|September 7, 2000
|Madrid to Toledo
After breakfast, Marta joins us on the bus. We're off to the Valley of the Fallen, and El Escorial palace.
Along the way, on highway 6, we come upon a horrific scene. A car is sitting upside down and partially crushed, in the #1 lane. A bloody-faced woman is sitting in a heap on the pavement, cradling and rocking a baby in hopeless anguish. This accident appears to have been a sinle-car incident, and must have occurred only seconds before we arrived. About six cars have already pulled off to the right-hand shoulder, and two cars slow down to stop in the #2 lane, with the rearmost bumping into the frontmost as we watch (nobody else seems to be hurt). There's nothing we can contribute (virtually everyone has a mobile phone here), so the bus winds through the scene and coninues onward. We're all very silent for quite awhile.
The Valley of the Fallen, ostensibly a monument of post-civil-war reconciliation, is really just Franco's monument to Fascism, and ultimately to himself. In 1941, the middle of WW II, with Spanish per-capita income of $37/year, Franco started building this huge, $15 million extravaganza. Finished in 1959, it entombs 50,000, few of whom were from the Republican side, and all of whom are Catholic. (Ah, again, a land that makes fine art of everything, including ethnic cleansing.) To keep expenses down, prison labor was widely employed here. Prisoners got 3 days off of their sentence for every day spent excavating the mountain to build Franco's monument.
The basilica, which is built into a mountainside topped by a 450' granite cross, looks and feels like a tomb. It's cold and uninspiring.
The view of the valley, from outside, is lovely. Jack points out how crocuses are pushing their way out from between the granite paving stones. Well, at least there's some life in this place.
El Escorial dates from the 16th century. The royal residences are relatively plain, save for the exquisitely constructed and preserved wooden portals, The palace also contains clever solar calendars (one for each season), consisting of markings on the floor and openings in the wall, which, aproximately at noon, mark off the date.
El Escorial, in addition to serving as a monastery and tribute to San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill, a symbol repeated everywhere), is also the primary royal tomb. Most of the royal family is entombed below the church.
Lunch is in a nearby park. Tooraj has provided us with tortilla sandwiches, olives/cornichons/pickled onions, grapes, plums, apples, and dried prunes, plus water and juices.
At this point, we bid adios to Marta.
While waiting for the bus, I take a brief excursion to the farmer's market at which Tooraj found the fruit for our lunch. I saw the biggest darn capers ever, and some onions marinating in a red liquid. No time to buy or sample. Back on the bus, to Toledo.
Two hours (and some Moby and zzzz's) later, we arrive to find that the main entrance to the city is blocked for construction. Santos, Susan, and Tooraj madly work the mobile phone (thank goodness Susan brought her own phone!), and they manage to find a way into the city. Toledo is hot and dusty, but Hotel de Santa Isabel is clean and cool. Siesta!
We walk to a local restaurant (Restaurante-Meson Palaçios) with the group. Of course, to start, there's wine (tinto, de La Mancha) and the bright green olives I had seen at the market near El Escorial. There are two courses. (Poor Tooraj tries to give everyone the choices -- around 8 of them -- and deal with all the double-orders and changed orders.) I choose the stewed partridge and white beans -- delicious. It comes with the daintiest wishbone you ever saw! Brig has the shrimp in olive oil and garlic (tiny shrimp, but very tasty). For the second course, I choose fish (hake filet), and Brigid forgoes the leg of lamb for roast partridge (the other choice is steak). All are served with spanish fries. (You say you don't know what spanish fries are? Know what french fries are? Same thing, but usually on the limp side.) The partridge is very good. The fish is nothing special, but perhaps that's due to the influence of my cold. I take the "crème caramel" (custard topped with a [soggy] cookie and cinammon) and Brig has factory ice cream. Nothing special. Apple and peach liquer are served. Very fragrant, but excruciatingly sweet. I stop at one sip.
During dinner, the subject of street crime comes up. Susan tells us of one case that occurred while she was with a group in the south of France (Arles, I think?). Some kids were following and infiltrating the group. She caught one of them with her hand in a member's pocket, and gave her a slap. Before she knew what was happening, she was the focus for these kids, cursing, yelling, and pushing at her. The group hadn't figured out what was going on, but a homeless man came to her rescue, and set his dogs on the kids. Susan indicated that this seems to be pretty common, i.e., that the homeless often come to the rescue of travellers in trouble.
In the meantime, folks are encouraging Jack I. to sing for us (this got started two nights previous, at dinner in Madrid, with "I've Been Working on the Railroad.") No songs predominate (no "Edelweiss," thank goodness!). Santos is coaxed into singing a brief ditty that is sung in Pamplona during/after the bull run.
We conclude the evening wih a walk around the town, led by Susan. We end up at a church, from which chains can be seen hanging from the wall. Susan claims that these were for self-flagellation. I knew that some Muslim sects practiced this, but not Christians.
Along the walk, we see lots of bats, especially near the churches. And we dodge cars, scooters, and even a bus!