Travel Thursday Encore: Chilly Spain, part 7

Part 7. . . seriously?
Yep, seriously. Not done yet.

Taking a very long walk from the entrance all the way past the last building I’d been to, then strolling through what was referred to as “a park” on the maps but was actually just a bunch of grass and sad-looking trees, I finally reached the Generalife, the country estate of the Nasrid kings on top of Cerro Del Sol.
There was an easier way to get to the Generalife itself, but then I would have missed the gardens, which would have been a really dumb thing to do if I wanted to make the book photographically complete. This path was called “Callejón de las Adelfas,” but since I wasn’t sure if that meant fairies or oleander–the dictionary wasn’t sure, that is–I had to convince myself I didn’t care that much.
I suddenly laughed as I thought how funny it was that those who lived in the Alhambra, instead of heading hundreds of miles away, like to the coast, had their “summer retreat” right on the next hill. Lazy fat rich people, sigh. . . or as they put it, “Escape the intrigues of palace life and enjoy tranquility high above the city, a little closer to heaven.” The name Generalife meant, at least in one translation, “garden of lofty paradise,” so you can see how they convinced themselves.
Making a circle to take it all in, then looking up toward the bulk of the fortress, I confirmed that it was a garden, and it was lofty. Paradise, though, remains to be seen, as the old coroner joke goes.
The gardens had been started in the thirteen century–“Sheesh, that’s old!”–but had been modified many times since, including orchids, vegetables, vines, even pastures for livestock. . . or maybe I shouldn’t have told you that last one. Despite not having a pool, the place I was standing in was known as the Patio de Polo, where visitors left their horses, so as you can see everything had a name no matter how pedestrian. Or maybe they ran out of poetic inspiration.
The long pathway with all the fountains was soothing and nice, though not a big deal for someone used to the huge gardens of Southern California. This was called the “Patio de la Acequia,” which translated to “Courtyard of the Irrigation Channel,” not exactly the most poetic translation ever, even if it was accurate. Extra careful with the camera, I enjoyed the spray from the fountains—a nineteenth century addition, ha!—and I saw plenty of women delighting in spotting designs in the stone path, mostly hearts. Too bad I didn’t have a model with me; it would take very little urging to get any normal girl to eagerly pose with the motifs like tourists with the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I shot them anyway, and it helped that the designs were in a vegetation tunnel where I could rest in the shade for a while.
With the trees blocking a lot of the sun, I was able to see the garden in a different light, so to speak. Murky, in a photographic sense, it did seem to lend a beautiful glow to the roses, even the leaves. The gentle breeze didn’t hurt either. Why, from this angle it was even romantic, even though it looked like many other places I’d been to. . . well, other places I’d called romantic, so okay.
And then suddenly, just like that, this dream world snapped out and the place was again full of tourists, and loud ones at that. . . not that there’s any other kind, right? How had I not noticed them? How had I thought of this place as tranquil? How had I enjoyed those golden moments? I was almost annoyed at the real world.
I set up for a long shot of the garden, doing the minute-long open-lens thing so the tourists would look like ghosts. After that, while listening in on some woman who seemed to know what she was talking about, I shot myrtle, climbing roses, shade-providing pergolas, and finally a long pool flanked by potted plants and shaded by trees. It was no surprise someone had said “the eye shall not tire of contemplating it.”
The next garden had two names, depending on how you felt, I guess: either “Patio de los Cipreses” or “Patio de la Sultana.” Most of you whom I know read this would probably be happy with “Courtyard of the Cypresses,” but there’s a few divas where “Courtyard of the Sultana” is more your style. Either way, this garden was truly exquisite, the trees and shrubs filled with roses, jasmine, and verbena; I recognized the sight of the first, the smell of the second, and the third I overheard from the same lady as before. Footpaths led to tiny ponds with floating water lilies and exotic fish, gilded gazebos and kiosks meant to shade the stroller from the sun, and even the sounds from the water were beautiful. And reading that these gardens were a special playground for the women of the harem–some taking pleasure in gardening, others simply cherishing a lazy promenade on a warm day, or tanning–I could easily imagine women pouring out of the buildings from all directions, like swarms of bees flying from the hive in search of honey, pausing when they found a flower. This patio just seemed to have more personality, which to my mind meant it had to have some kind of cool story to it.
Of course it did: this was where the wife of Sultan Abul-Hasan met her secret lover. . .
Not wanting to think about such things when it was so easy to feel lonely so far away from home, I sucked it up and took the long climb up to the buildings. Not finding much to shoot there, though I could see how these buildings might be of interest to an architect, I wandered into an ivy–or something similar–covered walkway, the vegetation making for some fun streaming lighting. Another great place to shoot a model, it actually reminded me of the hallway outside Royce Hall at UCLA. . . had they left it untended for a century or so. . . though sometimes it looked that way. . . oh, the janitors are gonna get me for that. . .
Finally I turned around and took in the scene below me, and the obvious first thing I noticed was all the water. Probably due to their cultural past of having to survive in the desert, H2O was very important to the Muslims who built and lived here. It’s everywhere, but not just in places to drink or bathe; they made art of it like they did everything else. Did they place the fountains in just the right place to make those little rainbows, to bead those little drops right on the perfectly situated flowers, or was it all a happy accident?
The perfect placement of the dew, Nature’s sprinkler system, enhanced the amazing bouquet wafting from the roses, magnolia, eucalyptus. Even the cypress infiltrated into this austere corner where I wrote down all these thoughts, on this bench where who knows how many ladies with romance in their hearts sat to engrave their musings while they waited for their loved one. . .
In a way it reminded me of the Court of the Lions, where there were no walls in the buildings facing the court, and the little canals went right inside. On the other hand, the vibe was totally different. Great in the summer heat, though probably raising the humidity, but not so great in the winter. And of course it left them with no privacy, unless they went upstairs, but on the other hand no one was going to come in here that you didn’t trust. . . which is why so many were assassinated by family members who wanted the throne or more riches. There was a sense of harmony within all the elements, even sound: the music of the water splashing from the fountains dovetailed so nicely with the chirpings of these amazingly happy birds.
Walking down now, I couldn’t help but notice the railings along the staircase, crudely carved half-tubes on either side. For a moment I wondered what the hell they were, but quickly remembered reading about them, and I wasn’t surprised that this particular thing stayed in my memory. Picture it: young lady walking innocently along, someone up top sees her, pulls up the door on the dam, and suddenly water runs down to the bottom in torrents and she’s completely soaked. The women are laughing because it wasn’t them, and the men are trying to see how transparent the clothes are.
Perhaps history’s first wet t-shirt contest. . .


Music Monday: I Will Not Repent

For several years now there’s been a glut of movies being turned into musicals, some getting big unexplainable runs on Broadway while others languished in obscurity.
Dangerous Beauty is one of my favorite movies, featuring the Venice of centuries ago and, more importantly, a beautiful redhead who happens to have the same last name as me. . . the character, not the actress. So imagine my surprise a few years ago when I was reading an online article and saw the ad for it coming to the Pasadena Playhouse, which I lived close to at the time.
At the time, it was the only play I went to twice.
Two things made it particularly special: the score, done by the amazing Amanda McBroom of The Rose fame (as well as her turn as Picard’s lawyer ex on Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Jenny Powers as Veronica Franco.
Among some of the fantastic songs were “I Am Venice,” “Until Tomorrow Comes,” “I Will Love You Now,” “Lions of the Sea,” “Stripping Venice,” and “City of Lies.” But easily the greatest is the closing number, alternatively called “Confession” and “I Will Not Repent.”
Whereas earlier in the show I was taken in by the delicacy Jenny brings to her vocals, a certain sweetness, here it’s the very definition of a power ballad.
Here’s the thing, though. Because it’s a stage production, there’s no video of an actual performance. Instead I found a live recital at a restaurant. Doesn’t matter, it still works. The lyrics, that last note. . . amazing.


Travel Thursday Encore: Chilly Spain, part 6

(Subtitle: Beating a Dead Horse)

Feeling like something different today, I took an early right turn to tackle the Palacio San Carlos. At first I found it interesting that it didn’t have a thought-up name, just called after some guy, but once I saw it. . . it really doesn’t lend itself to a poetic moniker. Unlike you find “The Circle” poetic. {And some of you might. . .}
I stopped as I approached the building in question, wanting the overview before going in. I tried to get a shot of the whole building, and ended up lying down on the dusty floor to get it, much to the amusement of the workers. You’d think after doing that at the Seattle Space Needle as well as many other places, I’d get used to the dirt and chewing gum. . . and stares.


It’s just so different! And I hate all the wasted space, the huge empty plaza in the center, though the two stories of Doric colonnades were interesting.
When in doubt, go to the books. “Although glaringly incongruous amidst all the Moorish splendor, experts seem to agree that the Palacio is one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Spain. Inside is a museum of Hispano-Arabic art, including the only original furnishing from the Alhambra, a spectacular fifteenth-century vase.”

Yeah, couldn’t wait to see the vase, having to wander through the cumbersomely named Museo Hispano-Muselman, it was disappointing when my only thoughts about it were its huge size and the fact it was sporting Bruin colors.
As for the palace itself, it seemed like the designer–probably not Carlitos himself–set out to do everything opposite of the rest of the complex; I’m surprised they didn’t tear the whole Alhambra down. Rigid symmetry, restrained ornament, rusticated exterior. As famously said by one of my favorite poets, Lorca, “The stylistic clash between the two palaces is the fatal duel that throbs in the heart of each of Granada’s citizens.” Or as someone else said, “The conflict between Christian brutality and Islamic sensitivity.”
By now I was in the open circle in the middle. Compared to Versailles or Buckingham, it was a modest residence, but. . . I don’t know. I wanted to like the place, but I simply didn’t appreciate the reason it was built. And yet it did have some charm; the decorations were fun, and I liked that the rooms didn’t seem to follow a standard architectural pattern. One part that seemed similar to the rest of the complex was exiting a dark room to find myself in a secluded patio, listening to a soothing fountain, with no chance of a broken nose this time.
I sat to read up on the place a little more, and found an interesting quote from the architect: ‘The only way to compete with a work of Islamic genius is to produce a building more striking than any other Christian structure of the time.” And yet, the place feels unfinished, which to me screams “lost glory” just as much as the ruins around it.
{Wish I had a better way of finishing this part. . .}


Poetry Tuesday: Angling

Anonymous Vietnamese, 16th century.

My rod is made of fine bamboo
My hook is made of gold.
For bait I use some flashing gems,
Then cast my line in the dragon’s mouth.
Some people fish in rivers and seas,
But I’m after girls of established families.
If you’re already married, let go of my bait.
If not, bite, and I’ll try to land you.


Music Monday: Throwing My Piano

Killarney Star is the coolest person in the world, and that’s after only meeting her once, a long time ago. But since I just found her on Insta, inspiring me to break out her first album, I couldn’t choose anyone else for this week’s edition.

This is an angry song about creativity; sometimes it’s better to start over. . .
“Okay what can I, get my hands on now?
Something that will scream in protest as I throw it out.”


Travel Thursday Encore: Chilly Spain part 5

“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

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 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–made 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. . .


Music Monday: Murky Waters

I miss Lauren Barrett. Haven’t heard from her or her music in far too long a time, and a quick internet check shows a different singer with the same name. Oh well, hope she’s doin’ fine, and here’s some photos I took of her live. Plus the video, of course.

Difficult to choose which song of hers to feature, tossup between “I Do” and this one. The choice was taken from me when the former wouldn’t populate here correctly, so you get the extra bluesy one instead of the just bluesy.


Lauren Barrett, singer-songwriter, singer, emotion, vocalist, Lauren Barrett, singer-songwriter, singer, emotion, vocalist,



Travel Thursday Encore: Chilly Spain, Part 4

Moving on to greener pastures–like a cow–I headed south, into the Galeria de Abencerrajes–no, I’m tired of translating! Not that I know that one–where Sultan Moulay Abdul Hassan piled the heads of the sons of his first wife–all sixteen of them–so that Boabdil, son of his second wife, could inherit the throne. The metaphorically bloodstained room had a marble basin with oxidized iron stains; some said they were the bloodstains from the previous story, but even as I doubted that, I looked up and gasped. The spectacular honeycombed star-shaped stalactite ceiling was beyond description, so I’m not even gonna try, though I will say the entire star reflecting from the ceiling into the fountain was simply too cool. According to legend this might have been a music room, where listeners could look at the ceiling and imagine they were outside, but seriously, go hunt for images–someone had to get this shot as awesomely as real life. And hey, it might have been me, if you’re reading this after the book comes out.

Washington Irving

On the north side of the courtyard was the resplendent Sala de las Dos Hermanas–look above for translation–which also has a staggering honeycomb dome, made of five thousand tiny cells, known as the “celestial vault.” From here a secluded portico overlooks the Jardines de Daraxa, though I was thinking I wished I’d seen this roof first, because as great as it was, it couldn’t compare to the previous one. Luckily the filigree surfaces of the wall coverings were so intricate and beautiful that it led the place to be called the most luxurious book of poems ever produced. And what I saw in the book I was given as a study aid helped, especially since it involved one of my favorite artists:
“Especially intriguing is the geometrical complexity that made the Alhambra of absorbing interest to such a lover of visual paradox as the 20th century illustrator M. C. Escher. This is present in the glazed and colored tiles that cover the lower levels of the walls. In their interlacing of abstract shapes–a technique of Persian origin–these create mesmerizing kaleidoscopic effects evoking at times both flickering stars and flowers bursting into bloom.”

{To be continued. . . still more.}