Manu Barba Private guide in the Alhambra. Route in the Sacromonte. ©Manu Barba
A route through Sacromonte back in 2019 ©Manu Barba


A route is a ritual. When you are a private guide in the Alhambra, or wherever, you introduce yourself, distribute tickets, look at the written in the ticket. You always follow the same path with similar explanations. At the beginning it requires a lot of concentration, a lot of information, the city gets too big to be explained in four hours. The first questions are the most frightening, because everything is so broad and wide that you realize you are holding your breath all the time like a hunter who does not know where the prey is going to jump.

But little by little, day after day, everything becomes automatic. The explanations are polished and the range of questions begins to sound familiar: “who did this”, “is this Christian?”, “Is this floor original?”. You end up meeting so many people that their names and faces become familiar. That is a rather critical turning point for a private guide in the Alhambra because it could kill interest and bore the guide, as it often happens, turning the route into torture (give me a euro for every boring guide that we all had to suffer).

However, repetition improves the technique far beyond what is considered reasonable or perfect. Whoever has done martial arts knows this, you repeat “katas” for years. Always the same series of movements, over and over and over again. Even after learning them, even after getting bored of them, suffering them, you keep repeating. And you keep perfecting, almost against your will. When you have been repeating that sequence for ten years, the sequence ends up being part of a kind of meditation, where even breathing ends up making sense with the kata.

Once repeated, the route becomes that meditation.

Where you walk through the monuments and spaces of the cities repeating suras that are already known. You end up learning to control your breath, emphases (and even anecdotes) and although you study a lot of very specific topics in relation to a monument, the rituals continue being very similar. And that allows you to continue enjoying your role as a private guide in the Alhambra and while you have a background where you can enjoy the monument, the surroundings, wondering things.

Over the course of two years, the monuments I visit have become my temples, a house that you no longer see under the weight of admiration, but with the confidence of the domesticity.

However, even the furniture has backsides.

Sometimes in the tourism ritual, a door that was not open becomes opened, a restoration is seen between plastic courtains or a person with a special point of view asks you about a new detail. And this breaks the ritual to remind you that the places where I work like Granada, or the Alcázar, the museums of Malaga or the cathedrals, do not have an owner, they do not belong to anyone. That is the moment where admiration is rediscovered, your own internal ruminating is impressed back again.

I love unusual questions, even they may sound stupid or very convoluted. They make me see that my eyes of private guide in the Alhambra do not have the whole truth. That not only the question is important but the path that has led to it, the origin of that thought. Perhaps that origin comes from a remote American town, or in a busy capital of Asia to which for a second I move. Because the new points of view are those that lead to new ways of seeing and understanding a monument.

Each break brings new currents that are always welcome between ritual and ritual. I hope that all this confinement passes and I can return to meditate to my temples and to your questions as soon as possible.

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