Mari Nicholson seeks the spirit of poet, novelist and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca in his Spanish birthplace
Lorca is Granada and Granada is Lorca," the young poet I meet says simply. "And the Alhambra?" I ask. "That too. The Alhambra is our soul, but Lorca is our heart."
Granada did indeed have a deep influence on the adolescent Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garc!a Lorca, and it was the Granadinos who first recognised his genius and his gift for a lyrical poetry that reflected the passion and the pain of Andaluc!a. The landscape and the people that form the backdrop to his rural tragedies and his earlier poems lie in the villages of the Vega - the vast plains that surround Granada - and in places such as Fuente Vaqueros, where he was born and where he spent his first 11 years.
Fuente Vaqueros is a village of postcard-like simplicity, where the only sound at midday is the slap of dominoes coming from an inky bar hidden behind a beaded curtain. Old men sit in the shade of the poplar trees on one side of the plaza, while the aged women of the town, las viejas, dressed in black as if they have strayed from the playwright's House of Bernarda Alba, are busy with their looms on the opposite side.
From the workers in the olive groves that surround the village come faint snatches of the wailing, minor-keyed, cante jondo, the song full of pain which Lorca captured in Gypsy Ballads and Poems of Cante Jondo. This is Espa$a la verdad - the true Spain - where Lorca found the passionate, gitano soul of Andaluc!a and put it into the poetic form that revolutionised Spanish theatre in the Thirties.
La Fuente, as it is known locally, is a gracious little town with a maze of narrow cobblestoned streets and alleyways. At one time this area formed part of the Kingdom of Al-Andalus (Andaluc!a) and eight centuries of Moorish influence is still obvious in the whiteness of the houses, the barred windows and the flower-filled courtyards glimpsed through open doors. There is no tourist office yet, but there is no great touristic operation either, and you are not channelled in any particular direction. Wandering through the town, or sitting in its square at a cafe, or at the Bar Lorca with a copita (small glass) is an ideal way to spend an afternoon. And the wine of the region can be highly recommended.
The street where Federico was born has been renamed Calle Poeta Garc!a Lorca and the house in which he spent his childhood has been transformed into a museum. It is small, with few objects to demand your attention, but in the converted upstairs granary there is a fascinating collection of photographs, manuscripts, publications and curiosities covering the poet's life, in particular his time in New York. This alone is worth the entrance fee. If you feel you've seen too many castles and cathedrals in Spain, this unpretentious, sparsely furnished house with its idiosyncratic collection of papers is a delight.
Across the street from the museum and facing the plaza is the monument erected to the poet by Cayetano An!bal, and if you sit on the stone seat in front of the monument, with just a little suspension of disbelief, it is possible to see the square as Lorca saw it - a meadow full of wild flowers, grasses and lizards. Here he watched the women wash the clothes in the fountain; here it was he absorbed the speech and the rhythms that were to energise his plays in later years; and here it was he learned to identify with the victims of a stifling tradition.
Lorca was assassinated by Franco's Nationalist troops shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, executed at a spot between Viznar and Alfacar. The place where he and fellow-victims were shot is in the Parque Federigo Garc!a Lorca, especially created to preserve their memory. This can be visited on the way back to Granada from Fuente Vaqueros, but if you are in Spain in August you may care to join the pilgrimage of Lorca aficionados who meet here at this time each year on the anniversary of his death.
His work and his memory were stifled under the claustrophobic rule of the late dictator but in his own land he is once again hailed as a genius. His plays today are as relevant as they were in the Thirties, their passion and pain as accessible now as they were then.
The Alhambra may be the soul of Granada but the heartland of the ancient Kingdom of Granada, the cante jondo of the poems, remains the land of Lorca.
ON THE TRAIL OF LORCA'S HOME AND HISTORY
Travel from the Costa del Sol on the N340 to M laga, then take the N331 to Boca del Asno, turn right on to the A359 and join the A92 at Estaci"n des Salinas. Look for the sign to Fuente Vaqueros on the left. From Granada following the signposts to Santafe on the A92. After l516km turn off right at the sign to Fuente Vaqueros
* Spanish Tourist Office, 57-58 St James Street, London SWlA lLD. Tel: 0171 499 1169. Fax: 0171 629 4257
* Oficina de Informacion Turistica: at Plaza Mariana Pineda, 10 200CP 18009, Granada. Tel: 00 34 (9)58 223528. Fax: 00 34 (9)58 228016
* Lorca's House and Museum at Calle Poeta Gar-c!a Lorca, 4 Fuente Vaqueros. Tel: 00 34 (9)58 516453. Fax: 00 34 (9)58 247338
* Fiesta of Flamenco and Poetry: Lorca's birthday June 5. Tel: 00 34 (9)58 44 61 01
* Essential reading: Federico Garc!a Lorca: A Life by Ian Gibson (Faber Faber). The Assassination of Federico Garc!a Lorca by Ian Gibson (Penguin) topham picturepoint