Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mi Querida Granada

As Anna and I were on the flight from Santiago to Malaga...we didn't believe what was happening. When we arrived in Malaga and got a bus to Granada, it still hadn't quite hit us. On the public bus from the Granada bus station to the stop at la Catedral on Gran Via... things became truly surreal. The last time we wandered these checkerboard-decorated streets had been 2 years ago... how much has happened since then! I truly felt like I was so young the last time I set efoot in this city.

We had previously arranged to stay with Anna's old host family in Granada, so that was a fun experience in and of itself. While I stayed with good old Inma 2 years ago, who had no young kids, just a rowdy old dog, Anna's family has two young sons. It was enjoyable to get to know the family that Anna always spoken so well and lovingly about! Upon our arrival, Anna's host mom prepared us some hot homemade soup and talked to us late into the night. Felt like we were being welcomed right back home :) The generosity didn't stop there; Anna's host mom made us lunch all but one of the days that we were in Granada! (The day she didn't make us food was because we had arranged to go to my host mom's for lunch!)

We had a pretty full agenda in Granada... the most important order of business on the list: TAPAS. I wanted to drown in until I burst...death by tapas... Up in Galicia we have been tortured endlessly by a lack of tapas. What is this maltreatment? I order a beer and then I have to pay for food to accompany it? I'd like to call my lawyer. Of course, in Granada it is the complete opposite, where they give you so much food you eventually have to go home from being too full of food rather than too full of wine.

The first day in Granada, we went and visited our old program building! IES had not changed at all. The same doorman, the same freezing entryway, the same tiled walls, the same workers...the only things that had changed were the photos on the wall and the students lounging on the couches and the terrace. I envied them. Oh! But ONE of the photos in IES still demonstrated a blast from the past... there was a poster up for the upcoming futbol game taking place through IES, and featured on it were the futbol players from our year, including myself :) We had the opportunity to get coffee with Javier (the IES Granada of the kindest men alive!) and catch up on things. Afterwards Anna and I wandered around, particularly down the Moroccan tea streets where I got a huuuuuge dose of nostalgia. I don't know how many times I had walked down that main street, stopping at every other shop to gawk at the earrings while taking in the scent of various teas or incense.

That night began the first Tapas extravaganza. And it continued the next night...and the night after...and every night we were in Granada. Why the heck not?! Oh my gosh the pure delight of it all. I just calculated it, and we had 15 different tapas over the course of our time in Granada. Not bad! I was on a mission to take a picture of every tapa we ate, but of course I didn't do so well... most of the food was consumed before I even remembered to take my camera out. But! I did manage to capture some:
1. Spicy Chicken at POE

2. Sushi

3. Roscas, pasta salad, and patatas bravas at La Bella y la Bestia

4. Croquetas y pizza at the place right by my old home

5. Tortilla de patata

6. Carne en salsa at a place on Pedro Antonio I always went to

7. Albondigas at the same place

8. Meatball type thing at a Moroccan bar

9. Hamburguesa at Nido de buho :D

The next morning was another milestone in our Granada journey... we were returning to the Alhambra for a full tour! We were fortunate to have awesome weather on this particular day, although in reality the sun didn't stop shining the whole time we were in Granada!...minus the last day. The weather must have been crying due to our departure heehee :P ANYWAY. We went back to the Alhambra!! Although I remember very little detail about the history of each room and site we saw, the nostalgia rushed back nonetheless. What a beautiful frickin' palace... Anna and I couldn't help remarking about how essentially every picture we had took this time around was the exact duplicate of pictures we'd taken 2 years earlier. I could definitely note a difference in my camera quality this time around though! OOh, also, there was a room (palacio de los leones) in the Alhambra that was being restored 2 years ago when we were in Granada, and it was finally finished so we got to see it! Well, I don't think I need to say much more about the Alhambra. It was magical, beautiful, breathtaking, nostalgic, heart-warming, and so on. I will make a note that we went to the Generalife, and it was a bit sad since none of the flowers had bloomed yet! But it still had its encanto.

(Note: I felt so whimsical and fairylike in La Alhambra that I went a little crazy with the filters on my camera...You will quickly notice.)

After La Alhambra, Anna and I made our way back to Plaza Nueva, where we slowly meandered toward my host mother's apartment. We wound our way down some of the streets where I would shop after class several times a week...ahhhhhhhhh memories. Once we got to my old street, I got warm fuzzy feeling #29 of the trip. Some things had changed, such as the club in the plaza, and a restaurant adjacent to the apartment. They were also redoing the street, making the walk more congested and less pleasant than usual. I rang the buzzer and I heard the familiar "Quien ehhhh?" over the speakerphone from Good Ol' Inma. (Wait, did I actually hear that? I might have just created that memory just now based on all the times I'd heard her say that before hahaaa). We made our way up the familiar ascenor, and up to the door. I rang the doorbell, expecting Rita's loud barking and feet sprinting toward the door. Instead a high-pitched pipsqueak of a bark, and light trotting toward the door. That's new! A frightened American girl answered the door cautiously, asking who it was. Once she heard my name she opened the door ( "Cynthia" must be the secret code lololol). So we met this girl and her house mate, the 2 Americans occupying my and my old house mate's rooms! I greeted them then quickly scooted in to get a view of the rest of the place. Totally unchanged. Inma emerged from the kitchen and down the long hallway to greet me! We hugged and I was divinely euphoric.

Me and Inma
Lunch was awesome, as expected. Inma filled us up with tons of soft white bread, soup, salad, panesillo, dessert and conversation :) If I went into detail of what our conversation entailed, I would have to sit here for days. I will sum it up by saying Inma is just as lively as ever, she remembers a ton from the time my house mate and I were living with her, and I love her all the same! The visit was truly going swimmingly until we were getting up to leave and Inma told me:

"Cynthia, I think you've gained about 2 kilos. I see it in your face"


I wouldn't feel at home in Granada if I didn't have  my Spanish mother telling me how it is. No filters.

hahhahahha much love Inma, my girrrrl.

I was able to meet up with my friend, Dana, with whom I used to play futbol when I was in Granada! I believe that same night was when I met up with my old intercambio, as well. It was nice to see old Grandino friends! Later that night, we had another tapas celebration, including a local favorite, POE! (See tapas picture 1). We met up with our friend Diane, who also studied at IES Granada the same semester as us, and is currently teaching English in Madrid! We also met her friend Melissa, and it was nice quiet night with lots of catching up :)

The next morning, Anna, Diane, Melissa and I took a little hike up through el Albayzín. It was a sweaty but worthwhile journey! We made our way up to el mirador San Nicolas... (see the first picture of the blog!) I think this is the first time I truly thought I was going to start crying. The sun was blasting rays of warm love on us, there were guys playing flamenco music complete with rhythmic clapping and Spanish guitar, and before us lay the magical work of art that is La Alhambra. In case I haven't expressed this before, I. Love. Granada.

As it turns out, this was not even the highlight of the day! No ho hooooooooooooo the best was yet to come... I was going to watch the Granada futbol team play against my beloved BARCA!!!! MESSI MESSI MESSI MESSI. I met up with Tyler and Greg, two guys who had also studied at IES Granada with us, and we made our way to the stadium that night. Finding our seats was literally just the worst experience. We arrived with about 40 minutes before game time, and we ended up not finding our seats until the game was already almost 10 minutes in. The seats and sections of this stadium are poorly labeled, people take whatever seat they want, you have to figure out the maze of stairs and walkways in order to get to a different section, etc. Eventually we found our seats (already occupied by some guy. Sorry, buddy, but I'll fight you if necessary) Luckily we didn't miss any of the drama of the match, and BOY was there drama! Granada was the first to score against the mighty Barcelona, at which point the stadium absolutely erupted into screams with everyone jumping on their seats, leaving the ground shaking. Meanwhile, I was bent over in my seat in agony, head in my hands lol. Only to later experience pure joy after Messi scored, screaming his name and cheering my lungs out...when I looked around you could have almost heard a pin drop. I was the only one in the whole stadium (it felt like) that was cheering for Barcelona. When I surveyed my surroundings after my obnoxious cheering, I noticed everyone else around me seemed to be attempting to lazer beam me with their eyes. SORRY NOT SORRY. VISCA BARCA! Barcelona ended up winning the game 2-1 (duh), but it was truly a closer match that I was expecting. It made for the best game I've ever been to, though! Oh man the excitement.

We continued the night, meeting up with the rest of the IES Granada alums as well as with Javier, the program director, to have a small reunion and get some tapas. How fun, man, to catch up on the past 2 years with these people, and also to have had such a genuinely kind and enjoyable director like Javier! He even let us go sit on the IES terrace after we were done with tapas, which felt so rebellious heehee. After we said our goodbyes to him, the rest of us made our way to 2 classic Granada landmarks: Chupiteria, and Granada 10. The night was far from over, and boyyy was it a fun night!!! It was such a fun group of people, and overall a really perfect Granada experience.

The next day it was a bit difficult to wake up... Anna's host mom made us delicioussss paella for lunch, and later we went over to my host mom's for churros con chocolate. We didn't have any huge plans for the day; in all honesty, it was more of a recovery from the night before. We met up with Diane and Melissa to have one final tapas outing. For this last outing we made our way to the plaza de toros to hit up el nido de buho, a bar that's definitely a Granada favorite. For 2.20 euros I got my Orange Fanta as well as a full cheeseburger and chips. It was a perfect ending to the tapas excursion/trip to Granada :)

We left early the next morning, and it was pretty sad... but as Anna's host mom pointed out though, at least we made it back. After leaving Granada the first time around, the saddest part was not having any sort of concrete idea as to when, or even if, I would ever return. 2 years later, I made it back! And I'm fully convinced that it was not the last time :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Carnaval, Carnaval

Carnaval Carnaval
Carnaval te quiero
LA la la la la la la
Bailaremos sin parar
En el mundo entero ..... 

This song haunted my nightmares for weeks after Carnaval. Every time I heard it I become overcome with exhaustion, having to grab ahold of something so as to prevent myself from collapsing to the floor. I have been conditioned to get this way with the song because it was constantly being played the entire week of Carnaval! The first time I heard it, I was joyous and dancing and whatnot...13 times later though, I get nauseous.

There had been many months of building-up to this festival known as Carnaval here, and I think I now comprehend the extent of the hype...but I would never be capable of going through it all in the full-forced manner as I did this time!

Carnaval festivities technically start January 31. There's a party on that Thursday called compadres which is supposed to be mostly geared towards men, but actually no one really pays attention to it. The party on the next Thursday, comadres, the female equivalent, is when things really start out.

Day 1: Comadres en Verin

Costume: Catwoman

Ashley and me
I was beyond excited to kick off the first day of celebrations! My friend Ashley was in town visiting, and she and I were going to accompany some of my students to a nearby town called Verin to celebrate comadres. The essence of this party is that females get together and celebrate...they go out to dinner together, they get dressed up together, and then they go out and party together! On this particular day, men are not really wanted. So, any male who is out on this night is supposed to be dressed in drag. Oh man, what a night. It was so enlightening to see Spanish man, the machista of the machista, go out in full make-up, wigs, heels,the whole nine yards. Some of these guys looked GOOD! 

The autobus for Verin left at 11pm Thursday night. On the bus I got my first taste of the "Carnaval Carnaval" song; I was into it! About an hour after departure we arrived to Verin, and I witnessed for the first time the seriousness that people take in regards to costume. Everywhere I looked, gangs of people dressed as cows, nuns, police, Grease characters, devils, and so on. Also, the number of people was unbelievable to me. It was like I was standing in the middle of Six Flags on a summer day...except everyone was in costume.
Cigarrones de Verin...I will explain them later

When we got off the bus, we made our way to the main plaza, passing by hundreds upon hundreds of people in costume. In this plaza there was a stage set up, like another mobile disco. Eventually, a DJ started playing music and the crowd would dance, but there was also periodical moments where the music would stop, and "official" people would get on stage and orate about Galicia pride all in gallego, people would chant and cheer, and then the music would start again. This continued until 5am, at which point it was lights out. I was EXHAUSTED at this point. I asked my students what was next...secretly hoping that the night was over. NOPE. Onto the clubs!...


There were some very intelligent food vendors open immediately behind the stage, and they had to have made a killing that night with all the drunk people. Ashley and I shared some patatas bravas...twice. And then I also bought some insanely overpriced churros. Content with our food, we were ready to rally for the rest of the night!...Actually, we remained pleased from the food for about 45 minutes, but from 5:45-8:00 we were zombies in the clubs. The students we were with had absolutely no trouble maintaining their momentum. Several times I had to shake Ashley awake. My legs were shot, I was hungry again, I wanted to sleep, I wanted orange Fanta, and I wanted to be in my bed. We loaded the bus at 8:00, got back to Ourense at 9:00, and I kid you not for that entire hour the students kept yelling, singing and talking on the bus. Once we arrived to Ourense we sluggishly walked the longest 10 minutes of my life from the bus stop to my apartment, and passed OUT. I'm too old for the parties of kids these days.

Day 2: Cena con los profesores

Costume: No, thanks.

This Friday I had already agreed to go to a professors' dinner with my coworkers from A Farixa. I didn't think I was going to make it because I was absolutely positively spent from the night before in Verin, but a promise is a promise! I threw on a dress and got all nice, but I had no intention of wearing a costume...repeating Catwoman would just cause me to have vivid hallucinations of my exhaustion from the night before and I found that to be unnecessary. 

There was only about 10 of us at this professors' dinner, whereas previous parties usually had closer to 30 attendees, so it was nice and intimate. It was a traditional 4 course meal, starting with jamon y queso aperitivos, followed by ensalada and an array of marisco, and finally ending with the main course, which today was an enormous slab of solomillo iberico, or sirloin. This thing was bigger than my head. I valiantly attempted to finish it but I barely made it halfway through before giving up. I was very happy with the food, but I must be easy to please because mostly everyone else said the meat was too dry and that the meal itself was nothing extraordinary. However I become ecstatic at the mere sight of cheddar cheese, so I guess my critique of food should be taken with a grain of salt.

After some dessert and licor cafe, we made our way to some bars to continue the night. I already felt my exhaustion setting in, and it was only about 12:30am. The bars we went to were definitely geared towards the older crowd, and my coworkers were definitely loving it! I caught some ABBA and Michael Jackson, but all the rest of the music was Spanish and from the not really my cup of tea. Hahaha what a difference of night and day between this night and the previous I had with my students! I was the first to retire amongst my coworkers, around 2:00 am I headed home, desiring nothing more than my bed for a second night in a row! The next night was going to be another long one...

Day 3: Cena con los profesores de Anna

Costume: Boy George 

The legendary Boy George
 Back in November, I had a brilliant idea. I was going to be Boy George for the next Halloween!!!! Why had I never thought of that before?? Boy George is an iconic figure from my favorite decade! I couldn't wait for the next October...but also didn't really want to wait for the next October... I wished upon my lucky stars that an event would present itself in which I could fulfill my newfound dream of dressing up as Boy George...

And then along came Carnaval :)

One of the professors Anna works with invited us to go out with his friends on this 3rd day of our Carnaval adventure, and we enthusiastically agreed. I was mostly recovered from Verin two days before, so I felt ready for another enjoyable night of costume mayhem. The group's costume was villains. Originally Anna and I were planning to do a little Batman joint costume, with her being Poison Ivy and my being Catwoman. As I've stated before, however, I had retired the Catwoman costume for good. Plus... I had an itch to be Boy George that I could no longer ignore!
Don't mess. lolol

Cocido! The bottom left shiny slab is the ear
This was by far the most enjoyable costume to put on, but I wish I would have gotten ready an hour earlier to really get the full hair effect and to load on an extra pound of make up. So I ended up as Boy George, Anna as Poison Ivy, and Ashley threw together a costume for Black Swan at the last minute which I found to be quite impressive! It was great to see all the costumes of our group. Spaniards go all out, I'm telling you. It wasn't so great to see that our group included the likes of "It" the clown and other less scary villains that still terrify me. Dinner was a typical cocido, much like the cocido I had eaten with my fellow professors around Thanksgiving. STILL just as delicious. I even tried to eat la oreja, or ear, again, and this time I succeeded! The texture felt more cooked and the taste was much more rich. Aside from the food, the dinner itself was just an entertaining atmosphere. Some people had brought instruments and those who hadn't were singing and clapping. It was a true Spanish celebration and I enjoyed every bit of it!

Afterwards we hit Ourense's zona de vinos for what proved to be a night that went until 7am, oops! Well, when in Spain...

Day 4: Seixalbo

Costume: NO.    SHUT. UP.

Just when I thought I couldn't feel any more deprived of every drop of energy after our trip to Verin, I found out it was in fact possible. I slept until 3pm or so...and in reality I only woke up because we had already agreed to visit Seixalbo for more Carnaval festivities. I felt sick to my stomach, my eyelids barely remained open, I thought I was starting to catch a cold, I wanted orange was just a disaster. But I put my big girl pants on and we went to Seixalbo. The drive couldn't have been longer than 15 minutes; I was thankful for that because if it'd been any longer I would've had to launch myself out the car window because I was so dizzy. 

Seixalbo was...FREEZING. The temperature had dropped 10 degrees or so since we'd left Ourense, and a few days before I had broken the zipper of my treasured brown jacket so it was flapping open in the cold wind. What's more, it started raining. I just wanted to lay dowwwwwn for the rest of my life.

Contestants of the "Show"
Our purpose for coming to Seixalbo was to watch a sort of show that the village puts on. We had no idea what the show entailed of before we arrived. Turns out, it was was so strange hahaha it was a game show format with some of the local residents acting as contestants, and in between the spouts of "show" there were other people who came on stage and performed a lip-synced song by a famous Spanish personality. The people around us certainly seemed to enjoy the hell out of it all, but I didn't recognize even one of the famous personalities nor their songs. I take that back. Near the end of the show, the "Village People" came on to perform YMCA.

4 hours later, with numb legs and a growling stomach we made our way back to Ourense. I think this was the point where I concluded that Carnaval is just so MUCH. Day after day of partying and costuming and drinking and eating and staying out late, how do people keep up with this??

Day 5: Laza/Biggest night out in Ourense

Costume: Minimal effort-- Cat

I slept a lot the night before this day; it was a day I did not want to miss out on! We were going to the village of Laza for the infamous ant-throwing festival! People go nuts about this festival. Families breed ants particularly for this event. Essentially, the main event of the festival consists of people throwing large, angry ants at you. The ants have been doused in vinegar, because, well, wouldn't you get extra pissed if you were soaked in vinegar? So people throw ants along with dirt and flour, creating a disgusting mixture. The hype for this festival is insane. I quickly found out it wasn't worth asking any Galician person why it is this festival exists. No one seems to know, they just like it and go with it! Hahahaha crazies.

We arrived in Laza several hours before the ant-throwing commenced. There was still remnants of the event that had taken place earlier that morning in Laza. Instead of throwing ants around, that morning people had thrown rags soaked in mud at each other, slapping each other and just creating a big mud spectacle. That sounded painful so I'm glad we missed that! But, I guess getting bitten by a ton of ants doesn't sound particularly soothing either.

We waited for several hours and essentially just got more and more anxious for this thing to be over with. To further raise nerves, there were a bunch of peliqueiros running around causing havoc before the festival began. Another question I stopped asking is: What is the difference between peliqueiros and cigarrones? The most common response: "Eh, they're pretty much the same." My best guess is that they are just referred to as different names depending on the village. Anyway, peliqueiros wear these extravangant, 3000-euro-worth costumes, which include several loud, disruptive bells (similar to cow bells) on the back of their waists, and also an intricate and large mask. During Carnaval, they run around with whips, and you can hear them coming from miles away (Along with the Carnaval, Carnaval song, those bells also haunted my dreams). Who knows why they are given the authority to hit whoever stands in their way! Historically, they are supposed to imitate tax collectors from the 16th century who actually carried whips and wore similar masks.

What is my general feeling of peliqueiros? They scare me to death. They wear masks reminiscent of that guy in V for Vendetta, they can hit you without proper reason, they can run you down, and they're loud. I screamed bloody murder anytime one was within eyesight of me.

Finally, around sundown the event truly commenced. We were all gathered at the top of street and started making our way down to the village plaza. Things were initiated by la morena, which is a huge cow costume controlled by several people underneath. I was fortunate enough to be the first victim to the charging of la morena...I saw my life flash before my eyes. The cow was coming straight for me so I ran the opposite direction, screaming at the top of my lungs, only to find a brick wall and no escape. I got a good strong charge in the back hahahaha I'm such a wimp.
Modeling some fine Laza fashion
We continued down the hill in our Sunday finest (see picture), prepared for battle. Before we even got down to the plaza flour and dirt was starting to be thrown. Anna, Ashley, and I created a defense formation for the best protection...but when everything was getting thrown there was very little time to think about defense! I kind of just closed my eyes and screamed for the entirety of the event, which in reality was mostly over within 15 minutes. To be sincere, I was disappointed with the number of ants. We heard beforehand that there would be less ants than normal years, but no one in our group got bitten, and I found less than 10 dead ants on my clothing! I want my money back!!!!

It was such a Galician event and I'm so glad we hadn't missed out. Soon after, it started raining and people scrambled. We made our way back to Ourense. It was Monday night and supposedly the best night to go out! ...None of us were having any of it, though. I promise I tried my darnedest to rally and produce energy from the depths of my body to squeeze one more night of partying, but I just failed miserably. We thought it'd be a complete shame if we didn't at least go out for an hour to see the city, so we managed to do that. I was so over dressing up, I just threw on my cat ears, pinned on a tail, drew cat whiskers and called it a night. 

I am glad we went out because I don't think I've ever seen Ourense so packed and lively! And I don't regret coming home before 2am. I was spent. Pooped. Drained. Dead. Completely fatigued and with a cold. I felt that I had a genuine experience of Galician Carnaval without the extra late night out, and I went to sleep that night satisfied.

Day 6: Sorry, Carnaval, I'm done with you. I'm heading to the hot springs for some relaxation. 

Festivities all but ended the day before. There were a few other events, such as el entierro de la sardina on Wednesday (Day 8) but we were just uninterested. We spent this final morning at As Burgas, the natural hot springs in the middle of Ourense. It was a much-needed visit. We took the time to reflect on our feelings about Carnaval. We were in agreement that Carnaval is a neat experience and all, but it's just over-the-top. Excessive beyond measure. One night of hard partying and costumes would have been plenty for me, I would have maybe even understood two nights of it. But this week-long debacle? Never again, man.

Ashley left later that day, and Anna and I had to prepare for the next adventure we embarked on the very next morning...

our return to Granada :)