It really was fun.
And then we said goodbye, for now.
We were really close. I mean, really, really close. We had reservations in Fez, I had the train connections from Tangier to Fez copied into my notebook, and the ferry tickets were bought. We left the house in La Herradura right at 10 and made good time to Tarifa. We even thought we might be in time for the 1pm ferry and not have to wait until 3pm to cross. We could see the Rif mountains of Moroccoo across the Straight of Gibraltar. We were so close.
Well, the woman in the red FRS ferry compnay jacket told us, screaming to be heard over the wind, the 1pm ferry was cancelled due to weather, and the forecast for the 3pm ferry wasn’t looking good. The decision to go or to cancel would be made by 2pm. We explained, with big eyes, that we had made arrangements (indeed, had spent most of the previous day making arrangements, but I didn’t tell her that), that we had reservations. She offered that we could drive back to Algeciras and take a boat to Ceuta, or wait until the next day. She was quite gracious and kind in explaining that our tickets would be valid on any crossing their company made, on any day. By the time this was all shouted back and forth it was 11:53am in Morocco, and we had until noon to cancel our hotel reservations. In 45 seconds we cancelled a sidetrip planned for days and dreamed of for years.
I got through to the hotel, who couldn’t find my reservation anyway, and we made the most of our afternoon in Tarifa. We were literally blown from one street into smaller and smaller alleys, trying to get out of the wind. My hair looked like I’d teased it for the prom, and Nora was almost blown off some rocks she was scrambling around on. I was grumpy and irritable and my skin hurt from the wind. I told Brandon, Seems like we’ve been somewhere else where the wind blew like this and I was miserable. He said, Yeah, we lived in Kansas. Oh, right.
If we didn’t have reservations in Morocco, we didn’t have them in Spain, either. We spent a few minutes looking for our good Iberian atlas (it’s gone), then a few more looking at the large, useless map. We made a couple of calls to hotels in various towns in Portugal and settled on staying in Spain and going to Arcos de la Frontera, a great Andalusian town built on a knife’s edge of land with cliffs falling away on either side. We got a room in the Parador, counted ourselves lucky, and headed out for the 60 mile drive. Well, the car battery was dead and we had to be jumped, our map turned out to be incorrectly labelled not once but twice, and a section of the road was closed, necessitating a 20 kilometer detour. More than three hours later we pulled into Arcos, tired and hungry but glad not to be driving 4 more hours into Portugal.
Our balcony at the Parador literally hung over the side of the gorge. One wrong step would have meant a perilous plummet to a pulpy death. [Brandon put in that last sentence about pulpy death.] I had imagined Brandon and I sharing a bottle of wine out there while the kids drifted happily off to sleep. Well, more dreams gone with the wind. Instead we sat for hours over plate after plate of yumminess at a little restaurant in the dungeon of the palace. By the door was a tiny little barbecue. We ordered everything off the menu that we could eat: favas cooked with atrichoke hearts in garlic sauce, mushrooms in a spicy sauce, pototo salad, freshly roasted red peppers with onions, mixed salad, spicy pork on skewers, stewed lamb, pork loin wrapped in bacon on the grill, tiny lamb chops… We rolled ourselves uphill and straight into bed.
Today we’ve poked around, looking in shops and eating at small metal tables. I think I could devote some serious time to the study of olives. Yum. I had a glass of sherry at lunch so rich, so sweet, it was like icy velvet in my mouth. Nora has been flamenco dancing her way around the city. She is constantly moving, snapping, stomping. We found her flamenco shoes for her birthday, red with black polka dots and squat little heels. She can’t wait- 11 more days. And Rory asked great questions in the church today. The Spanish altars are so elaborate and ornate, but some of the statues and paintings seem to breathe. Young Mary is a doting nursing mother; a beaming Joseph holds young Jesus. An eldery bearded man holding a large sceptre we decided was supposed to be God, but we had reservation (I think he looks more like King Triton, Ariel’s father in Little Mermaid). Mary stands beside Christ on the cross, crying gemstone tears. We saw not one word of scripture nor one Bible, but there was message a plenty.
Tomorrow we head to Seville for a couple of days before Brandon has to go back, but We Are Not Talking About That. What’s next for the three of us? I don’t know, but it’ll have to be good. We are going to be three sad sacks in need of distraction. Maybe we’ll try again for Africa. I really, really want to go, although I would much rather go holding tight to Brandon’s hand in the medinas. Still, it would be fabulous. And we are so close! Courage, mon enfant! I tell myself. We’ll see if it works.
Tuesday passed hopping in the water, getting out and warming up, then getting back in. Brandon perfected his rock jumping, and even I thought about getting in the sea. I sat there, watching the water surge into the little tiny cove, thinking of the feel of the salt on my skin, drying in the sun, and getting used to the feel of the algae slick underfoot. I wanted to get in. Then a big wave crashed in and soaked me up to my waist, and my desire to immerse myself was sucked out to sea along with the wave. Oh, well.
Wednesday was to be our big day in Granada. We had been talking about the Alhambra and the history of the Moors in Spain. Just think. This part of Spain was under Islamic rule for 800 years. Then, think that it’s less than 700 years since Isabella and Ferdinand gave the Moors the boot and brought in the Inquisition. Incredible. So, we were off to visit the Alhambra, the last bastion of the Moors in Iberia, and it felt like a great car trip. We turned up the Bon Jovi and the soundtrack of Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, and sang ourselves hoarse as we crossed the Sierra Nevadas heading one hour inland. The sun was shining, and it was a glorious day to do some sightseeing. Now, the last time I visited the Alhambra, in my post-college backpacking days, you just walked up and stood in line for tickets. These days, you can buy tickets a year in advance online (but we knew but hadn’t done), so we were hoping to get lucky and get our tickets the old-fashioned way. Well, no luck. Carol, get your stinking tickets NOW!
We couldn’t get into the palace rooms, but we were able to visit the Generalife, the Alcazar and the palace that Carlos I built in the 16th century. Maybe we just didn’t know what we were missing (and I was keeping quiet), but we loved it all and thought it fabulous. Correct me if I’m wrong but Islamic art relies on patterns and celebration of the written word rather than images of people and animals. Rory and Nora found the idea of that really strange, but in the churches I grew up in we didn’t really have so many paintings or “images” either. The emphasis there was on the Word, singing it and speaking it and memorizing it for stickers in Sunday School, so in that way I really get that about Islam. Going through the Museo de Artes Bellas in the palace of Carlos I was a fascinating contrast of the celebration of the image in Catholic Spain with the celebration of the word in Islam. Rory and Nora loved the small collection there. They were suitably horrified by the pietas, with Jesus sprawled across the lap of his grieving mother, and awed by the altar pieces. They quickly became experts on nail wounds and crowns of thorns, and they had lots of questions about death by crucifixion. The power of the Word is one thing, but going through the museum with Rory and Nora I could see how potent those images are, especially for the less literate. Very clever, those Catholics. We spent the evening strolling around the small streets and alleyways of Granada and had a perfectly forgettable dinner in a hugely memorable square. So, you could say we saw the Alhambra. Almost.
Rory and Nora and I picked Brandon up in Sevilla last Sunday, and we couldn’t stop smiling and giggling and reaching out to make sure he really was here. The kids and I had taken the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, on the northern coast of Spain, a few days before. We drove down, crossing a couple of ranges of snow-covered mountains, spending the night in an 18th century convent-turned parador in Extremadura en route to Andalusia, where we left our camera! Oh, no! So the grand reunion was unphotographed, which was just fine with me. I don’t think I’m likely to forget the lurch in my chest when I first spotted Brandon through the sliding doors at Arrivals, nor the simmering excitement of Rory and Nora, bobbing around in the crowd, waiting for their dad to come out, nor how they tackled him and he had to wade through the crowd with his bag and one kid in each arm. No, I won’t forget any time soon.
Brandon has two weeks with us before he heads back to Iraq, and we had arranged a house in the middle of nowhere for the first week and a house on the coast of the busy Costa del Sol for the second. The first house was gorgeous, set in beautiful gardens with a twenty mile view that saw all the way to Africa. There was a huge (but cold!) pool and lots of space for Rory and Nora to run around and wrestle with their dad. We ate olives and tortilla espanola and picked lemons off of the trees and dipped bread (gluten-free for us, local and fresh for Brandon) in olive oil so fresh I wanted to pour it on everything. At night, with the kids tucked in, Brandon and I sat on the south-facing patio in wicker armchairs and watched the stars come out while we caught up. It was heaven.
Now, we’re in a house perched on rocks set into the coast of the Mediterranean. The views are incredible, and the weather has been amazing. From the huge windows the blue of the sea fades into the blue of a cloudless sky. Rory and Nora and Brandon have spent the last four days wet, getting out of the pool just long enough to bake dry on the rocks, eat something, and then back into the water. Yesterday the sea was like a mirror, flat and clam, and Brandon jumped off the rocks into the water. Rory hopped in and out again just as fast. When his teeth stopped chattering he couldn’t stop talking about the cold. He did say that after the sea the pool felt like a spa.