Ahh, summer in España! Café and jamon that rendered me speechless, cold beer and languid wine, a weighty, quirky, macabre history, knock-your-socks-off architecture, fashion, textiles and art.
Barcelona… Lively, energetic, vibrant, hipper-than-thou, pared-down style, its organic, swooping over-the-top modernisme curves, cutting-edge textiles, warm, friendly folk and the coolest kids in the world. The ghosts of Picasso, Miró, Gaudí and a thousand artists haunt this beautiful, creative city. It’s enough to make a girl buy a wholly inappropriate orange and green swirly patterned jumpsuit, wander off the beaten track and almost get mugged (a big gracias to the lovely old ladies out for an afternoon stroll who saved me from a couple of young punks with designs on my camera by appearing in the nick of time in the Parc de Montjuïc).
Madrid… Colder and formal, with grand boulevards, architecture and plazas to rival those of Paris. And the Museo del Prado – oh the Prado! with its radiant, terrible, sinister, lively, questioning, weighty, calm, infinitely beautiful works by Velázquez, Caravaggio, El Greco and Goya (to name but four)… the oh-so-very cool, modern Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Picasso’s stunning Guernica, subjected to the indignity of the same cacophonous chattering, demanding, snap-happy mob which beseiges the Mona Lisa… And the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza with its Old Masters, Cubist and lovely Fauvist, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. Madrid could stupefy and render a girl senseless with Stendhal’s Syndrome.
Little Toledo in Don Quixote country. Once the country’s capital, beloved by El Greco and site of one of the oldest mosques in the Western world. Now increasingly a ghost town, the local populace driven out by heavy rents caused by tourism. Wonderful winding, oft-deserted cobbled medieval lanes where I had my most memorable meal in an unpretentious café catering to the local construction workers and the more adventurous tourist. Fried chiperones, paella and a creme caramel. Finished off with a café cortado, a Spanish espresso with a shot of milk.
But I lost my heart to Granada of Andalucia. “Oh yeah, that big castle,” said an Australian acquaintance whose mother was born in Granada. “I forget the name. [oh to be so unmoved by and detached from the glories of Alhambra!] Did you go?” Yes, I certainly did visit that ‘big castle’, the war fortress of Alhambra which watches over Granada from the nearby hill of La Sabica. That grand, intricately constructed Moorish castle which once housed kings and queens, sultans and their concubines. With its elaborately planned garden of roses, oleanders, magnolias, cypress and orange trees, and a hundred other types of flora each carefully chosen and planted for the perfection of their intermingling scents. With its gurgling fountains and water channels, built so that wherever you are within the fortress or its gardens, you can hear and be soothed by the tinkling musical laughter of water.
In Granada, the heart of flamenco country where come evening in the shadow of Alhambra, you will be serenaded by student guitarists plucking exquisite notes from their instrument for a few euro. Where for twenty euro, you can join the masses in one of three evening sessions to watch the gypsies dance in the world famous caves of Sacro Monte. Where you can purchase una caña and be presented with a hefty plate of delicious tapas, free of charge. Where it is not surprising to see young children, their parents and their grandparents – three generations of one family – out together for a promenade around town at 1am during weekends. Where the people drink to be merry, convivial, to dance, to relax, rather than to engage in a drunken fisticuffs.
The heady combination of food, music, architecture and history, the indelible cultural influence of the MoopsMoors, a young, lively university community, the friendly, laid-back vibe of my hostel and the people I met there, and the spiritual energy which crackled around the town was intoxicating. Something had compelled me to visit Granada and the Alhambra as a last farewell to Europe. And surprisingly (or not), whether wandering the quiet, shabby streets of the Albaicín, dancing the night away in a little bar to modern and traditional Spanish music, pausing in the Alhambra’s Generalife Gardens to take in the mingled scents of roses, oranges and myrtle or listening to the haunting sounds of an intricate flamenco guitar riff beneath an almost full, bright moon, everything felt like it was in its right place.