Then Keiser Karel proceeded to explore the fantastical habitation of his honeymoon, and he fell in love all over again.
The Alhambra he discovered was a castle in the air, a parade of towers and battlements perched on a wooded precipice high above the white painted city of Granada.
It was said that the children of the Alhambra used to sit on these battlements with fishing lines, catching the birds that swooped and fluttered below them. But the Alhambra was much more than a castle.
Hidden behind the battlements Karel found an intricate lattice of gardens and colonnades: a patchwork of light and shade, of scents and sounds.
Everywhere water tinkled from spouts, slid over the edge of marble basins, and ran silently in carved rills.
Everywhere, plants filled the small courtyards with heavy scents.
Each court led to a vaulted mirador, a belvedere from which the view might be enjoyed through fretted screens.
Everywhere there was ornament: geometric figures, vegetal designs, and sometimes something that looked like incomprehensible writing.
It covered surfaces so completely and densely that it seemed as if the walls of the palace had been spun, embroidered, and then hung out in the brilliant sunshine. Of the many courts of the Alhambra, the largest was the Court of the Myrtles, which contained a pool of water lined with myrtle bushes.
At the northern end, an arched loggia opened into a sequence of anterooms, and ultimately into a gloomy chamber—the Hall of the Ambassadors.
This hall and the antechambers that led to it were covered with domes assembled from hundreds of timber facets, each cut into the shape of a star. Next to the Court of the Myrtles Karel found a court so richly decorated that it was called by those who saw it the Court of Gold, and this is where the new empress elected to reside.
One side of this court was formed by a richly ornamented colonnade; another gave access to a grand saloon whose roof was supported on four great columns and beams, intricately carved.
The third wall of the Court of Gold was entirely covered with adornment, so tightly woven that it seemed as if the whole wall was a carpet—a carpet so gigantic that it had been given a roof, had grown doors and windows, and had become a building. Keiser Karel chose the last of the three courts of the Alhambra for his own habitation.
The Court of the Lions was so called because in the middle of it twelve carved beasts supported a basin, their mouths spouting water into channels that spread the cooling liquid throughout the court and into the surrounding rooms and pavilions.
To the south of this court was the Hall of the Abencerrajes, stained, it was rumoured, with the blood of that overmighty family, spilt on the orders of Boabdil.
On the other side there was the Hall of the Two Sisters, which had once been, it was supposed, the harem of the emir.
Keiser Karel appropriated this hall as his dining room, because it contained a mirador of extraordinary delicacy from which he hoped to survey his new domains. The Court of the Lions was so cunningly wrought that it appeared to reverse the very laws of gravity.
The marble columns that supported the arches seemed to hang down from them like tassels, and the walls were like screens of petrified lace, through which light could be seen.
The rooms that opened off the court were vaulted with domes composed of thousands of tiny stalactites that scattered the sun in constellations of light; they seemed to drip down from the heavens, rather than rest upon the walls. Beyond these three courts, more pleasures revealed themselves to the lovers.
There was a heated bath lit from above by glass stars set into the vaults.
There was a garden palace within which, legend had it, a young Moorish prince had been confined alone lest he discover the joys (and pains) of love; in the end he made his escape with the aid of a turtle dove, and found happiness with a Christian princess in a foreign land.
There was a staircase whose balustrade ran with cooling water in the summer heat; and there were towers along the battlements that, military in external appearance, contained exquisite interiors like jewels in plain caskets.
Keiser Karel heard a tale of three princesses who, although they were locked in one of these towers, contrived to conduct an affair with three Christian knights by singing to them and listening to their ballads.
Two of them eventually eloped with their lovers over the battlements, while the third, too afraid to jump, stayed behind, and saw out her days in her luxurious prison. *** The Alhambra that Keiser Karel explored was a labyrinth of exotic and incomprehensible delights, and so too was his new wife.
Karel and Ysabel had never met before their marriage, and did not speak the same languages.
Karel tried to address Ysabel in all the tongues of his empire: his guttural Flemish rasping through the soft z’s and j’s of her native Portugese, his German grammar tripping over sentences in Latin and French, his Italian wrecked on the numerous Spanish words of Arabic derivation.
But while he loved his wife, Karel missed the easy informality and familiarity of his mistresses: childhood friends or serving women, whom he could meet with behind a curtain or in a garden.
The imperial bride and groom were required by court etiquette to live at opposite ends of their palace, surrounded by entourages of servants and courtiers.
So it was that Keiser Karel, not wishing to be unfaithful to his wife, found himself a new sort of mistress in the Alhambra herself, whose exotic charms and intimate sensuality beguiled him. But just as the northern Caesar struggled to woo his Latin bride, so he also struggled to woo his other new love.
Keiser Karel still missed many aspects of the flat, cold lands of his youth.
He missed beer, which his doctors advised him not to drink in the heat of Andalucia, and he longed to sit by a fire on a cold winter’s night.
He yearned for fresh herring pulled from the North Sea, and milk, and butter, and soft cheese, and all of those other delights that turned and stank in the heat. To the private refuge of the Alhambra, he brought with him as many northern comforts as his entourage could carry.
Not only were there Flemish chamberlains, cooks and pages of the bedchamber, but also two Flemish choirs, so that Karel could hear the music of his homeland in the chapel royal.
He brought his charts of the heavens, the orrerries, astrolabes, and telescopes with which he observed the wandering planets and tried to divine his fate.
He brought his maps of the earth, with which he tried to understand and rule his unwieldy empire.
His library was stocked with the lives of the Caesars who had gone before him and of the saints who had advised them.
It contained the martial chronicles of France and the Netherlands, of the crusades and the Reconquista. Keiser Karel filled the halls and galleries of the Alhambra with heavy northern furniture.
There were high tables and high-backed chairs, carved from oak, softened with tooled leather, and draped with thick turkey carpet.
There were tall cabinets, brass candelabra, and tapestries that depicted the virgin and the unicorn.
His rooms became crowded Wunderkammern.
Shut off from the blazing light and the scented breezes of the gardens outside, they felt more like chambers in a tower in a Teutonic forest than the pleasure dome of the Moors of Al Andalus. Keiser Karel had inherited from his Habsburg family a protuberant lower jaw and a sharp chin.
He could not close his mouth when he ate, and his food sloshed around and dribbled down the bottom of his face.
For this reason, Keiser Karel preferred to eat alone.
In fact, he preferred to spend as much of his time as possible cloistered in his private apartments.
Dining by himself amid his clutter in the old harem of the Alhambra, Keiser Karel never did quite work out how to consummate his love for his new mistress.
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