The Sweet Life In Granada, Where Anything Can Happen
“Granadans,” writes Spain Correspondent Susan Rensberger, “like to quote a verse by Francisco A. Izcaza:
“‘Give him alms, woman, for nothing could be as sad as to be blind in Granada.’
“Expats have their own refrain: ‘I came to Granada for a few days…and I just never left.’
“Granada sits on three hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, overlooking the plains of Andalusia. Built, fought over, and rebuilt by Phoenicians, Romans, Arab Muslims, and Spanish Christians, its crown jewel, the Alhambra, was once the royal palace complex of the Moorish kingdom. Today, the Alhambra attracts more tourists from around the world than any other site in Spain, and the city retains its blend of cultures and international appeal.
“As locals also like to say, ‘Anything can happen in Granada.’
“I arrived at the end of May, intending to stay a week, then continue traveling around Spain, Italy, maybe Eastern Europe.
“Then I looked at my bank balance, and the value of the U.S. dollar against the euro. And I looked at the stunning views of the Alhambra over the red-tiled roofs of ancient white houses…the deep blue Sierra Nevada peaks, still washed with snow…the winding cobblestone streets and hidden gardens of the medieval district … and the ‘modern’ city below, whose buildings, plazas, and churches date from the Renaissance, the Baroque age, and every era since.
“And I thought, Why go anywhere else?
“So I stayed the summer, and on into the fall. Like a growing number of people, I can pack up my work in a computer case and take it with me wherever I feel inclined to try living next.
“At the moment, it’s southern Spain, starting with Granada.
“History, architecture, literature art, and especially music are part of daily life in Granada. Music is everywhere in this city, from free classical concerts by university music students to flamenco performed on concert stages and at clubs in the former gypsy caves of Sacramonte.
“I arrived in time for the 60th Granada International Festival of Music and Dance, three weeks of concerts and performances (many free) in historic venues all over the city. Most of the audience was local Granadans or Spanish tourists. Friends tell me that arts festivals run all year long, one after another.
“Granada is several cities in one. I live in the picturesque Albaicin district, a medieval hillside village of white houses with red-tiled roofs, balconies, hidden courtyards, elaborate walled gardens, and rooftop terraces.
“A 10-minute walk downhill brings me to the ‘new’ city (dating from the 17th century) and the thriving downtown shopping district where many streets are limited to pedestrians. The meandering streets of my neighborhood, most 6 to 8 feet wide, are cobbled with small black and white river stones, laid in patterns dating from its days as a Moorish town, older than the Alhambra. A few wider streets admit cars, but many cuestas, streets with steps, are passable only on foot or horseback.
“This may be Europe (the best of the Continent in many ways), but you can live in Granada both well and economically. On Plaza Larga, at the heart of the Albaicin, you can shop in the open market for fresh seasonal produce, including super-sweet paraguayas (a white peach shaped like a doughnut, without a hole). I spend about 4 euro once or twice a week and have plenty of vegetables and fruit for one person.
“At the pescaderia down the street, an impeccably fresh dorado or linguado (sole) sets me back another 3 euro or so. My favorite multi-grain loaf from one of several panaderias costs 2 euro, but a long white baguette is half that. Shopping offers an excuse to stop for coffee (1.20 euro), chatting with the neighbors at a cafe, or, later in the afternoon, a beer and free tapa (1.80 euro).
“Granada has an entire economic sector, as well as a social life, built around tapas and cerveza. Draft beer can be ordered in a half-size caña for 1.80 euro or a full-sized tubo for just 20 cents more. Both come with the same tapa. Each time you order another round, you get another tapa. The first tapa is often potato salad, or maybe French fries or olives, though better café serve boiled shrimp or Serrano ham on bread. The second tapa is usually a little better quality, the third better still.
“So, if you’re hungry, you order cañas to maximize your tapa take. Two or three tapas with beer serve as lunch or supper for many people. But if you’re thirsty, you order beer in tubos, because they’re more economical. If you prefer wine, a glass of good, dry white or full-bodied red house wine will run you 2 to 3 euro, and comes with a tapa, too.
“Families with young children, grandparents, young professionals out with their friends, extended families, and tourists all gather around tables in the plazas where Granada lives its social life.
“On summer evenings, people go out for drinks and tapas just before the sun sets and the city starts to cool, around 10 at night. Children go along and sleep in their strollers when they get tired, while adults order platters of food for dinners that start at 11 p.m. or midnight. Cafes don’t open for breakfast until 10 a.m., and lunch is served at 2 p.m.
“In summer, in Granada, life is lived outdoors, under the moon and the flood-lit palaces of the Alhambra, still standing watch over the city…”