Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Democracy is painful. Day 13 Al Alambra

I got up at 6.15 to try and get tickets for the Al Alambra which I though was pretty impressive. I expected to see the streets filled with punters competing for the 1000 tickets released each morning (in addition to 75% sold through the internet) for sale on the day. I ate a hasty breakfast but couldn´t get the gas to work to cook my eggs. Leaving with a hole in my breakfast I took to the cold streets.

The first person I saw passed me on the steps leading up to entrance. He was going at a real pace, overtaking on the outside and easily, and I thought "Fine, let´s stay relaxed. There´ll be enough tickets. When I got to the queueing area the line itself was growing at a rate of knots. I placed myself two bends away from the ticket issuing area, estimating about 100 people and perhaps half an hour of waiting ahead once the desks opened.

The people behind me in the queue and I quickly became acquainted, each of us sharing our best guess as to whether we´d get tickets and, if so, how long we´d have to wait. I bet "yes" and "half an "hour". The spanish guy said "yes" and "much more than an hour". The Swedish lady with a black labrador called Cherie (as in ´Cherie Blaire´, she told me) left to go and feed the dog, and whilte we were saving her place, she didn´t come back. That left us pretty short of entertainment; the dog had been a bit of a focal point.

The Lebanese couple behind me and I got talking. They both lived in Essex and were Anglicised; he was a surgeon and she taught Arabic. Our mood went through various phases of hope and despiar as we sought entry to one of the most famous monuments in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site. Once we turned the last bend, our spirits rose. The lady over the tannoy informed us there were about 80 tickets left for the morning and somewhere over 200 for afternoon. By the time I got to the front, that was eight tickets for morning. It struck me later how crucial it was that I hadn´t been held up by cooking those eggs. They could have made all the difference. I was served at 10am and I got a ticket for the afternoon some three hours after joining the queue. Don´t worry, I got those eggs as soon as I got back.

I came back at 2pm for my visit, praying that were wouldn´t be anymore queueing. Actually though, the jostling for the entrance was about as nasty as it got, with peoples nerves getting a bit frayed. I had a French (I think) guy pushing me from behind when he judged I´d cut him off. Once we got inside there were people everywhere and I started to think, "this better be good." I went straight down to the palace for my 2.30pm entrance and had to line up for another 20 minutes or so. I very nearly made an internal decision not to enjoy it, to get them back of course. Just managing to realise this was a bit pointless, I held my nerve.

Once inside, the palace was truly beautiful though. Some very ornate carving that must have taken years. Some patioes laid out with great balance and a very light touch. Some carved wood in the ceiling and some interesting geometrics here, and a series of ornate swirly carved columns there, and several rooms of this quality.

Later, looking out at the view of Albacin and the white Sierra Nevada I was glad that I´d got through all the nonsense from earlier. I felt warm inside and the wheels of my heart turned to register the completion something I´d wanted to do for a long time. Next stop, Taj Mahal. I was told that the palace was only constructed at a very great cost, almost runing the country at the time. Concentrating all that beauty in one place was, of course, a highly undemocratic act, leveraging a great deal of resources for the appreciation of only a very few. We do it differently now, making such places open to the public for a fairly reasonable price. But, of course, everybody wants to go. This is a kind of opposite to the situation prevailing at the time of the Moorish Kings but perhaps it comes at the cost of dilluting the experience. It seems that the monument is a bit too lean to be carved up and given out to everyone.

How greatly these human economies differ from what we hear of God´s economy and Kingdom. "In my Father´s house there are many mansions", and if you would indulge me to add, "And you don´t have to queue up to get in. These little time slots are not alloted to you in order that you may briefly take in their beauty before you are cattle herded down the road. The poor are welcome and they are not difficult to clean." I love this life (sometimes) but it is interesting to hope for the reality of these things that may be made manifest in times to come, and of whose true dimensions and beauty we do perhaps glimpse from time to time among of our man-made achievements.

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