The poets of al-Andalus devoted most of their attention to sensuous songs of love, nature, wine women and boys, but amidst all the lavish beauty there would linger, like a basso continuo, a not of refined detachment, of melancholy and futility. Instead of forgetting death in their man-made paradises, the poets made point of reminding their listeners of how useless it was to become attached to these worldly delights. After all, only God is forever, and why express love to something that would one day turn to dust? Why even attempt to build something perfect and eternal- the main ingredients of the lovely, delicate Alhambra are plaster and wood. The Nasrid kings, were they to return, might be appalled to find it still standing.
The Christians who led the Reconquista had no time for futility. In their architecture and art they built for eternity, plonking a soaring church right the middle of the Great Mosque and an imperial palace on the Ahambra– literal, lapidarian, emanating the power and total control of the temporal Church and State. Their oppression reduced the sophisticated songs of the Moorish courts to a baser fatalism. The harsh realities of everyday life encouraged people to live for the moment, to grab what happiness they could in an uncertain world. This uncertainty was best expressed by the 17th-century playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barco, especially in his great La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream), known as the Catholic answer to Hamlet.
There wasn't much poetry in Granada between 1492 and the advent of Federico García Lorca, born in 1898 in the Vega just outside of town. Lorca, a fine musician as well as a poet and playwright, found much of his inspiration in what would be called nowadays Granada's 'alternative' traditions, especially those of the Gypsies. In 1922, Lorca was a chief organizer of Granada's first cante jondo festival, designed to bring flamenco singing to international attention and prevent it from sliding into a hackneyed Anadlucian joke. In 1928, he published the book of poems that made him the most popular poet in Spain, the Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballades). His plays, like Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding) and Yerma (The Barren One), have the lyrical, disturbing force of the deepest cante jondo. But of post-Reconquista Granada he was sharply critical, accusing Fernando and Isabel of destroying a much more sophisticated civilization than their own- and as for the modern inhabitants of Granada, they were an imported reactionary bourgeois contingent from the north, not 'real' Andalucians. Lorca criticized, but he kept coming back, and had dreams of bringing the city's once great culture back to life.
In Granada, a commemorative park at Víznar marks the spot where, on 18 August 1936, local police or rebel soldiers took Lorca and shot him dead. No one knows who gave the orders, or the reason why; the poet had supported the Republic but was not actively political. When news of his secret execution leaked out, it was an embarrassment to Franco, who managed to hush up the affair until his own death. But most historians agree that the killing was a local vendetta for Lorca's outspoken views of home town, a blood sacrifice to the stone god of Fernando and Isabel and Charles V who fears all change, closing (one can only hope) once and for all the circle of bittersweet futility, frustration and death.
© Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls