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.