Between the “new” Pantheon-like palace and the old deteriorated citadel, there is a sandy plaza where you can buy popsicles and beers and look out over Granada. People sit in twos and threes along the low stone wall, savoring their refreshments and resting their feet — for the Alhambra is a vast beauty, and to know her, you must walk her.
As these humble visitors flip through the map, or click to hear the next chapter of the audio guide, a young ginger tomcat saunters out of the bushes nearby. He sits directly in front of them and waits for his handout. Demands a bite with his feline stare. This is his home, after all, and though you have paid admission, you have not gotten his permission.
The heart of Madrid is a park, a pond, a statue. Retiro. Through its veins run skateboarders, tourists, buskers, rowers, photographers, artists, teenagers — and a handful of immigrants selling knockoff purses, DVDs, and jewelry.
Then there are the cats.
You might not see them in the summer, when it’s hot and crowded, loud and full of feet. But on a cool cloudy day, they will creep around the marble columns and slink between the stone figures, as at home in the monument as your beloved pet is when keeping you company in the kitchen.
And just as your kitten may hide in the laundry or under the bed, these Retiro cats have their own cozy spots. They disappear into hedgerows, slip into drainage gutters. They are the ones who live here, not you. They are stray, but not lost.