Saturday, September 3, 2016

Angling The Stars

On one of many sojourns in Spain I was 6 months in the mountains of Granada. One night, waking from a strange dream, I walked onto the balcony which was right by my room. I was carried outside by the full moon's rays. The moonlight bounced brightly off the Sierra Nevada and illuminated the whole scene in a strange glow. For a moment, I was still sleeping, wondering where the sun had gone and what planet was I on, why was it so bright? What were all those strange jewels in the sky? "It must be morning, why does the day look so odd yet ethereal?" or "how can a night be so bright and beautiful?"


Contemporary engraving of 'The Alhambra' from the time of Washington Irving (from the book 'Tales Of The Alhambra')

I'm currently reading Washington Irvine's book "Tales of The Alhambra." It has put me drifting off on my own moonlit (some bright, some gloomy) memories. Irvine's tome is a diary of sorts from his time in the Alhambra of Granada in Andalusia, Spain. He lived there for a while in the late 1820's. The book intertwines myth and history like manys a good tale. It also has some very lovely and strange asides, like this one...  

"I have often observed that the more proudly a mansion has been tenanted in the day of its prosperity, the humbler are its inhabitants in the day of its decline and that the palace of the king commonly ends in being the nestling-place of the beggar. Though I am inclined at times to fancy that a gleam of the golden age still lingers around the ragged community. They possess nothing, they do nothing, they care for nothing. Yet, though apparently idle all the week, they are as observant of all holidays and saints' days as the most laborious artisan."

Or taking it further, as we say in Irish "níl huasal na íseal ach thuas seal is thíos seal," (Life is not a matter of upper class nor lower class, but up for a while and down for a while).

"Sometimes I have issued forth at midnight, when everything was quiet, and have wandered over the whole building. Who can do justice to a moonlight night in such a climate and in such a place! The temperature of an Andalusian midnight in summer is perfectly ethereal. We seem lifted up into a purer atmosphere; there is a serenity of soul, a buoyancy of spirits, an elasticity of frame that renders mere existence enjoyment."

"Before concluding these remarks, I must mention one of the amusements of the place, which has particularly struck me. I had repeatedly observed a long lean fellow perched on the top of one of the towers, manoeuvring two or three fishing rods, as though he was angling for the stars. I was for some time perplexed by the evolutions of the aerial fisherman and my perplexity increased on observing others employed in the manner on different parts of the battlements and bastions; it was not until I consulted Mateo Jiménez that I solved the mystery. It seems that the pure and airy situation of this fortress has rendered it, like the castle of Macbeth, a prolific breeding place for swallows and martlets who sport about its towers in myriads with the holiday glee of urchins just let loose from school. To entrap these birds in their giddy circling, with hooks baited with flies, is one of the favourite amusements of the ragged sons of the Alhambra, who, with the good for nothing ingenuity of arrant idlers, have thus invented the art of angling in the sky."


engraving of Granada from the book


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