Author Archives: ellentveit



The eastern side of Gibraltar, looking north toward the Spanish Costa del Sol

Here are some facts about Gibraltar.

It definitely looks like it should be part of Spain, but it is not. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 made Gibraltar part of England and, although this causes ongoing tension with Spain, The Rock continues to function as a British Overseas Territory. Gibraltar’s 30,000+ residents mostly seem to favor the status quo.

You can see why Gibraltar is both strategic and controversial.

Crossing into Gibraltar from Spain is like going to Tijuana from California. There’s a lot of traffic back and forth for work and shopping and, if you look like your trench coat is packed with less highly-taxed cartons of cigarettes from Gibraltar that you plan to sell in Spain, you will probably be stopped.





Thgibraltar-mape Rock is a big piece of limestone that was pushed up from a former lakebed at a 45-degree angle. (The lake dried up and then much later water flowed from the Atlantic over Gibraltar in a massive cascade to fill the space that became the Mediterranean Sea.) The western, gentle-slope side of The Rock is home to the majority of Gib’s residents, its port, and other businesses, and the eastern side has two small beach settlements, all totaling about 2.6 square miles. The eastern side is also where a water catchment area was built to capture rainwater (The Rock does not have its own source of freshwater, and piping water in from Spain is not an option). Today, however, Gibraltar gets most of its potable water from costly desalinization plants and uses saltwater for flushing toilets.


(Picture from a Wikipedia page on the Levant wind)

When moist wind blowing west across the Mediterranean hits the 426 meter/1,398 foot rock, it often generates a dry cloud that appears trapped in place. The levante, as the cloud is called, was with us for all three days of our visit, even when it was sunny.



Gibraltar's port, looking toward the Port of Algeciras (Spain), one of Europe's biggest.

View from the apartment where we stayed, looking toward Algeciras (Spain), one of Europe’s biggest ports.

The Rock is only 15 kilometers/9 miles from Morocco and offers 180-degree visibility to traffic coming from both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It has always been a strategic location and was possibly the last home of Neanderthals moving north from Africa. It became even more strategic and defensible when the British added cannon batteries all around the point and, during WWII, started tunneling out The Rock to house bomb shelters, hospitals, and munitions and equipment depots. (Gibraltar was one of two possible launch points for British and American forces into French North Africa; in the end Operation Torch launched from Malta.) Today, tunnels inside The Rock are used for military training and to house massive private servers for online gaming in Europe (tax haven, comparably lax banking regulations, blah blah blah).

The official language of Gibraltar is English, but most Gibraltarians are bilingual and tend to speak a mix of Spanish and English called llanito. Both Pete and I had experiences where the conversation started in one language and ended up in the other, or was a mix throughout, or sounded like it was translated from Spanish into English. The friends we were with said Gibraltarians or Llanitos often speak a very correct kind of English with a British accent, and street-Spanish with an Andalusian accent. There are other languages spoken, too, by immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Malta (historically), and by the relatively large Jewish population.

And there are monkeys. Barbary macaques, to be exact, that live in an open-zoo environment in a nature reserve on top of The Rock. See one here (0:14 sec).

Looking down the so-called Mediterranean steps, on the eastern side of The Rock

Looking down the so-called Mediterranean Steps, on the eastern side of The Rock

Un segundo año


Lou and I were invited to join some Spanish families for a picnic on Sunday (unfortunately Pete missed out because he’s back in the U.S. working). Don’t be fooled — there were many other picnickers in this popular park near Granada, plus a group of people doing a professional photo shoot with dogs (!!).

Many times over the past few months I’ve wanted to post something here, and didn’t. Finally the urge to write has overcome distractedness and busyness and the lazy lure of the New York Times.

We are more than a month into our second year in Granada, and I write that with disbelief and precocious nostalgia. Time seems to be passing so quickly.

Year two has been different from the moment we touched down in Spain. All the energy we put into figuring out how things worked and where necessities were last year is going, this year, into venturing beyond the center of Granada and looking for more ways to feel at home. Our neighborhood and school community now feel as small as they’ve likely always been, so out of boredom we’ve been walking different routes—lucky for us, the Albaicín is a warren of streets. Soon after we arrived I walked into an eyeglasses shop and ordered new frames and lenses with a confidence I simply wasn’t able to muster last year. And recently I took the bus to a big grocery store that I had previously avoided, thinking it sounded too “American” (I am shaking my head at my own silliness); lo, I can get fresh cilantro and hot peppers and black beans and cheddar cheese anytime I want. Lou, under loving pressure from his parents, is taking a hip hop dance class where he doesn’t know anyone. Tonight I’m starting a year-long Spanish class, which meant hiring a babysitter and thinking through how to bike across the city, among other things.

I’ve also thrown myself into organizing at school: hiking club, parent volunteers for English classes, and the thankfully now superfluous “hygiene team.” It’s become clear to me how much I need to feel relevant and a part of the community.*

What I call an identity crisis continues, but I’m trying to trust Spanish speakers to know that I’m not as socially clumsy, obvious, or slow to learn as I think I sound. I am a broken record: language learning as an adult is such a head game!

With a little perspective I’m able to appreciate how fortunate we are to face the good and sometimes fun challenges of living in Granada. All three of us are happy to be back.


*I now get in a more personal way why all adults need access to dignified employment.

Cuando el calor se nos eche encima

This month and into July, Granada is hosting an international festival of music and dance, with many performances al aire libre. “But what if it rains?” I asked an acquaintance back in April when tickets went on sale. “Oh, it won’t rain,” she said.

Since May the sky has been cloudless and sunny, and the average daily high temperature has been steadily climbing. Right now the temperature is 97F/36C. I believe that’s in the shade.

Thankfully Andalucians figured out long ago how to cope with the heat of summer.

  1. Chilled soup.
    There are two tomato-based, uncooked soups eaten throughout Andalucía as well as in other parts of Spain. Gazpacho is the original vitamin-packed, garlic-flavored smoothie, served in a glass with ice cubes or in a bowl like a traditional soup. Salmorejo is made with significantly more breadcrumbs than gazpacho and without green peppers and cucumber, and it’s typically garnished with hardboiled egg and bits of jamón.
  2.  Sangría and tinto de verano and ice cold beer served in small glasses
    Sangría is chilled wine sweetened with cut up fruit; I had a red version with cinnamon and it was delicious. Tinto de verano is chilled red wine mixed with a sweet carbonated drink like 7-Up—it can be bought pre-mixed in 2-liter plastic bottles.
  3. Abanicosabanico-mexuar
    Collapsible, hand-held fans are too practical to leave just to the tourists.
  4. White buildings with thick walls made of hollow bricks, tile floors, and wooden blinds on the outside of windows
    The buildings in our neighborhood are almost all white, which mostly has to do with historic preservation but also means those buildings reflect sunlight and heat (all those white surfaces on a sunny day can also make the world painfully bright). Hollow bricks and stucco exteriors allow buildings to breathe, something we mostly notice in the winter when the house breathes in humidity and cold. If we keep the awning open over our walled-in patio, keep outside blinds closed, and close windows completely when the sun is shining on them, the house stays remarkably cool even when it’s super hot outside.
  5. Siesta
    In Granada the majority of businesses follow a siesta schedule year round, closing between 2pm and 5pm or 5:30pm. In the summer siesta is a near-sacred time when people rest if they can.

Quien no arriesga, no gana

My friend Liz, who has lived as an expat several times, recently mused about why living abroad is so conducive to having adventures and why we don’t have more of them on our home turf.

“Is it inertia?” she asked. “Or high overhead? job-related fatigue? exhausting infrastructure?”

Yes, times four.

It’s also worth noting that adventure is defined as “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks.” I can’t imagine myself taking risks at home the way I have done in Spain—risks that lead to moments of discomfort and vulnerability and frustration and loneliness and self-doubt and pride and self-confidence and resilience and bliss. When I feel especially uncomfortable—feeling tongue-tied during three and a half hours (!!) of small talk in Spanish with moms at a kid’s birthday party, as just one example—I try to remember that the bigger the risk, the bigger the potential payout.

N.B At that same three and a half hour birthday party, I traded phone numbers with the mother of a sweet boy Lou is getting to know through their shared love of Legos and science experiments. Yesterday the mother texted me to see if her son could come to our house to play while she attends a work meeting—my hours of wanting to be anywhere but at that party were not in vain!

Vía verde en Cadíz

It’s a six or seven year-long tradition at Lou’s school for a group of parents to organize an overnight trip to explore one of Spain’s vía verdes, or disused railroad tracks that have been ripped up and turned into bike paths. We’re lucky that this year’s trip (May 14 – 15) was on possibly the most beautiful vía verde in Andalucía, under perfect weather conditions.

Cadiz via verdeThe trip started Saturday morning in Olvera, about a two-hour drive west of Granada. Our group of about 100 people, mostly on rented bikes, traveled 30 kilometers along a gentle decline (!!) through rolling hills and a preserve for black vultures, past wildflowers and pastures where fighting bulls are raised and trained, and through nearly a dozen tunnels. We ended with a coach transfer to our countryside hotel in Prado del Rey, where a bouncy house awaited the not-tired kids. We all had a lovely dinner together before retiring to our rooms or individual log cabins, and after a leisurely breakfast the next morning a big group of us went on a hike along a rushing river.

One of the three amazing (American!) organizers is a really good amateur videographer — see the video he created (2:36) for an idea of what the trip was like.

Ibiza y Formentera

España IbizaLast week we had the pleasure of spending time with Pete’s aunt and uncle at the puig, what they call the hilltop vacation home Pete’s uncle and seven friends built on the island of Ibiza in the early 1970s. We ate some really good meals; listened to Pete’s uncle order meals and chat with the neighbors in Catalan,* which is closely related to the local dialect called Eivissenc (ibicenco in Spanish); and oohed and ahhed over one cove and beach after another. I also became fascinated with jellyfish, which it turns out are like cockroaches of the sea, only venomous (I do not regret the 45 minutes I spent watching Attack of the Giant Jellyfish).

The picture gallery below does not include unflattering images of Ibiza or sunburned, overstuffed tourists or extremely attractive 20-somethings looking forward to a foam party DJ’d by David Guetta at Amnesia or Privilege, nor does it include pictures of Jane and Luis or the friends they invited to the puig, or my entire collection of jellyfish pictures.

*Catalan is a language spoken in Catalunya, a region bordered by France and the Mediterranean where there has been political activity to promote separation from Spain. Valenciano (spoken in Valencia, the region south of Catalunya) and Mallorquín (spoken on the islands of Mallorca and Menorca) are dialects of Catalan. Gallego, spoken in far northwestern Spain, is another language. And in the Basque region there’s Euskera, which is a “language isolate.” This means it doesn’t seem to have any lingusitic relatives (unlike Catalan, which is like a mashup of Spanish, French and Latin). Euskera has its own handful of dialects. All this in a country the size of Texas!