When the world turned

La_Rendición_de_Granada_-_Pradilla.jpg

On this day,  January 6th in 1492, the world turned.  Ferdinand and Isabella entered Granada, ending over 700 years of Muslim occupation of Spain.  The Joint monarchs, Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, ended a journey that began in the year 718 at the Battle of Covadonga when Pelagius led his small Asturian army to glory against the Umayyad Caliphate.  The Muslim armies swept across the Strait of Gibraltar in 711 and by 719 they were across the Pyrenees and fighting in southern France.  For the next 700 years the Spanish and Portuguese Christians fought the long road to drive the Muslim armies from “Al Andalus” ( the land of the Vandals).

The taking of Granada had a profound impact upon the entire world.  For the first time the Spanish could turn from looking inwards to looking outwards.  Instead of devoting their energies to the reconquista, the reconquering of their hereditary home, they could look beyond their natural borders.

In Granada Christopher Columbus presented to Ferdinand and Isabella his scheme to round the world and reach the spice islands by sailing west across the Atlantic.  The Catholic Monarchs decided to sponsor Columbus and funded him to the tune of three ships.

So it was that in 1492 Europe discovered a “New World”.

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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.

That Sinking Feeling

Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal (Pennant No 91) sank on this day in 1941.  Probably the most famous ship to bear this illustrious name, because of her role in sinking the Bismark.  The Ark Royal was the first British Aircraft Carrier with integrated flight decks (as opposed to them being a superstructure) and signaled the transition from battleship superiority to air-craft carrier led fleets.

The Battle of Taranto (Nov 11-12 1940) was the first clear display of the impact of naval sea power.  Obsolete biplane Swordfish torpedo bombers launched from HMS Illustrious wreaked havoc on the Italian Fleet at harbour, in an action that was closely observed by the Japanese.

Six months later the Bismark sank the HMS Hood and forced the HMS Prince of Wales to retreat in the most notable battleship to battleship action of WW2.  As the Bismark steamed for safety in St Nazaire in occupied France, she was spotted by the Flotilla out of Gibraltar led by Ark Royal.  It was a Torpedo from one of the obsolescent Swordfish aircraft that clipped Bismark’s rudder and put the great battleship into a circular course, allowing the fleet to catch the flagship of the 3rd Reich.  Bismark was scuttled after a sustained bombardment by the British fleet.

Ark Royal herself was lost to a Torpedo from U-81 on the return from the Gibraltar to Malta supply run delivering aircraft.  Struck on the 13th, she listed, inverted, broke in half and sank in the early hours of the 14th.

The naval war in the pacific, Pearl Harbour, Midway, Guadalcanal, Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf etc went on to seal the fate of the dreadnoughts as capital ships of navies.  The day of the battleship was over.

Channel Firing; by Thomas Hardy

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,”
Said one, “than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.