a wandering woman writes

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A wall in Assisi


On work, inspiration, and not knowing...

"Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists. There is, there has been, there always will be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It's made up of all those who've consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners - I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem that they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous "I don't know."

"....That's why I value that little phrase "I don't know" so highly. It's small but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include spaces within us as well as the outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended."

Excerpt from Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska's Nobel Lecture, 1996.


Vonnegut makes a career choice

Motto quotes this anecdote about Kurt Vonnegut, published as part of his obituary in Sports Illustrated:

In 1954, Vonnegut -- a talented young writer who confessed to knowing next to nothing about sports -- was hired to write for SI (Sports Illustrated), which had yet to begin publishing. One of his first assignments was to write a caption about a racehorse who had jumped the rail at Aqueduct and galloped across the infield. Vonnegut pondered the task, typed one sentence and then walked out of his office, never to return. His caption: "The horse jumped over the f---ing fence."

SI's loss was literature's gain. Cat's Cradle came out in 1963, and in '69 he published his most famous work, the semiautobiographical Slaughterhouse-Five.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Futbol, Rocca Maggiore

I think this may be my favorite image from Assisi. Not the greatest photo perhaps, but there's something about Rocca Maggiore at 830 or 9 in the morning, before the tourist buses arrive. Before the thick fog has burned off. Before the heat of the day hits. Before the fortress you see behind these footballers opens to throngs of visitors. There's something about Assisi that has stayed with me.

By day, the town can be a mass tourism nightmare, yet if you step away from the main sites, or take a walk early in the morning, Assisi becomes just a lovely Umbrian town, home to some young Italians, as it was home to the one who made it one of the world's most visited pigrimage sites.


Atop Rocca Maggiore, in the morning


San Damiano

San Damiano is a breathtakingly simple place. A rough wooden cross hangs above the corner where Saint Clare died on a mat in the communal dormitory.

Yet in the cloister garden, two elegant frescos show angels appearing to Saint Francis, and in the fresco above, to Saint Clare, in her father's palace on the Piazza de San Rufino.


Scenes from a journey to Assisi

I don't often wish I could do the many things I can't (yet?), but as my travel treasures become more and more about scenes - faces, images, and moments - and less about entertaining narratives, I do wish I could doodle up a drawing for each of these Salamanca to Assisi moments.

I've asked Nomadita if she might like to help, master doodler that she is. We'll see if the next trip ends with an "Illustrated Wandering Woman."

Meanwhile, a few scenes from a journey to Assisi and back:

On the metro in Madrid, an older man mouths the words to his novel. I can't quite make out the title, but decide it's racy and intriguing. A flamenco dancer leaps across the cover. The man is impeccably dressed: crisply ironed slacks and shirt, grey sweater vest and freshly polished shoes. He clings to the page he is reading, moving his mouth with the action. Then he quickly snaps his way to the next, when the time comes, before holding tightly to that page, too, ever prepared for the next move.

When he leaves, a young girl reading a Victoria Holt romance takes his place. She is equally entranced. I begin to wish I'd sat there...

An older nun stands at attention in Assisi's Parking Lot A as her young charges climb down from their bus. After barking out a few words in Italian, she begins a rapid, decisive march toward the town center, without so much as glance behind her. Her troops have understood the order. The children follow her up the sidewalk like waddling ducklings, perfectly spaced, single file. A small boy in a baseball hat brings up the rear, struggling to meet the nun's pace.

As I wait to be seated for dinner, I hear Spanish behind me. Two middle aged couples sit at the restaurant's tiny bar, enjoying a glass of wine before dinner. I glance at my watch (830) and take them for Spaniards not yet ready to cenar. "¿Son españoles?", I ask. "No", they answer. "Cubans. From Miami." We laugh realizing we share a country neither of us has mentioned in our brief introduction. Cubans from Miami. An American from Salamanca.

I start out with hand signals and single words - uno, café, cuánto. But the bar is so warm and the owner and breakfasting businessman so friendly, I soon find myself pouring out paragraphs as I answer their Italian questions in Spanish. When I discover my raisin and honey pastry is filled to the brim with chunks of dark chocolate, the businessman laughs and assures me that chocolate is an excellent breakfast.

As we say our goodbyes, the owner asks where I live in Spain. "El español se capice", he tells me, smiling. "El español sí se capice".

I approach the only human I see, the first in 5 or 10 minutes along this tiny road high above San Francesco. He is round and smiling, dressed in a bright orange button down and well-pressed khakis. I ask directions in Italiañol. He grins and reaches into his pocket. "I have a map", he laughs, "but I only speak English."

We meet twice more in this pueblo turned pilgrim stop - in the afternoon, when I report his map did indeed lead me to my B&B, and that evening, in a restaurant. I name him Map Man.

Walking back toward Porta Cappuccini, I run my hand against the rough pink travertine of the roadside wall. A girl comes alongside me, looks in my eyes and smiles. After a minute or two she asks, in Spanish, if I am Catholic. I stumble over my answer, explaining that I was raised Catholic but, er..no....and why does she ask? She points at my hand, still dragging across on the cool, pink stone. "Everywhere you walk here is sacred ground. Everything you touch. You may not be Catholic, but something's pulled you here. I just wanted to tell you that they'll be singing vespers at Santa Chiara at a quarter to seven. If you hurry...just imagine! Vespers! In Latin! In Assisi!" She scurries ahead of me, and I watch her stop to ask a taxi driver the fastest way to walk to the Piazza de Santa Chiara.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Assisi from a bus: how the other half lives

Basilica de San Francesco, Assisi.

We're sitting side by side on a bench in the parking lot where Assisi welcomes an invading army of tour buses every morning. She turns and smiles from under a widebrimmed hat. I notice the battery powered speaker and the name on the bright blue tag: María Rita. Every few minutes she turns, as if to speak, then quickly turns away. I return the smile, and offer my best buon giorno. Finally, she asks if I speak English, then continues:

-I'm waiting on a bus.

-Me too.

-Really? My bus is coming from Rome.

-Mmm, mine too.
I am surprised by her next question.

-Would your mother be on that bus?

And so began my brief look at how the other half lives.

I spent 4 hours racing through Assisi on a bus tour. Thirty five Rhode Islanders, among them my mother and the group's leader, the pastor of the local Catholic parish, traveled to Rome last week on a group tour. I joined them Thursday for a whirlwind walk through Assisi.

The woman in the parking lot was the local tour guide hired to show them the sites, as best she could in a little under 4 hours including a banquet lunch and mass. Seems the bus driver called ahead to report that one of his passengers was worried about her American daughter - who would likely be pacing the parking lot, anxious about the bus's late arrival. Concerned I looked neither American nor anxious, (her words :)) the guide hesitated before taking a shot that I was her girl. In the same call, the driver warned that his passengers were showing signs of saturation. He suggested she take it easy on the art terms.

When the bus arrived, Rita led the driver to a second lot above the city, giving us a downhill jog from Santa Chiara to San Francesco. With the late arrival we had only an hour to see Assisi. We were expected at a local hotel for a prearranged banquet lunch at 1230 sharp. Grasping each other's clothing to stay together in the shifting sea of pilgrims, we shuffled by Saint Clare's preserved body in her lovely pink and white basilica. Next we marched to Assisi's Piazza del Comune and heard a bit about the Roman Temple to Minerva that still dominates the ancient square. We imagined young Francis tearing off his clothes in front of Town Hall, announcing that he had only one Father and he wasn't the earthly man who'd paid for the clothing.

After a stern warning not to stop or shop, we hurried off to Piazza San Francesco. There we followed Rita through a well choreographed mini-tour, dodging herds of school children and Japanese tourists as we watched Rita silently point to the best of the Basilica's frescos.
An hour and a half after we left the bus, a breathless Rita delivered us to the hotel, where we joined a busload of retired Spaniards for a lunch of pasta, chicken and french fries. Half an hour later, we were back at San Francesco, settling into a chapel for mass.

I've learned that organized group tours take care of absolutely everything. No need for maps, guidebooks or a single word of the local language. Bring a wrist watch and you'll have everything you need. I've even identified an upside of mass tourism: tours where everything is done for you must allow older Americans who would be unlikely to travel abroad independently to do so comfortably and calmly. The more Americans travel outside our borders, the happier I am.

I thought about school excursions and all the fun we'd have on the bus after the visit. I wondered if things got silly at the end of a long pilgrim tour day.

Then I bid my fellow Rhode Islanders adieu, and blissfully climbed back up Vía Francesco toward the town center. As I passed my B&B, I could see a long line of buses pulling out of the day lots.
By the time I reached Piazza del Comune, Assisi was quiet. And ours: the locals' and those who prefer travel at a slower pace.

I chose a street cafe, ordered a glass of Chianti and settled in for a long, leisurely evening.


Allegro Ma Non Troppo

Assisi, from Rocca Maggiore, as the morning fog clears.

A few weeks ago I fell madly in love with the poetry of Wislawa Szymborksa. I enjoyed the coincidence of meeting this Szymborska poem a day after I got back from Assisí. One morning in Assisi I dutifully recited all the Italian words I knew for my Italian breakfast companion at the B & B. I started strong, with the smattering of Italian I'd learned for the trip, and by the end of the performance, as la italiana enthusiastically cheered me on, I found the words I'd learned as a child reading sheet music: andante, vivace, lento, and, yes, allegro ma non troppo. Who says childhood piano lessons don't pay off?

Allegro Ma Non Troppo

Life, you're beautiful (I say)
you just couldn't get more fecund,
more befrogged or nightengaley,
more anthillful or sproutspouting.

I'm trying to court life's favor,
to get into its good graces,
to anticipate its whims.
I'm always the first to bow,

always there where it can see me
with my humble, irreverent face,
soaring in the winds of rapture,
falling under waves of wonder.

Oh how grassy is this hopper,
how this berry ripely rasps.
I would never have conceived it
if I weren't conceived myself!

Life (I say) I've no idea
what I could compare you to.
No one else can make a pine cone
and then make the cone's clone.

I praise your inventiveness,
bounty, sweep, exactitude,
sense of order - gifts that border
on witchcraft and wizardry.

I just don't want to upset you,
tease or anger, vex or rile.
For millenia, I've been trying
to appease you with my smile.

I tug at life by its leaf hem:
will it stop for me, just once,
momentarily forgetting
to what end it runs and runs?

by Wislawa Szymborska
from Poems, New and Collected, 1957 - 1997
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

I have always loved the sound of the Polish language, a common sound in Chicago, and I have to say, Syzmborska has me tempted to try to learn a bit, if only to read her poems as she wrote them.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

A corner in Assisi

Assisi is two towns - a well orchestrated tourist show by day, busload after busload of foreign tourists shuffling past tombs, through tacky souvenir shops and fast food pizza parlors, and a lively, warm pueblo by night, when locals gather in the Plaza de Comune for a glass of vino rosso and a long, animated chat they are happy to share with strangers.

Words tomorrow; a couple of photos today.


Above Piazza de Santa Chiara, Assisi


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A little bit of everything

A hornazo of blog tidbits, to keep you busy while I travel:

I've spent three glorious days listening to every archived program currently offered on Carlos Perez's elclubdejazz.com.

For an ear to ear grin, try a search in Google Elmer Fudd. Vewy sweepy, fow exampwul. Ow twy wabbit. Cwazy wabbit.

Better yet, go straight to Google pig latin. Eelingfay Uckylay? Hmmm?

El País told me last week that during one hour in the metro station at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington DC, 1070 people rushed right by the violinist playing in his heart out. 27 people threw him a coin, nickels, the odd quarter. He made a little over 32 dollars in that hour. Rush hour. One woman, a young employee of the US Commerce Department stopped, stared and listened. For an hour.

She recognized the violinist, since she'd seen him perform 3 weeks before in the Library of Congress.

The violin was a 1713 Stradivarius, and the 40ish man playing it, in baseball cap and jeans, was Joshua Bell.

Leonard Slatkin lost a bet in the whole deal, according to El País. He was sure a crowd would form, and 50 and 100 dollar bills would hit Bell's violin case.

Made me wonder what prodigies and wonders I walk by every day, going where I have to go, without ever knowing......
Walk slowly and listen. I'll be back next Sunday.

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Lunes de Aguas

There are traditions I've yet to experience firsthand in Salamanca. Some I've missed to travel, others to work, or in the case of the fellow who climbs the cathedral tower in charro dress playing the flute and tamboril once a year, some I miss by never quite figuring out just when and where to place myself to join in.

I missed a Salamanca tradition yesterday as I clickclacked away at the keyboard to buy myself a few days off in Italy. While I was spinning and selling from my laptop, the river bank outside my window filled with Salmantinos. Yesterday was Lunes de Aguas, and Lunes de Agua means hornazo, a pie stuffed with local jamón and pork loin and chorizo, eaten cold, and on Lunes de Aguas, eaten on a picnic in the countryside or alongside the river.

Reading about Lunes de Aguas has cleared up a longstanding mystery for me - the name of one of my favorite Salamanca bars, the only place in town where you can choose a slab of fabulous onion quiche for your pincho, El Padre Putas.

Seems a young Felipe II spent a few months in Salamanca (16th century, paisanos míos), and found himself disgusted by the popularity of the college town's prostitutes. Concerned about the university student's extracurricular activities during Lent, he ordered all of the town's prostitutes to abandon the city from Ash Wednesday through the end of the Easter season. A local priest was assigned the task of accompanying the ladies across the river, guarding them there, and bringing then back across the Tormes the Monday a full week after Easter - Lunes de Aguas. "El Padre Putas" was born.

The ladies followed the rules, and spent all of Lent across the Tormes with Padre Putas. On the Monday a week after Easter, Padre Putas would bring Salamanca's prostitutes back across the river in boats, where they would be greeted on the river bank by the university students, picnicking, feasting on hornazo and jubilantly celebrating the end of the season of abstinence.

I've even more fond of my quiche bar, now that I've learned the story of its namesake.

There is one last delicious detail - a saying I can't say I've heard, but which I'm told has its roots in the begging unemployed prostitutes were forced to turn to during a certain season of the year:

You ask for more than a - ahem, lady of the night - in Lent.
Pides más que las putas en Cuaresma.


A new city and italiañol

Is there anything, apart from a really good chocolate cream pie and receiving a large unexpected check in the mail, to beat finding yourself at large in a foreign city on a fair spring evening, loafing along unfamiliar streets in the long shadows of a lazy sunset, pausing to gaze in shop windows or at some church or lovely square or tranquil stretch of quayside, hesitating at street corners to decide whether the cheerful and homey restaurant you will remember fondly for years is likely to lie down this street or that one? I just love it. I could spend my life arriving each night in a new city.

Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There

I'm packing up for a new city, a town really. Tomorrow I arrive for the first time to Italy, and Assisi. My mother is wandering Italy with a group from her church, and I'll spend a day with her and two days on my own in Assisi.

I'll post lots of what's been piling up before I go, a bit of everything, and be back here once I've perfected the finer points of Italiañol.


Monday, April 09, 2007

The Fourth World

There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own....They share with each other, across all the nations, common values of humour and understanding. When you are among them you know you will not be mocked or resented, because they will not care about your race, your faith, your sex, or your nationality, and they suffer fools if not gladly, at least sympathetically. They laugh easily. They are easily grateful. They are never mean....They are exiles in their own communinities, because they are always a minority, but they form a mighty nation, if they only knew it.

Jan Morris, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere


Sunday, April 08, 2007

The vortex in my cortex

A wandering woman in Spain

Sought limericks to help her stay sane,

But they curled in her cortex

And formed a verse vortex

That drained the remains of her brain.

Very generously left in the comment box of this old post about limericks, by Virgil Keys, aka Phunicular. Check out the old post; Virgil wrote one of the limericks I posted way back then, too. The man's got a way with a rhyme. Thank you, Virgil!


Easter Sunday drumline

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Semana Santa

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Incense, Semana Santa

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And Thursday night...

I made to one procession yesterday, Holy Thursday: la Hermandad del Cristo del Amor y de la Paz. They crossed the Roman bridge and climbed up the steep cuesta of Tentenecio, the men bearing a paso of Christ, the women María Nuestra Madre.

This is a young Hermandad, founded in 1972. It was the first to admit women as full members and the first to march with the penitent's face visible.

I had light, dark and rain to contend with, so yes, the photo above is proof I in no way consider myself a learned photographer. Still, I liked the shot enough to post it.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

A snowy Jueves Santo

It's snowing in Salamanca.

April 4. Easter week. Snowing.

And they wonder how a Chicagoan could feel so at home in Castile-León.

I made it out for a walk before the flurries started. Salamanca changes color with the weather, and today's sunny morning turned snowy noon left her reds blood red and her golds deep and damp.

A short April stroll through Salamanca:

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The times they are a-changing

Funny how even a newcomer like me finds it easy to cling to Salamanca as I know her despite the fact that she is changing, daily.

I picked up a brochure titled "Foreign Transfers" in the bank yesterday. Under the headline "your family, much closer to you", I found this list of countries to which Banco Popular will be happy to cheaply transfer part of your paycheck: Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Phillipines, Morocco, Moldavia, Peru, Poland, Dominican Republic, Romania.

That sign of change brought a smile to this immigrant's great great grandaughter.

The next change thrilled me less. As I left the Plaza, I find myself traversing a thick forest of planted Salmantinos. They filled the plazuela outside the Plaza Mayor, eyes up, mouths open. I joined them, and we watched a very skilled construction worker tear done Salamanca's Gran Hotel, stone by stone. Condominiums will take its place; we'll hope the design is worthy of its prestigious position, smack dab in the center of old Salamanca, facing the Plaza Mayor.

As I passed the Plaza de los Bandos, workmen were putting the finishing touches on the newly rebuilt plaza surface. A controversial underground parking garage is planned for the Plaza de los Bandos, one of my favorites. Yesterday's reconstruction tells me the required archaeological investigation has been completed. If I owned even a shard of Roman pottery, I'd have buried it in Los Bandos weeks ago. I cling to the hope that someone with a better antiquities collection than mine came up with the same idea.

The last change is one I would have welcomed when I arrived three years ago, but now face with mixed feelings. After 70 years in business, El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store of department stores, is coming to Salamanca. A friend from North Dakota taught me long ago that a Midwestern small town "arrives" with the opening of a Dairy Queen within its city limits; a Spanish city may well become a City once she boasts a Corte Ingles. Despite my love of El Cortes Ingles, which I'll chalk up to a Chicagoan's appreciation of a good old fashioned department store where you can buy everything and anything and enjoy good service while you're at it, the naysayers' warnings about the threat to the small businesses located close to the new superstore dampen my excitement at the thought of choices (an American's Holy Grail: choices!) in sheets, and towels and clothing and...

I'm tempted to wish Salamanca would freeze right where she is. I shop in the historic center of town, which I suspect will easily survive El Cortes Ingles. I cherish my weekly walk through town pulling my purple plaid carrito, with scheduled stops in the panadería, carnecería, fruteria, zapatería, ferretería, pescadería and often the central market. An expert for every purchase, and always a conversation.

My butcher gave me a short course on Spanish cuts of lamb at Christmas when I used "chuleta" for a cut he absolutely could not consider a "chop". My fruit man felt obliged to review every detail of the proper preparation of membrillo when I bought my quince in fall, despite the fact that I arrived at his stand clutching the handwritten recipe of a friend's very Spanish mother.

The small shops surrounding the new El Cortes Ingles, which will be located outside of the historic center of Salamanca, may not survive. I find that sad, as I find Carrefour a nightmare and most of the urbanizations surrounding Salamanca an eyesore.

Yet, I come from a place with superstores, suburban strip malls and all the conveniences of Carrefour, don't I?

As much as I'd love to keep Salamanca just as she is, I settle for hoping (we) her citizens pay attention and develop her well.

As I raced toward the door a neighbor was patiently holding for me yesterday afternoon, I earned a scolding. Hurrying is a disease, he told me.

"We are lucky to live in Salamanca, Erin, with the river flowing by and not a single thing we need to hurry about."

Wise neighbor.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Lunes Santo, Salamanca

A photographic challenge for me, I'll have you know.
With the crowds, the darkness, the lights and that fierce desire just to watch, silently.
This is last night's procession by a cofradía (Ilustre Cofradía de la Santa y Vera Cruz del Redentor y de la Pursímima Concepción, Su Madre) founded in 1506. For far better photos (of last's year's procession) go here. Ignore the music, if you can: this procession takes place in an eery, intense silence, broken only by the occasional spontaneous song, and the clank-clank of chains (shackled to the bare feet of cross-bearing members of the cofradía) dragging through the streets of Salamanca.

I've given myself the rest of Semana Santa off from anything remotely resembling work. What adopted española would do less?

I shall attempt to refine my Semana Santa photographic skills over the next few evenings....

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Who says miracles don't happen?

My mother's line, that title.

She sent me that brief message by email, after settling in with her coffee and a photo of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley sitting side by side on the front page of the morning paper one day last week.

I suspect one of the reasons Campesinas moved me so deeply today is this: I've had my great great grandmother on my mind.

My great great grandmother's name was Johannah Lowney. I've never seen a photo of her. I know her from old bound notebooks: marriage records, baptism records, Civil War rosters, a letter announcing a widow's pension, an obituary. Johannah emigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts from Ireland in the late 1850s with her parents. There she met another newly arrived Irishman, a lad named Corcoran. She soon found herself pregnant and shortly thereafter, married.

I have baptism records for 4 children: 3 boys and a girl. I have a copy of a page from the roll call of an Irish Regiment in the American Civil War with her husband marked present and accounted for every day until the day perfectly formed penmanship declares him absent: "killed in action".

My fascination with Johannah Lowney has always centered on that one perfectly written line. What happens to a 20-something immigrant when she loses her 33 year old husband to a tiny skirmish in the horrible, bloody war dividing her newly adopted country? What did Johannah do between that day and the day she next appears in my paper trail, 8 or 9 years later, the day she remarries and moves to RI with her new husband?

My father loved the story of Timothy, Johannah's husband, as he loved the story of Johannah's two young sons, who went west to find their fortunes building a railroad. He loved to describe the tintype he'd seen in his grandparents' home: a pale Irish face in Union blue, on his way to fight a war. My cousins are still hard at work digging up Timothy's brief life story. My brother asked me to take him on a long detour through Timothy's native County Leitrim during our wander through Ireland last summer.

Me? I've always been fascinated by Johannah.
How did she raise 4 children? Bury two husbands? Live a life that spanned 2 continents and 91 years?

Years ago I dug through microfiche files at the Providence Public Library for hours until I found Johannah's obituary. She died in the 1920s at the age of 91.

I forget the details of her obituary. Truth is I forget the exact date. What I remember is the front page that preceded it: a photo of Eamon de Valera taking his oath as the first president of an independent Ireland. (Note: if you know Irish history you know Ireland's transition to a 26 county Republic - with Northern Ireland ceded to Britain - was a long, complicated and bloody affair. I don't have my genealogy notes in Salamanca, so I hope you'll forgive my historical looseness; I don't remember just which de Valera presidential swearing-in occurred the day Johannah died.)

I know nothing about Johannah's reasons for leaving Ireland; I can assume they included poverty. I don't know how closely she followed the war going on in her homeland in the years before her death.

But I have always loved the front page of the newpaper that includes her obituary.

I secretly hope she decided she could go, once something she had likely thought would never happen had happened.

I thought of Johannah when I looked at my El País last week, with Adams and Paisley stiffly smiling side by side. I don't pretend all is solved or that anything will now be easy in Northern Ireland. But I see pragmatism and a people's exhaustion with war. I see the results of years of painfully hard work. I see hope.

And I think Johannah Lowney is smiling.



Campesinas, la memoria de la tierra, photos and videos by M. Aurora Carbajal and Jesús Suárez

Stunning, isn't she?

I discovered a new gallery space in Salamanca today: the Sala de Exposiciones Santo Domingo de la Cruz, at the end of the Arroyo de Santo Domingo, on the grounds of the convent of San Esteban. It's an airy, beautifully restored space, with a garden and man-made gurgling "brook" to guide you through the courtyard to the exhibit hall.

The image above is a scan of the program of the current exhibition: Campesinas, a collection of 66 photos of the most gorgeous campesinas you can imagine. Campesinas in their doorways and in their kitchens. In the fields they still work. Passing through the forest with a burro and in the plazas of their pueblos, singing their hearts out for the camera. The photos are breathtaking and moving, as is a film pieced together from interviews and spontaneous songs recorded during 20 years of field work on horseback. Carbajal and her husband, Suárez, spent 20 years seeking out Spain's oral tradition in the stories, romances, legends, songs and lives of a generation of rural men and women in northwestern Spain and northern Portugal.

The exhibition brings together 66 of the more than 7000 photos taken by Carbajal and Suárez in rural pueblos of the provinces of Salamanca, León, Zamora, Asturias and northern Portugal. They found the women they met, many in their 80s and 90s, more open, more communicative and more willing to enthusiastically share the oral history they carried with them than their male counterparts -- if they were also more self conscious about being photographed.

The film is a wonderful visual quilt of stories, songs and laughter. But the photos! If ever you wondered whether a photo could tell a story, whether a face could tell you the stories of dozens and dozens of years -- if ever for a moment you've deceived yourself about the stunning beauty of an old face -- I wish you a quick trip to Salamanca, and the Sala of Santo Domingo.


A Sunday afternoon along the Tormes