To remember is a battle against time,
we fight to remember what we have lost,
but we are bound to lose.
The musicians were completely silent, when the shadowy figure of a woman walked down the stairs of a spiral stairway in the Palacio de los Olvidados in Granada. She left the silence undisturbed. To her right, a classically beautiful young woman and a stern faced young man stood silent as statues on the small stage, facing each other. The stage stood in a small room of the palace, decorated with a low Arabic fountain right between the mere thirty chairs that face the stage. Then, the guitar player began moving his hands, faster and aster, but producing a soft, melancholic flamenco sound, the guitar player symbolised time. The figures began to move.
The young man and woman danced the story of Thamar & Amnon as told in the poem of the famous Spanish and Granadino poet Federico García Lorca. Originally a story from the Hebrew bible, wherein the beautiful, loving, and innocent Thamar becomes the victim of her half-brother’s uncontrollable desire for her. Flamenco is an ideal art-form for telling such a story. Born in the melting pot of Andalusia’s Spanish, Gitano, Moorish, and Jewish population, its emotional and physical intensity reflect and intensify the poetry of Lorca. With frenzied tapping of the feet, bodies that approach, converse through touch, and then push away. In a web of attraction, and repulsion, hope, and dejection, the painful story is made clear to us in the audience.
The story danced by Thamar & Amnon, however, was just a case study, for the show was carried by the shadowy figure who had walked down the stairs. She moved with power and grace between, around, and into the arms of the main characters; ferociously trying to keep up with the increasing intensity of sound produced by the guitarist — trying to keep up with time. Together, these two presented the overarching message: the dance and duel between memory and time, the hopeless battle of human emotion against change. And she fights a brave battle, although the woman is at least in her forties, she dances with the energy of a cross-fit record holder. Running, jumping, and falling, emotion in motion: a body simultaneously loving, hoping, despairing. Pushing this body to the limits, until, the candle eventually burns itself out, — time always wins.
Having accepted the inevitable, Antonia Mula, the woman, sits down at the end of the stage, to explain the message of the play. The guitarists sits down next to her, now playing a soft trickle of notes, time gently moving on. “Love is loss“, Antonia begins.
“El recuerdo es la verdad de tu soledad”
The piece was performed in an old Jewish palace in Granada, a perfect city for such a story. Risen and fallen, conquered and reconquered. Granada itself tells countless tales of love, time, and destruction. Once a most powerful kingdom in the centre of Al-Andalus. It has housed the Moorish Kings, the Reyes Catolicos, and Charles V, with the unbearably beautiful Alhambra to show for it. A strange mix of pleasure palaces, gardens, royal Arab baths, a Christian church, the old Nazrith palaces that are so intricately decorated it hurts your eyes,and the austere square palace of Carlos (Charles) V.
Like the Alhambra that lies on its green hill overlooking its city, Granada is a beautiful mix of cultures, of architecture, of faces, and of costumes. In this city Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully for centuries, and then they killed each other. The Spanish inquisition forced both Jews and Muslims to convert, flee, or die. Within this mix of cultures, people and beauty, I have met countless people who had fallen in love and did not manage to leave. Granada mixes and blends, and that is what makes us fall in love. From Arab baths, to a Jewish palace, to Christian Churches with Moorish tiles, and back to an Arab tea house. Within its dusty, old buildings, thick with history, walk countless of young hippies and students. Within minutes you can walk out of the city’s centre into the snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevada. …
… The gypsies and Muslims who were driven out of the city into improvised cave dwellings gave birth Flamenco, one of Spain’s biggest prides. Those cave houses of the expelled now attracts many tourists who want to gaze at the city and the Alhambra from above, surrounded by gypsies, hippies, and cave bars. The same Zambra caves where gitanos sought refuge to share in their tragic and passionate toque, cante, and baile of Flamenco, they are now money farms, caravans of tourist buses bringing in 300 customers in two sessions.
What is sad is often perfectly understandable, and beauty always has its price.
In this city of Granada the stories of love and our attempts to remember made me think. Love flowers happiness, but also carries the seed of loss, to some degree we all know this. The more you love, the more you stand to lose. Painful memories that eventually water down, but never disappear. Some people having suffered loss remain living in the past, they defy time. But no matter how hard you fight, all memories do fade, and they take away from the present. To avoid such predicaments some people attempt to close themselves of from love, shunning potential new lovers or friends, to avoid the pain of loss, while others run head-first into new relationships either oblivious to the loss inherent in love, or bravely deciding to live is to love and life is worth the risk.
I want to end on a happier note. Buddhism offers an interesting and different view of love and pain. According to Buddha we suffer because our love is mixed with attachment. Our attachment to things and to people results in desire, fear, and anger. More importantly, we trick ourselves into thinking that things should and can stay the same. It is our basic unwillingness to accept that reality is nothing but constant change (the present does not exist) that allows change to hurt us so badly. It is our human desire to possess things and people that makes us feel loss. For Buddhists, however, this attachment is not a prerequisite to love. In the view of Buddhism, pure love is honestly wanting the other to be happy, instead of needing someone for yourself.
That is why Buddhists spend so much time meditating on impermanence (life=change). Accepting change frees us, and leads us to feel love and compassion for others in a less complicated way. Our love often ends in trying to change people, betrayal, demands, and disappointment. On the other hand, limiting the selfishness present in our love, creates a love that sets the other free, strengthens the other, and in doing so, also frees yourself.
Like in the poem of Lorca, where Amnóns love ends up destroying both him and Thamar, while Thamar started of the poem singing with the birds.