Cordoba is, or feels like, a happy town, and its people are good at existing in public space. Because, for much of the year, it’s warm enough to wander around comfortably, hanging around on the street is not confined to teenagers, and therefore is not seen as disreputable by those who have their own homes to go to. Everyone seems to be out on a Sunday afternoon, dressed up smartly and walking along the esplanade.
The Mezquita-Catedral sits on a flat plinth, so that its big square warehouse form could be accommodated on a sloping site. Where the plinth hits the street, it forms a high ledge, four or five feet above the pavement. Opposite the Mezquita, there’s a bar called Los Santos. There is barely any space inside so people spill out of it onto the street, clutching plastic cups of beer and big yellow slabs of potato omelette just a little paler than the crumbly stone of the Mezquita’s gigantic wall. Couples stand against the ledge as though it were a bar. Teenagers settle around it like flocks of birds, some sitting on the plinth, and some standing by it.
The other night there was a man on a bicycle with a couple of dogs – a little short-legged terrier and a taller, leggier one. He leant his bike against the wall of “Los Santos” and was served through the window. He teased the dogs by brandishing a half-empty bottle of water at them and squeezing it till it crackled. The terrier leapt up and seized it, and the man shook it around until (I guess) the terrier’s teeth lost purchase on the slippery plastic and it had to let go. Then he feinted theatrically with the bottle, while the dogs waited, agog; then finally sent it skeetering down the street. This time the longer-legged dog had the advantage, and got there first. The terrier tried to get it off him and the two of them squabbled over it all the way back up to the bar.
Then a dad came out onto the street – a youngish man with a hefty black beard and a baby girl, of about nine months or so, the age when babies really want to walk, but haven’t quite got the strength or the motor skills to do it. He walked her along the street, her chubby legs under a short pink dress planting themselves down almost by accident, like those of a marionette. Then he swung her up by her hands, showing her nappy off to the world, and onto the plinth, so that she could believe that she was walking along it, as high as the crowd. Then he swung her down again and encouraged her to pet the dogs (who had left off the bottle fight for the moment). She was keen to approach them, lurching her unstable little person towards them, but just lost her bottle when she got really close, so that her dad had to pat the taller one’s head for her, just to show there was nothing to be scared of.
The man with the dogs finished his beer, mounted his bike and set off again. The dogs picked up the bottle and followed him at a trot, growling and whining at each other until they were out of sight.