The Alhambra

Posted by Ed 6 mths ago

In the summer of 2004, when I was twenty-nine, I spent a week at the Alhambra Hotel near King’s Cross Station in London.

It’s one of dozens of Alhambra hotels and hostelries around the world, all nodding to the original, an ornate pile of Moorish castle in Granada, Spain, built on Roman ruins and tucked inside a fortress.
In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella recaptured the castle and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Islamic caliphs who had ruled there for centuries. In 1828, the American writer Washington Irving took a gentleman’s camping trip inside the castle, which he lavishly recounted in Tales of the Alhambra. Irving was the kind of moron who could gaze over the baking Spanish countryside in the heat of noon and wonder why none of the local inhabitants were about.
The Alhambra is now one of the most heavily trafficked tourist sites in the world, but two centuries ago, when Irving tiptoed through its moonlit courtyards, hoping to surprise the ghosts of Moorish princesses, he had the place to himself. Likewise, I found the Alhambra on Argyle Street a good place to hole up and be alone.

I chose it because it was cheap, a step above a youth hostel (for which I no longer qualified) but not a B&B offering fripperies like French-milled soap to remind me what I was spending on my impulsive vacation.

It had been a bad year, and I wanted to get outside my life for a while, so I went to London in July when it was mobbed. If you want to escape everything and you can’t have a castle, you can surround yourself with so many other bodies and sight-seeing buses and tour groups that you are effectively invisible, which is what I did.
I stayed alone at the Alhambra for five nights and, in the way that certain porous memories achieve a life of their own, I have been staying there, off and on, ever since.

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