Feeling at Home while looking like an Outsider…
I’m definitely starting to feel more comfortable here. I watch tv with my host family, wander the streets alone during the day, and feel confident ordering in restaurants, probably because I’m always eating churros and chocolate, tapas, ice cream, or chocolate croissants (I might have a weakness for chocolate…). But despite how relaxed I have become here in Spain, I still am constantly making a fool of myself and assuring everyone around me that I am a foreigner. It doesn’t bother me much, but I’m sure I provide excellent entertainment to everyone around me.
For example, last weekend my host family invited me to a surprise party that they were throwing for their cousin whowas getting married. The wedding was planned somewhat last minute because he got a job in the Caribbean and his girlfriend and child couldn’t come unless they were married. My extended host family has a total of four exchange students, and all of us were invited to the party (the other girl in my house, and our host moms niece has two exchange students that are part of our programas well). When we got there we went to our assigned table and opened the bottle of water that was in the center. The four of us proceeded to drink the entire bottle of water before anyone else had even opened theirs, apparently water isn’t essential to life in Spain. The entire family stuck to wine and champagne throughout as we worked our way through two bottles of water to accompany our alcoholic beverages. The best part though, was when the waiter came around to ask if anyone wanted anything
else to drink. It was about 10:30 at night and I knew I was going to be up until sunrise, so I asked for a coffee. The waiter, and everyone at my table, proceeded to laugh at me. Stupid American, nobody drinks coffee before dinner. However, to me the most shocking part of all of this was realizing the difference in the service industry here. I’m a waiter myself in the US, and if someone orders an absurd drink, no matter what it is, you bring it to them, but here it’s acceptable to laugh at the order of a customer and refuse to bring them what they would like. It’s nice to know there isn’t a rigid standard of service everywhere in the world, and I liked that I provided some entertainment for my host cousins, even if it was by making a fool of myself.
Despite these few mishaps, the party was really fun and the cousins did a really good job of trying to make us feel included. The dinner was incredible, we started off with a cheese and meat plate that had chorizo and Iberico ham, then a salad, then fish, then ham in a delicious pepper sauce. For dessert we had cheesecake, which made me miss my mother’s cooking. After dinner there were speeches, and then we danced. The cousins taught us some of their dances, and we watched as they all danced flamenco together. The whole family, including the babies stayed until about 3 am. After that, the cousins took us to a club to keep the party going. It was a unique expierence and I’m glad that my host family is willing to include us in their celebrations, even if we sometimes (often times) embarrass ourselves (and perhaps them) by acting like Americans.
Besides making a fool of myself here, I have done a few other, slightly more productive things. Last week we wrapped up our first block of culture class and finished our language Intensivo! YAY! So glad to not have class 4 hours straight Monday through Friday. To celebrate finishing up Intensivo I headed to Monachil with a group of people from my program. Monachil is a small town with awesome hikes about 20 minutes outside of Granada. We got their at the hottest part of the day and proceeded to climb our way up to the begining of the trail. But once we got their we were instantly cooled off by the trees, river and canyon walls that surrounded us. It was wonderful to finally be surrounded by nature in Spain and have nothing to worry about besides getting home in time for dinner. We jumped in the river to cool off twice during our walk, the second time we swam underneath a waterfall that cascaded off a cliff on the side of the trail, and which you crossed by walking across a suspension bridge. For anyone looking for something close, fun, and adventurous to do near Granada… go to Monachil!
On Saturday, to continue celebrating my completion of Intensivo and to take advantage of the sun while it’s here, I headed to Nerja, a beach town about 2 hours from Granada. While there I checked out the Cuevas de Nerja (Caves of Nerja), which are home to some of the largest Stalactites and Stalagmites in the world. It was incredible. I felt like an ant inside the caves. When we entered, we came into a small room, which a proceeded to gawk at for about 15 minutes before realizing that this was only the entrance into the next room, which was about 5 times as big. The second room is also set up so that they can put on concerts and flamenco shows, which would be
incredible to see. However, once we got past the second room and made my way deeper underground we came into the main room (that’s open to the public), which was giant. I don’t have any way to describe how big it was but it stole my breath away. the caves we made our way back down to the beach where we played in the Mediterranean and climbed on rocks for the rest of the afternoon.
Yesterday, I finally got to go to the Alhambra… wow. For those who don’t know, the Alhambra is a muslim city in Granada, that is home to the castles of the Muslim kings of Granada, and Carlos V, the son of Isabel and Ferdinand. It has been converted into a monument and is one of the most visited places in Spain. Outside of the city are the gardens, which include new gardens from the 20th century, and gardens from the Islamic reign. After viewing the gardens we entered the Alhambra from the far end. This is where all the servants and artisans lived, and the houses no longer exist, but the ruins of the structures are still somewhat in tact. As you get closer to the church, which used to be a mosque but was converted when the Christian Kings conquered Granada, the houses get nicer and the buildings are more in tact. On the other side of the church are the castles and the military fortress. The muslim castles were the most impressive to me. The artwork is exquisite and every part of the building’s interior is decorated: cieling, floor, windows, and walls. Across every wall there is a line of plaster that has poetry written in arabic inscribed in it, surrounded by exquisite designs. Below the plaster writings there is ceramic tiling across the walls. Imagining the amount of time that was dedicated to each little detail is daunting and incredible. The Christian architecture was beautiful as well, with more decoration outside than the Islamic art, but it didn’t come close to containing the same amount of attention to detail.
That’s all I have to say for now. We have our level test this afternoon, and tomorrow we travel to Córdoba. After that we have 5 days of vacation, so I am heading to Ireland. I’m very excited to see the mosque in Córdoba… one of the largest in the world.