On a sweltering hot day in August 1982, in an apartment in the heart of the Albaicín, the Moorish quarter of Granada, with my mum looking up at the Alhambra with ice cubes in her mouth – as she tells me every year on the same date – I was born.
What were my parents doing there? This wasn’t the classic scenario of A Year in Provence: they didn’t have inheritances to live off, and there was little work even for locals, let alone foreigners who didn’t speak the language and hadn’t the first clue about olive farming. They were recent converts to Islam, members of a nascent Sufi group that was gaining followers there. They arrived penniless, lived on a wing and a prayer, and left penniless a year and a half later.
So I grew up in various parts of the English countryside, largely detached from Muslim groups – we sometimes travelled hours to go to dhikr gatherings – in the shadow of my family’s previous Sufi adventures. From holidays in Spain, Granada acquired a kind of mythos for us: achingly blue skies, the smell of paella cooking over burning almond kernels, tiny apricots so flavourful they put peach melba sweets to shame, wild swimming in abandoned reservoirs full of fish and water snakes. This was an ancient landscape where the echoes of the Moors mingled with the harsh cries of goatherds, and the magnificent palaces of another era stood almost side by side with the concrete condos of the Costa del Sol.
After the advent of the internet allowed my dad to work remotely with much greater ease, my parents finally moved back to Spain from the UK in 2003, almost twenty years after their first attempt. Two expeditions, bridging (technically) two millennia: what were they in search of? Or, perhaps more to the point, what were they escaping? I interviewed them to find out.