Tangier, was an excellent, brief introduction to a region where I would like to spend considerably more time.

Here I am on the ferry, contemplating the brief trip:

We proceeded to do what the Clash would want us to do, rock the Kasbah (which actually just means that we spent a few moments exploring the old fortress, originally built by the Portuguese).From just outside of the walls of the Kasbah, there was a beautiful view of Spain across the Atlantic (we were on the Atlantic side of the Strait of Gibraltar).

What makes me instantly fall in love with these kinds of towns? Well, the old quarter of Tangier, centered around the Medina, instantly reminds me of those other Islamic-influenced towns that I love so much - Stonetown in Zanzibar and Istanbul. I love the narrow streets, and the aging infrastructure.I love the bustling street scene in the old Medina.
I love the balconies and the internal courtyards inside of the Arabic mansions.

I love the anticipation of a good Moroccan meal capped off with a tangine dish.
Heck, I even don't mind the snake charmer, although I am not sure how native to Morocco that actually is. I even don't mind it when it reminds me of that terrible ballet production of Tales of the Arabian Nights in which I performed the role of a snake being charmed (in that awful, awful green unitard which really upset me because there is no fluorescent green snake that is going to be charmed; what was I supposed to be - a green mamba?).

David wasn't as big of a fan of Morocco, because wherever we went, he felt like people just wanted our money. It is true; they did, but I am expect no less when I come to a place like Morocco. I don't resent the snake charmer, the guy selling pictures on top of his camel for a Euro a pop, the hordes of street vendors, the rug vendors, the spice vendors, or any of them. They are just trying to eek out a living the best way they can, and of course they are going to target seemingly wealthy European tourists. They have to provide for their families (and by all accounts, Moroccan families are pretty large). If anything, the situation just gives me privileged First World guilt, because I wish I was able to do more. By all accounts, I am just so lucky to be where I am in my life so that David and I can spend many, many euros on a lovely homemade Moroccan rug.
Here is David on the ferry as we are pulling away from Tangier. It may sound strange to say, but I love visiting places where the trip ends in tears for me - because the crying means that place has once again awakened my awareness of how much need the world has for change and how much I need to change to make the world a better place.

(Addendum: On the way to Taifa, we saw the famed Rock of Gibraltar from the road. Since we already were staying at what felt like Wee Britian, we decided to hold off on a trip to the actual Wee Britian for this trip, even though I really wanted to see those apes.)