Sunset to Sunrise

Two weeks ago the weather was rainy and gray, helping all the Pacific Northwest people feel right at home. The street vendors who normally sell shoes, jewelry and CDs scrambled off at the first sign of rain, only to reappear at every street corner with umbrellas for sale. The rain brings a change of pace to the city. Stores roll out their awnings, residents carry inside their apartments the colorful laundry that normally adorns patios, people avoid the plazas which become notoriously slippery with their tiled walkways and my host mom looks out the window and tells us that she is “harta de esta mierda.”

For study abroad students with a dwindling number of days left in Granada, the weather presented a fun challenge as we decided to spend the whole night Thursday exploring the streets of Granada and then hike up to a view point to watch the sunrise.

The night begins for me at 8:00pm, with a game of pickup soccer with some friends and then to my program’s last open mic of the semester, where people read poetry, belly dance and rap to “Ice Ice Baby.”

Our first stop after our sentimental hours of music and art is an Irish pub. We play cards and sing happy birthday as loud as we can to a girl in our program. My roommate pulls out his guitar and begins to serenade the pub just as things begin to calm down. A fact of human nature is that once the excitement dies down, humans naturally turn to their next major interest, food! So we march the streets once again and stop at a shawarma restaurant.

For those that don’t know, shawarma is a staple food of the Granada study abroad diet. One of the tasty seasoned-meat wraps costs just three euros. So we crowd into the restaurant and chat with Jose, the man working the counter, about his life and all the different people he sees everyday. The restaurant becomes even livelier as three middle-aged Spanish brothers join our conversation. Somehow the conversation ends with one of the brothers lifting up his shirt and showing us an enclave of lint in his belly button. I wish I could tell you how we got to this point but I really can’t think of any natural progression in a conversation that lead to this.

Meanwhile, the other half of the group is outside in the rain singing camp songs and writing new lyrics about shawarma to the melody of “Message in a Bottle” by the Police. We’ve ended up keeping the neighborhood up with the sweet songs of a soggy guitar and some mismatched voices.

By now its 5 o’clock and we’ve spent two hours in the restaurant. Jose is genuinely enjoying the conversation but he needs to close up and we need to keep moving. So under the cover of cheap umbrellas we hurry indecisively to our next undecided location. We wave to Jose as he drives past, stopping briefly to ask us why we are standing around aimlessly in the rain. He has a good point so we heads towards our final destination, the Mirador San Nicolás in the Albayzín, Granada’s old quarter.

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I suck at early morning photography. Granada before the sunrise.

To get to the Mirador, we wander through narrow streets of stone, gradually climbing the hill that the old city is built on. The rain gives the streets an eerie but comforting effect. The lights reflect off of the centuries of sun and rain stained onto the stone. At last we make it to the Mirador, a plaza that looks down on the city center and huddled together eating chocolate under our umbrellas, we take in the show that is the sky lightening and the sun rising. It’s odd to stay out the whole night and feel so grateful to finally have the sun rise so you can go home, take off your wet shoes and go to bed, but also feel a tinge of sadness knowing that all the fun and absurd moments you just had have been replaced by the sun and the sounds as the city awakens.

I’m not really sure why this night seems so special because reading back over this post, it just seems like a lot of random moments that I’ve regurgitated into a word document. However, I guess the real significance is in the people I got to share these moments with and the beauty of the city I was walking through. It is kind of like the ending to the Ocean’s Eleven, where all the eccentric and wild crooks who we have grown to love over the course of the movie are standing in front of the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas while Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune plays in the background. Here’s a YouTube link: https://youtu.be/4wTD-jwmz5s?t=28s. Something giant has been accomplished that goes beyond just robbing a casino, or in our case huddling in the rain all night. Beautiful friendships have been created among completely different people over many months and this moment is a testament to these connections. The characters know that there will never be another moment quite like this again and so all they can do is savor it while it lasts. And kind of like the movie, after looking around at each other’s faces glowing in the shimmer of the new morning sun, we all quietly walk away from the Mirador towards our respective neighborhoods, glad to be alive but also tired as hell.

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Alhambra in the rain at sunrise.

The Alhambra, More than just a Granada Beer Brand

If you talk to any tourist in Granada, they’ll tell you how they are going to/ have been to the Alhambra and that they bought their tickets months in advance. The Alhambra, the royal city of the various Sultans of Granada, has giant gardens of flowers, magnificent palaces and earth-colored walls that glimmer under the Andalucían sun. With more than eight thousand visitors a day, it is a hub of tourism and a source of pride for the city. It’s such an attraction that tickets are already sold out through parts of October.

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Alhambra at sunset

Besides the fact it is a great place to people watch tourists dressed in crocs and desert hats, it is also a wonder of architecture. Every time I walk past its giant earth-tone walls, I feel insignificant and amazed by the ingenuity of the builders who constructed this gem. Here’s a little overview of the Alhambra so hopefully you can feel some awe as you read this through your computer screen with blurry eyes. The Alhambra is divided into four parts:

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The flags on top of the Torre de la Vela, the biggest tower in the Alcazaba

The Alcazaba: This was the first part of the Alhambra that was built and was originally a small city complete with houses and baths. However, as the city expanded, the Alcazaba became a military fortress where the Sultan could retreat to if the palaces were overrun.

 

The Palaces: The palaces are actually three different palaces, each with its own unique architectural style. The two main palaces feature sprawling patios, beautiful throne rooms and intricate plaster and ceramic designs. The palaces are a place where you gaze with wonder but also think to yourself, this must have taken forever to build. For example, the ceramic pieces in the wall were each cut to shape using intricate designs, fired, painted and then placed in the wall, a time consuming and logistical nightmare.

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Patio of Palacio de los Leones

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Ceramic designs on the lower walls

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Plaster designs on the upper walls

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An average person in the Alhambra

The Medina: The Medina was the neighborhood for all the servants and slaves who worked in the royal city. It is important to remember that the Alhambra was place where only people with royal business or those who worked within its walls were allowed to enter. Thus, as average (or even above average) people, we probably would never be able to enter the city.

The Generalife: As if the city wasn’t enough, there are also sprawling gardens and another palace that make up the Generalife, the Sultan’s summer home, just outside the walls of the main city. To give you an idea of the intentions behind the building of the Generalife, the Sultan constructed it to resemble paradise, with decadent gardens of colorful flowers and a stairway lined with streams of water in the bannisters. When I walked in to the Generalife, I quickly decided that I would have enjoyed being a sultan and living in the palace, my summer allergies be damned.

 

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Photo of Generalife patio with a random dude.

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A Generalife garden

The Alhambra stands as a testament to a civilization that flourished long ago, before gothic churches, the Granada Cathedral and the Christian rulers. When the Christians conquered Granada, they were so in awe of the Alhambra that they chose to keep most of it intact. Since then, the Alhambra has continued to enamor those who lay eyes on it, including my friends and I who have viewed it from every angle. Whether it is strolling the grounds and watching the wild cats run through along the paths, climbing the mountain directly behind it and staring down at its sprawling buildings or taking it in from the calm of the square far below at night, the Alhambra is true beauty that I am captivated by every time I see it. Plus, if you ever want to open a business in Granada, you can simply put Alhambra in the name and it’ll fit right into the city.

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Alhambra at night with an Alhambra bebida

 

Interning at FSG: Much More than Making Copies

On April 8th was the Día Internacional del Pueblo Gitano, a holiday that celebrates the first International Congress of the Roma people. The celebration included flamenco dancing, speeches and a throwing of flower petals into the River Genil in remembrance of the Nazi genocide of Roma during the Holocaust and other persecution in times since. Gitanos, which means gypsies in Spanish, still face marginalization in Spain and many community organizations are working to fix this.

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Rio Genil with flower petals

I’ve been lucky to intern at one of these organizations, Fundación Secretariado Gitano (FSG), a EU funded non-profit that works directly with the Gitanos across Spain to help them access education and work opportunities. My internship has me in the classroom where people my age are learning skills that will help them gain employment and then complete an internship at a local business.

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These past months I have been in a class for people wanting to become waiters, where they learn the nuances of working in a restaurant. Because Granada is a large tourist destination, FSG teaches the students basic English phrases so that they can serve English-speaking tourists. While the teacher does teach some of the English, I help the students with pronunciation as the teacher is not a native speaker. It’s a blast to be working with people my age and trying to explain the difference between there, their and they’re, a difference that even I struggle with sometimes in writing. Another fun lesson was the pronunciation difference between sheet and shit.

While I’m teaching my friends in the class English words, they have taught me much more through their thoughts about Gitano culture, the Spanish government, and Spanish life. Their eagerness to tell me about their hopes and struggles has allowed to view the city and country I’m living in with both a more critical and appreciative outlook.   Also, just as I speak English very quickly and with lots of slang with my American friends, my friends in the course do the same in Spanish, which has been a challenge but has allowed me to improve my comprehension and grow my slang vocabulary. Now instead of saying muy bien, I can say que guay. Lastly, the people in my class are all super stylish and I’ve picked up a few style tips so look out fashion world.

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With part of the class on a restaurant scavenger hunt

I think one thing that has made interning at FSG so interesting is that the U.S.’s Roma population is smaller and not as well known. However, America still has some of the negative stereotypes of gypsies that Spain has, such as them being dishonest or deceiving. FSG is trying to break these stereotypes that people have by making sure that Gitanos finally have equal chances for work and for getting an education and through educating Spaniards about Gitano culture. The stereotypes about Gitanos that I have heard in Spain and in the US are completely wrong and I’m reminded of this every time I go to FSG and spend time with both the motivated and genuine students and staff there. Thanks FSG for a wonderful internship so far!