Friday, April 22, 2005

Glimpses of Spain

Last year I was fortunate enough to rate a four-week training temporary duty assignment (TDY) to the Andalucia region of Spain. I'm here to tell you Spain is very beautiful and very cool.

Seeing Spain makes me ponder the Spanish colonial legacy in our hemisphere. When visiting sites in Mexico, Colombia, or nearly anywhere in Latin America, one sees flashes of Spain. Parts of Buenos Aires are so Spain-like, if you squint your eyes just right, you'd swear you were in the patria madre, complete with colonial faros on the street corners and the verandas and balconies.

Although Spain has more-or-less completely withdrawn from its colonial conquests, and the body-politic of the country is one with a modern european outlook (royal parlimentary democracy, more socialist rather than nationionalist, and with a hearty dislike of conservatism due to their endurance of a perverted state of nationalist/facist rule under Franco), Spain continues to enjoy cultural influence, to a good degree, in most of Latin America. One may find many Argentines and other people from America working in the Spanish service industry, and of course there is a cultural exchange with Africa, as Morocco is right across the straight.

In this glimpse of Spain, I offer a twist with a look at the British prefecture of Gibraltar. Gibraltar has been in British hands since the War of Spanish Succession, and attempts were made by Spain in the 18th century, with seiges and battles, to recapture the island and rock. It is fascinating to wander the area, with ancient battlements and gun positions, along with garrisons and look-outs literally covering the strategic point on the Straights of Gibraltar, just mere miles from Africa.

A view of the rock and the adjacent RAF airfield with a runway that intersects the main road onto the island

Looking around Gibraltar, you are literally looking back in time. The Moors were on the rock in the century VIII, the Castillians in the 14th, and the British since the 18th. Walking around on a strategic point that has been hotly in play for over 1000 years contrasts the relatively short history our people enjoy in this hemisphere.

Of course, the Queen's best still guard the island with their most high-tech accoutrements

This crazy cable-car ride saves you a long, long walk to the top of "El Pi~non", some 1400 feet above sea-level

This breathtaking view from a look-out shows the sheer wall of the rock

The "rock apes" as known by the Brits are the only primates known to roam wild on the European continent

The rock apes are very fascinating apes, and are also known as Barbary Apes. They are tail-less monkeys native to North Africa, and were probably imported during the time of the old British garrison. After a serious decline due to natural causes, Winston Churchill took an interest in their well-being and had more imported from Africa. Today the apes have a solid foot-hold on Gibraltar, and are usually around for toursists to photograph and perhaps play some games. They were jumping on people's shoulders and the like while I was visiting, but I kept my distance. No apes on my shoulders, thanks.

Some national pride, perhaps?

The British, while mostly subdued sorts, can occasionally get a patriotic streak that will rival the most patriotic of us here in the states. While I visited the rock, Gibraltar was celebrating its 300th year of British rule. While open signs of patriotism were discouraged somewhat due to the tensions between Britain and Spain over the rock, you could find displays if you looked closely. I found this courtyard, not visible from outside of the apartment complex, by chance. Quite the display of the ole' Union Jack. I was proud of the Brits for at least showing a little bit of emotion.

Finally, I leave you with this juxtaposition:

You cannot escape the Golden Arches

No matter where you go, we are there, baby! It took a little doing, but I managed this shot with the symbol of America's passion for nutritious and delicious food co-mingled with the very Rock of Gibraltar itself. Technically speaking it wasn't that tough of a shot, because the rock dominates the landscape for miles around. That is the most interesting thing about the rock, it is this relief of terrain with no equal for miles and miles. Just how did this geological oddity come to be? I don't know the answer, but I do know that if you are in the south of Spain, you must put it on your list of places to visit. You actually have to clear British immigration to come on board, but with a U.S. passport, they wave you right in.

Asi es el pi~non de Gibraltar!


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