Tales of the Alhambra: The Final Chapter

The gardens of the Generalife.  The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

"En el espejo del agua
me miro y me peino el pelo".
                      Flamenco song.

We retake our tale of the Alhambra after the visit to the Palace of the Lions; it was already high noon, which in Spain is the sacred time for Siesta, when businesses close and people retreat to neighborhood cafes to while away the afternoon.  After leaving the Nasrid palace complex we walked down the Calle Real (the royal street) towards the Medina, and we came upon the gates of the old convent of San Francisco.  The convent was built on the remains of the Alhambra's mosque and is now a hotel with a Michelin rated restaurant.

Gardens of the Infante and the Generalife in the distance.  The Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

We settled for lunch under the canopy of the orange trees that line the convent's terrace, and from there we enjoyed the view of the gardens of the Infante and the Generalife Palace.  After lunch we spent the rest of Siesta wandering through the gardens of the Partal Palace.

"Torre de las Damas" (Tower of the Ladies) in the Partal Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The Partal, which in Arabic means portico, was built by Mohammed III in the 14th century.  The structure has suffered many modifications through the centuries, and though only a small portion of the original complex remains, the refinement and delicacy of its ornamentation make the Partal a prime example of Nasrid architecture.

A view of the Alabicín from the Partal, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The Partal Palace, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

Gardens of the Partal, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.
Gardens of the Partal, the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

The restored mosaics that adorn the grounds of the Partal and its gardens have their origin in Nasrid times, when the white limestones, rounded and polished by the waters of the river Darro, were mixed with the black slate carried in the waters of the Genil.  The time of Siesta ended and we strolled along the ramparts on our way to the Generalife:

The ramparts of the Alhambra seen from the Hill of the Sun.  Granada, Spain.

The Generalife.  Granada, Spain.

The Generalife was created as a retreat villa for the Sultan and his family.  In Nasrid times the residence, which crowns "El Cerro del Sol" (the Hill of the Sun), was surrounded by gardens and orchards which were conceived by its original builders as an approximation of Paradise.

The entrance court to the villa, the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.

Our first impression of the villa was the magnificent "Patio de la Acequia" (the court of the canal), with its filigree portico and dancing jets of water:

Patio de la Acequia, the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.
Patio de la Acequia, the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.

Despite the many alterations made to the villa, the Patio de la Acequia is the best preserved precinct of the Generalife complex; here light and shadow alternate to provide warmth and cool. 

El Patio de la Acequia, the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.

The courts of the Generalife are exemplar of the Iberian/Muslim garden, in which the garden is separated from the orchards by pavilions and porticoes, and the courts are furnished with a pool, lined with evergreen trees and flowers laid out in geometric arrangements. 

Water is the central theme of the villa, from the brilliant mirror of the pools, the constant song of the fountains, or the cooling stream of the Water Stair:

El Patio del Ciprés (the court of the cypress), the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.

The Water Stair, garden of the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.
The sun was setting now, we left our high perch on the garden terrace and slowly descended the Hill of the Sun towards the Puerta de las Granadas and the Albaicín beyond.  Night fell over Granada and her Alhambra.

The roof of the Generalife.  Granada, Spain.

La Puerta de las Granadas (The gate of the Pomegranates), the Alhambra.  Granada, Spain.

All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach and John Lauterbach.



Houston Living: Hawc Gives Back

A toy soldier keeps watch by the window.  Houston Area Women's Center Holiday Store.

I have written about The Houston Area Women's Center (HAWC) in the past (HAWC goes back to School), their mission to help "individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence in their efforts to move their lives forward", to "provide shelter, counseling, and advocacy to support them in building lives free from the effects of violence", and of how I came to be involved (thanks to my dear friend Laura's invitation) with this worthiest of causes.  This time I want to tell you about an event in which I feel some of the innocence lost by the individuals HAWC serves is restored, even if just for an afternoon.

Handmade decorations.

On the second week of every December, the halls of HAWC are literally decked as handmade decorations and piles of presents adorn the corridors; over the course of the week volunteers and staff members sort and pack the new toys, housewares, cosmetics, books, clothes, and candy that have been donated by generous Houstonians, and that will fill the stockings of the hundreds of families served by HAWC. 

The presents are offered in a shopping setting (much like the Back to School Project) in which mothers choose gifts for each of their children and the children choose presents for their mothers.  Houston is full of gift drives leading up to the holiday season, but I think HAWC's Store format (rather than gift distribution, or "family adoption") and emphasis on choice, does as much for the families' economy as it does for their dignity and self-esteem. 

On shopping day the mothers also choose one gift for themselves, and HAWC does a great job of making this particular selection as special as possible by emphasizing items of a personal character like cosmetics and accessories; these small luxuries give the mothers an opportunity to think, for one short moment, of no one but themselves, and to indulge in picking something not out of necessity, but out of sheer want.

Small Luxuries.  Houston Area Women's Center Holiday Store.

Organizing the Holiday Store requires physical and mental labor, from the planning sessions early in the year, the moving of boxes full of toys, the sorting and wrapping of presents, to the shopping days in which the volunteers help the families choose their gifts.  This year, in the weeks leading up to the event, the staff and volunteers were busy creating gift baskets for the mothers and their teenage daughters.  We filled the baskets for the mothers with coffee cups, packets of hot chocolate mix, coffee beans, tea towels, and various sweets.  The baskets for the girls were filled with a great variety of cosmetics and personal use products.

Making gift baskets.  Houston Area Women's Center Holiday Store.  Image by HAWC.
Pam Hobbs, manager of Children's Court Services, prepares a gift table. 

On shopping days the presents are laid out in various rooms according to the age and gender of the children.  In an effort not to spoil any surprises, friendly volunteers accompany mothers as they choose gifts for their children, who are in turn guided through a different route to choose gifts for their mothers.  There is much excitement on that day, particularly for the little ones who not only get to choose the gifts but also wrap them and label them, making the experience joyful and personal.

A present for mom. Houston Area Women's Center Holiday Store. Image by HAWC
A present for mom. Houston Area Women's Center Holiday Store. Image by HAWC
Santa's Helpers.  Image by HAWC.
There is need, injustice, and suffering around us, but we can help to eradicate them.  I hope this post will inspire you to add volunteering and charity to your New Year's resolution list.  Visit HAWC's Facebook page for volunteer information, and follow them on Twitter for news and updates. 

Happy New Year!

Many thanks to HAWC for letting me be a part of their mission, and allowing me to write this story.  All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach unless otherwise noted.



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