SOMETIMES I wish I’d been a stonemason engaged in restoring cathedral spires, or a potter shaping clay into useful and attractive objects. Or a bookbinder, or a crafter of fine leather, or a cabinetmaker – someone with a skill who can gather raw materials in his hands and fashion them into items that possess beauty. I feel a bit like that today when I visit a weaver’s workshop in the Alpujarran village of Pampaneira, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain . . .
We have visitors staying; and one of them, Sue, knows all about weaving and looms and warp and shuttles, and all that stuff, and is keen to impart her knowledge. I listen attentively as we walk about the workshop, though I must admit I find the process a complicated business and most of the information flies over my head.
I look about the workshop and I want to be a weaver. I have an overwhelming desire to sit at the loom and create something that will give people pleasure. Why wasn’t I provided with this option by the careers officer in my final year at school? Why didn’t someone say: “Right, you’ve all read George Eliot’s Silas Marner and we all wear clothes and have access to materials – who wants to be a weaver instead of going in the shipyard?” But it didn’t happen.
Why didn’t someone say: “We all use pots so who wants to be a potter? The world is full of churches and grand buildings, so who wants to be a stonemason?”
Perhaps they did but I just wasn’t listening. Perhaps, at sixteen, many of us do not possess the faculty to see beyond the easiest option. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a weaver now.
IN Capileira, during summer months, flags come out and hand-woven banners are strung above alleys and pinned to walls. Midday arrives, and no one walks the streets except people with cameras. Capileira is Spain’s second-highest village – but that doesn’t render the air any cooler. Perhaps, because it’s closer to the sun, it’s slightly hotter . . . Continue reading Sounds of silence . . .
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
DRIFTING along the ridge of a hill I come across a heap of stones. And then another heap of stones. And then another. Back in my native England I might have glanced at these heaps and deduced – with the air of a man who might be an expert but isn’t – they were the work of an ancient people, probably late Neolithic or early Bronze Age to middle Iron Age. But this is Spain, not the heathery moorlands of Cumbria or the northern Pennines, and different rules apply . . . Continue reading Roll away the stones
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
THE Carthaginians came and went. The Romans came, conquered and went. The Moors came, conquered and flourished. The Christians came, conquered, flourished, gave the world Franco, Morgan’s Tavern and the biggest holiday resort in Spain. Today, all those generations and waves of humanity later, this city of concrete, glass and pizza has more high-rise buildings per capita than anywhere else on the planet. This cauldron of cultures has history, sand, sunshine and karaoke bars. It’s a world within a world and a shock to the systems of the unprepared. It’s big, it’s brash and it’s brazenly brassy. It’s Blackpool with bocadillos and barbequed Brits, a beautiful blister set on a sun-baked beach. And it’s still known by its Moorish name – Benidorm . . . Continue reading Benidorm. Bring it on.