Advent in The Valley of Happiness
I am not quite sure where November went, but here we are rapidly facing down our second Christmas living in Spain. Winter is definitely here, although the rains have hardly created much of an impact.
I remember, when we first came here, we were told that, typically, for two weeks in late September/early October, the rains would come in the form of a monsoon, and this fortnight of torrential rain would replenish the reservoirs and satisfy the thirstiest of crops. We were rather looking forward to severe weather, with biblical thunder storms and blinding lightning, but nothing really materialised. Last year, we did get two weeks of unsettled weather, enough to ensure that the ski season in the Sierra Nevada got off to an extremely good start. Those rains must have arrived in the first half of November. This past week, the end of November, we had one day of rain and nothing like enough to reduce the risks of a serious drought.
This year, November provided the most glorious autumn with cloudless days during which the temperatures still reached 20 - 22 degrees. Evening temperatures started to drop, and the skies were so clear and the stars so bright, but there was little sign of winter. The prolonged season allowed us to enjoy the changing colours of the landscapes. The visibility was such that the horizon perpetually looked like a cardboard cut-out, so crisp were the lines. Mornings were beautiful, and driving through the valley to see the shadows being cast by the sun across the western face of the Sierra Nevada, and to witness gossamer layers of lazy woodsmoke loathe to leave the protection of the olive trees, was spectacular. As mornings matured, the dark shoulder of the mountains soon lightened as the sun picked out bright coppers and bronzes - elaborate buttons on a burgundy backcloth.
The time of the year has inspired Andrew’s latest collection, Winter Fruits, as he has explored the colours and textures of artichokes, pomegranates and fig. Vine leaves of the deepest red and the stunning, bright yellow fan of the Ginkgo leaf are almost surreal in their vibrancy.
So, nature has happened around us, and October and November have passed in a flash. I suppose time has gone more quickly, as this has been another period of change. I have been working full-time, and been dogged by a cold worthy of Adelaide from ‘Guys and Dolls’: “With the wheezes, And the sneezes, And a sinus that's really a pip!” Poor Andrew has been somewhat housebound, and reliant on the bus to make occasional trips into Granada for Intercambio sessions and networking get-togethers. However, this period of change has been useful to force us to readdress our priorities, and make a few decisions ready for the new year.
It has not been an easy couple of months, and has certainly set a few challenges, but then no one said life here would be perfect. In fact, we’d be surprised if it was. We still have to make a living, and find ways to pay the bills - everyday life does not vanish along with the rain clouds, although sometimes I wish it did. The painful truth, and soppy as it may sound, is that Andrew and I have missed each other. We didn’t come here to live a life similar to that in London, where we would be working long days and catching up briefly over dinner before retiring to bed, exhausted. I, for one, don’t really want to catch up with Andrew’s progress through his lovely photos on Instagram!
Despite a few ‘life’ related issues, it has not been a bad time by any stretch of the imagination. We sampled the delighted of one of Granada’s top restaurants, a beacon to the emergence of fine-dining in this part of Spain. Northern Spain has long been a bastion of this country's culinary excellent (Eleven establishments across Spain with 3 Michelin stars compared to the UK’s meagre five!), but Southern Spain has lagged behind somewhat. With the renaissance of Malaga as a cultural mecca this might well start to drive change out in the more rural areas. Alvaro Arriaga’s eponymous restaurant in Granada has the most glorious location, on the top of the CajaGranada building. A long gallery of a space, glazed completely along two sides and with astounding views of the Sierra Nevada. The food is not overshadowed by the view. We had a nine-course tasting menu accompanied by 3 different wines. The highlight for me was the monkfish ceviche, so delicately flavoured and beautifully presented, but every course was delicious.
We continue to love our visits to our favourite tapas haunts in Granada, knowing that we can catch live traditional music on a Thursday in one of these bars, sample the latest Spanish wines in another, or have a (brief!) chat with the ever-charming owners of each establishment. We have discovered more delightful walks, and made some very good friends, both Spanish and non-Spanish. My radio programme here in Spain has provided me with the unmitigated privilege of meeting so many interesting people across Andalusia, and this has provided us both with a fairly unrivalled network of friends and acquaintances.
For us, one of the most satisfying elements of the past few months is the indelible feeling of belonging we now experience. To walk around Granada and our own valley and bump into people we know, friends, colleagues; to be recognised and welcomed, and valued and appreciated is a wonderful aspect of life here.
Here we are on the 1st December and a time to take stock and plan ahead for the next year. Early in January, we will be returning to the UK for a week to catch up with family and friends, and then our doors will be open here in Spain for all and any visitors. We might take to the slopes for a ski; certainly, I’d like to try a spot of cross-country skiing. Christmas plans are taking shape, and this evening we will venture into Granada to wander around the stalls selling accessories for the ubiquitous belenes (nativity scenes) that will soon be evident in every Spanish home. The thermal long-johns have made a come-back, and our thickest winter-woolies are now de rigueur. In any season, this is an inspiring country and even in the very few lower moments, you can't fail to get excited by the wealth of opportunities and adventures that lie in wait.
It is also worth mentioning, perhaps, that on 15th December we (fingers crossed) become the new owners of a little corner of Spain. We have bought a house!