A couple of hours ago we arrived in La Linea – the Spanish side of the border with Gibraltar. A bed and a shower in a room – luxury for a night or two!! Dust, sand and who knows what else went down the shower plug!! As per usual we have been without WiFi for the past days, so a quick catch up here.
After leaving Huelva we drove to the Portugal side of the border, then drove on to Lagos (not the Nigerian one….) to meet a Brazilian couple who have been there a few months. As is often the case they have to figure out what to from here. Changes / transition like that are enormous, and much easier to speak into than live through. The necessity of the desert is that is the place where you can see what cannot be seen and hear what cannot be heard.
Our main focus in Portugal was two situations – Ourique where there was a decisive battle in 1139 that helped establish Portugal as a nation and overcome the Muslims and Evora that Gerald the Fearless took from the Moors in 1165. He later went on to take the city and taifa of Badajoz (1169). Both situations surprised us a lot. There was not the heavy element that we had discovered elsewhere in our travels. It felt as some aspects had already been undone. Maybe there had been others there long before us, or the Christian presence was living in a different spirit to the ReConquista? It felt as if it should have been heavier!! Mr. ‘Fearless’ is certainly someone of interest, described as the ‘El Cid’ of Portugal he likewise seemed to play both sides, reminiscent also of a certain Juan March whose legacy we are sure to encounter in the next few days…
We slept the night the Portuguese side of the border in Elvas before crossing over to Badajoz. We wanted to be there fresh and ready. Badajoz had come to our attention in a dream a few weeks ago when a Spanish man came to me asking that we don’t forget Badajoz and the life threatening storm coming to it. It was a very strong time there. That city needs joy, laughter and songs. If ever we need a throw-back to some kind of March for Jesus (‘Shine Jesus shine…’) then Badajoz is the location. It is great to have ideals – no Imperialism, the Pauline Gospel restored and all that – but a group of people singing on the streets would do something in that city!
We experienced so deeply the blood shed there, the forgotteness of the city. When things come this city is one that gets hit harder than other cities in Spain was our sense. Taken in the ReConquista, taken by Wellington at great cost – and not cost to his troops alone, but to the city as his disciplined troops went on a rampage of rape and pillage, then in the Civil War when there was the repeat of that history with rape and pillage and some 4000 civilians were murdered after the city was taken. Truly those events were storms, and not simply life-threatening but life-taking storms.
We went to the old bull ring where the slaughter took place. No real acknowledgment of the event. I asked a man walking his dog about one of the sculptures that we knew was supposedly to be a memorial to the victims of the Civil War brutality. A neighbour in that area and he did not know what it was. FORGOTTEN. We said we would not forget you Badajoz as we poured out wine, and the city needs those who will be there to remember the city. If the story will not be told, it will not be remembered, and if not told and remembered it will not be owned; if not owned it can only repeat. Maybe in our travels this was the most challenging of all the places we have been. Come on you singers!!!
In the image above the background building is the palace of congress for arts – built where the old bull ring was, the bull ring where the slaughter took place. It should be a sign of hope and of a new future, but the reality is (and we found this before when visiting Badajoz years ago) that the old allows a semblance of a new to manifest but only allows it to be a semblance, as in reality it swallows it up. In the foreground is a sculpted work in metal that was placed there to remember those who had been slaughtered. This was the piece that I asked the man about. It has no plaque, it was opened with the families of those affected present, without any speech, without any mark of silence or acknowledgement of what had gone on. FORGOTTEN.
From there, pre-Gibraltar, we went to Hornachos, ‘the last refuge of the Moriscos’. A small village, but something strong there. When we left we felt something very strange. We might not need to visit Morocco in this trajectory as from Hornachos we were able to call for the new convivencia in Spain. The last refuge had seed in it to call for the future. From that time on we have been more focused on the future than the past. Strange as we are now overlooking the rock of Gibraltar. The place of power and where the Muslims first came. What of the past will we need to address here? We are not sure. What of the future needs to be called for – that is what we will discover. We are rested and ready. Today is the first time we have been in the shadow of the rock knowing this is the right time.