Woman in the Jewelbox

April 20

The Queen’s tower is an ivory jewelbox, locked away behind the walls of the Alhambra. The windows are paneled with intricate wooden screens, made by some strange alchemy that whittles wood into lace. From behind this living lace, the Sultana and her ladies looked out over Granada.

Above the rustle of their silks, a domed ceiling unfurled like a dahlia. A thousand plaster petals peel away from the stone, winged with geometry. Each petal is painted with isosceles secrets in sapphire, celadon, and rose-red. Florensis mathematicus blooms infinitely.

The Queen’s tower opens into a pavilion that overlooks a cloistered garden. Trailing calligraphy and interlocking hearts twine along the walls. Where the ceiling domes, stained glass gleams emerald. Green reflections are scattered over the floor like shards of splintered gemstones.

I eavesdrop on a guide illustrating the aristocratic Moorish woman’s ‘freedom of movement.’ A family fortune ensured that noblewomen never had to go anywhere seamy. Women rich enough to live in ivory towers never had to leave them. This was women’s liberation—the freedom to idle in your filigreed jewelbox of alabaster and glass, gazing out over the orange groves and never stepping one satin slipper beyond the ivory safety.

However, life in the jewelbox has colors that exist nowhere else in the city. In the jewelbox, every satin bed is a strung with gems. The palace gardens are bejeweled with amethyst irises, ruby peonies, emerald ivy, amber snapdragons, garnet poppies, jade chive, lapis lobelia, topaz tiger lilies, and roses in colors too rare to have names.

Long after Granada’s last Sultana was secreted away to a safer treasure-chamber, Emperor Charles V ordered up his own palace within the fortress walls. Perhaps his architects were homesick for Rome, because they dreamed a miniature colosseum for the Holy Roman Emperor. Dozens of marble columns ring an open chamber, with only clouds for a canopy. Charles’s marble resembles a microbiologist’s bacterial culture: a spree of cell mitosis teems across the surface of the stone.

A grate marks the spot where we can work some acoustic magic. Standing on the grate, I look up at the open sky and howl. From this acoustic nerve center, my howl is amplified, echoing from every corner as if a pack of wolves seethes in the shadows. I howl for women in ivory jewelboxes. I howl because I am free.

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