(Saturday, 26 April 2008) Granada is a bigger city than I imagined. The new part flows out of the old, which is well preserved. The topography is dramatic—the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the south, the Alhambra and the summer palace on the a tree-covered hillside, south of the old town, and a second hillside that’s filled with houses off of narrow, winding streets. We climbed both these hills today in reverse order, finding a plaza at the summit with a commanding view. The hills form a river valley, but there’s a drought, Lizy said, so the river’s low. The streets are cobblestone, but they’re made of smaller river stones, not the large, square stones you find in France, and so are easier to walk on.

(Tuesday, 29 April 2008) Yesterday, we drove to the valley where Lizy lives, meeting up with her friend Ananda, who was working in Órgiva, the nearest market town. He’s an earnest young man of 19, good at anything of a technical nature, Lizy tells me. He and his family live below her. Her house, which she shares with Julia, a woman from Madrid, consists of a kitchen and a main room, plus a separate room where Lizy sleeps. It has a west-facing window that frames a view of the valley. The house is made of dark brown stones and mortar. It sits on one of the terraces that the Moors made, and gets a terrific amount of sunlight, Lizy said, although there’s some shade from a pine tree and other, smaller trees in front. It would be easy to put a garden in. She used to live on the other hillside, much lower down, and she would look up enviously at the house, picturing all that sun.

The other occupant of the house beside Julia is Ruth, who came down from Madrid a week before, after breaking off with her boyfriend. She was writing an allegorical story about him, drawn as an elf that, because of a spell, is condemned to wear armor. It comes off magically for one night when the moon is full. The story continues, as the spell is complicated. Each part is illustrated with drawings in pastel crayons. Her depiction of the elf made Julia and I laugh as she told us the story.

(Wednesday, 30 April 2008) Back in Granada, we went to the cathedral in all its baroque splendor, whitewashed stone and painted-on gold. The plan of the building is a cross with an imposed X. It includes a sculpture-and-painting of King Ferdinand conquering the Moors (in this case, one Moor) and a weird, dark gold side chapel dedicated, I think, to the Holy Ghost. The gold looked almost spray-painted on. You can see the origin of lots of things that were emulated and/or parodied later. A detail from a painting by Bellini, “Presentation of the Virgin” hung on one side of the main altar.



Tomorrow is “Las Cruces,” a holiday specific to Granada. It’s also the first of May, workers’ day everywhere else (and here, too). According to the man at the café, the local event includes “alcohol and processions of the Virgin.” The town will be crowded, and the event goes on through the weekend.

Walking back here, I realized that the church at the head of the alley that leads to our building must have been a mosque and that its location across from the “Arab baths” implies that it was once in the very center of the town, downhill from the Alhambra. The area is called the Albaycin, and it’s where the Moors briefly lived after the Alhambra fell. According to Lizy, the valley she lives in was their last stop before they were expelled. The whole of southern Spain reflects or is steeped in the Moorish heritage: the names, the cuisine, the music and dancing, the general appearance of the people.

“The Moors” is a misnomer—they came from different places, ruled in different cities as their emirate was diminished by re-conquest. The original capital was in Cordoba, and it shifted to Granada after Cordoba fell, existing for 300 years as a vassal state of the Spanish king. The Moors were expelled, I read, because of edicts, after the fall of Granada, eliminating their language and culture—very similar to the benighted policies of Franco in reference to the Basques and Catalan (and also of the northern French kings toward the kingdoms of Provence).

At seven p.m., we went back to the Church of St. John of God, a local saint born in 1495, to hear the rosary (although we didn’t know this is what we’d hear). The church is amazing, a basilica with an entirely gold interior, an altar that climbs three or four stories, and a dome at the center. After the service, they lit up the whole church. The saint himself is represented in three life-size sculptures, and the Virgin presides over the altar, holding the baby Jesus in her arms, with a crescent moon before her. The service, recited in Spanish, was familiar enough that I could follow parts of it, including the Lord’s Prayer. Numerous older women appeared, but there was an audience of tourists behind them (and us). It’s hard to describe just how encrusted with ornament this church is, and yet it has more integrity than the cathedral in terms of self-consistency. The last time I heard the rosary recited was at Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, also a basilica, now that I think of it—perhaps this is the form that churches dedicated to the Virgin take? That church was built after a plague, my Venetian friend Marta Moretti told me. They pledged to build it if God would end it. Or perhaps they made this pledge to the Virgin.

Walking over there, I began to see what how cars plague a town like this. They’re everywhere, and they demand to share the tiniest streets with pedestrians. Scooters invade even the alleys that, because of stairs and other obstacles, are really only wide enough for people to walk. There are public buses that are inexpensive to use, yet everyone drives. The car we rented is sitting in a public parking garage, chewing up 18 Euros every 24 hours. It seems like a waste to have it, but it was cheaper to take it for six days than to rent it twice.

Owing to accidents of time and geography, the sun is just going down at nine p.m. I think it’s because we’re an hour ahead of GMT, but not very far to the east of the demarcation line. And despite being in the “south,” I guess we’re actually fairly far north.

The Lebanese restaurant that we’ve gone to every night was closed, so we went to a Moroccan restaurant a little higher up, run by an impresario, fluent in all the different tourist languages. Several families from California were at the next table—I heard Napa Valley mentioned, and Lizy said later that the snippets of conversation she overheard were typical of someone’s friend being grilled about her experiences here and answering with a recitation of her classes.

The restaurant itself, together with the food, was the polar opposite of the other one, as overdone in décor as one of the cathedral’s side chapels, and with ingredients that came from a can, whereas the Lebanese restaurant has the wife as cook and everything is made fresh. The soups are especially good because of this, with very subtle flavors.

The last building on our alley, which ends at the garden gate of a former convent, houses a woman who goes around Granada yelling things like, “You’re really ugly” (in Spanish) at students. Late at night, she emerges from her building and calls her dogs in a loud, manly voice—I thought it was a man, but Lizy said, “No, it’s a woman. I know her.” I guess you never forget a voice like that. I haven’t lain eyes her, but ears—yes. I heard her while I was washing up, but in that interval, she went inside. Sleep well.

(Thursday, 1 May 2008) Back in the valley, Lizy and I walked down to Ananda’s house and met his father, Nuriel, who speaks Spanish slowly and clearly enough that I could understand. Their house, which he built on the ruins of an older one, is well made—he laid and mortared all the rocks himself. You can see how it’s progressed over the 26 years he’s lived there, adding a room for his wife and a sleeping alcove for both of them. The boys have a “studio” downstairs with a computer and various music-related electronics. The brother is into hip-hop and the Internet. I met him on Monday and again this evening—he showed up wearing earphones and carrying an mpeg player. Modern life, I said to Nuriel. As a parting gift, Nuriel gave us avocados and squash from their root cellar.



Then we came back and Lizy made a salad, soup, and quinoa, which was all very good. We ate on two orange-crate-like tables, seated on the floor—this seems to be the norm here, as Alma and Nuriel also sit on the floor, Turkish style. (However, Nuriel produced a chair for me and I noticed another. The boys also have chairs in their studio.)

Before we went down to Nuriel’s house, I started rereading Lizy’s copy of the book on Dōgen(1) that I have at home. There was much that I’d forgotten. Later, we were briefly visited by Julio Donat, the author of the book on the plants of Alpujarra(2). He speaks English, although he said that he had difficulty understanding my American accent. I asked if I could buy two copies of the book—one for Lizy, one for me. Like every other man in the valley, he has a beard. I would probably have one, too, if I lived here for long, since shaving takes a certain effort (and you either have to heat the water on the stove or wait for the sun to heat it up the water in the hose on the roof.

The valley’s irrigation system is amazing—channels of water that wind down the hill, with a smaller system to divert it to the plots. Nuriel’s plot has a sprinkler system that Ananda installed.

(Friday, 2 May 2008) Julia, the housemate of Lizy, arrived this afternoon. At least, I think she arrived—it might have been someone else passing through. There’s a path that comes down from the road—I could have parked the car there and walked down, avoiding the narrow drive, but I felt it would be harder to carry things down from there, since the incline is steeper. I met Julio, for example, while he was walking down from the road after the bus dropped him off. Yesterday, a woman tourist walked by and apologized for intruding.



(Later) Lizy has just left in the near-darkness, assuring me that she can find her way to Ananda’s house, where we had dinner this evening—a salad with avocado that she whipped into a kind of yogurt (as Nuriel described its consistency before she started). I learned that he’s from Seville originally and was an artist who sold his wares in different places until he settled here 27 years ago. His wife Alma, who’s from Barcelona, came here 20 years ago. He is a master of reike, a healing method that he learned from “una maestra de Canada” who lived in the valley. He gave me a booklet in Spanish, printed in Idaho, which described it. The patriarch, a Japanese Christian who studied at the University of Chicago, returned to Japan and studied Zen, and after much searching worked out a method that he believed was shared by Buddha and Jesus, “the laying on of hands”. He offered me a session (and offered a second after he walked me back here). Most of it was cradling my head in different ways, and at one point I felt like my head was in his hands and body was floating. Whether it has healing powers remains to be seen, although there’s at least one positive sign—my digestive system is working again.

Reading the Dōgen book, I was struck by the phrase “topsy-turvy world” and its Japanese original. The valley, despite its beauty and slowness, is very much a part of this. The larger area is just as damaged by tourism as Granada, although this same tourism makes certain good things possible. Could it be done in a different way that would keep those things alive, allow tourists their access, but—for example—ban private cars, which are the principal menace, in favor of the bus system, which works well and is used by all the locals? (It costs a Euro to ride it.) I could have come here directly from Granada by bus. Instead, I spent hundreds of Euros on a car that has presented a parking challenge in every village.

Lizy assures me that only animal life that’s the least untoward are the coyotes that roam the hills. She sometimes hears them howling when the moon’s full. There are bullfrogs that sound like raccoons attacking squirrels, and endless clicks and scratches and thumps. Walking up here with Nuriel, he discovered a small snake that wrapped up into a tight circle when he prodded it, after first lunging at him. Let snakes lie is my motto.



(Saturday, 3 May 2008) Slowing down is a way of recharging, and perhaps the real meaning of Slow is in taking the time—taking enough time—to gain rather than lose energy along the way. Lizy and Julia are talking with a friend of theirs in the kitchen. I had a real cup of coffee, made on the stovetop, and brushed my teeth, but I still have to shave. It’s a little after noon. The sun is out and it’s warming up—there’s warm water from the spigot, for example.

Last Saturday, I was in Granada recovering from the flight. Lizy and I walked up to the Alhambra. She was fighting the city, and that resistance took a lot out of her. Over the ensuing week, we’ve been talking about that. I’ve quoted Dōgen, who said that light and dark can’t be distinguished, that enlightenment emerges from everyday existence, the topsy-turvy world, as he calls it, as part of the giddiness of karmic life (another phrase of his). Trying to separate yourself from the world is as pointless as trying to make a mirror by polishing a tile. We arise in life and are eventually subsumed by it, organic and transient creatures that we are, unfolding from the spark that set us into being, a journey in which we are enlightened and deluded in turn, being in the midst of life, not apart from it.

Buddhism is “very yang,” Lizy said a few days ago. Yesterday, I asked her to explain, and she answered that she finds Buddhism more of a man’s than a woman’s philosophy of life. After we heard the rosary at the Church of St. John of God, I said that it was really like chanting. It’s also a repetitive act, saying the rosary, a daily ritual of a cyclic nature, focused on the mother, on women, as the channel of God, “mother of God.” In this view, the importance of Jesus is that he “was made flesh,” that God immersed Himself in the world and used a woman as his vehicle, a woman being the only way He could do it. This is true of the old gods, too. Like men, they hungered for women and begot various semi-divinities with them. Jesus is one, “half-man, half-God”—and when he shed his body, God entirely, they say.

I agree with Swedenborg that everything in the world has its corresponding thing in heaven or hell. That Swedish gentleman took in it all in dispassionately. He was good at reading malice and falsity, and ignoring both when he encountered them. The world didn’t slow him down because he didn’t waste his time resisting it, but instead gave his time to things that resonated—studies, public service, people whose goodness deserved his notice and kindness. Other things he sidestepped.

This valley is as rich in correspondence as any city. It has its hell as well as its heaven.

Thanks (or no thanks) to having access to wireless, I’ve kept up with events at home. Nothing seems to have changed much in these days, although small “urgencies” (as the Spanish call them) have arisen. I like that Spanish word, urgencia, which feels better than emergency as a descriptor. The latter puts its emphasis on “things developing,” emerging in a particularly bad way, but the former just lets it go at that: whatever it is, however it developed, it is urgent now.

(Later) Nuriel appeared and asked me if I wanted a second session of reike. I agreed, and walked with him down to his house, this time to have a full front-and-back treatment, which involves, he explained, a subtle transfer of negative and positive energy. At the outset, he produced crystals, pink quartz, and an egg of onyx. I liked the egg, I said, and he commented that onyx is the stone of Capricorn. (He’s one, too.) The different minerals represent air, fire, water, and earth. Alternatively, he may have meant that they channel forces from the heavens. I’m not sure which it was. My Spanish is getting better, listening to him. Sometimes I could follow him, but not consistently.

Lizy said that she and Alma are studying chiropractic with a German adept who’s told them to obtain the original book on the subject, by a man named Zimmer. Alma has a copy of the German edition, but no one can read it except the teacher, so Lizy’s been trying to track down a copy via the Internet. She said that the difference in methods has to do with their subtlety, and that modern chiropractic is something like shiatsu, while the old school is very gentle because their knowledge of the spinal cord is more detailed and their methods more sensitive.

The reike session lasted maybe 90 minutes—this is a guess. Lizy arrived meanwhile, and she and Nuriel made an elaborate salad. I watched Nuriel add oil and lemon juice and then mix it in. He sliced everything up so the salad bowl was heaping when he was finished. I realized that I could make it, too, having watched him, and said to Lizy later that this is rare for me, to learn something by observation.

I asked Nuriel (with Lizy translating) if he knew how to garden when he came here. “No,” he said. “I learned mostly by myself, but when I got into some difficulty, I went to see a more experienced older man named Antonio.” Lizy feels that you just plunge in, and maybe she’s right, but I said that I like to know someone who can help me when I get into difficulties, as I inevitably do. While in the midst of the reike, I thought about the garden of my house and about my room. I’ve had “remake the room” on my list since the turn of the year, but now I have a clearer image of what to do: empty it out.

When I came here before, the terrace in front of Lizy’s room was filled with people, friends from the valley plus one who’s not. They said hello nicely, but were caught up in their own talk, and I came and went, getting my camera so that I could document the way the water system works. It’s quite something how intricate it is and with what exactitude it delivers water where you need it. That makes sense, of course, in a climate that’s basically a step away from being a desert. There’s been a drought for four years, Julio said two days ago. We’re supposed to visit him—the Henry Thoreau of Alpujarra—this evening. Right now, though, Lizy is still with Nuriel and Ananda.

(Later) Close to dusk, we walked over to the house of Julio Donat. He was out, and we met Pedro, his tenant, who lives in Granada, but comes down here for the weekend, and Pedro’s girlfriend Julia, who’s originally from Munich, Polish-German, and an artist, studying at the University of Granada. What kind of artist, I asked? Etching, she said, but at Granada you have to study every sort of art—you can only specialize as a doctoral student. She works in copper, after finding working with zinc too toxic.

This was later, though. Pedro was the first to greet us, and then Julio appeared. He’d been up organizing the flow of water, as his area will get some next from the channel system. He said that it begins at the highest village—I don’t remember the name—and is fed from a source that comes directly from the mountain. The water depends on the snow pack, and this past winter was dry and warm, so there isn’t much. The spring rains didn’t really help.

Julio took us to his attic, which is a herbarium—shelf after shelf of herbs and plants, which he makes up into herbal or plant mixtures for various conditions. “Hawthorne is good for the heart and circulation,” he explained. “You drink an infusion, and you can drink it as often as you like without ill effect.” This in response to my comment about foxglove (digitalis): “You never know what the result will be, so you can only take it in a hospital, not at home.” Lizy explained later, when I wondered aloud why he didn’t sell his mixtures on the Internet, that a larger market would strip the region of its plants. “He sells them in local markets,” she said, “and earns enough money for what he needs here.”

I bought two copies of his book—at 20 Euros a piece. It’s a wonderful book, and I urged Lizy to translate at least a chapter so we can show it to publishers. Julio speaks English, although he had trouble understanding my Californian, and Lizy says that he teaches classes locally to small groups. He’d be an interesting visitor to our region. His book, too, would find an audience. It’s a model that other regions could profitably emulate.(1)



I brought over a bottle of red wine, so he invited Julia and Pedro to come over and we had a supper that was the exact opposite of our two meals with Nuriel—cosmopolitan in spirit, talking about New York (which Julia intends to visit), Berlin (a city she likes), US and Spanish politics, the films of Peter Greenaway, books like Ecotopia (a copy of which Julio produced, and which led me to mention that I’d met the author, Ernest Callenbach), and the music of Jobim (playing in the background). Lizy drank some wine and enjoyed the conversation. It was a fitting way to end my last full day here. Julia loaned us a headlamp and we walked home in the dark. I followed Lizy, who knows the path better than I do.

Something else about the channels that Julio said: they predate the Moors, as do the villages—they were probably put there by the Romans, which makes complete sense to me, thinking of their skill with aqueducts and other waterways. This was the land of the Hispano-Latin population that fell on hard times in the fifth century A.D., as I learned during my visit to the Archaeology Museum in Madrid. They did well, and it stuck.

(Sunday, 4 May 2008) I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and washed up. It’s surprising how easy this proved to be, after all my qualms before getting to the valley. From the experience of the morning before, I left the room closed up so its warmth didn’t dissipate. A few days before, with all the windows open, I got so cold that I had to get back under the covers. Worried that Lizy wasn’t coming, I went down to find her, encountering her and Ananda just at the beginning of the path down to Nuriel’s house. I continued down and said goodbye to Nuriel, thanking him for helping Lizy, and then walked up again, running into Ananda, who was coming back down, and said goodbye to him.

I left the house before Lizy, and met up with Julio Donat at the top of the path where the car was parked. We spent 10 minutes talking. Then Lizy arrived and we headed off, talking the whole way until we reached the bus station in Granada, where we left him, on his way to Madrid to visit his mother.



Julio said that the largest of the towns in the Alpujarra, Lanjaron, is a spa whose waters are said to help rheumatism. It’s also a source for bottled water, and as a result, the bottling enterprise is taking water from the irrigation system, to the detriment of the local community. His sister lives in Vancouver, he said—she’s married to a Canadian Chinese who’s a diplomat. I hope he’ll come to California. He knew about Yosemite and other parks. His other interest is trees, Lizy told me yesterday. In the car, he told us that he studied psychology at the university in Madrid, but then came to the valley a bit before Nuriel—which means that he’s been there for about 30 years. “My father came to visit a few months before he died,” he said. “That visit was important for me, because he said, after seeing the valley, that he understood why I’d done what I did—choosing to make a life there instead of pursuing work as a psychologist.” He’s acquired all his knowledge of plants since then. —John Parman


1. Hee-Jin Kim: Dōgen on mediation and thinking: a reflection on his view of Zen, State University of New York Press, 2007.

2. Julio Donat and Anabel Sandoval: A tus plantas, Alpujarra, Asoc. de Mujeres Órgiva, 2006

Photos of Alpujarra and Granada by John Parman.

Copyright: 2009 John J. Parman (unless otherwise noted)

Website: http://complace.j2parman.com

Contact: j2parman@yahoo.com

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