And she sleeps……

The Alhambra quiet in quarantine

I was in Seattle for a summit when the Coronavirus first hit the news. There was one patient already detected and being treated at a local hospital. At one of our meetings we were greeted by the COO of the company, “there is now a strange virus from China and the first case in the US is right here in Washington. Welcome”. His charismatic humor was welcoming and innocent. As we all were.

Two months later as all of my tours were slowly being cancelled and I was helping my oldest niece get out of Spain before the borders closed, I started to become conscious of what had begun that day in Seattle. The reality started to set in little by little. And then the impossible happened, the Alhambra closed. The Alhambra. The Red Fortress. Qa’lat Al Hamra. Closed. Gates locked. Silenced in all her glory. Empty of tourists, busses, local guides and groups. The hotels and restaurants are closed and boarded up. The gypsies have gone home with their rosemary and Diego is no longer there soliciting groups for the flamenco shows. The Alhambra had gone to sleep.

The Generalife, summer palace of the Alhambra.

My relationship with the Alhambra is long and deep. On my very first night in Granada over twenty years ago we went up to the rooftop terrace of a friend’s apartment and I met the Alhambra for the first time. She was my solid introduction to Granada. A few days later my friend Kerri and I rented an apartment in the Albaicín neighborhood with a perfect view of the Alhambra from our little balcony. We lived on Calle San Juan de los Reyes, known then as la calle de las putas. I would walk to class everyday and wave hello to the prostitutes sitting out on their chairs waiting for customers, mostly older gentleman from the neighborhood. They would be casually sitting on their chairs in the narrow street in front of their doors , enjoying a cigarette and café con leche. In the late afternoons we would greet each other again, their café now replaced by a vino tinto. I used to see Rafael chatting with the ladies quite a bit. He was well known in the neighborhood and a couple of friends lived in the same building as Rafael so he had become a close aquaintance. A character to say the least, with his rough voice from smoking the black Ducados cigarettes for most of his lifetime. A true Albaicinero. I no longer see prostitutes when I walk down my old street but those memories stand clear in my mind.

Walking up the Cuesta de los Chinos

From that first apartment I used to go for a daily run down the Cuesta de Chapiz and up the Cuesta de los Chinos to the Alhambra. The Cuesta de los Chinos used to be called the Cuesta del Rey Chico, named after Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada. I would run up past the San Jose Cemetery to the Silla del Moro, which used to be a guard’s outpost for the summer palace in the Xlll century. In the Springtime I would come across older gentleman picking fresh asparagus for their lunch or taking a break under the olive trees. These runs were my escape from the city, all social activity and the struggle to understand the thick accent of the Granaínos. The Alhambra gave me piece of mind and serenity then as it still does today.

The beautiful blossoms of a pomegranate tree

The entrance into the Alhambra was free on Sundays when I first moved to Spain. Nowadays, this is an unbelievable memory of mine. The hours and energy I have spent trying to purchase tickets to the Alhambra for groups over the years is exhausting to event think about. And to imagine that I used to stroll up there every Sunday with my books to spend hours studying in the Generalife and simply wandering about the palaces is amazing. I clearly remember reading one of my favorite books, A La Sombra del Granado by Tariq Ali, as I rested in the gardens. No tickets and no lines. Back then the security was also so low that we could even sneak into the summer palaces at night through a hole in the fence. A couple of my friends had grown up in the area of the Alhambra and they knew every way to enter. One night we even went through one of the secret tunnels below the city. These tunnels were used during the Nasrid Dynasty for inhabitants of the Alhambra to enter and exit without being seen. They are all closed off by gates now so we were lucky to have those wild adventures. We would have the summer palace to ourselves sitting under the stars. It was like the lyrics from a Joni Mitchell song.

The full moon over Sacromonte in May, 2020

When I lived in Sacromonte, the cave neighborhood across from the Alhambra, we had an outdoor terrace with a panoramic view of the Alhambra. On the second floor of our home there was also a loft bed, with a perfect view, that we named la cama de la reina. The Queen’s Bed. The Alhambra was the first thing I saw in the morning when I slept in that bed and my free time was spent reading, writing or drinking wine on that terrace. The Alhambra was the backdrop to my daily life for those years. It is still our favorite place to take a walk. Up the Cuesta de Chapiz, into Sacromonte to pass by my cave house and then up the Cuesta de los Chinos to the Alhambra.

She’s resting now, our dear Alhambra. Similar to the years when she was abandoned in the 18th century. But soon she will reopen and we will again feel her vibration over the city. Enjoy the peace for now elegant lady. This type of calm never lasts forever.

Alhambra and Granada May, 2020

Good Vibes in Granada………..

sugar1

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.

boqueron2

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.

birdtapa

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!!

The Madroño, it’s not just a legend…..

Everyone who has visited Madrid has seen, photographed or met up with friends at the famous Bear and Madroño Statue.  A cute little bear trying with his paw to grab a bit of this unusual and fairly unknown fruit.  This symbol, along with the seven stars that have been known to represent either the Ursa Major Constellation or seven castles that used to surround Madrid, make up the Coat of Arms of this capital city. There are many different versions about why the bear and tree also became part of the Coat of Arms. Some say it is the symbol of possession and power.  My favorite interpretation so far was one that my sister Denise was given late one night in a bar in Madrid.  Something about bears molesting trees. Anyhow, I would imagine that for most visitors this statue in the Puerta del Sol is their first and last contact with a Madroño Tree. But, they can be found all over the country.

The other day we went for a walk with friends near the Alhambra.  We eventually found ourselves wandering through the Carmen de los Martires.  “Carmenes” in Granada are typical homes with beautiful garden areas.  Sometimes Granada is referred to as The City of Carmenes.  This particular Carmen is  very large and open to the public at certain hours during the day. There are beautiful views of the city, extravagant gardens and even peacocks.  It is the perfect place to enjoy peace and quiet or read a book.  With three kids in tow we had less peace and quiet but we did enjoy the views and had fun tasting the funny fruit off the Madroño trees.  I heard once that if you eat too much of this fruit it can actually intoxicate you.  We didn’t have time for that but it was fun to taste.


tastes like a kiss

walnuts....mandarin oranges...quince...pomegranate

walnuts...mandarin oranges..quince...pomegranate

One of my favorite sayings in Spanish is  “uvas con queso saben a beso” or “grapes with cheese taste like a kiss”.  My daughter even learned this in her Pre-school at snack time.  The combination of grapes and cheese really do bring to the mouth the taste of a (nice) kiss.  But in reality, here in Spain there is another flavor that is most typically combined with a nice cured Manchego cheese.  Dulce de Membrillo. Quince turned into a firm jelly brick.  Sounds strange I know, and even I thought it was pretty odd the first timed I was offered a piece. The truth is that a chunk of quince paste with a slice of cured cheese accompanied by a glass of Ribera del Duero is an absolute delicacy.

I was just finishing my Part 2 on Toledo when I was completely distracted by gifts of fall fruits.  Luna and I helped an older gentleman, Miguel, with his car the other day and so he showed us his gratitude with a bag of walnuts and pomegranates.  Then, my friend Ofelia handed me a huge bag of quince last night as I left her house.  Luna sat happily at the table and attempted to crack nuts while I cleaned and cored the quince hoping for some possible chance of producing  “dulce de membrillo”.  And so I cut and I peeled without losing a finger and then I boiled and cooled and rinsed and boiled again forever and ever with sugar, lemon, and vanilla.  And now it is supposed to harden a bit.  I left it chunkier than it is supposed to be because I thought it might be nice that way.  We will see. Tomorrow I will have a bit with some cheese and wine.  It hasn’t hardened quite yet but the flavor is amazing!!!!

Dulce de Membrillo

rainy weekend fun………..

The weather has finally changed in Granada.  It seems like a bit of a miracle.  This morning there was actually thunder and lightening.  This called for some indoor activities.  Decorating for Halloween was the first on our list.  Cutting out and stringing up paper pumpkins and making bats out of egg cartons took up most of our Saturday morning.  In my neighborhood the children actually trick or treat which is something that came to me by surprise on our first Halloween in this house.  For the past two years I have been more prepared.  Next Monday between 9 and 10 p.m.  (this is Spain after all) we will have a small procession of masks and costumes passing by our door.

Then, this morning we made some really delicious cookies.  I mixed two recipes.  One that my neighbor Wendy gave to me a few months ago and another that I found on a great blog called fifteenspatulas.  I was missing a few ingredients from both recipes so we added almond butter and some french cocoa powder to make up for them.  I’m happy to say that most of these delectable discs will be devoured by a beautiful group of  5 year olds tomorrow while I am busy practicing  yoga.  🙂

eating well at home…….

banana apple bread of love

banana apple bread of love

We are still waiting for fall to arrive in Granada.  I’ve gotten way to used to putting on shorts and a tank top everyday and I regret postponing the purchase of new sandals until next Spring.  But, last night at least the air was a bit cooler, cool enough to turn on the oven that is.  We had been gifted some great apples from one of Luna’s friends grandparents and we also had three bananas that were screaming ” TURN US INTO BREAD”!!! And so we did just that.  Apple Banana Bread with all local and more or less organic ingredients.  Luna thought that baking it in the heart pan would make it just perfect. It turned out both beautiful and decadent.

While the bread was in the oven, Luna prepared her special crunchy chicken breasts. She enjoyed hers with sauteed mushrooms and a green salad and the adult version was a chicken salad with feta and a spicy dressing.  Yum!!

Even though I love to go out and try new food and new restaurants, one of my favorite things to do is cook at home with family and friends whenever possible.  Here in Granada it is fairly easy to buy local produce just about anywhere.  The co-op where we shop always has great seasonal vegetables and we take full advantage of them every week.  Sometimes a great dinner can be made of simple and delicious veggies with a great salad of beets and avocados.  I also love to buy vegetables, flowers, and herbs from the guys who set up along the river by our house.  This morning I bought two bags of the best smelling oregano from a wonderful man.

the herb man

the herb man

As I write I can hear the sound of a slide whistle going up a down my street.  This can be heard all over Spain.  The knife sharpener. Right at your front door.

New Moon

Well, cheers to the New Year.  I can’t say that my New Year’s Eve was the most exciting to be had but it was enjoyable, relaxing and more or less healthy.  Luna and I and a dear friend enjoyed our leftover homemade seafood ravioli’s with spicy vodka sauce. Of course Luna preferred her ravioli’s with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese. Luna and I ate our mandatory 12 grapes at about 8 o’clock with our friend making the chimes of the clock and then Luna was asleep by 8:30 and my friend went out with the “normal people”.  My partner is out of town working and I kindly turned down all invites by friends.  There was something soothing about starting the New Year  on my couch with a glass of Cava and a movie.  And as an insightful friend said, “you are not a loser, you are a cool Mom”.  So this is how Luna and I began 2011, relaxed, happy, and together.

There will be a New Moon on the 4th of January along with a partial Solar Eclipse.  So said this will bring us good fortune and happiness.  More than anything I hope it will bring some necessary change in the world. For me personally I could definitely use some inspiration and good fortune.  Last summer I promised myself I would finally start my book about great Spanish food and hidden restaurant treasures.  Needless to say I have done plenty of research in the past 16 years but I need to get it together.  So, this blog I am hoping will help me along a bit.  Little by little I plan to share my research along with other experiences of my life here in beautiful Southern Spain.

Happy New Year and Happy New Moon!