I am playing catch up on my adventures in the beautiful land of Spain! This past week we were blessed to take a week long excursion to the southern community of Spain: Andalucía. Close your eyes and picture Spain for me. Imagine everything you’ve heard about Spain; the bullfighting, the flamenco, the tapas, the siesta, the beaches, the carefree attitude about life… The picture in your mind belongs to the land of Andalucía, more specifically Sevilla, but that´s for another post.
Our first stop was the sprawling city of Granada. My first impression was that this was the chill version of Madrid. There are certainly modern aspects to it, but the heart of the city belongs to the ancient Moorish occupants that held Spain for 800 years. Walking down the street that parallels the river, I could´nt help but notice the millions of gypsy shops, the sound of Spanish guitar drifting through the alley ways, the brilliant Alhambra on top of the hill, and yes, the smell of weed. We trekked along the bass of that hill that the Alhambra sits and looks over the city from. The name means ´red house´ and it is quite a mastery of Moorish style architecture. It also happens to be one of the new 7 wonders of the world. We hiked up through the steep streets of the Jewish quarter to a plaza that overlooks the valley of Granada and provides a spectacular view of the Alhambra as the sun was setting. The square was bursting with life to say the least. All walks of life were represented as everyone held their breath in anticipation of the sun setting behind the fortress, when the lights would cast a distinct reddish glow on it. Per usual, there were various small groups of tourists milling about, taking endless pictures to document every moment of the transitioning light. Additionally there were local kids laughing and pushing each other, as youth from all over the world do.
What captured my attention were the various gypsy artists selling their wares. They had various types of jewelry, henna tattooing, and paintings for sale. The most intriguing group were a band of friends made up of two guitarists and two singers who passionately preformed cante jondo, the painful song of flamenco. As they rhythmically clapped and strummed the various twelve beat patterns, one man cried in heart wrenching song about lost love and opportunities. It seems that all good flamenco is tragic in content. It draws you in to the private world of gypsy culture and the acknowledgement that although life is meant for relaxing and endless parties, an art that the people of Andalucía have mastered, there is sorrow as well. I admit that I was tempted at least a half dozen times to cancel my return flight home, buy a guitar and a moped, and join the lifestyle. Learning flamenco at the feet of the masters would fill a longing within me that I had no idea existed until I entered the winding streets of Granada. Perhaps it is merely because of the romantic notions surround such a carefree lifestyle. Either way, I am full intrigued.
At one point while we perused the square and waited for sundown, the police made a sudden appearance. As it is illegal to sell without a permit, the gypsies sprung to life from a simple cue of the designated lookout. In literally less than a minute, the square was empty of any vendors and only contained a couple dozen people on a walk with their large, bulging bags and mangy dogs at their sides. Feeling impatient for sunset and the promise of a spectacular lighting display of the Alhambra, we set out to explore the gypsy caves up on the surrounding hill. These houses, for lack of a better word, are carved directly into the rocky hillside. The atmosphere of the barrios is exactly what one would expect of a gypsy encampment. There were quite a few people in paseo with no particular destination because nothing particularly interesting was happening. Everywhere you look, there are prickly pear bushes pushed against white washed walls with blue trim. I think that I could stand to learn much from the gypsies on what is most important in life and how to love what you have instead of constantly seeking more.
After viewing a slow sunset, we descended once again, but into a different Granada. For as the sun died, the inhabitants of Granada came to life in every sense. We walked down street after street of shops until we found a cushioned Arabic restaurant that promised us the best shwarma we´d ever had. Since it was my first time trying the beautiful dish, they were true to their word. Every corner we turned presented a new performance in the narrow streets. From guitars to didgeridoos, to dancing, to a solo cantante, Granada´s streets are a melting pot of styles.
The next morning, yes, I did eat a granada in Granada. But before the morning rays began to kiss the valley floor, we entered the Alhambra. Pages and pages could fail to capture the beauty I found in its walls and ceilings. The Moorish architecture praising Allah cannot be without assistance from the divine. The courtyard itself could take hours to explore, and I found myself happily lost more than a few times. With the audio-tour in my ear, I spent 3 hours exploring the history of the Moorish rule of Spain. As the occupants for 800 years, I expected they would influence the culture, but they had done much more than that. They have transformed it, shaped it along with the Jews, Romans, and Visigoths to something that is very uniquely España. The Alhambra now stands as a monument to the lingering presence of Muslims despite their expulsion in 1492 by Isabel and Ferdinand.