Here’s a long video tour of the sweet house we’re renting.
September is the month of the Virgen of the Angustias, patron saint of Granada (and anguished virgin). On September 15, Granadinos and others from around the province lined up for blocks to make an ofrenda floral at the basilica.
The festivities continued at the end of the month with a special market featuring autumn fruits like figs, quince, and mini pomegranates*, and today there was a religious procession accompanied by marching bands around the center of the city.
I’m sure there were many people in the crowds for whom the religious aspect of these events was important. But the vibe I got was more civic tradition and an opportunity to see and be seen.
* “Granada” in Spanish means “pomegranate”
Last week I spent my mornings in Spanish class, and among other things that gave us access to an excellent guided excursion to La Alpujarra, a collection of small villages in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains.
The Alpujarra was originally settled by Romans, and later occupied by Visigoths from northern Europe who invaded the Iberian peninsula in the 5th century. In the late 15th century, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel decided that even Moriscos (Muslims they’d forced to convert to Catholicism) were a security risk because of their possible affiliation with Ottoman Turks, the monarchs pushed the Moriscos out of greater Granada up into the mountains. Thousands of Galicians from northern Spain were also resettled in La Alpujarra to build up a Catholic presence.
We visited Lanjarón, Pampaneira, Trevélez, and Capileira.
Shopping at the outdoor market is so romantic and the fall produce looks so good and is so cheap that it’s easy to walk away with bags of tomatoes, peaches, plums, mangoes, potatoes, carrots, spinach, leeks, petite heads of lettuce…stuff that could easily make a fabulous meal, if only there were someone with a recipe and the time and the ganas (or desire) to do it. And isn’t that the aspirational, Spain-living me?
So far I’ve made zucchini gratin, espinacas con garbanzos and leek and chard tart. There was improvising and learning: dried garbanzos really do take three hours to cook; chard in Spain can be purchased chopped and prewashed in a plastic bag just like a salad mix; the tart would be better with the crust from this recipe rather than puff pastry. And there was gratitude for being able to live in a place where the Mediterranean diet is just the diet (and one that can easily be made vegetarian).
Since Lou started school 11 days ago, he has mostly dropped a well-established practice of telling us he doesn’t like foods based on appearance or preconception alone, and shown a willingness to try things (at home) and to take several bites of things he may or may not like (at school). We have the school lunch ladies to thank for this. They insist that kids eat half (or all?) of the first course before they are served the second course (courses!), and a certain amount has to be eaten before a child can go to recess and end the day by playing. Just this week Lou enjoyed spinach baked with cheese, some kind of fish, and lentils. He does not love gazpacho (a chilled and garlicky pureed tomato soup that has been a frequent first course), but he’s eating it and bracing for the seasonal change to salad, which he says he likes even less. A ver. We’ll see.
Flamenco is a genre of music and dance that comes from Andalucía. Although it’s strongly associated with gitanos or Roma people in Spain (think Gypsy Kings), the music has also been influenced by other cultures in the region.
The neighborhood adjacent to the Albaycín and even higher in the hills is called Sacromonte, and it’s known as a home to Roma people and to restaurants where you can see flamenco performances. We’re lucky to hear flamenco music almost every night from a plaza a few blocks away that has an incredible view of the Alhambra, and we’ve seen some really good street performers.
Andalucía, the southernmost region of Spain, takes its name from Al-Andalus, a territory and period of advanced culture (roughly 700 – 1500 AD) when Jews, Muslims and Christians lived and worked together and sought knowledge from scholars and translators as far away as Persia and Syria.
Things were going pretty well until 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel exiled all Jews unwilling to convert to Catholicism. The situation got even worse when Muslims were exiled seven years later. Although Jews and Muslims were mostly not allowed to take their material wealth with them—and sometimes not even their children, as in Portugal where Jewish children were kidnapped to be raised as Catholics—they did leave with their knowledge of medicine, pharmacology, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, horticulture, architecture, agriculture, water systems, and other subjects that contributed to a high quality of life in the region. Once the Muslims were gone, the Catholic church and Spanish monarchy wasted no time knocking down mosques or converting them to churches.
Physical evidence of the region’s layered history is preserved all over the Albaycín, and includes several Catholic churches with bell towers built on former minarets.
My reaction when we made our first supermarket visit was paralysis, as if fruit and vegetables and pasta and rice suddenly needed translation.
That strange feeling, plus being out of sync with the local schedule, plus having one picky eater and one vegetarian, meant our first few days were fueled by Special K, bread and cheese, and tapas and beer.
Now we’re getting the hang of things. We’ve found an American-style supermarket that is cheap, calm, and located just outside the Albaycín, so we’re guaranteed a workout carrying groceries back up the hill. And I’ve figured out that sugar is with the coffee, not the flour, and crackers are with the Melba toast, not the cookies. There’s a nice variety of foods, too, unlike the more limited choices we had in Argentina.
We’re a 12-minute walk from a plaza that hosts a daily produce market and is ringed by stores and cafes. Although I have to plan to get there between 9am and 1pm, the market is the best place to buy cheap, local fruits and vegetables so fresh they’re best eaten the same day.
In the streets around this same plaza are several bakeries, tiendas ecológicas selling organic and natural foods, at least one butcher shop and one fish market, and a handful of “supermarkets,” that is small stores that sell items in the same categories as the big supermarkets but with limited variety.
We’ve also treated ourselves to cheap Moroccan food (lentils, couscous and vegetable tajine, roast chicken) from some take out restaurants in the more touristy part of the Albaycín.
The way our landlord has emphasized that we can buy everything in the neighborhood makes me see that residents need to spend their euros locally or risk losing businesses, just like in any small town.