La Mezquita in Cordoba, I wrote in a recent post, is a Christian cathedral emerging from the ribs of a Moorish mosque – and it is precisely this amalgam and emergence, this blending and superceding, that I find so infinitely absorbing and rewarding, such fertile soil for the kind of historical imagining and understanding that we need so badly in an age that seems, at least in its politics, so partisan and diminished, so limited and narrow.
In these images, Moorish arches frame and reveal Christian figures and motifs; different ages and tastes are overlaid; a place of worship becomes a human record.
And they interest me, these photographs, not merely as records, but as meditations of a sort. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
In Sevilla we heard, live on stage, in a modern, airy, wood-panelled auditorium, the fabulous flamenco guitarist Paco Jarana: a wonderful masterclass that blew us both away. To see flamenco dancing, however, we went to Ronda, to the Restaurant Cinque on the Paseo Blas Infante – a small, dark stage, with three red chairs for the handclapper-singers and the guitarist and just space enough for a single flamenco dancer.
The guitarist was not the great Paco, by any stretch, but he was pretty good; the singers and hand-clappers, likewise, were not in the league of Paco’s accompanists, but what they had was the raw intensity and the enthusiasm that the performance demanded.
And the flamenco dancer – offstage, just a slight, ordinary-seeming young woman – on stage, commanded your absolute attention. Entering silently, down a darkened staircase, she stepped out into the light, and from then until the show ended had us utterly entranced – no, not just entranced, completely riveted.
I chose on this occasion to take the Leica D-Lux, not the Nikon, as the Nikon would have been too large and intrusive. I asked if it was okay to take photographs and was told yes, so long as I didn’t use flash.
Here are some of the results.
We drove up the steep hill into Olvera, one of the ‘white towns‘ or pueblos blancos of Andalucia; parked, climbed higher, to the monumental bulk of the Iglesia de la Encarnacion from where we could look across to the Moorish Keep on a rocky outcrop opposite; looked out over the roofs into the streets below and the olive-clad hills in the distance, and then descended once more into the town, where we came across this group of men, retired one guessed, gossiping in the shade.
The Cathedral and the Keep tomorrow or Sunday; but here is my tableaux of old men, today.
As with the other pueblos blancos we visited, Ronda, with its cobbled narrow streets, its whitewashed walls, its tiled roofs, its plazas and churches, its sun-soaked vistas, lends itself both to colour photography and to black and white.
Partly it’s a matter of taste and preference; more importantly, it’s a choice of expression. These images, for instance, worked just fine in colour, but in black and white have something quite different to say to us – or to me, at least.
I wrote in an earlier post that the decision to present an image in colour or in black-and-white was partly, perhaps, a matter of taste and preference, but more profoundly, a question of interpretation.
Here are two otherwise identical images of the Plaza de Toros – the bull-ring – in Ronda, which illustrate the point. Which do you prefer – and more importantly, why?
Puente Nuevo, the ‘new’ bridge, dates to the 18th-century and spans the 100m-deep Tajo Gorge, connecting the old and new parts of Ronda.
Ronda was a surprise: approaching up a steep hill, and entering the town through drab, less-than-interesting neighbourhoods, we wondered if we had made a mistake, booking for two nights. We checked into our hotel, headed out to explore, and immediately fell in love.
Indeed, Ronda quickly became one of our favourite towns in all of Andalucia, and we would happily have stayed for several days more.