Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Andalusian Paradise

Some argue that Granada is Spain’s one must-visit city.
On one of its surrounding hilltops sits a remarkably preserved medieval Arabic quarter, El Albaicín, its white buildings draped in amethyst-colored wisteria that leave the mountain air heavy with their scent. Gitano (gypsy) men from the adjacent Sacramonte cave quarter speed through the narrow alleyways on motorcycles while simultaneously waling flamenco ballads. (Some of the gypsy population still does live in the caves -- the few grottoes that haven’t been converted into flamenco dinner-theatres and flashy watering holes.)

In the city’s sun-drenched squares masses of dread-locked hippies congregate to sell their hemp handicrafts. Crowds enjoy tapas and sangria out on terraces in the city’s lively, flower-filled plazas lined with lush with green orange trees. A walk down into the colorful Little Morocco district leads to on-trend Middle-Eastern style tea rooms and hookah bars beside small North African shops overflowing with dangling earrings and leather satchels.

But the soul of Granada is deeper than its atmospheric charm and sunshine. Atop the hilltop across from El Albaicín lies essence of the city, La Alhambra palace-fortress. Built under Moorish rule, it could possibly be hailed sensuous building in all of Europe. Set against a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains, this is a palace of harems and poetry, of sultans and battles. Its flourishing Generalife gardens evoke comparisons to paradise, while its intricate Islamic architecture and serene fountains could serve as a set for a scene from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Indeed, Granada’s allure induced the most content moment of my seven-month stay in Spain. While sitting at a sunny outdoor table at a Lebanese restaurant in a corner of Little Morocco, dipping hunks of pita into red-pepper and crushed walnut m’hamara and yogurt cucumber tzatziki in between bites of rice wrapped in grape-vine leaves and stuffed eggplant, I sighed, "Why can’t every day in Spain be like this?"

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