Las Montañas de Nieve

The salt mountain, Cardona“Where will we go today?”
Miro is three years old. It is August and we are in Spain.
“I do not know. Let’s look at the map and see what is around here.”
“Let’s go see another castle.”

After we pass Montserrat the main color is yellow. Sunburnt country. The hills before the Pyrenees are green. We stop at Cardona.
“What language do we speak here?”
Lorena is six. She has asked me this question many times this summer. Every time the car stopped in a new town.
“Spanish or Catalan. Whichever you prefer.”

“The fence is from the 12th century. The frescos have been removed, you can see them at MNAC.”
It is cold in the crypt. I sit on the stone and watch my children run around the crypt and the church. We are the only visitors here. The kids are playing horses. The guard, who opened us the church door and is standing next to it, smiles at me. The church is cool and empty. After the hot August sun the air inside is like water.

“The white mountains?”
“Yes. We call them Las Montañas de Nieve. What you see from this window is salt.”
We buy a card and a book from the guard and leave.

The entrance hall is empty. We are the only visitors again. We are charged 28 Euros to be taken inside the salt mine. The kids are excited. We board on a 4×4 and drive to the mine. The road is made of salt. Then we walk on salt.

“All the mountain is salt. There is no rock or other elements inside of it. It consists of three types of salt, potassium, magnesium and the regular salt. Magnesium salt is mostly orange.
It breaks easily. Miners hated it,” Monica, the guide, is taking us on a walking tour inside the salt mountains.
“Can I lick the wall?”
Both kids are licking the walls with enthusiasm.
“Umm. I love salt.”

It is cold inside the mountain.
“We are 46 meters deep now, the temperature is stable at 17C here.”
“Was the temperature an obstacle to the mining?”
“It was, but not here. The mines go up to 1300 meters deep inside the mountain. It is all salt. The miners were only interested in potasa (potassium). It was used for gunpowder. In this mine about 30% of the salt is potasa. Every time there would be no more left, miners would go deeper into the ground. At 1300 meters the temperature of the earth is 50C. Miners worked at these conditions with ventilation installations. Also, the ground waters were dripping non stop and it required a lot of machinery and human labor to keep the mine dry and in working conditions. In 1990s the mine was closed as the operating costs surpassed the profits. Ten years ago it was opened for tourism.”

I ask Monica how did the city life changed with the mine closure.
“I think it is good that the mining was terminated here. Otherwise in 50 years there would be no mountain left. We would have lost all the resources and the scenery.”
“How do the people live here now?”
“Does it give enough?”
“Not yet. Tourism is a longterm investment. We are very young in this sense. We have the castle (Cardona Fortress) and the mines. In 20 years from now it will be better. It will give us profit while conserving the heritage.”

Living off the heritage. I fall silent. I look at the mines. They are beautiful and motionless. The quietness of not living. My eyes see people working. The effort and excellence of human mind and body created kilometers of tunnels, clogging the salt rock with the machinery noise and dust. You must be good! You must be damn good at what you do in order to do it! Otherwise you would not touch this mountain.

While we are waiting for the 4×4 Lorena talks to Monica in Catalan. I can’t hear her. I am surrounded by the absence of sound that comes from inside of the mountain. I can see Lorena hugging and kissing Monica on the cheek.

“I have seven horses. Come to visit me and you can ride there. I live close to Sant Llorenç de Morunys. There is a swamp called La Llosa de Cavall. You will find me there. There is only one house along the swamp, this is where I live. And I have a 10 year old daughter. Come over for a visit.”
“Can we visit Monica?”
“Of course.”

In the car I write down the name of the town and the place.
“You do not need my phone number. If I am not at home, go to the town and ask for Monica de las Casas, this is how they call me here. You will find me.”
“We will. We will come over next Saturday, will you be there?”
“I will.”

“Mom, I love Monica. What color do you think are her horses? Will she have white ones? I do not like white horses.”
“Neither do I.”
“I know. This is why I do not like them too. They are awful, right?”
I look at her and laugh.
“Nope. Some of the white ones must be fine. It is just the one that I rode was bad-tempered. Almost broke my hands once. Others must be good. Do not be afraid to ride white horses.”
“I am not.”

We drive in silence. Then kids start talking about the salt mountain. They want to go there again.
“Are you tired?”
It is close to midnight when we get on B-20 towards Barcelona.

Cardona FortressCardona Fortress.The church, CardonaSan Vicente church within the castle.CardonaThe view from the castle.Salt MountainThe Salt Mountains, CardonaInside the salt minesInside the Salt Mines, Cardona.salt mountainsSalt Mountains CardonaSalt Mountains.San Vicente churchInscription on the floor of San Vicente Church within the Cardona Fortress: Valer o Morir.

Sant Jordi, Barcelona

Plaza Bonanova on Sant Jordi

Yesterday was a very beautiful holiday here in Barcelona: Sant Jordi. It goes back to the legend of the cavalier Jordi that slaughtered a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon’s blood red roses grew and Jordi gave one to the princess. Since then on the April 23rd all men give roses to women. And women give men a book, to never forget the history and the legend.

Since I was a teen I found this holiday wonderful. The city is full of flowers and bookstands, everybody is cheerful, you give and receive roses. Somehow people are very happy. It is spring and there is no better way to feel it than seeing so many smiles and flowers around.

Downtown Barcelona is decorated and beautiful on that day. We did not have a chance to go to the downtown this year. We were busy with the kids, taking them to their Sant Jordi activities. However, we were glad to see that our part of Barcelona was beautiful and full of flowers too. Kids were dressed as princesses and cavaliers on that day, there were theater plays in their respective schools. My son’s daycare held hot chocolate and coca (Catalonia cake with sugar and pine nuts) for the kids and their families. And at our daughter’s art school they had an open-door day, inviting all the families to participate in making roses and decorating the walls with paintings. Here are some pictures from yesterday. It is Sarria / Sant Gervasi area of Barcelona.

Corner of Muntaner and Reus on Sant JordiCorner of Muntaner and Reus streets in Barcelona on the April 23rd

carrer MuntanerMuntaner street close to the plaza Bonanova

Traditional roses sold on Sant JordiSant Jordi red roses

the church on Plaza BonanovaThe church on plaza Bonanova

Pan de la diada, Sant JordiPan de la diada. Catalonian bread for Sant Jordi Holiday. It is made of cheddar and morcilla (blood sausage).

book stands on plaza BonanovaBook stands on the plaza Bonanova

plaza Bonanova and Muntaner streetPlaza Bonanova and Muntaner Street on Sant Jordi

Red roses done by the kids of the Sienna art schoolRed roses from paper and cloth done by the kids at the Siena Art School on Sant Jordi day

Sant Jordi mural in Sienna Art schoolSant Jordi mural done by the kids at the Siena Art School on Sant Jordi

Red roses painted on the wall at Sienna art schoolThe last roses of the day were the ones painted by the kids on the walls of the Siena Art School.

This was one beautiful day of spring! And the festivities are going on for the rest of the week. It feels like every day is a holiday in Barcelona.

Between Love and Selfishness

Red roses on Sant Jordi

When we talk about love a lot of times it comes down about satisfying one’s needs. Yeap, in the down to earth approach people are looking to satisfy their needs and desires. They want to hear nice words, receive gifts, be treated like someone special, be the one and the only, be respected, be comforted, be assured. In one word be loved.

This is not love. This is selfishness. And it is completely opposite to what love is.

Love in its essence is giving. Is the ability to give, to be generous, not to expect anything in return. To love is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable over and over again, even if the other deceives us. To love is to hope. It is to hope that what we give will be accepted and appreciated. It is not about the hope to receive the same gifts in return. Love is never fair. This is why it is wonderful. It is our amazing ability to hope beyond our rationality. And as the life shows, this hope is stronger and more powerful than any rational thoughts or acts. Real love always wins (if one can use the word win here). You just have to ask yourself if what you feel is love (i.e. an impulse to give) or is it a desire to satisfy your needs, to validate your feeling and to get the same in return. These are the two ends of the same line. You have to figure out where you stand. Is it 80/20 or 50/50 or 20/80? The greater is the first number the happier you will be, as the first one depends totally on you.

This morning started at 6am with my son and daughter running around the house. They were excited to give roses to their teachers and friends. It is the Sant Jordi Holiday in Catalonia. As the legend says on that day a cavalier named Jordi slaughtered a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon’s blood red roses grew and Jordi gave one to the princess. Since then, every year on the April 23rd the men give red roses to the women. Not just to the women they are in love with or married to, but to many women that are part of their lives. And women give men a book (sometimes), to remind them of the legend and the cavaliers. It is a beautiful tradition, because it is based on giving. My 3 year old son jumped his way to the daycare with two red roses in his hands. One for his teacher and one for his 2 year old friend Paula. He was extremely happy all the way there and he was extremely shy when he gave the roses to the ladies. It is ok to be shy. This is what to be a cavalier means, to do good things to others even if you are shy or afraid or unsure. As parents I feel we should learn to give with love. This is the only way our children will be able to do so too.

Love (and giving) shows itself in small details, in our everyday life. It is not always easy to practice it. A lot of times we do not notice where we could give, we are too busy, too shy, too self-conscious, too rational. We also have to protect ourselves from the outside world, from others, and we wear our “street” clothing (our selfish selves) with a great smile and encouraging greetings.  We become waterproof. We are aware of our needs and desires more than we are of love and giving.

Once I take my waterproof jacket off, I know that there is one single feeling that is able to illuminate me from inside. It is also the most important thing is life Love.

Note: As the author of this post, I have to add that this very morning I have been mean at least six times and more that I do not remember. To love and to give is not simple at all, it is natural for us to be selfish, but I think we should try to be better when we have a chance and can. If you consciously realize that you can change somebody’s day by giving (a smile, a rose, a nice word, an orange, a gift, some help), then do not shy away, do it! Sort of as a monthly experiment! I will do so too.