Livin in Albayzín

On Tuesday I caught a bus from San Sebastián to Madrid in the morning, followed by a bus from Madrid to Granada a few short hours later. The hostel that I´m currently staying at is pretty interesting. It´s in Albayzín, an important Arabic quarter from Granada´s Moorish past. When I first arrived here it was 10pm and I had just navigated catching two buses in order to get from the bus station to a convent in front of my hostel´s street. And actually, the bus driver had forgotten to tell me where my stop was, forcing a backtrack which was fortunately todo derecho. What I was faced with: roadworks at the beginning of my street, with large blocks of stone unearthed, a long dusty trench and barriers to prevent general passage; a deserted cobblestone street made very narrow by the high walls of the houses on both sides; and big, heavy wooden doors with wrought iron grills on them. Needless to say I was a tad doubtful and intimidated. I´ve gotten used to it now, the narrow, maze-like streets that somehow find you a way through the jumble of secretive houses, and I love the sense of discovery it allows you to feel. I still always feel a little bit scared somehow though, unless there are a handful of other people around. And then it clicked ……Middle Ages design. No wonder I´m scared! 

One of the first things I did here was amble around Sacromonte, which is just to the north of Albayzín; I strongly and highly recommend it to everyone as a walk. I´m not sure if it´s because of the time of year or whether most tourists prefer to drive or catch a bus, but I ran into fewer than 5 people over the course of my 3 hour walk. Don´t worry, I have a habit of taking a one hour walk and magically converting it into three. By and large I was left in complete peace to marvel at the haphazard cascade of white houses on the hillside on the left, and at the surprising pastoral scene, lush and green, that lived right next to the hills on the right. How I know a walk is good is very simple: it´s when I get happier and happier each few steps I take, and it´s not a happiness that is controllable or much understood. I only understand that part of it is made up of glee, but the uncontrollable, exponentially increasing part of it I have no explanation for. Anyway. The guy at the hostel had suggested it to me because apparently there are people who have built their homes in the caves of Sacromonte. I´m not sure if I did see these, the most I saw in this vein was some doors built into the side of the hill. I took some pictures so maybe these might help to clear up the question. Probably not, because they just look like doors leading into the hill.  

I really really love it here, and I especially love this barrio. Last night as I was walking to a plaza purported to have a supermarket and internet access, I found myself walking up red brick steps into a ¨park¨from whence the voice of a jazz clarinet sang out,  joined a couple of seconds later by jazz acoustic guitar. Two musicians were rehearsing together there as a third man listened with great thoughtfulness and made suggestions every now and then. This itself was enough to make me giddy, but my ears were also caught by a twanging sound coming from a little further away. Lo and behold on a higher-up terrace of the park a group of young, 20 something Spaniards were discussing and practising capoeira in a circle. They were pretty bad at it actually, but they were so free. They made it seem like there could be nothing in the world better to do than to spend the early dusk of a Wednesday hunching under one other and pretending to roll around on the ground. Probably because they were in this red brick park, with its two big white marble fountains outlined in the shape of a star and of an octagon, and with its outlook over the city of Granada and the Sierra Nevada. I hung out in the park for around 20 minutes, and a 5 minutes walk later passed under an arch to get through a small walkway en route to the plaza. Within this walkway a didgeridoo player was slumped and hunched, hard at work. He was truly excellent.  

This afternoon I had lunch in a tetería, a type of tienda that I had not come across in San Sebastián. That is because a tetería is a tea salon. They served perhaps three dishes and fifty types of teas. All the teterías here are decorated in the highly ornate, middle eastern style, with gorgeous short stools, cushions, rich colours, and ornate lanterns hanging above the tables. This place was little different except that the colour scheme had more light blue and white, and it´s aura was more of pure niceness than of intense exoticism. Sitting down at one of the short octagonal table, there were several pieces of paper placed in-between the table and its glass top. It was a text translated into several languages, English, French, Spanish and one more that was hidden under the Spanish one. It was as follows:

¨There was a time I use to
reject those who were not
of my faith, now.
My heart has grown capable
of taking on all forms.
A pasture for gazelles, a con-
vent for Christians.
A temple for idols, a Kaba
for the pilgrim.
A table for the Torah, a book
of the Koran. My religion is
love. Whichever the route
love´s caravan shall take,
that path shall be the path
of my faith.¨

Ibn´Arabi (1165-1240)

I´ve copied it exactly, hence the odd punctuation (even for poetic verse). The sweet-faced, flatteringly plump woman running the tetería played music by Sami Yousef, who sang imploringly of peace for all peoples and of his love for his mother. I gazed at the arabic script that was around the room in various places as I slowly made progress through my mountain of couscous (which I love, so no biggie). It´s still my belief that arabic is the most beautiful written language around, and I´m determined to take up learning it again. A while later an older woman in a red headscarf came in, gave me a light smile and if I´m not mistaken, greeted me in arabic. I think this because she said something that started with ¨s¨ and had an ¨i¨ sound within it, and with a little reflection I recalled that hello or good day is ¨sabah al khair¨. That was pretty cool to realise 🙂      

Yeah, I´m enjoying myself here.


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