Ilivetolearn's Blog

December 8, 2005

And then we were six…

Filed under: food/groceries,on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:58 pm

…since Bill successfully collected Elliot at the airport at midnight Wednesday. Hassan met us at our hotel and we piled into the car, which we’ve discovered actually fits four people across the back seat. Drove first to the gates of the royal palace, which are fine examples of the ceramics and carving we’ve been learning about, then to the old Jewish quarter for a peaceful stroll through the cemetery, a beautifully-maintained few acres of whitewashed above-ground tombs surrounded by orange trees and rose bushes. Then off to a hilltop fort (soon to be a museum) for great views, and thence to the pottery works. Saw the tiles being glazed, smelled the kilns working (the requisite heat comes from ground olive pits, which burn very hot due to their oil residue, and create nasty smoke), watched the labor-intensive processes of cutting the tiles into shapes for the mosaics and then laying them out in patterns, and fell in love with a table which after hours of price negotiating got wrapped and shoehorned into the back of the car.

Lunch break at another lovely restaurant, where one man’s sole job was to tend the fire under the mint tea and keep our glasses filled at all times, pouring it from a distance of three feet. Then more shopping, at a carpet establishment which may or may not have been a “cooperative” (as touted) but seemed reputable enough to give fair prices to the actual weavers. We spent hours there; the boys got into the viewing and feeling of the rugs, and the mint-tea-drinking, and the lectures on Islam and textiles from the chief salesman, and Margo tolerated it because there was a resident cat to sit on her lap, and Phoebe had her usual anything-goes travel attitude. (She never seems bored during our trips, except in cathedrals.) Eventually we left toting a stunning and unique kilim for which we paid about a third of the asking price but was probably still not a bargain.

Last stop was the main tannery (we had seen—and smelled—a smaller tannery from the roof of the woodworking museum), which we saw by night under spotlights. I think the chill air of the evening mitigated the stench. The hides are scraped clean (now I know the difference between “live” wool, sheared from animals, and “dead” wool, from this scraping…only used for stuffing mattresses) and then soaked in lye, pigeon excrement, perhaps cow urine, and other obnoxious ingredients, to soften them and dissolve the last bits of hair clinging to them. Then they’re submerged in dye vats for five days. They get some amazing colors from indigo, saffron, mint, poppy, and other vegetable sources. Of course to get to the viewing balconies you have to wander through a maze of a store displaying purses, hassock covers, shoes, jackets, and hundreds of other leather goods in a rainbow of colors. The salesman followed Margo around, stroking her hair at every opportunity and almost bringing her to tears. We didn’t buy anything.

End of day two.


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