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.


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