Friday, October 06, 2006

Day three at Carmen de las Cuevas. (I wrote this on Wednesday. Today, Friday, is actually day five.) I'm starting to settle in. Until last night I hadn't slept well. I woke up today at 6:30 but I didn't want to bother anyone, so I lay in bed until 8:00, when I heard Kitty, a flat mate from the Netherlands who knows a lot about photography, get out of bed and mill around in the kitchen.

In addition to Kitty, there are two other students in the apartment: Hannah -- a sweet student from Germany who is studying linguistics or, as they call it in Europe, philology (phil = love + logos = words) -- and Thomas, an engineer from Switzerland who does image processing work for a medical device company.

Last night Kitty, Thomas, Hannah, I and some other students met at the school at 9:00 and walked up the hill to the Mirador de San Nicolas. The Mirador is on the hill opposite the Alhambra and is where the postcard photographers go to take pictures of the old fortress.

After the Mirador, we sat down at a nearby bar for drinks and tapas. I drank bottled water. Everyone there except Thomas and I spoke Spanish very well. Thomas was able to keep up with the conversation, but I had a hard time listening and talking at the same time. I was able to hold a simple, pleasant conversation with one of the students (who, like Hannah, is studying linguistic), but keeping up with the entire group was difficult. I could understand a complete sentence here and there, but most of the time I would get stuck flipping though the Rolodex in my mind when someone used an unfamiliar word.

While I was traveling here from the US, it occurred to me that it would be very nice to find a public place to meditate. Next to the Mirador is the Mezquita Gran de Granada, the only mosque in the city that I know of. In the basement of the mosque is the Center for Islamic Studies. I went in there yesterday and looked around in their book store. A sheikh named al-Sufi was on the cover of a number of the books. Perhaps he's associated with the mosque.

I've spoken to two other men from the Middle East, both of them atheists. I asked one man, an Iraqi, about the calligraphy prints he was selling on the street next to the cathedral. I asked him whether he had any prints of Rumi's poetry. He said he didn't, because he couldn't translate them correctly. One of the poems, it turned out, was by Ibn Arabi. "I want that one," I said and asked him whether he knew about Sufis in Andalusia. He said they didn't exist these days. He had a lot to say about the deadly mix of politics and Islam. Recently a Muslim who objected to his selling prints of sacred works to "infidels" threatened him, saying, chillingly, "We can have you killed."

The other man, Besam, is a sociology student from Syria who works in one of the Moroccan shops near the Alhambra. On Sunday, while I was walking up Carrera del Darro, my attention was drawn to the shop where he works. I went inside, browsed for a few minutes along with the other tourists, and eventually he and I struck up a conversation. Besam, despite his atheism, is interested in Sufis. He knows about Ibn Arabi, al Hallaj, and others. He told me about the Mirador de San Nicolas and we talked about visiting the Center for Arabic Studies that's just up the street from the shop.

Today I visited Besam again and he told me that he knows an old man, a professor -- a philologist and scholar of Islamic philosophy -- at the university in Granada, who knows a lot about a Sufi who was prominent in Granada at the time of Ibn Arabi. Besam doesn't know whether the professor speaks English, but he's going to look into arranging a meeting for me.

1 comment:

wendy Lewis said...

i love that you are making atheist connections in Spain w/ Middle Easterners. it's encouraging to know that they exist... of course.

wow. i wonder if you will have the meeting you covet?

instead, we are in salt lake city, getting the raw end in our face from the temple, around which this strange and bleak city revolves.

see you in prison.