Granada, End of the Hippie Trail

Burgess beholds the Alhambra, gets in line.

By Steve Burgess 1 Jun 2005 |

Steve Burgess is a freelance writer and the author of Who Killed Mom?, published in 2011 by Greystone Books.

Born in Norwalk Ohio, home of the famous virus, Steve was raised in Regina, SK, and Brandon, MB. He writes a regular column for The Tyee, often reviewing films but also, sometimes, detailing his hilarious world travels for Tyee readers. Steve is a former CBC Radio host and has won two National Magazine Awards. He has also won three Western Magazine Awards.

Reporting Beat: Travel, pop culture, politics, cobbling, knife sharpening, furnace repair.

Twitter: @steveburgess1

Website: Steve Burgess

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Granada is Hippie Town. Do the guidebooks mention that? I forgot to check. But this is definitely where the Sixties came to die—backpacks and dreadlocks and tie-dye and bongos, bongos everywhere. Being struck by an errant juggling pin is always a danger. In the narrow lanes behind my hotel on Plaza Nueva are shops full of Moroccan knick-knacks augmented with imported Indian goods, shelves full of hookahs, and George Harrison on the radio singing “What is Life”; it’s Time-Warp Alley.

And those bongos-oy. The bongos are a far-too democratic instrument. I was once trapped by illness in a Paris hotel room where some unseen bongo-battering moron in the park below my window tormented me for three days. I suppose it was lucky he didn’t have enough money for a violin.

Granada is also far more Arabic than its neighbours Cordoba and Seville. The Islamic features of those cities tend to be historic leftovers from the region’s Islamic glory days, like Cordoba’s amazing mosque that now has a huge cathedral plunked incongruously in the middle. But Granada clearly shows its strong Moroccan influence in numerous restaurants and shops.

Then there’s the Alhambra. The Alcazar, the Generalife and the Palace, Granada’s main tourist attractions, are all situated on a hill overlooking the city. They’re great. Everybody thinks so. And that’s why we’re all here together, lined up for tickets in the hot sun.

Yo soy un turista

There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. If I really thought there was I would be forced to go home, just on principle. And I guess I’m being a snob, which does me no credit. Still—if I really wanted to be surrounded by these people I would go to Des Moines to view them in their natural habitat.

But that’s unfair. Most of the people I first took to be badly-dressed Iowans actually appear to be badly-dressed Germans, Swiss, Belgians, and perhaps the odd Finn. Tourists seem to dress the same regardless of countries of origin.

Now we are all shuffling along together, down the path to see the stuff. It’s the moo-cow experience. I am not an adventure seeker, a kayaker or rock-climber or mountaineer; I am just a cow. I lack the opposable thumbs that would lift me above the herd. So I offer up a mournful moo and follow the pasture trail, shoulder to shoulder with my bovine companions.

The Generalife takes its name from an Arabic word describing a place of refuge for a ruler. He’d need an extra one now to escape from all of us. But it’s a truly beautiful place with maze-like gardens and walkways that provide sweeping views of city and valley, large enough to offer moments of peace even amid this camera-toting throng.

At one window overlooking the valley, posterity-minded visitors have scratched out their names-Dagmar, Helen, Ernesto; Elmer, Bessy, Meadow Belle; moo, moo, moo. Palaces and parapets, plazas and pools, gardens and grand, soaring arches covered in intricate Islamic design—there are hours to spend here without exhausting the sights. But exhausted I am, and annoyed. It would take a soul far more Zen than my own troubled little spirit to soar above the mob and appreciate these sights from some place of inner solitude. I know that I am here because jet travel has made it easy, just as it has for everyone; I know that I am solidly part of the problem. For that matter I know if I had the jam to get up at the crack of dawn I could beat these bastards. But I don’t.

The outsider’s verse

At least I can walk, and keep walking. Granada offers more than its showcase attraction. There are ancient stone streets that have maintained their residential character, winding through gritty neighbourhoods where no cheap crap merchants venture. There are out-of-the-way cafes where locals hang out, and student haunts near the university. The narrow, tunneling streets may not offer traditional sights. But they offer a sense of discovery.

The internal jukebox always starts up on the road, dredging up forgotten favourites in response to stimuli. Now I find myself humming Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” from her 1971 album Blue, released when the hippie trail was still fresh. “I am on a lonely road and I am traveling,” she sings.

Evening in Spain brings the flip side of the tourist-mob experience. Crowds of laughing, chattering locals fill the streets and café tables and cluster outside dance clubs. Another verse of “All I Want” is playing in my head now: “I wanna be strong, I wanna laugh along, I wanna belong to the living.” The verse has always sounded joyous, optimistic to me. But tonight it suggests a different character. It is the outsider’s prayer, the yearning to connect, the plea to be allowed inside.

Such privileges are not granted in a week—certainly not to wandering Anglos with hardly three Spanish words to rub together. For the likes of me there are cathedrals, maybe a little clover, and a comfortable stall for the night.

Goodnight, moo.

Steve Burgess will file postcards from Europe whenever he isn’t perfecting his hacky sack skills.  [Tyee]

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