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La copla

juanito valderrama

One of Juanito Valderrama’s best known songs is El Emigrante, written in 1949. His son, a singer known simply as Valderrama, is the first singer to appear in the video.

The Spanish copla is pop or folk music that reached its peak popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s music that would be recognized by most Spanish adults—sometimes with nostalgia, as in the case of some of our acquaintances in their 50s who explained that la copla was music their mothers sang in the kitchen.

See and hear a modern take on El emigrante, a copla in the voice of an emigrant—of which there were millions in the years after the Spanish civil war (1936-1939)—promising to never forget his beloved Spain.

(My apologies for not giving the the artists and musicians due credit. The video came to me with no information.)


Algunas fotos de la primer parte de noviembre

Menuda chorrada

Saturday's visit to the Moroccan barber who speaks French, Arabic, Spanish and English. Unfortunately, he and Lou agreed that Lou is personlizing his hairstyle with a tail.

Saturday’s visit to the Moroccan barber (married to an American) who speaks French, Arabic, Spanish and English.

Lou came home this week with a few Spanish swear words rolling off his tongue, so we know the immersion thing is working.

I also learned a new palabrota by reading the comments section of an online Spanish newspaper. At the end of a news story about ISIS propaganda referring to modern-day Andalucía as “the lost Islamic paradise of Al-Andalus,” a number of people left ignorant, facile, and xenophobic comments about terrorism and Muslims. Finally a commenter interjected “bullshit” (menuda chorrada).

And with that I’d like to share this statement published by travel writer Rick Steves following the terrorist attacks in Paris as a kind of anti-menuda chorrada.

After Friday’s horrifying events in Paris, as we keep the victims and their families in our prayers and marvel at how violent hatred can express itself, it’s natural for those of us with travels coming up to wonder what is the correct response. Let me share my thoughts:

I have two fundamental concerns: what is safe, and what is the appropriate response to terrorism.

About safety, I believe this is an isolated incident. Tomorrow Paris will be no more dangerous than it was the day before that terrible Friday the 13th. I also believe that security in Paris and throughout Europe will be heightened in response to this attack. Remember: There’s an important difference between fear and risk.

About the right response to terrorism, I believe we owe it to the victims of this act not to let the terrorist win by being terrorized. That’s exactly the response they are hoping for. Sure, it’s natural for our emotions to get the best of us. But, especially given the impact of sensational media coverage, we need to respond intelligently and rationally.

In 2004, Madrid suffered a terrorist bombing in its Metro, which killed 191 and injured 1,800. In 2005, London suffered a similar terrorist bombing in its Tube system, killing 52 and injuring 700. These societies tightened their security, got the bad guys, and carried on. Paris will, too.

I’m sure that many Americans will cancel their trips to Paris (a city of 2 million people) or the rest of Europe (a continent of 500 million people), because of an event that killed about 150. As a result, ironically, they’ll be staying home in a country of 320 million people that loses over 30,000 people a year (close to 100 people a day) to gun violence.

Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Paris, the victims, and their loved ones. And it remains my firmly held belief that the best way for Americans to fight terrorism is to keep on traveling.


“World heritage, don’t step on it.”

I knew I was missing something in my translation when I posted this image earlier: “patrimonio de la humanidad” refers to the Albaicín’s status, along with the Alhambra and Generalife, as a World Heritage site. Such a clever note writer might have wanted to remind passerby of UNESCO’s recent warning to Granada that the city is not in compliance with its promise to protect (and keep clean) its historical sites, in particular the Albaicín neighborhood.

Why is dog poop in the street such a problem? First, people don’t have yards. When dogs need to go, they go in the street. Second, there are obviously people who just don’t care about picking up (because they are too busy tending to their dreads, says our landlord, but the problem is bigger than free-range hippies). I think it would help if Spaniards stopped calling it buena suerte—a vestige of WWI or WWII, when intact animal droppings signaled an absence of landmines and therefore “good luck”—and just call it what it is.

A fantastic word for street cleaner, according to my dictionary, is barrenderoabarrendera, although for obvious reasons it looks like it gets shortened to barrendero in actual use. For fun listen to the full audio pronunciation.

Sol y sol

When pomegranates ripen on the tree, they split open like natural bird feeders. These came from our landlords' tree.

When pomegranates ripen on the tree, they split open like natural bird feeders. These came from our landlords’ tree.

It’s been a pretty good week for the three of us. A highlight was joining our landlords for “brunch” on their patio with nearly a dozen of their accomplished and interesting friends and concluding hours later with a sunset stroll. We mostly didn’t see Lou during this time because he was inside playing with a couple of slightly older Spanish kids and surviving on sweet crepes and cereal because feeding the children a proper meal didn’t seem to be very much on anyone’s mind. Pete and I asked ourselves in wonder: “Are we really here doing this?”

Looking toward the Albaicín

Looking toward the Albaicín

Today the sun rose in a cloudless sky and once again we benefited from its amazing laundry-drying and mood-elevating power. We borrowed a third bike and tried out a trail known locally as the “ruta de colesterol” for its easy flatness terminating, just a few kilometers out of the city, at a full-service restaurant.


Nothing makes a sunrise or a bank of clouds or a Tuesday afternoon interesting like mountain peaks.  Mountain peaks also make us eager to become People Who Hike.

Last weekend we tried a gentle route leaving from the small town of Monachil, southeast of Granada.

Today we were invited to go on a hike just north of Granada with our landlord and his dog, ending at a campground where his wife was part of a group (including parents we recognized from school) putting on a theatre and music performance for kids with autism. A Spanish friend of our landlords, who has lived all over the world including Connecticut and Manhattan, joined us with his British airbnb tenants. There was lots of conversation I could participate in, perfect weather for hiking, amazing views, and a professional quality performance that made everyone happy.

Un sistema de salud

I left the U.S. an unhappy healthcare “customer.” I had recently been prescribed a medication for a minor but ongoing skin condition and, after paying for an office visit and labs out of pocket (because deductibles for our healthy family are so high), I learned that insurance would not allow me to fill the prescription beyond a 30-day supply unless I paid full price. Even if I’d been willing to pay, it turned out the doctor wasn’t going to renew the prescription without me repeating labs and an office visit every six months.

So today we walked to the nearest Centro de Salud, which happens to be across from Lou’s school, and learned that I could make an appointment for a medical consult within the next couple of days for $45. However, we were advised to start with a visit to a pharmacy because maybe they could fill the prescription I already had.

Sure enough, Pete presented my case to a pharmacist, handed over the prescription bottle, and after a brief discussion I paid $6 for a month’s supply.

It sounds too easy, doesn’t it? The pharmacist didn’t even ask for my ID! But the medication is an inocuous one, and I have experienced none of the potential side effects in the three months I’ve been taking it. I don’t know why exactly the drug costs nearly 20 times more in the U.S. than it does in Spain, but I can guess that the higher cost of an office consult in the U.S. has to do with high administrative costs related to insurance and the high salary of a specialized doctor (plus a little for free Keurig coffee, cable TV, and tasteful decorating in the office waiting room). Pete wondered if the U.S. doctor’s requirement that I repeat labs and office visits was some kind of CYA in the unlikely event that I did experience a serious side effect.

It’s worth underscoring that I did not take up a doctor’s valuable time with an unnecessary consult or put any other burden on the health care system here. In this instance, I think the Spanish system — including a for-profit pharmacy — worked the way a health care system should.