Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


In my last “What I Learnt”, I talked about my house. In passing I mentioned spending time with the family. Today I’m going to continue in that vein.

As well as going to the beach for a couple of weeks, I also spent about a week here with two good friends – one, MB, is the husband of a cousin and the other, JS, a friend of his who I hadn’t seen for quite a while. My two daughters were also with me, although the oldest was only there for a couple of days as she had to prepare for her university ERASMUS year in Warsaw.

Anyhow, what did we do? Eat drink and talk bollocks, both serious and not-so-serious bollocks – but bollocks just the same. We also did some tourism, visiting a Knights Templar church and castle in Aracena. The literal and figurative high point of our tourist activities, however, was a visit to the beautiful mosque on a hill overlooking a village called Almonaster la Real. The mosque is divided into three aisles and each of the pillars different to the rest; some are brickwork, some are Roman and others are just conveniently-sized chunks of granite which, if they are not sufficiently high, are set on taller bases. As Mohammed said, “only God is perfect”. This is a truly human building built not to impress, but to welcome, to enfold those who enter into its unassuming atmosphere of calm.

This is no huge edifice. It is a small, intimate space which is now occasionally used for Catholic and, even less frequently, for Muslim prayer. Set atop a hill with what I assume is a Renaissance bell tower that you can ascend at your peril[1]. It has obviously been a sacred place for millennia. Even today you can sense that somehow you are closer to creation than normal. It is a truly inspiring place. It inspires you to just to be – nothing more – just to be. You feel that at that moment you are truly alive; there is no need for adrenaline or any other stimulant. You just let the awareness of your own momentary existence and that of those with you  permeate you.

That, apart from a visit to Seville la nuit to take in the places it would have been far too hot to visit during the daytime, was the sum of our tourism. During the hottest part of the day most of our time was whiled away in the house and when things got cooler we were up on the patio or down at the village park with its amazing views over the Sierra and bars serving ice-cold (-2ºC) beer.

Re-examining these days, I must conclude that a simple lazy holiday, a weekend break or indeed time at home can be as satisfying as the best of vacations. Whatever your taste in holidays or free-time activities, the greatest pleasure will always come from sharing it with people you love and appreciate. If the emotional atmosphere is right, a small mosque on a hill can provide more pleasure and deeper sensations than a huge cathedral or a white.knuckle ride in a theme park. It depends on whether you are in tune with those around you and whether you see it with not only your eyes but with your heart and with the eyes and hearts of those around you. My thanks to MB, JS as well as my daughters VM-E and JM-E for the wonderful experiences we shared this summer.

[1] No health and safety here, thank you very much. Just a notice denying all responsibility if you-re foolish enough to go up the tower. the notice is, obviously,  placed next to the seductively inviting spiral staircase. I suppose it would be a very Romatic place to commit suicide – if you are into that sort of thing, but unfortunately the tower is not high enough to guarantee a satisfactory outcome.

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