The Good Old Days

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Our last full day in Toledo.  The next day we would take the train to Madrid, spend a night at an airport hotel, then fly early—me to Minneapolis/St. Paul and Lynn to Aberdeen.

At breakfast, I noticed over Lynn’s shoulder that there were large stone sculptures visible through the hotel windows.

“That’s nice, that they have a garden and sculptures outside,” I remarked.

“Yes,” Lynn replied, “Why don’t they mention it when you check in?  It would have been nice to sit out there yesterday when it was sunny.”

This led to a discussion of the few nice days in Scotland—in August—where you can sit out on the patio and have a Pimms.  In case you’ve never heard of Pimms, it’s a mysterious drink (mysterious to me as an American, anyway) that involves Pimm’s Liqueur and lots of fruit, cucumbers, and mint.  Very refreshing.  And then the rain comes, and you have to scurry back inside.

Somehow this led to a conversation about what makes the Scots Scottish.  Lynn, being English but living in Scotland, had many observations and insights.  I know it was a long discussion, but I can’t remember anything about it.  I wasn’t bored—quite the contrary—I always find topics like this interesting.  The good thing about not remembering conversations is that I can look forward to having them again the next time I see Lynn.

We were the last ones in the breakfast room again.  Time to move along; we were going to see all the rest of Toledo’s sites in one day.

I see in my sketchy notes that we went to the Santa Cruz Museum.  According to the map/guide, it has a “beautiful Plateresque doorway, coffered ceilings, and a monumental staircase in a Covarrubias design.”  Wow.  If I saw it, I’m sure I was impressed, but I have absolutely no recollection of it.  Maybe by now I was dazed by so many churches, museums, and other sites that my brain couldn’t take in any more.

I do remember the San Fe Museum … oh, wait.  On the map they look like the same thing … two museums possibly sharing one building? … online it describes “the hospital” of Santa Cruz.  Here’s a map of Toledo that was set in the sidewalk to illustrate what a jumble it is.

Anyway, Lynn and I paid €5 each and went into an enormous building named after a saint.  The floorplan was like a giant cross, naturally, and we figured out after about an hour that each arm of the cross was a different century, so we went from the 16th Century to the 15th, then to the 18th, then the 17th, which surely didn’t help me retain anything I might have accidentally learned.

By now I wasn’t even making a polite show of looking at the paintings of the Virgin Mary and crucifixions. What was left, if you skipped the religious stuff, was politics and culture.  Of course, religion, culture, and politics were inextricably intertwined.

Think about the entertainment options back then.  No TV, radio, movies, Internet, or telephone.  The first newspaper wasn’t published until the mid-1600s.  Books were rare and mostly owned by wealthy people and religious leaders, who were also the ones who commissioned paintings and musical pieces.  They ensured the themes were religious, except when they commissioned porn for their own secret collections.

If you were poor you worked six days a week and went to church on Sunday, where you saw paintings of martyrs, heard sermons about going to heaven when you died, and sang hymns about how blessed were the obedient poor.

It was all about control of wealth and power. This was also true about females born into wealth.  One of the themes of the exhibit was “strategic marriages as foreign policy.”  If a girl survived infancy, her parents started plotting her marriage to a decades-older cousin who was a royal in another principality.  If she didn’t produce an heir and a spare, she was considered worthless.

On the positive side, she did get to wear this for a couple hours during her coronation.

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