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Grenada’s crowning glory

17 January 2004

12:00 AM

17 January 2004

12:00 AM

The Alhambra Robert Irwin

Profile Books, pp.264, 15.99

Four years ago this author gave us Night & Horses & the Desert, an anthology of classical Arabic literature, all brave deeds, high thinking and love, wit and wisdom — chivalry, in short — reminding why so many generations of the English have fallen madly in love with this culture that is now dead and gone — and so much the worse for all of us. Never have I owned a more romantic book, but with this one Robert Irwin discourages romance. A first chapter is full of alluring tales about the Alhambra, but then he says, ‘Not one fact . . . is likely to be correct’, blaming the purveyors of the tourist industry. But when the truth is so generous with drama, who needs the embellishment?

People love the place and hate it because of its unlovable progeny, cinemas wreathed with fairy lights, dance palaces, tawdry hotels. Those who love it are among the 6,000 tourists a day, and Borges, M. C. Escher, Washington Irving, and many others, including artists and musicians by the score. Crowds make it impossible to experience the place properly. Some of us remember when we ambled through almost empty courts and gardens, silent except for the sounds of the water that made you think of dusty caravans and thirsty travellers longing for the first splashing stream or the fountains the Arabs were so good at. They were above all architects of water, making patterns of ripples that mirror patterns in tiles, reflections echoing graceful fa


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