Granada

Granada

Say 1066 and everyone thinks of Normans, William the Conqueror, Harold Godwinson with an arrow in his eye, Harald Hardrada, the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the Battle of Hastings. Then there was the Granada Massacre, and only the Jews bother to remember.

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In 1066 Al Andalus was a muslim kingdom ruled by Berber Kings in a period of flux between the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate and the rise of the Almoravids. In this power vacuum numerous Berber warlords seized power of fractured city states.

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The culture of tolerance and pluralism that marked the Caliphate was replaced by the motivations of a dog-eat-dog world. The enlightened Jews who had risen to high administrative positions under the Caliphate suddenly found that the sin of not being Muslim was punishable by death. A mob descended on the Royal Palace of Granada on 30th Dec 1066 and massacred the Jews.

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The famous Alhambra was originally a simple fort constructed in the 9th century. In the 11th century the Moorish rulers converted it into a fortified palace and laid the foundations for the current complex. The final royal ornamentation was completed much later, in the 14th century, just before it was lost to the Christian forces of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

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I visited Granada in 1978 as a teenager. I remember the heat of the night, the smell of jasmine, and hair oil, the bustle of all the people out strolling after dark.  I remember the Latin quarter on the hill with small artisan workshops making beautiful Moorish geometric marquetry plates.  I also remember the dark gypsy-like Andalusian boys chasing us down the street, trying to lure us into a “Flamenco Show” with the promise of “free champagne”.

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My mother asked one of them why we should pay to see dancing when we could dance ourselves.  He asked us to prove that we could dance.  So we danced an impromptu “Walls of Limerick” on the street.  He jumped onto his moped and raced off.  Ten minutes later he returned with a crowd of about 20 of his friends and asked us to dance again.  When we obliged we got a great cheer.  The young man then collected his winnings on the bets he had made on his boast.

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I remember at the Alhambra the parking attendants were injured veterans of the Civil War. Back in those days there were fewer tourists and we didn’t have to queue for hours to get in.

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The ornamentation is stunning but what really marks out the palace is the way the Moors integrated water into the design. Everywhere there are pools, fountains, qanats, runnels and cisterns. In the desert water is life. The Moors demonstrated their mastery through their ability to command water.

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This video may give a sense of the serenity of the space they created. Manuel da Falla’s “Night in the Gardens of Spain” is a fantastic and somewhat underplayed set of Nocturnes for Piano and Orchestra. The first movement takes the Gardens of the Generalife of the Alhambra as its inspiration. The linked video uses footage from the gardens to build the atmosphere.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxqzo0fLKKQ

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While we are in Andalusia I attach an exerpt from the Soliloquy of Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote this in unpunctuated prose. I have parsed it out in the way I would read it, with a lot of very gaspy yesses.

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Molly Bloom Soliloquy (Exerpt), from Ulysses; by James Joyce

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and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain
yes
when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used

or shall I wear a red
yes
and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought
well
as well him as another
and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again
yes
and then he asked me would I
yes
to say
yes
my mountain flower
and first I put my arms around him
yes
and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume
yes
and his heart was going like mad and
yes
I said
yes
I will
Yes.

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