September 26, 2011
I can hardly believe that we were in Granada less than 2 full days. They were an eventful couple of days where we pushed the driving envelope again, learned about Moorish beauty, and almost lost part of our family.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Granada is known for the Alhambra, a palace/fort complex on a hilltop that was the last Moorish (Islamic) stronghold to fall after 7 centuries of Islamic rule. The year Granada fell? 1492 - an eventful year. I was pleased that the kids knew that this was the date of Columbus’ journey to the Americas. I was further please that they knew the date of the Pilgrim arrival – 1650 – until I realized that Wiley had picked it up from Jon Stewart’s book on America “In sixteen-hundred and twenty-zero, the Pilgrims came with clothes so queer-o”. I guess you take your knowledge however you get it.
Sometimes Susie and I wonder if we are too lenient with our children and other times we wonder if we are too strict. Since we tend to oscillate between these extremes, I am guessing that we have struck an OK balance. I, however, know that we will never hold a candle to mother of King Boabdil, the monarch that oversaw the fall of the Alhambra to the Christians. For context, Granada was all that was left of the Moors. Cordoba had fallen in 1237 and Seville in 1248. Granada had remained for roughly 2 extra centuries, but the writing was on the wall. As King Boabdil retreated, he cried for the city that he was leaving. His mother was with him.
OK moms. Think through what you would say to your child if he or she had just experienced the greatest defeat of his or her life and was weeping. Just for fun, think of two or three different ways you would respond. Got it? Good.
I am willing to bet the bank that none of you took the approach of Mama Boabdil. In his moment of greatest pain, she offered this gem of love and support, “weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.”
Ouch. These days, I see too much false praise for children, even when none is deserved, but this mom makes the Tiger Mom seem like a kitten.
Moving on, I have four things to share:
Driving In Granada, or “Everyone inhale, perhaps Kenny can get thinner”
Our host in Granada left us highly detailed instructions for our arrival and parking. They involved getting the “special” discount so that we would only spend $60 on parking (?!?). Sure, it would also require 2 cabs each way and a lot of schlepping, but these were the instructions. I Googled the address and found driving instructions to our apartment. I sent an email with a simple question, “Can I drop off the bags and most of my family and then go and park?” Her response was surprising to me, “If you can get here – and you arrive between 2 and 6 – you should just park on the street for free.”
So we could a) spend almost $100 in parking and cabs and have to move our stuff awkwardly or 2) spend nothing and have simple logistics. Why was this not her first suggestion? Why would she suggest the first option?
I know understand. First, you must arrive during the 4-hour period in the afternoon or you cannot even enter this part of the city. The entirety of the Albayzin (old city) is restricted by massive steel rods that rise into and out of the streets themselves. I can see that giving people instructions to the Albayzin could easily lead to many frustrated renters if they missed this narrow window.
But her decision to suggest the parking was not just about driving restrictions. It was also about constriction, of the roads themselves. We got into the Albayzin in one of the widest cars ever to enter its cobblestones lanes. I saw something I have never seen before: two lanes traffic on a road that is often only wide enough for one car. This was not just for 5-15 feet at a time. I have seen that. That was not the case here. The street we ultimately had to arrive at was a one-lane, two-way street for over half a mile. The key, from what we could discern, was to honk twice entering any of the narrow sections so that anyone coming the other way will know you are entering. Yet, half a mile is too long to hear this honk. As you might imagine, few cars come on this road. Oh, but a mid-size bus does come regularly, so you really want to time your drive for a time it is not there.
Driving to and through Granada helped me realize what a blood corpuscle must feel like. You start in the aorta (the highway) and then begin to go into ever-narrowing vessels until you get to the tiny capillaries. Welcome to the Albayzin. Actually, this analogy fails on our final street, since there are not human blood vessels that have blood going both ways at the narrowest points. Hmmm. I guess I do not know what a corpuscle feels like after all.
The Alhambra is not to be missed. Let me then share a few thoughts that might help you appreciate how exquisite it is.
Let me start with this fact: we were there for over 5 hours and the kids did not get bored. Think about that.
Tickets are brutal to get, so we had to wake up at 6 AM and leave our place by 6:30 to begin a 40 minute walk to the entrance to assure our place in line when the office opened at 8AM. We left our apartment convinced that we were the only people stupid enough to wake that early on a Sunday to visit a site, even if it is one of Europe’s most famous.
To our shock, we first heard and then saw a large group of people walking the same way we were. I was initially disheartened until I noticed that they were all in their early 20s and one was shirtless and being helped to walk. We were starting Sunday early, they were finishing up Saturday.
So there we were, two groups sharing one road with almost nothing else in common. One group was very loud and had someone fall nastily. The other had been drinking. [Note: sweet Virginia was trying to catch up with me on uneven cobblestones and tripped. She fell hard and briefly screamed. Thus, we were the loud fallers and not the partyers. I love a little irony.]
The Alhambra has a huge fort, a Renaissance Palace, stunning gardens and Moorish palaces.
The fort was impressively perched at the prow of the hillside overlooking the city and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is big and features hints of dungeons, and old city and walls with canon-holes in them.
The Palace of Charles the Fifth was never finished, but is considered the finest example of Renaissance architecture in Spain. While it was nice, this statement says more about the lack of Renaissance architecture in Spain than it does about Charles V’s palace. The most striking aspect of it was its perfect acoustics. Surrounded by a massive two-story circular colonnade, the open courtyard is often the site of concerts and recitals.
The Moorish Palaces were sublime. The carvings, the wood ceilings and the “stalagtites” were all unlike anything that you see anywhere in the western world. Arabic words carved into stone looked like art and gave the rooms a flowing feel.
The rooms were generally not massive. The Moors valued subtlety more than size, so their great palace seem delicate and understated.
In addition to the beauty of the structure, we also noticed the water. It was everywhere. Perhaps because Islam stated in deserts, water takes on a particularly symbolic role. It was also a symbol of power – if you have what is rare, you must have wealth and power. For these reasons, water is ubiquitous in the Alhambra. One space will feature a fountain, another a massive reflecting pool. We saw this foreshadowed at the palaces, but the water took center-stage with the gardens.
The rulers spent more time in their gardens than in the structures, and it shows. It would take almost 30 minutes to walk the gardens as a brisk pace. And these are not the expansive English gardens that involve large spaces. Instead, these gardens are a series of heavily flowered and fountained courtyards that are link together. You know they are spectacular when a 14 year-old boy says that the gardens were his favorite part.
Speaking of Liam, we had some real excitement. If you have been reading this blog, you may know a few important facts about our children. For those of you who do not know, please allow me to share some attributes now. Liam is very focused. We call him the “heat-seeking missile”. Once something is in his cross-hairs, he will pursue it relentlessly. Lately, his goal has been to lobby hourly for a particular computer for when he returns to school next year. You might think “but that is months away, why lobby now”? We might think the same thing.
He and Virginia often have some personality conflicts. They are the most likely to argue or battle. I have documented this as well.
Virginia can be a little absent-minded, especially when she sees beauty and she is talking. The former is not that often, the latter is generally all the time. She is our artist and has taken to keeping a journal with her. While the rest of the kids journal at night in our portable word processors, she makes notes in a little book we bought at the Miro museum in Barcelona. I have loved watching her walk around museums, churches or streets while making quick notes in her book.
While admiring some fish in one of the many pools at the Alhambra, she dropped her notebook into the water. She quickly retrieved it and we began an elaborate process of drying the pages, which involved walking around with all the pages separated. I think this added to her distraction later.
Since we had started early, we all had sweaters and jackets with us. At 6AM, it was 59 degrees. As the day warmed, we started to shed layers. Virginia had a coat and one of Susie’s nice sweaters. She peeled them off at around 10 and was carrying them for most of the day. Until she wasn’t.
Here is where the nature of our children combined to create extra excitement. As we walked through the gardens, Susie asked Virginia to hold her jacket. This prompted Virginia to notice that she no longer had her jacket or the sweater. “Mommy, I do not have my stuff, but I think I know where it is. I think I set it down at the huge fountains.” These fountains were roughly 100 feet back, so Susie said, “go look there. If they are not there, please come straight back. “
Liam – did I mention that he wants a computer? – offered to help. He knows that his relationship with Virginia is something that we would love to see improved. He also knows that improvement in this area increases the chance of getting a computer. He then offered to accompany Virginia. This comforted Susie. What she did not count on was a) Liam did not hear Susie’s instructions to Virginia and b) Liam being Liam. He did not think of his job as “I will keep an eye on my sister every moment for safety”. Instead, he thought “I will find and recover the clothing, thereby pleasing everyone including Virginia. And then I can get my computer.”
They went off. Five minutes past. Ten. Twenty.
It became clear to us that Liam had expanded the search. The Alhambra is perhaps 60 acres in size. Rather then have then within 100 feet, they could now be half a mile away.
The remaining 4 of us broke up into teams with specific meeting times and locations. Terrill and I fairly quickly spotted Liam. Whew! We then noticed a distinct lack of any 10 year-old sisters. “Where is Virginia?”
“She is still looking. I know roughly where she is. I just wanted to come back so that you will not worry.”
Words you never want to hear: ‘I know roughly where she is.’
Remember, Liam had two goals, to find the clothes and please us. His actions were perfectly consistent with both of these. He did not think like a parent. He had talked Virginia out of Susie’s instructions to accomplish these goals.
We never imagined that they would stray beyond the modest location Susie had set.
Meanwhile, Virginia had found a guard and done two things very well. She told them that she was separated from her family (thus prompting lots of walkie-talkie action) and pantomimed ‘jacket’ and ‘lost’. A worker then led her to the Lost and Found where he gave her the lost articles.
Before the guards could find us, Liam found Virginia and brought her back to us. She was beaming – “I found my stuff!” – and we were relieved.
I hope you do not think we are terrible parents. How do you get separated from your child in a foreign country, especially when you send a second child to avoid that very situation?
Well, we are back together. I am thinking about tying the kids together like the children in “Oh Brother, Where Are Thou” to avoid any future excitement.
Here we are all again at sunset. Notice, everyone is here!
In our last few days, we have taken to the Spanish eating schedule. This means lunch at 2 or 3 and dinner after 9:30 or 10. It is strange to eat at 10 and see grandmothers eating on your left and parents with infants to your right. After all of our work to get over our jet lag, we are now finding ourselves back on the schedule we started with when we arrived.
For those of you who know my lovely bride, you might know that her nickname is “Snoozie” to reflect her love of sleep. I was simply delighted to see her enjoying a meal at 11:30, though I do think this a sign of the Apocalypse.