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.
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.