I was reminded today of a moment of when I lived in Granada where I had an unexpectedly lovely experience, doing something as normal as missing a bus and catching a cab.
After mixing up bus times over the holiday weekend, I had to get a taxi from the centre of Granada to Güéjar Sierra (a village en route to the Sierra Nevada mountains) as I had promised to help a friend run her organic cherry jam stall at the Christmas mercadillo. However, it wouldn’t be just any type of taxi ride…
The driver was called José and in the next 25 minutes to Güéjar Sierra, I would find out a lot more about him and the fact that he was probably the happiest and most positive taxi driver that I’d ever met.
Like most people and certainly based on my previous experience, I’d been expecting to have to listen to a taxi driver go on about the state of the world and in Spain that would probably include the ‘crisis’, however I’d never anticipated meeting one who was so happy and positive about so many things in his life.
He started off with ‘Mi encanta mi trabajo, mi mujer, mi familia…’ And then moved on to saying ‘Es una joya…’ when talking about all the different places to visit in Andalucia and across Spain because he had lived all over the country as a former policeman – Cabo de Gata in Almería is his favourite place – ‘preciosa’. He even showed me his old ID card. Since he’d retired from the police force a couple of years ago, he had enjoyed meeting different people in his job as a taxi driver.
He also told me how Sevillanos think they’re superior to everybody else (which I used to hear a lot locally due to local rivalry), but they couldn’t help it and that Granadinos may be malafollá (local dialect for ‘bit of a grump’) at times but that their heart was in the right place when it mattered…
So the moral of this particular story I suppose is when you least expect it, in this case on the way to a Christmas market having got the bus times wrong, you meet someone like José, who is not only the complete antithesis of the stereotype of a Granadino but also that of a traditional taxi-driver. Either way, I know that for me at least, my day got much better when I met the happiest taxi driver that I’d ever met anywhere, in Granada.
So, I find myself this morning in a bar in Mojacar Playa with a beautiful view of the sea, with palm trees everywhere I look, the sun shining and blue skies and it’s all rather lovely.
It’s 11.20am and I’m here preparing classes and doing Spanish homework. I’d normally be listening to my own ‘soundtrack’ on headphones, but it’s so nice that even the trashy pop of the local radio station can’t spoil the moment. Or who knows, it may even be weirdly adding to it.
What this experience makes me think of is to not take things for granted. Thursday mornings in London were rarely like this. London doesn’t have the beach, sunshine and tranquility, although it does of course have countless other advantages. However, as many self-help books and the more recent ‘mindfulness’ movement suggest, I’m trying to focus more on being in the moment.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to living in Andalucia. Mrs Cortado and I have been here for almost 4 years and although I’m not expecting our life to disappear anytime soon, I often find myself under a strange type of self-imposed pressure to enjoy myself and make the most of being here as long as it lasts. Or maybe that’s just living wherever you are? Having said that, it is much easier to enjoy living the life we live, especially since we got a dog.
I’d never owned a dog before and never been particularly ‘dog-friendly’. However, we’ve had our rescue dog Grace for over a year and every day, she’s a lovely reminder of living in the moment. When we wake up, the most important thing in the history of everything is to go for a walk and sniff stuff.
And maybe, that’s it. The ‘answer’ if such a thing exists.
So, as Grace would no doubt recommend in her delightfully innocent, Taoist, Winnie the Pooh- type way, stop thinking about stuff, stop writing stuff, and get out there and sniff stuff.
I’ve heard a lot about the village of Sierra Alhamilla as friends have always sung its praises. It’s only a 40-minute drive from our village of Lucainena de las Torres, has been used as a location in the TV drama ‘Game of Thrones’ (see photo at the end of this post), is famed for its spa and last night, there was a flamenco festival organised by the local town hall, so I thought it was worth a trip. We were planning to leave in the car, but somebody was trying to scupper our plans to leave the village…
It’s been so hot over the last few weeks here in the south of Spain, even at night and so, I was more than happy to go to this concert which was held in the glorious gardens with views on to Almeria city itself. Spending time outside around midnight in the summer is understandably a popular pastime here and is one of my favourite things to do in Spain.
I’m not a connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy going to see flamenco and went to a few when I lived in Granada, arguably its spiritual home. If you haven’t been by the way, visit Le Chien Andalou for fantastic performances in an intimate venue in the heart of Granada.
After eventually finding a parking space, we found seats in a beautiful setting surrounding by palm trees in the grounds of the Baños de Sierra Alhamilla and waited for things to get going, which they did at around 1030pm. By then we had also all been offered fans by the organisers which was a lovely and still quite necessary touch.
After the inevitable speeches by local dignitaries, which were mercifully not too long, singer Montse Cortés was on first with musicians on guitar, cajon (type of percussion box) and palmas (claps) and they launched into their set which was traditional and enjoyable, though at times, I admit I found her voice and the guitar a tad too abrasive for my taste.
After their show, there was an intermission where we could go for a drink and get some free soup! The event is called the ‘Caldo Minero’ flamenco festival. For those who may not know, ‘caldo’ is the Spanish word for stock, as used in cooking and ‘minero’ is Spanish for coalminer. The area used to be known for mining. And so, in addition to a much needed cold drink in the break, we could also get a small cup of Caldo Minero, hot coalminer’s soup. In August in the south of Spain. I’m going to ask some local friends to find out more, but if anybody knows the story as to why, I’d love to hear it.
This festival was offering different types of flamenco and although I’m a fan of flamenco singing and music, I’ve always thought that the dancing was just a part of it that I could take or leave. As a musician myself, I got the music elements, but I could never see why everybody raved about it so much. It had always left me cold. And then, the next group came on. With the musicians all in black and already performing with a professional subtlety lacking in the first group, you could already sense that this would be quite a different experience.
Performing the more serious ‘cante jondo’ flamenco style, the two singers (Javier Rivera and Rosario Amador) and guitarist (Miguel Pérez) were fantastic. Like many musicians in flamenco, they all had the necessary technical ability and incredible passion, yet they did it in such a beautifully understated way, which I found quite unusual when compared to previous flamenco performances I’ve seen. It wasn’t just about volume and power, you could also hear the gentle, melancholy yearning in how they played.
And then came the dancers. The incredible David Pérez (whose company it is) and the magnificent Maria José León appeared in fabulously flamboyant outfits and within seconds, the entire audience was transfixed. David and Maria José seemed so in sync with each other and I also loved how they incorporated the traditional flamenco shawl (mantón de manila), making it a fundmental element of the first song. I’d never seen that before. According to Antonio, a flamenco fan friend, he had noticed more of the ‘Stomp’-style rhythms had been included, even incorporating a bastón (walking stick) as a percussive instrument, which together with the intricate footwork, was mesmerising as an additional instrument.
For the first time, instead of the patronising insincerity of so-called professionals who turn up and seemingly phone it in , I was seeing how the passionate intensity and captivating sincerity of flamenco dancing could be integral to the performance and I loved it and I never thought I’d say that! Although the ‘stars’ of this particular set were the dancers, I loved the whole thing and how the musicians and dancers worked together. This company were on a different level to flamenco performances that I have seen before and if you haven’t seen them yet. I would highly recommend them! I’m strangely relieved that after more than 3 years living in Andalucia (two in the city of Granada and one here in Lucainena de las Torres) that I finally feel like I understand much more about flamenco and not just the music, but also the dancing.
It’s a wonderful thing that events like these are offered by the local town halls. In addition to annual ferias/fiestas, even the smallest Spanish villages have a lot of outdoor events over the summer including sporting events, processions, street theatre, concerts and outdoor cinema for everyone to enjoy. The ‘Caldo Minero flamenco festival’ has taken place every 2 years since 1990 and long may it continue. I look forward to going back to Sierra Alhamilla for the spa, to have a look around the village and also of course, to the next Caldo Minero!
I’m sitting on a lovely, ever-so-slightly battered brown sofa in my favourite bar (Cafe Cyrano) in Almería, my recently adopted ‘big city’, listening to my new favourite album (‘Hey Mr Ferryman’ by Mark Eitzel) with a cortado coffee and an orange juice.
I’ve just put my car in for a service. Not a big deal for most people, but having never owned a car until recently, it feels like a strangely grown up thing to be doing. I dropped the car off at 9.30am and am told it will be 3 hours, so I’ve popped into the city to mooch around and am really enjoying it as it’s not something I can really do in the village where I now live.
I’ve been walking around for a while enjoying the buzzy morning atmosphere of a working day here. As with many cities, there are lots of ‘things to do’ here, some of which I’ve done and others that I will do, but as is often the case, I find myself doing a similar thing ie ‘not very much’ to some people.
But the joy I get from simply sitting in a bar with a coffee, listening to music on headphones, writing, reading and reflecting on nothing in particular is immeasurable.
Some people these days might call this being mindful. I don’t know why doing this works for me and maybe it’s best I don’t know, so in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the positive and calming energy it gives me.
I haven’t posted here for a while as we have been busy moving house and have in fact now left Granada. But why on earth you may ask, after having loved living in Granada and written about it in countless posts on this blog, would I want to leave?
We loved our time in Granada, made many fabulous friends and I would highly recommend it as a place to live in Andalucia/Spain, however after two and a half years, Mrs Cortado and our new dog Grace decided that it was time for a change and so after lots of travelling around Andalucia looking at new areas, we left Granada a month ago and now live in a small village called Lucainena de las Torres in the province of Almería.
The population of the village is around 650 and so after living in a city like Granada for more than two years and previously London for twenty years, life these days is quite different. For example, we have two bars to choose from as opposed to Granada’s I don’t know how many hundreds, a convenience store, a bakery, a church and a pharmacy and that’s about it as far as ‘stuff’ goes, however, what it does have that we have not had previously is lots of space and tranquility, although admittedly, the occasional dogs barking in the campo occasionally challenge that luxury.
The other thing that we also now have is our own house, garden and beautiful countryside views and as we have only had Grace for a few months, it’s lovely to see that she is already enjoying running around the garden and burying stuff, although it is unfortunately usually our shoes, which we can then never find.
We will of course be going back to Granada from time to time to see friends and enjoy everything which that fantastic city has to offer, but we’re also now looking forward to getting to know more people locally, especially as everybody so far has been very friendly and helpful, seeing more of the rugged and exotic landscapes of Cabo de Gata natural park, chilling out on the gorgeous beaches of San José and Agua Amarga among others, exploring the intriguing Alicante-meets-Granada feel of Almería city and generally just hanging out here, chatting to people and enjoying being in this lovely place that we are now lucky enough to call home.
So, here are 10 of the things I’ve recently seen which remind me why I still love living in Granada:
We are the only English guiris in our block of flats and the neighbour’s children take every possible opportunity to practise their English with us as we walk by. There is a group of 5 girls between 4 and 11 years old and the most delightful is the youngest who takes great pleasure in saying ‘Hello’ and ‘See you later!’ every chance she gets. It so lifts my spirits every time I walk past listening to her say ‘Seeulaydah!’
Cruzes (Crosses). I still don’t get it, but I like the fact that there are things which are culturally so significant and yet I still find utterly baffling. And don’t get me started on the music during the processions in Semana Santa! Odd, but fascinating to find in the place that you live
Though most cruzes are far more elaborate and religious in tone, this one was rather curious…
The light here is just beautiful. Yes, there are occasional grey and wet days, but just walking around on an average day especially as the sun is setting is still such a lovely thing, making going about your everyday business a perpetual pleasure
Salvador Dalí having a cigarette outside a hairdressing salon near my flat where he works. He isn’t dead after all, nor is he working in a supermarket with Elvis and John Lennon. He’s alive and well in Granada!
Why are there so many pharmacies? And what’s with the ‘Open 14hrs a day’ thing. 12 or 24 hours a day I get, but why 14?
Although there are other good tapas in this city, I’ve said it before and here I go again, lomo con ajos (pork and garlic) at Bar Los Tintos (C/San Isidro in the San Anton barrio) with a glass of Ribera is the best! You have to go and try it if you haven’t already…
The gorgeous smell of cooking around 11am on a Tuesday from one of my student’s neighbour’s flat as I leave after class. Am tempted to pop in and offer English classes in exchange for a regular Tuesday lunch
I’m not a fan of getting my haircut and it’s a necessary evil as far as I’m concerned, however since discovering Paco’s Barberia on C/ Fábrica Vieja near Plaza Trinidad, I can now walk in every few weeks knowing that not only will I get a good haircut, but I will also get to hear some fantastic new (and old) music based on Paco’s personal playlist. For example, old favourites such as Belle and Sebastian and Roddy Frame, as well as discovering ‘old’ Spanish bands which are new to me and which I now love such as La Buena Vida
Ladies of a certain age walking 3 abreast with huge brollies, taking their time and having a chat. There is no way through and I have to cross the road to pass them. Personal space is still something I have to get used to, even after more than 2 years here, but I still love the idea of the ladies doing their thing, utterly oblivious to others
Having spent the weekend in Monachil (a village outside Granada) recently, the local shepherd takes his sheep and goats out on a daily basis right by where we were staying and I even saw sheepdogs doing their rounding-up thing for the first time. A big day in a townie boy’s life!
The Liebster is an award that exists only on the internet and is given to bloggers by other bloggers – a way to acknowledge and appreciate fellow bloggers and also promote each other’s work.
These aren’t rules as such, but rather guidelines to keep this chain of awards going when you decide to accept the award. This is how it works:
Write a blog post about your nomination, displaying an image of the award
Thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog
Answer the 11 questions that the nominator asked you in their post
Nominate 5-11 other new bloggers who you think deserve this award and come up with 11 questions of your own for them to answer
List these rules in your blog post
1. What are your favourite road trip movies?
I loved Little Miss Sunshine as it was a lovely twist to the genre. And Y Tu Mamá También because it was funny, dramatic and I’m a big fan of Gael García Bernal.
2. What songs are on your road trip playlist?
Well, without getting too High Fidelity on you, this really would depend! I like finding Spotify playlists to fit in with the place you’re visiting but often the local radio station does just that. I have very happy memories of Mrs Cortado and I driving down Big Sur in California listening to the Beach Boys or Johnny Cash while we were in Nashville.
3. What has been your favourite holiday/vacation destination?
Japan. Absolutely incredible place to visit. Would love to go back. Feel like we only scratched the surface on a 2-week holiday.
4. Where could you go if you could go anywhere in the world?
Back to Japan. And Argentina.
5. What was your favourite trip as a child?
My family is from Malta, so the majority of family holidays were there. Much like Spain and the rest of Southern Europe, a wonderful place to be as a child. I used to love being at the airport at 4am waiting for a flight as it seemed so exciting as a child. Funnily enough, I’m less excited by that prospect now.
6. Do you have any favourite road trip books? If not, what’s your fave book?
I remember reading On The Road at school, but my the book I always go back to more than any other is ‘The Tao Of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff. He talks about the Chinese philosophy of Taoism while intertwining stories from Winnie The Pooh. Beautiful and still inspiring.
7. And your ultimate road trip would be…?
Mrs Cortado and I travelled round the USA, Bahamas and Cuba for a few months last year and had a fantastic time. Our next trip will be a similar trip around South America focusing on Argentina and Uruguay which I’ve always been fascinated by as it has always sounded so exotic.
8. Do you like hiking? If so, your fave hike!
Not a huge fan to be honest. Gently walking in the countryside is more my thing. With a stop at a local bar for a cortado, obviously.
9. Who is your favourite travel companion, or do you prefer travelling alone?
However cheesy it may sound, I love travelling with Mrs Cortado. We see things differently and so learn new things from each other by being in new places and it was one of the best things about our Japan abd USA trips especially.
10. What is the most annoying thing about travelling?
Delays, cancellations and airlines with no sense of customer service. For example, a US airline cancelled one of our flghts last year without telling us.
11. What place would you recommend me to check out next?
-Japan (you may be getting the impression I like it here)
– in the USA – Provincetown & Portland
– More of Spain – I can never get enough of this country. Granada’s a good place, but I’m a tad biased living here!
– The Seychelles. We went a few years ago concerned that we might get bored on a ‘beach’ holiday, but we had a fantastic time and it really is such a beautiful place!