Sep 302012

I am a child;

I am standing in the corner of the courtyard;

it is dark;

I am leaning into the shadow cast by one of two dozen stone columns;

my eyes cast upwards;

I am watching.

I am watching the window above and across the courtyard . . .

. . . for whom and for what am I watching?

I wept as I walked into the palace at The Alhambra last night, the blood in my veins frozen in time, my skin pricked with memory.

I was first in, as is my way when 200 people want what I want, the same thing at the same time. I am an Aries with an Aries ascendant; that makes me first. First in.

I met the palace alone, deep in the night; all the rooms, mine; the courtyards, mine; the pools and alcoves and walls and ceilings, all mine.

For five enduring minutes, I had the Nasrid Palace to myself.

Space, light, geometry, colour, elemental, alive, the wind and sun and the bright night skies all welcome.

All welcome.

The Alhambra.

Red, feminine, in Arabic el-Hamra.

For the first time since May it is raining in Granada, home to the Red One, built by the Moors, which is nought but the Spanish name for the Arabic peoples, as part of the great Arab empire, 700 years, until it was conquered by the warrior queen Isabel and her king Ferdinand in the 1500s, for Spain and the Catholic pope holding court with the Christian god in the Vatican.

It has rained since I pulled in on the train two days ago. The cloud has been thick, the sky grey. I am visiting the Alhambra on the full moon and the sky is thick with cloud and grey.

I stand outside in the black wet night with a crowd of coveted tickets, and I am humming a tune. It occurs to me that I have an outstanding ability to hum appropriate tunes for given moments, but I do not recognise my hum.

I focus . . . it might be Grace Jones.

I hand over my ticket. I enter with my eyes raised in anticipation of the light.

The palace is exquisite. Light and beauty, beauty and light. Just as it was always should have been . . . had humanity had the common sense to build on what we already knew . . . rather than burn and burn and burn as the Christians did through those centuries and both Islamic and Christian fanaticists do now.

It breaks my heart the unacknowledged debt we the West owe the Arab peoples, their learning, their science, their philosophy, their astronomy, their mathematics – all have informed our world, and everything we have, to this very day and we do not know.

Not even most Arabs truly know their own inheritance, for if they did, they would remember . . . so . . . much  . . . more.

It is for those Arabs who do remember that my heart truly breaks, the ones who remember the depth and breadth and beauty . . . of  . . . so . . . much  . . . more.

For this I know: it is only the men of the Arab world who have shone the brightest feminine light in their hearts for me. I have never experienced this with a man from any other culture; blind love among strangers – the Arab peoples know this love.

I peer through the dust of time for distant selves and find only a child. A child of the palace. A child of the palace running through the corridors. At first, I do not know if I am a privileged child or one among the servant children. I seek the vibration in the stone . . . I am the watcher in the courtyard . . . I watch for shadows . . . catch a glimpse of coloured silk . . . the flicker of a candle . . .

Grace Jones . . . ‘strange! I’ve seen this place before’ . . . I’m not even sure those are the lyrics, but tonight the song sings for me.

Strange, I’ve seen this place before.

But then I knew that, well before I made a date with the Alhambra.

I walk to the pool and the grey sky thick with cloud parts, for just a moment, just for me.

And the silver disc of the full moon shines into the pool.

My photos are crap, this I know, but I will show them to you anyway.

For this too I know, it matters not. For these are snapshots of life in the palace in the 21st century, when she is on show for the pilgrims of the present paying homage to the past.

A young man catches my eye. Really, he is not so young. Probably early 30s. In that instant I know he is there for the same reason I am, and he knows also why I am there. The passage of time flickers in our eyes.

We are children of the palace.

In truth, setting the child and her fluttering silks aside, I am seeking the feminine in Arab culture just as surely as I track her in my own.

I could weep for beauty, for the love of beauty, enshrined in this stone.

For El-Hamra is indeed a shrine to beauty – as within, so without.

Sun rain wind and snow in harmony with the cultivated pools and mosaics and high high ceilings.

And the distant heart of dusted selves ringing through the passageways of time.


The high high ceiling

Full moon over the palace

The Fountain of Lions

The high high ceiling

Full moon in the centre of King Charles V palace (in the Alhambra)

Full moon outside King Charles V palace

Full moon outside Charles V palace walls

 September 30, 2012  Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Sep 292012

What is tourism but a gathering of selves from the dust of time?

The pyramids. Uluru. Machu Picchu. Stonehenge.

Places of attraction on Planet Earth that draw thousands daily and millions annually . . . for what, if not to awaken memories cast in stone, tune into vibrations of times past, steady modern lives with the ballast of richer lives (more meaningful, though probably more violent; the price of engagement).

For me, tonight, it is the Alhambra, the ancient Arabian palace high on the hill in the centre of the Spanish city of Granada.

The moment I heard the word, Alhambra, the blood pulsed a little more ferociously through my veins, my senses tuned to new sensations, my heart fluttered, eyes brightened, smile widened.


I am of the view this is the point of all journeys, certainly my own, and judging by the sheer numbers of human beings on pilgrimage to the past, I’d say it’s not just me; we are a nation of visitors to iconic sites, peering through time, paying our respects to what has been; gathering selves in order to make sense of current time and place.

In Istanbul five years ago I felt as if I was standing at the crossroads of all time:

I am queen and slave,

conqueror and king;

I am the great stone pillars connecting earth and sky,

I am the wind and the sea and the wide flat plain.

(from My Pilgrim’s Heart)

Tonight, the near-full moon for company, it is the Alhambra.

 September 29, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Sep 282012

I am on the street, filling time. It is morning, a slow Spanish morning, where the shops are late opening and the bars are not quite filled with workers in for their coffee and pan con queso y jamon, bread with cheese and ham or a variety of other cured meats.

I am looking for sustenance, for fresh fruit and vegetables to accompany my pan con queso. I find a yoghurt-like cheesecake and wash it down with an espresso; I am vegetarian in a foreign land and white food (rice, wheat, yoghurt) is my lot, once again.

The sky above is dripping small irregular drops, and I head home to my little hostal and its pretty homemade stone floor. I am standing at the traffic lights near the Puerta Real, a roundabout of sorts, a busy intersection in the old city, when I hear toots and whistles and drums.

I look around and it is then I notice a massive police presence on the opposite corner. Oooooo, I think, something is about to happen. I hear sirens. I see police cars coming up the road. I tune in again to the drums and the whistles and toot toot toots. The pedestrian light turns green and the crowd swirls around me as it crosses the road. I stand where I am. I have, after all, nowhere in particular to go and I am more curious about the fracas than concerned about the rain falling now around me.

Buses jam the intersection, honking their horns as eventually they pass. I wonder if the cacophony has anything to do with yesterday’s protest further up the road, outside what I can only presume to be the courthouse.

I stumbled upon that one too, when I was seeking out my ticket to the Alhambra. News cameras. Protesters chanting. Police keeping the small crowd off the road. I thought they wanted to free ‘Jessica’, until I finally understood they were saying ‘judicio’.

Finally a cheer had gone up; if Jessica was not free, something had been won – hard won, and this pleased me. For liberty hard won is a victory for all people, not just a verdict that satisfies either vengeance or the perceived rights of an individual that, if truly righteous, must then be fought all over again.

I laugh out loud when a police car stops at the green traffic light and belts out its siren as if it is shrieking a chant. The whistles and drums are within sight now and I am in their path. I laugh louder – hundreds of police officers are pouring around the curved footpath towards me, banging drums, shrilling their traffic whistles, raising their arms in protest to the grey sky, blowing scratchy horns.

An explosion towards the back of the march causes me to jump and I shake my head as a billow of smoke envelops the police protesters.

The police massed on the other side of the intersection fall onto the road to meet their comrades. Small bombs mark the moment. I jump and jump again. The presence of my son Ben is beside me now, for it is the kind of thing he and we find hysterically funny – the surprise and the irony and the contradiction.

For it is funny. Yet, as I finally leave the law enforcers to their demanding rally on the steps of a beautiful building that is sentry to an intersection that has probably seen much protest over the centuries, I find there are tears in my eyes.

Liberty, fair play, mercy, whomever is in need of it at a given moment in time, is always hard won.

And I am stirred by the courage of those who claim all of the above as their right, regardless of the masks they wear, by day or night.




 September 28, 2012  Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »