Around 2000 my brother moved to Madrid, and (obviously) invited me to visit. I was captivated almost immediately. It was the November but the air was warm and welcoming, and he took me on a sort of tapas-crawl. At each bar we would have smallish beer each, and with each beer came a free nibble: some chorizo, maybe, olives, crisps, patatas bravas. I noticed that as the evening progressed the streets grew busier with people talking, drinking, and eating. It is hard to explain why Madrid is attractive: it has few interesting buildings, no hills, and a pathetic excuse for a river. but it has Soul. Also, like the rest of Spain the people have the mysterious ability to spend the night out on the town, come home in the small hours, and then get up and go to work the next day. The streets are clean, the trains run on time, but people still seem to have time to enjoy life and each other.
This picture is obviously a little rose-tinted. But, as in any decent long term relationship, knowledge of flaws and weaknesses enrich and do not destroy. Since then I have visited other places: Segovia, Salamanca, the Costa Blanca, and (maybe most evocative) the cities of Cordoba and Sevilla in Andalucia. It was in Cordoba that I discovered Sufi Islam, and, in Cordoba and Andalucia, the beauty of Muslim and Mudejar architecture.
Inspired by these visits (and shamed by my monoglot status) I decided to learn Spanish: this has been a painfully slow but deeply rewarding activity. Not only have I made new friends, I have learnt about a culture, mindset, and history that is not my own, and yet informs mine. I have also discovered the world of Spanish and Hispanic Cinema
An odd (maybe) side effect is that getting to know Spain has also informed my thoughts about identity, definition, borders, and thence Derrida. I will end, for the time being, with the following fragment of thought which occurred to me as I was lying in bed recently...
I started by wondering whether my love of Spain, my longing for Andalusia, was based on a mind picture that could only be painted by someone for whom it was not their own home. If I had been born and raised in Cordoba, immersed in the sound of crickets, the burnished blue dome of the sky, the whiteness of the walls, would it then not have the flavour it has for me: would it just be the normal? Is my longing to be part of it defined by the fact that I am not part of it.
Then I read a biography of Lorca (by Ian Gibson, Faber and Faber). He talked of his desire '...to live close to what one feels deeply: the whitewashed wall, the fragrant myrtle, the fountain'. He also refers to Granada as 'the story of what happened earlier in Seville': Gibson notes that 'one perceives a sense of absence, of something lost for ever', and that 'Granada's voice', for Lorca, 'is elegiac in tone'.
I began to see that desire for a place, a longing to be There, is defined by being apart from it. This can be an apartness in space or time...
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