Cheat Day #2 – El Campo Detrás la Alhambra

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There’s a word in Spain, “Guiri” (pronounced Gee-ree) which I believe only exists here.  It describes a red faced pale skinned German tourist with short shorts, typically drunk and causing a ruckus. The word also describes someone like myself — I’m pale nor am I from here. Granadinos are a proud folk, and if you step on their traditions you’re stepping on their way of life. While they may humor you when you ask for a beer in awful Spanish, they may have the thought “Just another guiri”. At least, I imagine it that way.

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El Albayzín, a small town that surrounds the Alhambra, is so beautiful that guiris flock to it like hipsters to a polka concert. In my opinion, it’s preferable to saunter through El Albayzín rather than shepherded through the Alhambra. In this small town you’re left to your own wits. You can explore the endlessly winding and narrow streets, drink and eat all the beer and tapas you want, and meet authentic Granadinos.

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Ester and myself had the day off, so we decided to go behind the Alhambra and away from the swarms of Chinese tourists. The way was surprisingly difficult to find, even for Ester: Up through the garden, past the parking lot which under the sun is about a thousand miles in length, jaywalked through a brush next to some modern day aqueducts, and we finally found ourselves on a paved street that led up into the mountains.

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The paved road was too paved, and the few people I saw were a few too many, but at least there were no guiris. A few hundred yards up the road we found a ancient run-down staircase that led directly into the mountain to the right of us. It looked treacherous and perfect. We took it.

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It was only us on that hill, and the view of the Alhambra and Granada got better and better. As the trees cleared and we could see more of the city, I fired off my camera like a wartime journalist, standing on the mountain like Spiderman fighting for angles. However as we climbed the city continued to reveal more of itself, so I slowed my roll, slung my camera and waited until we reached the summit.

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The path we were on took us to a turret that overlooked the mountain face that we were ascending. From there we could see everything west of the Alhambra and Granada, and south the to Sierra Nevada. On top of the mountain there were ancient ruins  built within land that rolled like a turbulent ocean. We moved farther south and were presented with an unfettered view of the Sierra Nevada mountains and everything beyond.

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We looped around to the other side of the mountain and continued north, towards El Albayzín and Granada. There were hundreds of pathways that led off into the mountains farther to the south, where countless bicyclists took advantage of the open roads. There was more to see towards the east – a lot more. Paths that led over, around and under mountains, hills and valleys, small towns and intimidating buildings built into steep lands. We took our last look, snapped our last photos, swore that we’d return and reluctantly made our way back.

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Ancient ruins make you feel like a kid again. You’re in the company of hundreds, if not thousands of years of history. The Alhambra is known for it’s colorful history, and the formation of the castle mirrors the inconsistency of its occupants.  Those same walls and streets were there all those years ago, used by peasants and kings, and then by you. The immensity of it all is humbling; it pours gasoline on your imagination and sets it on fire, and you can’t help but wonder what it must have looked like all those years ago.alhambra_02

We returned to El Albayzín, east of the Alhambra, and settled into one of the many cafes and ended the day with a well deserved cup of coffee. We sat in silence, watching the waves of people move by us on the street, the ramparts of the Alhambra looming over it all. The setting sun bathed all it could reach in gold, flags waved on the north facing turret, guiris filled the street unable to turn away from sight as the locals flowed past them.  Huddled over our coffee the wind blew and we shivered, our stomachs rumbled, and we called it quits.

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If you’re ever on a tour, look to where everyone is not going, and go there. The oblique angles of historical sites can offer unpredictable events, and are often less roped-off.  That freedom, that feeling of absolute agency, does not hit you as dramatically when you’re standing next to Mr. Woo and his buzzing audio guide. It hits you when you take a left instead of a right, and move against the current of the crowds. You pay nothing, and there’s a chance that you will be presented with a view that no one else can see.

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Cheat Day #1 – Soy Un Mono

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I’m sure I am breaking a cardinal rule of language immersion by writing this.  That is – never break from your target language and use your own.  But does writing count?  In any case, I’ll call this a Cheat Day, solely because speaking / writing in English after being attacked by Spanish all day feels like eating a plate of brownies.

I’ve been in Spain for a week, I’d like to take a moment in my own language to reflect on my experience so far.  I’ve been journaling every morning for the past three years, but since I got here I’ve switched it up and am now logging my mornings in Español.  It’s awful.  I have no clue if what I’m writing is grammatically sound, and I fear the day for when I’ll have to go back over everything I’ve written at the end of the month – incoherent dribble from some Americano painfully rendering his days in a language he can’t properly speak nor write.

When I speak, I’m a monkey.  But not your typical run of the mill eat-your-face kind of monkey.  I’m a shy, bashful, nervous little simian who speaks about 12 semi-tones higher while trying to communicate.  The people talk so much here, the whole culture seems to revolve around getting together to talk and gossip.  You know that wonderful moment when dinner has finished but conversation is still flowing, and people aren’t in any rush to leave the table because they’re having too much fun talking and gossiping?  The Spanish have a word for that – Sobremesa – which is a testament to how much weight they put on hanging out and talking.  They talk so much, that everyone is typically talking at the same time because they never stop talking.

As an American, I have to say that I’m not quite used to this.  I’m trying, but god dammit if there’s never a day where I’d rather stick my head in a boiling vat of olive oil then to mutter a few weak phrases I’ve memorized.  Like a bad martial art, I have a handful of practiced phrases that only work at the right time.  Like a bad martial art, I’ll need someone to set me up just right so that I can execute my practiced maneuver.

When you first jump into the learning another language, you’re mind isn’t as blank as you’d think it is.  You can already speak a language, and you can do it very well.  I don’t think we realize how good we all are at speaking our native tongues, until we really give a go at speaking another.  There’s all sorts of techniques out there on quick ways to learn, on achieving fluency with minimal effort, but what does it mean to speak?

When you’re learning guitar, when do you say that you can play?  To say you “Can Do” something carries a lot of weight.  You are able to—what, exactly?  Play a song?  Mutter a phrase?  If I can cook an egg, does that make me Gordon Ramsey?  The sliding scale of ability does not link up to the words “Can” and “Can Not”; it’s like comparing black and white to a rainbow.

Bear with me for a moment, and try to imagine it how I see it:  When you learn anything, think of it like an incomplete web starting a stopping in random places.  This is how learning looks in the beginning.  Your knowledge is sporadic, you may know a thing or two but the dots have not been connected.  Sometimes, one piece of the web will link up to another, and the strength of that connection is dependent on the amount you’ve practiced it.  These come in the form of epiphanies.  As you learn more, this process continues, and the web grows larger and more connections are made.  The web you’re left with is the accumulated, executable knowledge you’ve collected and rehearsed over a period of time.

I like the web idea, because it’s closer to nature’s process of building by accumulation.  But we humans are not used to creating webs, we like to create square buildings.  When drawing analogies to learning we’ll say things related to building a house, like “Work on your foundations first”, and “Only once the walls are up can you work on the plumbing” *wink*.  But when executing, like speaking, playing music, or drawing, we’re not traversing through our building looking for a misplaced word, we’re scanning our tangled web of knowledge on a specific subject.  After a while everything has an equal amount of importance, and the advanced topics are no more advanced than the fundamentals.  Eventually, everything connects.

Anyways, enough rambling.  I needed to expunge some English out of my system like a bad case of diarrhea, and damn does it feel good.  Not deviating away from a target language is like waving a glass of wine in front of an alcoholic – it’s right there, it’s so easy, all you need to do is take it.  But the times when you spend the most effort, when you’re so fed up you want to punch yourself in the balls, is when real learning is taking place.

 

Buenos Dias.