November 13, 2013


 From the air Barcelona looks like a series of gift boxes, appropriate for a city that makes you feel like every day is your birthday. Fanciful sights await you if you just open the boxes. The top of every building is crowned with ornaments. And there is plenty of room to play: to walk or relax, to eat good food, to enjoy the beach.

Barcelona Fancy by Gary

Fountains by Michele
If American cities had the kind of vision the leaders of this city had in the early 1900’s, our cities would be more livable. They would have space for people, not just space for buildings and cars.

They would be compact and yet not feel dense. They would combine art at every turn (even for
Green Houses by Michele
communication towers) and they would not fear innovation.

Our hotel is in the Las Ramblas district, an area that bustles day and night. One-half block away is a dragon designed by Joan Miró for an umbrella shop.

The Umbrella  Shop by Michele

We also are not far from the Erotic Museum. I am uncertain about what is inside, but whenever “Marilyn Monroe” comes out on the balcony and lifts her white skirt, the school boys on the promenade punch one another on the shoulder and drool.

We have been in the city for eight days and traveled from one end to the other. Our favorite tourist sites were:

The extraordinary Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

This museum is filled with Medieval and Renaissance Art from the Catalan area of Spain. The interior of the building, constructed for a world exposition in 1929, has been re-designed to hold exhibits of church niches and apses in their original form.

Catalan Museum by Gary

Casa Batlló (designed by Gaudì)

I wonder how Gaudí persuaded anyone to build a house like this one and yet his work prevails throughout the city. Stop to realize that this was built at the turn of the last century.

Casa Batlló at Dusk by Michele

These are chimneys from another of Gaudí’s houses.

Rooftop by Gary

The incomparable Sagrada Familia

This work of Gaudì’s is ongoing, 87 years after his death. Even before it has been finished, UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site.

The artist believed that his church should be filled with light and should resemble nature.
The interior is designed, and the ceiling supported, in the same pattern as trees.

Sagrada Familia Interior by Michele
Sagrada Familia Ceiling by Gary

When completed, the church (now a basilica) will have three facades. This is the stark façade that depicts the passion of Christ (Compare the soldiers to the Gaudí chimneys)

Veronica's Veil by Michele

Palau de la Musica Catalana

This fanciful building was a project begun by the Orfeó Català, a choral society founded in 1891.

Palau Facade by Gary

I was struck by how much the Music Palace emphasizes women. It claims to have established the first women’s choir. The stage is surrounded by muses: women dressed in the clothing of different countries and playing instruments from around the world. (Two of the muses cannot be seen from the audience and are visible only to the performers.) The center of the ceiling in the main concert hall is a profusion of colored light surrounded by the faces of women singers.

Palau ceiling by Gary
The Palace offers more than 300 concerts a year and more than half a million people a year attend the musical performances. The Music Palace’s mission is to promote Catalan music as well as international music. It also presents classical music and more popular forms, such as jazz and modern music. The only musical form it does not produce is opera, because the stage’s ornate decoration does not permit the inclusion of stage sets.

Layers of Modernism by Michele

Last Note from Europe:

We will soon be making plans to return home, grateful for our many experiences and the privilege of being able to spend three months abroad, but also grateful to be back in time zones more compatible with those we love. There will be more blogs about our European trip, but no more from Europe this year.

November 7, 2013



Seville is modern; it is steeped in history.

Seville’s soul is Catholic; it has a Moorish face.

Seville is quiet; it is energetic.

Seville is warm in climate; its people are warm and engaging.

Seville is safe; it is charming.

During the week the shopping areas are closed to most motor traffic so that pedestrians can easily view the stores on both sides of the wide streets. 
On Saturday afternoons the squares are filled with families, parents drinking wine or beer, children playing, everyone talking and laughing.

The highlights of the city are its three World Heritage sites: its massive Gothic cathedral (full of gold and silver while the unfortunate beg outside), the Alcázar (a wonder—until we saw the Alhambra in Granada) and the General Archives of the Indies (which had a display of documents about the discovery of the Pacific).


We had a tour of the Tio Pepe sherry plant, where kegs are signed by royalty and other famous personages who have visited the winery. It’s amazing how quickly a group of people on tour become fast friends after two glasses of free sherry.

We also saw a demonstration of Andalusian horses at the Andalusian School for Equestrian Arts. Pictures are only allowed for a couple of minutes, so I don’t have a photo that’s good enough to share. The show, however, is spectacular! Horses dance in rhythm to the music, prance, skip, and jump into the air with all four feet off the ground.


We heard you could enter the cathedral for free if you went to the early Mass. The fee for seniors in Spain is already a deal, as they extend it to all seniors, not just members of the EU (as in the other three countries we visited). “An extra Mass couldn’t hurt us,” we thought, and trudged across town, early in the morning.

What a blessing! A youthful choir from the University of Rochester (England), in their red robes, sang from the sculpted choir seats in the center of the Cathedral, their angelic voices kissing our heads with their grace. The Mass was concelebrated by so many priests I never got a full count. There was enough incense to fog the altar from our view. Before, and after the Mass, all the priests chanted the Hours. I am always surprised at how often the universe sends us moments that touch our hearts and inspire us as we travel.



We went to a gypsy cave in Sacromonte, on the outskirts of Granada one evening for a flamenco show. No castanets, no partners. Just one guitar, two singers, four dancers, and a complicated pattern of hand clapping, but there is no experience in this entire trip that can compare to visiting the Alhambra in Granada. It is breathtaking and I cannot find words to describe it, so I will only include some pictures, although they do not do the subject justice.

Alhambra Columns

Alhambra Design

Alhambra Reflection

Alhambra Design

Gary's Photo of Generalife's Gardens

Gary's Photo of Moorish Lace


Picasso only lived here until he was nineteen,
but the city tries to make the most of this happenstance.

Picasso Selling Tapas

Gary Hanging Out with Picasso

The museums in Malaga obviously do not house Picasso’s best works and we found the interactive museum of musical instruments much more interesting. This picture shows a percussion and stringed instrument made from an armadillo. 

Gibraltar is unique, almost magical. It is a self-governing territory in the English Commonwealth, only 2.6 square miles in area and home to only 30,00 people. Spain wants to possess this strategic entrance point to the Mediterranean, but the people of Gibraltar, many of Spanish descent (although their origins are international) vote heavily to maintain their independence.

We took a bus tour from Málaga that wound through the beautiful beach towns of the Costa del Sol. When we arrived at Gibraltar, the queue to get in was two hours long, so our guide told us we should disembark from the bus and walk in, as there would be no delay that way. Since the airport lies between Spain and Gibraltar we would just have to walk “through the airport,” he said. I assumed he meant the airport terminal, but, no, we walked on a wide pedestrian path, beside a road, right across the runways. A loud klaxon sounded after we passed and all vehicles and pedestrians stayed on the sidelines while a plane landed.

We visited a ginormous cave (yes, that word is in the dictionary—and appropriate here) full of stalactites and stalagmites that has been converted into a theater. We frolicked with the Barbary macaques as they came up and pulled on our trousers, their way of asking for food. The law prohibits feeding them and the fine is steep (£ 4,000), but the government cares for them, as there is a belief that the British will hold Gibraltar as long as the monkeys (an African breed) remain on the rock. For the better part of the twentieth century the military used to care for them, tracking them officially, naming them after famous British figures, and caring for them in the military hospital when ill. 

Gary's Monkey Picture

Michele's Monkey Picture

The military also built 34 miles of tunnels inside Gibraltar during World War II, which held 16,000 troops and a store of food to last for more than a year.

Touring the Tunnels

You can see Africa, the home of the monkeys, from Gibraltar! I don’t know why that was so exciting, but I felt like a child who had just seen a fairy! 

October 22, 2013

Research in Venice

GONDOLAS (Written October 2, 2013)

This morning, while fixing breakfast in our apartment, I heard a gondolier singing, not an unusual occurrence in Venice, but his voice sounded like it was in the next room. I pulled back the curtains and shutters, and a gondolier was within arm’s reach, his face even with mine. All of a sudden there were gondoliers zipping back and forth in the canal beside our apartment, not their usual route, but it seems the water had risen and the gondoliers had changed their route.

A young Japanese gentleman’s face, raised up at the crumbling buildings, noted my presence. His face broke into a wide smile and he waved at me. I returned the wave and all three of the young Japanese couples in his boat waved. Like small children, their hands flicked back and forth rapidly, and their smiles were so wide they might have been attempting to escape their faces. I broadened my smile and waved back, and they waved all the more. My smile was, I hope, welcoming, but it arose out of my knowledge that they had mistaken me for an Italian resident when I also am a tourist.

It was almost as much fun as hearing music, somewhat organ-like, coming from outside the internet shop. As it came closer, I peeked out the window and saw three alpenhorns stretched the length of a gondola with three alpenhorn players making extraordinary sounds, the music of mountain heights reverberating over the water and bouncing off ancient palazzos. 

LIBRARIES (written October 12, 2013)

Aside from needing my Venice fix, to satisfy my addiction to the aging buildings lacing the canals, my primary purpose in going to Venice for the fourth time was to do research. I am working on a book about Elena Piscopia who, in 1678, became the first woman in the world to earn a university degree. We (Gary and I) spent a significant amount of time in libraries, and some wandering the streets for the ambience, but the city itself I had exhausted previously. No, that is incorrect! You can never exhaust Venice.

Libraries here are, for the most part, private and difficult to enter for the first time. We now have permanent library cards and wander into the antique rooms with carved desks and tables (now equipped
Cheating a Bit: This library door
is actually in Seville
with electric outlets), walk across the creaky floors to the card catalogs or computers, and sit among scholars in total silence, thumbing through materials both modern and antique.

The principal difference between their libraries and ours seems to be the purpose of the library. The libraries in Italy seem to be designed for the books. They are cool, requiring sweaters on even warm days. Many of the best materials are locked away and require an expert to locate them. They are focused largely on their own national navel and some of the librarians resent that I do not speak Italian fluently. They refuse to speak slowly enough for me to understand them. Fortunately, there are librarians in other libraries who go out of their way to assist and graciously assure that we find what we seek. Just to be safe, however, we never mention that the upshot of this research will be historical fiction.


In the last two years Elena Piscopia has been the topic of this blog seven times, but for newcomers I will re-iterate a bit of her history. She was born in 1646, a bastard daughter of a nobleman and a
My Photo of 2011 Improved
by Professional Photographer
Michele Burton
woman portrayed throughout history as a prostitute. The fact is that noblemen could not marry below their station in Venice and Elena’s father, Giovanni Cornaro, loved Zanetta Boni enough to produce five children with her before he was able to persuade the Republic to violate their laws and allow him to marry. There is no evidence that Zanetta was ever with anyone other than Giovanni Cornaro, but the portrayal of her lack of morality persists. Elena was eight years old when her parents were married, probably after the payment of an exorbitant fee. 

Elena was fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Arabic. She studied theology, philosophy and science. Intellectuals visiting Venice would come to the Cornaro household to hear her recite or dispute on topics. Her father promoted her shamelessly and fought to have her receive a degree in theology from the University of Padua.

The Cardinal who headed the University disagreed that a woman could have a degree in theology. A degree meant the recipient could teach and the Cardinal did not believe that women were qualified to teach theology. They are of a lower moral character and more receptive to the heresies of the Reformation, he argued. A compromise was reached and Elena received a degree in philosophy. The next year the University voted to prohibit women from receiving degrees. 

Elena was also religious, joining the Benedictine order as an oblate. When she died, at the age of thirty-eight, she was celebrated by learned societies as a scholar, virgin, and saint.

October 19, 2013


Although I do not particularly enjoy shopping, I thought my serous shopper friends might enjoy pictures of the shops and markets in Positano, Italy. The colors were almost enticing enough to convert me to their passion.

October 13, 2013

Venice, The Watery City

     Venice is built on a lagoon, its homes whose weight is borne under the water by heavy beams arranged in circular patterns, appear to float on its surface. Its wealth and power extended for almost one thousand years because of its facility in using the water to enrich the republic and its citizens. Now they say Venice is sinking. They talk of a great underwater system, a hydraulic water gate, that will keep the water from washing away the city; but, for many years now, all they have done is talk.
Venice has always been a victim of floods, but now they occur regularly. Acqua alta literally means “high water,” but in Venice it means much more.
A Hotel's "Water" Gate
Water Crawling into a Palazzo

It means a lagoon that laps over the edges of the waterside streets, splashing on passersby.  

It means water that creeps up through the drains in St. Mark’s Square.

It means streets that become inundated up to most men’s calves. It means temporary walkways, long rows of low buffet-like tables, placed end-on-end, that became the only dry means of walking from one location in the city to another. It means that the city must be navigated, as if each citizen becomes a tiny ship afloat in a maze of man-constructed canyons.

Barricaded Bank

Water Seeping into the Querini Stampalia Library

We have never been in Venice for acqua alta, always planning our visits so that they ended in mid-October, right before navigation skills are required. This time, however, water threatened us.

Our friend Andrea Casadio

Our friend Andrea Casadio, a historian from Ravenna, came to visit and told us, “You really should experience acqua alta.” We were dubious but right after he left, the water rose, and rose. The water fell from the sky with such force that I believed Andrea might have been a prophet who called up Neptune to his aid. Puddles became impossible to avoid.

Gary, Prepared for the Deluge
We bought boots as insurance and they were a bargain. For 10 euros each, we could carry the totem around in our back pack until the rain stopped its deluge, water receded, and all the tourists returned.

The gondolas that had been tucked away under their blue tarps as the lagoon churled and snorted, crawled out with their gondoliers attached, and started anew to entertain the tourists, taking them for a “stroll” in what was once as useful to the Venetian as a car has become to us today. We still have not experienced acqua alta, but perhaps there will be another time.

(Thank you to Gary who contributed many of these pictures.)

October 2, 2013



This is Gary entering our hotel. 


I wonder what tall people do?

And this is the most important historical sign in Naples:


TRANSLATION: Here one hundred years ago the Pizza Margherita was born.


There are so many reminders here of how our concepts of the world, the supernatural, and ourselves are intertwined. I will let these pictures speak for themselves.