Memories of Granada, Spain
Guest Post by Georgina Neumann
Magical land by any standards.
I had already been told that Granada was the cradle of flamenco, along with Seville and Jerez de la Frontera before I left Buenos Aires, my hometown, where I projected every step of my dream journey through Andalusia.
At that time I was studying singing and I was passionate about the art of flamenco. That’s why I decided to nourish myself with its roots and discover what that mystery was that enveloped all the exponents of that culture.
Photo Credit: Georgina Neumann
Arriving in Granada, Spain
I left from Malaga, a high class, glamorous and cosmopolitan city, where I spent a week, and from which I made a base to go to several of the white villages of the Costa del Sol.
I took the morning bus so that the whole day would not escape me.
I arrived one hot June morning and the first thing I did was to locate the hostel I had booked, like the rest, 6 months in advance (this is how you organize a journey of almost a month through the first world).
I got off the bus that had transferred me from the bus station to downtown, with my suitcase in hand and a couple of gift bags that I had missed, so hyper-charged I walked as I could to that address I had on a paper that I had printed at work forming a kind of booklet with each of the specifications of the tour, hotels, and places of interest to visit. That’s how I usually prepare myself to know each new place in-depth, beyond allowing myself to improvise and surprise myself while walking.
The initial section was not too big since I hit the Antares Pension exactly one block away, which was located a few steps from the Albaicín, an old Arab quarter declared World Heritage. But I would like to give details of this marvel later on.
I left my things in the room, changed my clothes and went out again to undertake that adventure that I knew would not disappoint me, even though most of the time we are used to expectation being frustrated in the face of reality. Well, in my case it wasn’t like that, but on the contrary. I would go so far as to say that it far exceeded my expectations.
And since I had that feeling beforehand, call it intuition, I didn’t want to waste a minute of my time on trivialities, so I set out, map in my bag, to march towards the Puerta Real de Granada, the first point known as a central and modern area with its squares, bars, and restaurants around it. Here, a short distance away is also the royal chapel with the remains of the Catholic Kings.
I found the story touching and engaging, at every step. I couldn’t help but be amazed at the mixture of styles that coexisted in the same space.
Suddenly, and already on the way to the next destination, I became static. Before me stood the Alcaicería flea market, full of color, little shops with handicrafts to buy as souvenirs and hanging lamps.
All decorated in a very striking way. Arab reminiscences (in fact its name comes from that language and has to do with the fact that it was founded in the 14th century next to the Great Mosque in the time of Muhammad). It was so beautiful that I stayed about half an hour watching each of its businesses.
Then I went to the Plaza Isabel la Catolica, which, it should be noted, has a landmark monument dedicated to the Queen and Christopher Columbus.
From there I continued to the Plaza Nueva- the oldest square in Granada-from where I was told that the Alhambra could be reached on foot, starting at the Cuesta de Gomeréz, which of course I scheduled to do one of the three days I planned to stay. I was also recommended another possible access alternative through the Cuesta del Rey Chico, an option that did not convince me much because it was going to be more complicated.
At that point, and already exhausted, I thought about taking a break at least for lunch; but, given the anxiety I was carrying, I preferred to move forward in my route, but not as just another tourist going to the advertised corners, but wanting to feel part of those streets full of charm and enormous beauty. I wanted to enter that world from the deepest part of my being, to feel “Granada” with my body and soul.
Feeling Granada with my Body and Soul
At one point, and out of the blue, right there in the street, I came across a lady (wrongly called “gypsy”) who was holding a sprig of rosemary, offering it for free in exchange for letting her read my hand to guess the future, which I did not allow at all because, although no one had warned me that it was a trap to get money since I was a little girl I never sympathized with knowing the unpredictable in advance.
So, scared, I ran away. Besides, I didn’t know if it was a myth or not, but I had this preconception that these people had the power to put a curse on you, so I thought it was better to be safe than sorry.
In the meantime, I got lost, although that didn’t worry me at all. It wasn’t the first time that I had been on a trip and appeared anywhere and then as if by magic, found my way back. So I let myself be carried away by the wind, and indeed the wind was so strong that it brought me back to the source. I don’t know how, but I fell into the Albaicin. Or Albayzin. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the Nazarite city.
At first, I hesitated to get involved. My idea, at first, was to make only an approach to the neighborhood because I was tired and did not want to meet it reluctantly but with all the enthusiasm that territory with such historical importance, at the social and cultural level, deserved.
However, curiosity got the better of her. My feet began to go by themselves as if they had a life of their own and I was not able to decide anything. As I went on I was even more attracted to the people (their appearance), the scents, the variety of colors, the network of narrow, cobbled streets, the cisterns and the number of small businesses on both sides as well as bars and Arabic food outlets.
My head was spinning non-stop. It was so beautiful that I didn’t know which way to look first. The encounter between the Muslim and Christian cultures that the tour guides talked about there was colossal.
Unexpectedly, as I walked uphill to the famous Mirador de San Nicolas, and following a group of teenagers because I was afraid of getting lost again, I began to hear an extravagant tune coming from some not-too-distant hiding place. That exquisite sound made me transport myself mentally to another dimension. This prompted me to find out who the owner of that voice was.
In a couple of steps, I found the performer who had captivated me with her vocal register. She was a middle-aged woman dressed in a mustard skirt, a red shawl and a matching scarf that covered her head. She was moving her body to the beat and was accompanied by a guitarist who had stood behind her. The truth is that I was petrified watching them. So sublime and with a remarkable mystique.
Everything in Granada was like that. A few hours were enough to understand that I was in a special, romantic and inspiring place that was going to leave its mark on me forever. Its entire history was impregnated in the streets, in the buildings and, fundamentally, in its own people who, with so much love, prioritized the preservation of its essence of all times.
It was 5 pm and I was already hungry. I sat down in a bar called Las Cuevas to eat a sandwich. Having recharged my batteries, I resumed the journey I had left behind to the Mirador.
I went up to the top of the Albaicín with hundreds of people who were looking for the “photo”. Once there, I was once again speechless. Without a doubt, it was one of the most beautiful sceneries I have ever been in. One of the best views of the city as you can see the whole Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada in the background.
I devoted myself without hesitation to enjoy the sunset sitting on one of the edges that was available in the middle of the crowd whose goal was to leave the moment immortalized. I also asked someone to take a picture of me, but with the awareness of knowing that, if that did not happen, that image would remain in my retina for eternity.
What caught my attention was the number of artists who had offered their music, dance, and objects. It was priceless for me to witness that creativity all together in an environment with a unique and unrepeatable identity. It forced me in a certain way to be alert with all my senses awake so as not to miss anything and to be completely permeable to the experience.
I began my return, at the end of the evening, with the real intention of remaining in a horizontal position for a long time after having enjoyed a tiring day. I was exhausted but happy.
When I entered the room, I threw myself into bed non-stop, with my clothes on, and fell asleep.
When I woke up I looked at the clock and it was 9.30 pm. This gave me enough time to go to dinner and if I hurry I can even get a ticket for the flamenco show that was presented in the tablao located one and a half blocks from the hostel. I learned about it that afternoon when a boy invited me to go and enjoy it with whoever I wanted. He told me that it was not expensive and that it was worth it.
I walked fast trying to remember to locate that little place that looked like a hideout. The road led me there alone, and suddenly I was standing in the doorway. In front of it was a man in his forties or so, sitting on a stool, playing the guitar in a spectacular way. He looked a little bit like a hippie with a gypsy tint.
His music gave him away quite a bit. I was so moved that I was paralyzed for a few seconds listening to it. Immediately afterward, I went in to buy a ticket.
I still had to wait half an hour for the show to start so I passed a bar that was on a diagonal and seemed to be exploded with people, which made me hesitate. But since I didn’t want to go too far, I sat down at the bar to taste a mini Spanish tortilla with a soda.
I paid what I consumed and returned to the premises where they had already started cutting tickets.
I handed mine in eagerly and automatically entered what looked like a dark rectangle illuminated only by a blue light with chairs scattered lengthwise and on either side.
Since it had not yet been completely filled, I was able to choose a seat in the sixth row, calculating from where the artists would be placed. I didn’t want to be so close to them but rather to be a spectator from a distance. Anyway, it looked perfect from anywhere in the room because it was tiny.
Its small measurements made it a welcoming place where one could breathe an atmosphere of unparalleled intimacy with the audience, a detail that, prima facie, I must admit, fascinated me.
Suddenly, a girl settled down next to me and asked me if I was alone, to which I answered yes. She asked me if I minded her keeping me company. I told her not at all. We started talking. She told me she was from Brazil, lived in Canada and was married but had come to Granada to take a course without her husband.
For my part, I told her that I had traveled alone to fulfill my desire to immerse myself in that Andalusian universe with the intention of deciphering what fiber touched that culture in me that made me vibrate at a frequency that moved me beyond the normal.
Lost in Music and Dance
The sound of the instruments began to flood the atmosphere. In contrast, a deafening silence took over, erasing the previous murmur to give way to a man’s voice, broken and almost raspy, that began to sing a song referring to the moon, interpreting it with a hint of anguish and a feeling so deep that it seemed to be born from the depths of his heart.