Retreat of Boabdil

Beacon of life amid the arid and tortured landscape. On the way to the Alpujarras, I paused above Granada at the pass called Suspiro del Moro, Sigh of the Moor. The Autumn day breaks late over the valley’s brim at mile-high Bubión, waking the village slowly. Machi Gerardo, 45, hardly seemed a match for Satan’s surrogate: slender as a boy beneath a red-and-white poncho. “My greatest struggle has been to overcome a local male witch possessed by Satan, and Satan is very strong.”

For a while we followed the gravel way, Europe’s highest motor road, that leads to 11,000-foot Pico de Veleta; “Fitting you should cry like woman over what you could not defend like a man.” I’m not sure why so many of us care so much about mastering these old-school feminine skills. It says a lot actually, either for nostalgia’s sake or because we’re holding out hope that some better version of ourselves will actually use those things–that we’ll finally be the kind of mom who carves pumpkins and uses their contents for pie. Alas, I don’t think millennials or my teenage daughters are going to escape these expectations. I began to get the impression, though, that all this hoopla is nothing new. Like most such promises, it doesn’t quite deliver. Visiting politicians may feel as I did. Meeting ground between God and man, and a battleground between good and evil.

Fireplaces, carved oaken mantels. Patagonian Indians, then vanishing, had left behind thier bolas–stone-weighted throwing cords for snaring ñandùes – Giant clusters of beads, feathers and glitter on little wooden pedestals, like Oscar statuettes for alien birds. Civic pride, in fact, has acquired an almost religious quality, as if on the seventh day God hadn’t rested after all, but decided to make Atlanta instead, and saw that it was surprisingly good. That optimism makes others wary. Prevailing enthusiasm clouds the view. Upper-class Chileans scrum on rugby fields at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago and officer a navy modeled on Britain’s. There are parks scattered about, but not many people pause in them: Downtown is for doing, not sitting. North of cities. Destiny’s daughter. It drives me nuts. It seems bad for the soul of the city. Trees–‘you gotta see our trees.’

We rode upward over narrow terraces through the last warm colors of autumn–orchards of red-leafed cherry trees and golden chestnut, bordered by yellow poplars and evergreen. The old watering system–and its Arabic-derived nomenclature–was still in use. Lower-class migrants scrabble for spots in the mills of Lebanese-born textile magnates who weave deals in Spanish; The amazing growth of the suburbs has had a centrifugal effect on municipal life, crating satellites that rarely touch the central city. The first wisps of smoke drifted from conical chimneys atop slab roofs that staircase down the hillside toward the church square. It was the threatened demolition of the Moorish Fox Theatre that awakened many to the advancing army of destruction. “My life is always in danger.” said José Gerardo Queupucura. It would have been like him to finger the pommel of his dress sword while reflecting that the Lord helps those who help themselves. “The great danger of our time,” he said, “Is that nuclear weapons will spread to more and more countries, particularly to the Middle East, the most volatile region in our world.” Saudi Arabia has said it will not stand by while Iran gains nuclear capabilities, raising the prospect of an atomic standoff between the region’s two ancient enemies.

I rubbed my hands together against the chill as I left my small pensión. We work so much, it can feel as if we have more to make up for. They have found military rule neither brief nor relatively bloodless. Besides hooked jaws, the soldier sports a nozzle it can use to shoot down enemies with a gluey stream. But the terrible secret of our modern womanhood is that we still judge ourselves on domesticity. Such immigrants have leavened but not leveled a society of 12.5 million once predominantly Castilian on top and still primarily of mixed Indian and Spanish blood–mestizo–at the middle and on bottom. Blood’s advantages are obvious: it’s easy to access, it’s inexpensive to test, and nearly every doctor’s office or clinic can draw a tube of it. “There’s a data set in blood that is 10 times–even 100 times–more interesting than that in the genome.” This juggernaut of progress is due. The quake probably affected much of the coast. In his White House statement, Obama emphasized what he saw as the strategic importance of the deal. But by now most of the people in the rest of the city were dying or already dead under tons of rubble. Freezing, women are told, is a fountain of youth. Had this been the only wave to strike, the lose of like would not have been so high. But a second wave of much greater intensity followed immediately. It struck with deadly force. A plume of industrial waste (above) befouls the harbor. The violence of the second wave that doomed the city lasted perhaps ten seconds, a very long time to be imprisoned in rooms that shake violently while objects bombard you and walls and ceilings are caving in.

Then a third wave struck lasting about five seconds. Rueben Bullard described the ground as “a mass of quivering Jell-O.” Terry Wallace likened the experience to “being underwater in the dark with no frame of reference.” The violently shaking ground disoriented residents, and coordinated movement became impossible. Some walls collapsed while other walls seemed to explode. Objects caromed around the rooms, ricocheting off walls and felling individuals out for loved ones and huddling for protection. Other victims curled in in the fetal position, only to be crushed or suffocated by thousands of pounds of rock and roof tile. A doorway collapsed on the laborer, while the mule in the stable flailed about, trapping Camelia. A block from the ceiling struck our 19-year-old mother, snapping her neck like a twig. –A situation that has now gone from bad to worse.

“Gracias Madre Mía, Ayúdame Siempre–Thank You My Mother, Help Me Always.” Energy. Optimism. It was here Boabdil stopped to look back and shed a tear over his lost kingdom.


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