Postcard from Ronda, Spain: Formidable fortress now scenic escape

Balloonists drift through morning haze outside the back patio of our rental in Ronda.

Ronda is the place to go, if you are planning to travel to Spain for a honeymoon or for being with a girlfriend. The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set.

…nice promenades, good wine, excellent food, nothing to do….

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Yes, there are several museums in Ronda. But its overall attraction, as Hemingway once typed, is there is relatively nothing to do but soak in the view from the majestic perch or take meandering walks below looking back up at the perch. And what a spectacular view it is on all sides.

Of course, Hemingway was not drawn to Ronda for its peacefulness but for the excitement of its bullfighting. The thrill of the kill. Ronda’s bullring is the birthplace of the tradition of the matador standing his ground before the bull instead of evading the bull on horseback. The place where matadors chose to dress in the elegant style depicted in the paintings of Goya.

And the ancient foundations of Ronda were not tourist perches but fortifications providing sweeping surveillance points for guarding against approaching enemies.

The site chosen either by the Iberians or the Bastulo Celts for the settlement that would one day become Ronda was perfect. (This was all a long time ago and no-one can be sure.) Rocky, protected by Nature like a favourite child, and so easily defended that even the most nervous members of the tribe could get a good night’s sleep. Naturally the Romans, whose paranoia was unparalleled but understandable, given their penchant for treating non-Romans with brutal disdain, liked what they saw and were determined to have it. Even the stoutest fortress is only as invincible as its defenders, and the Iberians, damned forever by the historian Strabo as “unable to hold their shields together,” proved no match for the determined invaders, who most certainly could. The supposed Iberian stronghold was easily taken, and rapidly “Romanised.”

John Gil, Andalucia.com

Moorish rulers recognized the value of this outpost in their frequent battles for control amongst themselves, and many of the remnants of fortifications date from their long occupation – from the 700s until 1485. After their water supply was seized, Moorish forces surrendered to Christians.

While Ronda appears rock-solid, many of its important buildings were felled by an earthquake in 1580. Then in 1810, retreating Napoleonic forces blew up the castle and many of the fortifications before their departure. And churches were again damaged during the Civil War in the 1930s.

Despite the imposing remaining ramparts, it is difficult to imagine violence in Ronda. Sheep graze peacefully outside the walls.

The main assaults upon the city today are busloads of day-trippers, welcomed by the town’s restaurants dependent upon them. They remain in a fairly concentrated area though, elbowing their way to viewpoints overlooking the plunging gorge (Okay, of course we joined them there.).

The other tourists were particularly useful, though. They provide scale for our snapshots. If you look closely at many of these photos, there are tiny specks of people admiring the spectacular scenery from atop the enormous rock mound.

Postcard from the Coker Settlement: Book-birthing Celebration

Photos accompanying September 8, 2019, book review by Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express-News

Spencer has done a masterful job of sifting through a mass of cemetery and other records, finding the threads of family stories, which she has woven together with great care. They reflect the triumphs and travails of the early settlers and their descendants in what was without doubt, at first, a very tough territory….

What makes this book of exceptional interest for anyone with a deep love for and interest in Texas history is the way Spencer relates the family sagas of the early settlers within the larger dynamics of settlement and colonization in early Mexican Texas and after the Texas Revolution.

We learn in detail of the great challenges faced by empresarios Stephen F. Austin, Henri Castro, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels and John O. Meusebach. We learn as well of the settlers who were Mormons and their challenges in the face of intense prejudice in much of what was then the United States.

Most of all, we learn of the interrelatedness of all the families who made up the Coker Settlement, who overcame their cultural and national differences to become, in their own way, Texans and, in time, San Antonians. Spencer deserves considerable credit for the extraordinary amount of detail she provides about the lives of so many settlers, whom she lists at the end of each chapter.

Theirs is a very poignant history, for in time the Great Depression and new sanitation regulations did much to decimate the local dairy industry. Land that was once dotted with dairy farms and their hardworking owners was sold and cleared for tract home developments, schools, the new San Antonio International Airport and malls — and the early settlers were forgotten.

Thanks to Spencer, though, their stories are now well recovered and hopefully will live on for generations to come.

Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express-News, September 8, 2019

Thanks to Ed Conroy for making time to review Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement.

Please try to join us for the celebration of the publication from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at The Twig Book Shop at Pearl.

Postcard from Bainbridge Island, Washington: Land of towering trees and boastful blossoms

Hydrangeas

Dragoons, I tell you the white hydrangeas turn rust and go soon.
Already mid September a line of brown runs over them.
One sunset after another tracks the faces, the petals.
Waiting, they look over the fence for what way they go.

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

They say the blues symbolize frigidity and apology; although it seems a gift of a bouquet of them could be easily misunderstood. Pinks represent heartfelt emotion. Whites boastfulness or bragging, symbolizing the giver or receiver? Victorians considered all hydrangeas as symbolizing boastfulness, because each stalk was covered with so many blooms. There are mopheads, laceheads and panicles, and it seems Bainbridge Island has every kind.

Most of these photographs were snapped in the 150-acre Bloedel Reserve; although towering trees, lush greenery and flowers can be viewed in any direction one wanders on the island until stopped by water frontage.

Virginia (1902-1989) and Prentice (1900-1996) Bloedel accumulated much of their wealth from his family timber business centered in Vancouver. The couple purchased the estate in 1951 and transformed it into a botanical garden showcase. In 1970, the couple gifted the property to the University of Washington, but the university found the costs of upkeep prohibitive. So the Bloedels established a nonprofit, The Arbor Fund to purchase it and open it to the public.

The Bloedels were known for their art collection and their willingness to let their home and its grounds serve as a retreat for artists and writers. A son donated hundreds of the family’s paintings to the Whitney Museum of American Art and to Williams College Museum of Art.

Along the way, though, one of Bloedels’ paintings was mired in controversy. It turned out to be one of more than 160 paintings Nazis confiscated from a Paris art dealer, Paul Rosenberg, in 1941. According to an article by James R. Warren on History Link:

Most famous (or notorious) of the works of art collected by the Bloedels was Henri Matisse’s Odalisque, which they subsequently donated to the Seattle Art Museum. It was later discovered that, unbeknownst to the Bloedels or to the Museum, the painting had been looted by Nazis from its original Jewish owners. It was returned to their heirs in 1999.

Hosting artists also was not without its ups and downs. Poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963), a Pulitzer Prize winner, was found floating face downward in the pool after mixing a batch of mint julips. The former family pool is now filled in to serve as a peaceful sand and rock garden in the Japanese Garden area of the reserve, complete with a Japanese-style guest house.

Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.

Theodore Roethke