Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Seventeen. Grenada, Alhambra, and the ghost of Garcia Lorca. Angels, part Four


The Moorish palaces of Alhambra is over a thousand years old. It stands on the top of a hill here in Granada, and is a series of Islamic palaces built for the last Muslim Emirs of Spain. Several hundred years later the Catholic monarchs overran the place, and then it was allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries.

Alhambra

Alhambra

Islamic poets, artists and architects don’t spend a great deal of time on outward appearances, so the inner courtyards, gardens, and facades are really remarkable. Christians could take a lesson from the analogy of inner beauty, come to think of it.

The outside of the Alhambra is kind of boring. But inside?

Gardens constructed for contemplation.

Water everywhere.

Water everywhere.Picture Moorish princesses  dreaming here.Poetry inscribed on the walls to think about.

Rooms with veined windows for the sunlight to gently illuminate.

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It was as if we had traveled backwards in time several months in the calendar. Gardens grew everywhere. We even found roses in bloom.

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The palaces are set high on a hill, with views of the city from all directions. It was spectacular to watch the sun set. 

Yet, there is something eerie about the city of Grenada, and the deserted walkways of the Alhambra.

Perhaps echos of a magnificent civilization that is no more? Perhaps the impermanence of things? Garcia Lorca was shot here in the bloody Spanish Civil war here in the 1930s.

Arguably one of Spain’s most important poets and playwrights, Lorca’s murder in 1936 is matter of controversy here as recently as 2009.

At this road, I am anxious to leave Granada, as it is sad and haunted. Looking for the life of Spain, we walked many narrow alleyways to get away from the larger shops and cafeterias. Here we found Mr. Cortez.

Sr. Cortez, holding my new wooden tea tray, with it's precise Moorish geometric wooden tilework.

Sr. Cortez, holding my new wooden tea tray, with it’s precise Moorish geometric wooden tilework.

He and his son run this tiny little woodshop that makes these wonderful patterned applique wooden boxes, trays and tables. They have a single part time employee, and it was difficult to walk around the stacks of well-crafted inventory.

I watched Faith and the Senor have an animated conversation in Spanish, and the life of the city began to glow again. Grenada is to be found here, in the tiny alleyways and lined faces of Sr. Cortez. Garcia Lorca haunts the libraries and universities, and the history is bloody and sad. But the life if the city is where it usually is to be found, in the faces of it’s people.

 

Chapter Seven: The Coffehouse Angel.

Mom had died earlier that morning. By that time, she needed round the clock care, and thank God she had the foresight to store the funds for such an event.About two oclock that morning, her “awake” care provider heard her make a noise. Not a cough, not a murmur, sort of a noise in her throat. She threw off the lap cover and got off the couch to investigate.

“Carolyn? Are you all right?” April was a gentle soul. She was a widow herself, with several children in their twenties. Truly a unique personality to provide such a service.

“Carolyn? Can you hear me?” She gently tugged on Mom’s nightgown. Mom’s face was still. April ran to the phone and dialed 911. Four and a half minutes later the blazing lights and fire breathing emergency vehicles descended in the driveway. They loaded Mom onto a gurney, oxygen strapped to her face.

The men blazed their way to Saint Marks, a local hospital, where Mom was rushed to through the ER without triage.

Brother John made the terrible phone call.

“Louisa, come to Saint Mark’s. Mom has had a massive stroke” It was three oclock in the morning.

The hollow feeling in my gut reappeared. . This was just to familiar. My sister had made the same same telephone call just eighteen months ago.

“Louisa, Are you awake?Are you understanding what I am saying?”

It was about three thirty by then.

John’s voice broke. “Get in the car now. Mom is on a ventilator, and the doctor’s don’t seem to think there’s much point in doing that, but she can stay on it forever if we want. “ John was openly sobbing now. It’s a terrible thing to hear your brother’s heart break.

I informed the children of what was going on. Thanks be to God they were old enough to stay by themselves.

I gathered them all in my room.

“Children, Nana said for years that she  never wanted anyone to see her when she’s died. She has very likely died now. I am going to the hospital to see her, and I don’t want you to come. “

The girls burst into tears. David Junior sat on the bed, stoic. So sad to have seen so much loss in just eighteen years.

The lonely night was snowy. The road hard, unforgiving. I drove on autopilot.

Nana? Dead? Who would parent me? Who’s the grownup now? Who did I get to go to for support?

Nana was one of a handful of people I knew without a doubt was on my side all the time. Even when I was wrong, I was right. Nana was crochety, opinionated, crabby and full of love for her family from her thinning hair to her arthritic ankles.

I passed a nearby Starbucks.

A ghost of a migraine was forming around my temples. Shit. A migraine. The last thing I needed.

Caffeine! That would help. I pulled in to the store. Thank God it was one of those twenty four hour ones.

I pulled open the door, squinting against the harsh lighting. A bright, cheery barista greeted me. Hundreds of times I had been here, never seen her.

“Hi! What can I I get started for you? “ My gosh, what a greeting so late at night. Or early in the morning. Whatever.

“Grande chai tea, skim milk, steamed extra hot, no water or foam. “

“Great!”She gave me a dazzling smile. “And how’s your day going?”

My day? How’s my day? What to say.  It was four thirty in the morning. Which day?

The truth always works.

“My mother died today.” I could feel my face start to crumple.

The barista stopped what she was doing. Her face took on an unusual glow.

She walked around the counter and put her hands on my shoulders and gave me another beatific smile.“I’m here to tell you something. May I give you a hug? “

“Yes.”

“I ‘m here to tell you that you are loved very much”.

For a moment, I wept, comforted on the shoulder of a stranger.

I got my drink, got in the car and continued the lonely drive. Peace started to creep into my soul.

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Eleven. Who Doesn’t Love the Louvre?


Raise your hand if a piece of artwork has ever truly moved you. I mean really, brought you to tears, made you laugh, made you think or stopped you in your tracks. OK, GO!

Anyone? Anyone at all? No one? Ferris? Ferris Beuller? No, seriously, it’s OK. I never appreciated art until I was forced to take an elective in ‘Art Appreciation’ at DU. I thought it was a fluff course, but it was one of those unexpected game changers.

After that quarter I gained a new appreciation for what we humans need to let our imaginations take flight. Michelangelo, Raphael, and Da Vinci took on a whole new meaning as a very patient professor from DU’s school of Art and Art history explained the meaning of themes, terms and the cultural context of many very important works.

I mean, think about it. Imagine, if you will, life without the constant influx of images and data we have streaming at us every single day of our lives. Imagine, instead, standing in line in Rome to pay your penny to see this:

There are uncountable versions of this scene of Jesus turning the water in to wine at the wedding supper.

There are uncountable versions of this scene of Jesus turning the water in to wine at the wedding supper. Yep, that’s Rachael’s cute little head. 

I get the biggest kick out of this one though, because if you really study it, you notice all kinds of interesting details. Like this one, a detail of Jesus’ face:

A couple of things. First off, he just seems bored silly to me! Secondly, a brunette, fair-skinned Jesus? HA!

A couple of things. First off, he just seems bored silly to me! Secondly, a brunette, fair-skinned Jesus? HA!

If you Google  this Raphael, and get a bigger and better shot, you’ll notice that he set this “Water into Wine” picture in the context of 15th century gentry. I find this to be hilarious. On the left, are all sorts of bejewelled upper class. On the right, a few peons are allowed at the table. To Jesus’ right, you see Mother Mary, presumably dropping the hint that the guests are complaining the bar is running dry.

All of his works were commissioned, of course, so the man had obligations. He had to make his patrons look good, and make Jesus seem like part of the nobility. As I went through the exhibition with the girls, the various versions of Jesus really jumped out at me. One, a gentle looking boy with a staff. Another, a very wise looking baby gazing adoringly at Mary. (How come mine never gazed adoringly at me? Wait, no, they did if I had a cookie in my hand.) Another was even blonde!

Ha! Can you imagine? In America, the real flesh and blood Jesus would be stopped at the airport, pulled into an interview room, strip searched and profiled as an Arab terrorist. I mean, really.

Still though, you had to give it to these men. Typical Italians at the time travelled very little. They had few diversions, and devotion to Jesus was chief among them. Looking at these marvelous pictures no doubt gave them conversation for weeks. Here’s one that especially blew my mind.

This thing is a TAPESTRY. Incredible! It's called 'The Sacrifice at Lystra' and shows when Peter and Paul heal a cripple. The passersby mistake them for gods and try to offer them sacrifices. They get miffed.

This thing is a TAPESTRY. Incredible! It’s called ‘The Sacrifice at Lystra’ and shows when Peter and Paul heal a cripple. (Far left corner) The passersby mistake them for gods and try to offer them sacrifices. They get miffed, they want to give the glory to God, not men. Right on. 

I can hardly imagine that. Right beside this enormous piece of fabric which decorated one of the apartments at the Vatican, was Raphael’s ‘cartoon’ of this piece. A ‘Cartoon’ is basically the painting, then given to the weavers, who wove this painting into a piece of material. With thread and things. I can hardly wrap my mind around that kind of skill.

Raphael, was, well, just terrific.

Raphael, was, well, just terrific.

15th century marble sculpture just fascinates me. I think the only thing more beautiful is the human soul. And this goofy trio, of course.

15th century marble sculpture just fascinates me. I think the only thing more beautiful is the human soul. And this goofy trio, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raphael was a genial, popular painter who had a large studio and a devoted following. He supposedly died of a fever gained from too many (eh-hem) ‘amorous pursuits’ at 37. That was youngish, even 500 years ago!

Master Da Vinci painted the cheerful Lisa Giocondo, or La Jaconde, and she seemed almost anticlimatic, compared to these giant rooms full of master artworks.

She seems like a cheerful sort.  Apparently she was happily married, and had a child before this picture was commissioned.

She seems like a cheerful sort. Apparently she was happily married, and had a child before this picture was commissioned.

This is the entrance to the Louvre. At first glance, it looks grotesquely out of place. But once inside, it all seems to work.

This is the entrance to the Louvre. At first glance, it looks grotesquely out of place. But once inside, it all seems to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, though, it was an exhausting, but wonderful break.

Part of the point of Sabbatical in a Teacup is to find out what there is in the world that fascinates me still. A day at the Louvre is really one of the most relevant things for a person like me.

See, when I am in my usual environs, I notice things. I’ve been a teacher for a long time now, and things like distances have  changed during the 26 years I’ve been teaching.

Distance between ignorance and knowledge. It seems to be harder to get kids to really ‘know’ something now. I mean to internalize and benefit by something, like a piece of artwork.

Distance between loved ones is another. It’s hard to hold someone’s hand if it has an iphone in it, for example.

Paradoxically, distance between cultures has both shortened and lengthened. I can call China right now for pennies. I can step outside onto the Rive Gauche right now and find an all night cafe and write.

But no one will bother me with the impenetrable screen up. I will be left alone, and the distance between me and that grandmotherly French woman at the table next to me will seem enormous.

But put away the screens, and even leave my purse at the hotel. Wrap up in a pashmina scarf, or three, and stick some Euros in my pocket. Grab a kid or two, and see if we can’t make ourselves understood to the French cabbie.

After a few minutes of pidgin French, an elderly gentleman cabbie slowly explained to me, in both English and French, that he could take me to the Quartier Latin for a cinema, and that he had family in Colorado Springs, and what was the capital of Colorado, and did I like Paris.

Poof! Distance eradicated. I think I see a dissertation in there somewhere.

To be continued. Train to Nice tomorrow.

Much love,

Victoria