Álvaro Eduardo Cano Betancur: Farewells

No matter how prevalent special circumstances may arise, the topic appears so often in our everyday life that almost every remark in this context has become superfluous.

Come with me and let us go back together to the days of the last week in spring of 1995, looking at the lands of Al-Andaluz.

It was on a Friday evening, I found myself in an air-conditionate travel Coach amid a group of students and tourists from different nationalities, leaving the beautiful Spanish capital setting off for Seville. After an almost seven-hour drive we reached Hispalis, as it was called during the Middle Ages. Just before seven o’clock in the morning, we arrived, getting off the bus at the bus station entering the twilight morning, shy rays of sunshine were greeting us. Some passengers took their respective journeys into their own hands, others were received by their families, whereas others, like me, decided to walk on the streets leading to the Plaza de España. Past trees that bloom in season, hand painted tiles reminding us of their history, and a bench calling for the first meal of the day. Afterward, I took a stroll to the lush monarchical cathedral and made a visit up to La Giralda. Just a few steps away from this jewel of architecture, is the Barrio de la Santa Cruz, a beautiful centennial structure with unique streets, impeccable cleanliness and a mixture of buildings from different generations and cultures. An entire part of Spain’s history has been brought together in a single neighborhood of this quarter.

Since I got lost two days earlier in the streets, quarters and scenes of the very noble, very loyal, very heroic, undefeated and Marian city of Seville, I decided to use the regional train as a means of transport to get to the other Andalusian miracle, the city of Granada, the last fortress of the Arabs invading Hispanic countries. Very early in the morning, we got on the same train which, unlike the Spanish high-speed trains -AVE – has a lot in common with those of my own country, but only because of its low speed. This has enabled us to view the beautiful and attractive white villages in the south of the peninsula from a distance. It is not an arduous journey, because the sluggishness of the transport makes it possible to contemplate the landscapes, the shape of the buildings and the observation of animals in the fields during the journey. After a few hours, we found ourselves in the city to which the La Alhambra belongs to, actually a town like any other, just with an Arabic Muslim name. It is not without reason that the presence of Almoravids and Almohads on the Iberian Peninsula has never lost its importance in Spanish history for more than seven centuries. When I arrived there, I got off the train and without caring if there were vacancies in a hostel, I went directly to the probably most famous building of the Maghreb and the Moors, the incomparable Alhambra, home of the invading monarch, who had to surrender to the armies of Catholic kings in 1492. Today it is one of the most beautiful tourist attractions of the whole Peninsula, and I think from a distance, maybe even of the entire world. Because I had arrived a little later than planned, I decided to postpone the interior visit until the next day. So, I stayed outside for quite a while and waited until the sun’s rays had faded away to give in to the lush night-time lighting, for me an accurate reflection of the glow that represents the Arabic contribution to the Spaniards. Then I walked into the city center and visited its Catholic, hyperbolic churches, loaded with the gold that was confiscated merely during the terrible conquest of the American colonies. There were no believers in the churches, but many unbelieving and atheistic tourists.

Very early and before the opening of the box offices for the purchase of tickets, I was romping around together with hundreds of tourists from all over the world amongst many colors of skin, foreign accents, and strange outfits, waiting a long time until I was allowed to pass the entrance to the World Heritage site. After being bumped into at random by some tourist from all over the world, stumbling myself upon so many and hearing the usual suffering, I was finally able to admire the gardens surrounded by water coming from the mountains, fed from canals built feverishly by the Moors during their stay. I could see the tiled rooms and the open courtyards and, perhaps best of all, the lion’s garden, stuffed with tourists from all over the world who disturbed the overwhelming view with their cameras and their constant indiscreet flashes. After a very eventful day, I visited some restaurants, bars, and bakeries to get to know the food of this Andalusian region. The next day I visited El Generalife, the other magnificent Almoravid palace built in the 12th century. Like the Alhambra, beautiful architecture and a splendid interior of its gardens. A total of two days of sensory ecstasy. But the pearl of this excursion to the south of Hispania was still missing.

This time I chose the bus again to go to the city of Cordoba, once the capital and seat of the famous Caliphate. As is my custom, after getting out of the vehicle I walked along avenues and streets looking for a hotel, hostel or guesthouse where I could spend the night. One slat task for several hours. I hadn’t seen the cultural program on the Internet. At that time the city council had organized a big rock concert so that the city accommodated not only tourists but also young rock fans from different regions of the country and the surrounding towns. It was hardly apparent that there was no hotel availability for these appointments. By chance, a doorman became aware of my situation and informed me about a single-family house whose owners finally rented one of their bedrooms to recommendable persons. In this case, I was the exception, nobody recommended me, but using my city map and ultimately finding the place, I described my situation to the lady who only asked for my passport and let me in. The absolute relaxation for my body and my soul. I could bathe, change clothes and go out with new strength to get to know a unique city.

Its architecture is an exceptional blend of Roman architecture (bridge, tower, and towers on the Guadalquivir), medieval Hispanic American and modern, Moorish and Hebrew buildings in the Jewish quarter. Its narrow stone alleys, its high and beautiful facades of artistic material, houses decorated with colorful flowers, fences, corridors, courtyards with cisterns in the center and many plants all around. To walk through the narrow and concise streets of medieval history, where three great cultures coexisted and tolerated each other for centuries, the Arabs, the Hebrews, and the Hispanics, until the arrival of the Orthodox Catholic Kings. An excellent example of this is the fact that in less than three blocks there are the mosque, the cathedral, and the synagogue, as well as statues that pay tribute to their doctors and philosophers. To show the tolerance prevailing during these centuries, the luminous Catholic cathedral is located in the middle of the multi-faceted Muslim mosque. Both show the wealth and economic strength of the Arab and Spanish cultures of the time, while the synagogue reflects the rigor and religious stoicism of Jewish culture. The third night before I went to bed, I enjoyed student life because it gave me the opportunity to communicate and have direct contact with the cultures that preceded my academic education. I had always read about it, but it was precisely in these Andalusian regions that I clearly saw the real contribution of their military invasions and their cultural gifts.

The return journey to Madrid was marked by the nostalgia of the coincidental encounter of a travel companion and her stories about a young farm girl who is connected to the country and its traditions. Also, overshadowed by the abrupt farewell, with the request for a telephone number, the electronic or physical address of a being with whom I share the same memory of a pleasant and happy stay in Andalusia. I will remember which snapshots the most beautiful pictures of this journey are, and which are true to the original. I recall the aroma of the southern earth. But above all, I remember her and her graceful silhouette, her soft words, but not her name, which was lost among the beautiful memories.