Orientation week is now underway for we international students at UGR (MUCH more entertaining when pronounced in a Spanish accent, “ooh-hey-ERR-eh”), and so far the most exciting social event I’ve been to was the salsa class last night at Pub Gavanna just off the Camino de Ronda, an easy 15 minute bus ride from my home in el Zaidín. I went with my friends Lisa and Ida Marie, from New Zealand and Denmark, respectively, and I think it’s safe to say last night turned into more of an adventure than we anticipated.
Lisa, la neozelandesa, arrived Sunday evening in Granada, and is my current compañera de piso, that is, she is staying in the other available room at Verónica and Fernando’s house. We discovered pretty much right away how much we have in common, and it has been really fun getting to know each other, exploring the city, and hitting up all the orientation events together. The two of us met Ida Marie, or just Ida, la danesa, on Monday when we went apartment or “flat hunting,” as Lisa refers to it, in order to compare prices, location, and convenience between our current homestay situation to pisos compartidos, essentially shared student apartments. Ida is currently living in the first place we checked out, and after we ran into her again at our first orientation meeting for the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (UGR’s Humanities department), the three of us have been sticking together.
Tuesday’s orientation meeting, while dry and boring at times, did help us to get our bearings in terms of this week of orientation activities as a whole, as well as introduce the seemingly long process of trying out and eventually matriculating at UGR. Frustratingly, we won’t be able to register for classes until Monday, February 25th, but the upside is we have all of next week to attend as many courses as we want, to size up and get a feel for the classes available to us, before we actually commit to them. I am quite excited to get back into the classroom setting, though; as fun and as exciting as these first few days have been, I feel after over a month of being out of school and work, I am ready to get back to the books, as they say.
Salsa night was organized by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), the European Union-wide student network, through which a decent portion of the exchange students came to study here at Granada in the first place (http://www.esn.org). Ida and I arrived early to find the pub was then closed, so while we waited, it seemed only natural that we go for tapas. We ran into some other international students who like us, had arrived early, and the five of us headed into the first tapas bar we could find, a casual little place called La Gamba Alegre. We ordered sangrías and then we were asked which tapas we wanted with those, and so Ida picked two off the day’s menu for us, albondigas and a type of fried shrimp, the name of which is currently escaping me. And I am most happy to report that my first taste of sangría and tapas was most pleasurable 🙂
While I didn’t manage to get a picture of the tapas, as we were too hungry and eager to try them, I do remember them fondly enough to provide you with a brief description. An albondiga resembles a meatball, I’m guessing of pork, onions, and other spices, a bunch of which were served to us with a thick, gravy-like, spice-laden sauce over fries. The fried shrimp, or camarón frito (which had another name at this particular tapería (tapas bar), was just like it sounds: shrimp that is cooked, then deep fried, but the surprise was the tangy sauce underneath the deep fried shell, which was then dipped into a delicious garlicky, yogurt-based sauce. So delicious. We washed that down with our sangrías and the accompanying baguette slices, and at that point paid a mere 2 euro each and headed to Pub Gavanna, whose doors at that point were finally open, and a large crowd of international students had gathered inside.
The class, while relatively simple and rudimentary, was a great deal of fun, reminding me of the salsa classes I had the opportunity of taking in Ecuador (at our hostel in Baños and at a studio in Cuenca). Despite the the constant repetition of “¡uno, dos, tres; cinco, seis siete!” from the ESN leader teaching the class (the counts or rhythm of the basic salsa steps, básico), Ida and I in particular enjoyed being dance partners for the brief introductory class. The best news of all? That class will continue to be offered every Tuesday for the rest of the term, free of charge for UGR’s international students. So that fulfills my desire to pursue some form of dance while I’m here. And the classes are supposed to get progressively more challenging, which should be fun!
And then began our mini tapas crawl; Ida, Lisa, and another girl Lisa met while flat hunting, Ilaria (from Italy), and I set to walking around el centro until we came upon a decent enough tapería. We stumbled upon this quirky, seemingly local joint called El Bar Soria, where we ordered cervezas and the brusque but efficient camarero (waiter) brought us a delicious tapa.
Our final stop of the night was Masquevinos (“más que vinos,” which literally means “more than wine”), a more upscale, Italian-inspired restaurant and tapería, at which we ordered their tapas special of a glass of vino tinto (red wine) followed by two tapas, all for the ever-so-appealing price of 3 euros.
Our night ended with a gorgeous (albeit freezing) paseo home around midnight, with a clear sky, and crisp, cold air, down Reyes Católicos and la Carrera del Genil, my (almost) daily walk home to Calle Primavera. A few shenanigans may have ensued, including tap dancing on the cobblestone and marble paving of some plazas, as well as swinging around lampposts, but all was in good, tapa-high fun.
I am very much looking forward to our next tapas adventure, which looks to be tomorrow night, in a ruta de tapas organized by the ESN, which should prove to be fun and hopefully introduce us to other exchange students!
This morning was our “official welcome” to UGR held in the beautiful auditorium at the Parque de las Ciencias, a museum-like, Seattle Center-esque place that we got to explore afterwards for free, including the human body and brain exhibits, a birds of prey program, and a special exhibit in commemoration of the success of “Etcétera,” a puppeteer company I believe to be based in Granada, that has been performing and producing a variety of puppet shows for thirty years. I was skeptical at first when I found out this was the current feature of the museum, but I am glad our group chose to go to the guided exhibition; it was a very entertaining display of some of Etcétera’s shows and puppetry.
And some of you may be aware of my delight in this famous work of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a classic piece of Spanish literature I have read abridged versions of in several of the Spanish classes I’ve taken over the years. With this in mind, you’ll understand how fascinated I was when Óscar, the Etcétera company member who gave the presentation of the puppetry exhibit, when introducing this particular section of the exhibit, said, “y éste espectáculo se trata de la historia de el ingenioso don Quijote de la…./and this piece is about the story of the ingenious don Quijote from…” and all of the elementary school kids hollered, “¡LA MANCHA!” I had known to some extent the renown of Cervantes’ work, but I did not know that kids knew of the story from such a young age.
This second appearance of don Quijote de la Mancha since I’ve been here (the first being the statue of him in the Cervantes neighborhood bordering el Zaidín), then, makes me remember the quote we were asked to memorize and always repeat in my grade 12 AP Spanish Literature course. In response Sancho Panza’s attempt to show Quijote how he has misinterpreted a situation and mistakenly gotten it into his head that he is a caballero andante, a true knight, the proud, self-assured Quijote replies in rebuttal:
Yo sé quién soy, y sé qué puedo ser.
For some reason, those words have always resonated with me. I know who I am, and I know what I can be. It’s a thought that gets me going, reminds me of the ability I have to be whoever I want to be, to experience what I want to experience, and live life the way I envision.
He might’ve been crazy, but I think don Quijote had a point. In the end, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a true knight, or that his horse Rocinante wasn’t some powerful warhorse, nor that the love of his life, Dulcinea del Toboso, was a figment of his imagination. He made the most of his reality, the reality that he perceived and believed to live in. He knew who he was, and knew who he was capable of being, and he went for it. And I hope to do the same here in Granada, to take advantage of every opportunity, to make the most out of every situation, and to live the Spanish life here al máximo, to the fullest.