Magazine article The Spectator

Earthly Paradise

Magazine article The Spectator

Earthly Paradise

Article excerpt

After Benalmadena we went up into Las Alpujarras, a mountainous district south of Granada, where we spent a week walking. Las Alpujarras are reputed to be the Moors' last stronghold in Andalusia, and were trumpeted in our guide book as a sort of earthly paradise.

Virginia Woolf, Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey went there once, in the Twenties. They went to visit Gerald Brenan, a friend of theirs, who had bought himself a house in a remote village and was trying to educate himself by reading 2,000 books. Strachey sulked apparently, and had to be carried about on a litter.

It was very pretty up there, admittedly. The spring flowers were growing in such profusion that it seemed like some kind of a joke. Each evening we tottered down the hillside to our whitewashed Berber-style village (the second highest village in mainland Spain) with our faces horribly burnt and our clothes caked with pollen. Even the locals were marvelling openly at the flowers. The mayor confided to me that the last time he'd seen flowers like that, Franco was in power. And a cynical Australian writer who had been there for some years asked me if he could borrow my camera. The clouds, too, gave some credence to the notion that here was some sort of paradise on earth. They were whiter than any clouds I've ever seen before, and always far below us. On clear days we could see Africa.

We walked in an organised group led by a 54-year-old Irishman called Conor, who was permanently exhausted. Staggering ahead of us under the weight of an enormous rucksack containing our daily picnic, Conor led our 12-strong group up and down steep and rocky mountain paths and across fields waist-high in wild flowers. Several times I passed him collapsed by the wayside, red-faced, sweating and speechless with fatigue. `I'm a tired bastard,' he admitted to me in the cafe one evening. `I'm tired from the moment I get up in the morning, to the time I go to bed at night.'

After a day out with Conor, however, none of us would have wanted anyone else as a guide to the Alpujarras. He was conscientious, pathologically honest and he even knew the ratio of olive trees to Spaniards (4:1). And he told jokes. If they were uphill jokes he would be panting so hard it would be sometimes difficult to tell where one joke finished and another one began, so I didn't always laugh in the right place. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.