i live on top of a Mexican bar in Spain.
And thus begins the series of contradictions that is currently my life:
tourist v ‘native’
two days ago marks me being in Granada for one week and for the vast majority of that past week, i have been going around with my program to the main tourists points of Granada. Those include the Alhambra, an old Moorish fortress that rests on top of a hill and looks down on Granada, the Cathedral, the Capilla Real where Isabel and Ferdinand are buried, the Albaicin, the Arab neighborhood of Granada, el Sacromonte, the Gypsy neighborhood and a day trip to Nerja, a beach on the Costa del Sol.
Each of these places has been beautiful. The Alhambra is a giant fortress with a great deal of history attached to it. Granada (which means pomegranate in Spanish) was the last of the Moorish kingdoms to fall to Isabel and Ferdinand in 1492 (which is why Christopher Columbus decided that 1492 was a good year to ask for money to travel to the Americas because Isabel and Ferdinand were feeling pretty good about themselves) and so Granada has built its fame on the fact that it is a mixture of three different cultures/religions-Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The Alhambra was actually a first a Jewish stronghold, although much smaller when it was. The palace is filled with intricate artwork and tiling and includes a garden, called Generalife that is absolutely beautiful.
The Cathedral too is beautiful and seeing Isabel and Ferdinand’s graves was fascinating. I had no idea until i came here that the two most famous rulers (at least to people from the United States?) were so in love with Granada that they chose to have their final resting place here. The cathedral that they issued to be built is, like many other of the famous churches in Granada, built where the most important mosque used to be. It took three generations of monarchs to built and it’s actually not finished because the monarchy ran out of money and decided that enough had already been invested into the building. The Albaicin is one of my favorite parts of Granada but I am absolutely in love with el Sacromonte, which brings me to the contradiction: tourist v ‘native’.
When I first got here, I was overwhelmed with how little time I have and how much there is to see. I started making lists and checking them off. I felt that I could never know this city better than on the surface but as I spend more time here, and now that I’ve seen the most important tourists attractions, I feel more at calm. I know things other people who are just passing by don’t, like that although Mirador de San Nicolas is beautiful, if you climb the hills of el Sacromonte, you’ll see better views of the Alhambra with less people. Although I am still just as drawn into the gelato shops as the tourists (which conveniently only exist where the tourists go), I feel that I am becoming more natural in this city. I don’t have to look at a map anymore and I know shortcuts between the plazas. How quickly the transition occurred is strange to me.
English v. Spanish
It’s easier to speak English but I’m here to speak Spanish. Sometimes people respond to you in English even when you speak Spanish (only in the more tourist parts) and since school hasn’t started yet and I hang out mostly with other Americans, I’ve been in this strange world where I speak English for 75% of the time and Spanish the rest, like when in the store or sometimes with my residence directors. I am eager to start school tomorrow because then I will be having classes in Spanish and so I’ll be practicing more. I also had my first intercambio (language exchange) yesterday, which I figured would be with one person but the girl I met up with, Marta, brought three of her friends with! It all turned out find as they are all very sweet and around my age and we did about 50% English and 50% Spanish which is how it should go, so I think as we continue to meet and I hopefully find another intercamibo and with school, living with other English speakers will become less dominating and Spanish will become more natural.
Independent v “Ayudame!”
I live in an apartment which means since I have gotten here I have been to the grocery store more in one week than I ever have before. This too means that I had to find things like a bath mat and matches (which you need to work the stove!) that other students wouldn’t have had to search the stores for. I had a day long battle with our front door because I could not get it to open and I boiled eggs for the first time in my life. When the man who interviewed me for the placement test asked me why I chose an apartment I told him I wanted to be more independent and to learn how to cook for myself and although these two things are true, sometimes I long for the comforts of other people doing basic things for me, like laundry. I turned my white sweater grey when I did my first load of laundry and since they don’t have dryers here, everything had to be line dried in our little covered porch upstairs. I didn’t realize how the ability to do so many basic things gets pulled out from under you when you move somewhere where you don’t speak the language or have anyone to question for advice about things like how to close the blinds in your room. I rotate between a state of being proud of myself and wanting to cry.
Granada itself is a contradiction. All of the apartments/houses are on top of stores and other businesses and from what I can tell, there is no “rich” area of town, just the city, the Albaicin and el Sacromonte. The fact that Granada prides itself on being the meeting point of three religions is actually not apparent in the day to day life. Most people here are Catholic and the Arab and Gypsy parts of town are distinctly set apart from the main part of town. I am eager to discuss the relationships between these three peoples with natives. Granada also exists in a strange contradiction of old buildings and small streets and new buildings and big streets. The town has no sort of grid plan and the city’s layout itself reminds me a great deal of its occupants, who seems to have little to no cares as they stroll from place to place, the ever present shopping bags in hand. Crossing the street is an art, as you either have to wait for the light or run when cars aren’t coming. If the street is small and a car is passing and another is behind it, the general custom seems to be one car, then people, car then people but sometimes when I follow this rule I come close to getting hit and so the ‘que sera, sera’ attitude returns. The shopping in Granada is a mixture as well, as there are hundreds of shops just for certain things, like hygiene products, where things are cheaper and then there is huge chains, like El Corte Ingles which is a mixture of Wal-Mart and Macy’s. I don’t understand how all of the businesses I walk by survive, especially when they just sell toys or eyeglasses and yet they do. Granada isn’t exactly clean, at least where we live which is in a more student section of town. People don’t seem to feel the need to clean up after their dogs (which are all small) and since all of the garbage and recycling is picked up from permanent bins on the street, you often will be walking and inhale a nice whiff of pee or rotting garbage, and yet despite this you can turn a corner and be in a beautiful place or park.
Although not a contradiction, I wanted to discuss the other aspect of this city that makes no sense to me fits in with the Granada people’s attitude of slow is better: siesta. Honestly, my little US voice shouts in my head, the days here would be shorter if we cut out siesta! When school startsI will be going from 7am to midnight or later and it’s not like in the States where college students are the ones staying up late because they didn’t do their work-no everyone, even the babies and little kids, stay out until 11 or 12. After siesta, which is from 2 to 5ish, most places don’t even open again until 6 or 7. Having an event start at 9pm is normal for all ages. Breakfast is at 8ish, lunch no earlier than 2pm and dinner at 9 all scheduled around siesta, which is a system I have yet to get used to. And so, these people, with their shopping bags, stroll along and never seem to be in any rush. And why should they be? They get free food with every drink they buy (called tapas). They have no reason to rush–the food is free! And we walk everywhere. Granada is a walking city, which again I suppose fits in with the tapas,but boy do I love tapas. Everything in Granada is also very cheap, especially when compared to places in Northern Europe.