Saturday, April 28, 2007

Art from the Albujarra

art from the albujarra (1)

art from the albujarra (2)

Photos in greater detail are available at

Photos galore

It's a wonderful life

Sometimes life just hands you a peach of a day, one that you look back on and savor in memory for years afterwards. Today was such a day. An all-day excursion to the Albujarra, the part of the Sierra Nevada between Granada and the coast, named for the father of Boabdil, the last Moslem ruler of Granada (famously expelled by the Christian monarchs, or reyes catolicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492, but that's another story entirely).

albujarra 022

albujarra 007

stumpito de la Albujarra

Stumpito de la Albujarra
As you can imagine, the bus tour around the mountains involved a fair amount of scary, inches-from-the-abyss, driving. There was a lot of good-natured shrieking, ooh-ing and aah-ing, and a couple of genuinely hold-on-for-dear-life, moments. I shrieked along with everyone else. My Dad, who would have been 85 on May 1st, and had both a fear of, and a fascination with, heights, would have loved it, in his own teeth-gritted, white-knuckled way. Dad, I was thinking of you every turn of the way.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Random facts

We finally have a positive identification of the hitherto mysterious "frutas del bosque". They are black and red-currants. As delicious in Granada as in Seville, I might add. Other pretty darned good ice-cream flavors include: mandarin, nuts and rum, and the chocolate-orange combination.

Did you know that the Spanish refer to the current queen of England (more precisely, Reino Unido) as Isabel II ?

UFOs are known as ovnis.

Paz Vega, the pearl of Andalucía, enters the final month of her pregnancy in a state that is described both as "glowing" and "beatific", despite being ambushed by paparazzi at her last ob/gyn bisit. As a cultural reference point, think of Paz as Spain's version of Heidi Klum.

Meanwhile, all of Spain awaits the bisit of Beyoncé, "la diva más 'sexy'" with (you're way ahead of me here), bated breath.

Plain people of Ireland: This is very choppy today. And shouldn't that be....
The management: What? "Baited breadth"? Is that what you were going to say? Think hard before you embarrass yourselves further.
Plain people of Ireland: Oh, all right so. Never mind. No need to be so touchy about things. Just trying to help.
The management: Indeed.

Menu of the damned

Unfortunately, this is the best image I could get, despite several efforts. Even a Spanish waiter will eventually respond to some random passer-by taking repeated snapshots of the menu, so I had to smile and move on. So you will have to trust me that item # 23 really does promise "calluses", while the penultimate item is the mysterious "spurted of Iberian".

My best etymological guesses are that they mean "tripe" and "selection of Iberian hams", respectively.

Personally, I recommend the "codfish to the la Riojan" as a starter. Or possibly the skipped mushrooms.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On the home front

Many of my readers have written wondering what is happening with the kitties. Here is an update, courtesy of George (¡ hi, George !)

Boris, being Boris.

Natasha, always the flighty one.

Both appreciating the fine new kitchen floor tiles.

The plain people of Ireland: Begob but that marmalade cat is awful fat-looking.

The management: Silence, you insolent wretches! This time you have gone too far. Boris is not fat; he is simply big-boned.

Washington Irving slept here

This afternoon I visited the Alhambra. I will have more to report about this. Please check back later.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

¿ And for dessert ?

The ugly duckling

You may remember that this sign had previously vexed me a little. "¿Palace of the Ducks?"
Well, here at MoTP headquarters, we spare no effort when trying to get to the bottom of life's little mysteries. Our readers deserve no less.

So we did a little legwork, and here is what we found. The building in question has now been transformed into Granada's most luxurious hotel, surpassing even the Alhambra Palace Hotel in the opulence of its furnishings and the servile fawning lavished on its guests.

Here is a view of the main entrance to the hotel.

Observe closely. Just above the "C" in "Canon", what is that white, snorkel-like thing?
Let's take a closer look.

Why, it's a swan. A pair of swans, in fact.
Unless you are Spanish. In which case you will refer to this hotel as the Palace of the Ducks. Go figure.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Doing the locomotion (a rant)

Yes, I know. This may seem like a bit of an obsession, but once again I find it necessary to hold forth on the habits of the Granadan pedestrian. Gentle readers, I wish I could report that I had attained a state of Zen-like detachment, as far as pedestrian progress is concerned. But this is simply not the case.

I can, however, after two weeks of intensive study, cast further light on the problem. Because one has to understand one's enemy in order to prevail. For anyone intending to travel to Granada in the near future, I offer the following taxonomy of sidewalk denizens. The key variable in understanding pedestrian behavior is age, and the breakdown is roughly as follows:

12 to 30-year olds: pedestrians in this age group do not pose a particular problem. They can generally be trusted to behave similarly to their peers in any other city of the world.

30 to 50-year olds: in this group you will find, primarily, proponents of the sudden stop, the turn without warning, the random dart. Masters of Brownian motion, their main contribution to inhibiting the normal flow of pedestrian traffic is the element of surprise. There is simply no telling what these people may do. What causes the sudden stopping and starting behavior so characteristic of this group? I wish I knew. It could be something as simple as seeing an acquaintance across the street, or a particularly snazzy pair of shoes in a stop window. Or stopping to pay closer attention to one's strolling companion. Adjusting the baby stroller. But - let's be clear on this - as often as not, it's for no discernible reason whatsoever. Entropy rules supreme in this group.

the over 50-crowd: this particular menace to society is distinguished by the tendency to roam the pavement in packs, usually of three or more. The preferred number is four, because only then is it possible to walk in formation in a way that occupies the width of the entire sidewalk. Often sauntering with arms linked, a phalanx of these oldsters yields to nobody. If you let them, they will force you into the gutter. Occasionally, senior citizens may sally forth in groups of three. In this case, it is a simple (and apparently instinctive) matter for them to combine the arm-linking technique with a gentle weaving motion in a manner that makes passing virtually impossible except to all but the most determined.

A related observation pertains to the behavior of your average Granadan shopper. Whether through instinct, or years of practice, as if by second nature, upon entering a store of any kind, the typical Granadan customer will immediately gravitate to the single narrowest part of the store and proceed to stand there aimlessly, thereby maximizing the potential congestion in the store. Be it in the supermarket, or el Corte Inglés, this behavior is so consistent that one has to suspect there is a genetic component that is passed on from one generation to the next.

I am generally not given to violent fantasies, dear readers, but I have to say that, on more than one occasion in the past couple of weeks, I have mentally transplanted some of the worst offenders to the tube in London, or the subways of New York, and imagined the subsequent mauling that they would receive at the hands and feet of people who understand the fine art of pedestrian behavior.

¡Citizens of Granada! Your behavior is neither charming nor tolerable. It is egocentric and oafish, and would not be considered acceptable in any truly civilized society.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

In the classroom

Three weeks ago I bought a Sony Discman. I need to listen to classical music at night to fall asleep. Otherwise strings of Spanish words keep repeating in my head, driving me nuts, because this is already happening during the daytime.

When I mentioned this in class the other day, there were three very odd sounds. Later, I was able to interpret these retrospectively as the sound of three twenty-year old jaws dropping. Followed by stunned silence.

Fortunately, my familiarity with Scissor Sisters' "Take your Mama" salvaged my credibility later on during the same class. Temporarily. However, the information that I do not now own, nor have I ever owned, a cell phone, appears to have been too much for my classmates' twenty-year old brains to assimilate. So now I am treated with the deference accorded any over-the-hill old fogey. I may start to bring an ear trumpet to class if things go on in this way.

On the other hand, the words promulgate, obstreperous, and byzantine are part of my active vocabulary. Which, I suppose, is just further confirmation of fogeyhood.

Where did I leave that AARP application form? Gosh-darn it, I know it's here somewhere, if I could just find my bifocals.

The plain people of Ireland: begob, there's some very fancy words you're using tonight.
The management: I had a feeling that would get your attention, you obstreperous wretches. Now, please be quiet.

Reino de Granada

I have no idea what it is, but you won't catch me sitting under it, that's for sure.

Life at the home for retired light fixtures can be a little boring sometimes.

Whenever I'm staying at the Reino de Granada, I like to revive myself with a delicious piece of cardboard pizza, ordered in from the good folks at Telepizza. It's so convenient, because if you don't speak Spanish, the helpful hotel receptionist will place your order for you. Of course, some might consider her complete lack of English the weak link in this logical chain, but if you don't mind the frisson of excitement that accompanies the element of surprise (¿anchovies anyone?) you can't go wrong with this room service option.
A few nights of this and you too can approach the state of glazed torpor of that happy businessman. Unless the light fixtures or wall hangings attack you first.

Words, words, words

You see, this is the kind of thing guaranteed to drive any foreigner crazy. Because you know, and I know, that "pato" is the Spanish for "duck". We are supposed to believe that the ducks have their own palace? I have my doubts; honestly, I do. My personal theory is that this apparent "municipal sign" will later be revealed to be a piece of performance art perpetrated by the city of Granada as a kind of passive-aggressive act of revenge on the foreign tourists to whom it owes its livelihood, and with whom it cultivates an ongoing love-hate relationship.

Alternatively, it could be like Venice in the old times when there was the palace of the duck and the palace of the dog (my Italian is a bit rusty).

Who is this fine fellow? ¡Why, it is Ozzy, the bear of liquorice! For a long time, the word "regaliz" gave me trouble, as it seems to come from nowhere, with no clue at all as to its meaning. Then, last week, when I finally made the realization (¡duh!) that "Argel" is Spanish for "Algeria", "regaliz" suddenly made more sense to me. If you think about it, all the liquorice consonant sounds are there, just randomly jumbled to confuse non-native speakers. I really wish they wouldn't do that.

Other random word-related musings.
Words I like: musulmán, for moslem; pájaro carpintero, for woodpecker ; okupa, for squatter.

Words I dislike: paloma, for pigeon. Who do they think they are kidding? Everyone knows that paloma means dove. To extend its meaning to include flying vermin is an insult to doves the word over.

Things I found out the hard way this week: the phrase for "breast cancer" is not "cancer de pechuga". It is "cancer de mama" (no accents in that last word). And if you are tempted to double up on the second 'm' (as I was), remember the rule of Caroline.

Water Music

Earlier this week, I had a minor epiphany. Thinking back to the situation where I have had the most success in life mastering a foreign language, I realized it was as a teenager in Germany. The breakthrough came after about 6 weeks, when I just woke up one day and vowed that I was simply going to speak at all costs, and not worry too much about the correctness of what I was saying (after all, that's presumably how we do it as kids - nobody really teaches us the rules). So I've started to do the same thing here. Furthermore, I've added the condition that I will force myself to overcome my natural reticence (yes, folks, I am an introvert, thought not hugely so) and make a conscious effort to talk to strangers, whether it be to ask for help, exchange pleasantries about the weather, or just engage in general meaningless chit-chat.

It's amazing what a difference this can make. Obviously, some interactions are more successful than others. But I've gone from being served with the kind of sullen neglect, bordering on rudeness, Spanish waitresses manage to inflict on most tourists to being greeted with an ¡hola!, a big smile, and free vocabulary lessons in the restaurant where I eat lunch most days. Similarly, I've learned that the previously eternally bored-looking woman, Inma, stationed at the counter in the internet café/grocery store, spent six months in Killarney last year with her boy-friend (the competent helpful guy - see earlier entries on "laws of the internet café"), and they are both crazy about all things Irish. And I'm due back at Hannigan's (not to be confused with Flanagan's, because there is one of them as well) Irish pub tomorrow night, because I've been roped in as a member of what has been described as a "killer" pub quiz team. (I explained that I would be no good whatsoever on sports questions, but apparently that's already covered).

About 6:30 last night (Saturday), I was exploring the narrow alleys of the Albaicin (the area of the city by the Alhambra). Without particularly meaning to, I found I had made it pretty much to the top of the hill, to what seemed to be the bus parking lot for the Alhambra itself. Seeing a sign for the "Manuel de Falla cultural center", I followed it. Very few people arround, but there was a terraced area from which I had a great view of the city, and the Sierra Nevada behind me. I walked around a bit more, and was getting ready to go back down into the city, when I spotted three guys, who appeared to be maintenance men taking a cigarette break outside what seemed to be the entrance to the main auditorium, which was visibly deserted. A week earlier, I would have nodded to them neutrally and gone my way. But I obeyed my new policy and forced myself to ask a question: "¿Hay concertos aquí?", which seemed like a pretty safe bet for an auditorium named for De Falla.

Turns out that not only are there concerts almost every night, there was one last night. Again, with my usual bone-headed pessimism, I thought to myself that it would surely be sold out. But the little voice said, "it can't help to ask, dummy". So I did: "there wouldn't be any tickets left for this evening, though?" At which all three went into this elaborate pantomime of denial, indicating that "sí, sí", there would be tickets, and that all I had to do was come back to the taquilla (little excursion as they took me over to show me where the taquilla was) after 8pm (further little pantomime with watch hands) to snag a ticket for that night's concert at 9pm. The zoos "Budapest", "Tchaikovsky" and "agua" kept coming up a lot, so I had some idea of what the program might involve.

Well, at that point, it would have been churlish not to come back, right?
(to be continued)