Last Night in Granada

In Novel Excerpts / Novella Issue Five by Chris Pellizzari

Last Night in Granada

Summary of Novel

Last Night in Granada is the story of a young man named Chris who suffers from anxiety, depression, and insomnia. The doctor prescribes him Ambien, but as he lies in bed that night, he is overcome with anxious thoughts and he sees more panic attacks on the horizon. To escape this fate, and in a desperate effort to fall asleep, he reflects on the only time of true happiness in his life, the four months he spent studying in Granada, Spain, during his junior year of college. He thinks about the girl he met there and the events leading to their falling in love with not only each other, but with the city of Granada itself. Last Night in Granada also covers the life, times, work, and murder of the great poet from Granada, Federico Garcia Lorca. There is also serious discussion of flamenco music, the Roma people (Gypsies), the Spanish Civil War, and the Chicago Blues. Chris comes to realize since he can never physically see Spain again (he is claustrophobic and can no longer fly in planes), his only solace is the memory of Spain. Lorca once said one remembers Granada the way one remembers a loved one who died. Chris knows no truer saying than this.

Chapter 2. The Effects of Ambien on the Anxious Mind

I am home in my bed now in Westmont. It is cold outside, January in Chicago cold. It is the kind of cold that kills an Andalusian with no shelter in ten minutes. My apartment neighbors are inside too. I hear them moving around above me. Only the most desperate souls are outside now. It is too dangerous out there tonight. It will be too dangerous out there tomorrow too. I should spend the next week in my bed. If only I could sleep.

I have taken three Ambien pills, two more than they prescribe. It is 9:00 PM and I am very tired. I cannot remember ever being this tired before. Why can’t I fall asleep? I wash it down with some sweet sherry from Spain.

El Duende will arrive before dawn. I thought I heard him as I was walking outside. He is riding through the countryside on his horse and will appear here in Westmont before the sun. He is not scared of the cold. He is the one Andalusian that the Chicago winter cannot kill.

Granada, Spain.

I have not seen Granada in eleven years. The last time I saw her I was twenty-one. I was a student just old enough to drink by American law. By Spanish law, I should have already developed a taste for jerez. Eleven years ago, my first taste of dry jerez.

I feel free now. Should this Ambien stuff be legal?

El Duende is coming. El Duende, of which Garcia Lorca spoke, is coming.

They can no longer hide all they wish to hide.

The Huerta de San Vicente is revealed. This is where Garcia Lorca writes his greatest work. It is now surrounded by a park with rows of roses and fountains hidden by cypress trees. And yet the olive groves of Viznar, where he was murdered in 1936, are always too close. He can see the Alhambra from the balcony of the Huerta de San Vincente. What true inspiration he steals from this view, no one will ever know, but he writes that the flamenco guitar weeps for distant things.

Spain is the most distant thing in my life now. But there is a time when the girl named Vera buys me a black and white postcard she saw on a rack outside a store on the Plaza Nueva of a young, confident Lorca

But I will never see Spain again. I cannot be trapped inside an airplane. There is no escape, no escape.

She’s somewhere in Chicago now, working as an accounts manager. She has a husband and three children, but she was once an environmental science major, a scholar of Andalusian trees, flowers, and rivers.

I walked out of the University of Illinois’ Lincoln Hall and into a snowy night. I observed the life of the young lawyer etched into the building’s exterior. How can I become a lawyer if I cannot speak in front of a crowd for five minutes?

No, I was not to become a lawyer.

Church bells ring through the upstairs window of the classroom in which Vera and I are taught the history of Moorish Granada at 7:00 PM as the sun sets and colors and shadows and breezes from the Sierra Nevada enter the room with the Zambra.

She is also in my Spanish composition class and after the second week I work up enough courage to ask for her phone number. She is Serbian, born in Kosovo. Even though she has lived in Chicago since she was six, she is not a U.S. citizen and she travels on a Serbian passport. She is only a sophomore. I think she is the only sophomore in the group. Everyone else is a junior.

On a Wednesday, she writes her name on a scrap of paper and places it in my hand outside the school called the CEGRI, which used to be a nobleman’s residence. Behind the front door is a patio and fountain. I stare at her written name and I tell her there is no phone number. She says if I want her phone number I should be able to find it. Then she walks away from the CEGRI through the maze of cobbled streets, plazas, fountains, churches and restaurants that lead to the statue of Columbus kneeling at the feet of Queen Isabel. She disappears behind a church as I stare at her name.

Later that night, I discover a binder that was given to us by a teacher on the third day. I flip through its pages, thinking about her slipping the scrap of paper in my hand. The second to last page is filled with the names and phone numbers of every student in the program.

I do not have a cellphone even though the same teacher recommended we all buy one. I am content with emails and payphones. I gather a handful of Euros from my nightstand and walk down the seven flights of stairs that lead out of the apartment. On the street there is a blend of slow paseo and lightning mopeds. The moon is low in the sky and there are stars and the top of mountains in the distance as I walk towards the pay phone across the street from Garcia Lorca’s park. As I drop the coins in the slot and dial her number, I pray to Lorca, the master of words.

An old woman picks up the phone and I ask her if I can speak to Olivera. She seems surprised but she calls for “Vera” and I hear her hand the phone over.

“Hello?” Vera says.

“Is this Olivera Bojic, phone number $%$^&@#?”

She laughs.

“Is this Chris? I thought you didn’t have a cellphone?”

“I’m at a payphone across the street from the Garcia Lorca Park,” I say.

“Is that the name of the park, Garcia Lorca Park?” she asks.

She seems out of breath. What was she doing before I called?

“Yeah, it’s named after the famous poet. Have you read any of his poetry?”

“I don’t think so. What did he write about?” she asks, still out of breath.

“He wrote about Granada and Andalucia and Gyspies and the suffering of women, about all suffering.”

“I take it you’re familiar with his poetry,” she says.

“If you hang out with me for the next four months, you’ll go back to U of I with a minor in Lorca.”

“Oh, so you’re an expert.”

“No, I just think I understand him as well as an American can. I’ll explain his poetry to you, but you have to do something for me. There are all these trees and flowers around the park and I want to write about them but I don’t know what they are. Since you’re the expert on nature, I was wondering if you could give me a tour of the park, explain what each tree and flower is, the Latin name and origin and all of that.”

“I can try,” she says. “I don’t know how many I would be able to identify.”

“I have faith in you.”

The conversation flows with the paseo.

“Why are you a history major if you love writing so much?” she asks.

“I would never major in creative writing, I don’t trust creative writing classes. I don’t trust creative writing teachers.”

“Why not?”

I hear music coming from a nearby bar. I can make out the song, it is Baby’s in Black by the Beatles.

“When I was a sophomore in high school, I took a creative writing class that was taught by this Buddhist beatnik teacher. She was awful, just awful,” I say.

I continue to stare at Lorca’s house.

“She would return graded poems to you with either red ink or yellow highlighter all over the page. If she thought a line was good, she would highlight it. If it was filled with clichés, she would underline it in red pen. There was a lot of red ink on my poems. I mean, I’m not good at poetry, but I don’t think I was that bad.

“For her, a line was good if it was filled with images. She liked weird images, things like ‘throwing batteries at dead cows’ or ‘tasting copper pastries.’ I wrote poems about war and she hated me for it. She said that young writers should avoid writing poems about war or love, they will ‘drown them with clichés,’ those were her exact words,” I say.

“I took a creative writing class during my senior year. My teacher was a guy. He said the same thing, that we should avoid writing love and war poems,” Vera says.

“Why did you want to write war poems?” she asks.

“I’ve always been fascinated with war. I hate war, I hate violence, but I have always been fascinated with the history of war.”

“I’d like to read some of your work, if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll show you a few short stories if you give me a tour of that place you were talking about, Guejar Sierra.”

“Sounds good,” she says.

“Okay, but I’m nowhere as good as I will be in ten years, just take that into consideration. A twenty-one year-old writer is not nearly as good as a thirty-one year-old writer. You should read my stuff when I’m thirty-one,” I say.

“Yeah, well, I’m not going to wait ten years for you, Christopher. What about forty-one, how good will you be at forty-one?”

“By forty-one, your creativity starts to dry up. It’s a very delicate thing. A writer is at his best when he has enough experience, but his creativity is still wet. That’s why I think he’s at his best in his thirties. By forty, it’s too late.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” she says. “I guess it was too late for Ernest Hemingway when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea at fifty-two.”

“Touché.”

The paseo continues. Two young brothers chase each other around my pay phone. They stop and smile at me but their mother hurries them away before I can say anything.

“What was that?” Vera asks.

“Some kids were running around the pay phone. Did you hear them?”

“Yeah, what were they saying?”

“I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention. I was listening to you,” I say.

“Then what was I saying?”

“I don’t know, I was distracted by the two little brothers,” I say.

“So you weren’t paying attention to me or them?”

“I think you were going to ask me something else about Lorca.”

“No, I was going to ask you what you were doing tomorrow morning,” she says.

“Tomorrow morning?”

“Yeah, what are you doing tomorrow morning?” she asks.

“Sleeping.”

She laughs.

“No, get up at 8:00 tomorrow and come jogging with me in Lorca’s park,” she says.

“Are you crazy?”

“No, we can go for a run and you can tell me about Lorca and I can identify the trees and flowers around his house for you,” she says.

“I’m not in great shape. I’ll probably be too exhausted to pay attention to what you’re saying. I wouldn’t last five minutes,” I say.

“If you really want to know about those trees and flowers, you’d do it,” she says.

“Where do we meet?” I ask.

“At the park’s entrance at 8:30. Sound good?”

“I’ll be there.”

The next morning I try to keep up with her. It is a cold January day and I see my breath as I run and I see her breath as she identifies a tree we pass by. She is in great shape, but I need to sit down on a bench to catch my breath. The cold air hurts my lungs and I ask her how these exotic plants and trees can survive in weather this cold.

“They’re stronger than you think,” she says.

Ten clouds hold back the Spanish sun, brave clouds they are.

On that morning I realize just how sexy her stomach is, perfect, tight muscles.

Guejar Sierra is revealed. Vera gives me a tour of the hills, and forests, and villages of Guejar Sierra, just south of Granada.

We wait for the bus in a little plaza in the center of town after the tour is finished. We are occupying a wooden bench. I am sitting upright and she is lying on her back, using my left leg as a pillow. She says her stomach hurts. I massage her stomach and listen to it purr.

“My stomach really hurts, Chris.”

I continue massaging it.

“Does it feel better now?” I ask.

“I don’t know, a little.”

I stare at the hill in the distance. I cannot believe that we have just come from there. It was morning and the sun was strong when we started. Now it is gone and all that is left in the sky are strokes of purple and orange.

Soon it will be night, and the moon’s light will illuminate only certain spots on the hill. The moon moves faster in Spain and it never shines on one place for too long.

I will never see this hill again, I tell myself.

When the bus arrives that will bring us back to Granada, a crescent moon shines on the plaza’s church. I cannot see the hill anymore and the old men are gone.

“How do you feel?” I ask her as I help her to her feet.

“My stomach still hurts,” she says.

It is a nice bus, too nice for Guejar Sierra to Granada. It is built for Granada to Madrid.

That was nice of them, I tell myself, to provide such a fine bus just because Vera’s stomach hurts.

“We’ll be home soon,” I tell her as we board.

Home. Granada is home.

When I am in Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, Barcelona, Nerja, Almeria, Cabo de Gata, Guejar Sierra…Granada is home. The three days in Toledo are over. It is time to return home to Granada.

This mattress absorbs anxiety.

We walk towards the back of the bus. She walks in front of me. I have my right hand on her shoulder and she caresses it.

We stretch out on the row of seats in the very back. I massage her stomach and I hear it purr. I look out the window to see if I can find the bench, but there is only darkness. I cannot see anything. I cannot see Spain.

There are five other people on the bus. An elderly couple occupy two seats in the middle. A father, mother, and baby girl own the front. The father is talking to the bus driver. I never did see the bus driver’s face.

“Do you feel better,” I ask Vera.

“A little.”

“You’ll be fine. We’ll be back in Granada before you know it. I’ll carry you back to your apartment if you want,” I say.

“I probably have cancer,” she says.

“Why would you say that?”

“There was a girl I knew in high school. One day, a month before graduating, she passed out in the library. When she woke up, she was in a hospital and the doctor told her she had leukemia. She had leukemia for a long time and she didn’t know it. She died three months later.

“What I constantly think about is her waking up in the hospital, relieved to be alive. She’s telling herself she’s in a hospital and will be okay. She doesn’t know yet that she has cancer and will die soon. I always think about those false moments of hope.”

“But you’ll be fine,” I say. “This will pass.”

A church in suburban Chicago is revealed. It is named Our Lady of Peace and it is the church where I was confirmed a Catholic.

It is a very unimpressive church, but the Republicanos are going to burn it down anyway.

There is a massacre in the Albaicin shortly after the Fascists capture Granada. The resistance in the Albaicin, which spirals towards heaven and the Sacromonte holds on for as long as it can as Granada falls in his arms, her white dress sweeping dust from the floor.

There are reprisals for this resistance, Republicanos are executed. Now, their fathers and brothers have come to burn down this church.

They lay five dead priests at the front door of this church. The priests are executed on a farm in view of bulls and horses.

They will burn it down like the Iglesia de San. Nicholas.

They think it is empty. They do not know I am inside.

Soon, I will drift over Toledo at night. I will float over Sevilla during the Semana Santa. I will float over the Senora de La Esperanza Macarena dressed in white and gold and carried through the streets as rose petals and the Gypsy song known as La Saeta fall from the balconies.

La Saeta is the saddest of all songs as the singer evokes the suffering of Jesus and Mary. There is nothing here in this church that can bring out the Saeta. One must look into the suffering eyes of Jesus in the statues of Spain, the ones where he is carrying the cross. The eyes in each statue hold a unique suffering. There are eyes that stare at heaven, there are eyes that look forward to a distance where women have hooks instead of hands and no face. There are eyes that are blurry in pain, there are eyes that stare directly into your sins.

This church is not authentic. If I am going to die in flames, I need the strong incense of the Cathedral in Granada, the guitar of the gypsy in the nearby Alcaiceria, the old Moorish market.

There is only a freshly vacuumed blue carpet here.

Show me what true suffering is. I want to understand that this disorder is but a breeze from the Alpujjaras across the waters of the Alhambra compared to the suffering on the cross in Jerusalem.

I make the sign of the cross. I do not bother to kneel. God does not care about the position of your limbs as long as your thoughts are clear and your words are pure. I pray for the only thing that is worth praying for, my baby niece. I pray that she encounters only beautiful things in this life, things as beautiful as her.

Her name is Isabella, like the Queen of Spain. They give her this name because it is a very popular name. They are unaware of its connection to Granada. But I have never seen any child as beautiful as her. I have nephews and nieces and cousins, but there is no one like Isabella, no one with a face and name like her.

The black statue in Granada overlooking the Gran Via, Columbus kneeling at her feet.

My brother is in love with her too. I see him kneeling at her feet. She is sitting on a white leather chair. Her legs are stretched out and my brother is kissing and tickling her foot. She has a smile on her face, revealing four new teeth.

She looks away from her father and stares at me. She seems to say, “Can you believe what he’s doing to me?”

She tries not to laugh, but the sensation of kissing and tickling is too much for someone who has only been alive for seven months.

This church needs to be authenticated. I know that the prayer for Isabella has not reached the ears of the Virgin Mary.

This freshly vacuumed carpet, where is the incense? I need to hear the lighting strikes of flamenco guitars and the screams from close distances. The yodeler yodels to be heard across mountains, but the flamenco singer screams to you from a stage only a few feet away. He screams from an age and a land.

This church needs to be authenticated the way flamenco is authenticated in 1922 in Granada in the Alhambra. Lorca and Manuel de Falla are the chief priests of the Inquisition that is held in the Alhambra in June of 1922.

This wooden Anti-Christ above with almond eyes with no pupils that do not move needs to be authenticated.

They scatter French lavender on the Alhambra floor.

There are folding chairs and a humble stage as a flamenco show commences despite the light rain. I hold the girl under an umbrella.

The women of Sacromonte clap the rhythm for the contestants in 1922. Now most of the gypsies on the Sacromonte are gone, now the girl is gone.

Most of the gypsies in Granada live in Almanjayar, an outskirt of drugs and violence far from the white caves. I am sure Lorca sees this in 1922, the gypsies in apartments, children with dirt all over their faces. I see my little Isabella with dirt all over her face.

Protect her God from this wooden Anti-Christ.

No, no. I will not let it happen. Isabella will not suffer in this world. Men will prostrate themselves at her feet. Beyond the black statue is the Gran Via of Granada, wavy and blurry.

“Chris, you will be her godfather,” my brother tells me.

“This is so beautiful, Chris,” Vera says in front of the stage. There are mountains in the distance and the buildings of Granada. Those mountains are no longer there.

I hear the pounding. Soon, they will be inside. They will steal gold and statues before the blaze.

I believe in their cause, but I am not in favor of burning churches. I do not want to see images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary burn before my eyes. I do not believe in kneeling, but I want them to find me kneeling. Let them think I’m a fascist, I don’t care. I have seen enough of this world outside of Granada.

The door falls and ten soldiers enter the church. They bring mud and blood to the freshly vacuumed carpet. Two soldiers are dragging a dead priest across the floor.

“This is what we do to Fascists,” he tells me in Spanish.

He kicks the priest in the head so I can see he is dead.

“On your feet, Fascist. God will not protect you here,” he says.

He is pointing a rifle at my heart.

“Raise your arms, Fascist. Reach for heaven,” he says.

I do not tell him I am not a Fascist. I do not tell him I secretly believe in his cause. It will do no good now. I think about Isabella as I hear the explosion of his rifle. I fall back, half conscious. I don’t feel pain and I know death is soon. I hope I die before they set the church on fire.

“Finish him off,” the man says as he hands a pistol to a young soldier.

Good, I will not die in the flames. I see his boots walk toward me.

“This is for Lorca.”

It is now Toledo at night and a young woman is holding my hand.

The far off wails of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters are revealed. They are coming from the Westmont train station, which is a ten-minute walk from my apartment. There is a sharpness in their songs, swords as sharp as the flamenco guitar that Lorca describes.

There is a dry cut to John Lee Hooker’s Solid Sender, as dry as migas. It is hard to devour one of his albums, but there is a delicious arid strike of the electric. The same can be said about the song of two trains running, by Muddy Waters.

And so this is Westmont, ruins in the night. When I was a baby in my father’s arms, Muddy Waters patted me on the head near the musician’s front door on Adams Street.

And this is Westmont, ruins in the night. Something is coming, but not from out there, but from inside, from within these walls inside this room of mine.

You’re destined for great things, my father told me. Muddy Waters blessed you.

The road along the beach in Cabo de Gata is revealed. This is the road from the Hotel Blanca Brisa to the Salinas, the salt mines.

The church is abandoned, but I remember his name, La Iglesia de la Almadraba. He stands there like a hitchhiker, alone along the road from the Salinas to the beach. I ask Vera if we should pick him up.

There are mountains, and cacti, and the Mediterranean, and an empty church. Sergio Leone shoots Spaghetti Westerns here because it resembles the West more than the West.

I ask her if we should pick him up, but she doesn’t hear me.

We walk from our hotel, the Blanca Brisa, to the Salinas just to see pink flamingos, but we do not see any. I will settle for the state bird of my home, Illinois, a bird I have seen in my backyard’s tree a hundred times. I will settle for him because Vera is disappointed. It would be nice to see flamingos, but I will settle for the cardinal.

I put my arm around her and kiss the top of her head. It is warm and I can smell sweat and the Spanish sun. She returns a kiss on my check and places her hand in my mine.

“Do you want to pick him up?” I ask, staring at the church.

“What did you say?”

“I don’t know.”

I don’t feel like talking. I want to concentrate on how far this place is from everywhere else. What a place to die in her arms.

Even without the flamingos, how can I return to cornfields with black crows?

“Slow down, Vera,” I tell her as we walk. “Slow down.”

I don’t want to walk anymore.

“Do you want to die here?” I ask her.

“What?”

“I asked if you want to retire here,” I say.

“That would be nice.”

We place two white, plastic chairs on our balcony at the Blanca Brisa and stare at the road and the sea. It is cold in the desert night and she is covered in a black blanket. She is drinking orange Fanta from a Styrofoam cup. She pours into the cup after each sip.

She asks me what my plans are when we return to Chicago and if they include her. She thinks I will forget her when we return to the City of the Blues. She says I will only remember her as the girl from Spain and will find someone else to marry once I graduate. I tell her that I will never leave her and will spend as much time with her during the approaching summer as she can stand.

The road to the Salinas is blurry in the reflection of the moon’s light. Waves deposit shards of moonlight on to the sand near the road.

I am searching for a horse and rider from the Salinas, a blurry extension of the road. Nothing has approached us in hours.

Vera reads out loud excerpts from a Lorca lecture on el Duende.

“Whoever travels the bull’s hide that stretches between the Júcar, Guadalfeo, Sil and Pisuerga rivers (not to mention the tributaries that meet those waves, the colour of a lion’s mane, that stir the Plata) frequently hears people say: ‘This has much Duende’. Manuel Torre, great artist of the Andalusian people, said to someone who sang for him: ‘You have a voice, you understand style, but you’ll never ever succeed because you have no Duende.’”

“And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has Duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.”

“So, then, I don’t want anyone to confuse the Duende with the theological demon of doubt at whom Luther, with Bacchic feeling, hurled a pot of ink in Eisenach, nor the Catholic devil, destructive and of low intelligence, who disguised himself as a bitch to enter convents, nor the talking monkey carried by Cervantes’ Malgesi in his comedy of jealousies in the Andalusian woods. No. The Duende I mean, secret and shuddering, is descended from that blithe daemon, all marble and salt, of Socrates, whom it scratched at indignantly on the day when he drank the hemlock, and that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors.”

“Reject the angel, and give the Muse a kick, and forget our fear of the scent of violets that eighteenth century poetry breathes out, and of the great telescope in whose lenses the Muse, made ill by limitation, sleeps. The true struggle is with the Duende.”

“Seeking the Duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles…”

“Spain is unique, a country where death is a national spectacle, where death sounds great bugle blasts on the arrival of Spring, and its art is always ruled by a shrewd Duende which creates its different and inventive quality.”

I see headlights in the distance.

“Look over there, Vera.”

She puts her cup on the table and squints her eyes.

“Look where?”

“Down the road, “I say. “Do you see a car in the distance?”

“Yes. How strange. We haven’t seen a car on that road all day,” she says.

“It’s a little eerie, isn’t it?” I ask.

“No, why do you say that?”

“A car driving along an empty road at night is an eerie thing, especially when you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going,” I say.

About the Author

Chris Pellizzari

Chris Pellizzari is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earning a History B.A. with a Minor in Spanish in 2003. He also holds a Masters in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago. His short story, “Granada,” is scheduled to be published this fall in the Awakenings Review, Vol. 7, No.1. Pellizzari has written for numerous newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, and Chicago Tribune.