Friday, January 2


Tanto Monta, Monta Tanto, Ysabel como Fernando*

I am reminded today of the defeat of Abu 'abd Allah Muhammad XII, otherwise known as "the little," or el zogoybi, "the unfortunate," or just the easy-to-pronounce if linguistically sloppy Boabdil, by the Catholic Sovereigns Fernando and Ysabel of Aragon and Castile on January 2, 1492. Today is the day which marks the end of Spain's reconquest of the peninsula and the threshhold of her entry into the New World, a day full of the vivid red blood and red gold that is so characteristic of the Iberian Catholic character--gallant, visceral, direct, honorable to the point of touchiness, magnaminity and mercy to the defeated, and even a certain chivalric respect for their foes (when their conduct deserved it, of course), but not incapable of the controlled melancholy of reflection, aspects we find in one of Spain's more famous sons, that of Ignatius Loyola.

The sovereigns, incidentally, wore Moorish costume at the handing-over. The long siege was ended by a negotiated treaty than a daring sortie, with, at the time, plenty of rights for the inhabitants (save the possession of firearms--rather like New York in that). But it is, whatever the case, a splendid occasion, a final crescendo after years and centuries of living like hunted dogs, holed up in Asturias, or in time of slogging through the grinding mud of siege warfare and a dozen shifting, checkered alliances.

Strange sidelights this victory has. These Catholic monarchs had a daughter, incidentally, and her name was Katherine of Aragon, and she was a pale, pretty redhead, and like her mother Ysabel she once wore armor when her English husband was away and rebellion threatened in the north. And on her banners and surcoat she bore the pomegranate that was her badge, the pomegranate of Granada.

And many centuries after, an American wanders the desolate gardens of the old Moorish kings, and pens ghost-stories as he lives among them, and he also invents the picturesque lie that Columbus tried to prove the world round--Washington Irving.

And on the opposite side, amid the shattered fragments of defeat and nation-building, the Spanish Jews are forced across the seas with their beautiful manuscripts and books, their Torahs decorated patriotically with the royal lions of Léon, their letters like black flames on white ground. They take with them their long family trees, their industry and ingrained religiosity, and they sing sad songs of Sepharad in the grubby splendor of Constantinople and the Maghreb. Some try to evangelise the leftover Moors. A Cardinal says "The Lord be with you" in Arabic to his congregants, who play the zambra at the elevation of the Host. It does not quite work. Rebellion and counter-rebellion follow for the next hundred years, while the "Andalusian" style of Arab music becomes popular in Morocco for equally sad reasons.

Cortez conquers Mexico, perhaps hamfistedly, with a pink banner of the Holy Spirit and an anti-Aztec army composed mostly of disgruntled vassal Indians. Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin dies under dubious circumstances, and his death midwifes a complex new race, fully Catholic, half of the New World, half of the old, and full of questions about what to name itself. Some Spaniards garrotte Aztec aristocrats, others marry them off to their daughters. In 1627, Pedro Tesifón de Moctezuma is given the title of first Count of Moctezuma de Tultengo, and his line still persists. Bloodsoaked altars are overturned, thousands of baptisms take place. Mexico's faith is tested a hundred times. Different people remember the Alamo, and Chapultepec Castle.

A bastard king's son saves Europe off an obscure Greek shore. Sancho Panza and Don Quixote tilt at giants. The Burlador of Seville mocks his petrified dinner-guest. Carmen acts like an embarassing stereotype. Cuba discovers "independence" means something very different to Theodore Roosevelt than to her. And nowadays you can get Goya products in South Bend, Indiana, if you try.

Today, the siege is lifted, the cross shines from the towers and garrets of the city. Admitted, the dark and controversial clouds of the future--the expulsions of Jews and Moriscos, smallpox epidemics and Indian strife, the sad songs of the Sepharadim, the foxy profile of the ruinous Duke of Lerma and the distended jaw of poor Carlos the Bewitched, the priest-martyrs of the Spanish Civil War and the Cristero Rebellion, the wobbly extremes of bloodstained communism and hamfisted military rule,and the long, limping shadow of that most magnificent and blinkered of kings, Philip II--lie ahead of us, but so do Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Franciscan missions and magnificent Baroque churches of Puebla, the gorgeous viceregal courts of Lima and the exuberance of Indian Catholicism, the Jesuit half-utopia of Paraguay and Carlist peasant-soldiers singing their pious songs on the march, the music of Victoria and cemihcac ichpochtle, cenca timitz totlatlauhtilya mato panximotlatolti.

It is good to recall the words of a popular song of the day, to get a sense of this marvelous rush, and revel in it. Granada is delivered. Vivat Hispania!:

Levanta, Pascual, levanta
Aballemos a Granada
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Lenata toste priado
Toma tu perro y currón,
Tu samarra y samarón,
Tus albogues y cayado
Vamos ver el gasajado
de aquella ciudad nombrada
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Déxate desso, carillo,
Curemos bien del ganado,
No se meta en lo vedado,
Que nos prenda algún morillo,
Tañamos el caramillo,
Porque todo lo otro no es nada,
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Yo te diré comó fue:
Que nuestra reina y el rey
Luzeros de nuestra ley,
Partieron de Santafé
Y partieron, soncas,
Que dizen que esta madrugada,
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Luego allá estarán ya todos
Metidos en la ciudad
Con muy gran solemnidad
Con dulces cantos y modos
¡O claridad de los godos,
Reyes de gloria nombrada!
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

¡Que consuelo y qué conhorte
Ver por torres y garitas
Alcar las cruces benditas!
¡O qué plazer y deporte!
Y entraba toda la crote a milagro atavida
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Por vencer con tal victoria
Los reyes nuestros señores
Demos gracias y lores
Al eterno Rey de Gloria
Que jamás quedó memoria
De reyes tan acabada:
Que se suena qu'es tomada.

Get up, Pascual, get up,
Let's go with our flock to Granada,
They say the city's been taken!

Get up, hurry, make haste,
Get your dog and sack,
Your sheepskin and your apron,
Your shawm and shepherd's crook,
Let's go see the revels,
In that great city of renown:
They say the city's been taken!

I trow you think you've fooled me,
You're pulling my leg, I bet!
I tell you, even more than you,
I wish it were so,
But really, I see no proof
That what you say is true,
They say the city's been taken!

Don't talk such nonsense, my friend,
We had better tend our flocks
Lest they stray into hostile land,
Caught in a Moorish trap.
Let's pipe up a merry tune
For the rest is idle gossip,
They say the city's been taken!

I'll tell you how it came to pass:
Our queen and the kind,
The shining stars of our faith,
Rode out from Santafé
And truly, they both set out
Before the break of day:
They say the city's been taken!

The city with our assembled hosts
Must at this hour be teeming
With solemn celebrations
and manners sweet and singing.
O fairest of the Gothic line,
Our sovereigns of glorious name!
They say the city's been taken!

What comfort and what solace,
To see on every turret high
The blessed cross displayed!
What pleasure and what sport!
And all the Court pass through the gates,
Most splendidly arrayed:
They say the city's been taken!

For this victory of our lord and lady,
Our victorious kind and queen
Let us now give thanks and praise
To the eternal King of Glory
For never so perfect
A king was known to history:
They say the city's been taken!

~Juan del Enzina,
on the fall of the City of Granada to their Catholic Majesties, 2 January 1492

*Something like, "Six the one, half-dozen the other, Ysabel's just as good as Fernando." This is not to say the two monarchs did not have very different personalities. In a bar-fight Ysabel would probably politely and methodically beat the snot out of one of her opponents (while still remaining quite ladylike), while Fernando would come up behind with a Toledo switchblade.

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