IT HAPPENED AGAIN.
Last night I was walking home, minding my own business and enjoying another lovely Granada night, when I was stopped by a small group of Spanish twenty-year-olds.
“Excuse me,” they said. “Do you know of a dance club near here?”
It was very random. I wasn’t wearing my glasses this time, but I bet they asked me because I look like I have moves. You can tell by the way I use my walk….
(That’s a joke, everybody.)
I’m not going to tell you whether or not I knew the answer to where the discoteca is. You’ll have to come to Spain and ask me.
SOMETHING AMAZING HAPPENED TO ME AND I HAVE TO SHARE.
(Normally I would make you guess, but that’s not going to work so I’m just going to tell you.)
Last night I was walking home from Mass (more on Mass later), and as I left the church and turned down one of the smaller streets leading to my neighborhood, a lady called out (in Spanish), ”Excuse me!”
So I turned around.
She said, “Are you from here?”
And I replied, “No.” (But I was smiling, because in my head I was thinking, Holy crap I’m getting more tan and I’m starting to look Spanish)
She said, “Oh, okay.” And then she turned back around and started to tug her daughter in the opposite direction. But before she did, I saw a very disappointed look. Which made me feel bad. So I called back (still in Spanish), “Can I help you with something?”
She turned back around, looking a little more hopeful. “We need to go to Gran Vía de Colón. Do you know where that is?”
And then I felt TRIUMPHANT. Because not only do I look Spanish, but I know where that street is.
So I said, “YES! Go up this street, take a left,” (I motioned with my fingers just in case my accent wasn’t intelligible) “and keep going straight.”
She looked much happier. “Thank you!”
“No problem,” I said. And then I kept walking.
I twisted my way through a couple more streets in my neighborhood. I was walking slightly behind a punk-looking teenage boy with headphones and some really nice kicks when we passed a very tall, very beautiful Spanish girl. She was in a hot pink running top and tennis shoes, but she had flawless Covergirl hair and I didn’t believe for a second that she’d had a difficult run.
She pulled out her iPod earphones as she approached me.
“Excuse me,” she said.
Oh no. What did I do.
“Do you know where Plaza Fortuny is?”, she asked.
I think I almost laughed. Not really, because that would have been mean, but how is that TWO Spanish people, within a time span of 10 minutes, asked me for directions?
“I’m really sorry,” I said. “but I have no idea.” (My street-savvy-usefulness dropped down to 50%. So did my confidence level.)
She smiled a bit. “Okay, thanks.”
And I apologized again. Because I should totally know these things if people are going to keep asking me.
I went back to my homestay and googled it. Turns out I walk by Plaza Fortuny every day. Often five times a day. It’s how I get home from IES – I just didn’t know it was called Plaza Fortuny.
I also caught a look of myself in the mirror. Those two ladies didn’t ask me for directions because I’m tan and look local. I don’t look local, and I’m not tan. I haven’t even reached cream-colored yet – much less sun-kissed or Spanish. I just look harmless in glasses. (Which is fair. Have you ever seen a four-eyes pull out a knife? Nope. You haven’t. That’s because all scary knife carriers have perfect vision.)
The good news is that now I’m ready for all future questions regarding Plaza Fortuny. Or Gran Vía de Colón. Spanish people, ask away. Your American friend has got your back.
IES Granada students are responsible for their own dinners (we get a shelf in the fridge and use of the microwave in our host house). HENCE we must also go grocery shopping. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, perhaps this is a just personal flaw (ahem lack of self-control around food), but I advise you not to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.
Why not, Caroline? Well, friends, you might just buy lots of things you don’t need. You might indulge in non-healthy, non-practical foodstuffs. You might decide that it’s a good idea to just go for it because it looks delicious and disregard any other information about the product. Like its price. You may start to buy things you can’t even cook using a microwave. Because it’s all food, and you really need food.
Just a thought.
Once upon a time, back when donkeys were the primary cause of traffic jams and the best form of air conditioning involved trees, Granada was the last stronghold of the Muslim empire. The very last. It was teeming with hot tea and beautiful silk fabrics. There were a lot of beards and pointy shoes. People ate chicken – not so much pork. In Granada, you had to know some Arabic to get around (and it sure helped if you knew how to read it, too). Five times a day, a very loud sound would come from a tall minaret and everyone would take off their shoes and pray. Hunts for genie lamps were common among tourists (all of the locals already knew where to go).
Up until 1492. In a year that (thank goodness) was really easy to rhyme with, the Catholic Kings pooled all their resources and charged forward into Granada. The iconic Alhambra, a large Muslim city-complex on top of a very steep (I repeat, very steep) hill, fell under the control of Ferdinand and Isabella’s troops.
Gloriously victorious, the Spanish regime tried their darnedest to convert a lot of Granada’s Muslim buildings into something a little more Catholic. The result, still visible today, is a unique architectural blend of traditional Muslim and Christian elements, a style known as mudéjar. (Fun fact: That word also applies to the Muslims who stayed in Andalucía and didn’t convert.) But the Catholic kings didn’t stop their victory celebration with the culturally confused architecture – they also sent Christopher Columbus, the Great Explorer, on an adventure to expand the empire. He was given the green light and royal blessing to go find the New World from – where else? – Granada.
*fast forward furiously a thousandish years*
Granada today: twisty streets. Red shingled roofs. Lots of pigeons. Lots of small, 20-person-max bars. Tiled plazas that are really, really, really slippery when it rains.
There are a lot of beautiful old buildings – some of them with sleek modern shops on the lowest level. Lovely mudéjar architecture remains, as do a few tea shops. Cars and little red city buses are common. Almost as common as motorcycles, which fly past pedestrians at break-neck speeds. All of the streets within walking distance from me are cobblestoned. (All.) And a lot of those streets are one-way. Some of them are teeny-tiny and barely barely barely have sidewalks.
(The real struggle: trying to walk on a the barley-there sidewalk with a wieldy umbrella in the rain as a car is passing, potentially with another pedestrian passing and while avoiding puddles. It’s like Tetris: Granada Version.)
People-wise, Granada is very hip. Young due to the extraordinary amount of students here – which explains the bars – and as far as I can tell, very Spanish.
(What does that mean, Caroline? Very Spanish? What makes it very Spanish? Well, I’m not quite sure, folks. Still working on it. But it sure as heck isn’t Kansas.)
**Dubiously accurate and lightly exaggerated. Please consult the nearest history professor for real facts.
I was walking home from class today when it occurred to me that the graffiti in my neighborhood is extremely profound.
I walked past walls with very confident scribbles. You are your own boss. And I turned corners that promised Happiness is a state of mind.
It’s excellent. I’ll have to take some photos for y’all. So far, my favorite is the phrase by the park - If animals could talk…
A very pensive graffiti artist wrote that one. I mean, what would we do if all the animals could talk? …we would all be vegetarians. The Beginning of the Animal Rights Movement. The End of the Great American Meatloaf. But also maybe …we would have an easier time getting pets to do household chores. No one’s opposed to that. I will willingly take Cinderella’s bed-making bird-friends. Or …muzzle prices would skyrocket. (Because it does beg the question – if animals could talk, would they be intelligent?) Or… I don’t know. The possibilities are endless with this. …I could no longer borrow my sister’s deodorant without her knowing.
(Just kidding. I’m in Spain. I brought my own deodorant.)
It was a little later than usual (roughly 10:26PM). It was a warm February night.
Dogs were running. Stars were shining. And we, the six American girls, were hunting for tapas.
Some of our stomachs growled under a discord of honking taxis, hurried footsteps, and rapid Spanish street chatter. We sped up, praying for the sight of food. Good food, cheap food, any food. We turned right. And stopped abruptly.
There it was. The Mecca of All Tapas Bars. Warm, glowing, with a six-person table recently vacated. Kismet.
The first round was served quickly and accompanied by a glorious plate of toasted baguette slices, topped with beautiful, fresh brie. Barbecue pork was positioned delicately over the brie, garnished by a roasted red pepper and lovingly sprinkled with a light drizzle of sauce.
My stomach, thankful and eager, made some bugle sounds.
My friends eyed the dish cautiously, but I grabbed the slice closest to me.
Barbecue pork!! I yelled to the table, grinning victoriously in our luck. A little bit of the South right here with me in Spain. Does life get any better?
I opened my mouth. I prepared for a big bite of smoked Southern hospitality. The kind of smoky flavor that elicits crocodiles and magnolias and an aftertaste of sweet tea.
I bit down. Probably a little too viciously, in hindsight.
Anchovies. Anchovies and brie and bread and peppers.
The adventure is never over, my friends. Challenge everything.
Happy Sunday, y’all!
The first week of classes at IES has ended. I am officially (officially officially) STUDYING ABROAD!
It’s been a big week. Let me tell you what I’m taking:
1. Spanish 401B
My Spanish grammar class. So far, so good. I’ve used my host family as a resource for 99% of my homework. The class is taught by Rosana Pinera, the coordinator of all language classes at IES. She wears simply the best scarves. During times of great confusion and alarm, she speaks English with a British accent.
2. Spain & the European Union
This is going to be a hard class. I anticipate future blog posts bemoaning the intricacies of the European Union and the infinite wisdom of my professor. Professor Cuenca has been awarded honors from the European Union itself for his teaching. He’s been a professor since forever and he clearly loves economics. His spontaneity is not initially obvious, but the oral pop quiz at the end of our last class is evidence that the man, indeed, likes to surprise his students.
I love this class. Half of it is studio, half of it is plein air painting. Our teacher Ana is hilarious. (Think fiery red bob and a deep passion for graphite sticks.)
4. Internship Seminar
My internship is with the Official Association for PhD/Licensed Professionals in Art History & Calligraphy & Philosophy within the Greater Granada Area. The acronym (thank heavens there is an acronym) is CODOLI. The IES internship seminar meets once a week. We discuss progress, challenges, expectations…. all of the good stuff. Our professor, Ari, is the Spanish Mrs. Frizzle. She has crazy curly black hair and talks with her whole body. Her lecture is really just one big interpretive dance.
5. Islamic Art & Architecture
Taught by Guadalupe Romero (AKA, Lupe). Lupe is my professor and also my internship supervisor. She looks very Northeastern American. Like a blue-eyed Massachusetts woman with a Labrador retriever and a Lands End sweater. But don’t be fooled. She’s very Spanish – and she never ever speaks in English. Our course is split between in-class lecture and site visits.
All of my classes are taught in Spanish, and all of my classes are taught at the IES center. IES students also have the option to enroll in courses at the University of Granada. (That school has everything you could ever hope to study.)
The grading scale in Spain is out of 10.
9 – 10 = outstanding
7 – 8 = notable
6 = good
5 = pass
1 – 4 = fail
The University of Granada professors always use this scale. The IES professors almost always use this scale.
Wofford College takes both the class credit and the grade – which means that your abroad classes appear on your transcript and your final grades factor into your GPA.
Because some American schools (like Wofford) transfer back the final grade, IES translates the Spanish scoring system. The breakdown for the American students is generally:
9 – 10 = A
8 = A-
7 = B+
6 = B
5 = B-
1 – 4 = F
It’s a pretty generous translation. If you don’t fail, the lowest grade IES will send home is a B-. If you are failing, you can withdraw from classes. It’ll appear on the transcript, but at least you didn’t fail.
Moodle continues to haunt students in Spain.