Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 31 2009

Alhambra

I’d like to say I was awaken yesterday morning by birdsong and the slim shaft of light seeping through the skylight in my room, but I’m afraid the truth is it was a phone call. Still, one can pretend.

It was another brilliant day out, cold but not a cloud in the sky. We walked to a nearby café for breakfast, a place called “Zeluan” where the combination of smells, of coffee, food, cigarette smoke, wood, leather and other things all mixed together in a very appealing way. Spaniards, like the Japanese, have no problem with smoking in restaurants. One woman at the next table was even balancing a cigarette in one hand and a baby in the other. Everything on the menu came with chocolate, even my ham-and-eggs crepe, but somehow it went together very well. The dark wood paneling and gilded chairs were alleviated by the strong light coming in through the windows.

In point of fact, Granada smells wonderful. Just walking down the street, as we did after breakfast, one gets whiffs of meals, incense, break, whatever. We followed “Teahouse Alley” behind the main stretch, heading towards Alhambra. The shops, many of them Arab-run or Arab-themed, slowly opened their doors as we passed. Some sold clothes, some hookahs, incense and food. The sunlight hadn’t really hit the street levels yet.

I took off on my own when Gordon and Ray decided to sit in the sun at an outdoor café for a while, passing a visually arresting construction scene where something was burning, shafts of sunlight piercing the smoke. Nobody noticed when I walked onto the site with my camera and took a few shots. A block later I passed a Dunkin’ Donuts and decided to get a few to see if they were as lame as they are in Taipei. Result: they are delicious, as sweet as in the U.S., but the flavors have been changed to fit local tastes.

Back at the cafe, we tried to find a bus to take us up the mountain to Alhambra, a fortress built on a finger of the neighboring Sierra Nevadas that dominates the city in the valley below, not unlike Tolkien describes the city of Minas Tirith in The Lord of The Rings.

We ended up taking a taxi up through hillside neighborhoods. Once at the ticket center, we got some audio guides and headed into the complex. Apparently we did it backwards, because the audio guides’ first message didn’t make much sense. I’d thought it would be practical notes, little details, but instead it was someone who sounded like a young Peter O’Toole playing the part of Washington Irving, who stayed at Alhambra for some time in the 1820’s. He wrote a book of stories based on what he imagined life was like there in previous centuries, so the guide waxed romantic on the environs. It was actually quite emotive, and made me think of all of the things that had happened on any given spot within those walls over the centuries.

We entered on the heels of a large, loud tour group, and I straggled behind to get away from it. An old white cat lounged in the sun on one of the benches, paying no mind to anyone who approached it. We walked through a garden maze and then up through the old sultan’s quarters, then back around to the military fort and its three towers. The view of the sunlit city and the valley beyond from the towers is incredible; it’s not hard to imagine it back in the days of the Sultans. The tops of the Sierra Nevadas were solid with snow.

The palace portion of the tour was the most amazing. Fountains running through the rooms, intricate carved ceilings, marble columns, tile baths and courtyards; you really have to walk through it to appreciate it. At one point the narrator of the guide pointed out that we were in his room, i.e. the room Irving stayed in when he was there, the palace more or less abandoned and left to the public. The baths were huge and ornate, and my imagination ran wild coming up with various scenes that had happened there over the years. Another room had blotches on the ceiling; stories went that they were the blood of a family who were slaughtered there. The ceiling, however, was a good 30 feet up, and though I’ve seen some fairly egregious spurting-blood situations in various horror flicks over the years, I have no idea how blood could have gotten all the way up there. It turned out to be rust, the guide then explained.

The tour took an hour, and the sun was setting as we walked out of the complex. We caught a bus back down to the city to the sound of three American girls who tried to sound streetwise as they talked about seeing some guy in a club “totally do lines.”

Back in town, we found a Middle Eastern restaurant in Teahouse Alley for dinner. People here eat later at night, so we were only one of two parties in the entire place. I had chicken couscous, which was good but way too much, and Moorish mint tea to wash it down.

After walking back to the area of our hotel, we waited outside another hotel for a minibus that would take us up the Sacremonte to see a Flamenco show. I originally hadn’t wanted to go, but Gordon and Ray insisted. The bus ride was interesting in that I could see more of the city and regular people’s houses along the way. The show itself, at a whitewashed hillside café called The Cave, with wooden chairs and a low stone roof, was less than brilliant. The musicians were enthusiastic enough, particular the bearishly cute guitar player who was really into the performance. The dancers, three women of widely varying ages and layers of make-up, looked pained and, in some cases, epileptic. I was actually worried for one of them, an older woman in red, as she was shaking in a slightly alarming fashion. The younger one did a better job, but all of them looked like they could beat the shit out of any man in the room. The dancing itself had a tap-dancing feel to it; I wished Slim were there to see it.

After the show we were led up the road in the cold and dark for a bit for a lecture on gypsies living in caves that we never asked for. We then rode the bus back down the hill, three Spanish women in the seats behind me singing and clapping the whole way. I didn’t mind; they were happy.

We were planning to have a look at the huge cathedral downtown today and then check out and travel to Almeria area, but I’m not sure if we really want to leave Granada so soon. I rather like this city and wouldn’t mind seeing some more of it.

In any case, it’s morning now, and rain has started pelting down on the skylight. Somewhere in the city, I imagine, the guitar player is making the transition from sleep to the day’s hangover in a rumpled bed next to a pile of black clothes he wears at shows to hide his growing heft. He sighs at the ceiling, listens to the rain outside and wonders how the band is doing these days, especially after that one really good dancer left, and the other singer; the junior dancer is now singing, and he’s sure he’ll get better if he just gets the chance. But the gig is getting old, the dancers stiffer and the audiences smaller and less enthusiastic than the old days, when Manuel was still around and Pablo hadn’t yet cut his hair.

posted by Poagao at 5:25 am  

2 Comments »

  1. Ah……hotel’s morning call!

    Comment by Daniel — January 31, 2009 @ 10:04 am

  2. I’d always wondered about the origins of Alhambra. The only one I ever knew is the LA suburb located in the San Gabriel Valley. I drove through this place every week on my way to the Chinese restaurants, Chinese grocery stores, and my temple (Hsi Lai in Hacienda Heights). Alhambra, CA is also the home of probably my all-time favorite character, Lloyd Bonafide, from the old Phil Hendrie show.

    Comment by Prince Roy — February 1, 2009 @ 2:09 am

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