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Granada: First Impressions

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Arriving in Granada following a tour of Madrid and Toledo was certainly a blur. Miles and I moved into our house for the semester, certainly an interesting setup. We live in a spacious family house on the first floor; our host parents, Juan Miguel, or JuanMi for short, and Angela live on the bottom floor, across the hall from us live JuanMi's niece, Iris, her husband, Antonio, and their children, seven year old Unai and one year old Mara, and on the second floor lives JuanMi's brother and his wife. There is a gorgeous courtyard in the center of the complex, with laundry lines strung carelessly across the top. Our flat houses our rooms, a bathroom, Angela's workspace, and the kitchen, and we eat lunch and dinner together as a family. JuanMi's entire family is from Granada, born and raised, and they are all very close. JuanMi is a specialty guitar maker, and his shop is on the bottom floor of the house. By his count, he makes 3-7 guitars a year for professionals only, as each guitar requires around three months to complete. He is well-known in the industry, as I learned one memorable afternoon serving as a translator for a couple who had traveled from Phoenix to see his work in person. Angela is a retired social worker who now paints homemade abanico fans, and she spends much of her day running the house. Neither of them speak a word of English, and their work schedules are extremely relaxed and laid back. Breakfast is nonexistent; Lunch, the largest meal of the day, is at 2:45, and dinner usually falls around 9:45-10, although JuanMi and Angela rarely eat much at all after lunch. Their lifestyle is one of comforts, simple pleasures, and is centered around relaxation.

Our house is located in the Realejo neighborhood, the old Jewish quarter, and is very close to my classes, the Alhambra, and the center of town. The streets surrounding the house are narrow, cobbled, and twist and wind in twisting obliviousness until one reaches either the Alhambra or the city center. The walls of Realejo are dotted with street art from El Niño, a Banksy-like figure who does most of his damage at night. It is a pleasant, central, very convenient location to have a homestay. I can run for ten minutes and be at either the Alhambra, the River Genil, or the Arab quarter, the Albaycin.  The great outdoors are also quite close, as many hiking and running trails rise above the Alhambra and through the surrounding valleys, including one that I explored one day going to an abandoned monastery. The city presents many opportunities for all sorts of exploration.

The first week  in Granada featured a pair of family-sponsored treats. Following my first day of class, JuanMi and Angela convinced me (without too much effort) to skip a school-sponsored walking tour of the old town to go with them to the beach instead. Miles wasn't feeling well, so the three of us drove down to Playa Granada, a rocky stretch of beach that was absolutely gorgeous. The water was rough but a perfect temperature, and the surrounding landscape, with the imposing Sierra Nevadas looming over hills dotted with endless rows of olive trees, was phenomenal. The three of us talked for hours about adjusting to Spanish customs, American life, and strategies for living in general. Following free, unlimited tapas at a nearby bar (you read that correctly) we drove home under the setting sun full and extremely content. The second family event was a Sunday spent in the mountains for Mara's first birthday party. Her grandparents own a small farm in the hills above Quentar, a small mountain town about a half hour from Granada, and the four of us piled into the car and made the drive to the countryside. We arrived to a family preparing for a feast, and we also witnessed the skinning of a wild boar they had caught that morning. While we didn't eat the boar, which is dried for a year before consumption, we were treated to a delicious meal of roast chicken, whole roasted trout, potatoes cooked with peppers, octopus ceviche, and the omnipresent manchego cheese, olive oil, jamon Serrano, as well as a chocolate birthday cake for dessert. It really was a feast, and the large family relaxed for hours on a perfect Andalusian day. It was a privilege to attend such a party, and I am extremely lucky and grateful to have found such a nice, welcoming, inclusive host family.

School has also begun, and for the month of September I am completing an intensive Spanish language class consisting of five hours of class a day, five days a week. I have a small class that, while unfortunately filled with mostly Americans, is very challenging and really working my Spanish well. I am still finalizing my schedule for the semester, but it appears as if I'll be able to take a regular class at the university with Spanish students in addition to my classes with foreigners. More will come on the academic front as the month unfolds. Andalusian Spanish is a bit tricky, as people tend to bite the ends of off words in ways that are pretty difficult to understand, but I am slowly adjusting to the abbreviated speech. I feel confident that come the end of the semester my Spanish will have improved immensely.

Granada, for the two weeks I've been here, has turned out to be a beautiful city. The old town is very easy to get lost in, one of my favorite characteristics that a city can possess, as baroque Catholic churches, monasteries, and squares give way to Arab-influenced architecture, eventually topping out with the Gypsy caves of the Sacromonte. As a group we attended a phenomenal flamenco show, and I am also taking flamenco lessons the month of September from a legitimate dancer in a cave. The rhythm is quick and the style is fairly difficult to master, especially for a white Jew not known for any sort of dancing prowess, but the classes are a blast. Following our first lesson, a great night was capped off by the sight of our instructor's family sitting in a circle, with the brother playing a guitar, the grandparents and aunts singing and clapping, and the two young girls dancing the night away. Granadan life serves as a constant reminder to relax, prioritize family, and enjoy life's pleasures to the fullest.

Until next time,

Max

Max
Political Science • Boulder, Colorado

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