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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. 🙂

La Fiesta de San Juan (aka, Summer Solstice Party, or “Everyone build a fire on the beach”)

Last night a huge beach party went down all along the coast of Almeria to celebrate La fiesta de San Juan.

San Juan is a couple days after the summer solstice, but it celebrates the longest day of the year anyway, along with San Juan, or Saint John. I don’t know what he’s the saint of…

People in Almería celebrate by gathering friends, firewood, and food, congregating on the beach, and passing by the hours of the evening into the night with full bellies and general merriment. At midnight, they light the huge bonfires they have built and run to the ocean to either wash their faces or jump in entirely to get rid of all the negative things and negative energy from the past year.

San Juan in Retamar

San Juan in Retamar

Love in San Juan

Love in San Juan

We ordered some pinchos, or sish-kabobs from a bar and some grilled sardines (YUM!) and trekked down to the beach with a blanket and beers to watch the festivities. We definitely participated, washing our faces in the ocean and laughing at the monstrous bonfires and crazy yungins. It was a nice time of reflection on the past year in the midst of such a setting and thinking of the negative things that I didn’t want to be a part of this coming year. I was so fortunate to be spending it with people whom I consider part of my family 🙂

Feliz San Juan and may the coming year be filled with positive energy, love and light for you!

New Adventures in an Old Word, Part One

It took 35 minutes to cross the gap between the two continents. The Old World as I know it, meaning Europe, just became older. I stepped off the ferry and breathed in the African air before rushing along to find a taxi to get to the bus station. The craziness that ensued after this brief moment of simplicity didn’t stop until getting off the boat again in Spain 4 days later.

Walking along a road outside the port without a map, unsure of where to go or what to do, a taxi finally stopped my friend Stephen and I and offered to do the 3 hour drive at 7pm at night to Chefchaouen for 700 dirham (70 euros/80 bucks more or less). Definitely out of the question, seeing as how the bus was about $3.75/ one-way! He kindly informs us that the last bus to Chefchaouen left (appropriately) at 6:30pm. However, we insist that he take us to the bus station anyways, just thinking, “Ok, if the last bus left, we’ll just stay the night and hop the first one in the morning, no biggie, but it’ll be a way to shake this guy…” So, the taxi driver agrees to take us to what he calls the “bus station,” except that when we arrive it is this tiny, deteriorating shack made of stucco very similar in style to the booths that precede parking lots where you have to get a ticket to pay for your spot. He gets out, makes some commotion about how we did not believe him about the bus, points at the yellowing paper claiming it is the bus schedule, but all the while my clever partner in crime is eyeing this brightly lit building about 300 meters away and saying, “I think that’s the bus station…” We eventually kindly excuse ourselves from the scene and head towards the brightly lit building, which indeed is the bus station.

Walking into the bus station was my first real taste of being in a completely different and predominantly male culture. We march up to buy our tickets, and then are heading outside to await the bus when we pass this huge room full of men looking in the same direction, eyes fixed on something towards the ceiling. We walk in thinking it might be a TV monitor with the bus schedule and promptly discover that it is just all men watching a soccer game. Well, then in walks me, this little blondie girl, in the middle of pure masculinity… hmm… you can imagine my extreme discomfort. I ducked out immediately and shyly covered my head with my scarf, partly wanting to blend in, but mostly wanting to hide my embarrassment.

The bus ride was a beautiful nocturnal journey winding through the Atlas Mountains. I almost fell out of my seat a few times when the driver took the turns a bit too hard. Getting off in Chefchaouen, we were greeted by a 30-minute climb completely uphill to get to the hostel. The room was beyond interesting, with an animal skin hanging on the wall and the bathroom with a shower curtain as a door. You could literally sit on the toilet and shower at the same time if you wanted…

Chefchaouen was beautiful and enchanting. Painted completely blue, it seems like a familiar wonderland; a place you encounter in your dream world. It was surreal, yet as I said, somehow familiar, provoking a distant sense of nostalgia. We were outsiders spying on the daily mundane activities of the townspeople. I liked the slow pace of life, even slower than that of Sevilla. And I loved seeing that on this new continent, humanity maintains the same basic characteristics; people enjoy the same simple pleasures and laugh and work and are humans. It was fascinating. After one day, it was time to move on to the bustle of the city once again.

Mala educación

Ok, the title to this blog actually has nothing to do with the intense Pedro Almodovar film of the same name. Nothing as melodramatic. I wanted to put down some favorite moments experienced in the classroom this year. Have fun!

In math class a couple months ago, while we were reviewing fractions, we were learning the correct pronunciation of fractions. I was teaching how to say one- half, one- quarter, two-fifths, etc. So, to get the students to practice this terminology, I would write a fraction on the board and have one of them tell me how to say it in English. Standing at the front of the class and looking at the students, this is what it was like from my perspective, going down the line of students pronouncing the fractions:

Carlos: “one- half”
Manuel: “two-fifs”
Javier: “tree-sevents”
Álvaro: “one-turd”
(No one else notices (obviously), but at this I start convulsing with chuckles while I try to continue with the exercise.)

Every time I’m with group A of the first years, if there is any possibility of reading, the moment I say “Does anyone want to volunteer to read?” about 15 hands shoot straight up like rockets. The view from the front of the room is spectacular! To see such enthusiasm at such a young age…. Why can’t all my classes be like that?!

This is not my story, but it makes me laugh hysterically every time I think about it:
My co-worker and dear friend Eva helps out with Natural Science classes. One day they were studying the cell and its parts. To learn the vocabulary, she says the word and the students repeat after her. They were going at a good rhythm such as the following:

Eva: “Nucleus.”
Students: “Nucleus!”
Eva: “Membrane.”
Students: “Membrane!”
Eva: “Vacuole.”
Students: “Vukyuall!”
Eva: “Hmm… let’s try that again, “Vacuole”.”
Students: “Vukyuall!”
Eva: “One more time… “Vaaa-cu-ole”.”
Students: “Vuuuk- yuu-alll!”

You can imagine her chuckling inside at the thought of some random English speaker walking by to hear a classroom of kids screaming something so inappropriate.

Yesterday in class we played a spin-off of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. It was a detective game using the atlas. The kids really enjoyed it and got into the mystery of it. So today in class, my favorite Javier says to me in a detective-like voice in Spanish:
“Ahli, (that’s how they pronounce my name), what were you doing yesterday after recess?”
And I said, a little perplexed because I didn’t know if I had done something stupid, like trip and fall, “Hmmm… I went out for breakfast…?”
Then Javier states, in a very matter of fact tone: “Because we saw you from the window of the high school, and you weren’t in the high school.”
Me (still perplexed) “Well, I…I….”
Then, before I could say anything else, he looks at me and does the “I’m watching you” motion with his hands pointing from his eyes to me. And he adds, “I’m the detective, now!”

I’ll keep adding moments as I remember them or as they occur in the next month. These were my favorites, so far. I’ll also add to this list all the random moments that they have made me laugh uncontrollably with the faces they make when they think the teacher (or me!) is not looking. I’ve had to hide behind papers or turn my back various times to compose myself!! It’s great fun, working with adolescents :).