See Cordoba . . . and live . . . and let live.

My final trip in Spain, to Cordoba, confirmed what I have always felt—that it is the 700 years of Moorish rule that makes Spain unique and different. The deeply felt Catholicism that exists in Spain also exists in many European and Latin countries; but nowhere in the Western World has the imprint of the Middle Eastern/North African Muslim Caliphates been left so indelibly.

In my last blog I dealt with the world famous Mezquita or Al Jama mosque in Cordoba that rivalled Damascus and Baghdad in its day with its mesmerizing endless avenues of hundreds of interlinked arches of alternate pink and cream stripes that are stylized palm trees dimly lit by bronze lanterns that hang on chains. And 8 kms outside Cordoba are the remains of Medinah Azahara (Brilliant Town) a beautifully planned and built city  for the religious, social, cultural and political administration of Al-Andalus (Andalucia)—a Moorish Spain that stretched to the banks of the Duero River.

But to go beyond the stunning physical beauty of Moorish Spain perhaps the true inheritance of the Moors is that Jews, and Christians, lived in harmony with their Muslim rulers, who allowed them their own laws, business and religious life, and their own districts, and left them in peace and prosperity provided they paid their taxes. And that heritage lives on today in the well mannered, elegant and courteous people of Cordoba.

It was Christian persecution that drove the Sephardic Jews from Spain, and the Reyes Catolicas (Christian Monarchs) who finally drove out the Caliphs from their beautiful cities like Cordoba, Granada, and Sevilla.

“History repeats itself” so the saying goes. Is it we Christians who are the cause of the conflict between the Semitic tribes of Jews and Arabs in the Middle East? Or at the very least are we, with our millions of petro-dollars and our greedy search for cheap oil, the catalysts?

In my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” you can read how our greed has been the cause of so much of the trouble in the Near and Middle East. It’s all about the search for cheap oil supplies, and the effects that this has on the expatriates who live highly paid, but isolated, dangerous and lonely lives in order to fulfil this greed.

You can preview my book at:

http://amazon.com/author/mikerichards

and download it if you have a KINDLE.

From Friday November 15, 2013 my book is on a promotion by Amazon. For the first 36 hours you can download it for just $0.99, for the next 36 hours for $1.99, for the next 36 hours $2.99, and for the next 36 hours $3.99. Finally it will revert back to its recommended price of $4.99.

Hurry and get a real bargain. If nothing else my character driven stories are authentic (read the 5 star reviews of previous readers who have experience of working and living in THE GULF). To paraphrase a more famous author than me “I may not have written the whole truth; but I have not written anything that is not the truth.”

Good reading.

Enjoy

Are Cathedrals Christian?

The long farewell to my Spanish home is coming rapidly to a close, so I decided to visit Sevilla and Cordoba—the heart and the soul of Spain in Andalucia—and of course in addition to touring the tapas bars, and watching a flamenco puro show complete with virtuoso guitarist, emotional cante jondo singer, and passionate dancer—I visited the cathedrals in both cities.

Seville Cathedral is an architectural mess. The third largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London, it took 400 years to build and matches the ambitions of the builders (they wanted to be thought of as mad). It is a hotchpotch of styles—only the Giralda, the tower in one corner that resembles an ornate Doges Palace, has any grace. And inside it is like all the cathedrals I have ever visited—an exercise in the overwhelming arrogance of power and wealth.

A high altar of huge proportions, ornate and heavily decorated with gold leaf, and all around the walls various chapels competing with each other in their opulence.  And a Treasury that contains solid gold chalices, headdresses and altar pieces made from solid gold presumably stolen from the Incas. This is not exactly what Christ taught is it? “It is more difficult for a rich man . . . camel through the eye of a needle etc . . .”

And Cordoba was even worse because they have built the cathedral on top of the pre-existing mosque—the world famous Mezquita or Al Jama mosque. At eye level the Mezquita is mesmerizing, hundreds of interlinked arches of alternate pink and cream stripes that are stylized palm trees dimly lit by bronze lanterns that hang on chains. But when you raise your eyes you are into Christian Cathedral Gothic. Soaring columns and vaulted ceilings that make you giddy built on top of the delicate Moorish arches. And at the centre they have added a huge high altar with plaster images of saints and virgins. Sacrilege, or whatever is the Arabic equivalent.

What is worse they have bricked up the Mihrab, the holy place where the Imam led prayers, and you can only look above the wall and see the brilliant Ajulejos (colourful and intricate tilework that is yet another legacy of the Moors) and delicate filigree of carvings in clay that have survived for more than 1,000 years. And even here the Christians have added a plaster saint on one wall of the Mihrab. Is triumphalism a Christian virtue?

In my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” you can read how another Western sin—Greed—has been the cause of so much of the trouble between Arabs, and Jews, and the Western world. It’s all about the search for cheap oil supplies, and the effects that the endless flow of petro-dollars has had on the expatriates who live highly paid, but isolated, dangerous and lonely lives in order to fulfil this greed.

You can preview my book at:

http://amazon.com/author/mikerichards

and download it if you have a KINDLE. If you do not, or you prefer a real book, you can order from:

http://thebookdepositry.co.uk

They offer free delivery worldwide

 

Irrestible Force meets Immovable Object(s)

                         Another wonderful aspect of my last summer in Spain is how unchanging it is in spite of waves of aggressive, drunken and drugged-out Northern Europeans— and greedy property developers selling houses to people who should never come to Spain. They don’t like the heat, the food, the people—and they don’t understand the culture.

It is fiesta time in our local village— and all this week every midday a rocket soars into the sky and expires with a thunderous bang signaling the start of yet another party with running with the bulls through the streets etc.: and it ends at 2 am with fireworks. As a contrast to the noise and activity some evenings we go to the next town to a chiringuito (temporary beach bar) and sit with a glass of wine and a dish of olives watching the sunset as the fishing boats return to harbor.

These chiringuitos are on a rocky beach used by Spanish families (the N. Euros like the crowded sandy beach surrounded by fast food cafes and souvenir shops) who stay on the beach with their kids until the last gasp of sunshine having tapas and wine. And the Ninyos play in the rock pools catching small fish and pulpos (octopus). It’s not exactly duende —but it does induce a euphoria that is part of the Mediterranean experience. And this week we took the fast ferry to Eivissa (known as Ibiza to the non-stop party people) and stepped back even further in time.

Eivissa is very different to mainland Spain: it seems more like North Africa. No sloping terracotta clay tiled roofs or Tosca stone arches as we have in the province of Valencia: the houses are just simple unadorned flat-top white-washed cubes with dark squares of deep set windows.  When you see them under the brilliant vertical sunlight you understand cubist painting.

Landing in Sant Antoni you see the worst effects of Ibiza being the partying capital of Europe. Lovely young girls totter about the streets in stilettos, and little else, and the older women wear see through lace dresses with just a black lace thong underneath, while the young men stand around bare foot in swim shorts screwing T-shirts in their hands and arching their backs to display pink and muscular heavily-tattooed bodies. It is all very primal— or maybe it is feral.

There is a multitude of cafes selling fast food, and souvenir shops selling tat and tickets for that night’s raves in PACHA, or AMNESIA or F*** ME  I’M FAMOUS, or any of the other hedonistic mega-discos around the island—and unbelievably cocaine use is promoted openly.

Ibiza Town, the capital on the other side of the island, is very different. A typical old Spanish Puerto (port) of narrow streets clustered at the foot of an ancient Arab (or Crusader?) fort set high on the headland with individual boutiques selling Ibiza style— usually crumpled white linen for both sexes. And a new town of elegant name-brand shops, restaurants and cafes along wide avenues that radiate out from the port area, now converted to a smart marina.

We took coffee under the arches of the old theatre to escape the fierce midday heat. It was originally built in 1868 and still functions as a theater pub with musica en viva (live music) every night. 

Inside, like the saloons of the Wild West a long, dark and narrow well-stocked mahogany bar with a stage at one end—and the barman the ultimate immoveable object. Probably in his 60s, bullet headed and 5 by 5 of solid muscle—he could bounce any number of obstreperous youths onto the pavement outside. But he probably has no need. This is a venue for adults and not lager louts. What a pity we could not stay for the night. The compensation was late lunch at the ultimate chiringuito.

On a rocky promontory on the far side of the bay, just a steel container that serves as a bar and kitchen; plastic tables and chairs on gravel under canvas sails, and a simple menu that consists of sepia (cuttlefish), or sardinas, or gambas (prawns) or lubina (sea bass) a la plancha (on the grill hot plate with olive oil and garlic) with a tomato and raw onion salad and crusty bread to mop up the juices. And the wine list is simple too—you can have red or you can have white.

The cabaret was a bonus. Sunbathing on the rocks were 4 topless women, two naked women—and two naked men. All tastes tolerated in Ibiza. Life stripped down to the bare essentials in more ways than one. And so different to the fierce and sometimes barbaric bare essentials that I experienced in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Eivissa may look North African and Arab, but it is a totally different world: the Arabian Gulf is no permissive and tolerant society. The women are covered from head to toe in black and shapeless robes—and faces are veiled. And the love that dare not speak its name truly dare not speak its name.

To get some insights into this cruel and fascinating and rapidly changing world read my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”. You can preview it on my website:

www.amazon.com/author/mikerichards

and download it for just US$2.99 if you have a Kindle. Or, if you don’t and you prefer a paperback, you can purchase for just Euros 12 from:

www.thebookdepository.co.uk

They offer free delivery worldwide.

Duende, Cante Hondo . . . and all the Jazz

                        The highlight so far of what will be my last summer in Spain was when I experienced “Duende” at a flamenco recital.

Deunde (Do-en-day) is literally a goblin in Spanish mythology, and “tener duende” (to have duende) is to experience a heightened sense of awareness, of a diabolical emocion, that gives you the chills, and raises the hairs on your arms and the back of your neck. Duende exists in all arts, but in its purest and most authentic form it exists in the first art forms of primitive man—the telling of folk tales in the forest clearing, and dance around the fire—and the accompanying music of drum and flute, the purest form of emotional expression— and in song, poetry set to music .

In Spanish flamenco Cante (can-tay) Hondo, literally deep song, is just that. According to the poet Federico Garcia Lorca cante jondo is the deepest most meaningful form of flamenco, “a rare example of the primitive songs of oriental people preserved in its purest form . . .  and the oldest song in Europe”. And the people who sing cante jondo struggle with a duende that threatens to overwhelm their technique and strangle their voice. It is an authentic emotion that comes from the internal tribal memories of suffering and hardship, the spilling of blood and imminent death.

I attended a flamenco recital in the function room of a Parador, one of the chain of state owned 5 star hotels, and a rather clinical environment. And the singer was a 30 something pretty Spanish woman—not at all the elderly and severe and serious hawk faced North African gypsy with huge sweat stains under her unshaven armpits that I had heard in the catacombs below the Plaza Mayor in Madrid 40 years earlier that put Spain in my soul forever.

And the virtuoso guitarist who accompanied this modern and younger singer was just 19 years old. They started gently enough with soft flamenco patterns on the guitar and nice controlled modern flamenco, and tango, and sevillanas—she even sang some soulful Portuguese fados and a song that sounded like Jewish Kletzmer to remind us of the strong presence of Jews in Andalucía centuries ago —and finished with a rousing flamenco piece. But the encores were the highlight.

 She came back and set aside the mic, and sang three Garcia Lorca poems in unaccompanied cante jondo that had the crowd growling: this affluent and elderly 60-something 5 star hotel Spanish crowd actually growling, and moaning  like primitives. The applause was thunderous from a crowd on its feet.

And then the guitar player started to finger the delicate filigree of soft flamenco patterns while his thumb plucking the bass strings in an insistent rhythm. And the singer segued into flamenco with a deep and rich and low toned contralto gradually ascending and sliding back down those hair-raising quarter tone oriental Arabic scales. And the rhythm became faster and the volume grew, and the crowd were stamping their feet like flamenco dancers, and clapping their hands in complex cross rhythms, until at the end the singer was shrieking and wailing in an unearthly fashion, the guitarist was threshing the strings, and the crowd were on their feet again—ecstatic: this 60-something 5 star hotel affluent Spanish crowd were ecstatic. Truly climatic. Ole. Viva Espanya.

Freud was wrong. The most compelling human drive is not the primal sex urge and orgasmic gratification. It is the search for the primitive tribal memories that haunted Nietzsche—for community, for humanity—the search for our soul, and an end to Soledad, being alone, metaphysical loneliness. And in jazz, and particularly in The Blues, it is the same.

The Blues, and Jazz, is all about having soul, and improvisation, about creating spontaneously music of that moment. Of being sent: of having duende. Of something welling up from inside and taking control, and your fingers or voice go where they want to and not at your bidding. And in The Blues “the sound of a good man hurting” you have the tribal memories of slavery and oppression, of suffering, of defiant field hollers and work songs, and Christian gospel music—man’s hopeless search for pure true love and the search for God.

And that is Mick McCallister’s hopeless search, the harmonica playing, Blues musician protagonist in my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”. It is a classic hero’s journey as Mick, an idealistic young journalist, tries to write as honestly as possible the first rough draft of the history of The Arabian/Persian Gulf through the stories of expatriates washed up there for whatever reason. The world as it is, not as The West wants it to be. He fights the corruption and hypocrisy and the indifference and prejudices of his London editors no matter what the cost.

You can preview my book at:

www.amazon.com/author/mikerichards

and download it if you have a Kindle. If you do not, or you prefer a real book, you can order it from:

www.thebookdepository,co.uk

They offer free delivery worldwide

Moors & Christians go Hollywood

Yesterday I blogged about the MOROS y CRISTIANOS Fiesta in our small Mediterranean town in Spain saying nobody wants to be a Christian because, while the Moors dress up in splendid robes and jewels and swagger down the avenida smoking fine Cuban cigars, the Christians drag along in grey chain mail and a white sheet with a red cross. Well they have solved the recruitment problem.

After a 10 year gap I attended the grand parade last evening and the Christians now swagger first down the avenida smoking cigars and dressed up in shiny armour and winged helmets that owe more to Darth Vader than history – in fact the whole parade in typically Hollywood fashion sacrifices history for effect and became more like glamorous Carnival in Rio.

The parade started with beautiful jet-black Andalucian stallions being ridden at high speed up and down the avenida, stopping occasionally to prance and dance. These are the tallest and most elegant horses you have ever seen – and they still have the pretty head and arched neck of their much smaller Arab thoroughbred ancestors. And the riders dressed like Russell Crowe in GLADIATOR.

Then came ranks of Christian soldiers looking very aggressive in their body armour carrying pikes and huge halberds and accompanied by bands playing with thunderous drumming, wailing fifes and triumphant sounding brass (the Spanish love noise but Alhamdulillah [Thanks to God] we were spared fireworks).

I thought Christianity was about peace and love, but these Christians, particularly the Knights Templars in their faces hidden behind highly polished medieval helmets with the pointed visors closed, and white banners with a black Maltese Cross, looked fuller of hate than love. And then a break from history: ranks of female soldiers with polished breast plates suitably modified and lots of flashing thigh between leather knee boots and micro- mini skirts.

And then another break with history:

A flock of geese being herded by two beautiful young maidens clad only in sackcloth (vestal virgins?), followed by simple little carts pulled by mules and containing goats and attended by more maidens throwing packets of raisins to the crowd – and then donkey carts being attended by Mexican peasants??????

But the Moors had the finale:

First a succession of scantily clad dancing girls waving flimsy veils around their bodies – how did Salome get in there? – or possibly they represented the concubines of the Harem? And close on their heels came the resplendent ranks of Moors looking much less warlike than the Christians, and hell bent on enjoying life. (Let’s face it the dancing girls were just ahead). And the same loud and insistent drumming, and the fifes now playing the sliding quarter tone Arab scales and not the Celtic pentatonics of the Christians – and the brass less triumphant but shouting defiance.

And then the grand finale:

A splendid Caliph in all of his pomp riding a huge ornate float pulled by two magnificent brown bulls (the ultimate Mediterranean symbol of masculine virility) attended by a bodyguard on a camel that also pranced and danced. The camel had  multi-coloured hand woven tribal saddle bags and tassles – and the dark skinned rider had the sky blue head dress of the TUAREG – the fiercely independent North African nomad.

            For all of its Hollywoodization this Fiesta still has meaning. It is a symbol of the ongoing ideological struggle between Christianity and Islam. But there is no animosity. No priests or Imams or mullahs are to be seen – and after the parade the Moors and the Christians pull the turbans and helmets off their sweaty heads and drink a beer or three, and have  a few tapas in one of the many bars that line our Calle de Marques de Campos.

            These troops of Moors or Christians, and their associated bands, come from the villages in the hills that surround us. This is the highlight of their year. Throughout the year they meet weekly to design and make the costumes, to rehearse the band and the swaying slow march that owes a lot to the Saudi Arabian Bedouin sword dance.

            The women sew, the men march, and little children start at 4 on kettle drum or fife. Teenage girls play flute or clarinet or dance the Dance of the 7 veils (or these days of equality march as soldiers), and fathers play saxophone and grandfathers play trombone or tuba. This is what builds a community and anchors it to its history.

            In Sha’Allah (God Willing) this Fiesta will never die, and In Sha’Allah I will see it again before I die.

            If my love of human history – and its indomitable spirit of survival in spite of the actions of venal, corrupt and incompetent politicians – is showing, then I am glad. To find out more about how The West has screwed up its relations with the Middle East and Islam read my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”.

You can preview it by following my URL:

www.amazon.com/author/mikerichards

and download it as an E-book if you have a Kindle, or you can buy it in paperback from:

www.thebookdepository.co.uk

They offer free delivery worldwide.