You might wonder why there is no gallery for Granada. It’s not a simple story, nor a sad one; just the inevitable detours of travel. We bussed from Seville to Cordoba and, days later, across Andalusia to Granada to see what had always been for me a prime destination, the legendary Alhambra.
And it was glorious, stunning, wavering in the rising air of noon, picturesque where water showed its opulence and engineering. But it was also hot, scorching in fact, and L succumbed to sun and all but fell to the ground with heat exhaustion. I bought her a hat, relayed bottles of water, rested in the shade and forgot all about taking pictures.
Back we went to the hotel by cab. We stayed, apocryphally at least, in the hotel, perhaps the room, from which Frederico Garcia Lorca was taken and disappeared. We slept. L recovered and, as we had only one night to spend, had to choose between seeing a Lorca play in the Generalife garden, or the magnificent view of the Alhambra from the top of a hillside across from it. We chose the latter, rushing to make sunset. Cabs were hard to find; one stopped outside the hotel and the hotel staff signaled us to grab it. I left my camera in the room. Unwise on any number of levels beginning with you can’t do Granada in a day.
The view from the Mirador de San Nicolas was as gorgeous as rumored, The Alhambra burnished by sunset. To capture it fully would require a frame a minute to record each change of light. ‘Monet does the Alhambra.’ But all I could do was watch and marvel. The crowd was moderate; perhaps the heat was too much for others.
Behind us there were two celebrations going on, one with Arabic music ,and one with the sounds of a Catholic wedding. The melodies blended into the sunset, and we sat entranced and listened and looked until we realized it was after dark and, aside from the weddings of which we were no part, the hillside was empty.
Our intent was to return to Granada for dinner reservations we had made. Our reality was the absence of cabs and, as we had cabbed up as far as we could, no sense of how to walk down. We chose downhill as the prominent direction and started wandering down the winding streets, mindful that we were, according to the tourist books, to avoid the Sacramonte at night as it was not the place for tourists…thinking perhaps we were wandering in the Albaicin, but, in fact, not really knowing where we were..
I have no idea if we wandered in or not, but I do know we came around a curve and the street opened onto a communal square that was decidedly untouristy. Three guitarists sat on a bench playing. People were laughing, glasses were clinking, bottles were raised. A big table stood in front of us and in the conviviality of the moment we paused and eyed each other the question, should we sit?
The matter was decided for us by a large, smiling woman who in a combination of Spanish, English and pantomime bade us to sit. She was, I think, the matriarch of the square, and her greeting was friendly and genuine. Sit and we sat. Eat? and we happily said yes. In place of a menu, she said Paella, and we nodded fine.
She gestured to a small man who sat in a rocking chair by a white building through the window of which we saw a rough kitchen. He was slight and bald and, for no reason except their body language, I saw them as a couple. He went into the kitchen, pulled down an enormous Paella pan and began to tempt us with smells of wonderful food.
Cerveza appeared on the table, a guitarist came over, played and declined a tip. We were part of the square and had somehow passed a test that let us be unobtrusive. The paella was, simply, extraordinary, and to this day, despite New York, Chicago, Madrid, the best we’ve had.
Fate was kind thereafter. After much laughter figuring out the embarrassingly reasonable bill, they pointed us back down the hill where we were to walk for an undetermined amount of time. Two curves later, an empty cab appeared. The ride back to the hotel cost more than the meal.
The night was real and unforgettable, a highlight of months in Spain, and I’ve always wondered if the experience would have been the same if I’d been toting a camera rig.
I love what light and lens can do, but they do in some way make the photographer an outsider. I’m glad that night in Granada, I was not.
There are no pictures from that trip to Granada except in my head and, much as I feel guilty for leaving The Alhambra without even one, I couldn’t be happier about it.