Friday, May 29, 2009

Serenity in Sacromonte

I trudge up the tortuously irregular streets and steps in Sacromonte, the cave neighborhood inhabited by gypsies set high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Granada. I feel the blazing Andalusian sun browning my arms as I climb past rows of small green Seville Orange Trees heavy with sweet-smelling fruit.

I’d forgotten what summer felt like living in the melancholy of a wet and lonely Barcelona winter – the freedom of bare limbs. I’m warm, even sweaty, and can feel every stone jutting from the path through the thinning soles of my boots. My right shoulder throbs from carrying the overstuffed Zara bag that I’ve nearly worn out in only two months.

I don't seen anyone until a woman with waist-length hair and a flowing dress walks up the road. Suddenly I have the urge to buy a Moroccan cuff and dangly earrings. That’s how I feel – like air blowing in a skirt and naked toes, like gently tinkling jewelry and warmth on tanned skin.

The breeze blows the intense perfume of amethyst-colored wisteria hanging over whitewashed walls, bringing on a wave of nostalgia. The familiar smell takes me back to Charleston and my daily runs past the wrought-iron gates guarding the fragrant gardens and mansions thick with 19th-century Southern history.

Here in El AlbaicĂ­n, this old Moorish quarter, blue-and-white ceramic squares name streets. Lush green plants spread over low bleached buildings. The occasional motorcycle or car zooms along the tight path, forcing me to press myself against the stone wall guarding the mountain’s edge. I hear recorded Flamenco music softly humming from the open door of an empty bar with fluorescent lights. Its vibrations blunt this quietness, this emptiness. I wish I could hear real Flamenco – spontaneous and passionate, deep from the basement of the soul.

The sense of joy and tranquility, of being completely content with the here and now of this moment, washes over me with every mild current of mountain air and aching step. I realize how far I am from the due dates and to-do lists that once constantly flowed through my mind, the endless cycle of exams and presentations. I’m free from all the anxieties that dominated my former academic life. Like the final mediation stage ending good yoga class, I want to capture this elated peace and live in it forever.

I’ve experienced this serenity before – in the San Cristobal province of the Dominican Republic, trekking through tropical forest led by a troop of barefoot children munching on the mangoes and sugar cane they always fed us; at the summit of a cactus garden in the Jujuy desert of northern Argentina, basking in the silence of the wind while gazing out at rainbow mountains; and 16,000 feet above sea level outside Cuzco, Peru, crammed on a bus against Quechuas in colorful woolen skirts with braided hair and babies on their backs as we wound up through the cloud-swirled Andes mountains.

Now I look out across Granada below in the valley to La Alhambra palace. Built on a hilltop and set against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks, the 11th century Muslim masterpiece is worthy of Ali Baba or Sinbad, its Generalife fountains and gardens rivaling one of the seven Koranic heavens.

This is the bliss explorers seek. Nearly seven months in Spain and it has finally climaxed – that overdue traveler’s rush – deep in an ancient Arabic corner of southern Spain, so far away from the mountains of Appalachia or the coasts of Carolina. Should I cancel my return flight to the States? Maybe I should move here, teach English, get an apartment. I belong here, wallowing in sunshine and inhaling wisteria high on a holy mountain under a canopy of blue sky.


  1. hey! I just came over from Matador, and really like your blog. But what about Charleston? I've never been, I'm sure it has tons of interesting stuff to show for those of us who've never been there!

  2. sigh... your writing is just so good. makes me feel sad it's so good. also it inspires me.


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