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. . .