Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lorca and the Alhambra

So I woke up yesterday early and checked out to head for the train station. Given how disastrous the walk from the station was, I decided to wimp out and take a taxi to the station. Right decision. I had a bit of a wait at the station because I wanted to be early and I wasn’t sure if getting a taxi right away would be easy (but a driver spotted me like the moment I came out the door of my hostal and I nodded at him and he stopped for me. It was pretty great).
The train was a bit different than the last one. I was going from a place much smaller than Madrid to a place smaller than Sevilla, so this wasn’t as fast of a train (I think around 130km/h), and had stops in what appeared to me to be the middle of nowhere.
In Granada, I started to walk, got about 2 blocks from the station and couldn’t find the street I was looking for, so after Sevilla, I said to hell with it and went back and took a taxi. Again, right decision. It was only 5euro, and I didn’t have to sweat like a crazy person and be lost for an hour.
The guy here speaks really good English, and, like in Madrid, he gave me a map and pointed out some things to do, then gave me the fax that had come from the company I booked my Alhambra tour with (more on that shortly). It was pretty much the best arrival I could have hoped for, and solved every concern I had about Granada in about 2 minutes. Sweet.
It was the middle of siesta time when I arrived, so I waited in the hostal for a bit, just hanging out. The guy from the front brought me an electric fan (because this one’s not air conditioned, but honestly, I fought with that a/c so much, I don’t really mind at all) for the room.
Eventually, when it should have been a bit cooler, I went out. I wandered up Gran Via de Colon, and turned towards what I now know is Plaza Nueva (though at the time, I was just wandering). I sat for a bit and wrote and thought. It was a really nice moment; the weather was warm but the sun was down enough that it wasn’t super hot and there was a nice breeze, blowing the leaves around. There was a fountain right in front of me, and every now and then, dogs would stop to drink and splash in it. A guy was playing Spanish guitar half a block down. It was just like being in a movie, and it got me thinking about what kind of plot my movie would have, and spurred a whole moment for me in my writing. A bit of navel-gazing never hurt anyone unless they were standing in traffic, right?
Anyway, when it finally seemed late enough to eat (a bit earlier here, probably because there seems to be a lot of older English-speakers here, a.k.a. the early bird specials), around 8 or 8:30, I picked a place right there at Plaza Nueva and ate on the terrace just on the other side of the fountain I’d been at.
I had a granizada limon (lemon slurpee, delicious), a tapa of tortilla de patatas (told you about that already, if you’ve been reading), and a tosta (like an open faced sandwich) with tomato, ali oli (garlic mayo) and little shrimps on it. It was really good, and this might have been the first time in Spain I’ve really felt like I liked the food. Mostly, I’ve found Spanish food to be ok if I order the right thing, but not my favourite. I don’t know how Spanish this meal was, but presumably more than “salty pancakes,” and I quite enjoyed it.
I also had helado from Tiggiani (which, according to my Andalucia book, has granadinos in a rave about their awesome flavours), and it was quite good. I wandered and explored and got a bit lost and wandered some more and felt a little nervous that I was actually really lost and then kept walking in what felt like the right direction and eventually hit a street I knew and found myself again (in the literal sense, not the figurative “finding oneself” sense).
The only thing I’ve found wrong about Granada so far is that this is the first European shower I’ve had where I don’t really fit. It’s way too short of a room, as in I can’t stand up straight and shampoo my hair. But really, of all the things to complain about, at least I have a shower.
This morning, I got up early to go on my Alhambra tour.
Perhaps I should explain what the Alhambra is? It’s a huge old Muslim walled city up on the hills above Granada where nobels and the Sultan used to live (before 1400, when Spain was still under Muslim rule). It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site, one of the most visited places in Spain, and widely considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the world for the architecture inside the palaces. History lesson over.
I had to go down a couple blocks to a bigger hotel to get picked up and I was very early, so I waited around. Finally, when the people arrived, she tells me (as the man tells the other people in French) that the Alhambra is having a general strike and so it was supposed to still have minimal services, but that her colleague, there since early morning, says it’s actually closed.
So, she says, I can get a refund no problem, but really, you don’t go to Granada without seeing the Alhambra. That’s like going to New York city and not going to Times Square, even though you might never get another chance to go there. If Times Square was halfway around the world, was hundreds of years old, and was extremely beautiful, all of which, it is not.
She also says I can try to rebook for another day, but that tomorrow might be impossible because everyone from today will be rebooking for today. I leave here first thing Friday morning.
Double shit.
She gives me the phone number, and I start slowly wandering back toward my hostal, looking at my cellphone, trying to figure out what to do. I don’t even really know how to dial locally with it. But it’s the middle of the night back home, so I can’t call my Dad to ask. But I need to call right away to have much chance of rebooking.
So many shits.
Suddenly, the woman runs up behind me and says “She called to say it’s open, so we can go. Come on.”
No more shit. So many awesomes.
On the bus, I managed to hit my knee on an armrest so hard, it’s now purple and blue, despite the fact that it only happened a few hours ago. Go team graceless.
When we got there, they split us up into language groups. The English group was actually mostly non-native English speakers, but their native language was uncommon enough as to not get a full group (some from Holland, I’m certain I heard some German, and one couple were from India). Other than the daughter of one of the couples, I was definitely the youngest person there.
We walked through the gardens, and I managed to walk into a shin-high wall, scraping my leg open. Team graceless strikes again.
It really was a beautiful place.
But to be honest, I sort of expected more.

Federico Garcia Lorca (as you may know, one of my writerly obsessions in the past year) said “The melancholic and contemplative man goes to Granada to be all alone...near the bonfire of saffron, deep gray, and blotting-paper pink—the walls of the Alhambra.”
That description...I mean, in typical Lorca fashion, he makes it sound like the most perfect place on earth.
But the trouble is that the Alhambra that Lorca saw is not the Alhambra of today. It wasn’t really a tourist attraction then, it wasn’t half under renovation and restoration as it is now, it wasn’t populated by shouting teenagers and screeching children, all on field trips. It was contemplative and beautiful. It was a place a writer could go to write.
And I expect, if I could see it as Lorca saw it, I would feel very differently about it. But honestly, it felt like a very beautiful, but fairly empty (in an emotional sense) tourist attraction.
However, I’m finding Granada to be a lovely city. Granada means pomegranate in Spanish, and Lorca described it as hard and skull-like on the outside, but inside, containing the “blood of the wounded earth.” How beautiful is that? He grew up around and in Granada, and I’ve been reading a biography of him (by Leslie Stainton, it’s extremely detailed and about 2 inches thick, and yes, I carried it with me), trying to see how he might have seen this place. It might seem really cliché. I’m probably pretty far down the list of young writers who’ve idolized him, and thus come to Granada because of his life. But I find something about him and about his writing to be so endlessly fascinating. And don’t even get me started on his relationship to Dali.
Anyway, Granada is treating me well. It really is beautiful here.
“Al coger tu paleta, con un tiro en un ala, / pides la luz que anima la copa del olivo. / Ancha la luz di Minerva, constructora de andamios, / donde no cabe el sueño ni su flora inexacta.”
approximately “When you take up your palette, with a bullet hole in it’s wing / You call on the light that brings to life the olive tree / The light of Minerva, builder of scaffolds / Where there is no room for dream or it’s hazy flower
-from “Oda a Salvador Dali” by Federico Garcia Lorca.

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