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Published: September 1st 2016
I looked at the painting and I looked at the Andalucian artist holding it up to me and I was set to wondering at the little painter's cardboard-flat countenance which was being pressed that much flatter by the beautiful bounding colors on the canvas she held next to her face and when I focused back on the painting I suddenly saw the depth of her and she became yet another travel book that I had seriously misjudged.
We've been to a lot of places in Spain over the years but this was our first trip to Granada. Our friend Raphael back in Vis had spoken highly of the city and having visited far more distant places for far more anemic reasons we flew into Granada after a week in Naples. Got a nice room at the Vincii Albayzan hotel set on a little tree-shaded ramblas bracketed at either end by gurgling fountains and parks and cafes where tourists dipped into Tapas and pitchers of Sangria. The whole scene is one of absolute chill.
Granada is not so much a city as it is a collection of intimate, interconnected rooms open to the sky. Floors tiled in blacks, blues and
whites. Flowers in abundance, potted palms and happy guests wandering along shady ramblas corridors from dining room to parlor to garden over and over again.
A very walk-able town. Wide avenues intersecting plazas. Awning shaded streets lined with shops and cafes. This is an epicurean society where people look for any excuse to stop and have something to eat and drink and watch the crowds stroll by. It's a place where you never have to buy a meal. Stop at any one of the hundreds of tapas bars and order a copa. A plate of delicious food suddenly appears at your elbow. Things like slabs of pork loin laid atop slices of coarse peasant bread, spicy potatoes, chorizos, pickled cabbage, anchovies, paella and of course; translucent slices of aged Iberico Ham. Dozens of items that you can munch your way through for the price of a soft drink. Whereas in the rest of Spain a serving of tapas is usually a small offering, in Granada the plates are heaped with what we have come to call; mini-lunches. All of it good and all of it free. And free is always, always good. Especially in western Europe where little else
Granada is sited on a series of gently sloping hills. There is a large University in town which means that there are bookstores everywhere. They love their books here. Granada was built by the Moors and their influence is everywhere from the city's architecture to the beautiful tiled plazas filled with fountains, flowers and trees. Orange trees abound and in one plaza where we took a meal, fat oranges littered the ground all around us. In the evenings the skies are filled with whirling clouds of Swifts. Exuberant songbirds roost in plaza trees where they sing until the sun sets.
The Arabs introduced Europe to rice, buckwheat, sugar cane, pomegranates, cotton, spinach, asparagus, silk, bananas, cherries, oranges, lemons, quinces, grapefruit, peaches, dates, figs, strawberries, ginger, myrrh. The cultivation of the vine was a major industry among the Moors, whose religion forbade wine. Market gardens, olive groves, and fruit orchards made the area in and around Granada one of the garden spots of the world.
It all went south for the Arabs in Andalusia when they refused to continue paying taxes to the King and Queen of Spain. Ferdinand and Isabel liked their money. Isabel liked it
a lot. They decided to school the Arabs in fiscal responsibility. They waged war on Granada and did a bang up job of it. By the 15th century all that the Arabs had built was in Christian hands and the Arabs were turned out of Spain after seven centuries of Andalusian rule.
We speak enough Spanish to get by but we've had to relearn a lot of it here. Everything from pronunciations to accents to slang. Gracias is pronounced; Grathiath. Andalusians have a formidable lisp which we had to adopt quickly if we wanted to be understood. We asked a taxi driver to take us to the Plaza Isabel and had the damnedest time getting through to him until he suddenly brightened and asked; Platha Ithabel? Platha Ithabel it now is.
Granada's crown jewel is the Alhambra. Known now as a palace it was originally developed by the Romans as a fortress. The Arabs also used it as a fortification in the 9th century. It perches on a rocky crag overlooking the city. In 1333 it was turned into a palace by Yusuf I the sultan of Granada. It has been added to and subtracted from over the
Little plaza cafe in the old city.
centuries. Ferdinand and Isabel torn down parts of it and rebuilt. It was here, in the Royal hall, that Christopher Columbus was given license to sail to the New World. Forgotten for many, many years it was occupied by squatters for decades. Napoleon destroyed great parts of it in the 1820's. The Brits rediscovered it in the 19th century and started the reconstruction that we see today. It is a complex maze of rooms and corridors and great gardens. It would take weeks to see all parts of it. A single edifice like the Royal Hall could keep you occupied for an entire day so mesmerizing are the Arabesques that surround the architectural features and cover the walls. But you'd never get the opportunity. The Alhambra is one of Spain's 'must see' attractions. The place is inundated with tourists day and night. Tickets go for 15 Euros a pop and you'd better buy them in advance. The ticket has an admission time stamped on it and God pity the fool that misses their appointed time because not only will you not get in but you'll never see your money again either. We'd rate it right up there with Angkor Wat
for WOW factor. We stopped by one of the little towers built for the Sultan's daughters. It is called the Tower of the Princesses. Inside are beautiful little rooms filled with Arabesques and views of the surrounding Juniper covered hills. The tower is blessed by strong, cool breezes and there you can close your eyes and find yourself transported far from the soaring rages that plague our existence today.
An inscription carved on the wall of the tower's antechamber reads: ¡You that are coming in, for goodness sake stop, contemplate all that shows perfect and strange beauty! Delight your eyes in my beauty; wooden smells are blown to us. Plus the grace-you will say, if you are searching for truth you will find it in the dweller not in the house.
We found a tapas place in the old city. Called 'Boabdil'. The barkeep's name is Carolina. She's got a voice like Rosie Perez and the energy to match. Carolina and her family own the place. Her brother Antonio runs the kitchen along with her sister Gery. Gery wears a constant deadpan expression. When I met her I thought that she was mentally
disabled. Perhaps a lack of oxygen at birth or something akin. Carolina's Mom fills in during the busy hours before siesta starts at 2 PM. God bless the Spaniards for their siestas. A few hours of rest and recuperation before the evening fun begins at 8. A stellar notion.
The polished aluminum horseshoe bar is rimmed with happy Spaniards perched on stools and talking non-stop while Carolina refills their drinks and delivers plates of food. We met many wonderful people there. People like Herminia and Fernando and another Antonio who could never stop repeating himself. The citizens of Granada have a special grace about them that is more than a little endearing. Every night we spent at the Boabdil was a party that went on well after we departed.
On our first night there the very Buster Keatonesque Gery approached us and asked us some questions in a barely audible, breathless sort of Spanish. Where were we from? What kind of work did we do. Her eyes were wide and round and imploring. Her mouth a thin hyphen above her chin. And then she asked us if we would like to see her paintings.
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