November 29, 2015
Views of the Alhambra.
I’m in Granada, Spain, taking in views of the Alhambra from my hotel room. The extra supplement we have paid for these views is both easy and hard to justify. Common wisdom knows full well that rooms with a view usually stretch the promise, since what is viewed is more often than not merely glimpsed, obliquely or “only on a clear day”. The phrase partial view is the poorer cousin and should be treat with even more circumspection.
And yet on this occasion, views of the Alhambra are really quite good. I can see the fortress of blocks of the Alcazaba, and part of the palace behind, and the hilltop setting, and even the misty line of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. I’ve taken several photographs, not as views-from-my-room but simply as worthwhile views.
Granada as a city has disappointed me a bit. I came here a decade or so ago and all I remember are the jewel-like attributes of the Nasrid Palace inside the Alhambra. What I’ve forgotten is the large sprawling town that surrounds it, seeping inexorably into the broad mountainous plateau on which the city stands. The city is much larger and more lived in than I remember. For the tourist there is no gain in seeing the rows of car dealerships, high-rise apartment blocks, factory buildings, McDonalds outlets, advertisement hoardings, and so on. These things are a blot and a burden – the things that tell us we are in the wrong part of town. We prefer our trinket shops and Flamenco shows, our white-washed buildings and old world atmosphere. Even the touts offering Segway rides up the cobbled streets are a distraction.
Thus, there is something reassuring and yet deeply troubling about these views of the Alhambra. Between the hotel window and the monument I can see nothing but pretty tiled rooftops and a winding street. The view we have paid extra for is not just about what we can see but also what can be edited out. The town is reduced to a single transaction, a line of light between my window and the great building up there. An abstraction.
It is this sort of worry, in my reckoning, that leads some people to want to re-appraise the touristic facets of the general urban swathe. They sense the pathetic aloofness of the tourist who angles his camera lens to cut out all but the most desirable components of the shot, as if to take home pictures of dustbins, car parks, scrub land, building sites, suburbia, etc., would be an embarrassment or a travesty. The same could be said of the tourist who pays extra for a room with a view. Such aloofness is absurd-seeming because it wishes and pretends the earth to be something different to how it is. And yet what is travel but a series of imagined perfections?
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