It’s raining sand from the Sahara here and the streets are dusted in brown. Shop owners toss soapy buckets of water to clean the cobbled alleyways and the now coffee colored liquid pools together in the crevices. There’s a name for this, my host mom tells me: calima.
I first became aware of the phenomenon on the roof of the IES building in Plaza Nueva. Yellow tinted fog shrouded my view of the Alhambra — a reminder of how close I am to North Africa, and how far I am from home.
It was a much-needed reminder. It hasn’t taken long to fall into a routine here, and while it’s important to realize that I’m not just a tourist in Granada I do have to occasionally remind myself that I am a traveler, despite that I’ll be here for three more months. I am caught between trying to belong and trying to observe.
This dilemma provokes a curious feeling that becomes most acute at approximately 6:30 p.m., when I awake from siesta, groggy and disoriented with the last glow of the sun sneaking through my window.
The streets are quiet; most people have finished siesta but dinner isn’t for another couple of hours.
Admittedly, I’m still wearing the hiking boots that I’ve been traveling in for the past few weeks. The streets here are cobbled with large stones, sometimes in patterns and other times haphazardly strewn about. The plaza floors are smooth and slick in the rain — the hiking boots seem necessary, at least until I’m familiar with the terrain. I’m still amazed by the women who glide confidently down the streets in heels and dark lipstick, their appearance hardly affected by the weather.
On the way to Plaza Nueva I pass a couple of crowded bars – the after-work types, filled with smartly dressed Spaniards sipping wine and chatting. I feel silly.
At 6:30 the script disappears. I no longer play the role of a student or a tourist. Free from classes and orientation activities there is nothing that I am supposed to do. So I decide to wander.
I make my way through the winding streets of the Albaicín, Granada’s old Muslim neighborhood, now a maze for tourists and locals alike.
People-watching in Granada is never boring, and the folks in the Albaicín tend to compliment their eclectic surroundings. Longhaired men in harem pants and colorful jewelry tote their guitars up the hill and an older couple holds hands while navigating the cobblestones. He wears a sweater vest and a woolen flat cap, she, heels and mid-length dress. For a moment I think I’ve gone back to the 1940s. I wonder what they could tell me about that time, but I know better than to ask, of course. So I stand there, quietly, until an invisible wall between me and my surroundings is ruptured by a slight bump from a tourist squeezing by on the far too narrow sidewalk.
Up the road is a street glowing with the light of souvenir and tea shops. Colorful tapestries line the walls and ornate lamps cast curious shadows along the ground. The air smells of incense.
With no other ideas I duck into dimly lit tea shop, tetería, in Spanish. Granada is filled with shops like this and, from what I can tell, the majority of them are quite similar. I make my way to the back of the shop through curtains and past hookahs of various colors.
Seated awkwardly on a cushion on the floor I ask for green tea and a crepe — the second of which I didn’t expect to find on the menu. For a while I read, write and think — until a young Spanish couple enters and I remember that I am alone.
On my way home I notice the way that the slick roads reflect the light from street lamps and shadows cast by the city coming back to life.