July 11, 2010
¡Saludos a todos!
We returned from a two-day trip to Granada last night. If it is hot here in Madrid (upper 90s every day), it was even hotter in Granada – the thermometer read 41 degrees C (about 104 or so F!!). I don´t know how we could even stand it, but I guess the trick is drink lots of water, rest when you can, and spend as much time as possible in the shade. Also, be more active at night. My son, the night owl, would have loved the schedule people have in Spain!
The heat is not just from the temperature, but also from the excitement and anticipation leading up to tonight´s final World Cup game, between Netherlands and Spain. Paul the Octopus is predicting that Spain will win 1-0, but some people say not to believe him this time because he has so far only been correctly predicting games in which Germany was playing. Yesterday Germany beat Uruguay for third place, correctly predicted by Paul, but a statistician says that Paul´s average is remarkable; 6 correct predictions would be statistically normal and the octopus has correctly predicted 8 so far.
Paul is so famous now that they decided to let him predict the final, and even in the U.S., I heard, there are more Tweets on Twitter about Paul than about LeBron James!! (Some people in our group asked, “Who is LeBron James?” My point exactly – compared to the World Cup, the news about James is pretty insignificant).
You would think the final games were being played in Spain rather than South Africa, so close do all the details seem to us. I told you that last week we went down to Plaza de Cibeles where they had the fountain blocked off. Well, for tonight’s game, they are erecting a stage with a huge TV (60 square meters) with speakers that produce 48,000 watts of sound, in the middle of this square. There will be space for 50,000 spectators. Currently we are debating whether to watch the game from down there, or go there afterward. Two famous Spanish singers are going to be there also. They will be arriving at 9 pm, during the game, to whip up the crowd (as if the crowd needed it!) and then they will perform a concert afterward. So even if Spain were to lose, which is not expected to happen, there will be a party in town tonight! Besides the huge TV, there are also going to be several other large TV screens along the main street between Plaza Cibeles and Plaza Callao, and the street will be closed to traffic between these two squares. Spain does not have the reputation for violence after soccer games like the English team, fortunately!!
Back to Granada…first a little history: Granada was the last kingdom of the Moors (Muslims from North Africa) in Spain, which ended with the final Reconquest by the Spain´s Catholic monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella) in January 1492. That was a year famous to us in America, of course, because it was the year Christopher Columbus “discovered” America and claimed it for the Spanish crown. It was also the year that Muslims and Jews remaining in Spain were expelled. At the Alhambra, the Muslim kingdom’s citadel, we had an excellent guide who had good knowledge about the Muslims and their beliefs. If you want to see the oldest Arab palace in the world, you must visit the Alhambra. This is because the Arabs never build anything for eternity; they believe eternity is only achieved in heaven. They build their structures for their own use, not for posterity, not to last for future generations. Therefore, they build things rather quickly and cheaply, and their fine palaces don’t last. However, the Spanish royals, upon conquest of the kingdom of Granada, did not destroy the Alhambra because they knew a good thing when they saw it! Instead they sought to preserve it for their own use and that of future generations.
It is in the city of Granada where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried. They commissioned a chapel to be built next to the Cathedral for their entombment, and we visited La Capilla and saw their coffins. Buried with them was their only surviving daughter in Spain, Juana “La Loca” (she apparently inherited a serious mental illness from her grandmother, Isabella’s mother), Juana’s
husband Felipe ¨”El Hermoso” (the Beautiful) and their son Miguel. Some of you may know that Ferdinand and Isabella had several other children, mostly girls, and that their youngest child, Catherine of Aragon, was the first wife of Henry VIII of England.
Granada is a nice city of 200,000 people, a lot more tranquil and accessible than Madrid. The day we got there, after a 5 hour bus trip, we toured the old part of the city, where La Capilla and the Cathedral are located (we didn´t go into the Cathedral, because it isn´t reputed to be very beautiful and to enter we would have to be 3.5 euros, the same amount we had already paid to visit La Capilla!). We walked through a series of pretty plazas and visited the market which looks like the typical Moroccan market, with stalls lining narrow streets
and colorful cloths hanging overhead. This market is actually located in the old Jewish quarter, and the area has been preserved with its gorgeous balconies decorated with beautiful tiles and lined with potted flowers and other hanging plants. Granada, like Toledo, was a place in which the three cultures, Islam, Jew, and Christian, lived together in relative harmony. Of course, they all had to pay tribute to the Muslim kings, but they in turn had to pay tribute to the Christian kings of Spain, in order to be allowed to continue to exist alongside the Spanish kingdom in peace. This peace began to break down in the mid 1400s, when both Muslim and Christian rulers began to make incursions into each other´s territory, capturing towns on the opposite side of their respective borders. There was a serious rift between the Muslim king, Mohammed Ali Hassan, and his son, known as
Boabdil, which led to a division in loyalties in the realm, at the same time as Ferdinand and Isabella were consolidating their power through their marriage, uniting their kingdoms, and backed by the full enforcement of the Inquisition.
Besides the three cultures, in Granada there is really a fourth, which was always marginalized but still influential, that of the gypsies (Roma, as they are officially known today): The gypsies influenced the cuisine of Andalucía (region in which Granada, as well as Seville and Malaga are located) and also gave the region its music and dance, which developed into the style known as flamenco. On Friday night, we went to a flamenco show in one of the ¨”caves” in the hilly neighborhood known as Albaycin. This area overlooks the Alhambra, and you get a wonderful view of it and the city beyond at night, and it was where many of the sultans actually lived.
The “cave” was long and narrow. We sat crowded together on benches, drinks in
hand. The flamenco show was mostly for tourists and didn’t last more than about 45 minutes, but it was interesting nonetheless. There were six different dancers – 4 women and 2 men, as well as musicians. Each dancer performed solo, and the others contributed to the music by sitting and clapping out the rhythm, or singing.
Afterward, we were taken on a tour of Albaycin, so I walked its hilly cobblestone streets in a new pair of sandals which are comfortable but not really the best for that type of walking, especially at 11 o’clock at night! The guide we had told us that the area had 27 mosques at one time, although all but one have been demolished and built over. We know this because there are 27 water cisterns in Albaycin that have been preserved. It is necessary for Muslims to wash before they enter a mosque to pray, so these cisterns are built outside each mosque. This area also has an irrigation system leftover from the Arabs, which captures water runoff from the nearby mountains, Sierra Nevada (and yes, they are snowcapped even in July!), and brings down the water through a series of narrow channels that run down the middle of many of the streets. This ensures that Albaycin has never lacked, nor will ever lack, a supply of water.
The Arabs also had a severe but effective system of punishment for thieves and those who would try to cheat the local merchants. The offenders would have their hands cut off and the hands would be displayed on hooks which still remain above the arches where everyone could see them. The Christian conquerors apparently continued that practice for awhile.