Seemingly infinite tessellation carved from the walls of the Alhambra inspired much of the artist M.C Escher’s work. During a journey through Spain in 1922 Escher explored the palace and halls of the 10th century Islamic fortress in Granada. As is custom, the artists commissioned to adorn the buildings did not depict a single image of sentient beings, the entire building complex is covered with poetry and pattern – or tessellation. Tessellation is the process of repeating geometric patterns without any gaps or overlapping shapes. One room in particular, The Hall of Two Sisters, presents the viewer with a domed ceiling encrusted with a honeycomb of 5,000 cells… each unique and intricately designed by hand to fit perfectly together. An impressive example of “Stalactite Vaulting” – as it is called by architects and art historians, represents the Moorish reverence for symmetry and design found in nature. The idea of the interdependence of precise mathematical equations and undeniable aesthetic beauty remained with Escher throughout his career. From it he illustrated impossible worlds, infinite loops and layers where each form was carefully weighed and measured against all others.
Our plan, before it went horribly wrong, was to continue from Barcelona along the Spanish coastline to Valencia. From Valencia we would meet my brother’s girlfriend further down Costa Blanca and the three of us would visit Granada and Seville before crossing into Portugal. And it was with this plan in mind that we boarded the afternoon south-bound train leaving Barcelona behind. Maybe it was because I could feel the roots of the city tightening their grasp or maybe I was tired and my pack was heavy… whatever the reason on that particular afternoon I was in a tempestuous mood. I climbed into my seat on the train and stared out through the thick glass window without really seeing anything at all. By the time we arrived in Valencia I was a human storm cloud and it was all I could do to keep from unleashing the gales building inside. The next morning we took a quiet walk on the beach and then found our way back to the train station.
Valencia’s train station was humming with the frantic crisscrossing of people pulling, dragging, hauling all manners of things – luggage, children, merchandise, sports equipment… We sought refuge at one of the many structural pillars which had been outfitted with wooden plank benches arching their way around the full circumference and providing a very welcome place to set down our rather cumbersome packs. My skies had remained dark and my mood stubbornly foul this combined with the intriguing architecture of the station and we decided it was the perfect opportunity to allow for a little space between us. My brother went first and as was agreed, I stayed with the packs until he returned. We had each brought a day pack, smaller and lighter meant for the travel necessities one requires close at hand, in addition to the two larger packs where everything else was kept. I slouched against the pole and my brother escaped into crowds to explore the building alone.
After half an hour or so he resurfaced clearly happy to have had the break from both me and the responsibility of his heavy bags. He sat down and I set off to find the amenities and to stretch my legs unburdened. For around thirty minutes I wandered around the station watching the people hustling around and trying to put it all in perspective. It was nearing the time our train was scheduled to depart and I returned to collect my things and board the train. Approaching the pole where I could see my brother and our mountains of zippers, straps and buckles as still as an oasis surrounded by chaos, I instinctively scanned the bags. One was missing. When he sat down he had transitioned my daypack to the floor near his feet to make room between the two larger packs. Amazingly while he had been sitting there someone had climbed under the benches and snatched my bag without making a disturbance… at least not then.
My stomach started rolling around inside me and as if to keep my heart from stopping I mindlessly began patting my chest as I went over the contents of that bag: sunglasses, a novel I had been reading, my sketch book, debit card, rented cell phone, my digital camera… ALL documentation of the sculptural work I had completed in Florence during the last four months. It couldn’t be gone, I couldn’t accept it. I decided that the thief would have probably removed all things of value and ditched the bag somewhere around the station, maybe in a dumpster or garbage can close by. I circumnavigated the station and surrounding neighborhoods several times, furiously patting my chest and trying to breathe, before accepting that we needed to file a police report and get on a train. The afternoon was maturing and our fellow traveler would doubtless be waiting – growing increasingly worried as we failed to arrive on train after train to meet her that evening. Reluctantly and significantly defeated, I left the Valenica station behind. The train speeding into the night, I opening the first of several bottles of wine as I sought consolation and to resign myself to the loss.
We arrived in the small town on what seemed to be the last train of the evening. I was put in charge of finding a hotel with vacancies while he went by bus to find the airport, we were to reunite at the station in one hour. After a number of failed attempts, two rooms were finally secured. There were still twenty minutes before I needed to meet them back at the station and so I sat down on the couch in the busy lobby. Doubt arose about the type of establishment I had just arranged for us when a deep fever began to wash over me and I felt my skin shiver. The wine made it difficult to assess my condition clearly, but later that night as I lay in a noisy hotel room the sickness descended upon me without confusion. My temperature skyrocketed and I had horrible stomach pains, following frequent fits of delirium I slept awash in sweat and twisted by muscle spasms.
The next day, loaded up with fever reducer and liters of water we took the train to Granada.
The Alhambra is incredibly serene and walking though its halls and along its beautiful gardens, a water bottle clutched tightly in my hand, I was soothed. The melancholia and physical sickness I was experiencing as a result of having lost a huge portion of my artistic portfolio, found peace in the gracefully repeating patterns and images of nature that surrounded me. The towering vaulted ceilings and perfectly engineered fountains comforted me with their order, with their reliability. Outside, sitting in the rose garden, sunlight ricocheting off the surface of a small pond I found a strange type of solace. The same set of abilities used to calculate the physics of a moment, to measure the distances, to weigh the visibility or velocity of an object – were all used by both my thief as well as the master artists who built the walls I had just been admiring.