In the cool crystal air of a Granada dawn, I sit on my terrace and write.
Traces of summer snow glimmer on the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The sky above is pale gold deepening into high blue, the first rays already lighting the oak trees on Sabika Hill emerald green.
A breath of mountain breeze curls about my legs, a last sweet lick of mountain cool before the fiercely joyous heat of an Andalucian summer day descends over the valley.
Birds swoop and dance across the sky, calling to each other and singing to the old ochre palaces on the hill opposite. They play an intricate game beneath the bright half moon still white in the sky, hanging on until the blazing sun outshines it. Above the darting swallows and graceful swifts a lone eagle glides on a high invisible current, circling the lush valley and
whitewashed houses, wings outstretched and tilting to catch the subtle breezes of his mountain home. Church bells make slow hollow clangs as they ring in the human day, and the eagle cups his wings on a lone stream high in the sky, soaring out over the valley and above the Generalife gardens until it finally disappears from sight, gliding home to the icy pure peaks and rocky crags of the high places.
A group of early morning tourists stand on the curved parapet of the Torre del Armas in the Alhambra opposite. The glorious Nasrid palaces are not yet open, so they photograph the Albaicin where I live, the white houses and Mudejar tiled belltowers, the walled gardens of pomegranate and fig, lemon and orange, tumbling across the hillside in cascade of sensual prettiness down to the Rio Darro. I wonder if the soft scent of jasmine wafts up the wooded hillside to them as it does to me. I wave at them, and hear the distant shouts of delight as they wave back, cameras clicking. There must be hundreds of photos in albums around the world of a woman wrapped in a sarong writing on a terrace at dawn.
A dog barks and behind me the call to prayer is vaguely audible from the great mosque next to the San Mirador church. It is one of the beautiful juxtapositions of Granada that the call to prayer is sung at the same time the bells of the churches clang. It’s a reminder of the many cultural threads that have interwoven to form the intricate, sensual tapestry of culture and faith, nature and architecture that is Granada.
Only four hours ago the strains of late night summer flamenco were still drifting through the narrow cobblestoned alleyways. There is a flamenco festival running during the hot months, and every night cantaors sing and guitarristas play; sensual bailaoras dance the heartache and passion of flamenco, stamping time past and time present, love and grief, on dusty floorboards and in open plazas throughout the city. In the whitewashed caves of the Sacromonte the soft swish and sharp clapping of the palmas invokes duende, the strange, ephemeral spirit of flamenco which takes possession of a night and turns it into something other, something mystical and transcendental. Flamencos use the word ángel instead, implying a visiting blessing rather than possession. But I like duende. That is how it feels to me, on these summer nights. Like a mischievous Puck has entered the dance, sprinkling the spirit of madness and passion into the night, so that the music evokes something deep and elemental, that makes the velvet night sweetly dangerous and the soul stir to action.
In the still of the morning the flamenco frenzy has gone, but its echo lingers, in the guitars lying discarded on terraces, the burned down candles melting wax in the growing sunlight. Granada sleeps but the birdsong carols last night’s dreams, and as the flowers close against the coming heat, they hold within them the promise of passion, ready to open and release it into the night when evening comes once more.
In a couple of hours the sun will be high and Granada will be alive, the fishtrader in the Plaza Larga yeling good naturedly to the vegetable seller, the gypsies riding their horses through the streets. Old women will sit on low stools outside their doors and peel vegetables, keeping a watchful eye on playing children. Young girls in impossibly high heels and tiny dresses will chatter in excited groups, flicking their long dark hair and eyeing the competition through smoky eyes lined in kohl. Tourists will wander in delighted surprise, wondering why they are booked on a train to Sevilla tomorrow, when they have just found themselves unexpectedly in paradise.
But I will be glad they are leaving, because for those lucky enough to call this amazing city home, Granada is a village and a home, paradise amidst tall protective mountains. It is crystal clear rivers and secret gardens, smooth old stone and delicate curved arches. Music and art, nature and humanity, all entwined together in a somnolent whirl of sensuality and joy, a peaceful retreat from a world with no time to stop and feel the joy within.
And above all it is the wondrous Alhambra, slumbering quietly across from my terrace, watching the unending human dramas unfold below with benign indifference, as it has for a millennium and more.
I look up and see a graceful swift soar straight over my head and across the valley, like an arrow shot from a bow. It glides with unerring direction into a small arched window opposite, and is gone from sight, darting through the mysterious soaring ceilings and graceful curves of the Nasrid palaces, and I think what a magnificent world this is, that a bird can simply fly into one of the greatest buildings ever made, and perch where it should choose.
I think that this is the wonder of Granada, that it brings our dreams to the surface, and allows us to fall in love with them, discover ourselves anew, and bring our most secret hopes into beautiful reality, cradled in this magical valley of three rivers beneath mountains tall.