Just back from three happy days in Granada. Richard was teaching in Seville, and then Gruff and I flew over on his birthday, and we headed towards the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. The weather was glorious, a big blue sky behind the orange trees. I’ve always had romantic notions about Granada, mainly because it’s where Lorca grew up, and was finally killed, shot by Nationalist soldiers at the beginning of the civil war. For him it was a place of outsiders and sympathy with the persecuted – he claimed that all those from Granada carried within them the gypsy, the black, the Jew and the moor. He also describes it wonderfully – the air ‘so beautiful that it is almost thought’, the pulsing, crystal waters which descend from the Sierra and ‘lie down to die’.
We strolled around the Alhambra – the coloured tiles; the harem’s court of lions; the room where Columbus discussed plans to find a new route to India; the walled gardens where lovers met. And then we visited the gypsy area of Sacromonte, where people live in caves. There was a charming museum at the top of the hill, where you could go in typical homes, and read about the birth of flamenco, and the museum captions all had snatches of local ballads written on them:
High up on the mountain
Sits my little gypsy
Making wicker baskets
The gypsies are darlings
They cook chick-peas with cabbage
For their wives
In the moorish old town there were men playing wonderful flamenco music everywhere, and the food was amazing. Free tapas with every cerveza or sherry. We ate snails, clams, jamon, queso (one of Gruff’s few words is ‘cheese’ I’m proud to say) anchovies, broad beans with ham, the most delicious asparagus with egg, poor man’s potatoes, olives, churros dipped in thick chocolate – every plate was different.
I took a selected Lorca, and read his brilliant ‘Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias’, an elegy for a bullfighter, for the first time – just staggeringly good, with its description of the event at ‘five in the afternoon’: the beast running a ‘dreary tongue / over snoutfuls of blood’ and how the ‘terrible mothers/ lifted their heads to watch’. And I re-read some of Lorca’s gorgeous Gypsy Ballads aloud to Richard in the evening. They’re just my sort of thing, all sex and death and yearning – you can read the translations by Langston Hughes in a PDF here – highly recommended.
Granada was where Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the moors in 1492, ending Arab rule in Spain. Boabdil, leaving Granada in exile, turned and wept to see the cross lifted over the city, and heard from his mother Aisha the famous rebuke: ‘Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man’. Since my return I’ve been watching a programme that deals with the relationship between the West and Islam that I’d also highly recommend – Adam Curtis’ Bitter Lake, about Afghanistan. I think he makes the most intelligent, disturbing, poetic TV programmes out there. Some of the images will break your heart.
After watching it I thought of this poem from Lorca’s book The Tamarit Divan, in which he paid homage to Arabic poetry:
Qasida of the Weeping
I have closed off my balcony,
for I do not want to hear the weeping.
But out there, beyond gray walls,
nothing is heard but the weeping.
There are very few angels who sing.
There are very few dogs who bark.
A thousand violins fit in the palm of my hand.
But the weeping is an enormous dog,
the weeping is an enormous angel,
the weeping is an enormous violin,
tears have muzzled the wind,
and nothing is heard but the weeping.
-Federico Garcia Lorca (translated by Catherine Brown)