far too much writing, far too many photos

I’ve been negligent, I know, but I’ve had good excuses.

Main excuse: the fast trip to Granada, which turned out to be strange, fascinating, a bit wild. A fine city to seek out if you’re looking to eat well. And endearingly, unbelievably inexpensive. True to its reputation, when you go to tapas joints and order liquid refreshment, the drinks come with free food — sandwiches, platters of tapas or calamari. It’s hard to imagine how the businesses survive, though the night we went they were all packed, and maybe that explains it.

And La Alhambra? Spectacular. One of the most impressive, most affecting places I’ve ever been, even overrun with Easter Week tourists.

Got back to Madrid yesterday, have been organizing and packing ever since for the return to the States. Which happens, er, tomorrow. I imagine I’ll be settled in by Wednesday, but am not sure if an ISP will be plugged in at that time. Will be back online as soon as that part of life is once again in place.

Spring continues here, as sunny, warm and user-friendly as one could reasonably want. I can only hope that spring’s arrival in Vermont will not be too sluggish this year.

So. Back midweek. Be well.

[Author's note, 11/22/05 -- That is one skimpy-ass description of the trip to Granada. Understandable, I guess, given how much was going on at the time. But also, on the other hand, symptomatic of the way I'd begun holding back on information, and therefore pretty lame.

A motley group made the drive south, spread out between two vehicles, one rented, one not. A 20-something intercambio turned friend named Marta and her sweetie, a tall, intelligent, slightly strange 20-something male (French? Swiss? something) and his quiet, much stranger brother, along with a gay, slightly older friend of Marta's from Santander in the north of Spain (owner of one of the expedition's vehicles), and Sam, the Belgian friend mentioned in recent entries.

A goofy blend of humans, with strange chemistry. Once again, me the oldest in the bunch, receiving weird, not very friendly vibes from Marta's gay friend, a dance teacher and owner of one of the cars. Why? Who knows. At one point, I lay in the cramped back seat of his vehicle, eyes closed, listening to conversation between him and Sam. A short time later, I asked about something he'd mentioned in that conversation, he had no idea what I was talking about, his tone suggesting I was out of my fucking mind. Why? Who knows. And doesn't matter -- everyone else was fine. Least I think everyone else was fine -- the brother of Marta's sweetie hardly said a word the entire time, no telling what was going on there.

The ride south: fairly smooth, fairly rapid, especially given the heavy traffic, Madrid emptying out as people bolted for Holy Week vacation/observances. Accommodations being scarce in that part of the world during these holidays, a multi-bed room had been found outside the city, in a nondescript hotel tucked away in suburban streets. We checked in, retired to the room, assigned beds. The TV got cranked, most programming either news or coverage of Easter week religious processions in various locations around AndalucĂ­a -- somber, heavily attended, large, elaborate floats lurching slowly along packed streets (borne by teams of the faithful in metaphoric re-enactment of the carrying of the cross), brass bands playing solemn numbers in accompaniment. Outfits worn by many in the processions looking to be exact duplicates of apparel worn by those mavens of fashion, the Ku Klux Klan -- something that gives pause to many Americans on first view until you realize these processions have been around far longer than the Klan, that the American weirdos probably appropriated the outfits. One difference: the Spanish version often comes in eye-catching colors -- purples, deep blues -- while the American cracker version generally came, predictably, in white, white and more white.

Post-settling-in, we headed into Granada. One of the group -- Marta or her dance-teacher friend -- knew local folk, we hooked up with them, went to a local joint for something to drink/eat. A popular local joint, crowded enough that we had to thread our way through, settling at a table in a side room. The drill: order liquid refreshment -- doesn't matter what it is -- free food comes in accompaniment. Everyone ordered something to drink, when they showed up, two big baskets of fried calamari followed quickly. Calamari: not my thing, but I appreciated the management's good will. The crowd grew during our time there, we squeezed our way back through, went to a different place, more of a restaurant than a joint. Packed with families and friends out for a meal. Same routine: we ordered drinks, they materialized along with two platters of sandwiches. Good sandwiches. I found myself thinking I could get used to living like that.

Returned to the hotel at some point, minus Marta's dance-teacher friend, who spent the night with friends in Malaga, an hour away. Next morning, we all rendezvoused in Granada for the local version of breakfast -- juice, espresso, toast with various spreads (olive oil, tomato, like that). Left the cars parked in that section of town, grabbed taxis, the driver of the cab I found myself in an exuberant, effusive type who filled us in on some local restaurants, describing the meal he had at one as 'de puta madre!' (essentially, 'fucking great!'), the first time I'd heard that expression used in real life. The event of the day: a field trip to La Alhambra, Granada's big tourist draw, once a palace of sultans and center of culture. A huge, beautiful complex atop a bluff -- extensive gardens off to one side, buildings off to the other.

The taxi ride let us off nearby, we made the hike uphill, found ourselves in gardens once owned by sultans -- lovely, meticulously cared-for. An intimate gathering, just us and countless Easter week tourists, the place so striking, the view from just about any spot so stunning, that the number of people about simply didn't matter.

Late in the day, we managed to weasel our way into the tour of one of the two palaces, it turning out to be the kind of place for which words like 'bewitching' get trotted out. (Including being dragged through the strangely incongruous Washington Irving room, me with no idea that a writer so classically of the Hudson Valley had passed time in this part of the world, much less helped spark La Alhambra's restoration through his writings about it.)

Daylight waned, we wandered down into the city, walked narrow winding streets, found our way up a neighboring hill to an overlook with a spectacular nighttime view of La Alhambra. Plenty of fellow-gawkers about, both tourists and natives, the stereo from one carload of local teenagers blaring flamenco and hip-hop tunes. Found a restaurant with Arabic food, ate well. And on the way back to the car, stumbled across three separate Easter processions moving slowly through a central business district, their paths criss-crossing. Stopped to investigate, the experience completely different from watching small, flat televised images. A window into a kind of Catholicism that growing up in that religion had never shown me. (Not that it called to me, mind you, but it allowed a glimpse of the emotion at its core.)

The floats -- large, elaborate, enormously heavy -- were carried by teams of bearers flanked by a small support team, all led by a person with a staff -- a coxswain, essentially. Folks wearing the KKKesque outfits preceded and followed the floats, a band brought up the rear, playing somber, emotional numbers, a kind of music that felt to me like a distant cousin to New Orleans jazz. (Same instrumentation, same overflow of emotion.) The processions moved along at a slow, steady pace, the speed and gait dictated by what the float-bearers could manage. Every 100 or 150 feet, it all came to a half, poles taking the weight of the float while the bearers caught their breath, the music falling silent, the only sound that of people in the crowd talking quietly. After two or three minutes, the coxswain marshalled the float-bearers, coordinating their resumption of the float's weight with a three-count, the crowd calling out encouragement, applauding when the float was again borne aloft and the bearers resumed their slow movement forward. I don't know how it comes across here, but it's an emotional event, packed with feeling and input of all kinds.

We spent close to an hour there, watching two of the three processions, Sam taking a mountain of photos. And at some point we drifted back to the car, returned to the hotel, retired to our respective beds, me sleeping hardly at all. Sam had agreed to return to Madrid with me the next morning -- me with work to do, feeling the pressure of the looming return Stateside -- we got up and out early, driving north along nearly-empty highways. We made it to back to the capital around midday, the barrio quiet, parking spaces everywhere (not the usual state of affairs). Pretty much as soon as I set foot back in the piso, I found myself swept up in time's surging movement forward -- packing, traveling, finding myself suddenly back in cold, later winter Vermont. All of it feeling slightly unreal, though undeniably happening.

And life moved on.]

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