Wednesday 17 July 2013
The morning was occupied with packing and cleaning the apartment. We met our host, Jon, for the first time, and then took a taxi to the train station where we boarded a Renfe train to Cordoba. Each of the days we were in Córdoba, the recorded maximum was 39°C but the temperature on the street seemed higher even than Seville. Being outside was simply intolerable. We absolutely loved it.
I’m not sure why we were so absurdly happy in Córdoba. Was it because the city is impossibly romantic, or was that simply our state of mind? The scale of the city makes it very inviting. There is little traffic in the old part of the city, and it somehow manages to create stillness amid a riotous collision of cultures.
Our host, Tomás, was incredibly attentive. He offered to pick us up at the train station, but we were content to get a taxi into the old part of the city. (Walking was out of the question, unless you wanted to experience what it is like to be barbecued alive.) He was waiting where the taxi pulled up, and he let us in to the apartment, gave us a quick orientation and some useful maps, and vanished again at the perfect moment.
Our apartment was located in a gated community with delightful ponds and gardens full of lavender. It had a patio that was overshadowed by a rustic cathedral bell, and the Mezquita was in plain view a few blocks way. In the distance, dun-coloured plains scoped away until they bled into a lip of purple hills in the distance. When the day’s sultry heat had been sucked back into the thousand-year old stones of the city, we would emerge out onto the patio for an evening drink and some home-made tapas—with bocarones, of course.
On our first night we opted to take a night tour of the Mezquita. This is essentially a vast mosque of exquisite beauty which had the nave of a Christian gothic cathedral planted in the middle of it after the reconquista. You can view it as a jaw-dropping blend of Christian and Islamic architecture, or you can view it as one of the most extreme acts of cultural vandalism in European history. Either way, the architecture embodies two very different visions of the divine. It is as if the architects of the mosque saw god as some kind of mathematical concept of infinity: at night the striking double-arches seem to go on forever. For the architects of the gothic nave, by contrast, light was the chief metaphor for the divine: the nave rises out of the centre of the mosque like an icy dagger.
The night tour began with a film that had excellent animations illustrating how the Mezquita was first extended laterally by succeeding Moslem rulers, and then extended vertically by the Christians in the C13th. We then entered the Mosque, and the spaces were progressively revealed using clever lighting. This accentuated the illusion of infinite space. We were each equipped with headphones that piped an audio commentary into our ears in the appropriate language, but (as often happens), the technology failed fairly early on in the tour. Susie and I were unfazed by this because there was so much to take in visually that the auditory information was almost superfluous.
By the time we reached the Gothic nave of the cathedral, our headsets had been replaced and the rather bombastic commentary resumed. (At first I had been listening in Spanish, but I knew the register was far too lofty for my kindergarten comprehension.) For a piece of cultural vandalism, the nave was a pretty slick erection. The woodcarving in the choir stalls was like watching Lord of the Rings in mahogany. And even though the superimposition of a cathedral on a mosque created obvious architectural absurdities, you have to marvel at the fact that they did it at all.
I was rather glad to turn back to the god of mathematical infinity. I felt like I could stroll for ever through those double arches with their variegated stone and columns polished by a thousand years of curious hands. There are no winners in history, only lots and lots of dead people. How blessed was I to be there in that sacred place with the love of my life and another day to look forward to.
As we spilled back out onto the cobblestone streets, we were instantly attracted to the irresistible prospect of Flamenco. A well-dressed spruiker in a doorway was offering a discounted entry fee to see the latter part of the show. The sound of Spanish guitars sucked the cash straight out of our wallets and we were ushered into a delightful courtyard where a troupe of dancers was riding the musical fission reaction generated by two master guitarists. Someone brought us a complementary drink, and we melted into the jasmine.