Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jingle Bells (C)Rock

So I heard from Kenny a few hours ago that my family has returned safely to the United States. I am grateful they made it back without any problems, delays, cancellations or radical Nigerian terrorists; God knows they did not have such luck on their voyage to my side of the pond. While no one had attempted to thwart their flight via complicated syringe-bombs, they did have to deal with several delays, a canceled flight, and to top it all off, the airline lost their luggage. Despite the difficulty they faced in order to get to Spain, once they arrived everything got exponentially better.

Given the fact that they missed a flight, we decided to head straight to Autol, my town, immediately instead of spending one evening Logroño. Our timing could not have been better, however, because before we even stepped foot into my apartment we were cheerfully greeted in the hallway by my landlord and his children with their families. It just so happened to be his wife’s birthday and they were preparing a massive lunch celebration. Of course we were invited.
So before my family could soak in my new hometown or even shower, they were tossed into the ridiculous and overwhelming tornado shit-show that is the Spanish birthday lunch. I was fortunate enough to know what to expect. I was fully aware that we were to be presented with numerous appetizers, a variety of main courses and, most certainly, countless desserts. Did I mention that it was Christmas Eve? That means that in addition to each of the visitors bringing a desert from home, which they of course would because they are going to a birthday lunch, these women have been preparing sweets for Christmas-they were most likely pulling baked goodies out of the oven earlier that afternoon.

While I was confident that the lunch to go down in this manner, my family was not prepared to say the least.

In addition to surely feeling a little out of place, being in a Spanish family’s home just after meeting them for a big birthday fiesta and not speaking the language and all, Kenny, Virg and Clay were immediately bombarded with foreign and exotic food. We literally sat down and ate for about a 3 hours. The next day my dad recounted what we ate and we realized that in a 24 hour period we had literally eaten more than 10 different kinds of animals. Afterward we decided to walk it off, so I showed them my town. I took them by the school and into the old part of Autol, where we ran into some of my students. I then took them to Picuezo Park, which is still beautiful to me. That evening-after the necessary siesta-I took them bar hopping, which of course is customary on Christmas Eve in Spain. We had a really good time, I got to show them my favorite watering holes and they were constantly being greeted and welcomed by the locals, who were openly enthusiastic about the quadrupling of Americans in Autol as well as intrigued by the similarities between Clay and I.

On Christmas morning I gave them some presents (mine were still in their luggage, probably in Amsterdam). I had got my dad an authentic bota-the traditional cow skin sack you drink wine out of. Rob has one. This bota, however, was made by hand by an old man who has been doing it for decades and lives in a small nearby town of about 2000 people named Quel. I had bought my mom a Palestinian-style scarf in Granada along with an olive oil pourer. For Clay, a small bota covered in bull hair and an Islamic proverb painting I had found in Granada. That afternoon I cooked them lunch, which was quite tasty, and then we joined Carlos (my landlord) and his family in their bodega for drinks and desert.

The next morning we set off for Pamplona, which brought back cool memories for me since I was there last summer for the San Fermin Festival. I even walked them along the route of the bull run, which was a cool experience. We later had drinks and pinchos at Tkoko, a bar that Ernest Hemingway used to frequently visit.

Our last stop was San Sebastian for two nights. We could not have picked a better place to end the trip; I am fairly certain that San Sebastian is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is a centuries-old port city with some of the most stunning beaches in Europe and, given the amount of wealth that exists in the city, the architecture is fancy and excellent. Words to not do San Sebastian justice, so pictures will be posted on Facebook soon (for family, I will e-mail my parents the pictures and have them send them out to everyone). Moreover, let us not leave out the fact that this wonderful city is also one of the culinary capitals in the world. For the past 5 years 2 restaurants in San Sebastian have been listed in the top ten restaurants in the world-food is an art to these people. And given that it is a city with a pinchos culture, we were able to try just about anything we wanted. (Again, a ‘pincho’ is a small, individual serving of food that you get for about 1-2 euro, many bars have as many as 15 out on display for you to choose from). In fact, there really isn’t anything not to like about San Sebastian, unless you have something against beauty, seafood, or funny hats.

All in all, my family and I had a really good time together. It had been the longest we had ever spent apart, and the fact that we got to experience Christmas from a different perspective in Spain made it more unique and special.

By the way, Kenny, Virg, and Clay still do not have their luggage, I just hope the airline wasn’t trying to send it back to Lafayette via Detroit on Christmas Day.
Hope everyone had a good Christmas and has a Happy New Years

Friday, December 18, 2009

Homemade Wine and White Roads

Aside from teaching at the local school I also teach private English lessons, that is how I make extra money for traveling and spending; I have 12 students. Among those 12 students 2 are from Georgia (not as in Atlanta). Their parents immigrated to Spain about 5 years ago in search of better financial opportunities. As as result, both kids-one named Jamal who is 11 and the other Saba who is 7-already speak 2 languages, Georgian and Spanish. However, their parents understand that learning English will drastically help their chances at making it in the world, so they hired me. They are super-friendly and each time I go to their home, they give me a cup of coffee and homemade cookies/bread/whatever. This past week I was chatting with their father (who I have only met twice in the past month of teaching his children because he usually works late) and he informed me that he has been upholding the Georgian custom of making homemade wine. He takes discarded or leftover grapes from the factory he works at and makes wine out of them. He proved this to me by showing me the 20-or-so 5-gallon jugs of wine in his storage room. The father proceeded to fill an old 2-liter coke bottle with wine telling me that if I ever were to run out, the family would provide me with free wine, in addition to the money they pay me to teach their children English...yuss

In other news, Spain is freezing over. A couple days ago, it snowed here in Autol, a rarity but something that is manifesting itself throughout the country. In fact, this weekend it is supposed to drop to about 10 degrees F. The snow makes the town take on a completely different appearance and the constant dodging of snowballs thrown by my students adds some adventure to my life.

Finally, my family will be arriving in Spain on Tuesday to spend Christmas with me...I am super excited about that.

pics from granada have been posted on facebook

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hookahs and Tapas

So I just returned from my long weekend, which I opted to spend in Granada. It was about a 5 hr bus ride to Madrid and another 5 hours to Granada, but hey, I had 6 days so why not? I had heard from many people that it is among the most beautiful places in Spain and my friend David and I had decided to go and meet up with our friend Matt, who was my roommate in Argentina and who now lives in Granada.
We ended up finding a hostel in the Albacín, the oldest neighborhood in the city. The interesting aspect about Granada is that there is a historical Arab presence there that has lasted since the Moors controlled that region of Spain about 1200 years ago, and this old neighborhood was where the Moors resided after they were conquered by Spain. As a result, at times it felt as if we were not in Spain at all, but rather in a Muslim land. The food has an Arab flare, there are hookah and tea cafes everywhere, gypsies line the narrow and worn streets selling cultural goodies and even the Spanish language has an Arabic touch to it. It’s very unique and equally interesting and awesome.
Additionally, Granada is famous for its tapas culture. In a nutshell, a tapa is free food that one receives when they order a drink, anywhere. So if you go to a bar, for example, and order a beer you get free food, which is about the size of an appetizer. But, if you stay at the same bar, each time you get a tapa (which is to say, each time you order a drink) it is a larger portion than the previous one. I felt like I was in heaven, I am pretty sure the tapas tradition is among my favorite things in the world. For the whole weekend, David and I spent money on food twice.
Aside from David, Matt and my adventures, David and I met a few Americans at our hostel, three girls in the same program as us, who were also in Granada for the first time. We spent most of our time together, even staying up all night on Sunday walking around the city and ultimately deciding to go the Alhambra-a Moorish palace that overlooks the city and which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain-at 5 am to wait in line to get tickets. That night we got 2 hrs of sleep before waking up and returning for the tour, which was incredible. This is after David and I had stayed up all night Saturday going to tapas bars and a club with people we had met and then deciding to go to the Mirador de San Nicolas in order to catch the sunrise. Needless to say, I am still exhausted, but it was well worth it. One of the best things about traveling is meeting fellow travelers and establishing friendships and contacts; I now have friends and places to stay in Toledo, Seville, and Madrid.
All in all, I am pretty certain that Granada is my favorite Spanish city and I would undoubtedly consider living there in the future. Given that there is an international university there, the city maintains a touristic presence (which can be a plus at times and a minus at times) yet successfully preserves its historical roots, both Spanish and Arab.

Pics will be posted next week on facebook