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Attila and the Alhambra

So larians had checked me into a hotel just off the Plaza Nueva. The room was exceptionally dark, with wooden shutters which kept out light but not sound. I woke to hear choir practice at 1.30 on a sunny afternoon; it was the soundest I have slept in years.

This is an area of Granada I love. The Alhambra is within easy walking distance, the river babbles along, with cats, bats and probably trolls under bridges; the monasteries and convents creak with age. The houses too, some mysteriously boarded up and most with ancient heraldic devices on their walls, call out to me; One in particular is old and grand and sad, the front door covered in graffiti. If I win the lottery, I will try to rescue it. Even scrawled over, the place is beautiful.


The family are well. My nephew, nicknamed Attila when he was a baby, has not grown more placid on reaching toddlerhood. On being forbidden to bite his octogenarian aunt he grew angry, so she compromised by saying he could have her elbow. The result was that she sat chatting to us, seemingly oblivious to the child hanging off her arm by his teeth.

'My son is just a big goat,' said his mother despairingly. She is very tired, as is her husband. They both work, as well as having a child with unending energy and willpower. Grandfather is bewildered; he cannot remember any of his children being so naughty, and would bet his favourite chair that on his worst day he could not equal Attila's normal rate of havoc. 'You like pets, don't you?' he said to me, 'Here, take my grandson; he is the strongest donkey in all Spain. Put the pen down, boy. Don't tease the dog. Don't tease the dog! FATIMA!'

Grandmother Fatima is the answer to everything. She cooks, cleans, administers, listens, makes the fractious peaceful, makes the intractable mellow, coaxes, comforts, persuades...all for her daughters, sons, sisters, husband, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, dog, and sister's cat. She is 60 now and always smiles, but when her son-in-law talks about having two more, she quietly shakes her head. One day this woman is going to have to sit down for more than 20 minutes, at which point I fully expect the province of Granada to fall apart.

I explored and enjoyed; at one point, we found ourselves in the parador of San Francisco next to the Alhambra itself. Here, Isabella I, called also The Catholic and The Lioness of Castile, was buried as expressed in her wishes, until Charles V had her re-interred in Granada Cathedral alongside her husband. This was her city, the reconquista her triumph, the parador her peace; General Franco enjoyed the simple frugality of the place and liked to stay here. I doubt if it is so frugal now. It remains a beautiful combination of Moorish palace and Catholic convent. I would like to spend some time there in Winter.

I have spent most of the last 48 hours asleep, Surya purring as she groomed my hair in finest feline fashion. Welcome home, Boot, she says, welcome home.



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