September 18, 2013, Wed. Our last day. After breakfast, we went to the museum of ancient cave painting at Altamira. Picasso said, that after this, art was all downhill. The original cave is closed because of the damage of so many tourists, but there is a exact replica of it in the museum, which also contained a very detailed display about human prehistory and evolution. I was struck about how we can recognize in the work of humans 35,000 years ago, a fellow soul and co-creator. Laura did not like it as much as I though she would, however. And we all wished that we could have seen a real example of the original painting. We were there about two hours, then went back to Santillana for lunch at a different hotel. But we had an hour to kill, so I took a group back to the church and got a (clandestine) picture of one of the statues--St Ann, that I was after to send back to the folks in Old Lyme, CT.
Back on the bus and reflections on how the trip has changed us as we drove to Bilbao.
The main destination in Bilbao was the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art. It is housed in a very dramatic modern building designed by Frank Gehry, the same architect who did the Disney Concert Hall in LA. Five of us got off the bus to see this, in that we are leaving tomorrow and will not have a chance to visit it with the rest of the group. The building is great, but the contents were very disappointing, in fact downright creepy.
We had given ourselves two hours to see this, but were ready to leave after only 45 minutes. We all felt as though we had seen the beginning of art and the end of art in one day! Picasso was right! One could not get any more downhill than this!
We had a short hike to our hotel, a very modern "european" style building in the downtown area, although sadly their internet was not modern in any way, and I gave up after a while (that is why I am writing this at the Madrid airport). We walked down the main boulevard to a casual outdoor cafe with several members of our group for our last meal in Spain. Lots of good wine and conversation, until it started raining about 10 PM. One of the hardest things to get used to in Spain is the dining hours. They are not on daylight savings time, so the sun comes up about 8, people eat breakfast at 9, lunch--the major heavy meal of the day about 1 or 2 PM, and dinner no earlier than 8.30PM. I will be glad to get back to a more familiar schedule.
As I write this, Laura and I are getting ready to board our flight from Madrid to Chicago after a quick commuter flight from Bilbao, which left in the dark and in the rain at 6.45 this morning. It is a good time to reflect on the journey.
It was a great trip, although my health situation was not at its best. I enjoyed everything one can while nursing a mild cold--which I shared with about half of the group. The food and accommodations were embarrassingly over the top, three huge and delicious meals (five courses at lunch and dinner)each day full of regional specialities. I tried to be careful, but I am sure I gained considerable weight.
Our guide was great. She read us a lot of information we were not really interested in, but she could also handle any question we put to her on almost any subject,and she was upbeat and funny. The company was great too, all fun to be with, and by the end of our time together, to share deeper and
more meaningful topics.
One question I am sure I be asked when I return is--what was the highlight for me? There were many grace filled moments--and lots of times my medievalist blood got really flowing. But the epiphany moment for me was worshipping at Santiago cathedral. I climbed the stairs to "embrace" the statue of Saint James, something pilgrims have done for hundreds of years. Having served the parish of St James in LA for 12 years, I naturally had on my mind the experiences and friends of that place. It occurred to me, "by being next to St James's remains, this is as close to Jesus as I will probably get" But then my old rationalist brain kicked in--but what if these bones aren't really his, after all the legends around it are pretty strange, and they were lost of 500 years, etc. etc. But then came the Mass. And in the enthusiasm of the priest and the joyfulness of the hundreds of pilgrims from around the world, I suddenly realized--No, THIS is as close to Jesus as you will ever get--every time you take the sacrament of bread and wine with the people of God.
So as I get ready to move onto the next phase of my trip, the House of Bishop's meeting in Nashville, I will do so with a renewed awareness of what it means to be part of Christ's body in the world and which includes a history and devotion and a mystery which is always beyond our comprehension.
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