The Descent of Innanna
I had saved some coins for this journey and packed a few new
clothes. I traveled light for I knew the weather would be
hot, still, when we arrived in Madrid, I was surprised to see
how scorched the grass and trees looked. Our guide told us
there had been a drought since last May and it was
September. I removed the white silk scarf I wore around my
neck because of the hot air bouncing off the high rise
apartments, and billboards for American rock concerts. I
must have left it behind on the commuter bus, because I never
found it again. We passed through the ancient gate of the
city, the city that lay beneath surrounding mountains.
The next day we met the guide who would be with us all
through our journey, a man so like a bull that he could have
depicted the bull on the posters we saw rather than the
bullfighter. His name, Domingo. Were his feet cloven? I
never saw him barefoot. His strong head could have sprouted
horns and it would not have seemed unusual. He spoke no
English but expressed himself humorously in sign language.
To our English guide Isabel Teresa, he rumbled in his
pleasant Spanish voice.
We drove past a statue of Cybele in a two wheeled chariot
driving two lions. A canvas shrouded part of the sculpture
due to renovations. Cybele's spirit, a mystery to me then,
became more and more familiar as the journey continued.
Cybele surrounded with animals, a Great mother like Artemis
or ancient Inanna who descended to the underworld. We passed
a statue in the town square of a bear rampant eating leaves
from a tree. The bear, wilderness in the middle of Madrid. I
like his. Madrid feels good to me.
At the Prado, we were greeted by a saturnine man named
Umberto who called me Barbara with a raised eyebrow. He knew
my name from the name tag I was told to wear as part of a
Christian tour group. I felt conspicuous. I didn't like
this familiarity--he spoke as if he knew me--and I didn't
want to know him. I don't think he had changed his shirt for
quite a while. Avoiding his gloom as he led us through the
El Grecos and Valezquez paintings, I deliberately looked at
other paintings than the ones he pointed out. In an El Greco
I had never seen before, a chimeral dragon rises from a
communion cup while Umberto prattles on about how the El
Greco fingers are painted. In another room Umberto wipes his
eyes at a sad looking Spanish man wearing black--the way a
man should look he says. I saw Umberto in a different light
now-- strange and sensitive to the dark side; now that he
knew my name, he had power over me. I ripped the name tag
from my blouse, but in my haste I tore the fabric of its fine
white silk so later threw it away.
Our time in the Prado was not nearly long enough for the
treasures we never got to see. Umberto led us to a shop
across from the Palace Real that plied us with free red
Sangria. I wanted to buy a carving of Don Quixote in black
wood, but the prices were ridiculous. I bought a postcard of
the Cybele statue--where is Cybele headed? Her bare arms
look strong as she guides her stocky horses. A beautiful
woman. I also buy a postcard of the droll bear eating leaves
from the tree.
Madrid used to be surrounded by a forest and the bear would
come down from the hills and eat of the leaves of the tree
that stood in Madrid. Was it a fig tree? No I was told it
was a strawberry tree. I like this image very much. The bear
is life size and cast in a dark metal, probably bronze.
I see a view of Toledo from a distance with its hills, walls,
spires bridges and the river Tagus enfolding it. We pass
though the walled city gate where we meet our guide, Charo.
She is happy to be from Toledo. “Do I look like I'm from
Toledo?” she asks. I say yes, enthusiastically. Charo is
now fond of me. We look into walled gardens and blooming
wrought iron balconies, an inviting square, the cathedral
filled with golden treasures, and resonant sounds: ringing
voices, solemn harmonies of a choir then an organ concerto.
Paintings by Caravaggio, El Greco and in another room,
paintings of holy men one sardonically rendered by Goya. We
press on to El Greco's house with tunnels below due to the
inquisition. We were in the Jewish quarter of town. Did the
place give El Greco his tragic vision? Toledo was the right
place for him. And then soon we found ourselves in the gloom
of a cavernous workshop where a gnome like man sat hammering
gold and silver into dark steel. We saw the finest
craftsmanship: steel blades brought to Spain by the Arabs
from Damascus. My thin voile skirt of many colors catches on
the end of a lance and tears. For such a colorful garment,
Joseph went down into a pit.
Leaving Toledo, we travel through groves of ancient olive
trees, some 300 years old and more and still bearing fruit in
the dry rocky soil. Their twisted, gnarly trunks defy the
hot, dry air, but I am not made of such sturdy stuff. I
On this barren stretch Don Quixote battled windmills, a
desert dreamscape. The windmills still stood dreaming in the
heat. I thought I saw Quixote once--or a least his old nag
dozing under an olive tree, resting one forefoot.
My roomate Betty divorced her alcoholic husband and worked at
the bank. She said her daughter wanted her to divorce. "Get
a life," her daughter said. She eats a lot of ice cream, but
looks hungry all the time. She remarks on how Domingo keeps
looking over toward our table. He is alone. We feel sorry
I am wearing a red silk blouse and long silk shorts,
fashionable this year and, I thought suitable, for the resort
town but I am quite conspicuous. The Spanish women wear more
sophisticated clothes: beautiful high heeled shoes, black
My suitcase is lighter now. I've had to discard a scarf, a
blouse and a skirt. I am stripping down. We reach sun
drenched Torremolinos. Betty stays in the hotel room so I
head for the beach to explore. Betty doesn't want to get her
hair wet or her feet sandy. I go down the hill through the
labyrinth of little shops and restaurants serving seafood
specialties. I take pictures of couples from our group then
head back. Domingo. He stops me on the street and asks if I
would like something to drink. So he can speak English a
little. We find a little outdoor cafe and he buys me a beer,
for I am very thirsty. We try to converse, but I don't speak
Spanish and he only knows a few words of English. We laugh a
lot. I know what he wants, but I say No comprendo. He says
si you comprendo. I say no way Jose. He grabs my arm and
for the first time I fear, yet I know I am safe. Come to my
room for coffee he says. I say no. Whiskey? No. Domingo
snorts. Never on Sunday I think. He splits.
After dinner I sit with the Christians in the hotel lounge
listening to live music. Betty has gone back to the room
again. Torremolinas does not seem to agree with her. A
Spanish man who looks elegant like a retired matador asks me
to dance. We float across the dance floor. No one else is
dancing. The music stops and we are to ask others sitting
around to dance. It’s a broom dance like in high school.
I choose partner after partner and they are all fine to dance
with. Dancing must be universal it is so easy to change
partners, not speak, and move to the music. My feet get
tired with so much dancing so I take off my shoes, and when I
leave I forget to take them with me.
I am fond of Isabel Theresa who warns us about buying leather
goods in Morocco, our next stop. If you buy leather, you
might have to shoot it first. She is a petite, gamin type,
multi-lingual with a charming sense of humor. She wears her
hair short and points out what interests her--practically
everything from the types of rocks to the personalities of
the Spaniards--a mystery to me.
On the ferry to Tangier, two Arab girls sit across from me.
One has intricate designs drawn on her palms with henna.
They motion to me. I look around and see nothing. They
giggle. I have dropped my notebook on the floor. I thank
them and pick it up.
We are met on the other side of the straits by the Muslim
Bushta, a man with a warm smile who wears a delicately
crocheted sort of tall white beanie, and a long caftan. He
leads us through the narrow winding streets where small
children hold up flowers. La I say. They disappear. I have
learned one word of Arabic and it means no.
Tangier smells strangely sweet, yet the odor is not pleasant.
Sweet piss. A group of young boys beat ceramic drums and
sing on a rooftop. Minarets and domes of mosques give the
city beauty, yet I hardly ever look up--I am too busy
guarding my handbag from the street boys. Dorthea, a
septuagenarian dressed in a purple dress that doesn't suit her
at all asks "Who is he impersonating?" of a mysterious Arab
man who follows us. "I think he's from central casting," I
tell her. A hot wind blows. Bushta tells us its the sirocco
that dries up the crops, an evil wind from the Sahara. My
bra feels constricting. I am sweating. At the hotel again, I
get rid of it and feel cooler.
We are headed for Lisbon. Portugal is poor. We pass a
cemetery that looks much like ones I saw in the Yucatan and
Guatemala--little low houses where the dead reside. We pass
the spoils of a uranium mine, dark and barren. The weather
has turned dark and rainy. Domingo finds a little cafe where
we stop for coffee. Inside, it is cheerful, homey. I know a
woman has hung the pictures and tends the potted plants,
although I don't see her there. A man and his teenage son
wait on us. A massive traffic jam puts us on hold as the try
to cross the bridge into Lisbon. Isabel Teresa says it must
be a bull fight. She tells us of her love of the ancient
rites--how the bullfighter stood under a grate and let the
bull blood fall on him, how the ancient paintings in the
caves recall a time below time. We are descending,
descending, finally across the bridge and into the labyrinth
of Lisbon with tangled traffic braying, snorting into the
night air. A Michael Jackson concert has caused the mayhem.
There is not a room in the hotel. The concert crew is
staying there. The wine served is excellent though and the
bread. The chef smiles as I praise the beauty of the
cuisine. What more do I have to lose? I have trouble
finding my room. The elevator descends, ascends, descends.
Have I drunk too much wine?
We pass through a rocky, barren landscape where an occasional
sheepherder guides his flock to grass or water. By noon we
have reached Spain's El Escoral, on the last leg of our
Victor, our guide, has dark eyes, large ears, dark
complexion, and a sepulchral voice. He has spent 40 years
wandering El Escoral's labyrinth. He shows us the bedroom
where Philip II could draw a curtain and look into the chapel
where a saint roasts on a grill for all time. Philip's
Armada lost to England: his memorial to all the dead kings
and queens of Spain remains glowering over the desolate
Victor's voice echoes through the halls and he leads us down,
down, down to the tombs where the bones of royalty lie. "Our
last queen is in the rotting room," Victor tells us. Of
course this must happen. Only bones rest in the coffins.
At last we reach the inside of an octagonal room
of red marble where stacked on each wall are ornate lapis
lazuli coffins. Some queens were loved and some were not.
Some kings were treacherously murdered and some went mad.
Some women died in childbirth and some of the children died
under suspicious circumstances. Now all are stripped, only their
I recall the tombs of the Maya at Tikal. Their
dead also lie stripped to their bones, commemorated under a
pile of stone like El Escorial. I feel naked. I am dead/
not dead. I have made the descent, and survived it like
Inanna or Cybele and now it is time to return to the light.
"Back to reality again," says Betty. She has snapped a photo
of the tombs disobeying orders not to take pictures.
We climb up the stairs and finally we see light. Victor
calls our attention to a painting of Christ by Hieronymus
Bosch. Christ wears only a crown of thorns. His body is
naked and he is surrounded by a demonic crowd much like types
Da Vinci liked to paint. Weakness, stupidity, sly malevolence
show on their faces. Christ's grace illuminates the painting
in a circle of gold. The square black background outside of
the circle of gold teems with barely discernable
figures...are they the future? Outdoors I can see the wind
stirring the leaves of trees, surprisingly green.
God, both and neither male nor female and beyond both has protected us
through this perilous journey.
Outdoors again I take a deep breath and look into the
distance where shepherds guide their flocks through the
"Tourists are children," Victor tells me.