“I’m Eric,'” he said, “I don’t chase the paper.”
Truer words had never been spoken to sum up my three week adventure into the heart of gypsy Spain: Granada. As I lugged my impossibly heavy duffel bag along the dusty Spanish street I would soon be calling home, I couldn’t help but wonder, would I have been better suited spending the summer back home in Seattle under the cool shadow of the Cascades? This being my final “family vacation” before college, I resolved to have a good attitude about it. That is, until our taxi slammed to a stop at the foot of an alleyway twisting high up into the hills of the Sacromonte district. “Calle el Vira” the driver grunted.
Fast-forward an hour later as we continued our trek up through the labyrinth of cobbled streets, barely wide enough to fit the three of us. Never in my life had I seen something like it. Tiny whitewashed shanties lined the streets, with cacti peeking out of thatched roofs. The streets were empty, and with good reason. The afternoon sun baked down on us relentlessly as the temperature creeped up into the 100’s. Exhausted, overheated and utterly lost, we stopped at a bend in the road to survey our surroundings. A 180º view of golden mountains, and perched atop them, none other than the famous Moorish palace, el Alhambra.
It was at this moment of wonder and exasperation that we met Eric. A German transplant, Eric (and his pet dog Gucci) was one of many hippies living among the caves of Sacromonte. When asked what he did for a living his response was, “a bit of this, a bit of that.” We would often see him playing guitar on street corners, little Gucci at his heels. Indeed, he did not chase the paper. This sort of laid back attitude we soon discovered was the norm in Spain, as Eric directed us to our lodgings. That evening, as I lay in the hammock above our cave apartments, I heard the distant clapping of hands and wailing, what I would soon discover to be, flamenco.
My parents and I enrolled in a Spanish course at a flamenco guitar, dance, and language school. It was a small collection of rooms, also located in caves — everything in Sacromonte, it seemed, was located in the cool, spacious caves that peppered the nearby hills. The classes contained people from all over the world; my classmates included Italians, Turks, Welsh and a few fellow Americans.
With these new friends I fell into Spanish daily life: late breakfasts, school, lunch and siesta during the late afternoon, and dinner or tapas at night. I learned to love the tapas lifestyle best in Spain, it was the perfect way to beat the heat inexpensively and spend quality time with friends. Tapas bars offered one free tapa (an appetizer of sorts) per drink ordered. It was easy to find yourself quite full and a little tipsy by the end of the evening. I never went to bed before midnight, and if clubbing was on the menu, they didn’t open until two am. Sometimes I stumbled home exhausted at six in the morning, wondering how the Spaniards do it.
Flamenco clubs were another immensely popular evening pastime. We went to several during our stay, each unique and enjoyable in their own way. The anguish of gypsy song meshed with the irregular beat of flamenco guitar and compas (clapping) was quite an experience. Locals also perform it among friends in their own homes. This was the song and music I heard from my cave each night as I drifted to sleep.
The longer I stayed in Granada the more I came to appreciate the Spanish lifestyle. It emphasizes the importance of friends and family, something that is so easily lost in our whirlwind American existence. The Spanish take things one day at a time. Work always takes a backseat to pleasure, and locals would sooner spend a fortune on eating out with friends and family than on anything material. My Spanish teacher was shocked that at sixteen I not only had a job but also a car; unheard of in Granada, where most adults rode Vespas.
Though at the end of my escapade I was happy to return to the instant gratification society of the US, sometimes when I’m stuck in traffic with a McDonald’s commercial whining on the radio, I wonder if Eric and Gucci might have gotten it right.
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