It's beginning to look a lot like.....
I know I’ve said it before, but we love Granada!
Yesterday, we had to return to the city to catch up with some people from school; we missed it this week - it felt a little like losing a major support system, and we were cast adrift without our Spanish language lifeline. However, yesterday we had lined up an intercambio, or language exchange, with one of our teachers, the lovely Maria, after which we had arranged to catch up with two students, Dorthe and Ines, over a drink or two.
There really is nothing like conversation for improving your language learning, and Maria and we agreed that you can take classroom language lessons for years without actually learning to speak the language! Maria was taught English at school from an early age, the usual 2 hours of classes each week, sat in front of a text book. Andrew and I both learned French from a very young age, and I even did reach as an A-level; at one stage, I was quite fluent, but it quickly fades if you don’t use it.
Interestingly, Maria mentioned that English is widely taught to school children, but that the form of text book-based tuition does not prepare people for any form of conversation. So, she is only too happy to help us with our Spanish conversation in exchange for a touch of dusting down of her English language portfolio (which is, actually, pretty good!).
After a couple of hours of intercambio with Maria, we met up with Ines and Dorthe, the two ladies we met during our last week at school. Berliner Ines speaks very little English, and Danish Dorthe has a good command of Spanish so Spanish is our only common communication tool. The pair are also really good company, and what started as a quick coffee ended as a bit of a tour of bars in the old Jewish quarter of Granada, El Realejo. It is surprising how much you can converse with basic levels of a language when you are engaged in real conversation, and we found ourselves able to draw on our (limited) knowledge of the past and future tenses that we studies at school. Even with fairly simple vocabulary, we were able to get to know each other a lot more, and another two hours flew by.
Dorthe had to dash off to meet her son, who is in Granada studying via the Erasmus programme, so we said our farewells and then Andrew and I took the opportunity to see the Christmas lights in our beautiful city.
What we love about Spain at this time of the year is that Christmas has its place. The Spanish embrace the festive period as much as the next person, but it doesn’t start in September! Throughout November, there are very small signs that Christmas is not that far away. Lights are strung up in streets, and shops begin to decorate windows, but it is easy to forget the commercial aspects that have become so synonymous with Christmas in the UK, and elsewhere.
The season really begins when the street lights are switched on, and this happened last Friday 2nd December, so yesterday was our first glimpse. 6th December also happens to be a national holiday in Spain, to mark El Diá de la Constitución. The day marks the date in 1978 when the people of Spain held a referendum (there’s a word to send shivers down the spine) to approve the country's new constitution following the end of the Franco regime.
It seemed that everyone from the region descended on Granada last night, but instead of being crowded to the point of panic-induction, the atmosphere was fabulous, as were the Christmas lights. The main centre of attraction is, I suppose, Plaza Bib Rambla, just to the south of the city’s Cathedral. A brightly illuminated tree takes centre stage, and the four sides of the square are lined with craft stalls selling traditional sweets, soaps, ceramics and belénes. If you live in Spain, then a belén is a must at Christmas. It is a nativity scene, or crib (I think we used to call them that), and in Spain these are BIG. Not only can you buy the ‘stable’ (and in Spain, these vary from something humble up to what looks like an Arabian palace - a sort of Bethlehem ‘Alhambra’ - you get the idea), but there are hundred of accessories - the main characters, obviously, and every type of farm animal, rivers, trees, even bread ovens! We were quite prepared to embrace the whole belên idea until we saw the price of these edifices! Yikes! Instant idea for a cottage industry hatched right there.
Granada looked beautiful and the atmosphere was extraordinary. Instead of making us want to run for the hills having been bashed by grumpy and harried shoppers, we wanted to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere, and enjoy watching the Spanish people out and about. As we walked past a stall roasting chestnuts, I was reminded of England of 30 years age when Christmas seemed to be far more traditional and far less commercial. Rose-coloured specs can come in useful at times.
Naturally, our evening ended up in a bar: our favourite sherry bar, as it happens, and after sharing a bit of a joke with the camarero (in Spanish, of course) our second glass was filled markedly more than our first! Christmas spirit delivered in a schooner.
We sauntered back to the car park, looking forward to a night at the theatre this evening, and decided that we would pop into a bar recommended by Maria during our earlier chat. This particular bar is dedicated to Semana Santa, or Easter. Called El Rincon del Cofrade (literally, corner of the brotherhood) it is filled with everything to do with Semana Santa and the Virgin Mary. Apparently, at certain times of the day, the piped music is stopped and everyone is handed a hymn sheet, from which to sing a religious song! That we must see!
I can just imagine a bar in the UK dedicated to religion going down a storm. Here in Spain, it just works!