There is an episode in Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station in which the
American protagonist is taken to Granada by Isabel, a love interest. For
reasons to do with the complexity of their relationship, they spend a night in
the city then leave abruptly, without visiting the Alhambra – their intended
destination. The protagonist wonders if he would be ‘the only American in
history who visited Granada without seeing the Alhambra.’
I may be one of the few poets who visited Granada without seeing Lorca,
or at least his home. We dutifully travelled out to Fuente Vaqueros,
his birthplace and the site of a museum dedicated to his life and work, only to
find it closed for the 1 de mayo festivo. I was at least
heartened to discover a few Spanish tourists also attempting to ring the bell, and
nodding in solidarity over our mutually missed experience, before sloping away
However, Lorca’s presence shaped the visit. Like
Lanyon’s view of Cornwall, it often takes someone born into a landscape to show
it to you properly. A far cry from the elaborate prose of Washington Irving,
Lorca’s Granada is a place of simplicity and strangeness, of ‘deep and crooked
light’, heavy with ‘putrefying perfumes’ where death and life occupy a single
location. Nature is always busy and noisy, the frogs ‘the muezzins of shadow’.
In the Albayzín
and the hills of Sacromonte, it is easy to find his ancient streets preserved.
In Manuel de Falla’s house, we even found a chair in which the
poet sat to hear the first performance of one of the composer’s works.
a lot of blood in Lorca’s poems, and I noticed those sharp gasps of red
everywhere, in the soil itself, in the traditional costumes (because of the
festivo, women all over town were kitted out in full flamenco gear), in the
paintings of saints embracing their martyrdom adorning the monasteries.
difficult to remember that this place of extraordinary beauty has always been a
place of dispute, from the violent removals of Islamic kings jostling for
power; to the Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews under
Catholic rule; to the Civil War, and Lorca’s murder somewhere near the sleepy
village of Viznar.
I may not have made the pilgrimage to Lorca’s house
that I’d been planning (at least I stood outside the door!) but I will be able
to envision his landscape now when I read his poems. And visiting during the festivo,
this poem in particular (translated by Jerome Rothenberg) captures exactly the
Oh what a crush of people
make their way to into this garden
for their eternal rest!
Every step we take on earth
brings us to a new world.
Every foot supported
on a floating bridge.
And I know there is no
straight road in this world –
only a giant labyrinth
of intersecting crossroads.
And steadily our feet
keep walking & creating
– Like enormous fans –
These roads in embryo.
Oh garden of white
of all I am not, all
I could & should have been!