GUADIX, THIRTY YEARS LATER, STILL IS … GUADIX!
Ric Polansky ©
I lied, I’ve been there since. ‘Bout two thousand times. Well , at least, two hundred and fifty nine. Guadix is a geophysical anomaly. A cross roads that can take you to Murcia, Granada, Jaen or Almeria. It’s on a river junction and also near the foothills of both the Sierra Filabres and Sierra Nevadas. Geologically it is located alongside one of Spain’s major fallas (rifts) that forms a deep canyon effect on two sides of the town. Anyone that has travelled anywhere in Spain has to have passed through Guadix; the keyhole to Moorish Granada. Nothing looks of any particular interest other than the fortress cathedral with its monumental but unmistakable minaret converted church tower. From the purifiers Guadix lacks appeal or intrigue.
But I had to go there. I was a man on a mission of stealth and cunning. I needed to buy a door knocker. Not the usual kind. This one had to be nothing less than the “hand of Fatima”. I knew it could be purchased in Granada. I got mine there. So I gambled, planned a cheaters journey, crossed my fingers and hoped that I could find the hand. Naturally, I didn’t want to waste too much time in Guadix, even if it was Spain’s most renown cave city.
I possess nagging ritual travel habits. Besides packing, that I continually and mistakenly believe that I can do in less than twenty seconds, I pull out of my library two or three of my favourite guide books on Spain and settle down to thumb through history’s footprints. IBERIA by encyclopedist James A. Michener is still the Mother of them all. For it was Guadix, he pointed out, in which Spanish writer Pedro Antonio de Alarcon located his short novel El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three Cornered Hat); immortalised by Manuel de Falla in his Opera. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief; I now had two reasons to make the expedition.
Few towns in Andalucia look so unpromising from the outside as does Guadix. Located some 55 Kms. distant from its more famed brother Granada Guadix still embraces a past that encompasses a kaleidoscope of Spanish emotions: sights, sounds, mystery, repugnance and beauty. Reputedly founded by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. strategic Guadix also became an important agrarian centre from the rich surrounding plains. The Rio Guadix helped trade as did the natural chalky white soil being conducive for inexpensive cave dwellings. Aerelius married Caesar’s sister and became the first governor. Time passed and the Arabs arrived, then the Christians. An important battle for control of the town was fought in 1489 when the Christian armies finally conquered the impressive Alcazaba therefore leaving Granada’s flank unprotected and certain to fall. During Spain’s horrific Civil War no town best exemplified the famed artist Goya’s horrors of war worse than Guadix. Priests and nuns were killed and hung up for all to see but were soon avenged when the other side captured the intellectuals and gypsies and marched them off en masse to be mowed down in the main plaza.
The town remains unmistakably agrarian. Everyone dresses in boots and heavy coats even if the sun is shining. No posh shops with glitter or gold unless it was one of the many jewellery stores. I bought a beer in the El Dolar saloon adorned in early 1890’s casino decor. I interrogated the bar man for directions to the local monuments. He leapt from behind the counter as if I had enquired about a personal relative, through his arm around me marching me to the street. He wanted to definitely make sure I didn’t get lost or would miss the importance of his village. Hmmm, reminded me of older, almost forgotten Spain. It was that way long ago.
I was directed to the main “Plaza de Armas”. Every town in South America has a central area where the town hall and all important government offices are situated. So did Guadix. A lively market was being held. I bought six different varieties of peanuts. The sellers wanted me to linger and chat just a little bit longer. Hmmm-- friendly; everyone.
I then meandered about seeking music stands, having established in my mind that I simply had to possess the symphonies from the Three Cornered Hat. In the largest kiosk selling more than 2,000 tapes the owner hadn’t even heard of Manuel de Falla, In fact, he had never heard of his music or any music. He was stone deaf! I decided that the muse of music had sung against me and therefore set my mind to collecting the next curiosity--obtaining the hand of Fatima.
I bounced in and out of sixteen different shops. No such luck. Finally an unusual wares store caught my eye. It only sold tack for horses and every other purchasable paraphernalia for mule, donkey, burro or other four legged beast. The owner’s name was Paco and he delighted in showing me all the different apparatus that he had hand crafted. Then I suddenly spotted a Pancho clinging to the wall. It had to be mine. A souvenir from down-town Guadix. It was exactly the older type that worker’s wore long ago. Hand stitched in lovely colours over a black background. I enquired the price. He simply said: “Señor, this has no price, it is all hand done by my wife, but I would be delighted in selling it to you because no one else in this town is as big as you so it could be another twenty years before I get the opportunity to sell it.” We struck a deal for just 3.000 Ptas. (18,03 Euros).
Meanwhile Paco’s brother was so enchanted with my purchase his natural curiosity got the best of him. He simply had to learn more; about me, how I arrived, where I was going and where I’d been. To do so without seeming pushy he suggested that he’d drive me around town showing me the sites. His name was Eloy, he had been a chef in Malaga but was finished for the season. That formality out of the way he could then extol the virtues of his natal homestead. Hmmm! Eloy reminded me of that ancient Spain of some thirty years ago.
Guadix, as you might not know, is the largest Cave city in Spain, purporting some 2,000 different caves in which more than 10,000 souls supposedly exist. So off we hurtled at an electric pace through the crowded market streets.
I knew about the Cave Museum in the Barrio de Santiago. The cave had changed considerably. They now had asphalt roads, curb stones and garden walls and plenty of greenery. Before I got out of the car a diminutive Pepe extended his hand and invited me into his house ironically located next door to the museum. Ya, I know I was conned but Pepe was a genuinely charming and a clever entrepreneur. He made it a habit of greeting all buses and taxis and foreign plated cars. He’d drag them into his charming cave “for free” but made sure you didn’t miss the small plate laden with one hundred peseta visitor’s “contributions”. Once in his abode you were family and welcomed comfortable. All rooms led to Jose’s storeroom where you were always invited to a convivial glass of wine and shown the many different contrivances that you could buy. It could have been a decorative plate, a an old pot, a shiny pan, an discoloured antique, or some wonderful honey, house wine, home canned olives, pomegranates, cherries, chillies, or olive oil. Jose Ruiz Puerta,
C/ Ermita Nueva No.52, Guadix 18.500, Granada; Tel: 958-660716
The Cathedral supports a Bishop and was notably interesting. Similar to, of all places, Cuzco in Peru. In fact, I have read that the Peruvian hand carved choral benches are modelled after Guadix.
Before long I suggested that we have a drink. Eloy re-suggested, “Anyone can go to an ordinary cafeteria, why don’t we find a nice bodega?” Whereupon my good fortune continued as we ended up in a quaint taurine (bullfight) bar. Full of assorted characters all drinking heavily and discussing loudly the importance of the various corridas over the years. Suddenly a semi-blind artist came to our table and insisted that we approve his pen and inks sketches. They were quite good but his entre was really just a ruse so that he could tell us that he was the actual neighbor that lived next door to the famed Paquillo, winner of the 20 Km. bronze medal recently in the European games in Budapest. Hmmm. This too reminded me of Spain thirty years ago. I was delighted.
The owner of the bar, Gabriel, was gracious and unobtrusive. Naturally he quizzed me about what I knew on the subject. It’s a man thing. And you gotta be able to talk it as well as walk it. Gabriel Ruiz,
Bodega Latino “Modesto”; Placeta Conde Luque No. 5, Guadix. A must visit for “taurinos.”
Finally my morning was spent. I therein asked one last favour: the name of his favorite restaurant, not fancy, simple but with good food? We departed as ancient friends. We will meet again on my next trip—that’s a certainty.
Los Claveles was superb. No frills, lots of rubbish on the floor and the bar incorporated within the dining area so you can shout at those near the bar. I rather ostentatiously insisted on an expensive bottle of wine and following a good many “cups” had the temerity of sending back the chips to be done to a golden crispy brown. Not a word was said. (Eat your heart out A.A. Gill.) The wine cost four times the price of all the different courses I ate. Hmmm! Just like the old days. Cafe-Bar Los Claveles, Jose Antonio Banquez Saez, Carretera de Murcia 26,
Guadix. Not fancy but damn good hospitality and family cooking.
My return trip to Guadix, almost 29 years to the day, was long overdue and most certainly a mistake. I heartily suggest a further trip to this friendly, old time Spanish town.