Anyone who really wants to understand the magic of Granada should read this book. It combines the history of a city, of al-Andalus, its art, music, philosophy and poetry with the story of an American family moving into a house in the city’s Albayzín.
The author’s description of the delighted reaction of his new neighbours to his small daughter, and their welcoming generosity, mirrors exactly our experiences as newcomers in rural Andalucía. There is a charm about the people here, an old-fashioned courtesy and fascination with strangers, which the author also describes in Granada.
At times I wished for a little more about modern-day Granada and less of the history [this has the feel of an academic book] but it is written with an easy poetic style and is a broad introduction to Moorish Spain. It is a rich and complicated story which, when known, aids understanding of today’s Andalucía.
Click here for more about Steven Nightingale’s books.
‘Granada, A Pomegranate in the Hand of God’ by Steven Nightingale [UK: Counterpoint]
My copy of this classic was bought in the gift shop at the Alhambra in Granada and has a beautiful aubergine-coloured cover. It is a special edition to mark the 175th anniversary of the first publication of the American writer’s stories. Irving was a writer and diplomat, lodging in rooms at the beautiful Moorish palace. This book is a collection of stories and folklore that he collected during his time at the Alhambra, delightful tales of lost treasure, lovelorn princesses and brave soldiers. Irving wrote at the time of his fears that his writing was insubstantial: “How unworthy is my scribbling of the place.” My favourite tale is that of the mason, who is taken blindfold by a priest in the middle of the night to build a vault underneath a fountain at a secret destination. He labours for a number of nights to build the vault, finally helping the priest to load heavy urns into the secret space. He is paid each night with a piece of gold. The mason keeps the secret for many years, until one day he is asked by a curmudgeonly old man to do some repair work on an old property previously inhabited by a miserly priest who died suddenly. There are rumours of ghosts and the clinking of coins at night, and no new tenant can be found. The mason recognises the fountain, offers to live in the house rent-free and repair it for the owner. The mason becomes one of the richest men in Granada, and the clinking of coins is only heard in daylight from that time on.
5 to remember
una copia – copy
el clásico – classic
la edición – edition
hermoso/a – beautiful
el escritor – writer
Puente Nuevo in Ronda
I like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. Victoria Hislop’s re-telling of the Spanish Civil War in ‘The Return’ made me want to read more history books about the period. Before we came to Spain I knew little about the Civil War. If pressed, I would quote only Picasso’s Guernica, the death of Lorca, and George Orwell fighting with the International Brigades. That, and Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the film of Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. So ‘The Return’ added a new layer to my understanding of Andalucía’s experience in the war and particularly of Granada. The legacy is there, if you look for it. Even in modern-day Malaga, evidence of the savage bombing of the port can be seen in the ugly apartment blocks. Thankfully the Old Town, catedrál and Alcazaba survived reasonably unscathed. It’s impossible to visit Ronda, as we do weekly for the supermarket shop, without seeing the Puente Nuevo and shuddering at the memory of the 512 suspected Nationalists who were marched off the bridge into the Tajo, the gorge, in the first month of the war. Qué tan brutal es! The atrocity is said to be the inspiration for a similar scene in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Hemingway would have known the story, he and Orson Welles were frequent visitors to Ronda for the bull-fighting. Both sides in the war committed unaccounted-for atrocities. Even after Franco’s death in 1975 many people did not discuss the war in what was an unofficial pacto de olvido, a pact of forgetting. There are tales today of Andalucían villages still split by Republican/Nationalist sympathies and modern-day incomers innocently putting their foot in it. Thankfully that has not happened to us. But the frequent small memorials at the roadside are 21st century reminders of men marched out of villages, executed and their bodies dumped. Spain is still coming to terms with its past. In 2007 the Socialist Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero passed the Law of Historical Memory condemning General Franco’s uprising and dictatorship, banning symbols and references to the regime on public buildings, and ordering the removal of monuments to Franco. Many roadside remains of the executed have been located and reburied. Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Return’ makes the subject more alive than many history books.
5 to remember
la guerra – war
el libro – book
la historía – history
la película – film
el supermercado – supermarket
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Reflecting on a book: THE RETURN by @VicHislop via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-1k #books #Spain