Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas in Burgos

"Foggy Day Cathedral" — 26 December
(click images to enlarge)
Photos/Text © 2012 Sean M. Madden. All Rights Reserved.

As often happens, the pre-Christmas season took a while to wind down such that Mufidah and I could begin to truly relax and enjoy this special time of year when the days are short and the nights long.

Over the past week I've kept a "Christmas in Burgos" Word document noting some of the things we've done each day, as it's amazing how quickly these details begin to fade, get jumbled and risk getting lost in the flow of these particularly unstructured days leading up to Christmas and then the new year. The document presently stands at two thousand words even though it comprises only the briefest sketches of our days, and doesn't include writing I've done for other, more specific projects.

Here's a far briefer run down of this past week in Burgos, with all the best bits intact ...

We're finding we're essentially in semi-hibernation mode. Spending more time than usual at home, writing, reading, and watching a few films which have long resided on one of the external hard drives we travel with. And after meals, and often again late in the evening, we're going for our customary walk into or around town.

"Sunny Day Cathedral" — 29 December

It was by way of two such walks that we ended up attending the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Burgos Cathedral, and then the Christmas Mass at the likewise stunning San Lorenzo church about twelve hours thereafter.

On both occasions the bells began tolling just as we'd walked into the city center. And while we had checked earlier in the day on Christmas Eve to see if there might be a Midnight Mass at the cathedral, we didn't find any notice of it. However, when we heard the bells tolling we decided to see whether there might be one after all. And there was. The mass, held in the Chapel of St. Tecla, was led by the archbishop and his coterie of likewise robed helpers, including one who would deftly whisk the skullcap off the archbishop's head at various points during the service, later to be placed back on his head prior to the donning of the miter.

Same story the following day — just as we were walking into town the bells began to toll. But this time we decided to see if there might be a mass at San Lorenzo. And again there was. We were rapt listening to the priest-orator who spoke, as I wrote in a handwritten letter to a friend, "as the Río Arlanzón runs from the Sierra de la Demanda — sometimes gushing, other times burbling over sun-dried streambeds — into Burgos". At any rate, I decided to receive communion, even though I was raised, and involuntarily confirmed, in the Episcopal Church. As I later wrote to my mother, I didn't think Jesus would mind.

I did, however, think it rather sinful that no vino accompanied the body of Christ which, therefore, stuck, as it is wont to do, to the roof of my mouth. But I left San Lorenzo happy, albeit thirsty as hell. It took all the asceticism we could muster to turn right out of the church towards home rather than left where there are countless tapas bars serving all the wine one could wish for, including our favorite, Cillar de Silos (joven). Instead, we tore ourselves away from the less lofty end of Calle de San Lorenzo to head home to prepare our post-Mass brunch — potato rosti topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese and scrambled eggs, served up with a glass of OJ and a café con leche brewed up in our Bialetti. More gluttonous than ascetic.

One of the films we watched this week was Marley & Me, about journalist John Grogan and his wife's early married life with their terror of a Labrador retriever, Marley. The following day we downloaded the book via iTunes and have been reading it aloud together in the evenings. Our £4.99 gift to one another this Christmas, plus the small plastic figure mentioned below.

 "Crucifixión, Cartuja de Miraflores"

Also on Christmas day we drove to Cartuja de Miraflores, a 15th-century Carthusian monastery perched atop a hill at the edge of town. Unfortunately, apart from the morning service, it was closed for the day.

But we managed afterwards to finally try out the slides at Fuentes Blancas, the well-treed park below the monastery. We had the slides wholly to ourselves, and had a great time sliding on cardboard boxes — fortunately left behind by others — down the fastest of these, the concrete one which headed in only one direction. Straight down. I kept sliding and climbing back to the top to go again while Mufidah was straddling the bottom of the slide taking Instagram photographs of me coming down and shooting like a rocket between her legs. Each time I learned ways to further minimize the friction between the cardboard and the slide and I'd go faster as well as further along beyond the end of the slide, such that I returned home with a muddy pair of Levi's which perhaps lost a good six months of use. And I likewise photographed Mufidah coming down the same slide; that's her unconsciously mimicking Edvard Munch's The Scream.

We only learned later, from some locals, that that slide in particular is rather dangerous, with broken bones being one possible outcome. We shudder to think what others might be.

Anyway, we had a splendid time.

And we returned to Cartuja de Miraflores a few days later, on Friday afternoon, spending two hours slowly making our way around the church and its connected chapels, delighting in the space, and in the art and artifacts it contains, all designed to inspire one to reach the divine by way of the beautiful.

We returned home with a €3 plastic figure of a Carthusian monk with his hooded head bowed in prayer. He sits just to the left of my laptop, on Mufidah's and my shared writing table. We think he's likewise quite splendid, though we've yet to decide on a name for him. The lovely guy who greeted visitors to the monastery told us he was made by Enrique, one of the twenty-four monks (14 padres, 10 hermanos) now living at Cartuja de Miraflores. So we're thinking of calling him Enrique, or perhaps Henry, but aren't positive it's the right fit.

The same lovely guy tried to interest us in a bottle of Chartreuse which he said would warm our cockles — much-needed after spending two hours in the freezing cold monastery — but we resisted, somehow both of us simultaneously coming to the strange decision to, instead, splurge those three aforementioned euros (far less than for a bottle of Chartreuse) on the sort of thing we never, ever buy but somehow felt was right, and fit. We'll get back with you once he's been properly christened. In the meantime, he's keeping his head down.

Likewise Mufidah and I as 2012 comes to a much-anticipated close with 2013 hot on its heels.

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