Regrets? I’ve had a few. I regretted leaving Seville – eight days was enough to see all the things I needed to see in a leisurely manner. However, to experience and see all the things I wanted to see – I would need a life-time. As I pulled away in the taxi for the train station, I looked back at what had been my home for the past eight days and let out a sigh. The taxi whizzed me out of the San Lorenzo district and into the busy streets back out to the train station. I have been pretty pleased with my ability to do every day things, like order in restaurants, buy train tickets and stamps, send parcels back to Australia. As the station assistant handed over my ticket, he explained in slow Spanish that I was to take the train that said ‘Madrid’ on the departures board that left at 11:45. It would stop at Cordoba. I thanked him and made my way to platform 2, where a smart, new, bullet style train waited for me and the other passengers. Cordoba was the first stop and it took only 35 minutes to get there. I barely had time to admire the landscape – and rave on about it – as Nina would have in the slow all-stations trains of 1934.
I always plan the trip a day or two before I leave. I work out if I can walk, catch public transport or if I need to get a cab from the train station to my accommodation. I prefer to walk as it gives me the street level view of the new place I am in. However, dragging the wheely bag over cobblestones makes my arm feel like it is on one of those exercise machines that ‘blast fat’. At least I’ll have one skinny arm.
Cordoba was cold when I arrived. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, there was not a cloud in sight but it was cold. I commented on it to the taxi driver. He assured me if I stood in the sun I would soon be very hot and as it was only just after midday, the day still had a long way to go before it warmed up at about four or five o’clock. After checking in and dropping my bag at the hostal, I went out for my walk and to have lunch. I like to take in the town and leave the real sight-seeing and visiting of monuments, until a day or two after I arrive. I choose a café for lunch on my street and take a seat on the outside. A loud woman walks up to the café, chatting with the staff and orders a beer. She is short but is as tall as she is wide. She yells for a beer and continually yells at people she knows walking by, occasionally having a chat to herself. The staff bring her a tapa to have with her beer. She complains loudly about their choice of tapa and asks for olives and prawns. Once the prawns arrive, she picks one up off her plate. She holds it between two fingers with the prawn head looking at her. She starts talking to the prawn. This continues for a few minutes before she rips off its head, sucks and what is inside and then eats the rest of the prawn. This happens with every prawn. Although it takes her quite some time to finish the plate as she often jumps up and runs after someone on the street. A beggar comes up and asks for money. I shake my head and he moves on to the prawn woman. She swears loudly at him in Spanish – I suspect they know each other. Aware he will not get money from her he asks for a cigarette from her instead. Now, she really loses it, yelling, swearing and gesticulating wildly. I look on in amazement and can barely conceal my mirth. As I leave I say goodbye to her.
Cordoba feels like a big country town. People are relaxed and friendly. The bitter orange trees that line the streets are full of ripe fruit. Many of the townsfolk say hello and the old men stare and say ‘guapa’ to me. I walked for just a few minutes after lunch and all of a sudden, I am at I am at the Mezquita, The Mezquita is the old mosque – now a Cathedral yet it still known as the Mezquita. Nina had appreciated the non-name change, as do I. I notice there is no queue to enter the Mezquita – therefore I break from my usual routine buy a ticket and enter immediately. It is almost empty – this huge forest of arches. I stand still, transfixed by the beauty and the silence. There is certainly no feeling of being in a Catholic church when you stand in the Mezquita. Nina described it as “uncompromisingly savage and beautiful. And the moment you walk in from the white glare of summer, and the Mosque reveals itself in it triumphant paganism, is the most thrilling, I think, in all of Spain”. Nail. On. Head. Nina! I stood there for several moments before beginning my tour around the edges of this vast, silent space. Around the edges are Catholic chapels to the saints. I play my usual ‘spot the saints siblings are named after’ game. Two, St Therese and St Bernando. Surprisgly, I never make it past two. Three – if I count Mary but she is in every church. All the chapels are like all the chapels in every other Cathedral I have visited. Nooks with paintings and statues to the local saints and the Holy Family. I must be tiring of religious art. I am aghast but understanding that history – and more importantly my old friend, Carlos V, allowed what once must have been perfection, to be scarred by these alters. Although Nina reported “even the Emperor, Charles V, whose protection permitted the Cathedral chapter to carry out the scheme with impunity, stood aghast when he visited the Mezquita for the first time and realized the lovely perfection they had marred but failed to ruin with their banalities”. I exited the Mezquita by the orange grove and feel the warm sun on my face. In every mosque turned cathedral in Spain, the once ablution area, where Muslims would wash before prayer, have been planted with orange trees. Bitter orange trees so that the fruit cannot even be enjoyed but the picturesque grove can be.
Once back at the hostal, I wondered what on earth I would do for the next three days. I had booked four nights here and had seen the main attraction. From the map given to me by the senora on reception, there didn’t appear much more to see – other than 14 churches. I have dinner at the restaurant where the bull-fighters eat. It is empty when I enter at 8:45 by the time I leave an hour later people are starting to arrive. The food is amazing and my theory on eating where the bull-fighters eat, passes the test. I am happy when I walk out into the night. The nights are now cold here – a chill in the air – that will only warm with tomorrow’s sun.
The next morning I woke up – early by Spanish standards at 8:15 to sad news from home. I had lost a friend suddenly. I spent the day remembering and grieving – glad to be in the warm city of Cordoba, that seemed to hold me close and comfort me. I go out for a small cerveza in the afternoon. To raise a parting glass for my friend. As I am sitting at an outdoor table an orange falls from the tree next to me. I let out an exclamation as it frightened me but I was thankful it landed on the road next to me and not on my head. Before I even have time to finish being thankful a speeding taxi passes by running over the orange, which squirts juice and pulp all over me. Through the tears of my grief I get a good belly laugh.
Life moves on so the following day, I set out again, leaving my grief and tears behind. When Nina visited Spain, in the spring and summer of 1934, she travelled through the fiesta season. She was fortunate enough to be in Cordoba on 25 May, which is the opening day of Cordoba’s annual fiesta and the day it holds the biggest bullfight of the year. Nina avoids the bullfight. She says “my curiosity concerning bullfights had been assuaged six years before”. She writes about her “pure repulsion” at the hideous sight and would no rather watch people be seasick. Here, Nina takes the opportunity to take a swipe at Ernest Hemmingway. I am always happy with a swipe at Hemmingway. Other than visiting the Mezquita and attending the fiesta, Nina writes nothing more about what she did in Cordoba. I am not fortunate enough to be travelling through Spain during fiesta time but am happy that I am not here during the bullfighting season. I find over the next few days that there is so much to see in this lovely town. The Alcazar has beautiful gardens and old roman baths, there are Roman ruins and an archaeological museum and the fourteen churches marked on the map to look at, sit in and spend intervals of grief which momentarily still lingers at different times. There are even Camino way markers to be found showing the way to Santiago by way of the Mazarabe route. At the end of my first day in Cordoba, I thought I would regret my decision to stay for four nights. I don’t. Unlike Nina I did not have to regret “the foolishness of having accepted somebody else’s estimate that no more than one day was needed for seeing Cordoba”. Indeed, spending a few days here was good for my regrets and my heart.