Travel Thursday–Chilly Spain: Alhambra Music Festival

I looked over at the giant poster I’d somehow managed to miss every time, advertising the International Music and Dance Festival, replete with classical and other types of music as well as ballet, all taking place in the Alhambra.
Since it took place at night, the Alhambra looked even more eerie. “The whole fortress seemed designed to leave the guest with the impression that many tiny details and secret corners remains always to be discovered,” screamed a quote, and in the dark it seemed almost more so, but less in the air of a detective story, more like a horror movie. Yeah, I know that’s just me, but it was damned spooky! {accidental rhyme}
Seriously, as mysterious as it was during the day, this was downright chilling, though I could only imagine it would feel all kinds of mysterious and romantic with a lover, like the setting for an erotic game of hide and seek. The night air was damp, but it felt good, like taking a hot bath. . . then stepping out of the sauna into the snow.
Staking out a place on the grassy lawn in front of the stage, I checked and noticed I could see everything perfectly without being too close, and let myself fall on the blanket with a sigh. But then I glimpsed a number of white tents to the side of the stage, and of course I had to check it out, so I offered the kid with his family a few feet away some cash to save my parking spot, though I didn’t expect him to haggle the way he did, making his parents beam proudly. . . until I turned away as if looking for someone else. Yeah, that got him; he even grinned ruefully when I told him he’d get half now and half when I returned, then I made my way to the first tent, camera at ready.
As I expected, people were selling stuff, the first being henna, where I got a shot of a luscious Scandinavian blonde getting her hand painted. The tent woman also sold temporary tattoos, for those in a hurry, but the blonde smirk as she told everyone in the vicinity how she’d like to get her whole body painted to surprise her boyfriend had the intended effect, as all us guys lost interest.
I managed to make it to the end without buying anything, thankfully, and was rewarded with a perfect view past the Darro River, the same one I’d hiked to on the Cuesta de Chinos. Across it, the Albacin seemed to be glowing in the moonlight, all white with dark spaces for tiled ceilings, or spaces between homes. More than ever I had the feeling I wasn’t in Spain anymore. . . someplace in Egypt maybe, though it was too humid here for that. Actually, it occurred to me this looked more Arabic than most of the Middle East did now. . . and then I thought of Zanzibar, took the photo, and left it at that.
Once back I paid off the kid and offered him an apple from my stash, which made him grin. With still some time before the show started, I paged through the books, wondering if any other part of the complex was open at night, and discovered that during warmer months the palaces were indeed open at night. Viewing the Court of the Lions by moonlight was reputed to be one of the great experiences in the world, “something you’ll remember for the rest of your life!”
Right now all it did was make me realize how cold it was getting, even with the heavy jacket and the blanket under my tushie; it felt like the grass had already frozen. Not good for a SoCal boy. . .

Washington Irving

A teenage girl came by swinging a basket and asked if I wanted to buy any snacks. Even though I’d brought some, I figured I’d check while I talked to her and managed to wheedle her into posing for a shot in front of the stage. Plus I wasn’t about to subsist on apples, so I checked her inventory until I found something I liked, in the process seeing the necklace that bore her name, which made me tell her, “Eres de muy buen character para ser llamada Dolores.”
She blushed and almost curtsied as she took my money, then practically scampered away before I could get the shot, dammit. And then I found out a second later the orange drink Dolores had sold me for an exorbitant price was nothing more than colored water, the little bitch! Well, if she wants to be named Dolores. . .
Luckily for her, the show was starting. . . but Karma would bite her ass soon enough.
The music started, though I got most of my enjoyment out of watching the musicians. I concentrated on the cello and violins, which I’ve always loved to watch, sometimes getting hypnotized by the movements to the point I didn’t hear the music. They were moving too fast for me to think I would get any frozen shots, since the stage wasn’t fantastically lit, so I simply listened to the wails in the night. . .

W.H. Auden

Even though I’d been hearing them since I arrived, it took me till now to notice the nightingales singing along to the music! Very cool effect, making me wish I could tape it.
The sky somehow seemed to darken even more, and the stars appeared while I listened to, of all things, a baritone sax. Damn, it sounded sexy, even if it didn’t fit the place.
As this performer ended his song and another began to set up, I heard an American couple nearby, or rather the woman, giggling about how pretty it all was. Her guy asked, “What, the dancers?” and she giggled again. “No, the tubas!” She sounded like a drunk ten-year-old, but of course I wasn’t dumb enough to say it.
Time, on the other hand, didn’t mind if you laughed at it. I got the simultaneous feeling that I’d been sitting here, listening to music for hours, as well as the thought that the night had just begun. As always, I remembered something I was told, by a guy who claimed never to exist: If you’re trying to hold your breath, a week is a very long time. But if you’re, say, trying to destabilize a corrupt government, a week goes by in a flash. Frankly, I think he stole that from the Stainless Steel Rat, but I wasn’t about to call him on it. Anyhoo, point is, time passes much too fast during moments of bliss and much too slowly in the hour of suffering. {Probably another quote, but whatever.} And of course all this made me remember the old joke: Time flies like the wind; fruit flies like a banana. {Think about it. . .}
The next group of musicians started playing; at first it sounded like “Love Shack,” but that couldn’t be right, since it was all guitars. This time I watched rather than listened, as one guitar played the melody while another did pizzicato sounds, like warm droplets hitting a fountain; that sound would have made Love Shack romantic. . .
And all that went away when I heard the loudspeaker pronounce the name of the group, which made me giggle so hard I couldn’t remember it later, though I do recall thinking Trampled by Turtles was the only sillier band name I’d ever come across. Or maybe La Oreja de Van Gogh. . . yes, there’s a band called Van Gogh’s Ear, albeit in Spanish, though they don’t mention which one: the ear still bolted on, or the portable? Either way, yuck. . .
At that point the American giggly woman nearby yawned, “I love the Beach Boys.” Since the last piece had been flamenco. . .
Finally it was time for the last performer. . .

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.

The next thing I was aware of was the overwhelming silence. There was no music left. I sat up and looked around, seeing clusters of people ambling toward the exits. Dammit, how could I have fallen asleep? Was the last musician so boring? Who knows, I was asleep.
Since no one came around to chase me away–yet–I sat there a little bit longer, though I still felt only barely awake. Okay, that was no good, and my driver was probably waiting impatiently for me, so I finally got up, blinking as I took one final look around. A few minutes later I was indeed on the receiving end of a dark look as I saw the driver lounging against his car, which happened to be the last one in the parking lot. Thankfully the lights were still on. . .
The next morning the driver was in a better mood as he took me to shoot the famous gate called the Puerta de los Siete Suelos, which roughly translated as Gate of the Seven Sighs, kinda. When Boabdil–remember him?–had to flee the Alhambra, he asked that the gate be sealed forever after he passed through it.
A token gesture, I thought, imagining those pleasant Christians doing some kind of end zone–more like goal-scoring–dance through it. After doing my job with it, we headed off for the far less impressive but much preferable little stone marker at El Suspiro del Moro, the Sigh of the Moor. {I know, what is it with these names?} I’m sure you’re wondering why the Moor sighed there, and it actually turned out to be Boabdil again, right after the previous gate incident. Much like I was doing, he stopped there for a final mournful look at the towers he lived in. . .
And then his mom, that queen of grace, snorted, “You do well to weep like a woman, for what you could not defend like a man.”
What a bitch, right?
And what better way to end this trip to Spain? Well, almost anything. . .

And yes, it’s over now. Believe it. . .



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