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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

— 1 —

Traveling is so odd.  You go, you see places that you will probably never see again, and you walk in strange places.   A completely different experience of the world becomes a part of your experience, your worldview, your frame of mind.

And then you come back, and it’s as if you never left, and what happened a week ago floats somewhere between the distant past and a dream.

But it’s all still there, in your head, in your life.

Bigger now.

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

We’re back, but we don’t stay still.  We returned Monday night, the 13-year old went back to school on Tuesday, the 10-year old did a bit of school, had his homeschool boxing session, then they both had server practice for the Triduum in the afternoon. Wednesday, the 10-year old and I took a walk on a trail that’s not too far from my house but, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never even heard of before this week: The Irondale Furnace trail.

There’s a bit of a ruin along the trail, the ruin of an iron..processing? furnace, which was a part of a 2,000 acre mining and processing property that was burned up by the Yankees in 1863, rebuilt after the Civil War and used for about 15 years.  And now it’s a wall, a trail along a creek surrounded by a lot of high-end homes.

Talk about the distant past and dreams….

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— 3 —

Today, we went up 59 towards Gadsden to Tigers for Tomorrow. It’s a refuge for rescued animals, mostly cats, but also a few bears, wolves, and even some cavy.  I’d heard about it, and had been meaning to go for ages, but they are generally only open to the general public on weekends. But when Michael, still on Europe time, popped up awake super early, I decided we needed to go somewhere.  I looked this up and saw that they were doing some special Spring Break tours during weekdays, and for a reduced price, so we jumped in the car and drove up.

It was quite educational for both of us, and offered food for thought on issues related not only to endangered animals, but also animals in captivity and the relationship between animals and human beings.

(The animals come mostly from zoos, other refuges that close, and from people who had attempted to keep wild animals as pets. Always a grand idea.)

"amy welborn"

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— 4 —

We went to Mass on two Sundays in Spain.  Both had congregations of about thirty in attendance, minimal music,  fairly perfunctory ritual and (I just happened to notice) in both the Apostles’ Creed, not the Nicene was prayed.

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We just peaked into this church on the way to the museum on Sunday…don’t remember what it was.

— 5 —

Speaking of churches and such….check out this post from the New Liturgical Movement on veiling statues during Passiontide…two Birmingham churches are in the mix.

— 6 —

I did something new on this trip: I rented our apartment through AirBNB, and I was very pleased with the experience.

In previous trips both to Europe and in the US, I’ve rented via VRBO and just independently through owners and managers. I’ve never had a bad experience with any stay  – except that one time in Sicily, but that wasn’t an apartment, it was a B & B, sort of, and I violated by policy of not renting when there were no reviews, so it was pretty much my own fault, and in retrospect…the whole thing was pretty wacky.

With the apartments, everything has been fine, but I’ll say that the Airbnb process strikes me as a level above what I’ve previously experienced.  The owner/ manager has a full profile and reviews – and the profile is more substantive than the minimal VRBO profile.  If he or she has used Airbnb as a traveler, the reviews of those places are posted as well. You, as a renter have to provide enough information to prove that you do, indeed, exist as well, and the owner is given an opportunity to review you as well, sort of like Uber.

I understand there are issues with the growing business of vacation rentals. I’ve read of people essentially buying out entire apartment buildings and transforming them into Airbnb properties, which isn’t right, because you’re then running a hotel without having to abide by appropriate regulations and taxation requirements.  If I lived somewhere and my neighborhood was slowly but surely turning into party central because of vacation rentals, I’d be upset.

But. All I’m saying is that the process of renting through Airbnb gave me an added sense of security above what I’d experienced with VRBO or independently, and I will definitely use them again!

(One of my older sons had used Airbnb the week before our trip, and had similar observations about the process. He was pleased.)

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Some teachers give homework over spring break….

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…but the nice ones don’t.

— 7 —

Do you want books for Easter gifts? For First Communion? For a new Catholic?

Got it!

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Our last full day in Madrid….having said goodbye to our daughter/sister the day before (crazy girl got back to her abode Saturday night, worked on Sunday, then jumped back on the train to Munich Sunday night to catch Birmingham-rooted band St. Paul and the Broken Bones in a concert there….)

I had hoped to get up early and perhaps hit an 8:30 Mass, purportedly being celebrated at San Francisco el Grande…

(The earliest Mass I could find even sort of close in Madrid….it seemed to me that in most churches, the earliest Sunday morning Mass was 11.)

But you know what happened, right?

Madrilenos streaming in waves under my window until 3AM…all about that bass from that club down the block…so I didn’t awake until 9 or so.  Oh, well…what happens, happens, and there’s always a reason. I don’t get stressed (much) about scheduling and plans during travel anymore. There’s so much to see, and if you miss what you planned to see…there’s always something else to see, isn’t there? And it’s not as if there’s only one interesting church in Madrid, Spain.

So, once I roused everyone, we headed to ……another church on my list. San Antonio de los Alemanes.  Every wall and the ceiling was extravagantly painted, which was a bit of a change from the usual Spanish baroque pattern of carved, decorated main and side altars.  We arrived about ten minutes after the schedule Mass time, at which point, the priest was well into his homily, which he continued for quite a while.  There were, as was the case the previous Sunday at another church, about thirty in attendance.

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They must be restoring the sanctuary.

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We made a brief stop back at the apartment, then continued on (walking) to the National Archaeological Museum (in the same building as the Biblioteca Nacional). It was a free admission day, so the line to get in was quite long – about halfway down the block – but moved quickly, so in about twenty minutes, we were in. (Which was good, because it was after noon, and the museum was to close at 3).

It was an excellent museum.  One of the best of its type I’ve ever visited.  I’m not kidding – it’s a model for others, I’d say.

You begin (if you like) by gathering in front a large relief map of Spain.  Above the map, a series of slides is shown, slides that move through all the eras covered in the museum.  As an era and its characteristics are flashed on the screen, the relevant sites light up on the map.  From prehistory through the Bronze Age through Roman Hispania through the modern era, it was an engaging overview.

From there, you tour the quite extensive collection which is curated and displayed with an eye to historical progression and clarity.  All placards are offered in both Spanish and English.  The video offerings which introduce each era are quite sophisticated and not at all lame, as you might sometimes find in a museum.  Honestly, if you’re going to Madrid, I’d make this museum your #2 stop after the Prado, even before the other art museums. It’s that well done, and it gives you such a valuable understanding of Spanish history and the Spanish self-understanding.

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These were bronze tablets erected in towns by Romans displaying various laws and statues.

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We could have stayed longer, but of course the place closed at 3. I wish we’d gone earlier in the week and had given it more time – we saw probably 3/4 of the place.  So we ate lunch, then headed back to the Prado.  I had purchased a “visit twice in one year” ticket the first time, and children are free, so why not?

We caught some pieces we’d missed, primarily the wing dedicated to Venetians, revisited Ribera, Velasquez and Bosch, and found the back hallway dedicated to an exhibit called, “Hoy Toca el Prado,” in which a few paintings from the collection are reproduced in a sort of relief, for the benefit of the blind. It’s received some international press, but was actually quite small, and, as I said, off in a side hallway, so…good work, Prado marketing!

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Appropriately, a painting about Vulcan. (there’s a Birmingham connection…look it up.)

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Then…..back to the Puerto del Sol, Plaza Mayor and parts around and in between to pick up some more souvenirs and just soak it all in….

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The big stuff is great, but it’s the smaller corners that say “Europe” to me, and that I remember most.

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Taking a travelogue break to offer quick reviews of the movies I watched on the plane:

  • I didn’t watch any movies on the way over, only the two episodes of Mad Men they offered.  I didn’t want to get too committed to full-length films because I was all MUST SLEEP. GO TO SLEEP. NOW.
  • Of course, I didn’t sleep at all. I never do.  Even the time I flew to Europe by myself, with empty seats on either side of me….I didn’t sleep. I’m too anxious about sleeping to sleep, that’s all.
  • On the way back, I watched three movies, though, and part of two others.
  • I’d been looking forward to Foxcatcher since reading about it, probably a year ago.  It sounded complicated and layered and had Steve Carrell.  But I’m sorry to say…no.  About 45 minutes into it, I couldn’t believe it was only 45 minutes into it and there were 90 minutes left to go.  Carrell was fine, if a little mannered and caricatured (but perhaps that’s the way DuPont actually presented), and I thought Channing Tatum was just fine, but the whole thing was just a little too…careful. Money Quote: “Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist…”
  • I’d also been wanting to see Whiplash.  It was certainly more entertaining that Foxcatcher, albeit fairly crazy and over the top. J.K. Simmons, as an uber-intense, authoritarian, sadistic instructor of jazz band was fun to watch, but it was, as I said, just too much to take at times.  What interested me was to see what the film would do with the standard tough master v. student trope and to follow the various mind games being played. It certainly wasn’t predictable, that’s for sure, but there were points at which the unpredictability morphed into unbelievability – as in, a perfectionist musician would take an opportunity given to him to shine and use that moment to humiliate one guy? Nope.
  • But. The last fifteen minutes are, well…great. They are earned. It’s exhilarating to see the put-upon, even abused student "amy welborn"take charge and to observe the dynamic of master-student: taking what’s been learned and shooting it right back – played out in the context of Caravan. 
  • Fr. Robert Barron wrote about this film today in the context of spiritual mentoring.  It’s a reasonable jumping-off point, but I had a hard time connecting to the movie on that subject because the Simmons character was so ridiculous, really. Rather, what I was thinking about, especially during those last few minutes of the film, was art – and perhaps more so because I’d spent a week contemplating the likes of Bosch, El Greco, Velasquez, Picasso, Ribera, and Goya. My final takeaway of those final seconds, in particular, was that in order to make truly great art you probably have to be a little bit crazy, and you might just have to sell your soul.  Money Quote: “Mmmm….not my tempo.”
  • Enough Said was one of James Gandolfini’s last films, and he stars in this tale of love and courtship in middle age with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and Toni Colette.  Loved it. I have to say that my 32-year old son had seen it some months ago and recommended it, so it’s not just a middle-aged thing.  It’s very real, funny and the acting is terrific. People have doubts about each other, get angry, and connect in unexpected ways with unexpected people and talk about the issues they have in ways pretty close that we do in real life, with enough of the elevated focus and wit of theater to make you both nod in recognition and laugh because they’re funnier than you are.  It’s also striking because one character really does mistreat another, and handle a situation very badly…and is called on it, and must bear the consequences..and eventually finds forgiveness, but it’s not easy.
  • I also watched part of The Skeleton Twins, mostly because I like Bill Hader – what I watched struck me as pretty formulaic, but I couldn’t finish it because the sound putzed out.
  • So I tried to give St Vincent  – the film about the irascible Bill Murray being impacted (I assume) by the Kid Next Doorbut we landed about 30 minutes in, and I wasn’t interested enough to pick it up later…should I?  It struck me as situational – as in, let’s create a Wacky Situation which leads characters to confront a Quirky Situation which leads to Understanding Despite the Odds.
  • And didn’t we see this in Kolya, and wasn’t it much better then?

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We arrived back safe and sound Monday evening, only to be greeted Tuesday morning with the sobering news of a tragic crash in the Alps – not even on our route, and not our airline, but still…it certainly gives one pause, especially if you are one who has to give yourself the “Think how many flights there are every single day” pep talk when you fly…especially in the moments when the wheels noisily retract and the engines shift to cruising mode or whatever it is they do, but that feels like all the machinery has just stopped operating…

*******

I don’t think I’ve posted since Friday.  I’ll do Saturday here, then Sunday in another post.

My daughter was returning to Germany Saturday afternoon, but we still had a couple of hours to be with her before she jumped on the Metro with her suitcase at noon.

So, to save time, we took a taxi (and it only cost one Euro more than it would have taken us all to ride the Metro) out to the Temple of Debod, which had been located on land flooded as a result of the Aswan Dam. (Another temple relocated for the same reason is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC).  It was a brief, but interesting stop.  The location is well-done and the upper floor of the main building has been outfitted with educational presentations done in the excellent way I experienced in every Spanish museum.  They really do that hi-tech stuff well.

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Looking from the main temple building

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From there, we walked to San Antonio de la Florida Chapel, which features wonderful paintings – including the dome portraying a scene of St. Anthony raising a man from the dead – by Goya, and is where he is buried.

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Um…a lovely walk, yes?

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The chapel in sight.

As we walked up, I saw well-dressed people getting out of cars and heading in the same direction, and we thought, “Oh no…wedding,” and yes there was, but  in the other chapel – they built a chapel for parish use next to the original, so the original could be seen by all, no matter if services were going on or not.

(No photos of the interior were allowed….not even for the puppet show that was being set up. For some reason.)

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Then another taxi back to the apartment, a quick lunch at the wonderful Mercado San Anton – one block from our apartment – and farewell to the sister….

…at which point we headed out again, back west (on the Metro this time) to the Museo de America.  It was closing at 3, so we had to hurry.

It was, as you’d expect, a good collection of artifacts from the Maya, Aztec, Inca, as well as from the Colonial period – although the collection at the Met in New York is even more impressive.  I was most interested in the period paintings depicting colonial life, especially those highlighting – as a positive – the mixed-race aspect of family life in Spanish America.  And although all the placards were in Spanish, it was still evident enough to me that the perspective offered on the Spanish conquest of the Americas was…different than what you would probably find in a museum in this hemisphere. I didn’t see any hand-wringing or much – if any – mention of disease or exploitation.

Anyway, the Maya-mad 10-year old enjoyed himself!

It was only 3 pm that point, but it was rainy, so my hope of doing bikes in the park the city of Madrid built over a highway tunnel, were dashed. Instead, we headed east to the Naval Museum, which is free.  (Although note –  they will ask for a donation anyway, and the fellow who took mine, clearly didn’t feel that 4 Euros was enough to support the Spanish Navy). I had very good memories of the stunning maritime museum in Barcelona, and while this would certainly be interesting to people who are…well…interested…in matters maritime, it was less so to us.  Lots of scale models, lots of paintings of admirals, some mastheads, which were great, and the highlight of the collection - this, drawn by Juan de la Cosa, who accompanied Columbus on his three exhibitions, the first map showing the western hemisphere, made in 1500, and perhaps even used to explain matters to Isabella and Ferdinand.  That was awe-inspiring to see. Between that and the hand-written manuscripts by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross…we were ridiculously close to some great stuff on this trip.

(But we did look in vain for references to a certain event that occurred in 1588…..)

Back to the apartment, then I went out in search of food, returning with an odd assortment of a roast chicken, arancini, and bread. Huh. After they ate, I headed out alone back to the Puerta del Sol area to do some undistracted surveying for the final Souvenir Push on Sunday!

******

A note on our taxi drivers.  First, it is incredibly easy to hail a taxi in Madrid. They are everywhere, and happy to take you wherever you need to go.

(When we were in New York City last summer, I hailed a cab because we were dead tired and just wanted to get back to the hotel, which was maybe 8 blocks away – I told the guy through the window where we were going and he snorted, said something unintelligible and drove away.  Someone told me later to not tell them where you are going until you are actually in the car, since at that point they are prohibited from turning the customer away. Lesson learned.)

The fellow on the way over to the Temple was taciturn, which is obviously fine with me.  The driver on the way back was way more talkative, but what he had to say was intriguing.  My daughter was sitting in the front seat, and he handed her a small volume of bound pictures – his art, he said (after telling us that his wife is Brazilian, and how much he wants to visit America). He went on to tell us that he had a religious conversion – that he had never paid much attention to his religion, until something happened, and he came to understand how important faith in Jesus is, and “He changed my heart.”

He tends to do that, yes?

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The day began and (sort of) ended with people lined up, crowded in, to catch a glimpse, touch and be close.

We set out down the Gran Via with one end in mind, but were distracted by a crowd at an H & M across the road, obviously gathered to see Someone. A web search led me to believe that it might be David Beckham. We asked someone, “Quien es?” and she answered, “Beck-hahm,” an assertion affirmed by various other Spaniards around us, and finally by an Englishman who nodded and said he’d seen it on the news.

So…why not wait?  We did, probably for too long, but you get to a point at which you say, “Well, we’ve waited this long….” He finally arrived in a jet black minivan, but since we were, you know, across the road and the black minivan didn’t move right away, and there were crowds…we didn’t see him, although my daughter thinks she caught the top of his head.

So.

(Here’s a story about the appearance.)

We then changed directions and headed over to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the last of the triad (after the Prado and the Reina Sofia). It is a good, representative collection, arranged chronologically, so following it from the top floor down, you get a succinct history of European and American art from 14th-century Italy to a little past Lichtenstein. A few favorites – I am not one to take photos in art museums, even when it is allowed. I know that there are better images online or in books that I can manage, so I usually don’t bother except as a form of note-taking for future reference.

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This is called The Virgin of the Dry Tree.  The reference is to a Confraternity of the Dry Tree, which in turn is probably a reference to Ezekiel, and then, the tree of the Garden that brought death, which Jesus will restore to life.

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The Risen Christ by Bramantino, 15th century, but strikingly contemporary.

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Annunciation to St. Anne. Go read about it – quite interesting.

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Now, this is attributed to Gilbert Stuart, and is called Portrait of George Washington’s Cook, although apparently there is some speculation involved in this identification. But George Washington did have a cook in Philadelphia, his name was Hercules, and he was enslaved – more here, including the story of his escape from slavery in Mount Vernon. 

After the museum and lunch, we walked back over to a church we’d seen beforehand, a church with an impressive line of people snaking into it. What was that about?

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The line leading into the church.

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…and to the other side of the block.

Well, it was this – Jesus of Medinaceli – a statue stolen by Moors, then retrieved. It is venerated, apparently, on Fridays.

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The statue is on that top level. People walk up the stairs to venerate it.

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A full church, organ playing in the background.
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Let’s see. Church open all day – so all are welcome to enter into this place and be a part of what is going on. Loads of people, from everywhere and anywhere, bringing the totality of their lives, joys and pain. Looking at the schedule of this basilica, we see Mass several times a day, every day, and Confessions off and on all day, every day.

Open doors. Open to anyone.

Anyone can walk in and see, listen, touch and be moved by grace.

No one judges and no one excludes because here, all eyes are fixed on Christ, and when we are all looking in His direction, the supposed flaws of our neighbor recede from our sight.

Why do they come?

Seeking mercy, perhaps?

And finding it in ancient sacraments and traditions grown out of centuries of spiritual experience and reflection?

Because mercy wasn’t invented this week, perhaps?

****

By this time, it was around five, perhaps later, so we just wound our way back home, through the neighorhood of Santa Ana, which I hope to revisit tomorrow or the next day, back up through the Puerta de Sol, to the other mass of El Corte Ingles stores…this time we found the branches selling clothes and toys, so time to split up and see what the Spanish have to offer. (We must always do Lego comparisons). I also looked through the grocery store in the basement and decided that will probably be the place where I do my take-home food shopping this weekend – it really is too bad that cured meats aren’t allowed back in the US…no jamon or chorizo….sigh.

I also discovered a great store called Tiger - it’s sort of a cross between a dollar-type store and Ikea.  Low prices (from 1-4 E on most things) and sharp, clean, colorful design sensibility.

***

Also, while I knew, in theory, that Holy Week was a big deal in Spain…I see now that I didn’t know anything at all, really. It’s a big deal. There was a display table in the book section of El Corte Ingles with books, videos and CD’s about Semana Santa. I’ve seen children’s coloring and sticker books about it. On the first afternoon we were here, we saw a huge, rectangular block being borne out of a chapel door by a group of men…we had no idea what it was at the time, but know I now it was one of those platforms to carry statuary – it was completely covered in protective tarps and so on, but I’m assuming they were carting it somewhere to get it ready for Holy Week….

(Related…Valencia celebrates St. Joseph’s feastday in a huge way, and I was halfway tempted to head over there this week to take a peek…well, actually less than halfway, because it’s far from here and the crowds are huge..but still…tempted.)

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— 1 —

It’s nice to be in a place with actual, functioning public transportation.

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— 2 —

When you ascend the Ventas Metro stop, this is what greets you:

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Beautiful building, horrible “sport.”  IMHO.

H— 3 —

This statue celebrates a famed bullfighter – one side showing him triumphant, the other side, an angel weeping by the side of a bench holding his matador suit…the sign reads, “Died a matador, born an angel.”

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— 4 —

We then hopped back on the metro, and this time when we ascended, we saw this:

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— 5 —

I paid for the tour – three of us have zero interest in soccer, and the fourth has some, only because it’s a sport, and sports are his passion.  I was willing to pay for this tour because I figured that while some of us can enter into a culture via its food, history or religion, others might enter more deeply into it via sports.

It was very high tech – impressive.

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And the tour took you through the dressing rooms and down to the field as well..

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— 6 —

Afterwards, down to the Reina Sofia Museum, where we saw Picasso’s Guernica  – which we’d studied a bit before the trip – and other works. No photos, of course, but this is the view of the Atocha train station from the front of the museum.

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And then to the huge El Corte Ingles store off the Gran Via, just to look..this is the view from the roof.

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— 7 —

Starting to think about First Communion gifts?

Try these…

And since it’s Friday….

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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This painting was in a side chapel in the Segovia Cathedral:

(Click on the image to enlarge it)

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So…there we are on top of the tree, partying. (It’s the Feast of St. Joseph, so yes, here in Europe, we are partying). There’s death, about to take us down.

There’s Jesus, poised to ring the warning bell.

And there’s the little devil, trying to cut the rope and silence the bell so we’ll just keep on partying…..

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