A FOREST fire today, sweeping across the slopes of the Sierra Nevada above the house. I stand on the roof and watch two helicopters and two planes bomb the fire as distant sirens scream. It is breathtaking how close to the mountainside the pilots fly before releasing the water. They really are experts . . . Continue reading Forest fire . . .
TURN a sharp corner in Andalucia – and there are many of them – and you might see a bridge dating to the Roman occupation, a fortress built by the Moors, a mediaeval church, a whitewashed village or a soulless retail park. What you don’t see so often are monoliths raised during the Franco era . . . Continue reading Brutal beauty
AMONG the northern toes of the Sierra Nevada, on a hilltop overlooking the city of Granada, stands the Alhambra – the most complete Islamic fortification and royal palace remaining in Europe. Built as a fortress in 889, it was enlarged in the mid-13th Century during the Nasrid dynasty, and after the fall of Islam in Spain, in 1492, became one the residencies of the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. It was eventually abandoned, partially destroyed by Napoleon’s troops, became a haven for the homeless, was rediscovered by European intellectuals and restored to its former glory – and is now Spain’s premier ancient monument and number-one tourist attraction . . . Continue reading Palace of the people
UNFRIENDLY and judgemental faces glower down upon the people of Granada from rooftops, columns and sunlit facades. These are the faces of the city Watchers. They have dwelt among the winds and the pigeons since mediaeval times and harbour little love for the mortals who scamper below. They can be vindictive, malevolent, rancorous and resentful. It is best to wander the streets with eyes averted unless you can summon the confidence to confront and challenge. I have spied the Watchers in many European cities – Krakow has a particularly virulent assemblage. Here in Granada they can be glimpsed by the light of the sun; or by the rays of the moon when – with a scraping of stone and a dribbling of dust – they occasionally change position. The city Watchers possess the scrupulous morals of the artisans who fashioned them and the tyrannical ways of the merchants and clergy whose unsoiled hands paid silver for the toil. They are an antiquity, a remnant of a past world that has survived into the present and will continue into the future. They guard and they condemn. And, occasionally, they act with frightful malice . . . Continue reading Eyes in a Granada sky
I SPOT a wood-burning stove in a junk shop in Lanjaron and decide to buy it because it’s essential that people retain basic skills and remain in control of their lives. You’ll remember this advice in ten year’s time when your Google driverless car breaks down and you haven’t a clue where you are because you binned the road atlas when you purchased a satnav . . . Continue reading A stove odyssey . . .
THE best books are about obsessions. The subject matter is largely irrelevant because the reader can identify with the enthusiasm of the author. Subjects as diverse as the history of typefaces, Edwardian ironmongery, or collecting sugar-cube wrappers become fascinating dimensions hitherto unknown, let alone explored. Obsessions unravelled by the obsessed are intriguing because we can detect telltale signs of ourselves in the text. We recognise traits. We are warmed by the eagerness of a fanatic. So when a man in Norway writes a passionate treatise on the art of chopping and stacking firewood, and we absorb the words he has carefully crafted, we smile because we think: that’s how I feel about renovating my 1967 air-cooled Volkswagen T2 split-screen campervan, or polishing my 1,679 hexagonal ink bottlers, or cataloguing my collection of Oor Wullie annuals. We are warmed, and we smile, because the author has sent us a signal: we are not alone. There are others out there with similar passions. And those passions run deep and ripple against distant shores. We have been rippled . . . Continue reading Norwegians would
I’M reading Gerald Brenan’s South from Granada: Seven Years in an Andalucian Village, an evocative account of the author’s life in southern Spain during the 1920s. Brenan came to Andalucia in 1919 after spending the First World War in less hospitable circumstances on the Western Front. After walking from Granada to the coast, and traipsing through nearly every village in the Alpujarras, Brenan decided to rent a house in the mountain village of Yegen. And there he wrote the diaries from which he later compiled his book, giving us a unique and candid insight into life in rural Spain in the pre-republican, pre-Franco era . . . Continue reading Time and limericks