my love affair with a man named lorca: why i chose to study in granada

Verde que te quiero verde…

One line and I was hooked.

I first read Romancero Gitano in high school, falling madly in love with Federico García Lorca at age 17.

So in love that I spent a semester researching the symbolism of nature in his poetry, exhaustively scouring the library for works that could help me expose the metaphor of Lorca’s moon, wind, and the color green. The granaíno took the nature that surrounded him in southern Spain and made it speak.

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You could say I came to Granada chasing Lorca’s luna. I romanticized the city; loving the the olive groves, the mountain winds and the gypsies from afar.

I wasn’t disappointed. There was not an evening in Granada that I didn’t find myself in a dream-like state. It is at night when the city grabs your heart. From dusk til dawn, the city is alive.

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On a 6 am bus ride from Granada to Sevilla, surrounded by sleeping friends,I found my nose pressed to the glass window. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the full moon hanging low over the rolling olive groves.  The fog rose to meet the hovering ball of light. The luna granaína spoke to me, just as she speaks in Lorca’s Romance de la luna, luna. There was something magical about it, something that can’t be put into words. Something that simply washes over you.

source: thecareyadventures

source: thecareyadventures

After that morning, I found myself constantly staring at the night sky. Upon leaving one of our favorite discos in the caves of Sacromonte shortly before dawn most weekends, I’d sit on the city walls and just watch the moon lower itself over the Alhambra, slowly disappearing behind the breathtaking fortress. I couldn’t tear my gaze away.

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Then, there were the gypsies. Hearing the toque gitano, the soft olé‘s that seemed to rise up from the soul, and observing the strong presence of tradition in barrio Sacromonte at sunset gave me chills.

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I came chasing Lorca’s inspiration, and Granada guided me to it without me having to look. It’s a magical city. A sensual one that makes you feel deeply. A city that speaks to the heart in both culture and nature, and promises to enchant you each and every day.

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I leave you with some words I wrote for the magazine Por Granada at the end of my time living there:

Quien pasea por las calles del Albaicín o las cuevas del Sacromonte puede imaginar la historia de los árabes y gitanos que una vez poblaron estos barrios granadinos.  Esta imagen necesita como complemento indispensable una banda sonora de guitarras y quejíos flamencos.  La música de la historia de Granada parece sonar a través de sus calles.

Los últimos meses han sido unos de los mejores de mi vida, llenos de diversión, risa y aventura. La historia, la poesía y la música del pasado aún viven en las calles de Granada. Cada vez que salgo de tapas o a las discotecas, la vista de la luna de que habló Lorca y la belleza de la Alhambra me deja sin palabras. Para mi, Granada es un sueño.”

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street artists capturing the essence of Granada

“Whoever walks the streets of the Albaicín or explores the caves of Sacromonte can feel the presence of the Arabs and gypsies that once populated these neighborhoods. This image is complemented by a soundtrack of guitars and the sounds of flamenco. The music of Granada’s past seems to play throughout its streets. The past months here have been some of the best of my life, full of fun, laughter and adventure. The history, poetry and music of the Granada of the past still live in its streets. Each time I go out for tapas or to a club, the view of the moon that Lorca spoke of combined with the beauty of the Alhambra leaves me without words. For me, Granada is a dream.”

source: flickr

source: flickr

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life lessons from morocco

This time last year I was traveling around northern Morocco, hopping from Tangier to Rabat to a tiny village in the Rif Mountains and finally up to Chefchaouen.

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photo credit: {my talented travel companion} Ashley Portal

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My days in Morocco included some of the most uncomfortable and alienating moments I’ve ever experienced. The social norms I’d accepted for years were deeply challenged, my beliefs were shaken, and my eyes were opened. By interacting closely and observing a people whose culture is like oil to the water of a New Yorker, I learned powerful lessons in a very short time. I can truly say I am a different person for having experienced what I did there.

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by Ashley Portal

I learned that my problems are trivial.

In Rabat and Tangier the children played with sticks in the streets, if they were able to play at all. In nearly all the markets little children were working to help their parents make a living.

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In the mountains we were invited to dine with a family in their home, where the man in the picture below recounted the story of his life to us. He explained that the woman at his side was his second wife.

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by Ashley Portal


His first wife had been pregnant with their second child together and went into early labor. There was no road connecting their hilltop home to the highway 5 km away, so he and his wife had to hike the distance as she was contracting. By the time they got to the highway, they had to try  hitch-hike to the hospital 20 km away. She died of complications before they made it there.

Their house high up in the mountains

 Anytime I start to get overwhelmed by something, I reflect on the things I saw and the stories I heard in northern Africa. I’ve found that me and my problems are so small in the grand scheme of things. It’s reminds me to be thankful for all I have and all of the opportunities available to me, instead of getting wrapped up in trivial frustrations and worries.

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I learned to let go of my need to control everything.

Or at least to try.

If you spend any time with a Moroccan, or anyone of the Muslim faith, you will hear them say “inshallah” throughout conversation. This roughly translates to “God willing.” The people I met in northern Africa taught me to do what I can with my own hands and understand  and accept that there are outside factors in which I have no say. We are only human, we don’t have the ability to change the things we do not control. By accepting this, I found myself at peace after years of trying to micromanage every aspect of my life and those around me in order to get what I want.
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I learned that beauty has nothing to do with looks.
I was the kind of girl that wore make up every day; I even wore mascara to the gym. If I wasn’t looking my best when I went out, I didn’t feel confident. In Morocco, I wore no make up and bathing was a luxury every few days. I wore dirty, loose-fitting clothes that hid my body. The first day or two, I was horrified. I refused to be in pictures. A vain city girl at her worst.
Our second afternoon in Rabat though, I found myself in a rousing discussion with a couple of university students about dating, sex, politics and religion. For the first time in maybe my whole life, I was completely unaware of what I looked like. I was unable to control my appearance with make up and fashion, so I just kind of let it go. I was letting my soul show, sharing my beliefs and opening myself up to others’ without insecurity. I wasn’t dolled up, wasn’t trying to impress anyone; I was letting my true self show. I realized I’d never felt more confident than I did in that moment.
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In a culture where women cover themselves from head to toe in loose clothing, their value is placed on who they are inside as opposed to how perfect their figure and features are. I realized that I had spent years being hard on myself for not being thin enough, not having perfect skin, and ignoring everyone who told me “beauty is only skin deep.” It wasn’t until I was immersed in a culture that truly embraces that idea that I finally got it: there are few things more beautiful than cultivating your soul, being confident in who you are and what you believe in, and being open and kind to others.
Friends reflecting at sunrise.Chefchaouen.

Friends reflecting at sunrise.
Chefchaouen.

I went to Morocco a 20 year old girl, full of insecurities and largely shaped by the materialism and vanity that surrounded me at home. There is no better education than seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, and that’s what I did during my time there. I came out a more confident, humble, and empowered woman.
I left with a new outlook on life.