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Alhambra is great
But I came to Granada to find the pomegranates

By Roozbeh Shirazi
August 10, 2001
The Iranian

I arrived in Spain last week. I am here to escape the hectic pace of Jersey City and New York, of living life with a cell phone and always having to be somewhere . I came to seduce and be seduced by this most seductive country on the Mediterrean. So far, I have not been disappointed. From the insanity of Barcelona, I have made my way down to Andalucia, the land of Flamenco and Las Corrida de Los Toros, the bullfight. After a train trip spent drinking Rioja and teaching rudimentary phrases of Farsi to my Italian seatmates, I arrived in Granada early last night.

In Spanish, Granada is the word for pomegranate. Like the pomegranate, Granada does not reveal its inner mysteries upon an initial inspection. This dusty and parched city, now clogged with taxis, tour buses, and generic high rise complexes, was once the Western frontier of the Islamic Empire, the site of countless discoveries and advances in medicine, math, philoshophy, and architecture. The works of Plato and Socrates, Avicenna and Hafez were alive and well in the universities of the city, and were translated into several European languages while the rest of the continent languished in the Dark Ages.

Mystics, travelers, philosophers flocked to arguably the world´s most important city in the 11th century A.D. However, it was Granada´s artisans and masons who built the most important aspect of the city, the great fortress called the Alhambra. Atop a mountain, the Alhambra rises to pierce the azure skies over the city of Granada in southern Spain. The famed palace and fortress was the last stronghold of the Moorish Empire in Western Europe, and fell to Ferdinand and Isabella in January of 1492, the same year that they sent Columbus west to find his passage to India.

It is the best known symbol of the Muslim legacy in Spain, and draws thousands of admirers to its reddish stone walls every year. Inside, the Nasrid palaces and Generalife gardens, delight and dazzle the senses with the intricacy and symmetry of classical Islamic archtecture. Light and shadow are effortlessly woven together across the cool marble and tilework of the palaces and to find oneself in a lush garden with bubbling fountains and cisterns atop a rocky cliff is what travelers of old must have felt upon happening on a hidden oasis.

The Alhambra, and the colorful history of Granada drew me here as well. After seeing how the sultans lived, I explored the winding labarinyth of passages of the Albaicin, the old Arab quarter where Morrocan teahouses and vibrant sidestreet bazaars abound.

I stopped and bought Spanish saffron for my mother from a vendor and told him that as an Iranian, it was my duty to tell him the best saffron comes from Iran. He did not quite appreciate my sense of humor as much as I´d hoped. But, having never been to Iran or other Middle Eastern country, I was experiencing a strange sense of deja vú, as though I should be familiar with my surroundings. For one who has grown up with the memories that others have of Iran and knowing its history only through books, I felt a strange sense of multitemporality, as if I was equally inhabiting space in the distant past, and present; I was in Iran, in Spain, and in my own mind all at once.

I bought a tea (with cardomom of course) and stood against a wall in the narrow alley and looked around, overwhelmed. Around me, people swirled by speaking Spanish and going about their daily lives. The air was perfumed with the smells of saffron, kababs, and cumin -- along with the slightest hint of hashish rising from corner stalls on the street. Towering over me, the sun was setting on this massive edifice that recalls a shared history with these people.

I wondered if other Iranians would consider coming to this place, and if other Iranians would feel as powerful a connection to Granada as I had. Just then while I was standing there, an American backpacker spotted my college T-shirt and asked me first where I was from and what I thought about it all. His question snapped me out of my revelry, and I emerged from the cultural trance the city had put over me. I looked him dead in the eye, and as seriously as I could, did my best rendition of an Iranian-dad joke: "The Alhambra is great, but I came to Granada to find the pomegranates."

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