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Our two days in Barcelona were inspiring. It’s a magnificent, polished city with a hum of youthful energy and a clean vivacity. Its streets are gorgeous. Its food is sheer perfection. Its architecture is fascinating. And its women are simply gorgeous. Even the plain ones are elevated to beautiful by virtue of their singular sense of style.
There was, however, a definite rudeness exhibited by hotel staff and other officials in Barcelona, something I attribute to an understandable hatred of tourists. But that was outweighed by the plethora of sandwiches. Yes, sandwiches. Corner shops abound with the Spanish standard: torpedo loafs with ham, salami or cheese. So simple, but oh so yummy.
As lovely as Barcelona was, it was Granada that stole my heart. I write you now from the centre of southern Spain, where columnar haciendas abound, and the remnants of Islamic flavour lent by the Moors can still be sensed. The city is famous for its Moorish castle, the Alhambria, which supposedly overtakes the Taj Mahal in beauty. I couldn’t tell you, as I have not yet seen it.
But I can tell you that Granada is simply stunning for its charming buildings, cobblestoned streets, delightful cafes and colourful characters. We are here for Easter weekend, so the place is packed with tourists –which is strangely not a bad thing. Everyone is quite polite and friendly. Three lovely Basque girls we met at a tapas bar took us out drinking and dancing, despite barely being able to communicate. A waittress bought us shots of tequila. Even when they know our Spanish is essentially non-existent, locals still persist in trying to communicate with us.
The tapas bars themselves are lovely ideas. Everytime one orders a drink (which are remarkably low priced), one is given a free plate of food. Sometimes it’s just ham sandwiches, but other times it’s something more exotic, like an avocado pastiche or grilled octopi. Always, though, the food is stupendously delicious…. and healthy! One item we weren’t too thrilled with was the pulpos, grilled tiny octopi; you bite in and are treated to the crunch of backbone and the squish of ink. It tastes great, but is oh so gross.
Drinking is the order of the day. I think I’ve been solidly drunk for 3 days now, while eating mountains of incredible food at every turn. Remarkably, I have both lost weight and not suffered any ill effects from the drinking. I attribute this to three things: the very high quality of the wine we are imbibing, the low fat nature of the food, and the fact that we are also walking many miles each day. I’ve asked myself several times today: why am I not living in Spain?
I will recount for you one fascinating experience from Thursday night. Remember, this is Easter weekend here in Spain, and Granada is considered a particular destination for observant Catholics on this occasion. We had spent an evening crawling from establishment to establishment, happily navigating the quaint and bustling cobblestone roads of the city centre. At around 2:AM we found ourselves in a very crowded tiny bar with new Spanish friends, happily sucking back mohitos.
Suddenly, the room went black, as did the rooms in adjacent buildings. Amid whispers of “shhh!” everyone fell silent. Indeed, the whole street, previously bustling with standard late night party noise, fell eerily still. And a slow drum beat began. It grew louder, and it became clear that it was coming from a procession of costumed marchers walking in a slow, funerary procession.
This was the first procession of this year’s Santa Semanta in Granada, wherein various religious brotherhoods dress in what resemble a mix of Ku Klux Klan robes and the funky costumes from Eyes Wide Shut, then march down the long streets carrying effigies of Jesus and Mary. It’s a profoundly powerful sight, and it gave me chills akin to those I experienced when standing alone within the inner sanctum of the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
I travel so much that it’s rare to find that feeling of awe at experiencing something new in a foreign place. But I’m pleased to report that I found it twice so far this year: once in Egypt and again here in Granada. The world really is a marvelous and fascinating place, full of wonder and joy and novelty. All it takes is open eyes and a sense of childlike appreciation for things that are otherwise quite banal.
Granada has other joys: Paris has shared some of Rodin’s original pieces for temporary display in public gardens. We saw Rodin’s “Thinker” today. Very cool. And did I mention the food? Unbelievably good.
One last observation of the pleasure that is Spain: unlike other parts of the world, especially European centres like Paris, I have rarely seen anyone chat on a cell phone here. I don’t yet understand why that is. But I will tell you: after decades of exploring the developing world –jungles, deserts, slums, metropolises and so forth– I think I can get into this comfortable first world travel thing.
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