Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Los Patios: A glimpse

For someone who has to know what is hidden around the corner of every winding European street, the Cordoban festival 'Los Patios,' which takes place every May, is something of a gift. The city is known nationally for its gorgeous courtyards, which are hidden in almost every centuries-old house in the old town; Cordobeses take special care to landscape them with cascades of flowers, specially-curated plant arrangements, and even water features. Once a year, these courtyards ('patios' in Spanish) are opened to the public in a contest to see who can create the most exquisite space.

I went to Cordoba last weekend specifically to see Los Patios, and I was not disappointed. Jars of geraniums in blood reds and lurid purples checkered perfectly white-washed walls; waves of impatiens and lines of orchids spilled over stoops. There were flowers dripping, almost literally, from every wall and windowsill. The city was truly transformed.

For me, Los Patios was just as much about the private nooks not opened to public eyes as it was about the (spectacular) contest entrants. For every open patio, there were three just as beautiful left locked away. But not closed completely: the door to such courtyards were often left just a bit ajar, protected but still visible behind elaborate grates made of wrought iron and glass. Maybe it's 'super American' of me to think this way, but I saw those slightly-open doors as a gentle invitation: "Come in and see what we've created." And so I did, ducking into archways and peeking around door frames. I was rewarded with artfully-arranged greenery, gorgeous plaster and stonework, hand-painted tiles, and small glimpses into private Cordobes life.

On Saturday I spent late morning immersed in the floral glory of the Patios contest entrants, then emerged unexpected into a sunny plaza whose western edge was occupied by the typical tin chairs and tables of an Andaluz bar. I luxuriated in a long, late lunch under a tree. I read, drank in the sun, a couple of beers, and the chatter of diners around me. After the last sip of beer and the last crumb of bread, I decided to take a walk in the quiet of siesta (which on a Saturday in Andalucia means Absolute Stillness of a quality rarely encountered elsewhere.) I plotted out a vague route on my map and set off, pausing to snap pictures of roadside shrines and romantic alleyways.

As is my habit, I caught sight of a particularly nice-looking patio in a doorway, behind a wrought-iron door full of curlicues and flourishes. I took a moment to appreciate the artistry of ceramics and miniature palm trees carefully arranged, and as I ducked out of the doorway I saw an old man slipping out of his own house with a little white dog roughly the size of his bushy eyebrows (that is to say that the dog was quite small and his eyebrows were enormous.) For a second, I hoped he might keep the door open--fumble with the keys, perhaps, or adjust the dog's leash-- so that I could catch just an eyeful of his courtyard, which I was sure was as lovely as his neighbor's. But the door clicked shut, and I continued on my way--

-- until a few steps later when I heard "Ccccch!" (This is Castilian Spanish for "Hey you!") I turned, and the little old man motioned me forward, dismissing my look of bewilderment with a wave of his hand. He turned around and unlocked his door again, telling me, "Come have a look inside."

The patio was as lovely as I expected: a medium-sized space, large enough to be comfortable and small enough to be cozy. It was filled with sunlit greenery, a set of tables and chairs (which I immediately fantasized about using for warm, slow coffee-drinking mornings), some enthusiastically blooming flowers, and an exquisitely-painted tiled Virgin Mary as the centerpiece. There were no cascading fuschias; no florescent geraniums. This was a less showy, more self-effacing beauty. It was obvious someone (or someones) spent much-beloved time here. In its flourishing potted plants and slightly askew tiling I could see a sweet and beautiful slice of this man's life-- one he had decided to share, temporarily, with me.

I stood there, taking it all in, and from behind me he explained, "It's because I saw you come out from next door. I said to myself, 'That girl likes patios. I'm going to show her a little bit of trust.'"

I agreed, telling him how much I'd enjoyed discovering the patios, both those in the open and those  hidden away. I took a few photos, then followed him out. He re-locked the door and shook my hand. "Have a great stay here!" he said. "There's a nice garden up the block if you're interested."

I watched him shuffle away, the little white dog trotting along behind him. It seemed remarkable to me. This weekend the city was overrun with visitors, inundated with foreigners, and it would have been so easy for him to be hostile toward these interlopers, or even just indifferent. Instead, he opened his home to me, if only for a moment.

1 comment:

Linda said...

gorgeous tiny gardens! I love how the plants and flowers are integrated with the architecture. Can't wait until I can have my own in BK...