Flamenco sketches: Day 3

22 Jun

 

“The less we remember, the less we are. The past is being erased from modern conscience, if we don’t know where we are coming from, it’s hard to know where we’re going”   Carlos Ruiz Zafón

 
I’ve planned this day for over a year and, now it’s arrived, I’m as excited as a kid going to the fun fair for the first time. After a mighty breakfast, Paul the Greek, the Dub Organiser and I head off inland in one of our cars to Cordoba, the capital of Al Andalus when the Moors occupied Spain. We’d been to the Alhambra in Granada three years back and now we’re looking forward to learning more.

 
We quickly pass Malaga below us and head inland  I’m again taken aback by the modernisation of Spain since accession into the EU. The motorway looks and feels brand new. The road surface is as smooth as glass and we swallow the miles as we climb up through the Sierra Nevadas, eventually reaching 2,000 ft before we’ve hit Cordoba. Every bend reveals yet more acres of newly planted groves of olive, lemon and orange trees as far as one can see anywhere and the once barren land seems to want to no longer bear witness to the tragic Civil War which it reluctantly hosted.

In what feels like half the actual time, we pass a crest of yet another mountain and my Civil War sentimentality evaporates passing over the final ridge as we all see Cordoba before us hugging the meandering Guadalquivir river, compact with its medieval walls defined against the surrounding countryside. The Satnav is as good as a chocolate fireguard as we attempt to get close to our hotel. Buzz Aldrin had less trouble. After two circuits of the town, our collective hippocampus enlarged by the Knowledge of London deduces that we needed to pass through that security barrier over there which we passed only the once. Not bad, that.

No sooner are we through the barrier than we’re at our Hostal Triunfo, bang across the narrow street from La Mezquita, the mosque built by the Moors and later converted to a cathedral during the Reconquest of Spain. This is my reason to come here and I’m not disappointed. Its exterior wall stretches as far as one can see in both directions and must be two London buses high. We alight from the car and I briefly lose my breath as the dry 40C air hits me all over. No chance of a quick Levantian gust here to restore us, this is looking like a one-day survival course. We quickly check in, shower and creep downstairs back to the mouth of the main door, nervously looking out to see if it’s any cooler–the way they do in Western films when the duel is over on Main Street .

 
It’s no less scorching and now getting humid as we meander through the old streets from shadow to shadow, one old street to another. Dotted along the streets are former palaces now boutique hotels boasting beautiful interior courtyards with central fountains which now form their inviting eceptions. As tempting as they look for a cold drink, we push on in search of more Moorish treasure. We drop down to the river and admire the eight arched bridge left by the Romans when they settled here around 152BC.

On the north side stands a triumphal arch worthy of Rome itself which perhaps wasn’t out of place when Cordoba was Western Europe’s largest city by around 929AD. As we rise back up into the city, we’re met by a huge crucifix in the middle of the road, placed after the Reconquista in 1236 and letting us know who’s boss now. Another corner turned and we face the Posada del Potro, immortalised by Cervantes in Don Quixote.

Through the arch we find the 1500s courtyard reminiscent of the coaching inns that run off Borough High St in London SE1. It’s now the National Flamenco Institute and with sensitive refurbishment just completed, its future is happily assured. The fairy lights in the trees aligning the streets come to gentle life as the sun loses its fire and we’re spoilt for choice of where to eat with tapas all over the place at only €2 per dish. But we choose to dine al fresco with one eye on an adjacent tv to track the Euro progress of Ingerland.

 
My cod balls in tomato sauce are worth the long wait—Torres would’ve scored first—and slip down beautifully with the smooth Verdicchio at a ridiculously cheap €7.80 per bottle. Our eyes and stomachs now both overfed, it’s time to nourish the soul if we can find the jazz club that my musical soul brother Chris has found on the net.

Getting lost is no problem because we circle La Mezquita and wonder at its golden glow shining out against the dark blue evening sky. I look up at its Arabic inscriptions and Christian iconography and, call me an old hippy, ask why can’t we cut the crap and all live together? I’m excited like a kid on Christmas Eve staring at the tree’s lights, wondering what the gofts’ wrapping paper contains and can’t wait to visit it tomorrow.

 
We find the Jazz Cafe and enter. I’m nervous, is it going to be square or hep? I’m quickly reassured to the latter as I see Miles Davis and Charlie Parker album covers. In fact someone’s gone to a lot of trouble, as you can’t see the wall for photos and I’m sure that’s Tubby Hayes coming out of the speakers. At €2 for a caña pequeña, my happy feet are tapping like mad. With people still coming into the place at 4am, we decide to split the scene and get some sleep for the busy tourist day ahead.

 
We venture out into the still populated streets and i feel like we’re three dudes at the Ok Corral but we’re probably walking like the old music hall dancers, Wilson, Kepple and Betty. We find our room back at the hostal and I don’t remember my head hitting the pillow or snoring most of the night but, apparently, El Greco does.

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