It is one thing to be besotted by Spain, it is another to be in the grips of Andalus. This intoxicating place that had me the moment I set foot there, shifted my entire worldview and allowed me to enter a bigger world where I see history, politics and life in all forms morphed into an invitation.
I have been invited by Spain since I was a young woman. At the age of 21 I travel guided busloads of people as we whizzed across southern Europe, making Barcelona our first Spanish stop before the Mediterranean sea glittered in our eyes. I reminisce about the lazy afternoons on the Las Ramblas with my friend, who diligently showed me around this buzzing, vibrant city before I moved there to teach English. That week the first moment I started to believe that there is life beyond the dread I was used to.
The first time I ever saw Andalucía was in 2010. The mountains of Marbella were the backdrop for our 5-day trip with two small children. We over planned everything- we wanted to see Cordoba, the Alhambra and spend a day in Seville, and of course, it all failed. My son, 10 months old at the time, fell ill and we were sticking to day trips to Ronda, Malaga and the coastal villages.
It was the slowest holiday we ever managed till and since then but eventually I gave in- slow is my nickname for Andalucía. Even when I visit today, I marvel at the sierras, the silent land that has given joy and income to so many, the quiet destitute villagers live under- all just epitome of slowness. The land was the antidote to our daily life we lived relentlessly in London. You know a switch is on inside of you when your reference point becomes a place and the Andalusian country life became mine.
Driving along the red and brown soil, passing green fields and smelling the sea air wafting along the coast opened my body no other place could ever do. These memories of my body remain my anchors and I feel my way back into them whenever I am away from Andalucia. It did not have to be anything more grandiose than eating a platter of fried fish that changed me forever. The sand between my toes, the sea air brushing the sweat off my face and the smell of fried garlic and sweet paprika was all I needed to remember that life is good.
Six years later I was back, again. This time driving along the ridge of the mountains from the capital, Malaga to the Medieval town of Cordoba with the hope of finding a home for me and my two still small children. The moment we drove through the boundaries of the enchanting city, I asked my husband to turn the wheels and head to our hotel knowing that it would not be my home for the next year. We took some days to explore the cuisine of Cordoba, delighted in all things medieval and soaked our soul in the February sun, which I still believe has healing properties. A few days later we drove to Ronda and that changed everything I knew about this land.
The land called me, and I gleefully accepted its invitation. A stretch of land between Cordoba and Ronda whispered to my soul as we drove in the sharp winter sunshine. My husband happily obliged to stop the car and I wanted to lie on the new grass and the black soil that held the moisture I cried on it.
The Andalusian sun and the red soil became my existence one afternoon, when tired and exhausted of child rearing, I grabbed the kids and drove to a nearby roadside to watch the sunset. The moment was sublime, I think God was sitting on his throne and winking at me. The red earth, peaceful yet so confident, held us as we threw stones and watched the sun sinking into the distance. The air was hot, love steaming above the stretched field and we all fell into a saccharine oblivion as we handled our sweet circumstances.
I lived on blessed land, that much I know but love for this land did not come at once; it grew gently but incessantly with each visit I made over the years that followed. Spain fascinates me, but Andalusia has me in its grips almost as passionately as the flamenco singer’s soaring voice in the early hours of the madrugada I listened to just as passionately in Granada.
We all have a place we call home, and it is hardly the place where we actually live our full time life. Mine is an almond shaped dry land stretching from Mojacar to Huelva, from Pozoblanco to Tarifa. Whatever is in between has held my heart and it is my privilege to explore its history, ways of life, food, nature and the psychology of its people. If there was one thing I could die for, it is this fascinating part of the world where, for me, all life resides. Knowing this place is to know all we need to know about life and human beings. It is a full expression of all that moves and drives the world; may it be political, ideological or religiously motivated, I make no distinctions.
But how did I know it was my spiritual home, my Soulscape?
I live this place not because it is perfect but because it is not. Its wobbly, mystical existence in the map of the world brings shivers down my spine. It is so imperfect, in fact, it is endearing. As I get older, I find imperfection far more resonant even attractive than seemingly clear lines and perfect veneer.
Every inch, breath of fresh air fills me beyond contentment when I am on Andalusian soil. It is a kind of peace that grows inside of me and fills me with life. As I glare in the sun, I bloom in my own reflection. The air, the temperature is in complete harmony with how my body works- the lounging of my day is the way Andalusians lounge in life, too. The breeze is exactly how I like it, gentle and forgiving.
Most importantly, I keep going back for more stories. The stories are buried underneath rocks in the sierras, hidden behind the gorges, or lay low under the trickling brooks tucked away in the hills. There are even stories underneath the queen of all palaces, the Alhambra. There is no shortage of stories and I am happy to spend the rest of my life digging them out from wherever I see them.
I find no better summary of how I feel about my home than the words of Lorca, who was shot by fascists of Franco. “I breathe for Malaga…Cadiz, for Alcala de los Gazules, for what is intimately Andaluz”- Frederico Garcia Lorca, 1924
I would just replace Alcala with Ronda, the coast of Malaga or the cork forests near my friend’s house; otherwise Lorca was intimately accurate. This is my reason to keep going back- to let my soul do its pilgrimage each time it stands on the red soil.
By Henrietta Szovati, from her diary of travel writing ‘Soulscapes’ (copyrighted).
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