Friday, September 17, 2010

The Spirit of Al-Andalus, Between Two Slices of Bread

I recently finished reading Maria Rosa Menocal's The Ornament of the World, about the rise and fall of Al-Andalus.  Though it leaves readers to draw their own conclusions about its relevance to the modern world (with the book nearly ready for publication on Sept. 11, 2001, Menocal resisted the urge to make any changes to her text), the book clearly celebrates the cultural richness of medieval Spain as a product of religious tolerance and laments the fundamentalism (both Christian and Muslim) that brought this luminous era to a close.  Despite the fact that it was published eight years ago and deals mostly with Spain in the 10th to 14th centuries, it is literally difficult to think of a more topical read.

Sure, Al-Andalus had its Arabic-speaking Jewish warrior poets, its Muslim Aristotelians, its immortal works of architecture, but I'm proud to live in a city where one of the best places to get a Jewish deli sandwich is a Muslim-owned restaurant (that closes for Friday prayers) in a neighborhood synonymous with hip-hop culture.  If I was hungry enough, I might even say that this compares pretty favorably with the Alhambra as a work of art.

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