April 26, 2017
Granada - Dia Diecinueve (Martes)
It has cooled down a bit and we've even had a few extremely mild sprinkles in the later afternoon. Charles left the house somewhere around 5:30 a.m. to stand in a huge line for Alhambra tickets. They sell 100 tickets each morning for those who have not bought them months ahead. Charles was number 102. And, he had about 200 people waiting in line behind him. Unfortunately, we did not get tickets for the castle. But. we hopped a taxi around 10:00 and headed up to tour the gardens and the grounds of the Palacio de Generalife, the country estate and summer palace for the sultan. The gardens were beautiful with Moorish arches and pools of water. The flowers were in bloom and everything was lush and green. Charles often walks through the Alhambra and found that the whole countryside has sprinklers so that it is green even in the high heat of the summer months.
We then stopped at a little hotel on the Alhambra grounds and near the Generalife called the Hotel America. The restaurant was in an enclosed and charmingly decorated patio. I had gazpacho and a roasted asparagus plate and Charles had meat croquettes and some French fries. We walked back along the pathways to catch another taxi to take us up to the Plaza St. Nicholas at the top of the Albaicin where we picked up Nico from school and walked home.
It's a pretty harrowing drive through the narrow streets for the drivers. There is barely enough room for a small bus or auto so people who are walking have to flatten themselves against the whitewashed walls of buildings or find a little niche to stand in when the vehicle passes. Sometimes autos have stopped for some reason so no one can get by. I'm impressed by how patient everyone is when that happens. Everyone seems to take it in stride until things get moving again. Most of the streets we walk are not big enough for vehicles, and the vehicles that do manage to come into the Albaicin are small.
Charles went out to the store for a roasted chicken for dinner and Nico and I ended the day watching an episode of Planet Earth on my computer screen. It was a lovely day.
April 24, 2017
Granada - Dia Dieciocho (Lunes)
Another lazy day! Dani left for Vienna with Tara and Nico went to school. Charles went for coffee and then took some towels and stuff to the laundromat. They have a washing machine - but it isn't large enough for a big wash, and the towels end up pretty stiff hanging in the sun. I did a small load and sat outside and read. I'm on my third book here -- reading The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I had read The Shadow of the Wind long ago and Dani had this second novel, a rather Gothic tale which centers around a writer and the magic of books. .
Sitting outside on the patio is such a fascinating experience. I've already said something about the sounds -- mostly I love the church bells ringing. Yesterday they rang more often because it was Sunday. They are so lovely and a good reminder to stop for a minute and ponder the world. The other thing that fascinates me about sitting outside, enclosed within high whitewashed walls, is that people can't see you. I often sit on my front porch at home and greet the few people, mostly neighbors, who amble by.
Here it is like Grand Central Station. I sometimes have to stand up and peer over the wall just to see what all the commotion is about. Today, within a fairly short time, the parade began. Here are the people who passed by: a) a group of college age students laughing and goofing off, b) several mothers speaking sweetly to children, c) about 30 tourists that were chatting loudly in different languages about the sights, d) several small clusters of Spaniards speaking very quickly and excitedly about something beyond my understanding, e) a few people who appeared to be either having an argument or just angry about something, f) a group (classroom?) of teens, and e) several barking dogs. Charles says that their little corner lot is an alternative route through the Albaicin and not even as busy as the main routes. Since the walls are stone and the pathways so narrow, all sound reverberates off the hard surfaces. The loudest people are those who are pulling wheeled suitcases over the cobblestones. Every day you can hear the worst racket and then you know someone is moving in or out. You can also hear everything that is said. Of course, you have to know Spanish very well to understand. The late afternoon sounds include the children playing soccer in the narrow streets. We can always tell where Nico is by the sound of the soccer game.
One other interesting thing about this house is that it is owned by the artist, Ricardo Bellido Cebellos, and the walls are full of his paintings and sketches. He came by yesterday to drop off a new toaster and we visited. He says he is not painting any longer but now is doing restoration work. He showed me some of the projects on his phone. I think his art (some of which is probably from his student days) is what makes the house so unique and lovely.
That was the day -- Dani has the computer that hooks up to the television, so we've had to stop our nightly ritual of watching either Blue Planet or Planet Earth. It has been an enjoyable family activity.
Granada - Dieciseis y Diecisiete (Sábado y Domingo)
Saturday was a lazy day and not much to report. Charles was returning from his quick trip to Scotland to visit his two friends and Dani and I spent the afternoon arranging our hotel and transportation to Malaga for the end of my trip. I spent some time on the Charles De Gaulle airport website getting information about flight connections between terminals. I was pretty impressed that they give directions with pictures of the airport at each junction. I only have one hour between flights and, although they say it is doable, I'm always anxious until I actually do it.
I went out to the patio to read about 6:00 and Dani brought out wine and cheese and the ubiquitous olives. Soon there were three families joining us for appetizers. The children played while we visited, and they went home around 8:00. We ate dinner and Charles arrived home after we had watched the last episode of Blue Planet and Nico had climbed into bed. Everyone was glad to see Charles, and he was glad to be in a warmer climate. Scotland was cold!
Sunday was busier. We went down to town and back to Bib Rambia Square to have churros with chocolate and coffee for a breakfast treat. Many of the stores were closed on Sunday including the Apple store where I wanted to pick up a connection for my iPhone earplugs for use on the plane. Charles then took off with Nico, and Dani and I went to the Royal Chapel to see where Ferdinand and Isabella and their daughter, Joanna and son-in-law, Phillip of Castille, are buried. Although we know them best for Christopher Columbus, they are important around here for the fall of the Moorish dynasty. We caught the bus home, got off at Plaza San Miguel Bajo for a cold drink before descending the steps and pathways home.
I am finally oriented enough to find my way to town, to take the bus to the plaza, and to negotiate the streets home from there. God forbid that I turn the wrong way. I can also take the dogs for a walk around the block and find my way to Cuatro Gatos for morning coffee. Dani is off tomorrow for a trip to Vienna with her friend, Tara, who is going to a conference. Charles and I are making plans for spending a day at the Alhambra.
I just finished a book that Dani bought me for Christmas --The Red Hill by David Penny. It takes place just before the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella when they were very close to conquering the city. But, more importantly, the setting is the Alhambra and the Albaycin. It's a good read although a bit gory at times. But, it certainly captures the ambiance around here as well as the history of the area. I'd recommend it for those of you that like both mysteries and historical fiction.
April 21, 2017
Granada - Dia Quince (Viernes)
My daughter is an extravert. I certainly enjoy other people, but at some level, I'm an introvert. She gets her energy from being around others and in the midst of things. I get my energy from retreating and quiet spaces. I was ready for that quiet time this morning. So, I took a shower, washed my hair, put some clothes in their noisy little washing machine (that sounds like hyenas howling when it is going full blast), made myself a cup of tea and a fried egg, and relaxed with the dogs and a book while Dani went off for coffee with friends. She came home to invite me to run to town with her and her friend, Tara, but I politely declined and kept reading. My next task was to load the dishwasher and hang up the wash. That is all the excitement that I needed this morning.
I'm not trying to beat a dead horse, but I'm continually fascinated by how difficult it is for me to navigate around here. I'm sure that I'm getting used to it -- but "running to town" is not like running to Fairhaven from South Hill on smooth sidewalks -- although I think it is for Dani (younger and in better shape). Perhaps if this was my normal existence, I would think the same. But, navigating the myriad of steps and the chunky walks makes it seem so much longer. Partly because I am being careful not to lose my balance. I have heard there are a lot of accidents here. It reminds me somewhat of wandering through the rocky tide pools when the tide is out. I am, however, getting oriented to the twisty alleys and could now find my way to town and home again. Today, we walked down to town, but took the bus up through the Albaicin to get home, walking down from the plaza. It is so much easier for me to go down steps than to climb, climb, climb until we get home. Dani reminds me that she got out of breath often at first. I know I'm getting better, but it is still a chore.
Dani and I wandered around town this afternoon through some of her favorite stores. Unfortunately, we left home around 10:30 which meant that we had limited time before shops closed for their mid-afternoon break. We walked through another little Moroccan alley, went to a museum store and bought a few items, went to a little store that resembles IKEA, looked into many more little boutiques, had a fabulous lunch in Bib Rambla Square at Sibarius, an outdoor restaurant. Unfortunately the Apple store was closed as well as the little chapel where Isabel and Ferdinand are buried. So, we settled for coffee and a shared treat before finding the bus home.
We have a little evening ritual that I have enjoyed. Before Nico's bedtime each night, we have watched "Blue Planet" It's a lovely way to end the day. But, that takes me back to Singapore when James was little (before there was a Nico). Every night in Singapore we watched another episode of Arrested Development -- it was in its infancy, and such an outlandish show. No wonder James has a quirky sense of humor!
Tomorrow is Saturday and Charles returns from Scotland. I have been promised a special breakfast with churros at a favorite place in town. Sounds good to me.
April 20, 2017
Granada - Dia Catorce (Jueves)
Charles got off to Scotland early today after some searching for a missing wallet (it was found after he left). He's visiting two friends and will be back on Saturday. Dani and I went on the morning coffee ritual and then got ready to go to town to take the tourist bus through Granada. It is a tram with a lovely breeze flowing through the open air windows. Unfortunately we were squished four to a seat to accommodate everyone. It began by going up through the Albicin where we are living. But, then circled around the city, the university area, and up through the grounds of the Alhambra. I'm just beginning to make some sense of the winding, narrow, pathways through the Albicin. I'll probably get proficient just when it is time to leave.
We got off our bus ride to tour Dani's favorite Monestario de San Jeronimo de Granada and once again saw the magnificent statue of Mary and the Joseph lying on the bier that we saw in the Soledad procession last .Friday night. Built in the 1500's, the huge church was amazing with painted vaulted ceilings and an amazing altarpiece. It was flanked by a large garden with orange trees standing like soldiers in perfect columns. But, the most exciting part of the visit was unexpected. A fabulous soprano and tenor were practicing Ave Verum with the organist and the sound reverberated throughout the cathedral as we walked around in awe of the beauty. It was a treat for the senses and brought tears to my eyes.
We then wandered over to another favorite, a fish restaurant in the Mercado de Augustine -- a miniature upscale version of Vancouver's Granville Island market. We had a delicious salmon luncheon. I think they quickly sautéed the salmon (which is lighter than ours) in a salted skillet. It was a treat to have something lighter for a change. Restaurants seem to have a three course lunch, so I began with a cold gazpacho, followed by the salmon with roasted potatoes and a flan.
We then went out to find the next stop so we could catch the tourist bus back to the albicin where we had a short walk home. The rest of the day was spent reading a few magazines that Dani's guests have left and enjoying the shouts of the expats and local Spanish children play soccer in the narrow streets. How on earth they do so with the huge cobblestone walkways -- at least they don't lose the ball often since the walls of the houses flank the street.
Dani made some pasta and we had another late dinner and went to bed.
Granada - Dia Trece (Miércoles)
Lazy day and not much to report. Had coffee in the morning with Dani and Charles and friends at Quatro Gatos and later took a walk uphill with Dani to get her latest CSA box. D&C had three long phone calls today for their editing business so I just relaxed around here. However, I decided to jot a few words on the blog because of our more interesting evening occurrence.
After dinner we were mulling around all doing different activities from dishes to showers for school to whatever when all the lights went out. Fortunately, because we are so very close to neighbors and alleyways, there were some neighborhood lights shining outside. Also, fortunately, I had my cell phone in my hands and could give a flashlight to Charles who was looking at the electrical box in the living room.
Everything in another country is confusing. The electrical box looks different but we could see that the main switch was unable to keep the lights going. Charles would turn it on, and in a few seconds they would go off again. Dani tried to text their landlord - and then tried to call. And, they were trying to figure out how to tell him what happened in Spanish. Good old Nico said, "Mom, just say No Luz en casa!" Pretty good, we thought.
As Nico and Dani got busy putting candles around the rooms, Charles went to see their new next door neighbors because the husband speaks fluent Spanish and might help speak to the landlord (who ended up being unavailable). The neighbor instead brought over another Spanish neighbor who knew what the problem was. Evidently, when the main switch goes off, you turn off all the switches in the panel box. Then you turn the main switch back on and one by one turn on the others -- noticing which one does not respond -- and that is where the problem lies. We finally decided that something in the kitchen (maybe the really old toaster) was sending a surge to the system.
It was all very dramatic because Charles was getting ready to go to Scotland for a few days. I was concerned that he wouldn't be able to go if he had to leave us to deal with the electrical stuff while he was gone. In any case, everything was back to normal by a late bedtime.
And, that's the time the lights went out in Spain.
April 19, 2017
Granada - Dia Doce (Martes)
The children are back in school, the extra thousands have left Granada, the floats are back in their respective churches, and the expats are home from traveling. Life is evidently back to normal. I've risen early enough to begin the day with coffee with Dani and Charles and friends who make it down to their favorite neighborhood coffee place, Quatro Gatos. While there, we found out that today there were to be several open carmens. A carmen is a private home in the Albicin with high walls and a hidden terraced garden. Dani was especially excited because you can often catch a small glimpse of the gardens but never access them.
We took off with two friends to tour the home of the Belgian painter and musician, Max Moreau, whose former residence is now a museum displaying his work. It is high up the hill with remarkable views of the area and the Alhambra. The gardens, rich with roses, and the individual rooms on display, were beautiful. After stopping for a quick cold drink at Maria's outdoor restaurant, we then went to another home and toured the usual private gardens and reflecting pools on display, but the home itself was closed. It was a perfect balmy day to enjoy the views. The local crowds were out enjoying the opportunity to look inside those otherwise closed private spaces.
Dani and I parted with her friends and walked down to town through the Moroccan Market to have lunch at her favorite, Bodega. Charles and Nico joined us and we stopped for ice cream and wandered through a few stores in town. I still cannot help but get exhausted with the constant climbing and walking on uneven, large pebbled walkways. I walk around bent over looking down at my feet in case there is a looming step. It is a pleasure to walk in town on actual sidewalks. I'm also trying to get used to the dining pace -- coffee after Nico leaves for school about 8:30, breakfast back at home closer to 10:00, lunch when Nico gets home from school around 2:30, and dinner closer to 8:00.
Granada is one of the cities of the Andalusia -- a large area in Southern Spain that was under Moorish rule until the 1500s and includes cities such as Granada, Seville, Gibraltar, and Malaga. The Albicin (or Albaycin, or Albaicin, or Albayzin. I've seen it spelled all these ways - sometimes differing in the same article) is a "barrio" (a neighbourhood) of Granada which has been built on a hill opposite the Alhambra. if I may quote Sara's blog about Granada. She goes on to say the the Arabs designed the area before the advent of cars, hence the maze of cobblestoned streets. It is certainly a unique, and in 1984, it was declared a world heritage site. It is certainly one of the most unique places I have ever visited and well worth a trip to Granada.
April 16, 2017
Granada - Dia Diez (Domingo) and Easter Sunday (continued)
We began Easter Sunday by attending church as mentioned in the previous post (I was so moved by that experience that I had to write something immediately). Charles and I were sure that the church would be crowded. Someone told us that it was only open twice a year -- a fact that has now been disputed. So, we had coffee and wandered up to the convent and sat for 45 minutes to save our place in what ended up being an empty courtyard. Dani and a few friends joined us, but we did not need to worry about crowds this time. As mentioned, there were barely 40 people in attendance. The doors stayed closed, and we finally realized that we could enter and sat in the third row of pews. People wandered in, but even after the service began, others continued to come in and out or peek in to see what was happening. After services, we went over to Maria's (the restaurant near where Dani collected her CSA box) and had a cold drink. Then headed home.
We had a feast for Easter dinner. Dani cooked lamb chops -- she gets them from the local butcher. They are thin and small - and you can eat several. She also made her signature French potato casserole. Laurie and Jason's family brought salad and melon with jamon, wonderful cheesy bread, and there were lots of drinks. We made our own dessert from strawberries, meringues, whipped cream, orange cake, fresh oranges -- it was a make-your-own trifle. Jason was the center of attention. I'm not sure how he even managed to make it to Dani's -- he has crutches and he got up the front stairs although we all held our breath. Tomorrow he goes back to the hospital for surgery. They are only going to be here through June and had many things planned which will have to be cancelled unless all goes well with the surgery and he heals extra fast.
A new couple who has moved in next door from Boston came over for dessert. They will be here for three months and their children will go to school during that time. They have a son Nico's age and an older daughter. The expat community seems to be filled with adventurous souls -- sometimes taking a year off from work, other times working from Granada. They all seem to be well traveled folks who want their children to experience another culture. It is pretty impressive. One can see why they all become friends so easily.
It was a lovely Easter although I did miss my usual Easter activities and the rest of my family. I shall not forget this time in Spain and the wonderful week of religious festivities.
Pascua de Resurrección - Easter Sunday 2017
I am such a closet Roman Catholic. If you have read anything about my early faith experiences, you will know that I was Episcopalian as a child. Sitting in church services today at the Monasterio de Santa Isabel La Real in the Albaycin area of Granada, I felt like a small wide-eyed child. I have always loved ritual and especially loved mystery. This monastery, built in 1504, was the first for the women of Granada, and it has been inhabited ever since by nuns who are cloistered and do not make themselves present for outsiders although they use a lazy Susan to sell baked good to passing visitors.
It is a small, intimate, church, shaped like a ship, with an altar area that looms 15 steps above the congregation. The church, itself, has been fairly recently restored to its original beauty. The service, in Spanish, was lovely, and I was surrounded by not more than about 40 worshippers. The gentle, white haired, priest officiated on the same level as the congregation and twice walked down the aisle with blessings. I considered taking communion, and wish i had, but didn't feel like I should without a specific invitation to non Catholics. However, since I didn't understand but a mere fraction of the language, maybe I was welcome to do so.
It is hard to capture in mere words the impact of both the service and the sense of setting in such an ancient structure surrounded with icons depicting the saints and martyrs of your faith while the singing of the cloistered nuns swirled in the air. The mass in Spanish added to the mystery. I found that I understood words here and there. I knew that the first sentence of the Apostles Creed began with the word Credo giving me a clue as to what was about to come even though I could not fully participate. Just knowing enough of the mass was a comfort even with a language barrier. Just knowing you were participating in something so ancient that worshippers throughout the centuries had experienced was heartwarming. But, I was fascinated with two particular things. Partway through the service, the priest came into the congregation and people turned to each other and passed the Peace. He made his way through the people, shaking everyone's hands, and some other people did the same. It was heartwarming and reminded me of home. Second, no one kneeled during the service. Maybe Catholics are kneeling less often -- but I was glad to escape those non-padded kneelers.
All in all, it was a lovely Easter service and one I shall never forget. I may need to visit other Catholic or Episcopal churches from time to time just to remind myself of my roots and of the loveliness of ritual.
Granada - Dia Nueve (Sábado)
Lazy day. Dani and Charles did some food shopping for mañana, Lots of people were walking through the Albaycin district and the lovely bells that ring on the hour began ringing around noon and kept on ringing until well after 4:00 p.m. I read and relaxed. The bedtime ritual here is to watch one of the Blue Planet series before Nico goes upstairs to his room. I went to bed after that and fell immediately to sleep. I guess Nico and I are the only ones who could sleep. The bells began another long stretch and rang in the Easter Day. At the same time, they were accompanied by a very loud party across the way. Of course, everything is so close, who knew where the party was -- but the sound reverberated and kept most folks awake.
The drama of the day was a mountain bike accident by Dani and Charles's friend, Jason, who had been with us the night before. He fell on a trail above the Alhambra and broke his tibia and messed up his ankle. He had to wait until someone came down the trail and then another long wait in the heat for enough people to carry him down to the public hospital. After his wife joined him, they soon saw that he would have to wait hours, called an expat doctor friend, who directed him to another private hospital where he got more immediate care. He came home to wait for Monday when he is scheduled to have surgery. All this would sound doable except for the fact that there is no way of reaching his home in the Albaycin without going up many, dozen stairs. And, they live in a four story house close to Dani and Charles.
Tomorrow is Easter and we are planning to go to mass. Everyone who lives here is anxious for the week to be over and Granada to get back to the lazy, quiet, existence as thousands of visitors leave to go home.