Christ on the Cross

I was baptised at the First Baptist Church of Whittier when I was twelve years old. I did it to make my parents happy. It did. I really didn’t know what I was doing then, taking Christ as my personal savior, and for the longest time, while I’ve had an affinity for Christ, I didn’t relate to the personal savior aspect. I see Christ dying on the cross, resurrecting, and having everlasting life as a metaphor for the notion that we do not die and simply cease to exist, but manifest in a different plane, with different attributes, or simply change state and our consciousness has a different point of view.

But then I saw the crucifix on the grounds of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Fatima, Portugal. It’s a gargantuan cross (122 feet) with a long lean Christ hanging lifeless, dead at the hands of his own, and I started to cry. The only way to stop was to turn away.

fatima cross cropped

Not everyone likes this crucifix, angular and stark, but it carried great power for me, walking toward it, the cross blocking the setting sun. I tried to reconcile my feelings about how a man who did so much for so many ended up on a cross with nails driven through his hands and feet, and left to die in a public display of disdain and power. I could not.

fatima crucifix backlit

I wasn’t on a conscious pilgrimage during our trip, but by the time we returned home, I remembered many interesting experiences around spiritual places.

Sagrada Famila (Sacred Family) is difficult to describe. It is old, it is new, and like the medieval cathedrals Notre Dame and Chartres, it is being build over generations. It required my full attention.

Sagrada from town

The cathedral sprouts from the ground in the middle of Barcelona, Spain. It’s got a McDonalds, a Five Guys, and a Starbucks right across the street, which I found both disturbing and amazing that those three companies could pull off that venue.

There are stories of Christ’s life carved around the outside of the cathedral. The final cathedral tower will be the Christ tower, supported by four internal pillars, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Due to complete in 2026.

Late afternoon light streamed through the cathedral, setting the place aglow. My wife went in ahead of me, to get our audio tours. She came out in tears, and simply said, “The Light.”

sagrada orange light

 

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The ceiling felt familiar, like I’d seen it in a science fiction movie, where people from all walks of life live together in peace and harmony. It gave me hope.

sagrada ceiling

We sat in the nave, to meditate and pray, but it was difficult to stay in that little space when this enormous sanctuary was all around and it looked like Christ was coming in on a parachute.

Sagrada Christ centered

There is so much color and structure to the inside of this cathedral, yet no statues, other than Christ on the cross.

Sagrada detail 1

 

sagrada detail 2

Architect Antoni Gaudi designed the cathedral. His work can be seen all over Barcelona. A whimsical style and from what I can gather, structurally brilliant. After Gaudí’s death in 1926 the construction was continued by architects and craftsmen who had worked with him, according to his plans and plaster models.

The story of Christ’s birth is told on the oldest side of the cathedral. It is adorned by an enormous supporting cast of story-telling statuary.

Sagrada birth

The story of his death is told on the newest side of the cathedral. More modern, more angular.

Chris Sagrada outside

I began a series of blog posts about our trip to Barcelona, Lisbon and the island of Madeira with a post called Why I’m Tired.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these images and thoughts as much as I have getting them down. Photos shot with iPhone 8plus and edited in Snapseed.

 

Blog Posts

Why I’m Tired

It’s evening and the tunes are starting to flow through the cool night air. A sparkling sound from the big thumping Sonos speaker gets my head in the game, gets my fingers to moving, and finds a beat that is hard to ignore. Some kind of lethargy has taken hold, and a bit of real-time fatigue, set in motion by a 24 day trip to Europe where we toured Barcelona, Lisbon, and the island of Madeira. If I’m honest I’d say the biggest trouble is that I’ve shed my jet lag but left my heart and a large dollop of my energy nine hours away. Maybe getting it down on paper with a few photos to support, I’ll be able to return to my bay area digs, heart, bones, and spirit.

Last year my wife and I started reading Dan Brown’s book Origin, and while I found the premise interesting I did not find reading it particularly rewarding. The story had its engaging moments, especially the artificial intelligence bits. I didn’t finish it. On return from our adventure one of my friends asked how I enjoyed Barcelona given that I’d read Origin, and I was clueless about her meaning. She said the book is, at least in part, set in Spain. I had not noticed that.

We already bought the book from Audible so I downloaded it and started at the beginning. The opening scene is at Montserrat (serrated edge) monastary, where we traveled to view the black Madonna. Now I have a book to read, but this time with a bit more attention.

We took the metro to the train and rode north out of Barcelona through small cities and farmland, toward a towering mountain, with steep crags at it’s pinnacle.

montserrat 2
looking up toward Montserrat

There are two stops for Montserrat (serrated edge) train station. We took the first for the gondola. The second, I believe, is serviced by a tram that rides a track up the mountain. I’m not positive, but there may be a walking option. The station was the launching point for the gondola that moved us up to the monastery in about 5 minutes. It’s steep, but follows the contour of the land so is never that far from the ground, but looking back down into the valley, it’s a long ways. We were there in October. It was cool on the mountain, but overall, the temperatures were quite mild throughout our trip. Not so, I hear, in the summer months.

montserrat 3
Looking down from gondola

When we entered the grounds I was trying to imagine how they built this place. It’s work getting things up the mountain now, but around 1025 AD? It’s a long way from anywhere, and it’s up a mountain. Would be fascinating to go back in time and be a fly on the wall, to see them making measurements, cutting stone, hauling heavy materials up a steep, rocky mountain.

montserrat inside

 

Note the people standing above and to the left of the crucifix. We stood in  line for our turn to get there and see the Black Madonna.  As we stood in a slow moving line along the inside wall of the cathedral we could look out into the sanctuary and get an up-close viewing of the architecture. Our Donna, below, with the Black Madonna.

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There’s a beautiful entry with expansive views over the valley below. We heard about a series of hikes that are available, but that will have to wait for another day.

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Outside the cathedral the sun was getting low in the sky, casting long shadows across the valley below where we’d catch our train back to Barcelona.

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The ride down was quick and easy. Our car was full and it rode quite a bit lower than a fairly empty car that we pass on our decent.

 

montserrat gondola

 

I’m still a little tired, but I’ll renew myself and talk about Christ in our travels.

 

 

 

Mom and Dad Loved Morro Strand

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My parents used to camp on the beach at Morro Strand State Park. We thought about packing their ashes in cute old suitcases and setting them on a camp table to feel the campground again. We imagined mixing their ashes, some of him, some of her, into beautiful bags and thought how fun it would be to walk along the dunes letting their ashes flow on the wind. We could walk through a flock of terns, who would spread the word that these two were back as they flew and parted the sky.

If we could get a moment at the shore to build a mound, set a sand dollar on the top, and let the incoming tide slowly dissolve it into the surf, that would be grand.

We’d hope two western gulls would perch nearby and watch the whole procession. But mostly we’d tune to the presence of their spirits.

 

Dog Days of Summer

 

dog contest 1

They came to Pacifica this past weekend and brought Hwy One to a jammed up stop and wait. They parked on the streets all the way up the hill to our place, and clogged the neighborhoods within a half mile of Pacifica State Beach. My son stopped by, and was not heading home unless he wanted to spend an hour in stop-and-go traffic.

We lathered on sunscreen and walked to the beach where we witnessed dog after dog leading their owners away from the beach. We chatted up a couple with a pair of retrievers in tow, who said the tandem contest was about to start so we hustled. Thirty people stood in line for the restrooms, hundreds stood on the sand watching the last of the entries paddling out. It was a guy with a blue mohawk riding a large board with a small dog on the nose. The dog had great balance, sticky feet that did not let go, and the surfer dude with blue hair knew what he was doing.

We wandered the crowd, rapt with attention for these last two rides, and seemed pretty darn well behaved. We got a couple of shots of the surfing duo then headed to the Pedro Point shopping complex to see if the new Cafe, Soul Grind, was open and it was. This was day one, and they were swamped, but it’s a great space, a cool owner, Jimmy, and has views of the ocean. AND they are going to roast their own coffee. Can’t wait to sip a double espresso in front of the fireplace while coffee roasts in the back and rain coats the parking lot outside.

I’ve started a short story asking where are the black surfers, and there they were among a line of yellow boards, yellow jerseys, learning the ropes. The story is morphing into an old white guy getting schooled by a young black girl with powers beyond his grasp.

I think it was spawned from working with Mat Johnson at the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference last week. A man with a black mom and white dad, Mat’s spent a bit of time bumping up against, and flowing to the other side of the divide that we’ve created. More in another article.

Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s learning how…

 

 

Back to New Brighton

It was Sunday late morning when Donna returned from yoga. “How about a trip to Santa Cruz and do a little paddling?” I asked, and Donna was game. She made us lunch to go and I outfitted the car with racks and gear. In an hour we were on the road south, through Half Moon Bay, on down to Santa Cruz and eventually New Brighton beach.

Swanton Berry Farm
Swanton Berry Farm

We stopped at the Swanton Berry Farm, not the one near Año Nuevo State Marine Reserve where you can pick berries, but a little complex on the east side of Hwy One a bit north of the little town of Davenport. Swanton has it all. Restrooms, hot coffee, berry pies, cobblers, and some serious chocolate. Payment is on the honor system, with a cash drawer sitting out to make change, plus an iPad for card transactions. The coffee was great, the chocolate truffles were rich and dark. We saved the pie for later.

We took the 41st Avenue exit and drove to the end for a restroom pit stop and a quick peek at the Hook, but for me, it was a chance to see if Sharks and Privates were breaking and they were. We tried to snag a parking spot in Capitola, but no game, no spots, wall to wall packed.

We pulled into New Brighton and showed them our annual Calif State Park Pass and in we went. An hour later we were warming up on the beach. Could have been the south of France, except it was sand, not rocks. We warmed up with plenty of shoulder stretching and then I fired up the GoPro and walked to the water. In two feet of water I just stepped on the board, then landed the other foot, but the water retreated, and the look on my face was pure surprise as I sailed over the nose and nearly collided with Donna. We laughed it off and had a ball. Donna saw a shark just a few minutes into our paddle. She paddled all the way to O’Neill’s house near Pleasure Point, then turned around and fetched me on the return. It was a calm paddle back, gliding over smooth water and emerald-green kelp.

 

 

After showers and warm clothes we drove into Santa Cruz and ate on a bench in the park across from Mission Santa Cruz. And that’s where we ate the berry pie.

mission Santa Cruz

 

 

Point Reyes Station

I’ll tell you how to do Point Reyes. First ya gotta get outa bed. Hit the road by 9, and drive straight to Fairfax. I like the back road out of San Anselmo, Central Blvd I think it’s called, near where Andronicos was, but wow, now it’s a Safeway. That road is so old-school Marin; bamboo hedges, bikes on the street. A few stop signs toward Fairfax, there’s a statuary on the right with Buddhas scattered outside, inside, and down to the creek below.

In Fairfax, park in the lot, a block west of Good Earth, a wonderful memory of what SF Real Foods was like in the day. But now for breakfast at Barefoot Cafe. They serve a good cup of espresso and fine egg dishes. The art work cycles through and I like to spend a moment in the restroom where some of their older works are on display. There are many cute little shops within a block or two of the cafe.

On to Point Reyes Station. First thing is go straight to the Station House and book a dinner reservation. OK, you could call or even go online, but I love to see the place, maybe use one of their two restrooms. Station House has a great burger and the bar-b-qued Oysters are a serious local treat. They serve hot turnovers to every table. The perfect vehicle for butter. There might be a musical group playing weekend nights.

Point Reyes Stores-2

Depending on your energy, I’d head down the street to Bovine Bakery for coffee and a sweet treat. The chocolate cherry things in the right display are so sweet they make my teeth hurt, but they are tasty. On sunny days there’ll be bikers on the street, sipping caffeine and carbo loading for the ride home.

If you need gear hit up Cabaline Country Emporium & Saddlery, where we’ve bought shoes, boots, socks, inserts, belts and a hat or two. It’s packed floor to ceiling with outdoor clothing slanted a bit to those who ride horses.

We usually stroll by the Marty Napp’s Photography Gallery who has iconic images of the area with a few surprises each time we visit. There’s also Point Reyes Books whose well-stocked shelves can keep you engrossed. If I could only have one book store, this would be a finalist.

Point Reyes Stores-1

If you like cheese, Cow Girl Creamery. It’s a big store, a little over crowded and over priced but it’s locally sourced, and there’s more than cheese in the shop.

You’ll see Marin Organic written on many Point Reyes restaurants, grocery stores, and farmer’s markets. There’s are options to the Station House. From time to time we’ve selected an Italian place called OSTERIA STELLINA a bit more upscale, with locally sourced food. Not a lot of elbow room.

And then there’s Coyoche.  Go across the street from Station House and turn left. There’s a little outdoor mall area with interesting shops, our favorite being, well, actually, I’m not sure which is OUR favorite but we usually shop Coyoche for sales on bath sheets and bedding. All cotton, subtle tones, a little expensive, but a cool place.

There’s more to Point Reyes Station but I need a hike and my favorite without hesitation is the Estero Trail. Getting there is part of the charm. Head out of Point Reyes, like you’re going back to Olema, and make the right just past the bridge over Laugunitas Creek (by the way, Donna and I paddled up that creek where we saw turtles and had a ball. You can read about that trip here.)

Next up, Estero Trail.

 

 

Bruges (Brugges, Brugge)

Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s old with so much new. We found the town pronounced and spelled several different ways. Bruges, like rouge with a B in front is how most tourists pronounced the quaint Belgian city, but the locals called it Brugggghhh, like starting to say blue in french, but then moving the G sound to the back of the throat and kind of squeezing the finish. I never got it right.

One of my friends at the San Francisco Writers Studio told me about Bruges. “It’s ok if you like medieval towns,” she’d said. “What with cobble stone streets, canals, quaint cafes, and boutique clothing stores,” and we did like all of that.

The trip from Amsterdam to Bruges was relaxing, if a bit underwhelming, until we got off the train in Antwerp. I remember being stunned to a stand still looking up at the massive train station clock. It had been decorated to fill the entire end of the station. It didn’t seem real. We both took photos hoping to capture the elegance of the structure. We probably have 15 images, none show the full grandeur. But our commuter train to Bruges was late so we got to sit in the station, sip coffee, and watch people coming and going in the afternoon glow. We’ve since watched Hugo, to visit that feeling again. There’s something about a train station.

antwerp clock

antwerp coffee

The train to Bruges moved along at a snail’s pace, past Ghent and several other small towns. Medieval architecture sprung from the skyline, like pillars of inspiration.

In Bruges we found the bus to our AirBnB and sat for the 10 minute ride to our new hood. It was a quiet little street, with several homes sporting sculpted gardens. Our place came with two bikes that we rode into town for groceries and dinner. We rode home in the dark, feeling alive and quite free.

bruges garden

In Bruges, we walked down narrow streets, and from time to time could see the spires of one of several church steeples. We managed a stop at each.

entering bruges

 

There’s something about these old churches. Structures that are built over centuries, over generations. Who had the original concept? How did it change as time changed, as wars were fought, as sons died, as children became adults, and they too died.

Someone suggested that we see the Colin Ferrell movie In Bruges. I’d tried it some years back and didn’t make it very far. I found Ferrell’s constant negativity hard to swallow, but in the movie’s defense, the photography is stunning. There are shots from the water, from towers. It’s really a great overview of the city. And there’s a seriously twisted relationship between Ferrell and the guy who played Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter movies.

What I didn’t see was the well-developed retail scene. As we approached the city our first day we saw shoppers carrying bags from the well-known shops you might see in San Francisco, Milan, or Rome. There were great little cafes, cobble-stone streets plazas, bicycles nestled in ivy. Reflections in the water,and church towers framed by a maddening sky.

ivy bike

 

church and sky Bruges

We had a snack at the Pigeon House. Great little stop for local color. They honor the pigeons who race from as far away as Spain, all the way back to Belgium. The bird is stamped into chocolate medallions.

pigeon house

Speaking of which, Belgian waffles. We only had one, but what a treat. We sat in the back of a little cafe, watched what a nearby table was eating and ordered what they had, one waffle with creme fresh and dark chocolate. The waffle was large but light. We filled a corner with cream and another with chocolate. We took our time. We shared. Donna took her spoon, and with the delicacy of a fine surgeon poured a teaspoon full of chocolate and ate it in one bite.

I gotta say that the town held me from the first steps. Narrow streets, cool old doors, and canals.

bruges red door

bruges square

One afternoon we were drawn to a bridge by a sound that I couldn’t place. It was musical, like a steel drum, but nuanced with a humming sound. We came across this troubadour playing a Hang Pan and blowing into a diggerydo. He provided a sound that seemed both primitive and contemporary all at once. Since our return we hear Hangman on our streaming stations just about every day.

 

I could go on and on about Bruges, but our next stop is Paris. So you gotta move on.