Moments To Remember

Over the years the news media, initially press and later including television, have made me aware of a succession of assassinations and terrorist attacks against civilians, beginning with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi which horrified me as a boy of 7, and culminating with the London bombings of July 7th, 2005. So many, in fact, that it is impossible to say how many.
On the other hand, there have been three moments, all of them witnessed on BBC News, which had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. One was the night of November 9th, 1989, when quite unbelievably one of the demonstrators protesting in West Berlin against the continuing presence of the Wall, actually climbed onto the top of it, to be followed rapidly by dozens more; and not a single shot was fired. Then the demonstrators began destroying the structure, the East German government bowed to the inevitable - Thank God! - and in no time at all, it seemed, East Germans were flooding through Checkpoint Charlie into the West.
I also remember how similar was the feeling I experienced when, again on my TV screen, on February 9th, 1990 I witnessed the sight of Nelson Mandela walking freely from prison after 26 years of incarceration by the apartheid regime.
Two events that changed the world for the better; and so too is the third, the thirtieth anniversary of which was celebrated her in Spain on Wednesday. On February 23rd, 1981, Spain’s fledgling and still fragile democracy was threatened when Lt.Col. Antonio Tejero Molina, a Guardia Civil officer stormed the Cortes and began firing in the chamber which was in session. That evening saw the first occasion that the hairs rose on the back of my neck. On my TV screen I watched as King Juan Carlos, dressed in full uniform as head of the armed forces, ordered all troops and Guardia Civil personnel to remain in their barracks, making clear to the Spanish nation just how completely Tejero had misread the political situation. Within a very short time the putative coup d’etat was over and the rebels had been rounded up. In my mind that night, and that broadcast by the king was the moment that democracy truly arrived in Spain.



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Comares is a white village about an hour's drive from here. It sits dramatically on the summit of what in England we would probably call a crag; either a very high hill, or a modest mountain! It was one of two strongholds (along with Bobastro) of a muslim predecessor of Robin Hood, Ibn Hafsun. Back at the end of the ninth century, having fallen foul of the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba, he lived the life of an outlaw, though a very powerful one; the territory which fell under his control stretched from Gibraltar in the west to Jaen in the east, and on behalf of the villagers he put up fierce resistance to Umayyad taxation and forced labour.
Some friends are here in Frigiliana at the moment, so yesterday we took a trip up there and enjoyed a stroll around the village, following a route which is helpfully way-marked by ceramic footprints set into the road surface. At the top of the village we were accosted - as always - by an elderly lady who emerged suddenly from her house in order to try to sell us almonds, figs, raisins or jam. I think she must spend her days sitting behind the beaded fly screen that hangs in her doorway, waiting for potential customers to appear around the corner. Sadly, I know from past experience that there is a serious mismatch between the prices charged and the quality offered.!
Back in the plaza, from which there is a spectacular view down to the plain and as far as the sea, we sat outside the bar in the warm sun for a drink and a selection of tapas, before heading home again in the early afternoon.



Last year’s Festival of Three Cultures stimulated an interest in me to know more about the medieval history of this part of Spain. For my birthday and for Christmas I received gifts of three books on the subject, and have now finished reading two of them. The first was a particularly densely written political history of Al-Andalus by Hugh Kennedy, which made for slow reading in small chunks; for instance, the index lists no fewer than twenty five separate people bearing the name, ‘Abd Allah (from ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abd al-Aziz al-Hajar to ‘Abd Allah b. Yasin). Other name combinations occur with similar frequencies. However, by the time I reached the final page, I had laid down a basic understanding in my mind of the course of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula.
And now I have just completed the second; Chis Lowney’s ‘A Vanished World”, subtitled ‘Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain’. This is a much more discursive, narrative work, giving the general reader (me!) a much clearer picture of the general sweep of history during this period, and adding Christian and Jewish perspectives. Both books tell of a world of disputes, rebellions and outright wars between ruling Muslim families and tribes, and also among the royal houses of Christian Spain. For the most part the two sides had little time left to fight each other - and not infrequently entered into alliances and treaties with the other to assist in the fight against their own co-religionists!
But what has most caught my attention is the way in which at street level, so to speak, Jews, Christians and Moors lived largely harmonious lives together; exactly the theme propounded by our annual festival. I shall just quote one or two of Chris Lowney’s examples.
“ Diego Gonzalez, a priest, believed that ‘ the Jew can find salvation in his own faith just as the Christian can in his.’ “
“Another Castilian Christian must have left inquisitors slack-jawed when he mused, ‘ Who knows which is the better religion, ours or those of the Muslim or the Jew.’ “
And two wonderful examples of ecumenism in action from the same source,
“ Miguel Semeno seems to have endorsed that theory; either that or his family were hedging bets on the afterlife when they erected his tombstone. ‘In the name of  Our Lord Jesus Christ’ it reads, ‘ he died on Sunday 4 November in the Era 1194.’ Yet bordering the edge of the same gravestone is an Arabic inscription. ‘ In the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful. Mikayil ibn Semeno  was he who went forth to Allah, with His Mercy, from the abode of this life.”
“...the will of fifteenth-century Alfonso Fernández Samuel requested burial with a Christian cross at his feet, the Quran at his breast, and ‘his life and light’, the Torah beside his head.”


Turning The Corner?

It's the end of the first week in February, but yesterday we sat out on our south-facing side-terrace for lunch, and then as the sun moved around, transferred to the balcony to sit reading in the sun until seven o'clock. The sun actually dropped below the ridge on the other side of the valley at 6.30, but the first of the evening chill didn't make itself felt for another half hour.
Daytime shade temperatures are still chilly by (purely) local standards, reaching a maximum of around 16° or 17°, but the sun now has real warmth in it. So it looks as if already we are on the verge of spring, having enjoyed a very gentle winter. There have been odd days of rain, and indeed rain is forecast on four of the next fifteen days according to my internet weather app, but only two or three days when the rain has been torrential. We have also been spared high winds for the most part, and this year the winds and the rain have never coincided. This is so much different from last winter when heavy rain started on the 17th December (You remember these things!) and pretty much kept going for three months until Semana Santa, often accompanied by gale force winds and coming in horizontally. Indeed, we had so much rain last year that we have been able to be totally relaxed about the sparse rainfall this winter; all the reservoirs entered 2011 more than 80% full.
The next highlight will be when I swap my long-sleeved shirts for short sleeves; and the one after that, when shorts and sandals replace shoes and trousers. Fingers crossed!