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07.11.07

alhambra


Listen to Pepe Pinto - "Que Te Quise Y Que Te Quiero"
Buy Pepe Pinto - Cante Flamenco

(Day two of the Spanish travel junket.)


We pull out of Torremolinos and head to Granada, but the jet lag is still with us; I'll spend the better part of the next few days napping in the bus and trying to get to sleep at night, my sleep patterns pranging wildly until they settle down just a couple of days before we leave. We're heading for the last Moorish kingdom in Spain, the final stronghold of Islam until the reconquista was completed in 1492, and the curtain rolled up on Spain's two centuries as a superpower.
 
Granada is tucked into a valley, with the Alhambra on the slopes above. At the end of the Middle Ages, it was probably a much more dramatic situation, with the old town and its walls below, and the palace above, looming and inscrutable. The last Moors in Spain certainly had a flair for symbolism, but then the Alhambra is a beautiful example of metaphor made concrete.


 
The Alhambra is beautiful, in that enclosed, gnomic, classical Islamic manner - blank on the outside, with all the colour and ornamentation on the inside, to be enjoyed progressively, with the best saved for those with privilege access; it's hard to think of a less essentially democratic aesthetic. There's a denial of the world outside, with only a few windows looking outward, most of them obscured with a geometric lacework of wood and stone. The ornament and colours are ravishing, even in their chipped and faded state.
 
Our guide, Jose Antonio, tells us that the Alhambra is the most visited attraction in Spain. It's not hard to believe, though for not the first time on the trip we'll be jostling among throngs of tour groups to get a glimpse of what a place might have looked like when entrance was much more exclusive. I can't help but wonder about the wear this is having on building like the Alhambra; like Macchu Picchu in Peru, will they have to one day entertain limiting access severely, or closing it down altogether, to preserve what's left?
 
I like the Generalife more than the Alhambra - the adjacent summer palace used by the Sultan and his court in the high summer. It's only a few hundred yards further up the slope from the town, but it feels so much cooler. The buildings are smaller and less grand than the Alhambra, with more open spaces and gardens instead of courtyards with their ornamental fountains and high atriums. Life here was obviously lived more in the open air, and more privately than in the formal squares of the court below.
 
Walking between the two complexes, I glimpse the excavated foundations of the Medina - the town that grew up to service the court buildings nearby, behind the fortified walls and separated from the town below. Our guide - an impatient woman who rushes us through the tour at speed, discarding members of our group who obviously can't keep up with her pace - says the Medina was destroyed during Napoleon's occupation of Spain. I never find out why - like most of the cataclysms that have overtaken Spain during its history - Napoleon, the Civil War - it's merely mentioned as a fact, never explained in detail.
 
In a later addition to the Alhambra, built after the Moors, there'a  plaque commemorating Washington Irving, the American writer whose Tales Of The Alhambra was written when the complex was abandoned, after Napoleon. He's famous for Sleepy Hollow in North America, but his reputation rests on his book on the Alhambra in Europe; in our hotel, just outside the entrance to the complex, it's available for sale in Spanish, English, French, German and Chinese. I make a mental not to pick it up when I get home.
 
We have the first in a series of late lunches in a local restaurant. It's the big meal of the day, but it seems to defeat quite a few members of our group, who aren't used to Spanish dining habits, or - poor souls - find the local cuisine inedible. I tuck in with relish, for not the first time. I'll be ten pounds heavier when this trip is over.

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© 2007 rick mcginnis all rights reserved
WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters, a conservative catholic, a professional photographer, tv and movie critic, and ten years ago i would have told you that this was impossible. then i would have taken a swing at you. i might have been drunk. i look nothing like william powell.

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