A place to share my many interests in Architecture, Art, Design, Travel, and Culture.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Heights Living: Let's light it up!

Lights in The Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

Every December The Heights neighborhood of Houston comes alive in a festival of color, music, and light.  The event that began 24 years ago as a small Holiday celebration in which the neighbors decorated their houses with lights and visited each other with offerings of cookies, has turned into a wildly popular attraction for all of Houston.  "Lights in the Heights" attracts thousands of Houstonians on the second Saturday of every December to stroll under the illuminated branches of the oak trees, listen to the 70 or so bands, choirs, and dance troupes that perform on the open porches, and relish in the merry company of friends.

Lights in The Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

My first taste of the vibrancy and diversity of The Heights was when our friends Bianca and Eric invited us to their house (pictured above) during "Lights in Heights".  After walking in the festival we sat on Bianca and Eric's porch and watched the city go by.  Shortly after this night my husband and I decided to move to the Heights.  We have been Heights residents for several years now, and have thrown ourselves wholeheartedly into this luminous celebration.  This year we began the night with a gathering at our house, joining in the many parties happening that evening; one friend brought the hot cider, another friend made the gluhwein, another friend made the most wonderful pumpkin cheesecake, and hot beverages in tow, we walked into the bright night.

Our company was composed of a most diverse, international, and creative group of people; among our wonderful guests was the talented Bhavin Misra, photographer, graphic artist, and musician.  Bhavin documented the night in photos, and has graciously allowed me to share his vision of the event with you:

Dancing for the Guadalupana.  Lights in The Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

Lights in The Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

Christmas in Texas.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.
Porch orchestra.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.
Festival of lights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.
Lights in the Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

Lights in the Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

Lights in The Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

Christmas in The Heights.  Image by Bhavin Misra, Userofreality Photography.

All images presented in this post are the intellectual property of Userofreality Photography and are reproduced with permission from the author.


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Monday, December 12, 2011

Al Andalus: Tales of the Alhambra

A crooked street in the Albaicín,
the Alhambra can be seen in the distance. 
Granada, Spain.







"La niña del Albaicín
subió una tarde a la Alhambra
y allí le pilló la noche
llena de luna y albahaca.

Quiso volver y no pudo,
la luna le dió en la cara
y un galán besó su boca
entre arrayanes y dalias."

               Romance Andaluz by León y Quiroga.









Salón de Embajadores, Comares Palace in the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

We left the Salón de Embajadores in the Palacio de Comares and found a breezeway from which the most wonderful views of the Albaicín and Sacromonte were framed:

John enjoys the view from the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The breezeway led us to a suite of rooms that had been commissioned by emperor Charles V in the Renaissance style after the Reconquest.  These rooms served as imperial residence in the 16th century to Charles and his new bride Isabel of Portugal, and in the 19th century they were home to Washington Irving during his Andalusian sojourn; the account of his journey, "The Alhambra : a series of tales and sketches of the Moors and Spaniards", was published in 1832 in the United States.  The book has since been translated to many languages, including Spanish.  It was in the pages of this book, read to me by my father and embellished by his own memories of the place, that I first visited the Alhambra.
























The rooms surround the Patio de la Lindaraxa (the court of Daraxa), which in Nasrid times was a garden open to landscape; from the windows of Charles's rooms we admired the intimate beauty of Daraxa's garden:

Patio de la Lindaraxa in the Alhambra Palace.  Granada, Spain.
  
The Patio de la Lindaraxa serves as a facade to the famous Palacio de los Leones (Palace of the Lions) where the Alhambra reaches her maximum architectural expression.  The sophisticated building and irrigation techniques pioneered by the Romans were inherited and protected by the Moors, and in a time when Europe languished in the dark grasp of the Middle Ages, Al Andalus sparkled, like the light reflected off the fountains in the Alhambra, as a beacon of knowledge, culture, and progress.

The vaults of the Arabic Baths.  The Alhambra Palace.  Granada, Spain.

Mirador de la Lindaraxa in the Palace of the Lions.  The Alhambra Palace.  Granada, Spain.

The ceiling of the Mirador de la Lindaraxa, in the Palace of the Lions.  The Alhambra Palace.  Granada, Spain.
The Palacio de los Leones is full of wonders, first of which is the Sala de Dos Hermanas (the Chamber of the two sisters).  The name of this chamber may inspire visions of sister princesses, but in reality it is named for the twin slabs of white marble that surround the recessed fountain in its center.  The room is crowned by a dome of rich and intricate decoration, whose star pattern is laid according to the Pythagorean Theorem.  The Sala de Dos Hermanas and its adjacent chambers served as residence to the Nasrid Sultanas and their royal household, including Aisha al-Hurra (Aixa to the Christians), mother of Abu abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ali (known to the Catholic Monarchs as Boabdil) last Sultan of Granada.

Pendentive and walls of the Sala de Dos Hermanas in the Palace of the Lions.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.


The star shaped ceiling of the Sala de Dos Hermanas in the Palace of the Lions.  The Alhambra Palace.  Granada, Spain.

The walls of the Sala de Dos Hermanas are covered with mosaics and delicate plaster carvings of flowers, poems, and praises to God and the Sultans.








The Sala de Dos Hermanas leads directly to the iconic Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions), whose twelve stone lions have become the symbol par excellence of the Alhambra:






We learned in this visit that the pavement of the Court of the Lions was being restored, and that the stone lions had been removed from its central position, to a vaulted room nearby to be cleaned and restored; we could admire them but not photograph them.  No visit (virtual or physical) to the Alhambra can be complete without seeing the famous fountain, and so I here present you with pictures from my first visit to this magnificent place:

The Court of the Lions in the Palace the Lions, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.


The Fountain of the Lions in the Palace of the Lions, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The rich wall decoration  from the Sala de Dos Hermanas continues into the Court of the Lions, becoming ever more delicate and intricate:

Yeserías in the Court of the Lions, the Alhambra Palace.  Granada, Spain.

Engaged column in the Court of the Lions, the Alhambra Palace.  Granada, Spain.

We left the Palace of the Lions and found ourselves once again surrounded by gardens (those of the Partal Palace) full of jasmine and oranges.  It was siesta time and we sat under the shadow of the trees in the convent of San Francisco (built by the Catholic Monarchs on the ruins of the mosque), whence we caught a glimpse of the Generlife (which is a story on its own) and its gardens. 

The day that began grey and misty had turned to gold in the afternoon sun.  We wandered through the gardens of the Partal and then traveled on the path towards the Generalife.  Before we knew it, night and her mantel of moon and basil had fallen upon us. We wished to remain, like the girl from the Albaicín (opening poem) amidst the myrtles and dahlias, but reality called...



All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach and John Lauterbach.


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Monday, December 5, 2011

Al Andalus: La Alhambra, part I

Divagación Andaluza


Patio de los Leones, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Entré a la sombra de moras bóvedas
con paso firme y alma ligera
(sabor a alcázar y olor a gloria,
rumor de fuente en la alameda.)

Del aposento de árabes brisas
al amplio patio del león de piedra
hay canto de ave y susurro de agua,
cual un murmullo que al cor hechiza.

Dejo ya el arco de las granadas
rumbo a la plaza al pié de la cuesta
(calor de tarde y hora de siesta,
blanco silencio y doradas risas.)

Trinos de bronce canta la torre
y Elvira augusta a la vida torna
(fulgor de viento, frescor de sombra
jazmín fragante en la suave onda.)

Buena fortuna en las verdes ramas
llega a mis manos rumbo a la iglesia:
aire de hechizo, sangre gitana,
¡rumor de fuente en la alameda!
                                  
                                     Granada, 03.13.2001

I wrote "Divagación" (digression) 10 years ago sitting at the foot of a street lamp in a plaza near Granada's cathedral.  I had spent the morning wandering through the ornate halls of the Alhambra and, though I was not (nor am I now) a poet, the beauty of the place moved me to a flight of fancy which at the time seemed best expressed in decasyllabic verses.

The Palace of Charles V.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
10 years later the Alhambra still holds me in her spell, perhaps more powerfully now that I share the experience with John, who has the devotion to walk at my pace and indulge me in endless observation, and who listens interestedly and patiently as I lecture him (and my imaginary classroom) on the virtues of Moorish architecture and gardens.

La Calle Real.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The morning is gray and cold as we make our way up the hill, but in the distance the ancient ramparts and towers are imposing even in the mist.  We approach the palace through the ruins of the Medina (Moorish city), and as we walk through the gardens the day turns to gold.  The Calle Real (the royal street) leads past the ancient mosque and its bath, finally opening into a terrace guarded by the Alcazaba (the fortress), the Puerta del Vino (the Gate of Wine) and the Renaissance palace of emperor Charles V.  The view is...spectacular:  The snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada cradle Granada to the East, and on the North the Albaicín rolls gently on the San Miguel hill in a symphony of white walls, red roofs, and green gardens.

La Puerta del Vino.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The Sierra Nevada seen from the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The Albaicín neighborhood.  Granada, Spain.

"Magia se respira en Granada" I wrote in my journal in 2001; as it was then so it is now: magic breathes over Granada and her Alhambra.  John and I cross the threshold and the cool shadow of the Mexuar palace welcomes us:

The entrance to the Mexuar palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The Mexuar served in Nasrid times (13th century- 15th century) as a tribunal and place of audience; it is thought to be the oldest building in the Nasrid complex.  Allah and the Sultans are praised in the azulejos (mosaic tiles) and yeserías (plaster carvings) that adorn the walls; we marvel in their beauty, and as we walk through the shadowed halls I imagine I see ambassadors from Maghreb and Damascus, come to kiss the hands of Ismail I.

Azulejos and Yeserías in the Mexuar Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Calligraphic carvings in the Mexuar Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The Mexuar Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Yeserías in the Mexuar palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

Light in the Mexuar is subtle, filtered through the celosías (lattices); its tenuous glow guides us out of the shadows to the intimate courtyard of the Cuarto Dorado (the Golden Room), anti chamber to the Comares Palace:

El Cuarto Dorado, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
El Cuarto Dorado, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Yeserías on the walls of the Cuarto Dorado, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Over 10,000 calligraphic inscription cover the walls of the Alhambra, among them, the motto of the Nasrid dynasty: "Wa la ghalib ila Allah" There is no conqueror but God, which is repeated on the walls of the Cuarto Dorado, vestibule to the Comares Palace, residence of the kings.  Of the twin doors that grace the facade of the Cuarto Dorado one is blind and leads nowhere; the other, humbler in decoration, leads to the magnificent Patio de los Arrayanes.

The Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Patio de los Arrayanes, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Portico in the Patio de los Arrayanes.  Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

One of the porticos in the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of Myrtles) takes us to the Torre de Comares (Comares Tower), where we behold the Universe, rendered in precious woods:

The wood vault of the Salón de Embajadores (Ambassadors Chamber)  represents the night sky.  Comares Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
The epigraphic poems and sacred texts carved on the walls bestow blessings and praise upon God and the Sultan, who holds court in the Salón de Embajadores (Ambassadors Chamber).  The intricate wood ceiling represents the seven heavens of the Muslim Paradise with God enthroned in the center.  We stare in awe at the beauty of the place, and when we leave we hope to take with us some of the lessons learned.  The inscriptions on the walls command us to "depart in goodness since it is God who helps."

Celosías (lattices) in the Salón de Embajadores, Comares Palace.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The Palacio de Comares...I have traveled here in the words of Washington Irving and my father's memories, and to my father's memories John and I now add our own.  But in all its magnificence, the Comares Palace is but a glimpse of the glory we have yet to witness in the Palacio de los Leones.  Until next time reader...


All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach and John Lauterbach.

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