“A sigh isn’t just a sigh. We inhale the world and breathe out meaning. While we can. While we can.” Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh.
It would be impossible to count how many times I’ve told the story of Boabdil, the last Nasrid King of Granada or Garnata al Yahud; Granada of the Jews. There are many legends and stories connected to Abdullah Mohammed Xll, the man who handed over the keys of the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula to Isabel and Fernando in 1492. He referred to these keys as the “keys to paradise”. As he left the city of Granada to go into exile to the Alpujarras (southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range) he paused at a mountain pass which is now named, The Sigh of the Moor, and shed tears over ending of 800 years of of Muslim rule. His Mother, Aixa, who was with him on this journey into exile said, “Do not weep as a woman for what you could not defend as a man.” Hence, the legend of the tears of Boabdil.
We have a dessert in Granada named after this legend. It is called “Lágrimas de Boabdil”. This dessert, with an obvious Moorish/Jewish influence, is unfamiliar to most people but they serve my favorite version at the restaurant next to my house. It has a buttery almond base topped with carmelized crunchy almonds and a raspberry glaze. It pairs well with a local red wine from the Señorio de Nevada winery.
Boabdil’s tears are understandable to anyone who has been to Granada. Not only did handing over Granada to the Catholic Monarchs signify the end to one of the most important examples of religious tolerance, Boabdil was forced to leave his home and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Washington Irving speaks well of this in his last paragraph of Tales of the Alhambra, and I can also share this sentiment as I have been unable to live anywhere else for the past 25 years.
Some of my favorite coastline in the Basque Country is between Bilbao and San Sebastian on the Cantabrian sea. Zarauz is a relaxing village that comes to life in the summer offering excellent food and one of the longest beaches along the Cantabrian sea. Last year we spent a few days in the nearby fishing town of Getaria and walked the 3 mile seaside walk to Zarauz a few times to enjoy the beach and to dine at Karlos Arguiñano, a restaurant owned by the famous television chef. The walk between the two towns is right along the Northern Route of the Camino de Santiago. We fell in love with the rhythm of Zarauz and decided to spend a few nights there in a hotel and returned again this summer with the van.
Last year we stayed in a hotel right in the main square and there was a protest going on about the attempt to close one of the local bars due to political reasons. In the Basque Country there are bars called “Herriko Tavernas” where members of the Basque Nationalist organization meet. They are also just regular bars with excellent pintxos. The Spanish Government is trying to close them down. The protest consisted of the signing a proposition, selling t-shirts and live music.
One of our favorite bars, also in the main square, has a great display of pintxos. Everyday at 10 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. the bar was quickly covered in various types of Tortilla (spanish omelette). Some are sliced in half and layered with different fillings like crab salad, ham and cheese or tuna salad with piquillo peppers. Others are prepared with potato and onion, chorizo and peppers, or any mixture of fresh vegetables. The choices are endless.
The classic Pinxto, which should be eaten in one big bit, is the “Gilda”. Named after Rita Hayworth as “Gilda”, this pintxo is spicy, salty and green! An olive, a spicy pickled pepper and a cured anchovy are what you get on this long toothpick. Whether you are in Zarauz or any other bar in the Basque Country you can always find a “Gilda” surrounded by many other plates of art that are prepared to touch all of our senses.
Everyone who has visited Madrid has seen, photographed or met up with friends at the famous Bear and Madroño Statue. A cute little bear trying with his paw to grab a bit of this unusual and fairly unknown fruit. This symbol, along with the seven stars that have been known to represent either the Ursa Major Constellation or seven castles that used to surround Madrid, make up the Coat of Arms of this capital city. There are many different versions about why the bear and tree also became part of the Coat of Arms. Some say it is the symbol of possession and power. My favorite interpretation so far was one that my sister Denise was given late one night in a bar in Madrid. Something about bears molesting trees. Anyhow, I would imagine that for most visitors this statue in the Puerta del Sol is their first and last contact with a Madroño Tree. But, they can be found all over the country.
The other day we went for a walk with friends near the Alhambra. We eventually found ourselves wandering through the Carmen de los Martires. “Carmenes” in Granada are typical homes with beautiful garden areas. Sometimes Granada is referred to as The City of Carmenes. This particular Carmen is very large and open to the public at certain hours during the day. There are beautiful views of the city, extravagant gardens and even peacocks. It is the perfect place to enjoy peace and quiet or read a book. With three kids in tow we had less peace and quiet but we did enjoy the views and had fun tasting the funny fruit off the Madroño trees. I heard once that if you eat too much of this fruit it can actually intoxicate you. We didn’t have time for that but it was fun to taste.
Luna and I walked home the other night……at sunset. Sometimes I have moments of bliss in this city. My Granada……the part of it that has always been a part of me, and always will be. There are places that I walk by everyday that are as familiar as my own breathe. Graffiti, the smell of jasmine and the old gentleman sitting on the bench.
el niño de las pinturas
Sometimes the beauty of the Sierra Nevada silences me. I forget it is there. Then, I look up as it is whispering Good Night. With the last traces of snow, its magic casts a shadow over the city.
Granada is small enough that while I’m sitting having a coffee, a friend suddenly shows up on her bike unexpectedly. People recognize me wherever I go, whether we met yesterday or years ago. But, you can also hide in its cracks and crevices. Under a tree in the Alhambra, in a hidden cafe or bar, or sitting on a rock near the river.
I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. One of them.