Newsletters  | Mobile

The Game in Spain

A similar transposition of cultures confronts you in Córdoba, at the greatest remaining Moorish mosque, the Mezquita. Here, King Carlos V, instead of destroying the mosque, simply had a Gothic chapel built inside it. There is a received way of looking at this--it is, as the guide books say, "an insult" to the great building. I suppose it is, but I find it hard to muster outrage at five-hundred-year-old insults, and simple wonder comes more easily.

The Moors. To be serious about Andalusia, one must talk of the Moors. You find yourself seeing Moorish influence everywhere. In the architecture, of course, which has s pread from here to California. It is said by serious cultural historians that the Moorish harem is echoed in the regrettable habit some Andalusian men have of maintaining multiple families. I see an exceptionally beautiful olive-skinned young woman with a Nefertiti neck and think, Moorish influence. But what can one really know of these ancient people?They were here long enough to achieve, like any other civilization, a patchy record, and also to have been changed--appealingly they succumbed to the land they conquered and to its customs, violating, for instance, the Koran's proscription of wine. For a period, their capital, Córdoba, was a center of the civilized world and, by all accounts, a multicultural paradise. H. A. L. Fisher, in his classic History of Europe, says, "A policy of wise toleration. . . . permitted Christians to dwell at peace in the territory of the Caliph." Jews as well enjoyed freedom and honor. Here the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides rubbed e lbows with the great Arab philosopher Averroes. According to a one-time best-seller, "the Irish saved civilization," but the Moors, who preserved Aristotle and Euclid while the rest of Europe was thrashing about in the Dark Ages, may have a better case to make for themselves.

They were not incapable of brutality, however. At the palaces of the Alhambra, in Granada, you may see the room where a palace reception turned sour when Boabdil surprised thirty-six of his guests by beheading them. The Alhambra, with its intricately carved walls reflecting pools and ornate gardens, demonstrates that nothing that has happened recently on the Costa del Sol, not Valderrama nor the yachts of Puerto Banús, would surprise the Moors.

Between Córdoba and Granada, a huge swath of rolling land, is olive country. Spain grows millions of olive trees, and no region has more of them than Andalusia. You drive for endless miles through the gray-green trees against the reddish soil. They stretch up and over hills into the distance until they seem as small as those little candies pasted in rows on paper. All of Europe is a garden, someone has said, and so it is compared with much of the world, and this is one of the most beautifully kept corners of a well-tended continent. It is a parched land, where the olive can survive in conditions that would daunt most crops. To hoard water and nutrients, farmers till the soil around the trees, even on the hillsides, at impossible, tractor-tipping angles. These olive-laden hills surely constitute one of the great agricultural landscapes of the world.

"The olive is a clever tree," says a grower, explaining that its roots are specialists, one absorbing this mineral, another that. The grower, a young man named Miguel, cultivates twenty-one hundred trees, along with some sunflower fields, on forty hectares, his portion of a larger farm that had belonged to his late father. It doesn't support him an d his wife now, but it will, once they get a house built. His wife is passionate about flamenco: "I married her because she dances like crazy," he says. For now he has a good city job in marketing, which he'll happily leave. His negative ambition would, I suppose, seem evidence of Ortega y Gasset's view of the higher indolence, but to me it looks simply like eminent good sense. It is nice to think of this couple here in a few years, tilling, harvesting, dancing.

Miguel points out that during road work recently some Roman ruins were dug up, along with signs of an olive grove. Indeed, some trees still alive are thought to be two thousand years old. The trees have been growing here forever, predating Moor and Christian alike. The olives seem more than a crop--a culture in themselves overriding much history and politics. The life they imply has withstood invasions before, and one feels more confident than in most places in the world that life here will withstand the great invasion of modernity. Millennia hence, people will come here for the olives, and the absolving sun.


The Best Of The Costa Del Golf
By Seve Ballesteros

Valderrama, lying between San Roque and Sotogrande on the Costa del Sol, is undoubtedly one of Europe's best golf courses. But it's also a very special place for me. It was here in 1997 that the Ryder Cup took place at a European venue for the first time outside the U.K., and it was here that I was captain when Europe defeated the United States. I'm sure people remember me driving my cart everywhere, talking to my teammates and advising them.


Sign Up

Connect With Travel + Leisure
  • Travel+Leisure
  • Tablet
  • Available devices

Already a subscriber?
Get FREE ACCESS to the digital edition