by Randolyn Zinn

Is travel a cure or a placebo? Maybe just a place to be.

Sometimes when I close my eyes, the towers of the Alhambra stand gleaming beyond our hotel garden where we picked a lime from a low-hanging bough. Other times, the noisy crush of Bodega Castenada comes back, how its neighborhood crowd parted slightly to let us squeeze through its front doors for a taste of salty tapas and a swallow of sherry.

Best, though, is the indelible image we found in Arcos de la Frontera. After climbing up and around its narrow streets, intermittently glimpsing through open doors or windows, women sizzling sofrito or kids playing video games, the cathedral San Pedro looms over the town at its highest point. Cold enough inside to preserve the moldering body of Saint Fructoso (3rd century) and statues of saints — including the beautifully clothed marble Virgin who holds her heart in one hand pierced by seven swords — the church is hammered with half an acre of Aztec gold for a dazzling refuge of superstition and repository of prayers.

In one of the cathedral's recessed chapels, aptly named Our Lady of Loneliness, we lit a votive before a glass case where a rosy porcelain infant Jesus rests his downy head on a human skull. I lost my breath for a second while contemplating this image of innocence at peace with death for it embodied the consolation I hadn’t known I was seeking.

Feliz Navidad.

Baby Jesus on skull

photo by R. Zinn