Tuesday, January 12, 2016

From Sevilla to Granada

"From Sevilla to Grenada" Professor Preobrazhensky hums obsessively in Mikhail Bulgakov's 1925 short story "Heart of a Dog."  The line is from a well-known Tchaikovsky tune, "Don Juan's Serenade." Preobrazhensky hums the tune because that's who he is: a man of high culture, attending opera and theatre instead of the meetings of the housing committee that's trying to appropriate his apartment. "From Sevilla to Grenada" is European civilization, all that is beautiful and valuable in the world, according to Bulgakov. In the early 1990s, when I read the story, "From Sevilla to Grenada" came to mean all that was beautiful and inaccessible, the world of knowledge and culture from which we'd been cut off by the Soviet Union's iron curtain.

The names of these towns evoke oh so many romantic notions formed on misleading cultural stereotypes. (Don Juan, the trickster of Sevilla, is such a trope in Russian culture, a burrowing from Spain long detached from its roots and used by countless writers from Pushkin to Vysotsky through A.K.Tolstoy who wrote the play that formed the basis of Tchaikovsky's serenade.) What becomes apparent traveling from Sevilla, through Cordoba, to Granada is to what extent the European civilization in these parts is built upon the remnants of the Islamic kingdom Al-Andalus; so much so that a thousand years later the main attractions in these towns are the old Moorish buildings that have been built upon and re-purposed but never quite destroyed. Cordoba fell to Christians in 1236, Sevilla--twelve years later, and Granada held on until 1492. Today it takes about two hours to drive between these cities, a convenient triangle for tourists with a baby napping in the back seat. We brought our own car seat with us, and this part went perfectly according to plan: each time we got on the highway, Bowie fell asleep and slept until we rolled into the next town.

Road tripping!

On his blog, Dave outlined the highlights of our road trip. The two hour naps were about half of what Bowie needed, and most of the days we weren't able to provide the other half. Whatever museums, palaces, mosques, synagogues, and cathedrals we wanted to visit had shortened their hours for the holidays, and Dave and I also needed food, coffee. Bowie humored us most of the time. Only when we got to Granada, his need to sleep outweighed all else. We have just finished our morning rituals, getting dressed, taking the medicine, tinkering on our devices, and Bowie yawned so hard and so plaintively that we relented. Instead of going out for breakfast, we returned to bed and took a nap.

Somewhere between Malaga (where the ocean scared him) and Sevilla, Bowie developed a feverish love for running water. Be it in a hotel sink, at a Moorish fountain in the Alhambra, a medieval open sewer in the middle of cobblestones, he wanted to get close to it, to touch it, to taste it, to figure out where it was going, to capture it with a cup or a glass. Several of the hotels greeted us at the reception area with carafes of drinking water flavored by fresh fruit, and at our comings and goings Bowie asked for this water, dunked his hands into the glass, licked his hands, drank more, tried it with his hands again, spilled it all over himself and the floor. What a wealth of joy and information captured in one carafe of water! (One of the hotels also provided an aperitif of anisette, a treat for mommy. On our last morning in Granada and in Spain, mommy also got to enjoy coffee with a cognac. A perfect morning drink, it wakes you up, smoothly.)
Bowie studies a glass of water

The highlights of hotel-living: a massive nativity scene under the floor of a hotel lobby

We flew home through Paris, where we stopped for the night. Dave and I have a history of funny overnight stays in Paris; the highlight of this one was seeing Marie Houzelle. She played along when we proposed this late night middle-of-nowhere CDG meeting, and as we collected all of our ten pieces of baggage (the number of bags had started out sanely in San Francisco and grew unreasonable during the road trip), there she was meeting us in the lobby! I've written about Marie's novel Tita, and now she says she's days away from finishing edits on a new novel--something to look forward to this year.

And then--and then--some number of hours and a few unsatisfactory naps later--we were entering our home in San Francisco. The cab dropped us off on our street. The look on Bowie's face was that of recognition, yes, but also of wonder and a kind of disbelief. Was it possible that he was recognizing the garage door, the tree in front of our house, the front steps? On a Saturday, our neighbors who had seen us off on the trip two weeks earlier were greeting us and welcoming us home. He knew these people. He knew this house. Was Bowie dreaming this? Or had his adventures up to now been a dream? After waking up in four different hotel rooms in the space of two weeks, was it possible that he actually had a place of his own to come back to, a home?

We entered the hallway. Our building is over hundred years old, and after two weeks away it develops a very particular odor--Dave and I picture a prim Edwardian-era lady who in our absence moves in with her scents and powders. It was this concentrated scent that hit home with Bowie, and then seeing his room with his play rugs and toys. He took in the impossible familiarity of it all--and cried. Bowie was home.

He had a good cry, and then wanted to get down to the floor. Bowie was home. There were blocks to stack, books to organize, boxes to unpack. He was suddenly oh so very busy.
Feeding his pony with a carrot


  1. Andalucia was a hide place of first rulers of islamic damascus who fled from the third state that initiated in Baghdad and took over all the empire.

    1. I imagine this area is as storied in Arabic tales as it is in Spanish, German, Russian. So many cultures intermingling!

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