Monthly Archives: January 2016


placas-tectonicasToday I felt my first earthquake tremor. Even though I was pretty sure that’s what it was, it made my heart pound.

One week ago, around 5:30am, there was a six-point something earthquake under the Alboran Sea, right between Spain and Morocco. Some buildings in Morocco and along the Spanish coast experienced cracks and other light damage. Today, there were smaller earthquakes in the same area, including the one I felt around 5:30pm that registered 4.5 on the Richter scale.

The locals I’ve talked to say there are small earthquakes every few years, and that new buildings are constructed to withstand tremors.





mapa de andalucíaYesterday we visited the historic center of the city of Córdoba, about two hours northwest of Granada.

Phoenicians were the first civilized people to rule what is now Córdoba, then Romans, then Christian Visigoths, then Muslims from Syria who established a caliphate, which I think was on par with setting up a second Pope and Vatican.

In 785 the caliph from Syria began construction of a mosque. First he tore down a 6th century church. Then he oriented the new mosque not toward Mecca, as dictated by the Koran, but toward Damascus. Over the next several hundred years—in spite of threats from Christians and more pious/literal Muslims from North Africa—the caliphate remained intact and the mosque was expanded three times.

Then, in 1236, a Catholic king took control of Córdoba and swiftly went about changing most things Muslim (ban on bullfights? canceled!). He also forced Jews and Muslims to convert and/or leave or be killed.

Rather than tear down the mosque, however, the conquering king and later the locals (in conflict with the Pope), believed that the beauty of the mosque was too precious to destroy. So the mosque was consecrated as a Catholic church and, in 1523—when there was finally money available, thanks to gold and silver coming in from the New World—work began to build a proper Catholic cathedral within the existing structure.

Today the entire historic center of Córdoba is a World Heritage Site, dominated by the world’s largest cathedral (by square feet), which plenty of people still refer to as a mezquita, or mosque.



Os pongo al día sobre el cole

It was Lou's turn to be part of the clean-up team during recess, when kids eat the late-morning snack they bring from home (typically a small sandwich and a juice box or carton of milk).

Look who’s turn it was for recess clean-up crew!

Last week we talked to Lou’s teacher—or rather she talked to us for 45 minutes. She remindered us that she’s been a teacher for 35 years. Y ya está. And there you have it.

I also happened to talk to a couple of parents who are helping facilitate interactive learning groups. I love what I hear! Once a week, across all grades, kids split into groups of four to work on four assignments, each for 15 minutes. They rotate among adults who are there to support participation by everyone and to ask questions if the kids get stuck (adults do not explain things or give or judge answers). One assignment in Lou’s class was to read a short piece out loud about a kid who broke something at home and whose parents yelled at him. Rather than answer strict reading comprehension questions, the kids responded to questions such as “What do your parents do when you break something? If they yell at you, how does it make you feel? What do you think is a good response when someone accidentally breaks something?” One of the kids answered “I don’t have parents,” which rightfully made the other group members pause. Although they’ve probably heard that this boy lives in foster care, they might not have stopped to think about what it must be like for a second-grader to not live with a mom or dad (wow, right?). In the end, the mother who facilitated said she thought the activity helped build empathy and camaraderie in addition to critical thinking skills.

I too have gotten to spend time in Lou’s class. Because the lone English teacher isn’t able to teach across all grades, a fourth grade classroom teacher has responsibility for the lowest grades; I’m now helping her once a week in both second grade classes (English is taught for 45 minutes three times a week). The teacher relies heavily on ELL songs and a workbook with audio recordings, so I’ve been trying to draw on my language teaching experience to add value. After two activities that went well, I created an activity that was too hard and poorly designed, but the kids did their best and had good attitudes. It was especially gratifying to see kids known for having behavior problems work on something in a focused way (especially something kind of frustrating!) and show pride in what they created. Next time *I’ll* do better.


El desayuno

el desayunoAround Granada, the standard breakfast—or second breakfast at a cafe, between 10am and 11:30am— is a cafe con leche and toast. Why second breakfast? Because your first breakfast might only be a cafe con leche, and breakfast has to get you all the way to lunch, which is at 2pm or 3pm.*

Toast can usually be ordered a few different ways:

— wheat or white

— half or whole

— plain, or with grated tomato, or serrano ham, or tomato and cheese (in all cases most people add olive oil and salt); there’s also butter and jam, which is without a doubt a concession to tourists

* Most people including school kids have nothing going between 2pm and 4pm except lunch. Almost no one is running errands on their lunch hour hours because the only things open between 2pm and 5:30pm are places serving food, major supermarkets, corner convenience stores, and “chinos.” What is a “chino” other than a rude conflation of a person and a thing? It’s a store run by Chinese stocking just about anything you might need that can be shipped on a container from China and sold, in most cases, for less than five euros (e.g. fishing line, posterboard, counterfeit Pokémon cards, spray paint, slippers, clothes drying racks, salad spinners, rag rugs woven with acrylic fabric, cheese graters that rust, and plug adapters that fail immediately).

Qué suerte de vivir en el Albaicín

IMG_2219It’s impossible to know what it will really be like to live in a particular place until you try it.

Our original priorities for this year in a Spanish-speaking country were: safety; sunny, Mediterranean climate; getting Lou into a public school; living in a beautiful place with cultural amenities; and affordable housing in a not-too-big city where we didn’t need a car. That’s a looong wish list that doesn’t match up with any American city that I can think of.

And yet we have those things in Granada—and more. Below is a clunky list meant to paint a picture of some of the other things we appreciate about living here.

  • Kids at Lou’s school play hard, and it shows. While the older kids probably pay attention to some soccer shoe or hoodie trend, no one comes to school in precious outfits. The kids are also leaner than the Spanish average*—probably from having gym class outside twice a week, plus a half hour recess every day (more if they stay for cafeteria). And most of them live within walking distance of school, which means they’re also using their feet to go other places because it’s easier to walk than to drive in the Albaicín. (*One estimate counts 45% of Spanish kids and teens as being overweight. Whatever the actual number, I’m certain it’s lower than the U.S. rate of excess weight.)
  • Families at Lou’s school come in all shapes and sizes. There are plenty of only children (which didn’t stop his teacher from twice saying “Only child? It shows.” Tongue cluck understood.) There are families with three or four kids. There are single mothers. There are parents sharing custody. There are at least two lesbian couples raising kids (one American family, one Spanish). There is at least one kid in foster care. What isn’t there, perhaps because of the same kind of geographic self-selection that happens in the U.S., is racial and ethnic diversity.
  • There’s a strong tradition of parent involvement at Lou’s school. Several years ago the parent association saved the in-school cafeteria from extinction, negotiated with suppliers to bring in organic produce and meat, and became the operation’s fiscal agent and manager. Parent committees also regularly organize special programming like community building events.
  • Last year the school started rolling out an effort (promoted across schools by the regional government) to become a “community of learning.” Among other things this means teachers are now starting to draw on the talents and interests of parents and other community members to facilitate more interactive, relevant, student-led learning in the classroom (that’s the lofty goal, anyway).
  • Because the Albaicín is a difficult place to live for people who need to drive to a job every day, there is a higher-than-average number of people who work from home or have variable schedules (musicians, singers, dancers, writers, artists and graphic designers, translators, property managers, healers, and people who work in IT). We benefit from living among the educated, creative class.
  • There are a lot of hippies or people living “alternative lifestyles”** in the Albaicín and neighboring Sacromonte area, and it’s not unusual to catch a whiff of pot smoke. There are a lot of foreigners—some highly transient, like tourists or young people passing through for a few days or a few months, some like us, and some who are more or less permanent. We know many people who speak more than one language, many families where one or both parents is not Spanish, and many families that have lived or traveled abroad. There’s a community of European Muslims (they refer to themselves as converts) who send their kids to the public school and worship at a nearby mosque and center of learning built in 2003. All of these examples speak to and reinforce what I perceive as a strong tolerance for different ways of life in the Albaicín. (** I don’t even know what alternative means, except being unable or unwilling to work for The Man.)
  • There are older people in the Albaicín, and we see them—men as well as women—shopping or talking with friends and neighbors in plazas and at cafes. Having opportunities to stay socially connected in old age looks very appealing. That said, it’s certain these older folks are long-time or lifelong residents, because no one with reduced or limited mobility would choose to move here.
  • There are enough people who care about eating well to support several neighborhood eco-tiendas selling organic and locally-grown or artesanal products. We are trying to patronize the one that opened at the end of our street in November.
  • Many Albaicineros have told us that the Albaicín is like a small town, distinct enough from the rest of the city that residents might specify “I’m going to Granada” when they walk down to the city center. It’s true that we see people we know or recognize all the time—partly because we’re all out on the street walking places. It’s also true that news travels fast, especially within the school community. When I was setting up a play date for Lou with a Spanish kid, two other Spanish moms knew about it before Pete did!
  • Granada is a university town, and has been for more than a 1,000 years. We can feel the vitality brought to the city by thousands of young adults interested in learning and experiencing life. That many of them will struggle to find professional work in Spain and earn a middle class living is another story.
  • I’m convinced people do more socializing here. The mild climate helps. The fact that people are on the street and able to have spontaneous encounters helps. The Spanish tradition of la fiesta helps. And it seems like people tend to move in wider social circles and to organize more get togethers and vacations for groups, which keeps gatherings interesting and makes it easier to keep up with a whole network of friends.
  • The people we’ve interacted with have been friendly and welcoming, not just to us but to other foreigners we know. Recently I eavesdropped on a conversation between some backpackers from Galícia (the Spanish province north of Portugal) and an outgoing guy from Morocco, and they all agreed that people in southern Spain are generally warmer, friendlier and more open than in Madrid or northern Spain.

We got lucky.