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ceramic plate from Cordoba Spain
Decorative ceramic plate from Cordoba, Spain

For someone who doesn’t consider herself much of a shopper when I travel, I’ve managed to bring back a lot of stuff for our house. But this kind of ‘stuff’ comes with something much more valuable than a great exchange rate at some foreign department store – these objects comes with stories, and because of that, they have become my personal travel artefacts. 

Artefacts Have Stories; ‘Stuff’ Doesn’t

As I look around at the objects that I have on my bookshelves and walls,  I don’t see souvenirs – I see faces, and places, and moments in time: I remember being the only foreigner at a local festival in a plaza in Giza, Egypt; or having an enthusiastic conversation about technique with a ceramic artist in Sutri, near Rome. I feel a breeze coming off the ocean through my window at a little hotel on the island of Elba. Or sometimes it’s the stifling air in the attic room in Cordoba, Spain, where I literally begged the owner of a pensione to let me stay, because I loved the beautiful courtyard in her tiny hotel so much, I didn’t care where I slept…

My Cordoba Plate Story

I was in Spain during Easter week, and had arrived in Cordoba, planning to stay at a hotel that I had booked ahead, knowing that accommodations would be hard to find during this popular holiday.

Walking around the historic centre of town I found myself peering into hidden courtyards filled with beautiful ceramics, intricate tile work on staircases, decorative mosaics, and dozens of hand-painted plates displayed on the walls of homes and buildings. And the more charming these places were, the uglier my boring, characterless hotel room became.

La Milagrosa courtyard in 1996

La Milagrosa courtyard in 1996

So I rang the bell at one little B&B, La Milagrosa, and in broken Spanglish, convinced the owner to rent me the only room she had vacant, a tiny attic room literally under the eaves that was used by her cleaning staff. It was probably 80 feet square, had a tiny pop-up window that looked out over tile roofs, and was easily 90 degrees in the heat and humidity.

Room with a view? 

I didn’t care. Because for the next 2 mornings, I walked downstairs, plunked myself in her charming open-air atrium for breakfast, and took in the peaceful beauty of its tiles, its mosaics, and its decorative plates scattered on the courtyard walls. In fact, I was so enamoured with the decor that I went out to find myself my own ceramic plate to bring back to Toronto.

Some Things Don’t Change

What’s crazy is that 30 years later, I just Googled La Milagrosa today, and the courtyard looks the same!

Same courtyard 2013

Same courtyard 2013

I had to smile seeing that courtyard again – because it brought back all the memories of that visit to Cordoba.

Which is why this little plate will always have a place in my home.

TIP: There’s actually a Festival of Los Patios competition in Cordoba in the month of May, when these patios are opened to the public: there are two categories, traditional and modern.

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