History, music, tension and ham…

Every January 2nd, the celebration of “La Toma” takes place in the plaza of the city hall in Granada. January second marks a historical moment for Granada and for the entire country of Spain. January 2nd, 1492 marks the day that Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, handed the keys of the city to the Catholic Monarchs Isabel and Fernando. A couple days later after Boabdil had gone into exile they entered the city through the Elvira Gate and made their way up to the palaces and compound of the Alhambra. This moment in history marked the end of the last Moorish dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula and also the uniting of Spain as a country. A few months later on March 31st the Alhambra Decree was passed demanding the expulsion of all practicing Jews from the country. They were given 3 months to leave.

To commemorate this yearly act they bring in “La Legión” to the city of Granada. Francisco Franco was the founding deputy commander of La Legión in 1920 and they served an important role in the Spanish Civil War serving the Nationalist side. Since then, they have been deployed to different areas such as Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Presently they participate mostly in NATO peace-keeping missions. They are also known for their extraordinary band playing its well known anthem and marches. The commemoration includes a parade, Holy Mass and visitation of the tombs of the Catholic Monarchs in the Royal Chapel. In all of my years living in Granada I had never attended this celebration. I luckily miscalculated time yesterday and found myself caught in the middle of this on my way up to the Alhambra. Just in time to watch La Legión departing the gates of the Royal Chapel and listen to their marches.

If we look back on history appropriately we will easily see that the culture we enjoy today is thanks to the important different civilizations that have lived on the Iberian Peninsula and in Granada. Accordingly, there is also a counter celebration of our democratic and plural society in which we live today. This act includes the reading of a manifest about coexistence and a tribute to Mariana Pineda, a 19th century heroine who fought for liberal rights. I have attended different celebrations throughout the years. Concerts, multicultural parades and talks given by history professors.

The tension in this years celebration was accelerated by the attendance of our new extreme right wing political party, VOX. Comments made by their Secretary General such as, “the reconquest of Spain is not over yet and will continue” provokes more altercations than usual on this conflictive day. However, this is not a political blog so we will continue on with history.

Once the crowds dispersed I was able to continue on with my original plan for the afternoon which was to make it up to the Alhambra. It was a gorgeous sunny day and on January 2nd they open the doors to the alter in the Gate of Justice. It is only opened once a year for a few hours and I had never made it up until yesterday. The altar was constructed in 1588 and was placed where the first Catholic mass was supposedly held in the Alhambra. On the upper and lower sides we find images of Saint Francis, Michael the Archangel, Isabel and Fernando. In the center we find an image of the Virgin Mary and below her an image of St.James represented as a warrior in the Battle of Clavijo. which is a mythical battle between the Christians and the Moors.

On January 2nd the entrance to the Alcazaba (fortress) of the Alhambra is free for those who want to make it up to touch the bell in the highest tower, La Torre de la Vela. The legend here says that all single women who touch the bell will be assured to find a partner during the coming year. I chose to take advantage of the free entrance to the Alcazaba and climb up a couple of towers to enjoy the beautiful views that they allow. The line was growing for people wanting to touch the bell and enjoy the highest tower so I just enjoyed the sunshine and the fantastic views of two of my old neighborhoods. I later found out that the line was longer than usual because one of the bell ropes had broken and needed to be mended, oops!

Line to go up to the Torre de la Vela.
View from the Alcazaba

As I walked back down into the city I found the normal holiday atmosphere that fills the streets of Granada at this time of year. Families and tourists wandering about and flooding the outdoor terraces to enjoy some free tapas and lunch. Today however, I saw some rolled up flags leaning against the tables, obviously used for the celebration. The city center during the holidays can be quite full, especially with this sunny weather. However, neighborhoods like mine provide a more relaxed atmosphere and some of the best tapas. Our favorite is just on the corner by our house at La Noticia. Roasted ham on a rotisserie served with tiny pickles and bread. It doesn’t get much better that that!

More pieces of my “Granada”….

It’s amazing what we do throughout our life to move forward and keep on top of our game. I’ve always felt fortunate that I was obligated to become self-sufficient at a young age and although I’ve crashed a few times and came out with some bruises I won’t ever regret all the experiences I’ve had. When I was working on my Master’s degree here in Granada I did some extra odd jobs to keep myself afloat besides my regular job as a Tour Director. I taught English like everyone does at some point when they first live abroad and I disliked just about every minute. I also took care of my friends little girls and prepared their weekly meals for lunch and dinner. They were quite lucky because at the same time I was working on my fresh pasta business, so they enjoyed homemade ravioli, tortellini, linguini and spaghetti in all variants. A great friend came to live in Granada at this time and we worked on this business together. Using my large living room as our factory, rolling out kilos and kilos of fresh pasta to sell the next day and collapsing at 2 am in front of a bowl of some awesome pasta and sauce that we had created ourselves. It wasn’t easy work. There was a wonderful woman Paquita, who had a fruit store down the street from my apartment. As a small business owner herself she took me under her wing and sold the pasta from her shop in exchange for some free bags for her own family. My business eventually faded because of my regular job and studies but Paquita and I remained friends. I remember her dearly each fall when I prepare a recipe that she taught me.

Granada in Spanish is the word for pomegranate and this fruit is the symbol of the city of Granada. We are surrounded by pomegranate trees here, especially up on the hills of the Alhambra and in the surrounding areas. The symbol is displayed on fountains, ceramic tiles, street signs and of course, the Spanish Coat of Arms. When we think of the history in Granada we are reminded that the pomegranate is also an important Jewish symbol for different reasons. One is that a pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds which coincides with the number of commandments in the Torah. They are also eaten on Rosh Hashanah as a symbol of fruitfulness. The pomegranate reminds me of one of my favorite historical novels that I read about the same time that I met Paquita many years ago. The name is Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali and it tells the story of a family trying to survive after the fall of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs.

I prepared Paquita’s salad the other day along with another dish that I learned how to prepare during that stage in my life. It was a nice meal to represent the history of this beautiful city where I am blessed to live. The salad is prepared with raw escarole, pomegranate seeds, fried garlic cloves, olive oil, vinegar and salt. I served it with a second course of Moroccan Chicken Tagine prepared with preserved lemons, olives and onions garnished with cilantro and spicy malagueta peppers from Portugal.

The Moor’s Last Sigh…………

“A sigh isn’t just a sigh. We inhale the world and breathe out meaning. While we can. While we can.” Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh.

Lágrimas de Boabdil

It would be impossible to count how many times I’ve told the story of Boabdil, the last Nasrid King of Granada or Garnata al Yahud; Granada of the Jews. There are many legends and stories connected to Abdullah Mohammed Xll, the man who handed over the keys of the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula to Isabel and Fernando in 1492. He referred to these keys as the “keys to paradise”. As he left the city of Granada to go into exile to the Alpujarras (southern part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range) he paused at a mountain pass which is now named, The Sigh of the Moor, and shed tears over ending of 800 years of of Muslim rule. His Mother, Aixa, who was with him on this journey into exile said, “Do not weep as a woman for what you could not defend as a man.” Hence, the legend of the tears of Boabdil.

We have a dessert in Granada named after this legend. It is called “Lágrimas de Boabdil”. This dessert, with an obvious Moorish/Jewish influence, is unfamiliar to most people but they serve my favorite version at the restaurant next to my house. It has a buttery almond base topped with carmelized crunchy almonds and a raspberry glaze. It pairs well with a local red wine from the Señorio de Nevada winery.

Boabdil’s tears are understandable to anyone who has been to Granada. Not only did handing over Granada to the Catholic Monarchs signify the end to one of the most important examples of religious tolerance, Boabdil was forced to leave his home and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Washington Irving speaks well of this in his last paragraph of Tales of the Alhambra, and I can also share this sentiment as I have been unable to live anywhere else for the past 25 years.

Meditative meal…………

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Yesterday morning I sat down to meditate and it took me a moment to calm my inner monkey.  In that moment I was taken back to the time when I was first learning how to meditate, about 20 something years ago.  The memory and feeling came back as clear as the morning’s light.

I used to go to yoga, thai chi, kung fu up in a very cold Cultural Center in the Albaicín neighborhood.  We finished each class with, what was for me at the time, a very lengthy mediation.  Besides the lack of warmth in the room I also remember every bit of my body from my chest down falling asleep, the kind of asleep where you cannot move and have to massage every muscle to be able to stand up and avoid looking like a new born goat or simply falling down. It took me quite a long time to get used to sitting for long periods of time and to allow my mind to relax into a meditative state.  We would finish class quite late, around 10 or 10:30 p.m. and inevitably at some point I would lose the concentration of my breathe, succumbing to the pain in my legs and become distracted by the growling in my tummy.  This is the moment where I would practice my own meditation focussed on what to have for dinner.  To make it through the end of the meditation and the incredibly long winded post meditation chat from my professor I would take part in my own mental movie.

In my mind I would leave the building and begin the beautiful walk through the narrow streets of the Albaicín enjoying the crisp winter air.  I would pass by my favorite spot, Plaza Carbajales and enjoy the beautiful view of the illuminated Alhambra before making it down to a local food shop located the street that we called the Tea house street, filled with Moroccan shops and tea houses.  My roommates called the shop, la mala follá , refering to what they thought of as the general grouchiness of the owners. I, however always found them quite friendly.  I would purchase one avocado, one tomato, one cucumber and a small loaf of bread.  Eventually I would make it past Plaza Nueva and to my home, the Hostal Colonial, a place that was like living a movie everyday. I would  run up into the lively kitchen to prepare my favorite salad. In my mind this salad would taste so glorious and my little meal meditation would take me just up to the point to when I would hear my professor’s long awaited hand clap that would signal the end of the “post meditation monologue”.  Happily I would join in clapping my hands together and rub warmth into my hands, face and legs and bundle myself up to continue my beautiful journey home to my ritual salad.

Carbajales is still one of my favorite plazas that I pass by whenever I wander through the Albaicín for an afternoon walk.  And the days have long passed since that cold building filled with many memories but the meditation continues, no pain and less thoughts about food in the moment.

 

Good Vibes in Granada………..

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You can’t judge a book by it’s cover (tapa) but a bar you can.

Sometimes in the winter off season from tours I find myself “holing up” and reading books, doing yoga, and being a bit of a recluse in general.  Yesterday was quite different being that I met with a friend for coffee, then went to my class and in the evening met up with another friend for tapas.  Both of my friends that I met with yesterday are the type of people who spread positive energy, and time with them leaves me feeling much better about myself and life in general.  With my morning friend we talked about how negative comments from others are so unnecessary and can really get one down.  We definitely need to choose to surround ourselves with positive influences on our lives.  This made me think about how much I have been through since I moved to Spain and how difficult it has been at  times to filter through the falseness to find true friendships.

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Not long ago we were served this tapa of potato chips and pickled anchovies which also took me on a time travel back through my experiences since I’ve lived here. I had been a vegetarian and then vegan for many years before moving here but when I arrived I decided to expand my food horizons for cultural reasons.  This was the very first tapa I was ever served in Granada.  Having been tortured as a young child by canned anchovies (the extra salty ones) hiding under the cheese on homemade pizzas, I basically loathed the smell and taste of them. One can imagine how I felt when this was set in front of me.  However, like many other things I learned to love them. I remember everything about this moment and the bar where I was having tapas with friends.  At Seis Peniques they would serve 3 free tapas instead of 1 with every drink,  and it was where we took Sevillana dance lessons in the basement. It was also where a close friend of mine ended up working as a cook in the kitchen and he was taught the “secret” to the amazing Salsa Rosa.  Ketchup and Mayonnaise.  We laughed for hours about that one.  Since that first tapa I’ve had many positive and negative experiences, both with people and with tapas.  These two subjects can give you the same general feelings.  They can be dissapointing and make you feel really awful or they can lift you up and make you want for more and more.

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One of my favorite discoveries in Granada was taking the bus down to the beach and being able to enjoy a tapa at one of the chiringuitos in the sand.  I felt like I was in heaven the first time I was served a cold beer with a tapa of fried fish and was able to jump into the sea between drinks.  This is still one of my favorite ways to enjoy a day off.   The best part is that if you are served a tapa that you don’t like you just might have a friend stop by to enjoy it for you as was the case for me one day.  A small friend but very helpful.

Cheers to my uplifting encounters with dear friends yesterday and to my friend Melissa who lifts me up and encourages me from far away!!

A few more pieces of my Granada………

During and after the holidays  is a time for me to regroup a bit and enjoy some down time before the tourist season begins.   The weather has been unusually beautiful even for Andalucia.  We always take advantage of the warm sun to explore some of the small towns and nature that we have a stone´s throw from Granada. We can hike or bike to Pinos Genil which is a beautiful small town on the river known for its outdoor terraces where you can enjoy lunch or just a small tapa.  The “huevos rotos” are especially good at La Taberna de Guillermo.  Sauteed potatoes with excellent Serrano ham and fresh eggs. The eggs are served fried and whole on top and you cut everything up with a knife and fork hence the name, Broken Eggs.  Here they let us use their homemade hot peppers to put on top which makes us extremely happy.

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Since my daughter Luna “adopted” my bike a couple of years ago I have not had my own until this Christmas. Thank you Santa.  To celebrate we biked to Fuente Vaqueros, the birth town of Federico García Lorca, a prominent poet and playwright who was assassinated by the Nationalist troops in the Spanish Civil War. From the path along the Genil River you have a perfect view of the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In the afternoon we stopped to talk with a shepherd who was out walking with his 180 goats.  He was a happy man who mentioned that the day would be perfect if he could spend it sitting on an outdoor cafe drinking beers with his wife.

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One of the most pintoresque drives in Andalucia takes you from the city of Granada down to the Mediterranean Coast passing through the mountains and the Tropical Valley.  It is called the Carretera de la Cabra, or the “Goat Road” in English.  There is a beautiful hike down to the Rio Verde and a few small white towns that are yet to be discovered by the masses.  We usually stop in a couple of those along the way to the coast.  In the town of Otívar we have a glass of one of my favorite wines which is quite strong.  It is called vino de la tierra, wine of the land.  Here it is pink and harsh.  A dear friend from another town close by laughingly commented, “be careful or you will end up asleep in the valley.”  That same friend directed us to a bar in Otivar to taste their award winning tapa, grilled eggplant with goat cheese.  IMG_3273

“UNDERSTAND ONE  SINGLE DAY FULLY , SO YOU CAN LOVE EVERY NIGHT”

                                                                                                   – Federico García Lorca

More Pieces of My Granada………..

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

The cave where I lived………

 

We all have places in this world that enter in our hearts and never leave. I have a few that come to mind. Simply closing my eyes I can take myself back to certain sounds, streets, mountains or sunsets. My sister Georgianna has always joked around saying that I can only live in two cities, Granada or Flagstaff, Az.  Hopefully I will prove her wrong one day but she knows me well. They are the two places that cling tightest to my heart.

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The “Poppy” Fountain

Granada is unique in this world, one of the most beautiful cities without a doubt. I have been lucky to live in almost every neighborhood in the city.   The best was without a doubt , Sacromonte. A magical neighborhood of caves with the best view of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The fountain next to my old cave home says,  “How I would love to be the fountain in my neighborhood, so that when you pass by and drink I could feel your lips close.” The history of cave dwellings runs deep in this part of Spain, Sacromonte dating back to before the 16th century. In 1963 this Gypsy quarter was almost completely destroyed by severe flooding but today life is still thriving in its bars, flamenco and cave homes. It is our favorite “city” hike especially on a sunny day.

 

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View of the caves…..

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Caves and Mountains…