Saturday, November 6, 2010

Days 25, 26 & 27: Battered Senses

In the words of Malcolm Fraser, life wasn’t meant to be easy. Thankfully he didn’t say that life wasn’t meant to be beautiful, as the last forty eight hours have been an explosion of exceptional beauty, clarity and joy. It’s been an absolute barrage on all of my senses – nothing’s been left out – sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste (and even my strangely tuned sixth sense has had a ball). Being accepting of this has been a complete joy. Life’s taken on an otherworldly feel to it – reality is a place I’ll go back to soon – until then I’ll just let my senses do the living. It’s pretty cool, to be honest. I’m not sure I like reality any more – I’d rather live like this for a bit.

There have been too many highlights over the last two days, from twenty four hours of speaking English, to witnessing the splendour of the Alhambra, to taking in a Turkish bath, to witnessing rites, to meals of bliss.

Yeah, life wasn’t meant to be easy – but I think that every so often, everybody should feel like this.

I’ve made three starts at writing this, not able to put the words together to say what I’ve been thinking. First attempt was done in the courtyard of my Granada Hotel. It was the only place I could get a decent internet connection. Tough life, huh! It just wasn’t the place to write. I made an attempt on the train to Seville, but between the snoring Belgian behind me and entertaining a couple of Spanish kids with the fact I had a “kanguru” in my bag, not much writing got done.

On arriving in Seville I was told that there was only WIFI available in the lobby, but my room being above it means I get an okay connection and due to one too many sangrias, my fingers went awol and I lost all I wrote.

Mind you, it’s given me time to think about things. Not being able to write has provided some much needed contemplation time. How do you describe some of the best days you’ve had in ages? How can you tell about the barraging of the senses and what it feels to be overcome by all of this? The last few days has been one of sensory overload – from taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight, that and my peculiarly tuned sixth sense have all gone through the wringer in a very good way.

I didn’t know Spain would do this to me. It’s marvellous. The US was fabulous in its austerity and earnestness. The Netherlands was marvellous in its quaintness and order. This is a whole other world. A country of fire and passion and spice, mixed in with a decent reverence to tradition – but which tradition? Which belief? It all mixes into one and you get modern Spain. Yes, sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating the feeling of “Why don’t you fix this?” but then again, this is a country that has seen the likes of some of the most brutal regimes to date – maybe they rightly deserve to hang back and have a bit of fun.

Granada was fun. I don’t come to many places with expectations, but I’ve had so many people hype up Granada that it was hard not to. It has a wonderful vibe to it. Some of this, in part, is due to the large student population that overtakes most of the town and its old buildings. The other is that this town knows it can’t live up to the glory that sits above it in the form the Alhambra. It’s got this love me or leave me feel about it, with its narrow lanes crowded in by tall buildings, the slightly grungy feel and a very incongruous cathedral plonked in the centre of it.

The streets got to me. I call them kid cricket streets – semi-pedestrianised, only few cars dare to go down these narrow lanes and most people walk in the centre of the street. When one does pass, the cry of “car!” goes up, and people slowly move to the side of the road – just like it was when you were a kid playing cricket in the street.

I have to mention the cathedral. Knowing that I had the Alhambra to do the following day, I had a poke around the streets before my Turkish bath. Nowhere near as atmospheric or impressive as Toledo, it has the feel of being plonked right in the middle of the city as a sign of Catholic might. Looking at the history of the place, it may be the reason why the beautiful, but austere building is nestle about these tiny streets. Some of the most famous kings and queens of Spain rest in a chapel off to the side of the building - that part is impressive, but this cathedral left me with a feel of it trying too hard.

The Turkish bath was a guilty pleasure. Nestled in the back streets you walk into this old wooden door into a wonderfully smelling reception. You’re told what you need to do in reasonable English and proceed to the change rooms, where you disrobe, throw on your swimmers and enter this dimly lit, evocatively smelling, cavernous room in which seven pools are located, ranging in temperature from hot bath to effing-cold-I’m-not-a-sodding-iceberg! The trick is to spend about ten minutes in each pool – just relaxing. A decadent, guilty, glorious hour and a half. The sessions are mixed, hence the bathers and there are massage services on offer, which I took up and had Miguel give my back and legs a stern work over. Brilliant! I don’t think I’ll be able to smell rose, sandalwood and pine in the same way again. It’s been the most relaxing two hours of my holiday to date.

Then there’s the Alhambra. Its beauty moved me to tears. Rather than have my guidebook or an audio guide at the ready, I chose to drink this in – I can come back and learn about it later on google. Oh my. This is Europe’s version of the Taj Mahal. Absolutely incredible! The complex of fortresses, gardens and palaces is extensive, and some of the most beautiful works I’ve ever witnessed. You just want to amble slowly, in silence and take all of the majesty into your soul. I loved every minute of the six hours I spent up here.

I can't put word to this. I've tried. It's just too beautiful. Nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains with their snow coverd peaks, this is just a piece of perfection. Can't say more than that.

Making the day go faster too was a couple I met on the miracle bus on the way up there. (Miracle bus you ask – a European phenomenon – local buses that really do perform miracles getting you up the dodgy roads, cliff tops and narrow lanes – and miraculously get you there in one piece.) Rosemary and Colin, a couple from Melbourne, travelling around for six weeks while she’s on long service leave. I think they were pleased to have somebody to talk to as much as I was. Rosemary and I had a lot of similar interests, Colin was just a treat. He got us to sit down for fifteen minutes in the Generalife Gardens and just watch. He’s a wonderful old soul, with a childish sense of humour, knocking on every door he went past and pathologically crashing people’s photos. It was also lovely, just for a day, not to have to struggle with Spanish for just a few hours.

It was also nice to pay forward all the lessons that Georgy and Thom taught me – the menu of the day, a few language tips etc. We parted with the hope that we meet up back in Melbourne.

I’d arranged to meet Thom and Georgy before they took the late train back to Seville and with a bit of time to kill I meandered around  the Arab quarter of the town, already overwhelmed by the sights of the day. I stumbled across this small church with an open door. Of course I went in. What I found was a simple chapel for Spanish standards. An iron grille separated the main part of the church from the alter, a firmly locked gate clearly stated ¸”Keep out!” Behind the grill, a nun, dressed head to toe in white, veiled like a bride, silent, penitent, silently prayed in front of the later. The chapel was silent. Is sat and watched her for a while. There was a scurrying to the side of the church, another nun in the same get up came to replace her. The woman was hunched over, obviously older, under the veil of pure white. She scraped a chair over the alter, prayed on her knees for a few minutes, before sitting on the chair – obviously no longer able to manage the time on her knees on the hard, marble floor. I left them to their prayers – awestruck at their devotion.
And now I’m in Seville, with a bit of a hangover. I got in during the afternoon and had a bit of a wander. Found what I discovered after was a legendary tapas bar and had one of the best meals I’ve had here to date. The Spanish omelette with almond sauce and bowl of potatoes with tomato with herbs, all washed down with sangria. Had to waddle back for a nana nap after that... Thom and Georgy are still in Spain and are heading off to Morocco tomorrow, so we met up for dinner at nine, the normal time to eat around here (actually it’s a bit early...) , and once again wandered the back streets and found a small restaurant. Garlic prawns, a spiced mix of spinach and chick peas, some chorizo and this stuff called Aqua de Sevilla, (a bit of a brutal mix of cream, rum, sparkling wine, spices and pineapple juice) we traipsed home via an ice cream shop – happy. We’ll do some flamenco tonight as part of our last night in each other’s company.

It's been such a wonderful few days. Every sense of mine is happy.

All I can say is that Spain has taught me time and time again, all you have to do sometimes is slow down, listen feel. And occasionally look up.

Pand xx


white nectarine said...

Beautifully said! I agree with your sentiments of sitting & drinking it in. I did exactly the same when I was there. When I am reborn I want to come back as a Spaniard! Wrong time of year for you but I *still* remember the best strawberries of my life eaten in Spain, and the best cafe con leche. Ahhh the sense of taste. Certainly one that shouldn't be neglected on a tour of the continent ;)

Kath Lockett said...

Lovely.... just lovely.... I'm so happy for you, Pandora and thank you for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...

Surprised you'd find a restaurant open already at 9.
Be good