A few weeks ago two fellow Whitties, Kristine and Travis, came to visit Chloe and me during their vacation from IES Nantes. After months of suffering from French food prices, they loved tapas, which admittedly will interfere with my ability to enjoy eating out in the US when I return. In Granada, when you order a drink it comes with a small, free, and usually delicious plate of food. For under ten euros you can easily get three drinks with three tapas and find dessert afterward. We also introduced them to Spanish churros, which are but a distant cousin of their sugar-encrusted Costco counterparts—here, they’re slightly salty golden tubes of fried dough that you dip in thick hot chocolate.
On a Tuesday the four of us went to Nerja in a car driven by Chloe’s Cuban doorman, Roberto. We turned off the highway onto an unmarked hill that wound its way down to a gorgeous and uncrowded beach. We seemed to have stumbled into Roberto’s kingdom; guests and waiters alike greeted him like an old friend and they knew his order without asking. He left before us because he had to go back to work, but first he arranged part of our transportation—we got a ride to the bus station in the restaurant’s delivery van.
During an idyllic afternoon of frolicking in the waves and marveling at the whimsy of the day, we also learned that when a playa is naturalista, it does not mean, as we originally thought, that it is ecologically well-preserved. It means nudist.
It was wonderful but confusing to show Granada to friends from home. I didn’t realize that I felt like the city was mine, somehow, until I had to share. During a long stint at the mirador de San Nicolas, an Alhambra viewpoint, we compared our study abroad experiences. “Were you intimidated by how well-dressed people are when you first got here?” Travis asked me. “Nope,” I said, nearly chuckling.
Most Spaniards have a more developed fashion sense than the average American. But after a while I realized that while people are generally well-dressed, they often lack the spark that true style requires. One of the paradoxes of my time here is that I’m finally amongst people who care as much about how they look as I do and yet I dress more casually than at home. On days when I go to Cartuja for class, a 40-minute, mostly uphill walk, tennis shoes are the only viable footwear.
When my parents came during spring break, I took my dad to Cartuja, partially to show him the view of the city but also to prove that I wasn’t exaggerating about it being a hike. As we walked we compared the US to Spain and Argentina, where he went fishing in February. I talked about how humbling it is to be around so many multi-lingual people. It was bad enough to go to France and endure the embarrassment of asking people to talk in English; in Morocco I felt actively ashamed about speaking only two languages amongst a population of polyglots. Most Moroccans speak Arabic and French and then many learn English to get a better job and Spanish if they want to work in the North. My dad and I agreed that within American patriotism lies an uncomfortable vein of pride in ignorance that seems to be growing.
My parents’ visit was truly unique because they came for Easter, which in Spain is not just the Sunday holiday; it’s a weeklong celebration called Semana Santa. Every day has a parade with penitents who wear hoods that are disconcertingly reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan accoutrements.
Many of the penitents carry long candles that drip wax everywhere, causing car tires to squeal for weeks afterward. Children also make balls of wax by collecting drops from penitents each year.
I loved the marriage of such a sacred holiday with such a pagan spirit. Unlike American parades, which consist of many floats, during Semana Santa there is only one incredibly ornate religious float per parade carried on the shoulders of a small contingent of people. At our first parade in Granada, when the float came into view as the marching band’s song swelled, some primeval pulse surged through the crowd, and as they cheered I couldn’t help but clap. The spectacle of Semana Santa was strange, but at the heart of the ritual of incense, processions, and trumpets thrives an undeniable vibrancy.