Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Like Morocco, but nicer, cleaner and better"

Although we like to think of Spain as a fixture of Christian Europe, seven centuries of rule by the Islamic Moors might argue otherwise. Imagine a Spain where imams call out from minarets, activity stops mid-day, not for the afternoon siesta but for the afternoon prayer, and where ham is not considered a local delicacy but rather an unclean meat (ok, that last one would stretch the belief of many Spaniards). This Spain (Al-Andalus) existed for hundreds of years between the initial moorish conquests in 711 until the Christian re-conquest of the last moorish emirate in 1492.

Nowhere is the Islam-influenced cultural hold of Al-Andalus as strong as in Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors in Europe. And no people would be more appropriate to come visit Granada with me than my two friends who live in Morocco, the Moors' stronghold in Africa: Colin and Valerie!

As fate would have it, we somehow managed to book an AirBnB in Granada's Moroccan district, so the cultural syncretism was pretty heavy.

Granada's big attraction is the Alhambra, a great fortress/palace/garden comlpex situated on an imposing bluff above the city. The palace features some of the most beautiful islamic architecture I've ever seen, a sentiment the Alhambra's later Christian rulers shared. The subsequent kings and queens of Spain attempted to add Christian elements but mostly kept the Moroccan-style arches and intricate geometric carvings that serve as a non-iconic tribute to the beauty of the world Allah created.

Other islamic elements include the beautifully designed gardens and the focus on water through streaming rivulets and fountains.

Colin, who had been coming off of a bit of a rough time in Morocco, described Granada as "like Morocco, but nicer, cleaner and better." I won't make value judgements, but I can say it would be a bit harder to sit and chat with wine and ham tapas in Fez or Rabat.

Las Falles

I thought I was going to Valencia.

I imagined a quiet seaside town with orange trees and crumbling old churches. However, I stepped off the bus into some kind of street-party-warzone-cartoon-dreamscape.

Las Fallas (Falles in the region's dialect) is Valencia's yearly festival celebrated with explosions of color, noise, light, art, and more noise. The things that make Falles different from anything you'll ever see/hear in Spain or the rest of the world:

1. Ninots and falles. These giant puppet/dioramas are both disney-esque and terrifying. Some make political or cultural statements, all are supremely awesome. They're also all several stories high.

2. La mascleta. In the middle of the day, we gathered in the Plaça de l'Ajuntament to watch the big fireworks show. If we thought we were going to see much, we were mistaken. Valencians care much more about the noise fireworks make, so this was a hearing experience. I didn't fight in World War I, but I imagine this is what it sounded like.

3. Falleres on parade. Every community decks out in their finest traditional dress and parades through the streets with their own band. There's not a parade route, mind you, just dozens of mini parades snaking through the city, sometimes crashing into each other and causing a general ruckus.


4. Lights: The neighborhood we stayed in had some of the best light displays, some of which had periodic light shows.

5. More fireworks! Part of the reason Falles keeps your heart racing is because everyone has bought fireworks and are setting them off every 2-3 minutes. We got in on the action and I can tell you that this stuff is so powerful that I'm surprised it's allowed in the EU.

6. All night street parties. People are in the streets all day and all night. Our neighborhood also hosted a ton of DJs and booths with food a drink. Who needs to go inside for a party?

6. La crema. The best part of Las Fallas apparently is when they burn everything to the ground. The weeks of hard work, the priceless works of street art, all go down in a blaze of glory. In a tribute to how little Valencians care about tourists, this happened on a Tuesday night, so we missed it. Poo.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Filler Words

I have not had the honor of having awkward conversations with many silences in a lot of countries. Spain is an exception, and over the course of many awkward silences, I've learned that this country's language has a ton of filler words that don't mean anything:

Vale. Most like the equivalent of "OK" but if you listen to any Spaniard, it's said almost as often as people breath out.

Pues, nada. The awkward conversation ender go-to. When there is nothing left to say, you literally say "well, nothing." This would probably be extremely rude in many other cultures.

Bueno. Mostly means "good". Sometimes means "well". A good variation is "bueno bueno bueno" which means, you guessed it, nothing

Sabes. Translates as "you know" but used even when you don't know.

Vamos. Used as a filler word. For me, I think the best translation into English is a combination between "come on" or "look here" and "well".

O sea. It means "or it could be". There's an episode of the Simpsons when Lisa pretends to be cool for a summer and she learns to speak the language of the cool kids: "or like, totally" which is the same as "o sea, total."

En plan ___. One of my friends, when she's searching for a word, will unconsiously fill her pauses with "en plan...". For example, "So this girl went out umm.... very fashionably" would be "Pues, esta chica salió en plan... de moda". Don't tell her she does this because she says she hates people who say this.

Venga. It kind of means "come". If conversation winds down at lunch and everyone has finished, you'll say "Venga... vamos" which translates to "OK, well I feel awkward now. Let's go." A second usage, which makes much less sense to me is when it's used at the end of phone conversations. After running out of things to say, or if you want to get off the phone but the other person won't stop talking, you say "Venga... hasta luego!" or even just "Venga" which translates to... nothing. My favorite part is that Spaniards always laugh while saying venga on the phone. "Jajaja vengaaaajajaja." Weird.

So the question is, when Google Glass comes to Spain, what will it be programmed to respond to? "Pues nada, Glass" maybe?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Glow In the Dark Birthday

I like to throw myself birthday parties.

Remember the messy but legendary Barn Party of 2012? The 2011 Mustachio Bashio? The Mexico Party in 2006?

I obviously had to celebrate my 28th birthday in style. With UV lights, bright white t-shirts, highlighters and glo sticks. Obviously.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Liz, Marie and Bryan - United Again

Two of my best friends from college, both of who played in the band with me, were hippies in a co-op with me, and lived with me in my first post-college home finally came to visit Spain so I could share my life with them yet again.

Marie, Liz and I in the glory days.

I know them well, so even though I was at work when they landed in Madrid, I had a map of things to do, a glass of wine for Marie and a carton of milk for Liz waiting for them when they got to my house.

We spent the week visiting my work at Banco Santander, touring around Madrid and then Barcelona, catching up and enjoying the fact that we're still young.

We might not be 20 any more, but we can still rally! After a night of dancing, I had the extreme pleasure of taking both of them to Lady Pepa, my favorite after-hours for a 7am breakfast of pasta bolognese and piano serenades before they flew back to the States exhausted.