Since my last post I have twice broken my camera and semi-voluntarily lost internet connectivity. Hence, the radio silence. In condensed form, here is a recap of what I’ve seen and been up to since you last heard from me. Sorry, but the pics that accompany this are from my cell phone.
This is a street (actually a calle), not an ally as it looks to you and me. This part of town is referred to as Centro and is where I focused my home hunting. On these streets are shops, restaurants, lawyers offices and the entrances to apartment buildings. I have yet to see a single family home in the old parts of town. There used to be some, but they are now called palaces and are either government offices or museums.
Nearby the location of the previous photo is Calle Concepcion with a scooter passing by. Cars occasionally squeeze by. The black bollards lining the edges of the calle keep vehicles from squashing pedestrians against the wall. Even on the larger streets cars are outnumbered by scooters, buses and taxis.
As in other places I have been, in the old part of town the street signs are posted about ten feet up on the side of buildings at intersections. Not much use if you are driving a car, but sometimes very amusing if you are a pedestrian and bother to look up. This is the intersection of Calle Concepcion and Calle Ancha de la Virgen. Ancha means broad or wide, so this intersection makes me smile every time I go by.
Tapas at Los Marianos. I was on C/ Concepcion (C/ is the abbreviation of Calle as St. is for Street) to eat at a restaurant that specializes in seafood. I thought this was a good idea for two reasons. First, nearly everywhere you go in Granada and probably in the wider area, pork dominates the menu. Pork fifteen different ways and possibly a chicken dish or two. Also, the Mediterranean is 35 miles south of here so seafood might be a little fresher than I’m used to.
Someone told me the name of the shellfish above but I don’t remember. It basically is an asparagus shaped mollusk in a tubular shell. It is, more importantly, very good. Granada is one of the dwindling number of locations that still serves tapas. You order a glass of wine or beer and you get a small plate of food along with it. Two things make this a good deal. A nice glass of local red wine costs three euros ($3.75). Also, the food and wine are very good. This would be a $10 or $12 glass of wine and $6 or more for the food. But, they didn’t have to put them on a boat and send them across an ocean so they are local, fresh and delicious. A dainty eater can eat dinner every night for six euros or less than $7.50.
Another tapa and the miracle of Spain. Friends from South America and from the UK immediately agreed with me when I told them, “I have hated olives my entire life but they are good here.” We all suspect that something in packing them for overseas shipment gives them the bitter, tannin taste we all dislike. Here they are fruity with a bit of citrus flavor. Appropriate since olives are fruit and convenient since outside the cities you are never out of sight of olive groves. They stretch to the horizon in all directions. A bowl of olives is a very common tapa to receive here.
Tapa means cap or top, which puzzled me until I heard the following origin myth of tapas. I like the story but I have no idea if it is true. One day long ago the King set out on horseback to survey his domain. In late afternoon the royal party was hot, tired and thirsty so they stopped at the next inn the came across. The innkeeper recognized the King and was horrified to see a fly buzzing at the lip of the King’s glass of beer so he grabbed a snack that he had prepared for another customer and set it on the rim of the glass to keep the bug out. The King, unaware of the fly, thought it was a treat for him (lagniappe as it is known in New Orleans) and introduced the “custom” to other parts of his realm.
The Alhambra. What everyone comes to Granada to see. The Alhambra sits atop a hill that rises about 600 to 800 feet above Centro and the main part of town. The hill is actually the farthest extension of the Sierra Nevada mountains into the plain that stretches to the north and west of Granada. I once read a description that it appears to be an ocean liner made of rock that ran aground into a town. The hill is not that tall, but it is very steep because two rivers run along either side of it carving steep ravines.
Julius Caesar put a fortress here when he came to town 2,300 years ago. When the Berbers of North Africa got here in 727 AD, and the Arabs a little later to take credit for their vassal’s conquest, they recognized the defensive value of the site and planted the Alcazaba (fortress) on the site of the Roman fort. An invader would first face rivers to ford on either side of the hill, then a very steep, wooded hill to climb, and only then would you get to the bottom of the vertical walls of the complex. While the invaders were catching their breath from the climb in their armor, the Moors were probably dropping boulders on their head and pouring down boiling oil. No wonder that I don’t think this complex was ever conquered.
The emirs, recognizing also that Granada is really hot in the summer, put their palace and gardens behind the Alcazaba on even higher ground to take advantage of every degree of cooling they could get by altitude.
Palace of Carlos V inside the Alhambra complex. Isabella and Ferdinand finally reconquista’d Granada, the last capital of the Moorish occupiers of Spain, in 1492. Carlos V was a direct descendant of Isabella and Ferdinand. The lucky boy was also descended from the Habsburgs and the Burgundians. Once he united these three substantial kingdoms he decided to build himself a little palace on the site of his grandparents’ triumph.
Completed in the early 16th century he is said to have arrived to inspect his nearly completed new palace, planted provocatively in the middle of the previous rulers’ palace complex. The story goes that he came, he saw, he harrumphed and left, never to return. A substantiating tidbit is that the palace had no roof until 1957. To be honest, up close it is fairly ugly. The exterior is brutishly coarse, not poor craftsmanship, but by design. Also the lower portion and the upper portion of the exterior are noticeably different architectural styles. The one clever, interesting bit is that from the exterior it is a standard rectangular structure with neat 90 degree corners. Inside is a large, round, open air courtyard that is a bit disorienting (in a good way) when you first enter. It takes a moment to realize that you didn’t enter a round building.
More Alhambra. More snow-capped mountains on the horizon. More cowbell.
Yesterday was a local holiday. The best I can translate the name is the festival of the cross. This is a town with cathedrals, monasteries and convents on every block and a few more tucked in on the small calles out back, so religious festivals occur regularly. This one was interesting because men and women wear traditional clothing, the thin-legged pants for men with bright red sashes for belts and very frilly, bright colored dresses for the women. The children are almost all dressed this way. Even the women not dressed up wear bright red flowers in their hair.
I met up with a group of friends at 3 in the afternoon in the Realejo to walk from one event site to another. The Realejo is the former Jewish quarter and sits on the hill just below the Alhambra. There are no modern streets or avenues in the Realejo, just like the Albaicin. Cobblestones, nothing straight, nothing level and certainly nothing parallel or perpendicular. In other words, a great place to walk around and look at stuff. Many buildings that are not normally open are elaborately decorated and open to the public this one day each year. Everyone takes the day off and walks the streets to see the venues. Oh, and also to stop in the taverns for a tapa and a beer or wine before moving on to the next site. My group was eight, so everywhere we stopped we got nearly one of each variety of that tavern’s tapas.
The picture above is not a great shot, but it shows riders in traditional dress with their horses elaborately rigged in one of the hundreds of small plazas all over town. From my kitchen window I saw several groups of horsemen and women clopping down the middle of my busy street as if they were cars.
Guitar shop in the Realejo. This guy makes guitars and other stringed instruments by hand. I would not be surprised if the guitar maker is merely the latest generation of a family business. A British woman in my group has a friend in South America, a professional musician, who buys all his instruments from this very shop.
Inside said guitar shop. Not a great view with the glare on the glass case, but these instruments were beautiful. To the left was another display case of violins or violas. No telling what all is in the back.
And more prosaically, mi cocina/lavandaria. Everything here is on a smaller scale. The entire city is small in area because everyone lives in a ten-story building. Apartments are small, rooms are small, cars are small, hotel rooms are small. I have yet to be in a bathroom in which I did not bang both elbows simultaneously on opposite walls. This kitchen is small by our standards, and all the appliances are smaller, but it is fully functional. The one nice thing that is not small is that window. It is over six feet wide and just under five feet tall. It opens horizontally, so when I am cooking and the weather is nice I have a three by five open space next to me. I’m on the first floor (one floor above the street level) so people are walking by on the sidewalk directly below me. Across the street in front of the retail stores is a wide paved area. While adults are sitting in front of the two taverns their kids are romping around playing.
On the street level of my building, just outside my front door, is a fruteria. Despite the name they don’t just sell fruit. Every day they have fresh fruit and vegetables delivered. They also carry spices and basics and some junk food. In the next building to my right is a supermarket. Again small but they have nearly everything I need. If they don’t have it there are two other, larger supermarkets a ten minute walk in the other direction. I literally often purchase my dinner minutes before I start cooking it. I spent 3.30 euros this morning at the fruiteria for onions, tomatoes, a big green pepper of some sort, lemons and carrots that will keep me through this weekend.
That is an oven with a whole chicken roasting this morning. When I started looking on line at apartment listings in town, I groaned every time I saw a kitchen picture and saw no oven below the stove but only what I thought was a toaster oven. This thing roasts, broils, does both at the same time and also something else that I can’t decipher the symbol for. I have make a pork tenderloin and now a whole chicken in this thing and they came out just fine. Sorry, no whole turkey for Thanksgiving here though.
Stove, countertop beside the window with chorizo and garlic hanging from a rack. That white thing below the countertop is my cloths washer. It really is tiny but it takes forever to do a load. They come out very clean though. There is a dial with about twenty symbols around it and no words to say what each symbol means. I just keep trying different settings each time to see if one is better than another. Eduardo showed me the roof of the building. He intended to show me there were clothes lines available for drying, since he saw I had strung climbing rope between two carabiners in my unused bedroom. What I saw was my first, spectacular, unobstructed view of the snow capped mountains just ten miles away. When the weather improves I may have a small cocktail party up there or at least drag a chair, a book and a glass of wine up there for sunset.
Fruit and veggies from downstairs. The tree outside my kitchen window is just a tree. Below my office window are orange trees. Orange trees grow all over town, especially in the parks and plazas. I am starting to get used to the sight of oranges squashed flat in the street or browning beside the curb. They are beyond ubiquitous. Even small town Spain is not beyond pointless legislation. I was told early on that it is strictly against the law to pick fruit from these trees. Then my friend continued, “But you wouldn’t want to any way because that variety is bitter not sweet and is absolutely horrible.”
This is not, however, the fruit the town is named for. I have yet to see a pomegranate tree (bush?) although I hear the fruit is widely available later in the year and is quite popular. Granada is Spanish for pomegranate. And that sounds much better than living in Naranja.
The view from my friend Kay’s terrace on the 9th floor (10th in US terminology) of her building in central Granada. This is a higher rent district than where I live. The terrace is bigger than her living room and has a spectacular panorama. I’m guessing that this is a comfortable place to hang out nine months a year. Winter is neither long nor harsh, but there is no comfortable place in the city in August. Several people told me that last year they got above 50°C (122°F to you and me) more than once.
Tapas at Rhin Barril II during one of our weekly TENGO get-togethers. TENGO is one of two ex-pat groups, although everyone is a member of both groups. More olives. The thing behind the olives that looks like a dirty scoop of ice cream is a creamy potato salad-like dish sprinkled with chives and paprika that is served all over town. My faulty memory tells me this is called a salad russe (Russian Salad).
Casa Colon was one the first places I found when I got to Granada. At off hours they let me have a four-top all to myself as the smaller tables had high stools for seats and my back objects to those. Tonight I snagged a table right beside the river.
From my sidewalk table beside the rapidly flowing Genil is a view of the Realejo bathed by sunset. This picture was shot at 9:09 pm. It didn’t start getting dark until after 9:45 pm. The Genil is usually a bare trickle in the middle of a wide concrete channel as it crosses town. The river flows down out of the Sierra Nevada (“snowy mountains” I recently learned) and is extraordinarily swollen this spring due to the coincidence of snow melt and the runoff of the first-time-in-a-decade rainfall we have had this year. It makes a soothing rushing sound while you are sitting here sipping wine and nibbling tapas. Not at all an unpleasant place to live.
But tomorrow I must start the return journey to the US so as not to overstay my tourist entry and also to complete my residency visa to return here for good. Granada already feels like home.