Travel Thursday: Chilly Spain part 3

“Women of the harem were renown for their luminous complexions and satin skin. To wash and purify was a religious obligation. That’s why there’s so many baths in the complex. The wives each had a private bath, but the other women in the harem had to share a large bathhouse. . . which the sultan liked to visit himself, of course.” The guide winked, so I gave her the broad smile she was obviously looking for.
Wanting me to have the right frame of mind for shooting the harem–like my mind wouldn’t go there automatically anyways–I was given one of the English-speaking guides, and obviously I got the right one, from her attitude.
“For harem women, deprived of so many freedoms, the baths became an all-consuming passion, and a most luxurious pastime. The bathing ritual took several hours.
“Bathing in the Muslim world, as well as being an obligatory purification rite and a reflection of the Islamic obsession with personal hygiene, was also a major source of relaxation and entertainment. The baths were places where you could talk among friends and colleagues, soothe arthritic conditions and other bodily pains. Bath attendants were always on hand with soap, combs, gloves, brushes, and pails of cold water, while masseurs oiled and stretched bathers’ limbs, and scraped out the dirt that oozed from their pores. The pampering continued back in the Sala de Camas, where, lying on towels arranged in the tiled alcoves, they were provided with drinks of cold water from the central fountain, herbal infusions, pastries, and other small delicacies.
“These baths are from the Fourteenth century, and were the center of court social life. Light shining through the star-shaped holes in the ceiling once refracted through steam to create indoor rainbows.”
To this day I’m shocked I remembered all she said. . .

Nineteenth century Alhambra guide
THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH THAT WAS
BEAUTIFUL AND LOVELY THESE TUBS
HAVE SEEN, OF THE LITTLE FEET THAT
PLAYED IN THE PERFUMED WATER, OF
THE LONG HAIR THAT SPREAD OVER THE
EDGES, OF THE GREAT LANGUID EYES
THAT LOOKED AT THE SKY THROUGH
THE HOLES IN THE CEILING. . .

By now all the guards knew me, even grinned and called me by name, hoping I’d take their picture and have it included in the book the photos were going to be in. Because the book had the blessing of the people in charge, I got into places that were closed to the public, but even then there were some areas I wasn’t supposed to go in. . . “supposed” being the operative word. . . yes, you know me well.
As always I had a flashlight with me, though since I didn’t want to get caught I saved it for times when it was so completely dark I couldn’t see the outlines of the walls. But I gotta say, strolling through these old corridors with my hand running along such historical walls definitely got the blood pumping, and luckily there were no rats to make it jump even more.
If I had the architecture right, I was in the back part of the harem, which of course made me wonder what they didn’t want me to see. Suddenly I came out into the light, from a secret balcony, that illuminated the entire room. After a few seconds of eye-blinking at the sudden brightness, I couldn’t stop grinning at the thought that I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to. . . the same kind of feeling a little kid in the Midwest gets when he swipes an apple from the neighbor’s tree, I’d imagine, though hopefully more gratifying.
And then I turned the corner and stopped suddenly, barely able to startlingly exclaim “Wow!” For a second I actually thought I’d stumbled onto a naked figure and turned my head away, but when the figure didn’t make any noise, I couldn’t help but look back. To this day it’s the most awesome statue I’ve ever seen, though it’s no wonder it was hidden away, if art wasn’t supposed to use people. . . not that it would be the only reason, considering the. . . sexual nature of it. My imaginative mind wondered if this thing was here to. . . um, introduce the new girls into the harem.
Knowing there was no one around to get pissed at having to walk around it, I set up the little tripod I’d brought, though it was going to be hell shooting the damn thing against the blinding background of the sky through the balcony. What I wouldn’t have given to have a model with me at that moment, to have her playing with the statue, especially have her standing next to it, gazing at it in lust. . .
A little irritated at missing such a golden opportunity, and pretty sure these shots were not going to do the damn thing justice, I stared at the statue for a good five minutes, trying to memorize it, pretty sure I’d never see it again, then moved over to the balcony, which had the most amazing view of the mountains, scenery that, as I’d overheard someone say earlier, would knock Sancho Panza off his ass. {see Don Quixote if you didn’t get that; you’re welcome.}
None the worse for my forbidden jaunt, and managing to get back without being spotted, I headed east, where beyond the Court of the Lions and its surrounding buildings is an area referred to as the “Moorish” gardens, guaranteed to make my camera instantly happier: lily-studded pools and terraces of roses shadowed by the soaring Torre de las Damas–Ladies Tower–making for the most beautiful part of the grounds I’d seen so far. Cobblestones surrounded twin pools, then another pool led to the building. Big trees shaded the stone walkways on both sides of the pool.
A little further on was the Tower of the Captive, where according to legend the Sultan Abul-Hasan kept Isabel de Solis, his beautiful, though Christian, captive and eventual concubine. By the way, this is the same guy I told you about earlier, who killed the sixteen sons he had with his first wife in order to put Boabdil, his son from his second wife, as his successor. But Abul-Hasan fell so in love with Isabel that he couldn’t concentrate on running the kingdom–much like today’s politicians, I’d imagine. So Aïcha, Boabdil’s mom, deposed her husband and put her son on the throne. Fernando de Aragón took advantage of the disarray and captured Boabdil, taking over the city. . .
Love. . . gets ya every time. . .
Can’t think of a better way to cliffhanger this. . .

Till next week. . .

;o)

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