On our first night in Spain, during a short yoga routine, the online instructor said we should check in without four bodies: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. My physical body was aching with new debilitating pain, my left hip on fire; lightening radiating down my leg, but that did not dampen the excitement my emotional body felt beginning this new adventure. My mental body was rehearsing the day, dividing our journey into five parts, checking bus routes and times.
My spiritual body? I did not know.
Arriving in Cadiz on the train, my emotional body was delighted. I was reminded of Cape Cod- a place where I have roots and family. Like the Massachusetts peninsula, Cádiz juts into the Atlantic Ocean in a way that makes it difficult to discern east from north. Every road in Cádiz leads eventually to the water, but you would be mistaken to think that you can use the ocean as a marker. Though it is a peninsula, still there is water in four directions. And don’t try to use a Cathedral as a marker. There is one on every block, each older and more ornate than the other.
We walked the coast daily. Tourist material compared the Cádiz sea promenade to the Malecon in Havana. Both are great curving C shapes bordering the coast, providing enchanting views of land and sea. In both cities, it is the designated place for kissing and selfie poses. The kissers are not just lovers but also friends, parents, and grandparents; a place to express love.
We hung laundry on the roof every other day while watching the action on the plaza and the port. One day we danced to the band music in the plaza below us, while a group of birds flew circles around the Diario de Cádiz building; a feast for my emotional and physical bodies.
My emotional and physical bodies were also satiated at the giant and ancient Mercado Central, with its myriad vegetable, seafood, olive, and sheep cheese stands, We shopped there every day, filling our bags with persimmons and shrimp, artichokes, and pomegranates. In Spain, we were not in love with the restaurant cuisine. We did, however, find two dishes, served in one restaurant that made us swoon. Fresh tuna cooked with slices of goat cheese and a sauce that was probably just butter and molasses. Supreme. A salad served in a pineapple with shrimp, lettuce, hearts of palm, and smoked salmon. Divine. The restaurant was on a plaza that is a forest of planted trees.
We went back again and ordered lo mismo. On that day a man approached our table and asked us to buy his bracelets. He and Dave exchanged stories. He was from Mali. The rest of his family were on the Mexico border trying to get into the US, but they didn’t have papers. He wanted to join them. There are no jobs in Spain, and you can’t make a living selling beaded bracelets. He gave us each a bracelet. We gave him euros. The beads remind us there are no borders in the struggle for immigrant rights. The conversation with him reminded us how few meaningful social interactions we were having with people other than each other. Mostly we resorted to what parents of toddlers call parallel play. At the city library, we had no conversations but felt communion with others who were also reading and writing. Music feeds the emotional and spiritual bodies, especially for David. When we walked into our Cádiz apartment, he looked around expectantly.
“Somehow I thought when we got to Spain I would have a guitar to play.”
Later at the plaza in front of the Mercado Central, we perused the used goods spread on the ground, looking for a facsimile of a menorah. We found none. But there was a man selling guitars; Dave got the cheapest one: 25 euros. Today while I write, he is working on chords for El Quinto Regimiento, a song from the 1936-9 Spanish Civil War.
Cadiz streets reverberated with electrified guitarras. We contributed our coins to their cases, awed by plaintive voices. Often they had a recorded percussive clapping track to accompany strummers and singers. One day we walked past a tiny bar, big enough for ten standing up. Inside were men shoulder to shoulder surrounding a guitarist, voices lifted in harmony. Peaking in the doorway, I fell in love with all of them. So did Dave. He looked like a little boy trying to figure out how to join the cool group.
“Go on in,” I said.
“But I don’t know the words,” he said.
Instead, we sat on the church steps next door, and listened.
We went to a free concert at the library; a musical homage to six books. The only one I had read (or heard of) was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The others were famous Spanish poets and novelists. A man read excerpts, while a guitarist, contra base player, and alto saxophonist played original compositions. The event took place in the children’s library room, with a ceiling 90 feet high.
One evening as we walked the Malecon, flamenco singers and guitarists were performing at a bar on the beach, We watched the waves dance to the music.
Manifestacion on the International Day for Human Rights
We saw a leaflet plastered on a wall, about a protest for justice in Gaza, to take place on December 10, to mark the International Day for Human Rights. We went in search of posterboard and markers to make a sign to carry. I crafted a message about being a Jew for Justice. On December 9 we rehearsed taking a walk to find the Plaza where the protest would take place. Everything was close in Cádiz, but we got lost every single time. The phone maps were useless as they could not tell where we were on these tiny ancient paths. Getting lost was usually a pleasure, but in this case, we wanted to make it to the rally, so we practiced.
On the 10th we got to the site early. We could see from the Palestinian keffiyeh scarfs, that a few people had already gathered. They looked so familiar and yet so foreign. They greeted each other in familiar ways, a community of activists who have been doing this for a long time. That felt like home. Yet no one recognized or greeted us, reminding us we were strangers. I brought my poster but never unfurled it. David carried it rolled up for the entire march. I think we were the only extranjeros there. I am sure I was the only Jew. There is no Jewish community in Cádiz, no AIPAC, and no Jewish Voice for Peace. There was a small contingent of Muslims—Arab and African. Though there were some young people with strollers, (the University is not in session), the vast majority were Spaniards in my age cohort, a coalition of three groups who came together.
We marched slowly through the crowded narrow streets of old Cádiz, chanting, in Spanish, “It’s not a war it’s a genocide” and “Israel bombs with European arms.” There was one chant that we were not sure of the meaning. David thought they were saying to Israelis: “You protested Netanyahu months ago, where are you now?”
At the Municipal Building (a few steps from our apartment), the march ended in a rally, making a large circle. There were a few speeches, all quite moderate, though sending a strong message that Israel was intent on genocide and the world needs to stop it. One speaker talked more generally about human rights in Spain, particularly the rights of immigrants. A Palestinian child of about four years, danced in the space our circle made, bringing smiles to everyone. The rally ended promptly and everyone dispersed.
David suggested we follow some who were gathering at a lunch spot, and so we did, getting a table between two groups who still had their protest stickers on. As if people would talk to us if we just sat there. They did not. This only made me feel lonelier. I was already overcome by a cocktail of emotions that Dave did not share. When we returned to our apartment, I felt clammy and cold though the room was warm. I crawled under the covers for the rest of the afternoon.
December 12 We watched a liberation theology mass at the famous Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, on Spain’s public TV. The music was magnificent and ethnically diverse with Latin American flutes combined with classical music, ending with a song that was a rousing call to action. Anti-war and pro-refugee messages were the focus. Ukrainian refugees and a nun who runs a hospital for war refugees, spoke. The solo singer made me weep. The Pope sent a video, “There are no winners in war except arms manufacturers,” he said. Amazing how comforting it is to have a person in a powerful position say what all conscious humanity knows: the emperors are indeed naked.
My spiritual body was fed by the music and words of truth in this religious context. It was equally satiated by witnessing righteous struggles of a secular nature. In Sevilla, we saw a protest of workers in front of a majestic post office. It was not a strike, but an action of support for post offices in danger of being privatized. While Dave went inside to send a package I stood outside taking photos trying to understand their chants. In Cádiz, home healthcare workers protested at the municipal building a couple of times a week, demanding public support for their industry and dignified wages and working conditions. They wore white coats and blew deafening whistles. The signs they posted on the building were not taken down. Unfortunately, my ear registered their whistles as acute pain so I took their photos, nodded my solidarity, and then removed myself from their vicinity for the duration of their protests.
Given the high unemployment rate, it is especially admirable to see organized workers making demands in Spain. The ruling Socialist Party has said they are going to decrease the work week from 40 hours to 37.5 in 2025. Hopefully, that will lessen unemployment.
While in Cádiz, we went to Tangier, Morocco, for two nights. It was a fifty-mile bus ride to Tarifa, Spain, where a ferry took us across the water to Africa. The coasts there are close enough that you can see the other continents across the water. In Tarifa, there is a small police presence, guarding the coast, and some public art (a statue of children’s shoes) that protest the inhumanity of borders. This borderland is not as militarized as the United States/Mexico border, but the similarities are obvious to any conscious person. I’ll stick my neck where it doesn’t belong and say I don’t think all the people gathered in Tarifa to kite surf were conscious.
During the crossing I was excited to see massive container ships leaving the Mediterranean and entering the Atlantic Ocean. I know, they are probably up to no good, carrying sweatshop goods across the water, but I find them exciting nevertheless, here or in Duluth, Minnesota, where they might be headed. They say to me, we are a small world.
In Tangier, we left behind Christmas, beer, and ham, and entered a world of covered women, mint tea, and calls to prayer that ring out five times a day from every mosque, not in unison, but in a cacophony that is quite beautiful. The market stalls were more specialized than in Cádiz, though the man who sold only oranges one day, was selling only potatoes the next. Yet there was also so much that was similar to southern Spain. The tiles, architecture, fruits and vegetables. The people look very similar, ethnically speaking. In the short time we had there I may have learned little about Morocco, but I feel I learned much about the Moorish influence in Andalucía. I can recognize so much that is Muslim in Tarifa and Cádiz. I cannot listen to Flamenco music, admire gorgeous tiles, or view castle architecture the same way when we return.
The ferry arrives right at the door of the old city. In a reversal of Portugal and Spain where ancient walls were often built by the North African Muslims during their centuries of reign, in Tangier we were told the ancient walls were built by the Portuguese when they controlled Morocco in the 14th century. European powers have fought each other over control of Morocco for centuries. As a result, Moroccan Arabic is infused with European isms—Spanish in the north, and French in the south. As we were in Northern Morocco, we got along well speaking in Spanish to vendors, letting them know our desire to buy freshly made bread hot off the griddle, oranges, dates, walnuts, and pomegranates.
Morocco was a French colony until 1947. Remember that scene in Casa Blanca when they stood up to the Nazis by singing La Marseillaise, the French anthem?
While in Morocco, I listened to a podcast about Jewish Moroccan radicals in the 20th century. Most Jews in Morocco supported the French during the struggle for independence, but a few notable leftists supported and even led the struggle to overthrow the colonial power. Yet some of them—full of political contradictions as most of us are— then supported the takeover of Western Sahara by Morocco.
There are cats everywhere in Tangier’s old city. People feed them quite royally. We saw a small kitten with a meal of chicken twice its size. We are told that Muslims view cats as clean and holy, but not dogs. There is cat poop everywhere, but it is not overwhelming, so someone must clean it regularly. I wonder if the seagulls descend at night and eat it. On the little paths too small to be called roads, people use hooks on the road to string yarn. It is one communal aspect of life here that hits you. Each block, our guild tells us, has a Mosque, and water cistern and a Turkish bath. Many residents do not have running water in their homes. There are also communal ovens.
I am the only woman in the café where our guide leaves us for lunch, and again at the tea shop where we take an afternoon break.
Marx said religion is the opiate of the masses, yet as I listened to the call for prayer, I imagined that this communal fealty must drive capitalists crazy. I know the Amazon packaging factory in Minnesota fought the demands of a Muslim workforce for designated times and places for prayer.
On the second day, we were taken up to a neighborhood that is replicated across the world, where an international class of billionaires has one of their dozen mansions —palaces that sit empty until July when the cool air of Tangier causes them to flock here. Up on Billionaire Row, I did not hear the call to prayer. I don’t know if that was just a coincidence of time, but we were there for many hours. Our guide liked the billionaires, telling us stories of their largess. He was bullish on the King of Morocco and his efforts to lure these global elites, as well as his recent rapprochement with the US and Israel, (he pointed out wooden doors in the old city built with Isreal/US funds, as COVID aid), and, in general, the King’s embrace of neoliberal economics, to lure investment. I asked about schools. He chastised me for not remembering we are in Africa but then said he was sure that in six years they would have a robust school and health care system. A moment later he was pointing out the palace where Ivanka Trump stayed on her last visit.
I think because I am Jewish, we were treated to a tour of the Jewish Cemetery and one of the two remaining synagogues in Tangier. I have spent a lot of time visiting Jewish cemeteries in Europe. Here the population was not massacred, so the tour is not morbid. In the 1990s the bulk of the Jewish population migrated, to Israel, the US, and Canada. They come back once a year to celebrate a holiday that is theirs alone, in their homeland.
I do feel a strong affinity for these resting places and places of worship, though my religious upbringing was agnostic and I was never a member of a temple.
My religious upbringing was dominated by my mom, a scientist who believed in biology, yet was also a strong advocate of religious tolerance and respect. We only prayed once in my household: the day Robert Kennedy lay dying but not yet dead. She had us bow our heads and think good thoughts for the slain Presidential candidate. Culturally Jewish, she brought religious rituals of Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Passover into our household, and monitored the amount of dominant Christian culture we absorbed: no Christmas tree, yes stockings. No Easter bonnet (which I coveted), yes dying eggs. We also celebrated the Chinese (Asian) New Year, and dabbled in Day of Dead rituals, in probably appropriative ways.
Yet she was not one of those religious atheists. Far from it. Multi-culturalism was a religion to her. Yet she was bitter and clear about the divisive nature of “universal” religions.
“Religion is the cause of all wars,” she would tell me.
My dad was a silently religious Jew, who only made his beliefs known to his children when he was dying. How awkward it was for us when he would request us to read from a religious text while he lay there succumbing to colon cancer.
As for me, when 20, now on my own, struggling with how to stay alive and overcome assault, I looked for spiritual guidance. I went to the Hillel on the University of Minnesota campus and was deeply moved by the dancing prayers, and the chanting. It felt like home. But then there were the directions for action to support the state of Israel. I was not versed in Israeli/ Palestine politics but I had gone to some anti-apartheid rallies and I knew Israel was supporting the apartheid South Africa. I gathered up the courage to ask the Rabbi for a meeting. I asked him if there was room for me at Hillel if I could not support the state of Israel. He told me, in a very kind voice, that there was not.
It was activism that gave me a concept of the divine I could believe in. And that was simply that the power we have as a collective is more powerful than the sum of our parts. That kind of math invites faith. I recognized the abuse of religion as a tool of the warmakers, hungry for territory, natural resources, and control of labor. But I also saw how religion gives people the strength and the ideology to fight militarism and the oppression of working people.
In Tangier, I saw the Muslim practice of providing not just a mosque but also collective water sources, public bathes, ovens, and places to sew rugs.
I wondered what it would be like to have a place where your religion and your cultural practices are dominant. I am curious, maybe a little envious, even though I know a pluralist society is what I prefer. Curious, and envious, but not enough to want to obliterate people who don’t have my background or practices. Never. Nunca.
In Madrid, I pick up a book on Jewish Liberation Theology at the Casa Arabe bookstore. It speaks directly to what is happening in Gaza today— the abuse of religion to justify mass violence and perpetuate inequality.
But it is a hopeful book too. The Author, Marc Ellis, reminds us liberation theology in any faith is concerned about inequality today, and sides with the have-nots always. The book came out before the rise of Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. The theology that stands up to militarism and for the oppressed is arising.
We were in Madrid on January 20 and had the privilege of participating in an international day of protest demanding a ceasefire and support for South Africa’s International lawsuit charging Israel with genocide. I found out about the protest from researching a FB group. I was dubious, as only three people liked the post about the protest, and six people shared it. Maybe this was something politically obscure? The address was cryptic too, a mystery for the foreigner.
I was proud I figured it out.
We crossed Retiro Park to the plaza near the train station, and there were the multitudes. Some estimates are saying 50,000. It was a rally so big, that signs, speeches, and chants were unnecessary. The number of people—too large to move at more than the speed of a shuffle— spoke volumes to the Government of Spain, the EU, Israel, the United States, and the Palestinian people. We stand for justice so we support the South African lawsuit and we demand an end to the genocide.
I was clear as I stood among them, a tiny part of something huge (there were protests in every corner of the world including 83 Spanish cities) that this is all my spiritual body wants.
To walk with others, on the side of justice.
More on Cádiz and Tangier
More on Madrid.http://Madrid Miracles. Aging on the Run Post #4