arabian nights in the south of spain

June 20, 2011

I’ve already mentioned the dichotomy between Spain and Portugal, two completely different environments for two countries so close to one another, but I didn’t realize that the same feeling could exist within Spain itself. Of course, in the back of my mind it was obvious; after all, the United States is an enormous mixture of cultures, accents, cuisines, and ambiance, so it would only make sense that a country as old as Spain, rich with a history of regionalism, would be similar.

Mostly, though, I think it was the prevalence of Arab culture permeating through the narrow streets of Granada, subtly transparent as it was, that really struck me.

I know a fair bit about Spanish history to understand the reasoning behind it, of course, what with Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula for hundreds of years, but I hadn’t really been expecting to experience it alongside Spanish culture. Walking through the streets of Granada to be met with the musicality of Arabic being recited from open windows of the Islamic Center took me by pleasant surprise, and I found myself leaning against the wall of the building, taking it in. And then, scarcely an hour later, weaving through colorful bazaars, shawls and handcrafted pillowcases piled along the foot of small shops, hookahs and leather bags lining the walls, met with shopkeepers fluent in Arabic asking me if I’m from India or Pakistan [“Salaam, sadeeqa“]. It was like being thrust into a Middle Eastern Spain [or likewise a Spanish Middle East?] in a most wonderful way.

And left me aching to visit Pakistan again.

Nostalgia aside, our short visit to Granada was breathtaking. Particularly our trip to the Alhambra, a place that I had been longing to visit for ages.

There’s not much to be said about the Alhambra save for that it was even more amazing than I expected it to be. Gorgeous architecture, lush gardens, beautiful scenery [the Sierra Nevada was an incredible backdrop to the already-incredible Moorish palaces]. We only spent around 2 and a half hours there, unfortunately, but long enough to get a good look at both the palaces and the Generalife.

It only cements my desire need to return to Spain in future to see it again.

Saturday night we went to a Flamenco show, which took place in a cave [or at least a location akin to one], as authentic performances were typically held. It was ridiculously fun and beautiful to watch; although I’ve been exposed to quite a lot of Flamenco music and have seen many dances via a television screen in numerous Spanish classes, I had never seen one live. I was expecting there to be a stage front and center, with all of us watching from seats, akin to a theater. Instead, there was one long hallway with chairs lining the walls, and the dance took place in between. The dancers were literally an arm’s length away.

What I wasn’t expecting was to be approached in the middle of the show by one of the dancers, hand outstretched, expecting me to take it and be led onto the ‘dance floor.’ Needless to say, it was horribly embarrassing, and I definitely made a fool out of myself in front of everyone in the vicinity [it’s bad enough that I dance like a cardboard gorilla, let alone having to replicate one as free and artistic as the Flamenco], but I was extremely honored [as made obvious by my foolish grin and, what I’m sure were, bright red cheeks (which is really saying something since I’m almost physically incapable of turning red)] and had an amazing experience.

[I’m not sure many people can say that they’ve been made to dance the Flamenco in the middle of a cave in Granada, alongside gorgeous professionals, in front of at least 50 tourists, with no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into.

At least I can cross that off of my list now, right?]

Food-wise there isn’t much to be said. Not that what we had wasn’t all delicious [you can’t really go wrong when you have some of the tastiest gelato in the world (second only to Italy) on a daily basis, coupled with enormous bocadillos de tortilla de patata], but also wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

My main concern right now is figuring out how I’m going to successfully pack the copious amount of food items I’ve bought for myself without going over my luggage weight limit.

Also to see if I can some how finagle my way into fitting a few more jars of fig jam in before it’s too much of an issue. And maybe another bottle or two of olive oil. And definitely still need to get some Italian honey while I’m here.

Or perhaps I should focus a bit more on looming final exams.

But that would take the fun out of my last few days here, now, wouldn’t it?

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