The Alhambra must be fascinating to serious students of garden and landscape design. The rest of us can luxuriate in the lovely flowers and scents and the cool sight and sound of water. (By the way, if you´re reading this in chronological order, ie oldest first, this is one of 5 posts on the Alhambra, which could be read in any order, you might like to go the Contents page and decide.)
As you explore, you can trace the progression from the rigid formality of Hispano-Islamic Classicism, through the stately majesty of 16th century empire, the soft and multiple flowerings of 19th century romanticism and the re-imaginings of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In all of these, water plays a central role. For the Moors, Paradise was very like a garden. Water is glorified and blessed, and the garden patios of the Alhambra bring these beliefs together. In the severe lines of the great courtyards of the Nasrid palaces, the pools are great rectangles of still water. They reflect and soften the hard edges, right angles and severe geometry of the courtyards, shimmering and colouring the entire space. Here water moves quietly, making only the smallest of whispers, giving cause to reflect on the bounty of Allah and the fragile thread on which life depends.
These evolve into ever more complex arrangements of plants and water. The Arabs loved the date palm, and many remain in Grenada. (In Cordoba, by comparison, the palms that were planted in the courtyard outside the Mosque were replaced by the orange trees which still grow there.) In addition, an early sultan installed a complex hydraulic water system, fed by the Acequia Real (Royal Conduit) which brought water from the Generalife into the waterless crag of the palaces and the fortress. In the gardens of the Generalife, this allowed the creation of the wonderful Water Staircase, down each side of which runs, at hand height, a rill of fast, cold water refreshing as you climb up from that palace to its highest view point.
The later gardens of the Catholics have more luxuriant planting, including many more plants in the water itself. Here we find lilies and reeds, the interplay of fish in the leaves, and overhanging branches bringing a different effect of light and shade. Their fountains became more elaborate than the earlier ones, and you can hear the movement of water in jets and streams.
By the nineteenth century the Alhambra (largely ignored for some 300 years) was 'rediscovered' by the Romantics. Gustav Doré made engravings and painters such as Mariano Fortuny, Owen Jones and Lopez-Mezquita recorded and fantasised about the palaces, fortress and gardens. Their works, even when distorted by orientalist romanticising of the past, are a valuable help to the archaeologists today. This is particularly important in recovering the magnificent polychrome on the stucco work, only fragments of which survive.
Their impact is clear in some of the planting, even much more modern developments such as the Cypress Walk.
In the 20th century some areas of the gardens were re-laid out, including the 'New Gardens' in the lower part of the Generalife. These were informed by all sorts of elements of the past, including, in 1951, a reinterpretation of an Islamic garden (designed by the architect Prieto Moreno). The picture is a fountain from that garden.
If we had a garden nowadays, we would rethink the whole design to learn from the tranquillity and inspiration of these outdoor spaces. These gardens manage heat and cold, provide spaces for gracious living, and are both a feast for the senses and a stimulation to the mind. For Sarah, who had the good fortune to live in the gardens of Stowe as a child, they would be yet another dimension to the long view that is required of any serious gardener.
|Places and people||
We have finally given in and bought a washing machine. A very small one. It takes 1.5 kg at a time (about one double duvet cover), and can easily be picked up. It doesn't spin, so we are still interested in a small, cheap mangle.
It is however very practical. It fits in the fore-cabin hanging locker when not in use. It takes much less water than a big one, and it seems to get stuff pretty clean. Unless and until we find one which does spin, which we can wire and plumb in and will fit in what is currently the locker housing saucepans and the calorifier, it will do.
In the meantime, it fitted neatly on the back of our ever-useful folding bikes. We got some funny looks, cycling through Cartagena with a washing machine on a bicycle, but it worked for us!
|Life on Roaring Girl||
The site only shows the 3 latest postings on the front page, and also only allows 1 pic per blog. And of course, we can't make a posting every day. Our solution is to write lots of entries as we go along, assigning pix, and then post them all at once when we get an opportunity.
There are two ways to find out whether you've missed anything. At the bottom of this page there's a blue text saying 'older'. Click that for the next page. If we've made more than 3 new posts in a day, there will be ones you haven't seen before.
Alternatively, in the right hand section of the screen, there's a blue text saying [Contents]. Click this and it will list every entry. You'll be able to see from this if you've missed anything. We put the date covered by the entry in the heading (eg 190707), as quite often this is different from the date we actually manage to put it on line.
Hope this helps anyone following our wanderings.
20/07/2007, No prizes for guessing
This is another town that has changed hands a lot, from Carthaginians to Romans to Moors to Christians. Here, Hannibal prepared his famous elephantine exhibition across the Alps.
We haven't really explored yet beyond a stroll or two. We were very hot and tired after the trip and the very tight squeeze of the moorings.
To our delight the marina has a washing machine, our first since Portimao. Handwashing gets tiring, and is a pain for sheets! Fitting a small washing machine on Roaring Girl is high on our list of priorities, but in the meantime, we are covered in drying clothes and haunting the ablutions block.
On Sunday we are going to Grenada for our long awaited trip to the Alhambra. Very exciting!
|Life on Roaring Girl||
The 16th July is the feast day of Virgin of Carmen, who looks after the sea and sailors. When we arrived in La Coruna on her fiesta last year it was being celebrated with great gusto, as it is all over Spain. It felt good to leave Melilla for the 160 mile passage to Cartegena on her feast day.
The forecast was westerlies 3-4 all the way across the Alboran Sea and then south-westerlies once north of Cabo de Gato, the south eastern corner of Spain. A good wind for a passage almost entirely set for a course of 034°.
Life at sea is never that simple.
In the lee of the headland of Melilla the wind was a northerly, so we bounced our way up to the rocks, where our helpful neighbours at Melilla had told us we would find a nice east setting current. To our delight, we found the current, and the wind came in from the west. For a short while, we creamed along at 5.5 knots. A pitifully short while. As the dusk fell, so did the breeze and eventually the engine went on.
About midnight, we were both on deck, peering anxiously at red flashing lights unmarked on any chart and unknown to us. They had that peculiar intensity that looks a long way away until you are right on top of them. Suddenly the first one was almost beside us, and from it streamed the plastic bobbles of a tunny net. We managed to get out of gear and the engine off before our propeller met the net. The main and mizzen were still up and we sailed gracefully over the top, sweating.
A fishing boat came bustling up, not prepared to use the radio but flashing lots of lights. He used a very powerful search beam to direct us on to a new course. Due west. We got the genoa out, furled a bit to help our view, and sailed along the net, directed by the silent fishing boat. To our great good fortune, the breeze stayed both strong enough and in the south west to help us sail while within the most dangerous area.
After about an hour, we sailed over the next edge, and hoped to turn back onto our course. Not a chance. After some 6 miles and two hours, our sentinel peeled away and we found the corner. We settled back on the right course for Cabo de Gato, and Pip got her first shut-eye of the night.
We chugged along in very little breeze in the dark, past the corner of another large net (or maybe a dogleg of the first one). This corner was alive with dolphins, maybe showing us the safe water, or hoping for their own by-catch. At dawn, the breeze returned, and we could sail, albeit pretty slowly, towards the cape.
There's quite a lot of traffic in the area. The mid-morning breeze allowed us to jibe and sail directly west, keeping south of the lanes. The big excitement was seeing another turtle. They move surprisingly fast; we were doing about 3.4 knots, and before you knew it, going the other way she was out of sight. By early afternoon we could turn back north and continue sailing. But, again at dusk, the wind died and we motored during the dark.
The dawn breeze filled in a little, and the picture shows Pip at the helm as we sailed north east close hauled. This is Roaring Girl's fastest point of sail, but even so there was so little wind we barely reach 4 knots.
We saw a large marine animal we are almost certain was a whale. It was a completely different shape from a dolphin, with a large square head and a fin that was almost shovel shaped. It stayed on the surface a long time, too, quite still, which dolphins don't do. A book of marine mammals is urgently needed, as we only have one about fish on board!
We sailed to within half a mile of the breakwater at Cartagena, and finally arrived at 46 hours at sea, with a dismal average speed of 3.5 knots. But we're not complaining. Whether it was the dolphins or the Virgin of Carmen, we are grateful that we escaped the tunny net, and had enough breeze at the time we most needed it!
|Life on Roaring Girl||
We're off the market, fill up both diesel and water tanks, have a bite to eat and then head north. The weather forecast shows nice westerlies and south westerlies in the Alboran Sea for the next 24 hours. We'd lke to make Cartegena but we might stop at a nice anchorage on the south-east coast if we feel like it.
So it'll be at least a day or so before the next entry.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
There really aren't many dykes sailing around out here, and we always like to meet other sailing lesbians. So when Pip found that the Euro Gay Games will be held in Barcelona next July, and that it includes big boat racing for the first time ever... Well! Roaring Girl and her lesbian crew just has to go and strut her stuff.
We will investigate the best marinas for sailing lesbian women, when we pass through Sitges this August. The Spanish lesbian and gay sailing club is based in Port Olympic, and that'll probably be the regatta base. But it's very dear, so we might look around elsewhere. We've already asked various sailing lesbian friends to stay, so the boat will probably be full, but we hope to see others there too.
We also want this blog to come up when people surf for lesbian sailors, so we will start looking for links we like. Suggestions (of an appropriate kind) will be very welcome! We're only just getting the hang of this anyway.
The picture is our all-lesbian crew celebrating our safe arrival in La Coruna a year ago tomorrow.
15/07/2007, Written in Melilla
This is quite a hard question, and we've spent some time thinking about it. Of course, we have not even scratched the surface of a large and complex country. In all, we've spent about three weeks there, visited two major cities, two 'resorts' and one tiny fishing village. The short answer: we enjoyed it, we'd say it's good go there, but don't expect it to be comfortable.
One of the big barriers, and a reason why it's so hard to say much, is the difficulties of communicating with women. All the officials we have dealt with are men, and really only Khadija who ran our riad in Fes, spoke a language which we share (French). Many, many women here only speak Arabic and/or their local language. So, finding situations were there were women who wanted to talk with us and where that was possible, proved really difficult.
Not that talking with (some of) the men wasn't useful and informative. Of course it was. But it was largely on official matters - our ship's papers, our next destination and so on. Most of the men we met fell into three categories. Either they were official (generally police), or they wanted to sell us something. A few, a very few wanted to hassle us for sex, but in fact that was not a problem. (Age and gravity, maybe, but we think probably the genuine politeness of Moroccan men in sexual matters.) By far the most irritating of course were those men trying to sell us stuff (goods or services).
The second barrier is that in Morocco, outside Tanger, we found that women simply don't go into cafes. They are full of men watching the world go by over a thé menthé (delicious by the way), but women don't do that. You do see women, great flocks of them, outside during the evening paseo, but they are sitting on coamings, leaning on walls, ambling very slowly. They are out to get the air and see a bit of their locality, but they are, by custom, prohibited from sitting in a café to have their chat.
And of course, in visiting places, sitting in a café to people-watch and sample local delicacies is a big part of the fun.
So - those are the major downsides, and limitations on anything we might say we 'know' about Morocco. The upsides? It's a beautiful, fascinating and very friendly place. The scenery of the Rif mountains, the souks and palaces of Fes, the smiles as people say Bienvenue à Maroc, the taste of tagine or pastilla, the wonderful cleanliness after a visit to the hammam.
Morocco has a long history. It's everywhere around you. The one word Pip would choose to sum the country up is 'old'. It's also a very young country; some enormous percentage of the people are under 15. It is working hard to be more prosperous, and the king is committed to various liberalisations. They want closer ties with Europe (so they don't pursue their claims to Spanish enclaves very hard). But there is a lot of poverty, and intense rural isolation, even in the wealthier northern areas. And there's a long way to go before two women find it an easy place to travel alone.
We couldn't say Morocco was comfortable. It is probably easier as a teenage backpacker, when you are a phone-call away from the comforts of home, have less to lose, and are generally more tolerant of the problems. We felt most relaxed in Fes, where we had the lovely riad to go back to, and Khadija to advise on local mores.
Anywhere in Morocco, two women, white women, attract a lot of attention. This is particularly true for Pip given both her size and her auburn hair. And physically, life isn't always simple; squat toilets are a pain (especially if you are Pip's shape), it is very hot and so on. Mind you, we only encountered one squat toilet the whole time. If you travel with guides in a planned, westernised trip, of course it can be the height of opulence.
We are glad we went, glad to have explored a tiny bit of this fascinating country and culture. It was interesting and important to debunk some of the myths. Women are very safe travelling here. The images of everyone stopping for prayer are misleading; in this moderate country, when the muezzin calls, few people respond. Even in Fez, on a Friday, people retire to the mosques for prayer. The food and the architecture are stunning, as the picture of one room in a Fes palace shows. We would say to other travellers, other cruisers, do go and enjoy it.
This is straightforward in daylight but a little alarming in the dark. If coming from the north, go round the starboard mole and go west. (The pilot book says this but it is very counter-intuitive!) You will see the second green light flashing ((2)G7s); head towards it. As you do, you will open up two red lights to port. One is Fl.R5s, and the other Fl(2+1)R12s. Go between these lights to enter the marina. You go down the aisle, leaving the flash new capitanerie building with its wing-shaped concrete roof to starboard, and at the end, do a u-turn round the building and the fuel dock. The quay where most visiting yachts are moored is then to starboard.
It is important to keep well up to the north (Spanish) side of the port as there is a man-made reef of rocks dumped into the harbour on the Moroccan side. This is marked (most of the time) by an east cardinal buoy. A boat did go aground on it the other night, but got off eventually with no serious harm done.
Finally got a picture sorted out to try and give an idea of the harbour.
|Life on Roaring Girl||
15/07/2007, North Africa in the EU
The high crag at the heart of old Melilla has been fought over for millennia, as the Phoenician remains make clear. It was taken by the Spanish shortly after the fall of Grenada and they have held on to it ever since, building a massive fort around and within the rock.
This old town is called Medina Sidonia (a familiar name as the duchy was and is very powerful all around Cadiz), after the duke who conquered it. It was fortified in a series of five redoubts, which still bristle with cannon old and new. You can wander around it, looking at the tri-lingual information boards. It is still dominated by Church and Army, so in that respect it's a typical European medieval town.
The rest of Melilla was largely settled in the first half of the twentieth century, because of a very large open cast iron mine nearby, and it now claims to house more modernist buildings than any other Spanish town save Barcelona. The streets are indeed littered with them, their flat and monumental facades creating a harmonious and spacious air.
The caves offer a strange mixture. Originally started in the fifteenth century, they were gradually hollowed out over the years, serving as stores, redoubts, and for a very long time the church and convent. By the end of the 1950's, the whole fortress had fallen into disrepair, but a large archaeological and conservation project began in 1959. (Three years after Moroccan independence; just a coincidence, but we don't think so.) This resulted in some stunning modernist brickwork and building under ground and along the cliffs. The picture is a detail of the arches built into some of the tunnels with complex bends and curves needing these jigsaw keystones.
|Places and people||
This is the splendid lighthouse on the headland north of the town. It's Moroccan and wonderfully ornate.
Melilla is another of the peculiar Spanish enclaves on this coast. Like Ceuta it is an autonomous municipality, fully integrated into the provincial and regional governance of Spain. (There are also several Spanish islets dotted along the coast, at least one of which is a prison.) Independence here, in 1956, was a fairly untidy affair, with significant divisions between different factions and tribes which claimed the attention of revolutionary leaders. The Spanish held on to this confetti of possessions. Now, strange to say, the Moroccans argue that they should be handed back, but like the British in Gibraltar, the Spaniards are hanging on to their strategic valuables.
The town is very sweet. It's much less military and imposing than Ceuta, a laid back sort of place. It's about 50% Riffian and 50% Spanish, about 60,000 in all. Until recently, the Arab half lived in neglected slums. There have been big efforts to clean this up, but you can still see the difference. The tourist info makes a big play of the happy co-existence of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews. There are certainly several temples and synagogues besides the mosques and churches. The crowds in the streets seem pretty laid back and friendly, but of course we can't really tell on a superficial acquaintance.
'Riffian' is the guidebook's term for the peoples of the Rif. They are mostly Berber, rather than Arab, and often do not speak Arabic as a first language. They are Muslim, and the Islamic conquest of Portugal was essentially Berber. Nador, the Moroccan port next to Melilla is a major centre of emerging Berber pride.
This is being written on the boat at the dock in the very comfortable marina. Eventually, Spanish bureaucracy and technical glitches permitting, we should get wifi on board here. The Spanish have a very complicated system for local networks like the one here, which requires essentially registering your laptop on their server. So much for web freedom in Spain!
|Places and people||
On the dock at Al Hoceïma we had a nice westerly. Alas, this was only a down draft off the headland; as we motored out of the breakwaters the wind began to shift round to its familiar position.
For a while though, we could sail on a close reach, and even got the cruising chute up. The picture is proof. Once past Cap Ras-Tarf, though, about 11 nM from the port, the wind drew even further forward. For while we got the genoa up and romped along in good style. But by midday, the wind was dead on the nose and blowing the top of F4. We could either beat, a long slow process which would take us deep into the bay, or motor sail. We did the latter, getting maybe half a knot out of our long suffering mainsail. We needed all the help we could get as the wind kicked up a short sea which slowed us down a lot. Plus a current against us, which got strong on the headlands.
Eventually we rounded the Cap des Trois Fourches, a fearsome triple headland with some nasty outlying rocks, leaving a magnificent sunset behind us. We then chugged the remaining eight miles (still against a current) south into Melilla.
Here of course, the time is two hours ahead of Morocco, so it was just midnight as we arrived. Usually, the Guardia Civile are at pains to search any yacht arriving from Morocco. Fortunately, they decided not to both with us, just giving a cursory glance at our papers and driving away with a cheery wave.
|Life on Roaring Girl||