Back in the Homeland

15 museums

8 flights

7 hotels

6 palaces and villas

5 train rides

4 countries, if you count the Vatican

3 weeks

2 friends who are miraculously still good friends

1 drained bank account, but totally worth it

Zero muggings, rip offs, illnesses, or other crises.

Uncountable numbers of churches, nameless restaurants and cafes, glasses of wine, paintings of the Virgin Mary, and taxi rides to and from bus stations and airports.

I’m on a plane back home after 3 weeks of traveling around Italy, Malta, and Spain.  I’ve got nine hours ahead of me on the way to Atlanta, then another flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul before I land at 6:40pm.  They guy sitting next to me, Ryan, is from Atlanta.  He told me he was traveling on business and I immediately assumed he would be a conservative Republican who sells B2B online storage solutions or something but it turns out he works for a progressive Baptist international nongovernmental organization.  We chatted about what our respective organizations do, about how different countries examine their pasts, and then touched briefly on the election results before he put in his headphones to watch a movie and I flipped open my laptop.  He said half his organization’s employees are African American, and the day after the election their regular check-in meeting was just dead silence.

When I checked in with a colleague where I work (the Center for Victims of Torture), the day after the election, she said the office was like a morgue.  We had been running a two-month anti-torture campaign to educate people about how torture is illegal.  Now we may have to kick it into high gear to push back against US use of torture.

I’ll have a lot more to write about this trip, but speaking of torture, I visited a museum in Granada, Spain that advertised a special exhibition about torture.  Lynn rolled her eyes when I asked if she wanted to go. It was about the only time we didn’t do something together.

What I didn’t realize was that the museum’s name was Casa Sephardi, Sephardi being the term for Jews who used to live in Spain and Portugal.

The exhibit started off easy, with displays of artifacts like menorahs, prayer shawls, and wedding costumes.  Then came the Spanish Inquisition.  Jews had done well in Spain for the most part, sometimes prospering even more under Muslim protection than under Christian rule.  But, as has happened over and over throughout history, Jews became a victim of their own successes.  There were religious differences, for sure, but economics was a prime motivator to get rid of the Jews so their property could be confiscated.  In 1391, 4,000 Jews were massacred in Seville.  This was followed by mass forced conversion to Christianity.  Judaism provides a “get out” clause that allows us to convert if our life is at stake.  We’re practical like that.  So most Jews “converted” but continued to practice Judaism covertly.

The Inquisition imprisoned and tortured the Jews who had converted, sincerely or not, and their property was sold off to cover their expenses—which I guess would have included bread and water and manacles.  Their families were turned out into the streets.

Surprise!  They were all found guilty and executed.  In 1492, all the remaining Jews were expelled from Spain.  About a hundred years later, Muslims were also subjected to forced conversions, Inquisition and expulsion.

Lastly, there was the “special” exhibit about torture.  It was awful, truly awful, and I am someone who works for a torture rehabilitation center.  I’ll write about it more in a separate post, and stop reading here if you know you could be upset by disturbing images.

Here’s my take away: the displays, which appeared to be decades old, confirmed two themes in CVT’s anti-torture campaign:

Waterboarding is torture, and a medieval technique at that:


Torture is not effective in obtaining accurate information.


This is one of the reasons travel is important, especially for us Americans, especially now: so we can learn from history (Spanish history is our history), learn from other cultures, learn the truth, and come back prepared to fight for our values.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!  May we somehow find some harmony during the holiday season and in the year to come.

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