On the roof at number eight again, a pale sun trying to burn through the thin layer of cloud overhead. I could be in the country here, in some crooked little pueblo, for all the city noise I can hear – which is to say, none. Red tiles and whitewashed walls, palms, ferns and potted plants – my visual field is a crowd of Andalusian tropes – but this place is different, has always managed to be different. Something in its proportions, in the shape of the slender carmens and villas that rise from the ramshackle roofscape, the better to build the miradors and terraces from which people have looked across at the opposite hill for centuries.
The horseshoe arches and heavy wooden doorways and window frames: there is something more distinctly Berber here than anywhere else on the peninsula. Something Arab. Something African. K has walked down to the frenetic city below where we were last night, almost intimidated by its busyness, its overflowing bars and bodegas, to shop. I’ll follow her down there soon; it’s only a five minute walk through the stepped and cobbled, car-free streets of the old town.
It isn’t completely silent; as I down the first coffee of the day and look up at the Alcazaba, I recognise a few notes of “New York, New York” as it wafts over from a house upslope behind me. It’s soft and welcome and entirely typical of the place. I can’t remember being here, in fact, and not being able to hear music, if only in the distance. It always seems to be good music too: when it isn’t flamenco it’s jazz, or swing, or an old Billie Holliday number – it might come from a radio set or a guitar being played near a window. Someone singing, or at the piano, but always music – always.
Tomorrow morning we’ll find ourselves strolling hand-in-hand down there together, along the upper reaches of the Cuesta de San Gregorio. It’s a cobbled slope of steps that widens here, narrows there; on a Sunday morning it’s deserted and we will have it to ourselves as it twists into a tiny plazuela in front of a church and ahead of us the top of the cathedral will peep over the old town houses. Footsteps behind us will remind us we are not quite alone and as they overtake us I’ll note their owner – a young woman in black boots and a pair of jeans, a simple top and short brown hair tied casually back, carrying a plastic crate with some unidentifiable bits and bobs in it, and her face will be business-like for a Sunday as she gets in front of us and heads down into the city.
A pair of wings sprouting from her back – soft, white downy feathers spread out in the cool morning.
Always something in this city – even on the way in it seduced. Descending from the Sierra de Málaga, the last few hills ahead of us, a harvest moon – big and blood red – had risen. I was dozing in the passenger seat after a long and special day, only able to keep my eyes open on and off as the undulating olive groves gave way to the open flat and the car showrooms whispered by rhythmically, the planted Poplar patches and azujelo workshops, the odd urbanización and an olive oil refinery, muebles, electrodomesticos and the half-baked splendour of a neon-lit puti club with that big moon hanging over it. One of the twentieth century’s greatest visual gifts to the world: neon strips against a darkening but not yet dark sky.
The city traffic – and the bustle after we finally managed to park – was a shock. Once we’d gotten over it and left our bags in the little apartment we rent here sometimes (where we first fell in love with this city and where we decided to come and live in Spain) we went out for tapas, but were beaten back by the crowds. Every bar seemed to spill out onto the street, even those we know are normally quiet. We were tired and so instead we dropped into a deli and picked up some cheese and a bottle of wine, some crackers and a packet of Trevélez ham packed in fat.
Back at the flat I laid it all out on a wooden board and carried it up the steep, wrought iron staircase outside to the roof terrace. It’s fresh here at night so we sat wrapped up in a couple of deck chairs and held forth on life’s deeper questions, bathed in magical, milky blue moonlight. Since there must be music, there was – a lone jazz trumpet, practising quietly somewhere nearby. Hidden in the silver shadows we quietened ourselves and looked up at the opposite height. The moon which had sat low in the sky and beckoned us into the city now hung high and bright above the Hall of the Ambassadors and the red outer walls of the Alcazaba and Nasrid palaces, lit up at night.
Any day ended here is a perfect day.
Today we’ll potter about doing nothing much, enjoying the city and each other. In the evening we’ll down good gazpacho and fried fish in Torcuato and have the terrace to ourselves in La Higuera beneath the enormous fig tree there. Tomorrow it’ll be the same – by the time we get to the bottom of the Cuesta, through the faux Moroccan souk and its trinkets, the winged girl will have disappeared.
We’ll hit Gran Via and the crowds, get through the gypsy women and their rosemary sprigs and pass the chapel where Isabel and Ferdinand are buried. On the smooth worn flagstones at the front of the cathedral the mesmerising musician will be there again with his Hang and so will she, standing on her upturned crate and wearing its former contents, statue still and leaning forward to beseech, a cap of coins at her feet.
The obvious thing to say would be that the wings will make sense, now that she’s dressed from head to toe in flowing white robes and has painted her skin white wherever it’s visible, but that isn’t what I’ll want to say.