By Luke Hawkins — Take me back to Granada. As my pipe smoke curled and swayed in the half breeze above Plaza del Carmen, I stood staring from our balcony at the cathedral lit in the distance, listening as an accordion player paced the alley next to our hotel. The sound of moped exhaust and clanking tapas bars blended with animated Spanish voices. We’re leaving Granada tomorrow, and I’m already missing it.
I understand why my mom fell in love with this place years ago. I understand how it could become one of those oddly familiar memories that lodges itself in the back of your brain. I could love this place for its narrow streets cast in detailed stone work, its walls and alleys artfully lined with evocative graffiti, its kebab shops, and its unrestricted moped daredevils. And I could love this place for its romance – the flamenco foot stomp and the mother pushing her son in a stroller through the plaza at midnight.
Granada stays up late. The city starts breathing heavy after ten o’ clock, with tapas joints filling up and benches being claimed by elderly couples jockeying for prime position in front of the one of the city’s many fountains. It’s at night when this place starts to sound like it looks – when the old Spanish architecture, touching old Moorish tradition, blends in the hot moonlight with flamenco guitar, winding accordion melody, and occasional lamenting vocals of one of the saints of Granada, soaring above everything, aided by Spanish wine and the flavor of age. With this swaying sound, Granada moves under the moonlight.
Some cities move fast. They run at such a break neck speed that there’s no time for faces or names. In Granada, it’s a different kind of fast. It’s like a racing pulse. It’s like a dance that stays hot and locked in ten steps. It moves and it blurs, but it keeps the music; it honors people. It is a speed that is utterly human. Even the heat here is human – you can watch the local people walking down the main street at noon with glistening foreheads from the direct Spanish sun, and you can sense some esoteric vibration that links them to one another.
During our three days in Granada, we played the part of witnesses, with ice cream or kebab in hand, we sat and stared as the city carried on its work. African immigrants hawking sunglasses and Lacoste polos on the sidewalks blurred with the Turkish Kebab shop employees and homeless men sitting shirtless on park benches. The Alhambra in all its detailed glory – boasting Arabic carvings with 9000 praises to Ala, hundreds of chambers with thousands of years of history, fountains, marble, domed ceilings, geometrically stunning gardens, and the terraced houses, sitting stacked on the surrounding hills – it amazed us, enveloped us, and because it was massive, made us thoroughly tired. And near the Alhambra, the narrow Spanish alley-ways melted into the Moorish neighborhood, called the Albayzin, standing as a testament to the historical interplay between Catholicism and Islam. We came into this place from a completely different world, at a completely different pace. The more we saw of Granada, the more we loved it. I think we’ll miss this place.