Pomegranate Magic

Granada Travel Blog

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Have you ever tasted a pomegranate? I remember the first time the tiny explosions of pomegranate seeds burst in my mouth. What a sensation, food fireworks! My stay in Granada has been a succession of bursts of flavor - the flavor of a life well-lived. Let me share.

It’s really no accident that Granada is named after this exotic and sensual fruit. As a resident for over a month now, I can say that my experience here has been like a series of experiential explosions. Each day has opened my pores more and more to the excitement of life in the ‘pomegranate zone’.

It is hard to put my finger on it exactly but I seem to be more alive in the sense of being ‘on my toes’ and anticipating new twists and turns. Studying again was a great experience but as usually happens on these group events, the lessons end up being more of the human kind. I spent a month in close confines with people from various backgrounds, origins, upbringings and all with unique gifts to share. I would love to write an entry for each of my new friends but that would take too long so maybe a these stories from my heart will suffice.

A course is not really a course without some Zen master teachers and we were so lucky to have the blessed energy of Monika and Alan. They nurtured and befriended us, being tough when necessary and compassionate when they sensed the need. I really grew to love both these souls as they shared my journey from green to gold! I started out as a novice teacher and by the end of the four weeks I now feel confident and armed with the tools to head out and help others to learn English. A cherry on the top was gaining a level 1 pass which puts me ahead of the crop when applying for jobs.

I also made some wonderful friendships with trainees and watched other friendships blossom and grow. S and S came from different countries and backgrounds but from the start they bonded and were soon inseparable. In fact, I don’t think I have a photo of one without the other. These lovely chicas were studious, kind and respectful of others on the course. I spent some special evenings with them and was sad when they headed home to their respective countries this weekend. I hope to stay in touch with S (UK) as she has indicated a desire to quit her job and join me in Andalusia in the future.

Another formidable duo was A and V. These young women were the youngest but had so much energy and joy of life that it was infectious. With vastly different backgrounds and English accents, they were like chalk and cheese but the bonds of craziness and friendship easily skipped across any perceived gap. Classes were always full of lively discussion and laughter with these two sitting in the back. As soon as the rest of us worked out their dry but incredibly clever wits, we became comrades.

When the final lesson was over, last Thursday night, we all joined forces at the residence where most of the trainees have been living for the past month. It is an old converted Carmen with plenty of rooms with ensuites, an internal patio and a rooftop with spectacular views of the Alhambra. It is here that we started the evening, comrades in study and comrades under the full moon. I sat up on the wall atop the roof patio and in wonder studied the moon slowly travelling in a gentle arc over the glowing Alhambra. My backyard, my precious memories of Granada.

After packing up our picnic on the roof, we zig-zagged down the Albaicin, stopping for a tapa and Tinto de Verano on the way. Minutes later we were in a tacky Irish bar called Hannigans -a haven for students the world over; karaoke bars that is. Although our band of merry trainees ranging in age from 20 to 65 was not really keen on Karaoke, it was a great starting point to get us warmed up. Lois is the nickname of the oldest member of our group and at 65 she amazed all of us with her tenacity, wit and sheer level of energy. Although never the last to leave, she was always the first to say yes. This is what retirement is for - doing those things you always dreamed of doing. She left today to head into the unknown lands of Eastern Europe with nothing more than a small bag and tons of Aussie guts.

Back to the bar now - the two most vocal members of the troupe, E and A (men of course) were up on the stage in a flash and entertained us all with enthusiastic renditions of old and new. Some time later, you could have found me singing Karaoke with a random young man wearing ‘Jackie O’ sunglasses!

Every group of people has it’s loud and confident leaders and the quiet achievers who seem to melt into the shadows. Our group was the same. One of only four men, a very timid young man from the UK named after the ‘first man on Earth’ takes on the role of first quiet achiever. The other was a beautiful and elegant young S from USA, completely lacking the stereotypical accent and mannerisms - almost a global princess. They both contributed much to the energy of our circle and on nights out in the chatty bars of Granada, these two always showed up laughing and smiling with the gang.

One minute I was making a fool of myself and the next I was in Cuba inhaling cigar smoke and the delicious smell of people in dance heaven. S invited me and a few others to a bar called Mi Havana, a salsa bar that is everything clichéd about Cuba. It was hot, sweaty and packed! Shy S turned into a sassy salsa queen and I was entranced watching her and M (Mr music and Dance from Belgium) hold the floor along with dozens of locals and funky Africans teleported from ‘So you think you can dance’. I have to keep pinching myself in this city of flavor bursts!.

With the clock approaching 1.00am it was time to head to my favourite bar, Mondrian.
One of the reasons I like this place so much is because it s only a 3 minute walk home up several flights of stairs to the Albaicin. The other reason is because I am officially a local there now. A group of us made our first visit last week with E, a trainee who is a resident of Granada. It was his verification and introductions that gave us the status of ‘accepted’.

So with yet another new taste sensation to savour we danced and drank the evening away at Mondrian. I tried my hand at chupitos (tiny shots). I first tried a fruity specialty of the barman Juan-Jo and then had a tiny glass filled with a lemon slice. The barman waits while you crush it to the bottom with your thumb and then pours vodka into the glass over an ice cube. I was careful to keep the alcohol level low as the Spanish frown on getting drunk. This is one of the things I like best about life here.

What happens if you are in the inner circle and you are asked to stay behind after the bar officially closes, around 4.00am? Myself and gorgeous G from Poland soon found out and we practiced our Spanish and cultural awareness by being invited to a lock-in. I was interested to find out that the police have microphones installed in bars to check that there are no continued business activities taking place after closing. We were instructed to keep the noise down and not sound as though the bar was still operating. Talk talk talk and it was suddenly 6.00am. The last of the boys had departed a little earlier so G and I were escorted by our chivalrous friends out the back entrance which consisted of a series of six (yes six!) doors navigating a semi circle to exit a huge Moroccan wooden door a little way down the street.

We had crossed a beautiful patio on our way, typical of the Carmens in the Albaicin. The homes here often look underwhelming from the street, surrounded by unimposing high walls. It is only when you occasionally get a glimpse inside during a fortuitous moment as a gate opens that you see inside. The rooms are traditionally arranged around a central garden patio, filled with trees and arbors to shade from the searing Southern sun. The first owners of these Carmens would have been Moors and each wing would be devoted to a wife and her children. As the years have gone by, many have been converted into apartments and that is why they are so sought after. Although the plumbing and electrics may not be up to scratch, it is the joy of living in a piece of history, normally with a view of the Alhambra or at least a view from a nearly cobbled stairwell that attracts people here.

A night earlier I had been sitting high up in the Albaicin, behind the Mirador (Alhambra viewpoint) and sharing a wonderful conversation with my Spanish friend, David. He does not speak a word of Spanish so it has been ‘lessons on high speed’ for me. I was surprised at our second meeting just how much I had remembered from my lessons in Melbourne and under the stress of having to respond, I seemed to fly by the seat of my pants.

Dinner was not really a dinner but a typical Granadian evening of drinks and tapas. Every bar here provides free food in the form of a small tapa (snack) with a drink. So David and I shared two wonderfully chilled Tinto de Veranos in the open air atmosphere with our first tapa of boquerones (vinegar cured small white fish) and a second of calamares. Al fresco never tasted so great.

As I alluded to earlier, Granada is the sort of place that just keeps on delivering. It seems to exude tiny bubbles of thrill and every so often one hits you in the face and pops. This night, while walking David back to his car, we stopped at another viewpoint, a clear view of the Alhambra lit up with the smoldering moon bright and full and loving it’s precious baby lying below. I was hit directly in the face with a thrill bubble - a moment to treasure.

As the week unfolded, it all just got better and better. On Friday we had our graduation ceremony and although a bit contentious due to issues with the marking of our final assignment, we were all pleased to have our lives back but saddened to be saying goodbye to new friends.

I caught up with David again on Friday night and we did the usual tapas in a lively Plaza near the famous Granada Cathedral. The backdrop was breathtaking (I’m running out of superlatives!). While walking back to Plaza Neuva, the main Plaza in town, we passed a Heladeria (ice cream parlour) called Los Italianos. It is like something out of the fifties with staff wearing smart all-white uniforms and the takeaway bundles lovingly wrapped in crisp thick white gloss paper and tied with black string as a carry handle. This place consistently has queues out the door and along the footpath. I have to say that it would be close to the best helado (Ice-cream) I have ever tasted. A double dose of Chocolate and Trufa (truffle) had me floating down the street and savoring every cool lick.

Am I a local yet? Close to it. One last task - a ride around the crazy cobbled streets of the Albaicin on the back of David’s chicatita (small) scooter. I was helmet-less but it was not really a worry as speeds are kept very low due to the narrow streets and the relaxed lifestyle here. Nothing really happens in a hurry. I did manage to get my hair blowing a little in the warm evening breeze though. I do believe that another of those bliss bubbles hit me in the face also!

Over the weekend, fellow trainees (now bona fide teachers) left in dribs and drabs but on Saturday I met up with S, V and A for a wander and we enjoyed scrumptious raciones in Plaza Neuva. It was the best Chorizo I had eaten since my camino last year. Although great, it still did not top the delicious morsel I ate in Monasterio in June 2008. But the week is certainly becoming one to top - Chorizo, chupito and helado.

By the time Sunday came around, I was ready to relax and have a bit of a foodie detox. The remaining teachers and I went to visit Alan at his Carmen. We love to spend time here as there is a small ‘swimming’ pool in the patio and although midday sun is brutal, the patio is filled with shady trees and wisteria arbors and seems 10C cooler than elsewhere.

The Carmen is a guesthouse run by a lovely woman called Alice. She completely renovated the building and during excavations found all sorts of ancient building materials including a column dated 13th century. It is a beautiful place and I can recommend it to anyone who wants to visit this wonderland. From one of her guest rooms you can lie in bed with an uninterrupted view of the Alhambra. So after a few hours by the pool, I said goodbye to S at the airport bus stop and went home for a siesta. I was just about to pop a movie into my laptop when I got a call from David. After several attempts at deciphering his rapid Spanish request I finally figured out that he was driving a friend to the beach and wondered if I would like to go too.

So that is how I ended up sitting on the beach at Almuñecar last night at 11pm, eating icecream and having another Spanish lesson with David. Yes, there are plenty of beaches within an hour and a half from Granada. Some are tourist havens with monstrous high rise apartments crowding the sea shore and filled with German and English tour groups. The beach I visited was a Spanish resort and although also filled with holiday apartments, it has a kind of charm that only the Spanish (actually Andalusians) can replicate. I felt quite at home and the large fun fair reminded me of Sorrento foreshore (near Melbourne) during Christmas holidays.

So today is now Monday - no school, no playmates and nothing much to do except be on holiday for a week before I return to Sevilla to start my Spanish odyssey for real. I have mixed emotions, partly excitement and the usual dose of absolute fear as I barge forth into the unknown yet again.

My time in Granada is not over yet though and I expect many more flavor explosions and bliss bubbles to hit me square on in the remaining days. Perhaps it is the picture of the pomegranate trees in every garden, perhaps it is the Granadinos who have welcomed me lovingly or perhaps it is the multi-cultural group of teacher trainees I have lived and laughed with for a month; one thing I know for sure is that I will always return to Granada whenever I need to feed my soul.
Pomegranate magic!
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photo by: Chokk