Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Granada, and the Alhambra

May 24, Day 6
Ah, but it’s not really May 24 just now—it’s Sunday morning and I’m back at the Heidelberg in Columbia, in my corner booth with both sunlight and electricity, having the buffet breakfast—all-American mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, pulled pork... This all keying in to Liz telling us one reason for the immense popularity of pork in Spain. Back after the Moors had been pushed out, and the King and Queen—Columbus’ patrons—had kicked out all the Jews, with that low-pressure choice leave, convert or die, eating pork in public was one way to demonstrate good Christian loyalty. The more slabs of ham, the less likely to visit the friendly folks of the Inquisition. And the Spanish do like pork. I could have gotten an appetizer plate of “raw ham” somewhere we stopped, but couldn’t quite get past that American injunction, never eat undercooked pork. Might have been in religious trouble there, but the bacon bits in the green beans and that second plate of pulled pork should keep me out of religious dungeons.

But Granada...

Strangely, one highlight was a transportation glitch. We got off the not-bullet-train in Granada, in our transit from Madrid to Costa del Sol, and the bus hadn’t arrived. It had a fan-belt problem somewhere, and as the minutes drug on, Liz urged us to go look for a cafe. That failed, but even better, I found supermarket. You know, a non-restaurant food place for real people. Suddenly we’re off the menu, and there were mounds of plums and bananas and pears, stacks of bread, cheese, and no longer 8 or 10 euro bottles of wine, but decent wine for 1 or 2 euros. Much of the group made pilgrimages over to this amazing Spanish invention, the supermercado.

Granada is itself a beautiful city, but the focus for our tour was the Alhambra, a massive Moorish palace built among the hills where cold water could flow down. It’s hard to describe all the aspects of this place—started in the 9th Century, expanded for the last great Moorish rulers over centuries, a Christian palace added later. So there are Renaissance courtyards and gardens, strangely mixed with Arabic mosaics and arches. One small courtyard centered around a small pool, bordered by orange trees in bloom. Whole rooms, walls and ceilings, are carved with intricate lacy patterns, the remnants of brilliant blue and red still showing faintly.

One room, facing an arch and a long outdoor pool, was built of 8-sided geometric tiles. The ceiling was formed of hundreds of shaped pieces of wood, in 7 concentric rings, to show the seven layers of heaven. Our large tour group had divided in two, and my half-group’s guide was Nick. In this room, he began to talk about the natural appeal of mathematic structure to the human mind, how such structure engages our sense of order. Alas, Ann was not in this group.

Another small sky-open courtyard was in itself rather plain, but at the center set another working fountain, still gently flowing with very cold water from the springs far uphill. After a loud tour group of Spanish women left, Nick urged us to listen to the sound of the water, that the sound of water is the sound of life, the basis of life. This space would have been meant to invite quiet contemplation, the rim of the basin where the water spilled out evenly on all sides once inscribed with mystic poetry. (And I thought of my across-the-ocean dogs, our nightly walks to the creek, which always has its own voice, a different voice every day, even when it is silent.) Fred B. was much taken with Nick’s sense of how the architecture itself invites reverie. I can’t think of a good edition/translation, but I suggested he might look at Rumi’s poetry someday.

Well, there is a great deal more to the Alhambra, which others need to describe. I perked up at the literary link—a plaque on one wall inside the palace dedicated to the American author, Washington Irving (you know—“Rip van Winkle,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—that guy). In his travels through Europe, he had lived for a while in Granada, haunting the then-decayed and nearly abandoned palace. His 1832 book Tales of the Alhambra inspired interest and sudden tourism, which led to the palace’s restoration. Irving remains a celebrated literary hero in this dusty center of Spain.

Amy was intrigued by Nick’s odd accent—which we eventually determined was an ex-pat Swedish. She revived a bit of her college Swedish lessons and chatted with him, and is more dreaming of a school trip to Scandinavia. I’d vote for that, though wish it could include a week in Iceland on the way. So much world to see.

Outside the palace are the extensive gardens, including the sculpted-labyrinth hedges—grown of some kind of cypress (?). Evie and Roger kissed over rose bushes, and everyone posed in a green archway with a long fountain behind, or at the garden wall overlooking a panorama of the city. There was enough garden we could have walked for hours along the winding paths.

And leaving Granada, in the hillsides not facing the palace, the caves are full of gypsies, who cover the entrances with canvas or plastic sheets, and make a home.

1 Response
  1. Rambling Says:

    Bob, your photo of the fountain is wistfully beautiful. That's a fountain that could inspire an author!

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