GRANADA, “FOR A BREAK”
BUT GO THERE WITHOUT SHOES!
By Ric Polansky Ó
She is one of the three magic witches that attract millions of tourists each year to Andalucia. Sevilla is the emotional capital, Cordoba the most reverent but Granada is the intellectual leader. This last wise sister is full of students, more than 80,000 of them. So, it’s also a good venue to visit the bars, clothing stores, and electrical gear are about 35% cheaper than most other places in Spain. And her radiance outshines the other two because it has year-round visitors. The Alhambra Palace and it’s majestic gardens the general life almost never close and just up the road the important ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada’s. Right now Granada’s own most important season is just unfurling making the capital a must visit. Jammed pack full of musical happenings, fiestas, parades, corridas de toros, special church services, wonderfully cool parks, a gaggle of museums and
a plethora of unique tapas bars. Meanwhile, a surprising ancient visual can be encountered around any corner. Granada’s best loved poet said it best: “woman, give the poor beggar a small token of money, can you imagine anything worse than to be blind in Granada?”
How right he was. So much to see and never enough time to enjoy it all. But, when you go there travel with a heart full of anticipation and just a little trepidation, for the gypsies play a game there and the unsuspecting untraveled tourist is the unsuspecting adversary.
Medieval Arab traveler and raconteur Ibn-Batuta described the situation of Granada as "unequaled by any city in the world.... around it on every side are orchards, gardens, flowering meadows, vineyards"; and in it "noble buildings." Its Arabic name was Karnattah¯- of uncertain meaning, so says historian Will Durant. The Spaniard’s, in order to be polite, probably assumed that the Arabs were talking about the pomegranate trees that grew in abundance locally and had a similar sounding name: GRANADA. The Christianized name remained and the plant became the symbol for the province.
Most visitors are dead set about seeing the gilded, ornate rooms and stalwart towers of “the red fortress” (Alhambra) that they journeyed from distant continents to behold. Constructed by various dynasties the differing stages never effected the basic and overwhelming Moorish sensuality.
Arabic religion severely restricted the commoner, but for the Calif, structures were erected and shaped into a form that connoted both freedom of spirit and well being of body. The city of Granada has become famous for just that-- it´s adorned Moorish romanticism. Within the Alhambra every angle is a picture postcard. Each view is an explosion of sensual indulgence. Close your eyes and spin around and you too could be whisked away to the furthest reaches of your own inner mind’s castles, replete with Persian carpets, golden trays resplendent with an array of unusual fruits served by scantily clad maidens beckoning you to yet another wondrous room, equally as beautiful and possibly full of more adventure. If in the background you here the strumming of guitars worry not, you’re in the parent town of the great composer Manuel de Falla. The Alhambra is pleasing to both the sight and the mind. On one of the ancient walls a long forgotten architect has inscribed: “I am like a garden, each morning the dew renews my freshness.” Nothing could better summarize the Alhambra´s simplicity and truth. A two hour stroll thru this paradise vanquishes the hum drum world of everyday cares. Your perception clothes itself anew in pleasant shapes, forms and colors—quixotic and totally medicinal.
Of course when you make the Pilgrimage to Granada you should do so without wearing shoes. This is not a sign of respect for the wonderful architecture that you will witness or a show of outright decency towards the kind and generous people you will encounter. Wearing no shoes is simply a sign of cleverness so that you won’t be accosted by the ring of gypsies that dominate the entire city and bilk countless millions of euros each year from unsuspecting tourists.
The ploy they use is quite simple. They come up to you with a fisted hand then quickly open it demonstrating to you two Euros then point at your unkempt shoes (an obvious disgrace compared to your gilded surroundings). Any gesture, grimace or physical reaction will not stop your newly acquired friend from dropping to his knees and begin polishing your shoes in a wild frenzy. Brushing away the dust, then snapping a rag numerous times to alert all about: Game On. Now he’ll do a good job, and make a meal of it for all about to see his hard work. Your problems begin when you try to pay him. He will immediately knock your offering from your hand and start speaking very loudly. You’re immediately embarrassed; right there in downtown Granada. Everyone looking at you and you dressed in some outlandish tourist out fit that you wouldn’t even consider putting on back home. Now, there you are creating a scandal in public. Had you got it wrong? Your mind is in a whirl. You remember he showed you two Euros so to avoid more hassle you add another Euro. Not good enough for The Game. Because whatever language you speak he is connoting to you and all about what a wonderful job he did and he will not accept two lousy Euros. The police see the scam, number 536 for the day and discreetly abandon the noise. Just then two other passer-bys arrive, grab you by the arm and start yelling. They announce to you and all about listening in 25 basic world languages that you cannot pay a paltry two euros for such a spectacular cleaning polishing job. The screaming gets intense and then people begin snapping photos of you. Not just any flicks but ones with a vivid flash (in the daylight?). Yes, in the back of your mind you can see these pictures coming out in local newspapers or sent directly to the consulate reporting your embarrassing international incident. It’s all been thought out and rehearsed day after day at the expense of countless victims. Few tourists are brazen enough to just walk away quickly and lose themselves in the masses. In your confusion you remain transfixed while the veteran actors carry on the public charade.
In general your overt embarrassment overrides the common sense to flee, and within moments you´ll be pleading with your gypsy friend to take 10, 20 or even 50 Euros. The world record is still held by a friend of mine, a noble and kind woodsman from Alaska. He paid $100 and a fifty Euro note to the thespians. Most Walter Mitty types just open their wallets and allow the shoeshine person to just help himself.
It truly makes me mad, especially when I’ve been exalting the virtues and praises of this wonderful and ancient town. But, the ruse is so endemic and traditional it continues. The blind people remaining are the police, serving up an injustice to the travelers from afar.
I assure you, nothing else in Granada is an entrapment like this. The people are superb always offering kind suggestions of where to eat, what to see and where to go. They’ve been helping me for more than thirty years obtain difficult tickets or seating at special restaurants.
Fortunately, you can see these pestering people coming, so if they encounter you, wave them away and move away yourself quickly. There are so many good adventures to experience or taste. New discoveries await, get on with it.