Ronda, Provincia de Málaga, España
Sorry for the delay in writing. It's not always easy to find both an internet business and the time to write when you're busy exploring ancient Moorish castles and even more ancient Iberian cave paintings, plus the many layers of Spanish and other cultures on top of those. We left JFK in New York on July 4, on a Spanish charter airline, Air Plus, and arrived in Málaga the morning of July 5 -- groggy, but not totally wiped out, because we both had managed to sleep a few hours in the cramped seats of the plane. We rented a SmartCar -- an engineering marvel, exactly half the length of a "normal" car, but so cleverly designed that we could fit ourselves and our luggage. It's a lot of fun -- it turns in no space at all, can be parked almost anyplace you could fit a motorcycle, and, if it weren't that the Andalucian sun is so brutal even as late as 8 or 9 at night, we could put the top down. We had a scare yesterday, though. On Sunday we had parked on a little street in Ronda, unaware that we had picked a loading zone -- which was OK until 3 pm on Monday (all business in Andalucia closes down from about 1 to 4 or 5 pm, but it seems that truck drivers wake up from siesta a little earlier). It was about 4:30 when we went to get our little red car, and there was a tow truck backing up to haul it away! It wouldn´t have required much effort from the tow truck. The city cop supervising was annoyed with us, pointed out the "loading zone" signs, and told us to get the car out of there -- which we gladly did. If we had had to get it out of the pound, it would have cost us muchos euros and hours of annoyance.

A few memorable moments (not involving tow trucks): the Roman theater in the city of Malaga (there should be an accent over that first "a" but Blogger is screwing up all the accents), discovered by accident during excavations in the 1960s, where in the 1960s and 70s rebellious directors and actors used to stage plays by Aristophanes, Euripides, et al., with veiled anti-Franco messages (not veiled heavily enough -- the Guardia Civil came down hard on them). This was a reminder of the Roman occupation of Andalucia, where Romanization occurred faster and more thoroughly than in the rest of Hispania. It was near Seville that the Romans defeated the Phoenicians -- earlier colonial occupiers -- in 206 BC. Then came the Vandals (from whose name we get Andalucia, I recently read) in the 4th century AD, then the Visigoths a century later, and then the first "Moors" -- Berbers from Morocco, led by Tariq, who was invited by one Visigothic faction to help fight another one, and ended up seizing the whole territory. They defeated the last Visigothic king, Rodrigo, in the early 8th c., and took control of the entire Iberian peninsula but for a Christian mountain redoubt in Asturias. All of this history (except the Vandals, who left few traces) is visible today in this province. More memorable moments (not remembered from centuries but only days ago): the Pasaje de las Chinitas, where stood the Cafe Cantante de las Chinitas made famous by a poem of one of Malaga's best known sons, Federico Garcia Lorca. It's a narrow pedestrian passageway, now filled with little stores and bars, but the Cafe Cantante is now a textile shop. The Alcazaba, where the Moorish rulers lived, right next to the ancient Roman theater (which the Moors must have known about; it disappeared under new construction after the Moors themselves had disappeared). As in many towns of Andalucía, the Christian conquerors built their church on the base of the former mosque, which gives the churches a peculiar, un-Christian shape. The central space of a Moorish mosque tended to be cubic, the ceiling rising as high as the width and length of thefloor. Christian churches of the period (15th-16th centuries) were, in other places, usually cruciform. Wonderful seafood (mariscos) at the Marisqueria Alaska; a thin, poor, but skilled guitarrist sitting in a passageway on Sunday morning, playing for coffee money. I stopped to listen more closely when he started to play one of the pieces that I've been practicing, because I like it and wanted to hear how to play it better. I thought it was by Fernando Sor, but he said no, it was anonymous, and he was sure it had been composed by sentimental priests (but surely in the time of Sor, early 19th century). The music and the lesson were easily worth the 2 euros I left him, and he was happy to have his coffee money at last). Parque Natural in the spectacular mountain forests between Malaga and Ronda. Ronda itself, once the home of an independent taifa, or Moorish kingdom, but conquered in 1485 by Fernando el Catolico (just seven years before he captured Granada and his wife, Isabel, dispatched a Genoese seafarer to go find India). The old part of Ronda is on the east side of the Tajo, one of Spain's great rivers, which here cuts deep through the rock ("tajo" means cut) making the Moorish castle unassailable from the west. We had a room in the Hotel Don Miguel, No. 101 (ask for it if you are in Ronda), on the west bank, with a balcony looking into the rough vertical walls of the gorge, where rock doves (we call them "pigeons" in New York) flutter and swirl and perch easily on the nearly shear rock face. Much more, of course. Yesterday we drove to Arcos de la Frontera, merely an hour from Ronda, the westernmost of the "white towns". This too was for a time an independent little taifa, but it was taken by the Christians under Alfonso el Sabio in 1285 -- a terrible earlier blow to Muslim hegemony. The Muslims by this time were having the same problem as the Visigoths 500 years earlier. They were fighting so much among themselves that they could not unite against the common enemy, whereas the Christians had finally gotten themselves more or less united. So, there went the neighborhood. It was a war between two monotheisms, but one was more monolithic than the other.

Today we plan to see some much more ancient signs of human settlement, cave paintings from long before the arrival even of the Phoenicians, before there was a Spain. Then back to Malaga, and tomorrow we drive through Granada and Almeria up to our destination, the little town of Carboneras.

BTW, somebody seems to have hijacked my e-name. If you get a "call for help" or invitation to play a game from "gefox", that's not me. Hasta luego.

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