The City and the Writer: In Granada with Fernando Valverde

By Nathalie Handal

Image of The City and the Writer: In Granada with Fernando Valverde

Special Country Series / Spain 2013

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.

                        —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

 

Can you describe the mood of Granada as you feel/see it?

It’s a very lively city, full of vitality. In it, there is one of the most important universities of Europe, with five centuries of history; students come from all over the continent to study in Granada. That, coupled with the tourism coming every year to see the Alhambra and the Albaicín and the Sacromonte, makes it bustle with people and leisure. I love that the city has a kind of eternal youth that is constantly being renewed. I also think the people who come from elsewhere bring something special to Granada.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

Granada is a city full of memories. It is the terrain of my youth. On every corner, there are good-byes, the last vision of a loved one, the memory of a love. I remember the first time I went to the Alhambra, as a child, accompanied by my grandparents. I don’t know if I keep the memory of that day or if it is really just the memory of a photograph of me in my grandmother’s arms, watching the towers of the Nazarite fortress from the Generalife. The greatest impact the city has had on me is that my emotional education was built on its stage, and has somehow contributed to making me who I am.

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

The visitor is dazzled by the Alhambra and its monuments, by its artistic and historic heritage. Perhaps that’s why it’s difficult to realize that this is a self-conscious city that doesn’t quite know how to manage its riches. A city that fails to take the pulse of modernity and that tries continually to find its place in the world—in a constant dilemma between the past and the future.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

Without a doubt Federico García Lorca is the great poet of Granada. His is a long shadow enveloping everything else. The other major poets of Granada are Luis Rosales and Luis García Montero. For me the latter is a true master.

Is there a place here you return to often?

I like going to the stadium, to see Granada’s club de fútbol. A small team that, only a few years ago, was in the third division and now is in the first. I don’t know if this is the answer you were hoping for, but it’s sincere. Since I was a kid, I’ve gone to the stadium with my grandfather, perhaps my best memories take place there. My first memory is walking to the field, holding my grandfather’s hand, with a scarf tucked around my neck in the colors of my team. There are things that make one feel in communion with the world—going with my brothers to the games is one of the best for me.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

There are many iconic places. Granada is quite possibly the world capital of poetry. The house where García Lorca was born, the site where he was executed between Víznar and Alfacar . . . the Alhambra is possibly one of the most beautiful books of poetry ever constructed—its walls are full of Arabic poems. In Granada, the poet José Zorrilla was crowned National Poet of Spain in the nineteenth century. In a cedar tree, in the Carmen de los Mártires, San Juan de la Cruz wrote his spiritual canticle. There are many mystical poetic places here.

Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

The Barranco de Víznar is the most mysterious place—it provoked a major commotion inside me. Thousands of people were executed there at the start of the Spanish Civil War. It is one of the most loaded and significant places in Spanish history. It is a moving place.

Where does passion live here?

The stadium . . . of course.

What is the title of one of your poems about Granada and what inspired it exactly?

I have never written a poem about Granada. I feel too much for my city to write a poem about it. I think they would seem localistic, not credible. Nonetheless, Granada is the central part of my poems, in one form or another, whether because the stories I tell have happened here, or because it is the territory of returning, and of childhood.

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Granada does an outside exist?”

There are many apartments in Granada. No doubt better than any hotel. One can stay right in Gran Vía, a few steps away from the Alhambra and the cathedral, in typical Grenadine apartments, where one feels best the life and pulse of the city. There are beloved streets like Elvira and all the others that join with Gran Vía. Without a doubt, I will settle in this area.

Translated by Meghan Flaherty

 

Fernando Valverde has published numerous books of poetry, including Viento favorable, Madrugadas, Razones para huir de una ciudad con frío and Con Los ojos del pelícano, which won the prestigious Emilio Alarcos Prize given by the Principality of Asturias. Valverde has won many awards, including the Federico García Lorca Prize and the Juan Ramón Jiménez Prize. He writes on culture for the newspaper El País, and is co-director of the Granada International Poetry Festival.

 

NH’s Discovery: Of all the cities in Spain, Granada marked me most of all. As I say in my most recent collection Poet in Andalucía, the first time I went to Granada I was a teenager. As I drove up the mountain, the olive trees were breathtaking, and the light against them added to their glory. It felt like home. That summer, I read Lorca for the first time.

Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros on June 5, 1898 and was killed in 1936. I am not sure what I expected when I arrived on the street—now called Manuel de Falla—where the poet was born. It was mostly poor and inhabited by Gypsies. I suppose that might be appropriate in a way. I had coffee at the café-bar El Reloj, and then headed to Valderrubio where Lorca’s father had a farmhouse and where Lorca lived before his family moved to Granada. I discovered that Valderrubio was once named Qariat al-Sakruya (tenth and eleventh century), then Wadi Askuruya, then Axxacucha or Axcorocha (fourteenth century), Escuraja (1431), Ascorosa (1501), Asquerosa (1592), Acuerosa (1887), Asquerosa again (1897), Maria Cristina (1931), and finally Valderrubio (1943).

Then we went to Alfacar where Lorca was killed and where the earth was still open from the search for Lorca’s bones as well as the remains of others killed with him. Nothing was found. For some reason all I could think about was Rafael Alberti’s painting, Estampa del sur (1924) in Lorca’s Huerta de San Vicente in Granada. This image of the south, which Alberti dedicated to the beginning of their friendship, depicts a man in a red cap looking up at a gray fortress. Above the fortress, small colorful flags form a triangle with a faceless Madonna wearing yellow and holding a child in red. My eyes kept going back to that suspended triangle. I didn’t understand Alberti’s message to Lorca but the image was so alive in contrast to the open mounds of earth I had just seen in Alfacar and Víznar.

Walking on the hills of this glorious place, I found it difficult to believe so many bodies are buried underneath. It’s quiet and uneasy. The landscape speaks to me but death only pretends to have a language. And so do the small streams that thread through the terrain.

The vistas on the way to Granada always have an indescribable effect on me. The endless olive trees, the dramatic skies. Here are the Sierra Nevada’s two highest peaks the Veleta (3,395 meters) and the Mulhacén (3,479 meters)—named after Abu Hasan Ali or Muley Hacén as he is known in Spanish, a fifteenth-century Muslim King of Granada. There is a myth that he was buried on the summit of the mountain. Below, the elegant beauty of the Alpujarra valleys. And then of course, the Alhambra at the heart of Granada. The morning mist circling the palace fills the soul, tells us the secret of magic. But it asks us to explain and we can’t, all we can do is be with it.

There is so much here: the view of the snow-covered mountains, the Darro valley, the pines, the white houses and their tile rooftops like small hats, and the music of the water flowing through the city, mostly there is a song and every one of us has to find it our own way.

In the center Granada is the Albayzín. It is the old Moorish quarter of the city, facing the Alhambra. Today’s Albayzín used to be the Alcazaba, the Moorish citadel, and the oldest part of the Alhambra. The courtyard of what was once the Albayzín's great mosque is now attached to the church of the Colegiata del Salvador.

Another interesing neighborhood in this magical city is Sacromonte. It’s the Gitano quarter of the city. Gitanos are the Romani people in Spain, who migrated out of the Indian subcontinent west into Europe around the eleventh century. I went to Sacromonte by foot, and when I arrived, the view from the hill was in communion with the music of the place.

One of the most unforgettable bars and meeting places of the artists, musicians, writers, actors is La Tertulia (http://www.tertuliagranada.com). It has everything—charm, ambience, history, melancholy, a testament of what’s past and what will always remain.

You can read my translation of Fernando Valverde's poem in the Summer 2013 issue of the Cortland Review. Among the many other exciting young poets from Granada is Daniel Rodriguez Moya.


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