Friday, March 06, 2009

La Alhambra

Maybe it's just because I arrived before dawn, and the moon was up, and the black night sky was just turning blue, but I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. "Al Hambra" means "the Red One" and you can see why; when the morning sun shines on the towers of the Alcazba, they glow red, and then later a blinding white.

The city of Granada is old and hot and dusty, but the Alhambra sits high above it on a commanding hilltop. The fortress was built by a Muslim sultan in 1333, and has somehow survived over six hundred years of vandals and grenadiers and fascists.

The interior is built around shady gardens and Islamic arches and cool running water. If I were rich, I'd like to spend a week there just sketching or painting watercolors. If you avoid the big attractions like El Partal and the Patio de los Leones, the hordes of tourists aren't that bad.

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A note about the name: I saw several signs that referred the "The La Alhambra". Since "La" is Spanish for "the", and "Al" is Arabic for "the", you could translate the name "The The The Red One". This is almost as redundant as my favorite pleonasm: "The LaBrea Tar Pits", which translates literally to "The The Tar Tar Pits".

Monday, March 02, 2009

Tony Lama style 6210 brown, size 15.

Back in 1986 I decided it was time to get a proper pair of boots. It was a nice spring day, so I hopped on my motorcycle and headed across the border to Cheyenne Wyoming. The ride takes you north through the high plains along the front range mountains of Colorado.

As the spring air spills over the mountains, it rushes downward, building up speed and temperature. This phenomena is known as the Chinook wind, and by the time it hits the plains it can gust up to the 70mph and be quite warm. A wind like that will break loose anything not solidly moored. This includes a lot of plastic Wal-Mart bags, and more than a few tumbleweeds.

The tumbleweed is not native to North America and is usually either "Kochia" (Kochia scoparia) and Russian Thistle (Salsola kali). These invasive species have a unique way of propagating. The plant dies back over the winter, and the bushy top part breaks loose from the tap root. As the dried shell is blown across the land, it disperses thousands of tiny seeds. When a Chinook wind blows down the mountains, every tumbleweed on the front range heads for Kansas.

Tumbleweeds can grow up to 6 feet in diameter. When you are heading North at 70 mph on a motorcycle, and a 6 ft tumbleweed crosses your bow, it can be disconcerting. Fortunately, although quite large, they are mostly air. Despite a few direct hits, I made it safely to Cheyenne.

The stores in Cheyenne are, well, appropriate for southern Wyoming; they tend towards farm and ranch supplies. Beef is cheap out west, so they grow some big boys. Those big boys have big dogs, which is a good thing, because I wear a size 15 boot. I picked out a nice pair of brown Tony Lama's.By 1990 my riding days were over, but the boots were still going strong. That's Bill contemplating the very same size 15 boot. He had big boots to fill, in a physical, but not a metaphorical sense. Just a few years later he was borrowing them.

I've still got the boots, although it's time for a resole. Riding a motorcycle isn't any fun in the insane commuter traffic of the triangle area. I've still got my class C motorcycle endorsement, but I don't have the urge to get a new bike. A horse sounds a lot more enjoyable. I don't ride very well, but it should be easy to learn. I'm halfway there already- I've got the boots.
© 2008 Raoul Rubin