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. . .



Travel Thursday: Chilly Spain–warm up, big lady

Part 6–oh boy. . .

Washington Irving

Not wanting to cover the same ground today, I’d noticed on the map that there had been an original path between the main part of the complex and the Generalife, not in use now because that way the tourists missed most of the gardens. . . and then I noticed yet another path down to the river, through the forest, and decided it was just the thing I needed, a little nature photography to give my analytical mind a break.
At first I thought “Cuesta de los Chinos,” or at least the last word, was a diminutive for “Chinese,” but then I didn’t know the word also referred to the little pebbles that made up the path. Obviously something I needed to learn in my path through life.
Having stopped to look at the towers closest to me–seeing them from the other side–I now turned around to look for the Generalife, hoping to get a glimpse through the trees. I couldn’t, at first, but then I looked higher and gasped, because it looked so tiny! My feet instantly started hurting as I realized how far I’d come. It looked like it was floating on a green sea of vegetation, reminding me of that shot of the pyramids in Star Wars. . . you know, at the end, the rebel base.
The pebbles were still warm from a morning filled with sunshine breaking through the gaps in the trees, though now the road was in shade. The air here was not only cooler, but sweeter, and as I walked on a bed of pine needles covering said pebbles I wished I had someone with me who could name all the flowers just from the potpourri in the air as I shot them. Turning back, I could barely see any of the Alhambra’s buildings through all the vegetation; I felt like an explorer in America hundreds of years ago, tramping through a virgin forest. {Later I did have someone identify, from the photos, a fig tree, an oak, laurel, jasmine, aloe. . . and are those really pistachios actually growing on a tree instead of on vines like normal nuts? And pomegranates. . . oh, I mean granadas; yes, that’s what the city was named for.}
Turning forward again, I enjoyed the look of sunlight dappling the road, the pebbles giving a lot more texture than mere cement. Again I wished I had a model with me. . . which is a damn rare thought, usually I can’t wait to get away from them. Remembering to use my other senses, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath through my nose; the perfume of the flowers suddenly refreshed me, took away any tiredness, though it quickly lapsed toward overwhelming.
A little while later I reached the river, but I didn’t try to to ford it, since I had to get back to shooting the Alhambra, and I’d already gone to the Albacin anyway. But I did stand and look and shoot for a while, finally searching for the exact spot where the museum I went to yesterday was located before turning back.
Finally I started the walk back, wishing I’d brought a lunch, more in regular mode than photographer’s; for instance, I no longer thought of the overhanging trees and resulting gloom as “romantic;” instead I was checking dark places for attackers. Because of this attention to detail, I spotted a little path off the trail and simply had to see what was up there. Maybe I might find another erotic statue. . . and yes, I laughed.
Luckily it wasn’t that big of a hill, nor that steep once I got over the humpy part, but it was just high enough to see over most of the trees. Due to the towers being the tallest part of the Alhambra, the complex looked a lot closer than it really was, though I made it back away again with a wide angle lens. Someone had brought a chair up here once, then left it, which got me even higher {if I didn’t look down}. When I was done with that, I let out a sigh as I realized I was gonna remember this walk and this road more than the beautiful buildings.
There was one tower, standing all alone on the east side, I hadn’t noticed, so I had to check the books to get that story–morning glory–even if it was as made up as most of them. . . but hell, I was in the perfect place for a romantic lie.
It took a while, but I finally found the Tower of the Infants; its remote and wooded location was said to attract the romantics, though I didn’t see much romanticism possible in the place where the Sultan’s daughters lived. In fact, there was only one story about it at all, and it was Washington Irving’s, which automatically made it suspect: A young and buxom Andalucian damsel first appeared to him in the upper tower, her head covered with flowers. . . . and that’s it. Obviously she didn’t need rescuing, and for sure he didn’t manage to seduce her, otherwise he would have told us. After all, even us romantic guys need sex once in a while. . .


Travel Thursday: Chily Spain–Living the General Life

And here I thought I was too old to squee when a favorite actress replies on Twitter:

Yep, that happened. Now on wit’ da show.

Part 5. . . 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 at the furthest end of the huge grounds, 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. . . and that’s probably fruit orchards, not those pretty little flowers. 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 description ever, even if it was accurate. Careful with the camera, I enjoyed the spray from the fountains, {a nineteenth century addition, ha!} and I saw plenty of women delighted when they spotted 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 them. I shot them anyway, and it helped that the designs were in a tree 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. . . 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 started taking long shot of the garden, then doing the minute-long open-lens thing so the tourists would look like ghosts. Listening in to some woman who seemed to know what she was talking about, I shot myrtle, climbing roses, shade-providing pergolas, 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 poured 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 on 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.) Life seemed more vibrant here, and yet I could almost hear the circulation of the sap in the plants next to me. It was another layer of harmony with the music of the water splashing from the fountains, eddying down the canals, as well as all 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. . .


Travel Thursday: Chilly Spain, part 4

(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 name. 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. . . and then 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. . .}


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

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. . .


Travel Thursday: Chilly Spain, the sequel

AUGUSTUS HARE (describing the Alhambra)
The most perfectly beautiful place in the world

After the surprisingly uninteresting Patio del Cuarto Dorado–Golden Room, as you no doubt figured out {oops, sorry about the accidental rhyme}–I found myself in a dark passageway that climbed obliquely to the Court of the Myrtles, at least according to the map. At the end of the hallway I instinctively took the turn to the left. . . and bumped into a wall.
“What a stupid place to put a wall!” I muttered as I rubbed my nose. Probably put there to foil assassins, since it makes a lot of noise when you break a nose. My mood was helped, though, when I turned around and looked in the right direction, where the wall opened to show flowers, or so I thought.
The Patio de los Arrayanes–Myrtles, if you didn’t know; I didn’t–was a wide open space with a long goldfish pool surrounded by fragrant shrubs. . . but no real flowers, strangely enough. Even worse, it was incredibly bright after that dark corridor, so I spent too much time rubbing my eyes to appreciate it fully. On the other hand, it allowed my other senses to kick in, and for someone who’s allergic to perfume, I have to admit I’d never smelled shrubs like these.
Once my eyes were back in play, I walked along the pool, concentrating on the arches while checking the book and glancing at the water every so often. “The long central pool helps not only to cool and refresh the surrounding rooms, but also to dissolve all the courtyard’s diverse and potentially discordant elements in a glittering surface where visitors can observe at night the shining of the stars and the moon, and enjoy by day the spectacle of goldfish swimming in between the reflected arches of the galleries.” I frowned at the book (the book didn’t seem to mind): Why couldn’t the writer keep it simple? Did they really feel such a need to make the prose match the decorations?
Next up was the Hall of the Ambassadors, which the book told me was the place where King Ferdinand and Columbus discussed the route to India that ran into a roadblock–or is that seablock?–called America. {“The only thing Columbus ever found was that he was lost!”} It was a perfectly square hall that was supposed to be one of the most magnificent rooms in the palace, every surface intricately wrought with inscriptions and ornamental patterns and topped by an incredible carved wooden dome which represented the seven heavens of Islamic Paradise. Even better were the latticed windows, which permitted dots of light to enter and make a pattern on the floor, practically the only light in the room. The book told me those windows usta have stained glass, which was incredibly hard to picture.
I spent a few minutes looking around, thinking of photo angles and then realizing they wouldn’t work, then saying the hell with it and shooting anyway with barely a grumble. From there I went on to the Torre de Comares. . . yeah, don’t ask me what that one means. This place had even funkier windows, enormous rounded holes that offered views in all directions. I liked them, and shot them over and over. After all, there’s no rule that says windows have to be square or rectangle.
According to the book, this tower was the tallest in the whole place, but looking up you wouldn’t know it. Not impressed, I moved on.

Washington Irving

I am not buying Washington Irving on this one: having been on the battlefield, what the fuck’s so romantic about people killing each other? Why couldn’t he have just mentioned the great view?

Richard Ford

This actually made me a little uneasy, as I’m used to symmetry, focal points, logical sequences. Everything about this place screams secrecy, intrigue; your imagination tends to run wild, and not in a good way. I know that’s part of the Alhambra’s charm, but it’s. . . too much. Fun to look at for a while, but the thought of living here makes me shiver. I’d always be wondering if someone was hidden around the corner, waiting to jump me, or even just watching me from the tons of latticed windows on the upper floors.
Or maybe it’s just so different than the culture I grew up in. Islam doesn’t like real representations; you not only can’t show Allah, but any human or animal forms at all. Maybe that’s what this place really needs: some artwork inspired from something other than flowers and vines.

This quote, on the other hand, I can totally go for. . .
Washington Irving
On one side is heard the refreshing sound
of waters from the Fountain of the Lions, and
on the other side the soft splash from the basin in the garden of Lindaraxa. It is impossible to contemplate this scene so perfectly oriental without feeling the early associations of Arabian romance, and almost expecting to see the white arm of some
mysterious princess beckoning from the gallery.

Yeah, the princess part, you know me well.
The Patio de los Leones–okay, okay, Patio of the Lions–is the most photographed place in the palace and was the center of the sultan’s domestic life. Describing it is kinda hard, but it’s basically a symmetrical arcade of horseshoe arches and white marble columns bordering the courtyard, while a fountain supported by twelve marble lions tinkles in the middle. Because the arches made for open pavilions instead of real walls, and because there were similar watercourses both inside and outside, it was easy to confuse which was interior and which was exterior.
I almost wasn’t in the mood to appreciate it, because, just like the previous patio, the entrance, from the southwest corner, provided an angled and very unclassical view. One book said the architects wanted to woo the visitor with lush and mysterious effects, but I stopped being wooed a long time ago.
Taking a deep breath–the loud “whoosh!” immediately afterward a dead giveaway–I took in the patio with a new perspective. . . mental perspective, that is, not linear. It didn’t take a genius to see why this place was named after lions, though the dozen statues supporting the fountain barely looked like cats. . . maybe because they appeared to be kinda snarling as they spit out the water, but I think the sculptor had only heard of this animal, never seen one, and even then it was a rough description.
Straddling one of the small channels that flowed symbolically to the four corners of the earth, and more literally to the surrounding apartments, feeding the small fountains inside–if you could call it an inside–it seemed like something was missing, though I couldn’t tell what it was. And since I’d be here for three weeks, I figured it would come to me on its own, but it never did.

Nina Murdoch (puritanical Australian)

Sure sounds puritanical, doesn’t she? And according to history, this patio usta be a garden, which probably complimented the architecture better than what it looks like now. With flowers, trees, and plants, I can imagine it looking crowded, but right now, with pebbles that make it look like a Japanese garden, it seemed eerily desolate, despite all the tourists. Did I say Japanese garden? How ‘bout a kitty-litter box? For these goofy lions.
Staying in that same part of the world, it occurred to me that these dozens of skinny columns and thin archways, with their honeycombed decorations, reminded me of Thailand, some multi-roof Nepali pagoda style of architecture that spread to East Asia. {I’ll spare you my research on the erotic art on the roof struts, especially since there weren’t any here.}
But then I finally stepped on the pebbles, and found myself looking down in surprise: the softness, the way the pebbles allowed the weight of the body to sink in, was cushioning my feet, actually relaxing them. The harder I worked to tire myself, the more energy that flowed into my body, right through the material under the soles of my boots. New-agey awesome.
I went inside, so to speak, and when I turned around to gaze at the patio and the fountain of lions, it finally looked awesome. The columns brought shadows in, making it seem like a forest as I stood next to the small fountain inside. With the sun toward me, it was very difficult to see the fountain, let alone photograph it, as it was in full shadow. The fountain next to me was fed by a channel that came from the lion waterway, so I followed the channel and finally made out the big fountain in the strong shade.
Here’s a quote I really liked: A structure so open to the elements and incorporating so many pools and fountains might be all very well for the summer, but would have been rather less inviting during Granada’s cold and damp winters. It is a breakdown of the typical western barriers between exteriors and interiors. Rooms open up into landscaped courtyards and an abundance of water flows from open to enclosed spaces, echoing the sounds of rivers and softening in its reflections the hardness of man-made lines.

They missed the checkers, or rather chessboard, on the floor, but I forgave them.
Moving on to greener pastures–like a cow–I headed south, into the Galeria de Abencerrajes–no, I’m tired of translating!–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 central fountain fed by one of the four channels that were arranged like a cross around the fountain; the central marble basin had oxidized iron stains that some said 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.

Washington Irving
Bears the suggestive name of the Hall of
the Two Sisters. Some destroy the romance of
the name by attributing it to two enormous
slabs of alabaster which lie side by side, and
form a great part of the pavement. . . others
are disposed to give the name a more poetical
significance, as the vague memorial of Moorish beauties who once graced this hall, which was evidently a part of the royal harem.

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; it’s disappointing in comparison. 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 contiued. . .


Travel Thursday: Chilly Spain, part 1

I’ve found the cure for jet lag! Watch all fourteen episodes of “Max Headroom” in a row! I am refreshed!
For the next few weeks the travel spot will be taken up by stuff that I saw and happened to me while on assignment shooting one of the marvels of the Middle Ages and before, the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, which I recently listed as my favorite place in the world. But two weeks in the dead of winter. . . sunny Spain my ass! It’s from a few years ago, so don’t whine if things have changed.
{I was going to add “don’t try some of this stuff at home,” but since it’s impossible to unless you live in Granada. . .}

The road into the Alhambra from the south was designed so the visitor would end up at the starting point of the palaces. The palaces are to the right of the path, but being a contrary individual I instead turned left, into the Alcazaba, which was once a separate palace, all the way to the western edge of the grounds, with its own entrance from town; its massive battlements were later transformed into a guard house and palace garrison. Napoleon stationed his troops there, but before leaving he blew up enough of the place to keep it from being used that way again.
Okay, enough bare bones. I walked through the Torre de Homenaje, the Tower of Homage, as if you couldn’t figure it out yourself. It dominated the eastern end of the keep, but more impressive was the Torre de la Vela, Tower of the Candle, topped with a few flags and a bell that still rings every year to commemorate the taking of the Alhambra by the Christians. . . which is so incredibly Christian of them. Ever hear about the American Secretary of State who told the Arabs and the Israelis to stop fighting and behave like good Christians? Some might say it’s sad to think of all the fighting that went on just because they believed in different gods, but what’s worse is it’s the same god, just a different interpretation. And nothing’s really changed: there’s always some power-hungry guy who wants you to believe that heaven’s a place to which some people will get to go to after they die, but only if you have the approval of his organization.
And then I saw the pretty wisteria and forgot all thought about religion, bringing the camera to my eye. . .
Between the two main towers extends what in all other known medieval fortresses would have been an empty space for troops to maneuver in times of war. However, this Plaza de las Armas was turned into a miniature township complete with paved streets, residences for the army elite, and a public bath right below the Torre de la Vela. Since I’d just walked through it, I didn’t think it was possible, being so small, so I turned around to make sure, and yep, it was damned small. What I at first thought was something like the remains of a labyrinth turned out to be the foundations of the previous buildings. Those were probably bedrooms, and this bigger one was a living or meeting room; as you can tell, I always have fun playing archaeologist. Bending down, I picked up what I first thought was a piece of pottery, wondering how old it could be, but quickly realized it was probably just a dropped coffee mug. Still, that didn’t keep me from my usual flight of fancy, thinking about how different, or more likely how alike, those inhabitants had been to us modern types. When it comes down to it, they loved and hated and fought wars and planted seeds and had kids and, who knows, maybe they found relics from an even more distant past and wondered about those ancients. . .
And as always when I had such thoughts, I remembered a movie called “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” where some guy in a plane throws a Coke bottle out the window, and a tribal boy in Africa finds it. No one in the village knows what the hell it is, and everyone uses it for different things: rolling bread or a flower holder or a ton of other things. Before you know it they’re fighting over it, and the formerly peaceful village is ripped apart.
And then I wondered what some archaeologist a thousand years from now would think of a Coke bottle. . .
A sign pointed toward the barbican, but since I’m allergic to heights, I passed.
{to be continued}