Art, love and loss

Spanish people take their art and their artists very seriously. For their great artists contribute to their theory that Spaniards are the best of men and the best of lovers. They take great pride in their painters, writers, poets,  musicians, dancers and architects. For it is through art, the emotion of love – and their status as great lovers – becomes a public statement. Seville lives and breathes beauty, art and love. In 1934 there were two ways men would indicate interest in women they did not know. They would stare relentlessly or give a complement in passing. Nina found the stare of Spanish men unsettling to say the least. She preferred the compliment as it was over more quickly. She wrote that “no foreign woman can walk alone in Seville’s streets without being made aware of the Andalusian custom of piropos, which means ‘charm to a lady’, and which, like so many Spanish traditions, flourishes more happily in Seville than in the other cities of the South”. Nina often had men nod and smile at her and say ‘guapa’ which she translated as “Ah, pretty!”. I too have had ‘guapa’ said to me, both in passing men on the street and when passing men in conversation in cafes and bars. My men are usually very old – over sixty! – and  have had a few drinks at the bar I am passing by, as the say “hola guapa”.

When I checked into my accommodation in Seville. My host, Silvia, showed me around. She took me out to a courtyard off the bedroom. The courtyard was beautiful, there were traditional tiles on the walls and the floor. The garden full of plants was an oasis of beauty and solitude. “Here”, she said, “this is all yours. If you want to take coffee here, you take coffee here. If you want to take a beer here, you take a beer here. If you want to bring a man, you do that. The Sevillian men are very handsome. You wait to see. You will want to take a Sevillian man. Oh! and there is a hairdresser next door. You should get your hair fixed. It’s very private here, you just share with Pepe next door. He is not handsome”. I laughed and laughed. Needless to say, I did not take a man or get my hair ‘fixed’. By ‘fixed’ I suspect Silvia meant blonde and curled as the Spanish women prefer their hair. I sat in my courtyard every day. One evening, somewhere, close by, someone was playing a piano. The lovely delicate notes of a gentle classical piece, floated down around me. Another time, someone in the building was playing flamenco guitar and singing the soulful lament of a flamenco love song. No doubt a story of great love and love lost.

On Sunday afternoon I went to visit the Parc de Maria Luisa. The Spanish always walk in a park on Sunday afternoons. I learnt this many years ago on my first visit to Spain when I walked around the Retiro in Madrid. Like the locals we bought a packet of sunflower seeds (pepitas) which we ate as we walked, spitting the hard shells to the ground. Nina would be shocked at this. I didn’t buy sunflower seeds this day but I wanted to visit Parc de Maria Luisa as Nina visited there and enjoyed the shady gardens . While Nina was there she came across a monument to the Spanish poet, Gustavo Becquer. The monument was erected by Becquer’s friends after his death. I went to see, to sit and to look at this monument just as Nina had done. It is a very beautiful marble sculpture. Becquer’s bust sits upon a high column under a beautiful large tree. Below him sit three women. One is a youth, happy and smiling – dreaming of love to be. The middle woman is older, sassy – she knows love. The third is an older woman, sad and reflective – she has lost love. Above them is a Cupid made of brass looking for his next victim to shoot with his little  love arrow. Off on the side other side of Becquer is lust, dead with a dagger in her side. I suspect Becquer knew his women very well and his friends had a little fun at his expense in erecting such a monument.

A day or so later I visited the Gallery of Fine Arts. It is housed in yet another Arabian style building. Some people believe these buildings are left over from when the Moors ruled Spain. The truth is when Ferdinand and Isabella went into the Alhambra in Granada, they so loved the architecture they kept it but added Christian elements. This fashion then took off all over Spain and it now known as Mudajar style. Built in traditional Moorish manner but with the added elements of depictions of humans and animals and crests – whereas the Moors only used geometric patterns for decoration. It is another beautiful building with courtyards and gardens. There are two floors to make your way around and look at paintings by El Greco and Goya as well as Murillo and Zurbaran – whom Nina devoted a whole chapter to in her book. Indeed it is Zurbaran who painted the picture of Saint Dorothea that I searched for, without success, in the cathedral.

I walked around the gallery admiring the art and wondering if, perhaps, I am beginning to tire of religious art. It is possible? I walked into a gallery of paintings of saints by Zurbaran – and there amongt them was Saint Dorothea. I stopped to look at her. She is pretty, with dark hair is holding ripe fruit and flowers on a tray. She looks to be with child, but she died a virgin and a martyr. I figure it is Dorothea’s dress that makes her look pregnant but I like the fact she looks like that. Then I came to a room with portraits. In viewing the portraits I would look into the eyes of each subject. I would decide what their personalities were like by the way the artist painted their eyes. I walked around in my head saying short descriptions of each subject ‘mean’, ‘in love’, ‘hussy’, ‘regal’, ‘beast’, ‘bore’, ‘fun’ etc. I came to a portrait of a young man “heart-breaker” I said to myself. I read the information. It was the poet Becquer painted by his brother. I laughed. Took a step back. Appraised him. He was handsome and wore a smile that played around the edges of his mouth. You knew he was mischievous. His eyes loved. They loved everyone who stopped to pay the compliment of looking at him. As I looked at him, he looked back at me, daring me to fall in love with him. I did. He would have stared at the women he fancied – at first. The words, the piropos, would come later. After all, he was a poet.

I love that Spain is showy about its arts and artists. I first visited here in 1987 and fell in love with Spain. I fell in love with its showiness, with its people and culture, with its food and warmth, with its song and dance, its art and poetry, its landscapes and churches, with every single thing about it. My love and knowledge of Spain were bestowed upon me – like a gift – by my friend Eladio Jose, who first brought me to Spain. We travelled around for six weeks staying with family and friends. Before I left Sydney for this trip he contributed to my “Go Fund Me” page and wrote “nothing you do, could ever surprise me”. I learnt today that Eladio Jose passed away suddenly. I am saddened by his death and have cried for him, for the Spain we shared, for the life we shared and for the love we shared. Becquer the poet wrote:-
Lonely, sad and mute
That cemetery was found; 
Its inhabitants do not cry …

 

 

 

 

 

Seville is my friend. Nina, my frenemy!

“Whatever happened, I should never be able to arrive at committing suicide, for the feeling that something marvellous might yet be waiting round the corner. You never know! The opening of a door, and transcendent beauty in a new form presents itself. There is no telling when or where or how beauty and delight will manifest themselves. I could never commit suicide for fear of missing the new manifestation.” So wrote Nina after seeing the Cathedral of Seville. I feel like this too in Seville, not in the Cathedral which I did not particularly like, but simply in seeing beauty in the streets, in the windows, in the parks, in a glimpse through an open door-way into a courtyard, in the food, in the fun and the people.

Nina remembers “walking in out of the blazing sunlight and standing still, with a little pain in my heart, and a tightness in my throat, and a heavenly appreciation of being alive”. This I felt too, again not in the Cathedral, but simply being here. In Seville, I have felt that I have come home. That Seville, is where I belong. I can’t explain why I feel this but it fells like home. My first afternoon, I walked around the streets with a tightness in my throat, with joy bursting in my heart, with tears skimming the lids of my eyes and a smile that could not be taken from me. Apart from this shared feeling, Nina and I have not much in common at all. It could be that we are women of our times – of different ages –  but to me Nina is old-fashioned both in her language and her thoughts. We certainly do not agree on many things – we do not agree on the Cathedral of Seville, we do not agree on how good Spanish food is, we do not agree on our politics of looking after those less fortunate. Nina considered herself middle-class and proud of it. She is relentlessly critical of the beggars, especially the begging children, of Spain. Yet when she travelled alone is Spain, the world had been suffering through the great depression. She even goes as far as to slap a begging boy in the Cathedral. She wrote, “Suddenly there came a sharp hiss and a peremptory rap on my hand, and, looking down, I found a dirty-faced little urchin of a choir-boy snapping his fingers under my nose in an impertinent demand for money. Startled, I flew straight down from my supernal dreaming to smacking the importunate hand with a leather glove, which so surprised the urchin he jumped off like a grasshopper and bothered me no morel”. All through Spain she quite often gives such a ugly description of Spanish people, but in particular of the poor. Nina, I think, believes one’s dignity is more important than food on the family table. Dignity was difficult to come by in the early 1930s for the hungry and the poor.

Nevertheless, though I do not agree with Nina on many things, I follow her. I go to places she visited to see for myself and then to argue with her the whole way home. Sometimes, I find myself agreeing with her as she gets something exactly right. Then I find myself arguing with myself, ‘well, she only got that right because that is how it is’. Nina writes about the “extravagant and empty buldings erected for the Spanish American Exhibition in Maria Luisa Park. Being empty, they lack vitality, but the tiles on the outer walls of the great semi-circular Building of Spain are worth seeing”. I visited the Plaza de Espana today. It is a vibrant show-stopping building of the most beautiful architecture. Now housing various Ministerial Offices – oh to be a Chief-of-Staff in here! As well as a military museum. The building is certainly in my top ten of buildings I have visited. Yet, how do I know that what has changed in Spain since her travels and mine? The Spanish Civil War devastated Spain. Even though decades have now passed, Spain still bears the physical and emotional scars of families against families, of neighbour pitted against neighbour, of the righteous against the virtuous, where a father would allow for his son to be shot – for the good of Spain. When I first arrived in Spain and was staying on the Spanish side of the border with Gibraltar, I noticed Spanish flags hanging from windows and verandas. I thought it was an ‘up you’ to Great Britain. Town after town I have witnessed the Spanish flags flying proudly from private homes and apartments. It is sign to Catalonia in support of a united Spain. Fresh wounds opening old wounds.

Seville is a wealthy town. The well-heeled strut the streets in their branded clothing. The height and material  of the comb is still a status symbol. Obviously the Sevillanos still don’t wear the comb and the mantilla on a daily basis but  they do on special religious days and weddings. There are poor here too. Beggars, not just the homeless but those with disabilities, are to be found in the centre of town outside churches and banks. There are the women who will try to give you a sprig of rosemary and then ask for money or want to tell your fortune. There are the hawkers trying to sell fake handbags, runners and sunglasses. As soon as word is heard the police are on their way, the hawkers scamper. The fabric that they put on the ground to display their wares has thin rope two pieces of rope tied to each corner. The ropes meet in the middle which allows the hawkers, to pick it up, the fabric becomes a sack with all the fake merchandise inside – and they run for it. Most times successfully to my joy. What would Nina have made – and written – of these people?

The streets of Seville are never straight – we agree on this Nina and me. Nina says “nor do they run in curves. They dart about, forming angles”. This irregularity Nina says, “only adds to Seville’s charms. As I have walked the streets in this past week, it is true. The streets here are charming as it the city itself. Nina marvelled at how Calle O’Donnell, was so narrow two people could not walk two abreast but must walk “Indian file”. I guess that means in a single line. She shouted the benefits of Sierpes, the main shopping street as “motor-cars and tram-cars are not permitted”. Now many streets in Seville are for pedestrians and bicyclists only. It is a fun city to walk around and I never get bored of walking streets. I also ponder the amount of motor cars in 1934 compared to now. What would she make of Sydney or Melbourne or even the Pacific Highway that goes through Woodburn on the north coast where she grew up? I can see it – I’m starting to see Nina as a whinger rather than someone who accepts time changes, places change, modernity changes. I am certain Nina though she was a modern woman. As I believe I am – but others would argue I am old fashioned.

Today I visited a number of Sevillian monuments that Nina visited including the Casa de Pilatos. This casa – like four others in Seville is privately owned but takes tours several times a day. The Casa de Pilatos was the third of the four I visited. I love seeing these Arabian style houses, built in Christian times, still owned by the same family. Most of the rooms are blocked from tourists and they usually charge around ten euro to visit but we get a glimpse into Sevillian nobility.  I always imagine the owners peeping out at us tourists from behind drawn curtains but suspect they live in Madrid or Barcelona and merely visit during ‘the season’. Casa de Pilatos – Pilate’s house – was named after Pontius Pilate –by the son of the original owners. He had been to Jerusalem and brought back with him the observance of the Stations of the Cross. He introduced this Catholic ritual into Seville – could this be why Seville is the only city I have seen churches that depict the Stations of the Cross? According to the story, the route runs the same distance of 1,321 paces that separated the praetorium of Pontius Pilate from Calvary. Nina dislike the Casa de Pilatos. The mixture of Roman statues with an Arabic style house rubbed Nina the wrong way. She “actually disliked seeing classic sculpture set against a background of Moorish arcades and tiling”. I loved it. I even took a photo of a little tile of a donkey on it – just for Nina.  Each of the three private houses I visited had Roman elements. The first two Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija and Casa de Salinas both had Roman mosaic floors dating back to the second century BC. These were literally ripped out of other places in Spain in the late 1800s early 1900s – when you could do that type of thing because you were nobility – and brought to these two casas and laid in their courtyards. Never did I expect to see as much Roman history – in private hands – as I did see here in Seville. I loved all three houses for their beauty and their history – both the Spanish/Arabic elements and the ripped out Roman ruins – ‘because we could’. I think maybe my sensibilities about history and life and hardship are more evolved than Nina’s. After all, Nina wore a hat and gloves and a stiff upper lip. I wear runners, sunnies and a laid back attitude.

Dear Dorothy, a letter from Seville

If you have lost a loved parent, or both, as I have – you will know what the feeling is like. You see something, or hear something, some old memory is jogged and you want to talk to them, tell them things. To tell them what it was you saw, what you heard or what remembered – but you can’t. This has happened a lot to me on my both my trips to Spain. I would love to call my mother or send her postcards and letters to tell her the things I see, the things she would love to see. Today, I have written to her from Seville.

Dearest mother,

I think about you a lot when I am travelling. Small things jog old memories. I always think of you when I walk into a church, which as I travel, is several times a day.

Nina describes this city as “Seville is like a laughing woman in a summer frock come in from raiding the garden with her arms full of flowers”. It is the truth. There is so much beauty in Seville it is difficult to take it all in. Around every bend in the road, around every twist in the passageways and around every corner of the laneways, there is something new to take in. The Cathedral, St Mary of the Sea – how dad would have loved that name – towers above all else. Its bell tower, once an Islamic minaret, stands tall in the old part of town. The buttresses fly high over the gargoyles and the line to visit winds around the streets. When Nina visited she saw the painting of Saint Dorothy by Zurbaran painted “in tafettas the colour of the bloom on purple grapes, with a scarf and panniers of gold striped with brown”. I went into the Cathedral today. I lined up forty minutes before it opened to avoid the queue. Once inside it was difficult to like the place. It is empty save for a chapels off to the side and behind the back main alter. The choir blocks much of the view. Nina complained about this too but again, she was lucky to be there when the organ was playing and the cannons singing at choir. I am luck if I go to a church and choral singing is being piped through the speakers.

I don’t know if they say mass there now but in the late 1800s apparently, 500 masses were said each day. I’m sure they do still celebrate mass for the local Catholics, but the main doors are for tourists to pay nine euro entry to walk around in. It feels a bit like being in an empty – but very grand – warehouse. With all the tourists it simply can not feel like a religious place of worship. Just a large empty shell. The main alter is a sight to behold when sitting in front of it. You really could spend hours looking at it. The tomb of Christopher Columbus is in the cathedral. It is impressive. His tomb is held high by four men representing the kingdoms of Spain during his life. Castille, Aragon, Navara and Leon. Although apparently he was moved around quite a bit after death before ending up here in Seville. Nina was of the opinion Christopher would not have liked something so grand but I think he would have loved it.

It is difficult to see and appreciate the paintings in this cathedral. Everything is behind wrought iron fencing and gates with bad lighting – perhaps to protect the paintings – but all are difficult to see. I searched for St Dorothy but could not find her. I asked one of the attendants, who was no help at all. So I left – via the souvenir shop where I stopped I asked the senorita if they had a holy card of St Dorothy I could buy. They didn’t but I could purchase a recipe books for tapas.

I walked the streets looking at buildings being wowed by the different architecture until I stopped looking up and looked down. It was then the shops caught my eyes. Oh mother, how you would love them. There are shops with the most gorgeous fabrics. Plenty for you to choose from for your next dress. There are shops solely to sell priests garments and adornment. In another I spotted a bull fighter’s jacket along with some very flash handbags and remembered how you loved the dancing – and Paul Mecurio – in Strictly Ballroom.  Many shops sell the traditional dress of Seville. High Spanish combs worn under the mantilla are proudly on display. Some are very expensive, more that 150 euro each – but these are made from tortoise shell and mother of pearl. You can buy cheaper ones in plastic in the souvenir shops I remember when I was very young, in the late 1960s, how you would wear a mantilla (the lace scarf) over your head to church. Maybe that was just for special occasions but I do remember you wearing one. I could spend hours describing the beautiful jewellery and flamenco costumes but there are so many as soon as I have admired something, a new bauble has caught my eye.

I wonder into a grand old Spanish house owned by a noble Sevillian family owned by an old lady. It is built in the Arabic style with not one – but two court yards. The second has a mosaic tile Roman floor from the second century. We were taken into the family’s summer dining room. There are twelve chairs around the table, one for each of the lady’s sons. That many children – of course I had to say I was one of thirteen. I can imagine your face thinking of twelve sons and you of course, would have said you had thirteen. On my way back home I deliberately lost myself walking the narrow streets of the old Jewish quarter. If a pathway or a laneway looked interesting I would walk into it – without a care of where I would end up. I went up one that turned out to be a dead end. It ended in the front of the door to a house. I turned and walked back. About half way down I saw a way marker for the Camino – I laughed. You wouldn’t want to follow that one.

Yesterday I visited the Basilica of Jesus del Gran Poder. It is a circular church of mixed ages in both architecture and art. I like it. I spent some time looking at the paintings representing the Stations of the Cross. It is unusual to see Stations of the Cross in Spanish churches. They were relatively modern paintings, simple but good. There was also a picture of Jesus. It was huge and made up of a montage of people’s passport photos. It was great to look at from afar and then to get up close and look at all the people’s photos. I walked and looked at the alter and noticed two doors either side. One said ‘entrader’ entry the other ‘salida’ exit. Of course I wanted to see what the entry door led to. It went behind the alter and up a short flight of stairs. I thought I was going to have to hug-a-saint again, as I did in the Cathedral in Santiago. There was an elderly Spanish couple and their middle aged daughter in front of me. We were directly behind the alter where there is a sculpture of Jesus carrying the cross. This sculpture is a feature in the Santa Semana, Easter Week, celebrations in Seville – which are known as the best in Spain. People  believe miracles have occurred after touching the sculpture. The old Spanish woman in front of me was at Jesus first. He was all behind glass except for the heel of his right foot which protruded out. She was a small lady and she tried in vain to tippy-toe up as far as she could to kiss the heel. I looked on in shock. Surely they weren’t all kissing the foot? Again, she tried to stretch up. Again, she couldn’t reach. I tried not to laugh at her huge buck teeth sticking out from the kissing lips. Once more she tried, once more I tried not to laugh. She gave up. Kissed her fingers and put them on the heel of Jesus. Her husband, taller, bent down and kissed the heel. The daughter, kissed her hand and made the sign of the cross on the heel of Jesus. They turned to look at me. I stood there. What else could I do? There was no way I was going to kiss or touch that heel – not without hand sanitizer in my day day-pack.

I think, if I could talk to you, you would ask me “Don’t you get lonely, travelling by yourself?”. I don’t. Sometimes I feel alone but I never feel lonely. Last night I sat in a bar, having tapas and drinking a vino tinto. Suddenly it went from me being alone in the bar to being packed with Spanish people. I have a feeling Mass finished at the church across the road. All around me was a buzz of Spanish people talking – loudly – at and to each other. I could hear snippits of various conversations as I tried to work out words I recognised – “venga”, “escucha”, “diga” “espera” – come, listen, speak. wait. I feel that is what Seville says to me and, if I could mother, I would wait here in Seville for the rest of my days. It is such a place. It is such a place.

Much love,

Genevieve

Cadiz – it took a while but you grew on me.

Casa Caracol – the snail’s house. A backpackers. A youth hostel. It is my hell. I thought I could handle staying in backpacker accommodation. After all, I had done so when I walked the Camino de Santiago. I did it in London for three days that was fine. I thought I could do it again here in Cadiz for three days. Tonight is my last night and I am wondering if I can make it out alive. Unfortunately, I could not get a female only dorm as I did in London. I do prefer to stay in all female dorms. They tend to be less noisy, less sweaty, less smelly – I personally feel more at ease in them. Don’t get me wrong, the guys in my room are nice men. They are polite and we weave around each others space. On the Camino it was different. You get all ages, all sizes and genders. Everyone tends to go to bed early after their pilgrim’s meal and once the first zipper of the morning is heard, it gets everyone up and out on the way. This backbacker’s appears to cater specifically to the young and gorgeous and is a different matter for me altogether.

Before I booked, I was under the misguided belief that it wouldn’t be too full. After all, it is the off season and what reason do people have to go to Cadiz? History buffs I thought! I booked a room in a seven bed mixed dorm, perhaps I could be the only one in there? I didn’t understand the difference that caused at three euro increase from the six bed dorm to the ‘deluxe’ seven bed dorm- but I booked the seven bed deluxe anyway. I arrived and the place is buzzing with young people, coming and going – going and coming. I am greeted at reception by a young Spanish guy named Ramon. He is guiding some other people through the check in process and tells me he will be with me soon and to wait. I do, I watch a couple of young women in the kitchen cooking and talking. One is Australian. They barely notice me among their enthusiasm for their own words to each other. I secretly roll my eyes and think to myself ‘well this’ll be fun’. They are a clique.

Ramon comes back to me all apologetic and smiles. He shows me the kitchen and gives me the drill with any food I might put in the fridge “you must write your name on it and your checkout date – otherwise it will be thrown out” he says. He shows me the lounge, “you can use this until 2:00 am. Same with the roof top terrace. The kitchen – we close at the same time.  A beautiful breakfast is included served by our volunteers between 9:00am and 10:30”. He carries my bag up three flights of stairs to the first floor – telling me he does not get paid to carry bags it is a favour and good service. He is in good humour as he takes me to my room – room two – informing me that I have no need to worry about being on a top bunk as I have just a single bed “No top. No bottom.” My room is small thing chocked with seven beds, three double bunks and my lonely single pushed against the wall between the French doors and the French windows. “There you go, Genoveva, enjoy your stay.” With that, he leaves me.

A youngish skinny guy is sitting on the bottom bunk nearest to my bed. He jumps up, shakes my hand and tells me he is Ricardo from Italy. He then tells me his story. He is from Venice. He rode his bike across the top of Italy to Genoa, then along the Italian coast into France, then down the French east coast and into Spain. From there he rode all down the east coast of Spain and has now come the west coast. “Six thousand kilometres he tells me proudly”. Wow! He tells me at night he has slept in parks and on beaches and in camping grounds and when it rains, he stays in hostels. “But now I have very bad news.  I have a thing on my leg”. He pulls up his trousers to show me a bandage. We work out that the English word for it must be an ulcer and it has gone down to his bone. As least that’s what I think we worked out as we are speaking in broken Spanglish with some French and Italian thrown in. He goes to the hospital twice a day to get it bandaged. I ask him, “ are you loco?”. “Si, si, si” he replies as his eyes roll around his head and he smiles the biggest smile laughing at me. Ricardo is off to the Canary Islands to work for three to four months before heading off to Argentina to find work in his trade. He is a butcher. I tell him one of my brothers is a butcher. He asks “does he work in a shop …. or another place?”. A shop I tell him. “I work in another place” he replies. I figure he means an abattoir but I am afraid to ask.

A young girl walks into the room. She is beautiful with a smile that looks it is straight out of California circa late 70s – I’m thinking Charley’s Angels – before the ultra white blinding look became fashionable. She introduces herself as Kate and has a killer handshake. I commend her  on her handshake and tell her that I used to work in politics so I am a bit of an expert on handshakes. She laughs and tells me she went to business school and that where she learnt it. Kate is not from California. She is Canadian from way up north – the north west territories. Apparently the nearest big town is Edmonton, which is 16 hours away from her home town. We talk about where we’ve been, what we are doing before I go out to explore the town. Later that night after dinner I return to the hostel. Kate is in the lounge with an Australian guy, Colin. Colin and I talk Australian doing out best to out-drawl each other. He is from Brisbane – a surfer. He is tanned and laconic, tall with a good head of curly, dirty blonde hair. His hair is all straight at the back like he has been lying in bed all day and just got up.  It doesn’t take me long to work out Colin is what my friend Louise would describe as a “douche”. I guess that’s the description because you can use a douche once for health purposes but if you use the douche too often it strips away at you. I hope that Kate hasn’t or doesn’t hook up with him. They leave for dinner at the appropriate time for dinner in Spain. I can never manage to stay up late enough to have dinner at Spanish time, at 10:00 or 11:00 at night. I tell Kate that I snore so I will leave some earplugs on her bed. You cannot get earplugs like these in Australia so I stock up on them when I am in Europe.

The following night I meet Kate in the lounge room again. She is speaking with another girl and we introduce ourselves. Her name is Kaye, she looks like she is from the Philippines. She is from Britain and now lives in Barcelona. Her parents are Filipino. She is laughing about how she went from Brexit to Catxit – in relation to Catalonia wanting to be independent from Spain. She is funny girl and we talk for a while after Kate leaves. We talk about going out for a drink but I decide I am too tired and sneak off to bed. Some of my roomies are already in bed. Some come in much later during the night. I am aware but with the earplugs it doesn’t bother me. I decide that perhaps its not that bad in the hostel but I would much rather have my own room. I spend another day walking around Cadiz. I have done everything Nina did. I have seen what she saw, walked the streets she walked and there is not much left for me to do but to walk around Cadiz – again – and admire the architecture. I think about leaving town a day early. Cadiz is the new place for young travellers to go. It’s not that it is a party town it more of a chill-out, surf, eat good food. It must be written about in the latest Lonely Planet guidebook as the young backpackers are flocking her perhaps because it hasn’t been destroyed by over-development or the yuppies – yet. I decide to stick to my plan and stay the last night. I’m glad I did.

When I arrive home I am walking up to my room on the first floor, as I hit the landing Kaye is coming down the stairs from her room on the second floor, Kate is coming out of the first floor hallway. We say hello and begin to talk. Kaye introduces us to Maria, her roomie,  a Spanish woman from Majorca.  Kaye has wine, should we have a drink? Of course. Apparently, all the young guys are up on the roof-top terrace playing guitar, talking waves and being all ‘backpackery touring the world wanker thingy’. We decide to go to the lounge room. It is empty.  That night four women sit with two bottles of wine. OK it turned into three bottles of wine. I raise the issue of douche Colin with Kate – she did not hook up with him. Kate is way too smart. Together the four of us talk, laugh, share photos, take selfies and eat the sausages Kaye has thoughtfully provided. We have become friends. I realise it is Melbourne Cup Day back home in Australia and know from past experience that I have had good luck with making life-long friends on Melbourne Cup Day. We say our goodbyes as tomorrow I leave for Seville. I don’t see the girls before I leave the Casa Caracol – but I do search out Ricardo. I shake his hand, say ciao and wish him the good fortune for his travels. As I walk out the door and down the passage way to the train station I again smile, I am not sorry stayed in Cadiz and I am very happy that I stayed in the backpackers.

Cadiz – a sea-wind blows.

I boarded the early morning bus in Estepona, sorry to be leaving however, it was only going to be a short break from Nina and it was on the route she took from Malaga to Cadiz. It is a pity she didn’t stop off at Estepona but I suspect it was nothing more than a fishing village in 1934. On her bus ride Nina describes – at length, the beauty of the Spanish landscapes. The colours, the flowers, the hill sides. Turns out eucalypts were her in Nina’s day. She writes “Outside of Marbella to my surprise Australian eucalypts line the approach, growing very splendidly and making a most decorative avenue. Indeed, the gum-tree is an example of the prophet who lacks honour in his own country, for Australia has not made such ornamental use of it as Spain, where as time went on I was to see many more avenues and groves of eucaplyts”.  Nina saw cane-fields outside of Malaga as well but I did  not see any. Either they are long gone or the road now takes a different route.

The bus takes us both back through Algeciras, where our original journey began. We have done a big circle for Nina to save money and continue in the same direction. On reaching Algeciras, the bus driver gets out of his seat and yells something to the passengers in Spanish. Many of the passengers start to bustle about with bags, yelling in conversation to each other. Those of us with little Spanish sit and look trying to work out what is going on. I understand one word “todas”, all of you. The bus driver makes his way down the aisle of the bus, still yelling Spanish words at us. He says “commer”, food, raising pinched fingers to his mouth. Finally, with the help of my limited Spanish, I work it out for me and my non-English speaking companions. I tell them the bus takes a break here for half an hour and we are to get off. One woman asks me if she is allowed to sit on the bus during this time. I tell her that does not seem possible and to take the opportunity for a rest break and to stretch her legs. The driver seems happy we have finally get the picture and are moving off the bus.

Back on the bus, the route now turns away from the Mediterranean and we now head inland. First we must travel travel through the ugly outskirts of Algeciras. Algeciras is a port town. Its large 1960s apartment blocks are a decaying eye-sore. Once in the country again the Spanish landscape is beautiful and we have left the over-development of the Costa del Sol behind us. At Tarifa, we begin skirting the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The coast here is known as Costa del Luz, the Coast of light. It is not difficult to understand why. It is raining yet the sun turns the ocean silver against the bruised, grey sky. The light and colour play magic scenes on the ocean, on the paddocks and on the forests. Sometimes it looks like you can see rainbows on the ground. There are paddocks with donkeys in them. Just as Nina witnessed on her travels. I see the same landscapes entering into Cadiz as Nina described. “From all this beauty of meadow and wood it was strange to come at last in the late afternoon to the low-lying salt-marshes that surround the rocky island on which stands the naval town of San Fernando. From these marshes the salt is obtained by evaporation. The whole locality is cut up into square depressions where the waster gathers and dries. It is a curious white countryside, flat except for the white houses and white pyramids of dried salt”. This area remains unchanged except I suspect the road is much wider now. The bus bumps along it, for although the road is now a modern, newish four lane highway, any road built over a marsh will bump and buckle and rise and sink with the marsh.

Entering Cadiz is on a “narrow, flat, sandy spit, after which you arrive in Cadiz through the most satisfyingly impressive entrance, driving under an ancient gateway, with old bastions six feet through crowing about it. Some of it crumbling. But they are imposing, picturesque; right for a place with the history of Cadiz. Cadiz that was well-known in King Solomon’s time, and is so ancient a site the Greeks declared Hercules to have built the first city founded there”. My bus runs along the same sandy spit with the Atlantic Ocean on your left, then the road, then the train lines and then the Bay of Cadiz to the right. I enter through the historic gate just as Nina did. I smile to myself, it is no longer crumbling but ask myself if, and how, it has changed.

I start to make my way on foot to my accommodation, Case de Caracol – the snail’s house. So called after the monchillas (shells) or backpacks. I take a wrong turn out of the bus terminal and come across two men. The young one is holding what I think is a replica gun – I hope it is a replica because it looks awfully real – behind an older man’s head. The older guy is kneeling on the ground with his hands behind his head. In careful, slow, precision movements, the older guy kneeling takes the gun from the young guy, explaining each of his slow actions. Ah, grasshopper! It is obviously a self defence/krav magna tutorial for the younger guy. I stay to watch them for a while and to pick up some free useful tips. Although I hope not to be held up at gunpoint.

Nina is in love with what is left of the ancient history of Cadiz which began in around 1,100 BC but she laments the lack of evidence of the Phoenicians . She says “except for those bastions and a few fragments of the old harbour-works, remain to draw the attention of the casual visitor”. For this she blames the English, Sir Frances Drake and English Lord Essex of “plundering the town so savagely it had to be rebuilt”. It is still a nice town with impressive buildings from the 17th – 20th centuries. It simply is just not the ancient town it could have been today. I visited the old Roman ampithetre today – or what remains of it. The theatre was only discovered during excavation in the 1980s. Nina would not have known or seen this. Yet it was something extraordinary just below the surface of Cadiz.

Nina’s experience was that the people of Cadiz “accept strangers casually, and beggars are rare”. I have found the Spanish people here a little harder to deal with and there are now beggars everywhere. It is a city that fills up during the day with three or more cruise ships in the port. It is also a haven for backpacking surfers chasing the last of the summer sun rather than tourists wanting to see and learn of it ancient history. I walk around feeling the sea breeze slip up the streets from the Atlantic so that it calls me to its fortifications along the ocean. I walk until I can no longer find shade to walk in as the sun is now high and hot. I scurry off to the cool laneways to find my way back to the old centre of town.

I visit the Cathedral, as Nina did. Although she visited when the ‘cannons’ were at their singing and there was no-one else in the Cathedral apart from two little girls. There were no priests or canons singing on my visit, the choir seats were empty except for the tourists listening in on their audio guides to the information about the 41 seats, the type of wood used, the carving and the architects. It is a fairly boring and bland Cathedral compared to most others I have seen. It is a huge, cavernous structure with what looks to be like fishing nets stretching below the vaulted ceilings and archways. I figured the fishing nets were to catch any falling bits and pieces of rock and mortar from falling on the tourists that walk around its cavern by the dozens.

Nina spent just a day in Cadiz but she wrote that she will always remember “the touch of the sea-wind blowing up a narrow street that I feel upon my cheek”. I am still unsure if I like Cadiz or not but I know one thing – I too will remember that sea-wind on my cheek.

I travelled alone in Spain

I had decided to take my own path. To travel alone in Spain. To leave Nina behind and to catch up with her again in Cadiz – but you know how short breaks go – you start to miss the other person. All you can do is think about them. What they are doing, what they would have said, how they would have reacted. I had barely been on the bus to Estepona for twenty minutes before I started to think of Nina. For most of the journey the road runs parallel to the Mediterranean coastline about five kilometres inland. It traverses a  ridge and from my vantage point high in the bus, high on the ridge, I can see the sea. I can also see what this part of Spain has become. I can see the high-rises, the urbanisations (developments), the holes left in the ground from the global financial crisis and I can see the golf-courses. Golf course after golf course, green after green – surrounded by clay-coloured modern villas where the (mainly) Brits live. I imagine what it would have been like when Nina travelled alone in Spain. There would have been farmlands dotted with small villages of white houses, narrow streets and the inevitable donkeys she came to love and wax lyrical about.

I had put Estepona on my list on the recommendation of a friend and to have a break from Nina. In searching where to stay in Estepona many of the places were out of town in the urbanisations with their pools, tennis courts and golf courses. I wanted to stay in the old town. I wanted to do my best to be true to Nina. So I found a hotel (one star) in the heart of the old town. The old town is beautiful. The white town houses of the narrow streets are full of flowers and plants. Pot plants hang off the walls and balconies, they line the streets. Each street has a unique colour for their pots, some streets have blue pots, some green, some are pink with yellow polka dots and some mix them all up – but uniformally so. All of them have a crazy riot of flowers blooming out of them.

I find my hotel in Calle Veracruz. It is as I said, one star, but I have never stayed in a more beautiful place. My room is directly off the courtyard. There is a fountain in the middle, historic old arches, painted tiles of local scenes from Estepona and further afield in Andalusia. I see the Puente Neuvo from Ronda at the wrought iron gates into the courtyard. A large bull looks down at me, watching me write from up above. I think it is a real – though long dead – bull. In fact he’s stuffed. In my room, roses are on my bed, it is spacious and so very clean. It is artistically decorated in the old style with a shower room and walk in wardrobe. All this in a one star. I don’t believe I have ever stayed in a five star hotel this good or this beautiful. This morning at breakfast, included in the price, I meet an elderly German couple. We get to taking over the communal table. They come here for five weeks every year. They used to own a house here for many, many years but now the stay here – it is like home they tell me. The have the large upstairs suite on every visit. I tell them what I am doing and what I have done. There are curious in my following a woman half way across the world, who travelled here in 1934. They are keen to hear about my experience in walking the Camino de Santiago earlier this year. The woman asks me “Did you find yourself?”. I smile and laugh and give a look to say ‘HA!’ as I shake me head. Her husband tells me about another pilgrimage, held once a year. He tells me it happens in a town near Seville called El Rocio. I get excited, I know that Nina went to the festival associated with this pilgrimage when she was in Seville. Again … I find myself thinking of Nina. I show them my book and now they are excited. We talk until breakfast is over and I head down to the beach  for a walk along the promenade.

I am happy to be in Estepona during the ‘off season’. I can only imagine what it is like in summer – and would love to experience that as well. Along the beach there are little restaurants and terraces, places to hire sun lounges and have a cerveza. Some of these are open but many are now closed until next March. There are few people on the promenade this morning but I imagine when the season is ‘on’, this place is on. There is not a lot to do in Estepona during these months. It is not warm enough to swim and the souvenir shops are few and far between. However, if you are after the resort wear then you would be overwhelmed by choice. There are no sights of historic interest, apart from the old town itself and no galleries showcasing amazing art. Even the town church is uninspiring from the outside. Apparently, the town clock is considered tourist attraction although I don’t know why. What this town lacks in things to see it makes up for in its flowers, its gardens, it fountains and the very nature of what it is – a spectacular little place. It would be a great place to get a house for a month and have friends visit. To swim in the Med and to eat the incredibly fresh and inexpensive seafood. This is a holiday town not a tourist town.

In this particular part of Spain, it is difficult to know who is Spanish and who is English. This is especially true when it comes to the women. English women are tanned to a deep brown and the Spanish women blonde their hair. In the morning, all wear active wear and in the evenings and night all dress up in tight clothing and high heels. Yesterday I stopped for lunch at glanced at two abuelas (grandmothers) who were at another table. Both would have been in their 80s and dressed very conservatively – as you would expect from an abuela. They ordered two small beers. The waiter asked if they would like a tapa with their beer. In rapid, righteous Spanish they replied “Of course, yes!” and implied ‘and you an idiot?’. It was only later that I noticed they weren’t Spanish at all as they conversed in their clipped British accents. Nina would have loved Estepona. I do!

Picasso, all saints, history and sunshine

I don’t have the patience for Picasso. Don’t misunderstand me. I like his work and he rightfully holds his place in the art world – but I get a bit bored of much of his work quite quickly. Perhaps I don’t have the right attitude or perhaps I am being deliberately obtuse when it comes to his work. I thought I would test out my theory and go to the Picasso museum in Malaga today. He was born here in Malaga but his family moved away to the north of Spain when he was about ten years old. His socialist leanings, his painting of Guernica – one of my favourite paintings – forced him into exile in France during the reign of Franco’s dictatorship. Still Malaga claims Picasso as its own.

Last night, I took in a sunset drink on a roof top. I went home early, not just to get up early, but to avoid the Halloween festivities that were happening on every street. Today is All Saints Day. In the Catholic church, it is a Holy Day of Obligation which means you must attend Mass. In Spain they take it one step further and it is a Public Holiday. Lucky for me as this means Spaniards get up even later than they would normally, so I am off to the Picasso Museum without much of a crowd. In fact, the streets are almost deserted with the exception of the odd stray cat. Apart from the permanent Picasso exhibition there is a second, temporary, exhibition ‘We are completely free’. I get the double pass to see both exhibitions. I walk around the galleries looking at Picasso until I spot a sign and a staircase going down. The sign says “Archaeological Site”. I go down the stairs. I am the only person there. The silence is beautiful. I had not realised that the ground beneath the museum preserves important evidence of Malaga’s past. Malaga is the second oldest city in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. The Phoenicians and the Carthaginians were here well before the Romans. There are exceptional Phoenician, Roman and Moorish remains, as well as those of the Renaissance palace. In Australia, I get excited about bits and pieces that have been dug up from sites that date back to the early days of the colony. Here on display was not just the ancient bricks and stones of houses, the ancient bricks and pavers of Roman roads, or the ancient embedded earthen jars for storage of food and water but there were other fragments of Malaga’s history some dating back to the seventh century BC. I walked around the walkway taking it all in with just the sounds of my footsteps and my breath.

Once, I finish marvelling at history, I visit the temporary exhibition ‘We are completely free’. It is an exhibition of women artist and surrealism. It is an astonishing, international collection of art created by women who would have been painting around the time Nina was touring Spain. Now I am marvelling at the achievements of woman who lived in a man’s world of the 20s and 30s. Nina included.

I walk back out into the sunshine and onto the palm shaded streets. Malaga has – on average – 350 days of sunshine every year. The smell of the river, canals and drains are further proof of this fact. It is now almost midday and the Spanish people are coming out, hitting the cafes for breakfast, which will then turn into lunch before returning home in the evening and coming out again at 9:00 or 10:00 pm for dinner. I can’t manage this. I have been trying to get into and onto Spanish time but years of conditioning of the nine to five (plus) make it difficult. I head back to my room to work on the logistics for tomorrow. Tomorrow, I am taking a break from Nina. After all I am completely free and it’s good to take a break from your travel companion once and a while. My friend Jan, from the Camino, recommended I visit Estepona. It is on the way but I am cursing Nina and her reluctance to travel backwards in the same direction. She has me travelling in what is essentially the size of a big six. Starting from the inside and doing a big circle before shooting up to the north east for Madrid. I shall meet up again with Nina in Cadiz. Nina spent just one night there but I hear it is worth staying a few nights. After all, Cadiz is the oldest city in Spain.

Malaga – you surprised me but you did not disappoint.

I had zero expectations of Malaga. In fact, after the love I found in – and for Granada, my expectations were below zero. I had thought that given the amount of Brits living here it would be a built up, apartment/residential town. I think too that Nina added to my negative expectations.

Nina’s journey began on her bus ride from Granada to Malaga. By all accounts it was a wild ride down steep hair-pin curves, where goat herds and goat herders would have to scramble either down, or up, the steep mountain-side as the “great bus would round a corner suddenly”. The road, according to Nina ran “perilously close to the edge of the stony steep that fell away into the valleys – the great valleys with mall lone hills set about in them”. She laughs at a “little fat man in front of me, leaning forward, with both ands an desperate expression, to grip the back of the next sear everytime we came to a fresh corner”. My sleek, modern coach drives smoothly down the auto via – which would not have been here in 1934. I looked for signs of the old road Nina described and every now and then fancy I would catch a glimpse of it. I think of what a bus in 1934 would have looked like and I cannot conjure one up in my mind. I make a mental note to google 1934 bus when I reach Malaga. So comfortable is the new modern coach travel that now one clutches the seat in desperation but rather sleeps or looks at their phones. In no time at all, we arrive safely in Malaga having not seen one goat herd.

Nina wrote that she would “always remember Malaga, because there, for the first time in my life, I had a curse put upon me”. For the first time she was happy not to speak any other language than English – so she could not know what the curse was. I have not received a curse here – yet – and obviously hope not to. Alas, however, I find another difference between Nina and me. Nina says “Malaga’s Cathedral is thrilling outside, but not so very beautiful inside, except for its vastness and the line of round arches of its rosette-studded vaulting”. I found it to be very beautiful inside and out. Like Nina, I sat in there for quite a long time. Like Nina “there steals upon you a quietude, a serenity of mind the secret of which is almost lost nowadays”. Nina wrote that in 1934 – imagine what she would have thought of modern life in 2017!

“Malaga is surprisingly modern after Granada”, both Nina and I have found this. Nina appreciated how progressive it was and there was much less staring from the Spanish. I enjoyed Malaga as it is a much less tourist destination. One that doesn’t have a ‘tourist area’ but where locals, ex-pats and tourists all intermingle on the streets and in bars and cafes.  Nina found Malaga as one of the nosiest towns in Spain. I think all of Spain is noisy now. She would not have had to put up with the noise of motor-bikes everywhere. Surprisingly, that is all Nina had to say about Malaga. I have found Malaga to be a beautiful old town. So much of its history and its beauty has been retained, despite the revolution, despite the Civil War, despite the English and despite modern development. I arrived on Sunday afternoon and went out for a walk. Unfortunately, I walked in the wrong direction from the town and did wander into the modern suburbs, built in the 70s and 80s. This did my low expectations no great favours. On Monday morning, I walked in right direction and found the town. Before long I was in the inevitable maze of narrow laneways and streets, unsure of my direction. All of a sudden I was in a square and the Cathedral rose majestically in front of me. People sat drinking coffee and orange juice while eating toast or dipping their churroz into cups of thick Spanish chocolate.

From the outside of the cathedral you can notice it only has one corner tower. The other remains unfinished. There are several theories to this which Spanish historians argue about. One is that the Bishop of Malaga gave away the money for the second tower for America to fight against the British during the American War of Independence. Spain and Great Britain at the time, were great enemies. Another theory is the money was given by the Bishop to build a road, important for trade, over the mountains out of Malaga to connect with the rest of Spain. Of course, there are those who believe the Bishop simply kept the money for himself. Whatever the reason, the debate today is on whether they should finish the Cathedral by building the final tower or leave it has it has now been for centuries.

Even though it is autumn in Spain, the days are still hot. The afternoon sun still stings. When I walk, I follow the shade. Always the shade. It is easy to do in the narrow Spanish laneways. So build for this purpose, to keep the houses and streets cool on the hottest summer days. The maze element was to confuse any armies who thought it a good idea to attack. The narrow streets also did not make it easy for any attacking army to go through more than one or two men together. There is still an ancient Roman amphitheatre here in Malaga. However, it is less than impressive, especially after the extraordinary large one with extraordinary views out to Mt Etna, that I sat in at Palermo, Sicily. I am yet to see better than that but suspect I will not.

Granada, my love!

I must admit, I felt a little bit like Nina did on entering Granada. I had my doubts. Nina stayed two weeks here. I have stayed just one. Yet it only takes one afternoon to fall in love with Granada. Everywhere there is beauty. In the simple white houses that dot the hillsides, in the honey-orange walls of the Alhambra, in the gipsies singing and dancing and in the buskers playing traditional music in the streets and laneways. Other cities are known for being cities of love, Rome, Paris, Venice – for me it is Granada for here I have found love.

Nina wrote “If psycho-analyst were to demand your thoughts in response to the mention of Granada I think it would almost certainly be the Alhambra. But there are other things besides the Moorish palace to see there …” Nina pokes fun at the travellers that whiz about on tours, one day here, two days there. She asks herself if they would “be aware of the small, delicious things that make all the difference between travelling and globe-trotting”. She answers herself my musing on how mush they miss “the globe-totters who are too hurried to notice or remember the things that make a foreign place for every your own!”. In Nina’s time these globe-trotters would buy postcards to remember where they had been and what they had seen. Now it is the selfie stick, camera, mobile phone and go-pro to ensure you remember what a great time you had. Then again, there are those travellers who stay too long as evidenced by their dreadlocks and their dirty feet poking out of the bottom of their Vietnamese fishing pants.

I remember little things from when I walked the Camino – little things that I took no photos of. A line of caterpillars on the track or the butterflies flying in front of me like I was in a Walt Disney animation. In Granada, I will always remember the art and taking the time to go slow. I will remember sitting on the terrace and looking out over the landscape to the Alhambra. I will remember sitting in the shade of a garden on a seat – Princess Diana like – and simply staring at buildings, at fountains, at tiles, at views, at trees, and oranges and flowers. I will remember how hard it is for a single traveller to travel alone – even though it is way beyond 1934.

Nina found the “Spanish stare” disconcerting. Spanish men would stare at her being a single woman alone. I don’t get the “Spanish stare” but I do get the looks. I will walk into a restaurant or a café – alone – and the service staff will ask me “how many?”. “Uno solo” I will answer holding up one finger, they nod and find the most inconvenient table, where one can hide a solo traveller. On my tour of the Alhambara – there were 29 of us – I was the only single traveller.  On my day trip to Morocco, there was a nice equal ten of us – thanks to the British couple who brought along their 12 year old grandson. Restaurants and cafes have ‘paella min personas 2” chalked up on their black boards. Today I went to the hammam for a wash and a bathe – I was the only single there. The baths were full of couples who had come to experience something, that I believe is more pleasurable alone, together. Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling alone, I simply wish travel was more suited to those of us who do travel alone.

Frankly I roll my eyes at those that travel together. The other night I was in a café and two couples of Brits sat at the table next to me. The conversation went something like this:

Man one:  Should we just get some beers to start with?

Thin lipped wife: No, let’s just look at the menu first.

Both couples nod and agree and talk about what food to order.

Waiter (in broken English): Are yous r-r-r-ready to order now?

Thin lipped wife: Could we see your drinks menu?

Waiter: No drinks menu. We have sangria, we have vino tinto, vino blanco, cervezas, agua ….

Three of them order a beer. Thin lipped wife, who looks as if she slogs out ten ks on the treadmill at the gym every night, orders a white wine. I am certain she would have asked for ice if not too scared she would get sick of drinking the water/having ice in her drink.

Saying that, I have met some lovely couples on my travels. The other afternoon I was up on the terrace of my accommodation and a Spanish woman came up with bags and also, bags of groceries. She was attractive, thin and muscly, with some pretty good tattoos. Her bleached blond hair was fashionably cut pixie short, she had a pretty face and a smile to die for.  She could not work out how to open the door of her room.  Having been through this two days before, I explained it to her. “Muchas gracies!” She introduced herself as Monica, I told her I was ‘Genobeba’ (the Spanish pronunciation of my name). She replied “encantada”, enchanted. I did the same. She told me she could only speak a little English, I told her “Yo hablo Espanol, muy poco” (the same, just a little). Through our Spanglish, I understood that her girlfriend was arriving that night, the she was very impressed with the shared terrace and the fantastic  views and we should get together for food and wine up there.  We did the following day when I met her girlfriend, Gabriella. Gabriella is a vivacious, beautiful, intelligent Canadian from Montreal. We spent some time speaking English/Spanish with Gabriella translating when Monica or I talked too fast and we were missing the whole conversation. I asked how they had met. Both broke out into huge smiles and virtually giggled, looking intensely at each other. They had met in Spain just in the last few months. Gabriella had to go off to meet friends and travel a bit as plans and accommodations had already been made. She was supposed to go back to her job in Montreal but decided she could not. “We are in love and you must take that seriously. Yes?”. Yes, I confirmed, “es verdad”, it’s true. Both were totally shocked to find out that Australia, which they thought was a very progressive country, still did not have marriage equality. “Si, si, si. Es muy triste pero es verdad”, I replied. Monica gave me a really good tip on where to find the best tapas bars before we said our ‘hasta luegos’ – see you later. I still don’t think the tapas here are as good as they are in Burgos and Santiago, but the tip helped a lot.

Taking things slowly has shown me love. Looking around and enjoying differences. Seeing, smelling hearing. I remember in Prague Joe told me not to give money to the buskers that do nothing. The ones that stand there painted in metallic paint not moving for hours. He told me I should give to the people that do something, musicians and artists. This is what I have been doing in Granada. I stop to listen to the buskers and give them some change. I bought a poem for 60 cents from a stand. It was in Spanish and a beautiful love poem. I now have it in an envelope to give to Monica and Gabriella with all of my wishes for their love. I stopped by a gipsy boy today, not much older than my son Joe. I stopped so that he, with the use of his tarot cards, could tell me what he foresaw in my present and my upcoming future (it was good advice) and well worth the few euro donated to him. We ended up talking until the sun got too hot and he needed to find some more customers. Here in Spain, this time, I sit on my own in cathedrals and churches, not to pray but to simply sit (and try not to ponder the bad deeds of the Catholic church) but to see the beauty in the building and look at the art. I cried at flamenco for goodness sake!

Granada is a very easy city to get around. The buses are simple and everything is in walking distance – if you like walking up and down some very steep hills and stairs. The Albaicin is not so easy to get around. It is very easy to get lost in its white walled mazed passageways, where all the house are called Carmen. The Carmen houses have gardens and all their names begin with Carmen, there is Carmen Victoria, Carmen la Nina, Carmen … you get the idea. It originates from the Arabic word for vine – as the Carmen gardens provide food, shade and beauty – which equals love in Granada.

I left Granada this morning. I waited for a taxi on the corner of my street Cuesta del Chapiz and the Paseo de los Tristes. Paseo de los Triestes, is the street of sadness. Traditionally funeral processions would go along this street (sometimes with professional. paid mourners) up to the cemetery near the Alhambra. It seemed fitting to end my stay on this corner – one street where I found so much happiness in simply staying there – and the other so much sadness to be leaving.

If you do one thing in your life. If there is just one place you go in your life – go to Granada. You will never regret it.

 

Palaces and politics

I spent days eyeing off the Alhambra from every level. From the narrow street below. From the view of St Nicolas, from the terrace of my accommodation. I ‘eyed it off’ at all times of the day and night. I had walked beneath its shade and past it on the hop on/hop off bus/train. I went up to go in, only to see the ‘Sold Out’ sign – and again walk beneath its shade through the forest back home. From all of those levels, whatever time of day it looks like a fort. Its walls a golden orange colour in both sun light and in moon shine. The thing about the Alhambra is – that it is not a fort. It was once a great city. A city to approximately 2,000 people. Now it is a tourist attraction that caters to over 9,000 visitors a day. Little wonder the ‘Sold Out’ sign is on permanent exhibition.

Finally, I was there. Ticket in hand at 7:30 am. It was still dark. I had caught a taxi up from the main square, rather than walk up through the forest in the dark. After all, when Nina had gone up in the dark to experience a night time festival, she and her guide heard the Civil Guard shooting at people. By the time our group got through the gate it was after 8:00 am and the sun was beginning to shine. Our first stop was the Generalife – the Sultan’s summer palace. We walked through the most beautiful gardens to get there. These are not the original gardens but came much later and in the style of Versailles – except a lot smaller. There were pathways and alcoves. Pines cut into the shape of walls and archways. Coloured flowers everywhere. There were huge, old magnolia trees, it would be magnificent to see them in flower. The Generalife itself is beautiful. Totally white with carved timber ceilings, faded tiles and Moorish door ways and windows. We see rooms that are merely alcoves off the halls, open to the air to catch the summer breeze. The Sultan and his wives would have slept in these rooms during the heat of the relentless Spanish summer. The gardens with their fountains and ponds would give cool respite during the day.

We then walked into the Alhambra. Past the stone footings of old houses that villagers lived in. Nina refers to the Alhambra as an “airy, fairy palace” that has a “bijou quality, slightly irritating because of its childishness artistically. And there is bad taste too, especially in the colouring of the tiles that decorate the walls – in their really in-artistic greens and blue and browns which must have been even worse before the centuries toned down the crudeness of the colours. (And if you consider this a heresy, you must please forgive me and go and have another look for yourself!)”. Oh Nina! Later redeeming herself – in my eyes – by writing “I hardly know which is more potent at the Alhambra, the charm within its walls or the lure of looking beyond them through the fairy frames its window make – those narrow, arched windows sometimes in pairs separated by a slender and diminutive column of alabaster and bordered with a white stucco embroidery of jasmine-flowers and tiny shells and the lovely, fluent, ancient script whose rhythm seems one with the sound of the fountain’s flowing”. The script she refers to is in Arabic and translated it is “There is no conqueror but God”. Strange in a land that has been conquered and has been a conqueror.

Nina wrote that is “is possible to ‘do’ the Alhambra in an hour. I don’t think so. You would see hardly anything as there is so much to see and to feel. Like Nina, I also believe that you need time “to stand and to stare”, or as I preferred to find a seat and to stare.

Nina had her own guide in Granada who took her around and showed her the sights of the town and the Alhambra. He was a young Socialist who told her that the Spanish revolution was not far off. He told her how the people were hungry and that despite the strictest laws against the possession of firearms, every worker had a gun hidden somewhere. The intention, he told her, was “to aim at a bloodless revolution, but if that ideal were not realized the firearms would have to talk”. It was from this man Nina learned of the bitter hatred the people bore towards the Guardia Civil. I learnt of the peoples hatred for the Civil Guard many years later through Spanish friends and families. Many people here in Spain have not forgotten the Civil War. Stories of horror and atrocities are passed down through the generations. Recent television footage of the Civil Guards beating people in the streets of Barcelona, was abhorrent yet not surprising to many Spaniards. During Nina’s time, if a “man’s politics might be troublesome; he would be arrested on some trumped-up charge, and the next thing you heard was that he had been shot by the Civil Guard while attempting to escape”. Usually, the guards would tell the man, his arrest had been a mistake and he was free to go. The moment he turned to leave, they would shout after him, take aim and shoot him in the back. I had heard a story of a pregnant woman who would not reveal to the Guardia where her husband was. He was suspected of being a republican during the Civil War. As she would not tell them where he was, they poured olive oil into her throat. Her husband was indeed a republican but she honestly had no idea where he was.

I have thought about Nina’s politics as I have read through her journey. She was a trail blazer for her time. One day she was sent to report a meeting of the Senate at Melbourne. The Usher of the Black Rod spied her in the Press Gallery and sent a messenger asking her to ‘withdraw’. Apparently, a friendly pressman intervened with an explanation that she was a journalist and so ended the “unwritten law that a woman should not penetrate to the Senate Chamber”. She worked on newspapers, travelled alone as a woman, started the Argonauts Club on the ABC, which some baby-boomers may remember. I would have thought Nina to be a feminist and an education liberal. Yet again, she was a product of her times. Nina was first and foremost a citizen of the British Empire and when her young guide told her “The Government must be made to see all these things … There must be dole for the unemployed. The children must be properly fed and properly educated”, Nina was “afraid some of the things which he secretly pleased my hunger for the picturesque will be swept away if he ever gets his way in Spain”. Perhaps more of a political conservative than I had imagined.

During my tour of the Alhambra I was surprised to find something Nina did not mention in her account, the Palace of Carlos V. Carlos wanted a residence befitting an emperor. It is a large palace out of sync with the rest of the Alhambra. It is a much more modern, Renaissance building. Large stones make up the outside square shape of the building. Inside there is a courtyard yet it is round, like a bull-ring. The palace was never completed, its rooms never decorated. Carlos V and his wife, Isabella, never lived there. It is a folly. Carlos V abdicated, left Spain bankrupt and retired to live alone in a secluded monastery. I suspect Nina – unlike me – was also a monarchist.