|The Alhambra in Granada. Note the impressive scale of the fortress.|
We were lucky enough to be staying in Granada's parador. A parador is an inn run by the Spanish government, usually on a site of historical significance. Most major cities have one. Each parador has a restaurant that serves local specialties and wines. The rooms are generally pretty luxurious compared to budget hotels. The parador in Granada was situated within an old monastery inside the Alhambra walls. I'd heard it was one of the nicer paradors in Spain, and I was not disappointed. It was, in a word, spectacular.
When we made our plans to visit Granada, we had not known that tours of the Alhambra booked early, and that we needed to purchase tickets in advance. Thus, we rolled into town without tickets on a day when the tours were completely sold out. While I checked us in, my husband befriended the concierge and managed, somehow, to get us booked into an Alhambra tour to begin early the next morning. (Sam is good at things like that. That's why I bring him along.) The concierge also encouraged us to go to a flamenco show the following evening. He told us that the gypsies who lived in the caves on the other side of the city were famous for their flamenco, and their shows were not to be missed. He booked us tickets to a 9 PM show in a local gypsy cave.
We brought our luggage to our rooms. The children were in a second-floor room overlooking the fortress's impressive gardens. On the way there, we passed a little courtyard with a chapel. There was a plaque there that the children encouraged me to translate for them. It indicated that this courtyard had been the original burial site of Isabella the Catholic, before she was moved to join her husband Ferdinand, shortly after his subsequent death.
"Isabella," I told the kids, "was the one who financed Columbus's journey to the new world. She and Ferdinand were also the parents of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife."
There was a moment of awed silence. Here we were at the original gravesite of an historical figure the children had actually heard of. Because we are North Americans, we know the story of Columbus's journey to the West Indies. And because we are Episcopalians, the story of Henry VIII and his six wives is very familiar to all of us.
When Sam and I found our room, we were surprised again. We'd been put in a two-level suite in the topmost tower, with sweeping views of the Alhambra and the city below. Our bathroom and sitting room were on one level, and then we went up a short flight of steps to the sleeping area above. It was, frankly, breathtaking, by far the nicest place we had stayed in since our honeymoon twenty years earlier. I poked around in the bathroom, playing with the shower, tub, and bidet controls. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and cringed. My face was puffy and broken out. I was exhausted.
But what a place to be exhausted! We walked around a little late in the afternoon, took a power nap, and then we had dinner in the parador's restaurant, on a terrace overlooking a cliff. Sam ordered tinto de verano, "summer red," Andalucia's delicious take on sangria. The children sampled the tapas. I was informed that, since we had to be up early the following morning for our Alhambra tour, the family had voted unanimously to skip breakfast in order to sleep a little later. Still exhausted, I agreed (not that my dissent would have mattered).
That night, I lay awake while Sam slept peacefully beside me. I could not get comfortable. I got up and went downstairs to the bathroom, where I cringed at the sight of my face again. My nightgown was scratchy and a little bit tight. I dug through Sam's suitcase and changed into one of his huge, soft t-shirts; that was better. I tiptoed upstairs and got back into bed, careful not to wake Sam. I was hungry, but we had nothing to eat in the room. Besides, how could I still be hungry after such a fabulous dinner? Restless, I finally fell asleep.
In the morning, I was still dragging. We hurried out to the meeting place for our tour. Bobby ducked away for a moment and came back with a bag of chips. I ravenously ate them. We toured the Alhambra all morning, admiring the spectacular architecture and the beautiful mosaic work on the walls and ceilings.
There were long, steep climbs all through the tour. Before long, I was sitting down every few yards. The kids kept climbing, but I was just too tired. I thought I was going to pass out in the heat. I tried to think of an excuse to go back to the room and take a nap, but I couldn't come up with a polite way to ditch Sam and the kids. What was wrong with me? I had no energy.
Finally, the tour took a lunch break, and we were able to grab something to eat at a little kiosk. Everything they had to offer vaguely repulsed me, but I was so hungry I didn't care. I got a little sandwich and a bottle of water and sat under a tree, vowing to never again acquiesce to the skipping of breakfast. It had to be a hundred degrees in the shade.
"Are you okay?" asked Sam.
"I'm fine," I assured him. "It's the heat, and the lack of food."
He wasn't convinced. He sought out the tour guide and found that the only thing left to see was the gardens. "My wife isn't feeling well," he told the guide, and he gave her our headsets and walked us all back to the parador.
I slept until almost dinnertime. We again had a lovely meal, and the flamenco show in the cave was fabulous. We had more tinto de verano and cheered for the dancers. Flamenco is a remarkable form of dance; the dancers' feet drum the floor so fast sometimes that they appear to be a blur. The girls loved the dresses the women wore as much as the music and the dancing.
By the time we got back to the parador, we were all completely spent. Everyone fell asleep immediately - everyone, that is, except for me. I lay awake again, thinking, What's wrong with me? Why am I so tired and hungry all the time? Why can't I walk up a flight of stairs without feeling faint? Why is my face broken out like a teenager's? Why am I gaining so much weight? Why does my chest hurt?
Why does my chest hurt?
All of a sudden, I knew exactly what was wrong with me. I had felt these symptoms before, many years ago. But I had been married for twenty years, and I was just weeks shy of forty-five years old! I tried to count backwards on my fingers, but I couldn't remember. I hadn't been paying attention. Oh no. Could this really be happening?
"Sam," I whispered. "Are you awake?"