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We recently visited the Universidad de Salamanca, Spain’s great university, founded in this town on a hill in 1134, and today a booming campus of 55,000 students. Pictured below is the chair where doctoral candidate students of old would sit, with their feet pressed against those on the sarcophagus of an archbishop while they were questioned by professors in their final exam.

There are five Alcazars — a Spanish-Moorish castle — in Spain, which some say inspired the Magic Castles at Disneylands. We recently visited the Alcazar of Segovia, built in the 12th century, and favorite home of the monarchs of Castille, and it is magical to this day.

Alcazar of Segovia

The others are: The Alcazar of Seville, dating to the 1360’s, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we visited in 2007; the Alcazar of Toledo, which received later fame in the Siege of the Alcazar during the Spanish Civil War; the Alcazar of Madrid, which following a fire in 1734 was rebuilt as the Royal Palace of Madrid on the same site; and the Alcazar of Cordoba, 13th century Moorish castle, once home of the largest library in the Western world, and home of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, where they met with Columbus before his journey to the west. Columbus is now interred in the cathedral there, where we also visited in 2007.

The habitues of Morning Joe flapped on this AM about the so-called negative “optics” of First Lady Obama’s jaunt to Spain with her daughter, trailing all the apparent pomp of privilege and security that accompanies the family of a sitting American President. They said that when the Times’ Maureen Dowd said Michelle should be home making her stressed husband toast (Feliz Cumpleaños, and Adiós By MAUREEN DOWD Where’s the first lady when the president needs her? Going her own way.August 7, 2010), that means White House staff are buzzing with hate and envy over the First Lady’s apparent insensitivity to how the masses eye such an adventure.

The Morning Joe crew added that Laura Bush would take vacations to hike in National Parks, a seemingly more patriotic destination. But the truth is, everybody, down to the garbage truck driver, takes a vacation if they can and goes where they want and can afford, and they don’t give a damn what their neighbor thinks about it, and perhaps even gloat about the fish they caught at the lake or the waterslide their kids frolicked on at the Dells.

After a career in public relations, I’m a cynic when it comes to “optics.” Michele Obama does more public service work than any 50 society matrons rolled into one. She’s a sophisticated woman, married to the most powerful man in the world. If she wants to take her daughter to Spain, while her daughter is young enough to want to go with her mom, that’s exactly what they should have done. If they had gone hiking at a National Park instead, which might have been fun, the Park would still have had to shut off vast areas to the public, for security and privacy reasons, still cost the taxpayers a bundle, and if they had done that to please Maureen Dowd and a handful of White House interns and overworked appointees, and even if the “optics” had been a little better, so what? Personally, I’m glad these people aren’t ruled by optics floptics.

May 2023

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