There are at least three reasons why I am in a car driven by a Spanish professor, travelling from Granada to Guadalupe.
The reasons: One – I am doing research for a book on the black statues of the Virgin Mary in Spain. Yes, crazy.
Two – the professor is a friend named Gerardo. Very good.
Three – I am going to give a lecture on Australian literature at the University of Granada one day soon. Very serious.
That morning I had walked from my hotel down a steep hill close to the Alhambra. Let me take you back a bit, back to when I was deciding where to stay. I’m talking to Gerardo on email.
Me: I found this little place that used to be a 16th century convent.
Gerardo: Where exactly?
So I tell him where and he says maybe it’s a bit inaccessible. Like, you can’t reach it by car because of the teeny tiny winding 16th century cobbled streets.
The more he says the more I think it’s perfect.
So on this dark early morning I pack up my stuff in the dear little upstairs room in the dear little old convent and I discover that there is no light on the dark and winding staircase fashioned from ancient stones, and worn into smooth and wavy shapes by the slippers of 16th century nuns.
I think – and it’s a bit like a vision or a premonition or a warning – a flash of insight – I see myself slipping over in the darkness on the dark and winding staircase.
Then, in answer to the vision, at the sharp turn of the stairs, my suitcase pulls me forward and I skid all the way down to the next turn. The suitcase breaks my fall.
No drama. I keep going with more caution and cross the stone courtyard, check out at the desk, and step out onto the cobbled street. Down the hill to where Gerardo is waiting in the car.
He is a Kylie tragic, and the CD that’s playing in the car is a compilation. The song that hangs in the air, that stays with me, is that one with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – from the Murder Ballads – Where the Wild Roses Grow. It’s creepy and hideously fascinating.
By the time we get to the hotel in the little town of Guadalupe, my right foot has started to feel weird. I keep going. We climb long flights of stairs in the cathedral, up to the room where you get to see the statue in all its glory. Someone gives us a little lecture about the miracles. I am half listening. Right foot getting weirder.
At dinner in the hotel I say, “I think there’s something the matter with my foot”.
By next morning the foot is fully swollen and we realise we have to return to Granada. No more black Spanish madonnas for us this time.
Have you heard of the fifth metatarsal? That’s what they call your little toe in a hospital. Gerardo translates between me and the doctor, while the doctor explains that the fifth metatarsal is all smashed up. Then he puts on plaster up to the knee and I go to stay with Gerardo and after a few days we are in the car again and we are driving to the airport.
He presses play, and there they are all over again, Kylie and Nick, quietly intoning their tale of romance and murder. All beauty must die. Oh gosh.
And I never got to give the lecture on Australian Literature.