“Dónde está tu mente, Haley?” questions my Spanish teacher after I failed to pronounce an accent on a conjugated verb in front of the class. Mi mente, my mind, is in the perfect and cloudless azure sky of Andalucía. Don’t be unimpressed with my minor mishap in pronunciation, I work very hard in school, but living in Granada has put me into a blissful daze. Southern Spain’s intense heat, large lunches, and afternoon siestas have tricked my lackadaisical mind into believing that it is vacationing in an oasis paradise.
Yet, studying abroad offers a much more fulfilling experience than simply traveling here. Instead of slowly inching into immersion, we have plunged directly into the heart of Granada. We also quite literally live in the heart of the ancient city. Most of the thirty or so American kids that are in my program live in El Centro, or The Center, which is one of the oldest and most visited neighborhoods. The history of the city is uniquely tangible. I was genuinely embarrassed by how little I knew about its history when I became interested in studying abroad here. Everyday I walk past the Cathedral of the Incarnation which houses the tombs of Los Reyes Catolicos, the Catholic King and Queen, Isabel and Ferdinand that conquered Granada and took the keys to the Alhambra from the last Moorish sultan of the region, Boabdil. The mighty Alhambra fortress is perched above the city, always in view and a reticent reminder of the former Moorish influence. Los Reyes Catolicos also, as you may have heard, were the Spanish monarchs who sent Christopher Columbus to the New World. In fact, Granada is the place where the King and Queen accepted his proposal to sponsor his journey.
I also walk past an average of 30 tapas bars everyday. Granada is uniquely known for offering small, free appetizers complementary with a drink. It’s a way of promoting business and minimizing drunkenness. A huge focus of the local culture is to be out of the house and with family or friends in bars, cafes, and public parks. Getting a beer or simply taking a stroll around Granada’s streets is the best way to pass a warm summer night during the week.
There is not one thing that makes Granada so inviting and wonderful. It’s the sum of the whole that combines the mysticism of the past, the elements of modernity, and the pride of Andalucía. Spaniards have a proud certainty about them, even if it is just a façade. They have customs and a rich history that is deeper than the foundations of Granada. Even in the face of an unsure economy, they focus on food, drink, sleep, tradition, family and friends as the most important things in life. I never want to forget that. Gracias España, for the reminder.