Soul of Toledo
How this book demanded to be written
How this book demanded to be written
Notes about A Year of Sundays
Does a city have a soul?
Depends on how you define ‘soul,’ but a city can exude a spirit. A city can have a history that raises questions for humanity. A city (or a country or a religion) can commit sins--as Toledo, Spain did in 1449-- even if not all of its citizens actively participate.
What is so fascination about Toledo? Its architecture speaks volumes—all those Moorish minds designing the buildings, Moorish, Christian and Jewish hands laying the bricks to create art. Christians and Jews who translated holy texts ... Jews whose blood trickled between the paving stones as they were slaughtered, the Muslims and Jews who ‘converted’ at sword point or fled, leaving the spoils to their ‘Christian’ persecutors, the ‘comun’ or common folk who chose hate and violence.
From a booklet about Toledo: “The traveller reaches Toledo. He contemplates the city, fortified like a castle in her ochre and dusty mountain, gifted with a generous sun, circled and conquered by the river Tajo that passes by obstinately at the hem of her skirt. And the traveller, without a doubt, draws closer to Toledo. He can now make out the severe and geometrical massive structure of the Alcázar, the high and armored profile of the Cathedral, the city’s walls and her portals… And the traveller will instinctively enter Toledo.” (All Toledo, from the series, All Spain.)
Traveling to Toledo, you learn of ‘the City of Three Cultures,’ a community where philosophy, art and architecture were nurtured in the crucible of royal favor. That’s not the beginning of Toledo’s history—not by a long shot—but it’s the beginning of the part of Toledo’s history that permeates my book, Soul of Toledo.
How does a society change from one of the most culturally advanced in the world to the nightmare that was Toledo in 1449? How does it lose its ‘soul?’ How does a country, be it fifteenth century Spain or Nazi Germany, go to hell?
And then, another question: Can a religion lose its soul? Go back to 1096, and see crusaders, bearing the cross of Jesus, stopping in Germany, on their way to the holy land, to slaughter Jews.
It’s all connected. If you’d like to follow the path, I recommend a couple of books.
First, James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword, to see how Christianity’s message moved from conversation to coercion to something more sinister.
Second Benzion Netanyahu’s The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain, for an in-depth look at the events and motivations for Toledo’s descent.
Or simply read and enjoy Soul of Toledo, meet Viçente and Francesca, fall in love and, perhaps, pray for them.
Travel to Europe
Marguerite: Experiencing Europe Without Sight
A Year of Sundays is a travel tale and a love story. It’s a tale lightened by Marguerite’s resilience and deepened by the impact of her blindness on their relationship and their experiences. It’s about exploring Europe without sight and the kindness people everywhere show to Marguerite.
Marguerite is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Ventura, California. She and Ed have traveled extensively, including their year away with their 16-year-old cat, Felicia.
Between the ages of 16 and 40, Marguerite slowly lost her sight to retinitis pigmentosa. She has counseled many others who are losing, or have lost, their vision, including groups she and Ed have held for couples with one visually disabled partner.
Of her time in Europe with Ed and Felicia (the Queen of Traveling Cats), she says, "There were times when we missed our friends and the English language so much that we almost gave up, but Felicia was always there to comfort us. The people were so kind and open to me, and we found such bliss together so much of the time, just the three of us."
How does a blind person experience travel?
"Some sighted people come back from Europe with lots of pictures and visual images but not many memories to relate. Others travel with all their senses; they know that travel is about the whole experience, the people you meet most of all.
"In the first month of our adventure, Ed told me about all the buildings, the gardens and statues in Paris, but he really wanted to find sensations for me. We went to concerts, spice markets and flower markets… Most of the concerts were free, so was listening to the people speak their unique blend of languages and the scents of flowers, spices and cheeses. And of course there was the food, which was so varied and wonderful.
"My best experience in Paris was visiting the exhibit for the blind at the Musee D’Orsay. I loved feeling the statues, but it was the kindness of the people, who opened the exhibit on a day when it was closed, that really stands out in my memory."
Her favorite adventure during the year- "The monkey park in Holland. When we first sat down, we wondered if it would be a monkey no-show. Then we heard sounds up in the trees, hundreds of monkeys scurrying toward us making high-pitched monkey noises. They scampered around us, and I asked Ed to pick one up for me. There was no way he was about to grab one. Then one jumped on my lap to take food from me. He had such tiny, rubbery fingers. I was thrilled, and then another one jumped on my shoulder… Later, when the food ran out, the monkeys climbed back into the trees. They lost interest in the people, but Ed told me they were looking at my white cane. I put it against the tree, and two of them climbed onto it, like little tightrope walkers. I became the Pied Piper of the monkey park. The kids gathered around, all wanting to have the cane so they could be in charge of the monkeys…"
Of the trip as a whole, Marguerite says,
"It was a journey that changed our lives, the best thing we ever did."
Felicia: Queen of Traveling Cats
Most cats are homebodies but all are curious and adventurous. If you know a pet that likes excursions, you'll relish Edward D. Webster's book A Year of Sundays, where Felicia is the Queen of Traveling Cats…
Felicia does Europe with human companions. Edward, the author, is mourning the death of his father while his sightless wife Marguerite is in a menopausal funk. They are blue about the work grind too, when suddenly inspiration strikes. Why not take a sabbatical and visit Europe? Savor life. Dally in picturesque locales and reclaim la vie du couple at the same time.
So when the Websters put their professions on hold and took off for a leisurely Grand Tour, Felicia meowed her way along. Kitty and Marguerite's blindness turned out equally to be pluses in getting to know people and destinations well below the surface. In villages, shopkeepers enticed Marguerite to touch and experience their goods. Hikers applauded her pluck. And Felicia brought an extra dose of piquancy and sometimes madness to moving around.
A YEAR OF SUNDAYS, Taking the Plunge (and Our Cat) to Explore Europe is the quirkiest, most affecting cat cum travel book in years. From the moment Felicia's furry face looks up at the author, as if to ask 'It's my turn now, right?' to the honest and moving denouement, you'll want to replicate this fascinating trip.
Ed and Marguerite adopted Felicia from a shelter in Bakersfield, CA in 1981. She was a most agreeable travel companion, snoozing during the airplane ride to Paris, breezing through customs and adapting to new abodes without so much as a meow. But why should she complain? How many cats celebrate their 17th birthday in Seville?
Here’s what Ed says about taking Felicia on their European adventure; "The travel experiences Felicia most adored were quiet times with us by the fireplace in Holland, on the patio overlooking the sea in Brittany or watching us decorate our apartment in Seville for the holidays. We loved sharing those times with her. She was our ambassador on occasion, and always she was our companion, our comfort and our reward at the end of each long, exhilarating day."