My Blog List

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Confessions of a Former Anti-Materialist, or Possession Purgatory: Part I

Beware of possessions, for they soon will possess you. Better for yourself and the Earth to live lightly, taking with you only what is of necessity.

--My memory of a wise saying. If no one said it, someone should have. 

As a child and young adult I imagined myself living as an artist, and exploring the world, seeking truth and beauty, unencumbered by material possessions. Well, other than art supplies.  This is a drawing I made of myself in a letter to my sister when I was 18 and drove cross country with my Aunt Anna and Aunt Claire:

I sensed that having children would challenge my philosophy. Fortunately, I had no inclination to have any, so it was easy for me to tell people that children, and a house and a yard, were for others who lacked imagination.

Jumping forward about 10 years, before I moved to Concord in 1990, I was living in Olympia Washington, sometimes in a room in a friend’s house, sometimes pretty much out of my VW van:

Doing portraits at the Saturday Market

I did have large stashes of art supplies, boxes of old drawings, paintings and journals, in the attics of several family members and friends. But all in all, I felt I was doing well by the planet and myself.

About a year before I moved back east, I moved into a garage that my landlord and I made into a studio apartment. It was more room than I had previously had, yet I rapidly filled it to bursting.

About 2 years after I moved to Massachusetts, Matt and I had gotten married and moved into a TINY house on the boarder of Lexington and Arlington. This house was so small that I could vacuum the whole thing without unplugging the vacuum cleaner.

Humble as it was, I went through much soul searching and agonized over buying furniture for our little bungalow. I could sense that I was moving away from my ideals of basically only owning art supplies.

Well, I guess something about getting married and moving into a house affected my imagination because soon enough I could think of little else but wanting a baby. Which seemed to inevitably lead to more possessions:


And the house was getting really, really small.


On to half of a much bigger house. But really, the most important thing to get for the first baby, was a second baby:

At the time, Claire was quite satisfied with her cousins.

    With children, it is nice to have cousins coming over to play, and friends and family for dinners and holidays, and the kids need to run around, and……

On to the next bigger house, with an actual yard.

I have my suspicions that there is someone above the clouds who has a lot of babies behind him jostling for position to come back to Earth. I think he noticed that we had moved into a house with a yard that was easily adequate for another being.

And thank goodness, or we might not have gotten Iris.

Adele was delighted with the new addition. So was Claire, eventually.

So here we are in this big house with a yard, and a garage that is full, and three kids and three cats and two cars, and there are garden tools and endless sports equipment, and  I never did stop accumulating art supplies (and sewing supplies and wood working, and picture framing equipment, and……).

 And we are thinking that we will be in this house at least until Iris graduates from high school in  2018. So, years of possessions move in, they accumulate and sink, one layer over the other, into every corner and crevice. And the memory of the unencumbered life, living lightly on the planet, well, it is just too hard in the midst of this heavily laden house to see my way back to that.

I have become the person Wendall Barry was thinking of when he said, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house set on fire.”

Stay tuned to find out how our move to Spain propelled a further descent into
                                                   Possession Purgatory.

Please feel free to leave a comment, or send me one at                        

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How not to Pack, When Sent Packing


We did finally get that army of roller bags packed. We have gotten to Concord and I managed to get this posted on my sister's computer. If you want to get in contact with us, send me an email at Hopefully I will get on the internet at our apartment have a working cellphone!

Stay tuned for Blog Posts in Exile.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Visa Debacle Update, and a Trip to Southern Spain

The Continuing Saga of the Kimball-Johnson Family

So, when we last saw our family of mixed fortunes, they (ever keeping in mind that one of us, Claire, is residing with a lovely Italian family near Rome) were, due to the vagaries of visas, suspended somewhere above Spain, directed across the water towards Massachusetts, maybe Chelmsford, with Matt possibly going off to London….

While the plot continues to unfold, it is not so draconian as it might have been. We will all four of us return to Concord on the 21st. We have a few possibilities of places to stay, and the girls will go to their old schools while we are there.

We still don’t know how long it will take before we obtain our work visas and can return to Madrid. We hope it will be at the beginning of January, but, well… I prefer not to consider how much longer it could take. We will just stick with early January.

Meanwhile, most of our possessions are still in a Warehouse in Franklin MA.

Me, in August, going through our stuff at the warehouse for documents that we had packed by mistake.
 They will be shipped when we get our work visas. It takes 6 weeks to arrive in Spain, and then they have to go through customs, which can be days or weeks. Probably not long before we are leaving Madrid for the summer. 

We are hoping that the moving company will let us look through some boxes and get some clothes (and art supplies, and some books, and my sewing machine, and that cheese grater that really works, and and and….)

Southern Spain

Caution! This is a long post and I know that blog readers do not have fabulous attention spans. So, I have divided it into parts:
The Country House
The Coast
The Mountains
The Alhambra

As mentioned in my post on our trip to the northern coast of Spain just a few short weeks ago, Spain has an amazing number of holidays during the fall and early winter. And Madrid adds another of its own: November 8th and 9th were the feast days of Madrid's patron Saint, the Virgin of Almudena

The Country House

Friday, November 5th

So, in our continuing efforts to absorb as much as possible of this complex and mysterious country as we can in our allotted time, we took off to the south.

Hmmmm. The writing is kinda hard to make out. But you will find Madrid in the middle, a train going north, where we went before, and a line going south towards Grenada and to the coast where we went to the town of Nerja. Those little upside down v's to the right of the highway is the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Passing south from Madrid towards the Mediterranean coast, you travel through vast regions of olive groves. It was easy to draw this picture as the landscape did not change alot for many miles at a time:

According to the following web site: , olive trees have been cultivated in southern Spain for over 2,000 years and presently there are about 215,000 trees. I think I saw most of them on this car ride.

Also, Spain produces more olive oil than any other country, 27% of the world's olive oil. If you are reading this in the U.S., you may not realize just how much olive oil is getting consumed out here. It is actually difficult to locate any thing but olive oil in Spain. And they don't bother much with butter either. Apparently the Greeks consume more olive oil per capita than the Spanish. I can't imagine how that is possible, unless they are actually using it as bath water. 

 Our destination was a Casa Rural, or country house, in the little town of Niguelles. It is not a long distance from the highway, but you feel as if you have gone back in time and far away.  Over 1,000 years ago the Moors built sophisticated systems for irrigation and drinking water and much of it is still in use today. The directions to the casa were simply to go left at the lion fountain and around the church.

Front door of the case rural, Huertadel Cura

View from the Street looking up at the garden wall

Inside the enclosure, looking toward a walnut and a pomegranate tree

The pomegranate tree. This is for sister-in-law Margaret who wanted a photo of it

Margaret, this is for you too! It is a pomegranate tree from the gardens at Grenada, much easier to make out than the one at the casa.

And, of course, an Olive tree!

Pool in back of the Casa. Too cold now.

The girls and I have been pet deprived since coming to Spain and we were thrilled to have a nice dog at the Casa

These were some of the happiest chickens and ducks I have seen. Kata, our host is very fond and proud of her animals, though she is also proud of how good they taste!

Some baby rabbits had been born the day before we arrived.
Out in the village, we find that cars are awkward beasts on these streets that were built for nothing larger than horses.

It seemed impossible, but people, Matt included, do actually drive their cars around this corner.

My rendition of a street in the village. There were many cats and dogs.
 Saturday, November 6th
We needed supplies to make breakfast, so Matt went off to the local grocery store. The store was not much more than the front room of the family that runs it. There is not enough room to display everything, but then, the residents probably know exactly what is in stock anyway.

Saturday morning, the average Spanish market is an absolute frenzy of buying as all the stores will be closing at 1:00 or 2:00 to not reopen until Monday morning. Matt was the only man (other than the owner/butcher), the only non town resident in the store, and easily a foot taller than anyone else there. I wish I had gotten a picture of that!

The Coast

After breakfast, we set off for the Mediteranean coast. We had thought we might be able to swim. It was not quite warm enough, but it was lovely to be there. We started off in a tourist mecca, "The Balconey of Europe" in the little city of Nerja.
 The promonade and enclosed restaurant have been built on top of what was a fortress during the Napoleanic wars, which had been built on top of a fortress built by the Moors in 800 AD, which was on top of a Roman structure built about 400 years before that.

Where ever we went, there seemed to be a cat watching us.
With apologies to the people of Spain who have a fine cuisine, we have completely failed to pursuade our daughters to eat any of it other than their divine melons:

Piel de Sapo
 And so, it is with some sense of failure, that we find ourselves looking for restaurants that cater to tourists, in order to enjoy a meal with our children.
 Italian style ice cream never fails. It definately would have been easier to feed these girls in Italy!

Ever present in Spain, so long as the weather holds, are people eating outdoors.
 Having had our fill of pizza and gelato, we were in the mood to get away from the tourist traps. Our hope was to find a place to walk on the beach. We came across this spot on an old road where there seemed to be a path leading through a gully towards the shore. With no idea what we would find, we headed over to it.
 On the hillside was someone's home, in a cave. The hilly area around Grenada and the coast is pocketed with caves. Though not so common now, people have inhabited these caves since prehistory. There was guitar music and laughter drifting out of this one. Less rent, more time to play.

 Down in the gully, or canyon, we walked past this was a very hand built house, with every crevice filled with carefully tended plants.

A little further along was this dwelling with a garden surrounded by a bamboo fence, no doubt made from the bamboo forest we were about to enter.

 Someone had set up camp by a spring in the forest.
 Eventually, the forest opened up to this view of the ocean.
The shore was rocky but quite beautiful. The girls and I started climbing about,

until Matt noticed that there were others on the beach and they were quite naked. Not being a nudist family, we beat a hasty retreat back into the bamboo forest.

That night, our hostess at the Casa Rual, Kata, cooked us a wonderful meal. Just about everything except the girls Fanta's was from her garden or animals (she promised, just chickens!) or from a neighbor. Even the wine was made by a friend.

The Mountains

Sunday, November 7th

The next day we headed to the mountains. Spain's Sierra Nevada Mountains are the country's highest with peaks over 9,000 feet. We decided to go to a little village that is the second highest in the country. (You may notice that our tour guide (Matt) is fond of statictics. Well, it seems to work, cause it was a great trip.)

Spain has been know for windmills at least since Cervantes published Don Quixote in 1605. But now they are mostly of the modern sort.

 It did not seem windy apart from this hill top where the wind was quite fierce. When you get up close to these windmills, the size is awe inspiring.

A cave dwelling on the road to the mountains.

 Here is the town of Capileira that we were headed to. From a distance it looks like a bit of mountain snow.
 Can you see the snowball that Iris threw?
 We hiked up to this spot where you can look out over a distance of 200 kilometers (about 150 miles) and see mountains in Africa.

Same spot, without that family of tourists in the way. The African mountains are to the left. They look a lot like low lying clouds.
 Now looking towards the Sierra Nevada.

We headed back to Capileira for a late Spanish style lunch.
 Everywhere in this area that benefited from the engineering of the Moors and the Romans is water running in fountains and culverts.

We stopped in a local shop where we got Iris a woven rug. The studio was just upstairs.

Now, for the usual search for a restaruant with some food Adele and Iris will eat. This fairly typical tavern had little to offer that did not include ham or fish, the two mainstays of Spanish cooking. In the very back, you can make out two hams hanging from the ceiling. These are commonly and proudly displayed in Spanish restaurant. No doubt they reassure the patrons that true Iberian jamon is being served. Unfortunately our near vegetarians don't find this so reassuring.

Here the girls are, stearing us out.
Nice exit to the tavern. I like this tradition of putting hangings in front of doors.

Iris and Adele standing resolutely opposed to the quaint restaurant behind them.

We did finally manage to choose a place. It had a nice atmosphere with several large Spanish families enjoying their Sunday dinner.

The dish on the right here is the traditional Spanish Jamon.
 Matt got the traditional Spanish sausage.

Grenada and The Alhambra
Monday, November 7th

And finally, the highlight of our trip, visiting Grenada and the Alhambra. With two million visitors a year, you have to have reservations to get in.

For my first piece of advice on this post: Girls, if you are going off to visit a medival city, don't wear stylin boots like these:

 Because, after a couple of hours, all those decorative stones on all those many streets and alleys, are going to feel like they are bruising the balls of your lovely feet!
Okay, so, anyway, despite my painful feet, I found this to be an incredibly enchanting place.

Our reservations were not until 2:00, so we walked outside the palace walls, down to the old part of the city, the Albaicin, originally built by the Moors.

 As always, and more so in Grenada and the Alhambra, despite the surrounding desert, water is flowing decoratively and with great presicion.

From here you can look back up at the palace and fortress

There is nothing like a good arch for making an ordinary passage look irrisistably appealing.

From the entrance of the grounds, it is a longish walk to the Palace.

So many arches!
As you get close to the Alhambra itself, you come to the palace, built in 1527, of Charles the 5th, Holy Roman Emporer. His Palace is a monstrous block of a building, as thick and heavy as the Alhambra is light and airy. I am supposing he built it next to the Moorish palace to show the superior power of the Christian conquerors.

In all fairness, the interior  is very nice.
But overall, to the millions of visitors, it is not much more than an obstacle to the real treasure.

The Alhambra was built in the mid 1300's by some of the last of the Muslim Emirs in Spain. The Catholics had been advancing down the penisula, and the south was the last strong hold. I find it intriguing that they built such a delicate jewel of a place at a time that they were under siege and waging battles.

 I tried to capture here the moment when a large group of tourists rounded the corner and set eyes on this incredibly beautiful couryard. There was a sudden flurry of activity as everyone reached for cameras, cell phones and their electronic tour guides.

 This is the staircase of water. A steady stream flows down either side.
 Everywhere, the water flows, and the cats watch.

 May you all have the good fortune of seeing the Alhambra!

If you actually got through this entire post, CONGRADULATIONS! I owe you a can of olive oil!

Stay tuned for the next posting, from Concord Massachusetts: A Family in Exile, no, The Triumphant Return, no no, hmmm.......

Till the! Hasta Luego!