Tag Archives: Muslim History

Glazed Olambrillas

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

If Lynn was as disappointed in the hotel breakfast buffet as I was, she didn’t show it, and it didn’t prevent us from holding our usual hour-long breakfast conversation.

Lynn had already informed me that she would boycott travel to the U.S. while Trump was in office.  She and her husband were contemplating a trip to Helsinki and Russia.  She had a friend, a former colleague from when she worked for Nokia, who might be interested in joining them.  Might I be interested in joining them?  It would be some anniversary of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ … birth, death … I can’t remember, and Helsinki would spruce up its concert halls for a special slate of performances in his honor.  They would meet her Nokia friend in Helsinki, then take the train to Moscow and on to St. Petersburg to visit the Hermitage Museum.

“But wait,” I challenged her, “You’ll go to Russia, which has a despotic ruler, but you won’t come to the U.S.?”

“But you lot chose Trump,” Lynn replied. Ouch.

We talked about our travel bucket lists.  Both lists include Russia, specifically the Hermitage, and I would love to make a pilgrimage to Tolstoy’s house.  Mine list also includes: some sort of boat trip through the Amazon, a yoga/meditation spa retreat somewhere in southeast Asia possibly on a lagoon, hiking through Japan and eating sushi along the way instead of gorp, and—I recently snorkeled for the first time in Belize—anywhere that offers snorkeling on a reef gets extra points.

“I’d also like to spend some time living on a narrow boat to see how that would be,” I added.  “I looked at house boats in St. Paul a couple years ago.  They’re beautiful inside, lots of gorgeous woods, and you don’t pay property taxes!  But it’s Minnesota … in the winter you have to shrink wrap your boat in plastic or set bubblers around it to keep it from being crushed by ice.”

Lynn appeared to shudder; she is not a fan of boats, especially ones where you have to walk up a gang plank while the boat is rocking front to back and side to side.

“I quite fancy going to Ethiopia,” she said.  We had discussed the possibility of meeting up there the previous year, when I had thought I might go for work.  Alas, that didn’t materialize.  Then a state of emergency was declared due to protests by the country’s ethnic groups in which hundreds of people were killed.  Our talk pivoted to ethnic conflicts, war, international development, torture, and genocide.

“Well, that’s a good cue to move along to the Transito museum, isn’t it?” I suggested.  And so we did.

It’s actually called the Synagogue of El Transito.  It was founded by a guy named Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, who was treasurer to the king of Castile in the mid-14th Century.  After the Jews were expelled a hundred and fifty years later, it was renamed the Church of the Transit of the Virgin.

Thankfully the place was only steps from our hotel so we were able to find it without getting lost. It was like a very, very small version of the Alhambra, with what I would call Moorish designs.  This made sense because most of the work on it was carried out by Muslim craftsman—back in the day when we all got along.  You know, that one day.

There was an attached museum with very, very detailed written history of the Jews in Spain, which I skipped, and a collection of Sephardi religious and household items in what used to be the women’s balcony (In Orthodox synagogues, women sat separate from men in a balcony or behind a screen where they can’t be seen, and they aren’t counted in the 10 attendees required to hold a service.)  This is a circumcision chair.  Don’t ask me how it’s used.

There were steps leading down to the foundation, which promised some marvelous archeological find but which contained only this sign:

Glazed olambrillas? They sounded tasty, whatever they were.

We walked out to explore the city and find some lunch.