Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mold, names, and bars


(Editor's note: I had forgotten that I talked about the mole problem in my last post. You can skip this first paragraph is you've read that one. Sorry. Guess I'm getting old.)

Not much has been happening in Granada these days, at least not in my little corner here in mold central. Yes, my tiny apartment sits out of direct sunlight and is half below ground level. Having been constructed some hundreds of years ago before Visqueen and other vapor barrier materials were invented, the walls stay pretty damp. Mold was growing on the dishes in the kitchen cabinet, so now I leave the doors open. Mold grew inside the armoire which was against the bedroom wall, which was always damp. The moisture transferred to the armoire which grew a nice crop of mold inside which then jumped to my clothes. All the clothes in the bottom drawer of my dresser, those I don't wear in the winter, grew moldy. I've washed everything since discovering the problem, but some of the clothes are stained. Such is life.

Interesting names.

Until 1975, with the death of General Franco, Dictator of Spain, it was the law that all babies be given a Saint's name. I suppose that's at least one of the reasons for the preponderance of nickname usage here. (This country was more Catholic than Italy until '75, and tax money still goes to the Catholic Church.)  I have friend in the cathedral choir whose name is Juan de Dios -- after St. John of God, a saint who lived right here in Spain. And no, my friend doesn't go by a nickname or even Juan -- it's Juan de Dios all the way.

(I've toured the house Juan de Dios died in which is a museum today. If you ever get to Granada it should be on your list of places to see.)
The patio in the St. John of God Museum
It's common knowledge that Jesus is a common name in Hispanic culture. Still after a year here, I'm not used to seeing signs like "Jesus' Appliance Repair." That will take a while.

Also, I learned why Pepe is a nickname for Jose. Jose, of course, is Joseph. Where do they get Pepe from Jose? This is interesting: Joseph, of course, was Mary's husband, but only the step-father of Jesus. So, he was Jesus' putative father. In Spanish, that's Padre Putativo, or PP, which is pronounced Pepe. How cool is that?


Inside the Tabernacle Bar, Granada
There are some nice, old bars in Spain. I've visited more than my share in my travels from Barcelona to the Atlantic coast, and in Madrid and Sevilla. Granada is no exception. The city has its share of boring, characterless bars, but then there are the ones like this one on the left. There is hardly a square inch of wall that is not covered with some kind of representation of the Virgin Mary or Jesus, but Mary is the superstar. She's everywhere. I particularly like this bar because it's one of the few that plays flamenco music. Mary and flamenco music: You wouldn't think it, but they go together in Spain like two peas in a pod. (It used to be Mary, flamenco, and bull fights, but bull fighting is having a hard go of it these days. It's been outlawed in Catalunya. It's only a matter of time before that's the case in the rest of Spain.)

Another bar I like is in a neighboring bario. It's about ten minutes' walk from mold central.
Sometimes I catch them playing flamenco, but once the tourists start arriving they switch to pop crap. Still, you can't beat the "tapas." I went there one Sunday and ordered a small beer. Some minutes later they placed a breakfast of home fries, toast, and a fried egg in front of me. That was a "tapa." You never know what you'll get. Another time I had a nice little snack of fish and whatever they call fried bread crumbs. Another day I got a decent sized paella and bread snack. And this comes with a beer for 1 Euro 80. I think the bottle was 2.50.
And another nice thing -- when they tell you the beer is 1.80, that's what you pay. I used to leave small tips, but my Granaino friends told me that made me look like a guiri, a foreigner. People leave between 5 and 10 percent in fine dining establishments sometimes, but in bars like the above, it's pretty much unheard of. But because tipping is not customary, waiters are paid a normal salary. Or, I suppose it's the other way around; waiters are paid a normal salary so people don't feel obliged to tip. I'll have to admit, that makes service pretty bad, normally. Waiters make the same whether they provide good service or not, so customers are somewhat of a bother it seems. You have to learn to be assertive here. Not my forte. That's another thing that will take a while to get accustomed to.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


You wouldn't think that a dry, desert environment that habitually reaches 100 degrees and more in the summer would be so cold and damp in the winter. I didn't think so until this year, when I spent the winter in an apartment at least a few hundred years old, half of which is below ground level and obviously has no vapor barrier between its outside walls and the terra firma.

We're at about 2300 feet above sea level here, so it gets chilly in winter. I suppose the moist air
coming from the Mediterranean Sea has something to do with the humidity. I'm no weather man. All I know is it's cold and damp.

I have no idea how old the apartment is. It's been remodeled so I have electricity and plumbing, but the two hot-water radiators for heat are powered by 11-liter propane tanks that I have to buy frequently if I want to enjoy central heating. I don't.

Most people who live in the ancient part of town and who don't want to buy propane gas on a weekly basis do without central heat if possible. Instead, they use this "One weird trick that the utility companies hate!" (That's an internet joke.) I have a small dining table in my living/dining/music room that I've covered with a cheap blanket. Under the table I have a small, inexpensive, 1200-watt electric heater. When I'm in the apartment the heater is on and I'm normally working at the computer at the dining table with the blanket over my legs. When my hands get too cold I put them under the table where the electric heater keeps the temperature in the high 80s. I always wear a sweater so, with that and warm feet and legs, I'm pretty comfortable. The propane powers the stove and hot water, but since I joined a health club and shower there, I use very little hot water so only have to buy propane about every six weeks.

That problem was solved pretty easily, but there's another that won't go away until summer: mold. Yep, without a vapor barrier which, I suppose wasn't too common several hundred years ago when the building was built, the walls, being mostly below ground level are always damp. Sometimes they're plain old wet. The back splash for the kitchen sink and stove is tile. Water condenses on it and drips down to the counter top. Every morning I have to mop up the water on the counter. The cabinet where I keep dishes is against a wall that's below ground level, so it's always damp inside from condensation. Any dish that's not used and washed daily has to be washed before I use it because of the mold. I've started leaving the cabinet doors open, which helps.

Then there's the armoire in the bedroom, thoughtfully provided by the owner because there's no closet. The back of the armoire was against a wall that of course is below ground level and always damp. It was damp enough to seep through the back of the armoire. I discovered one day, to my chagrin, that inside on the center of the back was a very healthy crop of mold. Any clothing that was touching the back wall was happily participating in the science experiment, and even the clothing that was not in direct contact with the mold was beginning to join the party. Everything in it smelled of mold, whether it was visible or not. I suppose I needed an excuse to wash all my clothes anyway. I cleaned the armoire with bleach and moved it away from the wall. That gives me even less room in the tiny bedroom, but since I live alone and have no "social life," no one is too inconvenienced.

Maybe it's just my circumstances, living in a cold apartment and all, but I'm longing for the days of
HEAT. There's no place to go to get warm. I mentioned that I joined a health club, but they don't seem to spend any money on heat. I suppose they figure the body heat of their exercising clientele is plenty. It's not. I can't go to a bar to warm up because they're all cold also. People here are used to sitting outside at restaurants and bars, especially since it's illegal to smoke inside any public building in Spain. And since 99.9% of everyone in Spain smokes (that's a rough estimate, but based on a lot of observation) lots of people sit outside even in the cold. So, the doors are always open for the waiters to go in and out. It's as cold inside as out.

I don't know if I've mentioned, but I sing in the cathedral choir. The cathedral is 500 years old. Do you think it's heated? Not on your life. Even the rehearsal space is unheated. We practice in coats. We perform in coats and most people wear scarves. I'd wear gloves but that makes it difficult to turn the page of the music.

Such is life in Granada, Spain in winter. Sitting in the shade of a dry 100-degree afternoon with a cold beer sounds like heaven.

P.S. I live just a few minutes walk from a tiny grocery store where I buy a lot of necessities -- bread, coffee, fruits, vegetables, and wine. Having been here several months, the owners know me as a regular. They're a couple in their sixties, I'm guessing. The store doesn't have a cash register -- they just total what you buy with paper and pencil. Money is kept in a metal box under the counter. Strange thing though -- the wife of the couple doesn't know the price of things in the store and many of the products are not labeled. I've gone there a few times when the husband, who either knows the prices of everything or makes them up as he goes along (I haven't figured out which) isn't there. Since I'm a regular, the wife tells me to just take what I need. I stop by another day when the husband is there, tell him what I took, and pay up.

Granada is a nice place to live.

Friday, January 23, 2015


Just a few random thoughts on noise and personal space...

Here in Granada, life is LOUD. Granada is known for being the noisiest city in Spain, and Spain is known for being a noisy country, so I don't think I can be far off the mark by assuming that I'm in the noisiest location on the planet. It's not just the unmuffled mopeds buzzing about everywhere, but there is construction and renovation in every street. The sound of manual and air hammers and other implements of mass construction is everywhere, all the time.

And then there are the celebrations that happen like clockwork, each one seemingly accompanied by the firing of cannons or fireworks or both and the ringing of church bells.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining. First of all, I came here voluntarily knowing it was a noisy country. And mopeds are a very practical means of transportation in a city where most of the streets, at least in the old part of town, were laid for horses. Many of those streets are barely wide enough for two horses. There are some streets where even two horses would have to get awfully chummy to pass each other.

Renovation is pretty much a given when you have a stock of buildings that's centuries old. Thank heavens the building I live in has been retrofitted with plumbing and electricity. I'm in an old area -- I don't know the age of my building, but just up the street from me are two wells; one dates from the fourteenth century, the other from the twelfth. Many of the houses have been here that long and longer. So, thank you, noisy construction workers, for heat, electricity, and a flush toilet.

As for the frequent celebrations and fireworks, this is exactly the kind of thing that drew me to Spain in the first place. Spanish culture takes the time and trouble to show appreciation and gratitude for their history and religious beliefs. It hasn't taken any time at all to become accustomed to the festivals here, and I, for one, am completely in favor of taking every opportunity to enjoy life.

One thing I'm not yet accustomed to, though, is the volume of voices. Not that it's an all-the-time thing, but it's common enough to be able to call it the norm. People talk loudly. Even in situations where you'd think they'd want to keep their conversations to themselves, in restaurants, bars, and most recently, in the health club locker room. They speak as if they're on stage and want to ensure that the little old lady in the back row with a hearing problem doesn't miss a word.

Just yesterday I was in the locker room of the health club, a tiny space, barely large enough for half a dozen men to fit into. Two of the three other guys in there were talking. I suppose "yelling" would be a better word; when I left my ears were ringing. The idea of "inside voices" seemed to be as foreign to them as I was. It's that way in any public space. With a voice that barely carries beyond my nose and a barely middling faculty with the language, sometimes I feel completely unable to communicate here.

Another mannerism common to southern Europeans -- Italians and Spaniards as far as I know, although I'm inclined to think it would be the same among Greeks -- is the "reduced personal space," for lack of a better term, that they allow when talking to you. We of a Northern European heritage are used to an imaginary bubble around ourselves extending out at least arm's length, and we don't like others inside it, unless there might be some romantic designs in the near future. A Spaniard will be twelve inches away from your face as he talks with you. I have to force myself to not back away. This will take some getting used to.

But at least I had (had) a peaceful place to come home to. In the Albaycin, the oldest part of Granada, you'll hear all types of music playing through the narrow streets, but only on occasion and usually it's kind of nice, especially when the music is flamenco. But it's winter and I can shut my windows and all is peaceful. Even when it was warm, the volume wasn't so high that anyone's music was distracting or annoying.

I have no idea if this is what she looks like,
but she expresses what I've been
listening to the last several days very well.
All that changed last week when someone new moved into the building just across the hall from me. He is apparently an aspiring rock guitarist and singer, and, being serious about his art he practices daily for hours. I suppose with rock music you don't get the full effect without the volume, so he turns his amplifier all the way up to "11." (If you haven't seen "This is Spinal Tap," it's still not too late.) If that weren't enough, his Italian girlfriend seems to have come for a visit. Either that or she moved in with him - I'm not inclined to try to find out which. At any rate. she fulfills the stereotype of an emotional Italian woman because it seems every day she's yelling at him about something. They yell in Italian, so I have no idea what the arguments are about. Suffice it to say, that she, or rather, they don't seem to care that the entire Albaycin knows of their relationship struggles. Today's argument was complete with much anguished crying and gnashing of teeth on the part of the poor girl. Actually, it's continuing as I write. If she's so unhappy, there are plenty of rooms for rent in the area.

I met the guy when he moved in. Many of the apartments in this building are rented out to long-term vacationers. He said he didn't know how long he was staying. I can only hope it's not much longer.

Friday, January 2, 2015

January 2, 1492

Silly me. I packed my bag and headed to the gym today, thinking I'd be able to get in the first workout since Tuesday. On Wednesday, New Year's Eve, I helped a friend move, which was enough exercise for the day, and of course yesterday, New Year's Day, nothing was open so I had a good excuse for being lazy. Today I headed out and the first thing I saw were police cars blocking the streets to make way for a parade. How could I have forgotten? This is the day that Granada finally fell to the Catholic Monarchs a full 522 years ago--January 2, 1492. Never a country to allow a good excuse for celebration go un-celebrated, today is a holiday for Granada: el Día de la Toma (the Day of the Taking)

The year 711 marks the beginning of the Muslim expansion into the Iberian peninsula--an easy target as its Visigoth rulers at the time had become disorganized and weak through internal conflict. To compound the question of timing--good for the Muslims, bad for the Visigoths--Roderic was up north duking it out with the Basques, making the conquest of Cadiz relatively easy for Tariq ibn Ziyad.

The Muslim domination of the peninsula--it wasn't known as "Spain" until the several kingdoms were united under Ferdinand V and Isabela I--was no great military effort. For the most part, the Muslim rulers were more tolerant, taxed less, and in general, were easier to get along with than their rivals. Thus the Iberian Peninsula was a Muslim stronghold for much of the following 781 years, until their final defeat under the Catholic Monarchs who united the kingdoms of the peninsula into one State, Spain.

The Catholic Monarchs, upon taking the final region of the peninsula, Granada, guaranteed the Muslim population freedom of religion and the right to remain in their ancestral land; most of the people who inhabited the region could claim several hundreds of years of family history in Spain. As with most guarantees by those who have the power to make and change laws at will, that one didn't last very long. In fact, it was exactly ten years later when the the Muslim population was forced to either convert or leave Spain. Enforcing that edict was, however, somewhat lax during the next hundred years. But finally, in 1609, all remaining Muslims were forcibly removed from Spain.

The Jewish population was not treated so well; they were evicted in July, 1492, with only six months' warning, and forced to liquidate their property at fire-sale prices. (I've read that the purchase by The Crown of Jewish property at this time and its subsequent hugely profitable sale financed Columbus's second voyage. I don't have the book at hand to provide the source notes, but the idea doesn't seem far-fetched.) Of course, they were also given the opportunity to convert to Christianity, which many did, and were then persecuted by the Inquisition forever afterward, always having to prove they were truly Christian.

Many Jews and Muslims fled to Turkey, which welcomed them with open arms by Sultan Bajazet, who said, "How can you call Ferdinand of Aragon a wise king--the same king who impoverished his own land and enriched ours?"

Coming up: Cabalgata de Reyes, The Three Wise Men Parade on January 5th and on January 6th, the big day for children here and in the hispanic world, Día de Reyes, Three Kings Day when children get to open their presents.