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Archive for July, 2011

Cuentos granadinos (Stories from Granada)

The taxi pulled up to the sidewalk and the door opened automatically. I slid in, somewhat astonished about the advanced technology of the automobile considering that here in Spain my experience has proved that traditional methods override progressive methods more often than not. I was in a great mood because I was going to meet up with one of my favorite people, Sarah (or Sarita as we have dubbed her), whom I met while studying abroad in Santander, Spain in 2005 and who ironically was passing through Granada with a group of students from her school. Because of my innate curiosity augmented by good mood, I began to chat it up with the taxi driver. He was a nice, old fellow with a fatherly-like disposition and a friendly smile. I’m not sure how many of these “cuentos”, or stories, will cross my path, but I want to try and write them down to share with others because I find them so fascinating. I’m going to add some flourish to mine, but this is what was, in short, related to me in that taxi ride through the heights of the Albayzin at sunset.

“Did you know that Granada was the first city to have ice cream? And freezers, too? Yes, indeed. Long ago, when the Muslim empire extended to the Iberian Peninsula, and the appreciation for knowledge, functionality, and beauty was equal, the inhabitants of this city searched for ways to keep cool during the hot summer months. Towering above the city was the Sierra Nevada, whose high peaks promised a refreshing treat year round: snow. By night, a caravan would be prepared with mules and sacks and the men would haul up their animals to the top. A trail is still there to this day, the same one used to traverse the mountain up and down. They would pack the sacks with the snow and make their way down the mountain to the city. Risky it was to travel by day as the sun, Lorenzo, would surely melt this precious commodity. 

“Upon arriving to Granada, the mules would be unloaded of their cargo and the snow would be used for ice cream and preservation. The story goes that when ambassadors from other lands in Europe, which at that time were living in the darkness of the Middle Ages, would come to Andalucía, they would receive a cold treat to help combat the hot summer temperatures. This astounded the ambassadors that, during such a time when nothing was being created and enlightenment was scarce, something so simple yet so rich could be found in the kingdoms in the South.”

I don’t know the rest of the story about ice cream, or gelato. Maybe it really originated in Italy. Or maybe before. I do know that in Andalucía, much emphasis was placed on the pleasure of all senses: taste, smell, sight, hearing, and touch. Thus so many decadent gardens exist inside the houses- to appease to sight, smell, and hearing. The flavors of the ice cream probably only helped to enhance the experience, along with the texture of something cool and refreshing on a hot summer day. 


Sea to Mountains

My mega road trip around Andalucía came to a brief pause last Sunday when I arrived in Granada. This is where I’ll be setting up shop for the next month. I was finally able to unload my backpack and unroll my wrinkled clothes. In all honesty, it had become a bit cumbersome living out of a small bag for the last few weeks. But alas, as Manu told me: you need to work hard to get somewhere you really want to be. Since my flight to Spain was direct, I had a pretty easy arrival. But, in the big picture, it took me 3 weeks to get to my final destination! (ok that might be stretching it!)

La Alhambra

Granada is situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, home of the tallest peak on the Iberian Peninsula, the Mulhacen, and also the southernmost place in Spain where snow exists year round. You can go from skiing to the beach (not during the summer, but a lot of the year) in less than an hour! I love that- the varied landscape of this place.

Moto en la C/ Aljibe de Gato

Living in a city with mountains on the horizon is like waking up everyday to snow, or everyday being your birthday. It’s a never ceasing wonder. Not to mention the wondrous effects such as cool nights and mornings! I don’t even need the air conditioning I had been craving for the past few weeks for sleep!

El Albayzin

I love the sea and the mountains- I think there is something soothing about the ambience of both, like sweet balm for the soul. I had some great experiences at the seaside thus far, and have now arrived at the other extreme. Although I’m in a relatively large city with LOTS of fascinating, charming, bloody, and saddening history, I feel peace on all sides and the speed of life seems to flow with the antiquity of those beastly guards surrounding me here.

Typical shops in the Albayzin

Spice and Tea Table outside of La Catedral

In short, I like Granada. A lot. I think we’re going to be great comrades and im excited about the experiences and memories that will be made here. There is much exploring and discovering to be done!

Adventures with the PAR Bros Part 3: Nocturama- Basia Bulat

Basia Bulat came to Sevilla. SEVILLA! Ahhhhhh!
Lovely concert in the gardens of a monastery with some cervezas, tapas, and sweet company.

El Monasterio de la Cartuja- The Gardens

Old chimneys where they used to bake the ceramics


If you don’t know Basia Bulat, check her out. She’s a Polish-Canadian gal who plays 4 instruments flawlessly and has a voice much like Tracy Chapman.

Basia with the Ukelele

She sang in English, joked with the audience in Spanish, sang a Polish folk tune and ended the show with a Spanish song by Silvio Rodriguez. In short: wonderful!

Sevilla Siempre

“Sevilla es una ciudad bella por antonomasía ”
Finally, the day came when I went to visit my old beloved home, Sevilla. Oh, how lovely! Oh, how scorching hot! The couple of days in Sevilla were wonderfully spent seeing old friends and revisiting my charming old haunts where precious memories were created not too long ago.

Biggest Change: Las setas were finally finished in Plaza Encarnación!

Under the Setas (mushrooms)

I was able to crash a retirement party for some of my favorite people who were starting their new life after years of teaching at the school where I taught, German and Paco. German gave a very touching speech which enlightened us all to the fact that he started teaching just when democracy was coming about in Spain. Absolutely fascinating.

I always wonder what is going to happen when the people who have lived during these very important and marking times in history will not be around anymore.. It makes me a bit sad.  Obviously, German and Paco are young and have many years of enjoyment and life ahead of them, but those old stories of the tough times and the strong spirits of the people who lived them, they will be gone one day. I don’t wish any tough times upon anyone, but I guess history is such an interesting thing when hearing it from different perspectives apart from the books, and I don’t know that my generation will have much to tell once we get older. Hopefully adventure stories of crazy travels and marking experiences that open the mind and heart to all aspects of humanity and nature. It will be a different genre of narratives, indeed.

The rest of my time in the center of Sevilla was spent with Carmela, another dear, dear colleague who is actually in Granada as well and whom I will be seeing much of (hopefully!). I caught up with the lovely Pilar and her silly husband, Juan Antonio, at the delicious tapas bar, Casa Blanca. I also visited lots of the places I wanted to return to, though regrettably I was unable to make it to my favorite gelato shop, La Fiorentina. Uff! Next time!

With the lovely Pilar at Casa Blanca off Av. de la Constitución

Being in Sevilla was great, and different. It actually helped rid me of a lot of the idealism I had been harboring in my mind over the past two years about life there. Things have changed, people have moved on, and I think I have come to terms with the idea that I would be fine not living there and just visiting. Especially after visiting the pueblos and witnessing life in a simpler sense; I rather enjoy a smaller, more intimate atmosphere and traveling into the city every once in a while.

Sevilla, you will always inhabit a special place in my heart, beautiful city that you are. But I think I can move on, now 🙂 I promise to visit as much as possible, though!**
“Sevilla no hay más que una, Sevilla no hay quien te iguale.”

**Update as of August 20, 2011- I may have spoken too soon and put my foot in my mouth.  I love Sevilla and would be happy returning there to live any day. 🙂

Adventures with the PAR Bros Part 2: La saca de la yegua and Doñana

Day 2 in Sevilla started very early as we prepared to drive out west from Sevilla to the little cowboyish town of El Rocío. There are not enough words to describe all that transpires here, and if I could, it would be better for you to just visit it. Inexplicable, it is.

We arrived in El Rocío mid morning to visitors and residents bustling about getting ready to see the “saca de las yeguas.” This is one of those fascinating festivals for which Spain is so infamous. The purpose of this event is to round up the mares and the colts/foals that have been in the marshlands since the last saca. Men, some boys, and a few ladies from surrounding towns ride their horses to round up the group and stampede them through the streets of El Rocío. It’s a lovely thing, watching the horses run with the long legged and often awkward babies glued to their mothers’ sides.

Un potro

The craziest thing was the following: I had not seen anyone in Sevilla besides the PAR brothers. Years ago I had visited the house of a colleague of mine from school, who was very much like an adopted grandfather for me. I thought to myself upon arriving this time, “if I see Manolo I am going to go crazy.” Well, as we were waiting between the groups of horses, there went Manolo and his wife, walking right in front of me! It was THE most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced. The sheer fact that I would know someone at El Rocío and actually see him at this event was so strange, yet so wonderful! It’s like going to some random town like Locust or Rutherfordton, NC, going to a rodeo or something of the sort, and seeing someone you know and hadn’t seen for years.


Continuing, we ate lunch with the PAR family in Matalascañas, a beach town nearby, then went back to the PAR residence at Doñana National Park, took mega naps, and left with Papa PAR to take a tour of the area. We stopped at a pretty much secluded beach, no people for miles and miles! Not even a footstep was found except my own. We then went into the park for a spectacular sunset tour to see the dunes, marsh, and wildlife.

Pepe, the head of the PAR family, is a published photographer (48 books) and works at this national park. He has the largest camera I’ve ever seen. I asked him how he got started and his answer really captivated me. He said, “Antes cazaba, pero ahora para mi la fotografía es un tipo de cazar.” (“I used to hunt a while back, but photography is a type of “hunting” for me now.”)

El Parque Nacional Doñana

Adventures with the PAR Bros Part 1: El Cerro de Hierro

“Uff… You don’t want to go to Sevilla this weekend. You’d be better off staying here in Almería. This weekend it is going to be hot there.” These words were the ones that sent me on my way to Sevilla from sunny, breezy Almería with cool water at about a minute’s walk from the door of Beth’s house. Oh, how I wish I had heeded the advice of the flight attendant! (Actually I don’t, no regrets, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to encounter..)

Sevilla was hot. Like a frying pan. Or more like the fire below the frying pan. You can’t do anything from 1pm- 9pm because it’s too hot to be in the streets. It’s frustrating and makes you lazy. The opening topic for every single conversation (no lie!!) is the unbearable heat. However, I find it so curious that so few houses here have adapted to this ‘phenomenon’ and installed air conditioning. And even when there is air, the majority of the time it isn’t used!

Anyhoots- I arrived to searing Sevilla early in the morning to be greeted by my beloved Spanish brothers, José and Manu. I hardly had time to breathe as we raced home to drop off my bag and eat a  napolitana (croissant with chocolate- myam!) before promptly leaving for the Cerro del Hierro to go rock climbing for the day with their friend José Luis.

This little mountain chain to the north of Sevilla was the place of iron mines years ago which have created a very ominous and impressive site for hiking and climbing. The serrated rocks have left great little holds for wandering hands trying to pull their owners up the face of a rock.


We spent most of the day trying different climbs and cheering each other on, listening to our voices and laughter echo through the desolate landscape. We were the only people there for most of the time. After our appendages were nice and sore and raw, we went for a dip in the COLDEST mountain water I’ve ever felt. Truly, nothing helps tired muscles like a swim in a mountain spring!



"El centro de la tierra"