A couple weeks ago, this Spanish dicho came up in a conversation I had with Verónica about the ups and downs of life. While there isn’t a direct phrasal equivalent in English, it’s a saying that’s often liberally translated into English as:
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Right. We’ve all heard that one before. It’s what we’re supposed to keep in mind when we’re down, in difficult or unfavorable situations, or when nothing seems to be going our way.
With every bad thing comes something good.
While I do appreciate the optimism in these sayings, in general I think that interpreting them literally is somewhat idealistic (read: unrealistic). That said, in the eleven days since my last post, I have had an uncanny number of experiences in which good seems to have come directly from or out of bad. There have certainly been some clouds, both literal and figurative, but with those clouds have come an impressive number of silver linings as well.
Example #1: Barcelona (Friday March 1st through Sunday March 3rd)
My trip to Barcelona last weekend, once again with ESN Granada, didn’t exactly start out promisingly. The bus rides to and from the city were excruciatingly long, as well as uncomfortably hot, cramped, and stuffy. Each journey totaled 12 hours or more as we pulled into rest stops every 3-4 hours, just as the regulations of ALSA (Spain’s main bus company) require for the safety of both the bus drivers and their passengers.
Not only were these bus rides long and uncomfortable, but I am also virtually incapable of sleeping on any form of transportation, so by the time we finally pulled into Saint Christopher’s hostel near the Plaza Catalunya in the centro of Barcelona, I, just like everyone else in our group of 55, was thoroughly exhausted and craving sleep. And, as we were quick to notice when we collected our bags and slumped from the bus to the hostel, the weather was drearily grey and rain seemed imminent. Nevertheless, despite our lack of sleep and motivation to do anything other than sleep, we dropped our stuff off and immediately began our walking tour of the city.
However, any sense of relief I may have felt upon our arrival in what is supposedly the most famous, popular, and most visited place in Spain, began to fade somewhat during the first little while on our tour. After being blown away by the cities of Córdoba and Sevilla the weekend prior, my expectations of what Barça would be like were that much higher than they had been before. So while I did enjoy my first afternoon there, I have to say (and I realize how taboo and unbelievable this must sound) that overall, I was significantly underwhelmed by my first impression of Barcelona.
But despite the “bad” of the unfortunately uncomfortable travel it took to get there, the less-than-satisfactory weather conditions, and my initial disappointment in my experience of this Catalan metropolis, it didn’t take too long for little indications of silver linings to show themselves.
But what really redeemed Barcelona for me was our Saturday visit to the Sagrada Familia, the magnum opus of Antonio Gaudí, the renowned Catalan architect who worked on this magnificent basilica from 1883 until his death in 1926 (check out the biography of Gaudí and a brief history of the building at its main site here: http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/index.php).
Just like the Mezquita de Córdoba and the Reales Alcazares de Sevilla I’d gotten to see the weekend before, (https://parayana.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/andalucia-la-linda/), this edifice left me breathless. I must be developing an affinity for architecture, because as the new Erasmus friends I made that weekend will tell you, I either become childishly giddy and excited or suddenly silent and awestruck when I catch sight of almost any mildly impressive building. But I think in this case, the Sagrada Familia is much, much more than just mildly impressive…I am not exaggerating when I insist that it was without a doubt one of the most miraculous buildings I have ever seen.
And just when I thought I couldn’t get any more impressed or moved by architecture…
As these photos and my enthusiasm in this post attest, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia was the highlight of Barcelona for me. One of the silver linings amidst the various less-than-ideal circumstances I encountered and underwhelming first impressions I had in the mere two and a half days I spent there. In the end, however, I would consider my experience in Barça to be a positive one: the conditions may not have been ideal, and the trip may have been too short, but I did get the chance to explore one of the most spectacular buildings I’ve ever seen, to meet and get to know other exchange students, and to realize the necessity of my return to Barcelona, so that I may explore it further and ascertain whether it really is all it’s cracked up to be.
Example #2: my fourth week here in Granada (Monday March 4th-today)
I finally registered for classes this week. That sentence should be followed by a massive “YAY” and sigh of relief, but the day after I registered (three Spanish literature classes and one Spanish linguistics course), I realized a) that I misread the syllabus of one of the literature courses, and that I had already taken a version of it at UBC, and b) that I was dangerously behind in the readings in another one of the lit courses, and furthermore that I most likely wouldn’t receive credit for that particular course at UBC.
And considering that the primary purpose of my exchange here is to study at the University of Granada and get credit towards my Spanish major, taking these two particular courses won’t serve my academic program in any way. So now I have to schedule an appointment to alter my matriculation…which of course we are unable to set up until after March 18th…and so the frustration and impatience with the Spanish university system continues.
Also. It rained a lot in Granada this week. Having been a Canuck for the past couple years, this shouldn’t have been a problem…but when you don’t bring rainboots, when the only pair of boots you did bring are days from falling apart, when you manage to lose your only rain jacket in Barcelona, and when you refuse to spend money on an umbrella after the one you most recently owned bit the dust, the rain becomes a bit more of an issue. In the end I did cough up 3 euro for a bright purple umbrella from a tiny little convenience store, but let’s just say the rain and the aforementioned circumstances left me with little motivation to go anywhere this week other than school.
The silver lining of this somewhat frustrating and uninspiring week? Along with one of my dearest friends from back home, who’s been studying abroad in Paris all year but came to visit Granada this week, and another UBC acquaintance who’s also studying here in Granada, I managed to rediscover as well as experience anew much of what this city has to offer, from the bustling cobblestone streets of the Albayzín and the centro, to absolutely tantalizing tapas and tintos at a number of Granada’s most popular taperías, and at long last, the brilliance and splendor of the Alhambra de Granada.
And so it was, on Friday afternoon, the only fully sunny day this week, that Lauren and I went to the Alhambra for the first time. We stayed as long as our tickets permitted us, from 2 until 6pm, and managed to see and explore the entire complex.
Our self-guided tour took us, in the following order, to:
1. Generalife, described on my Granada tourist map as the leisure area of the Islamic monarchs who ruled over Granada took up residence on the Alhambra between the 13th and 15th centuries;
2. Los Palacios Nazaríes, or the Nasrid palaces, the royal residences upon the complex of the Alhambra, and in my opinion, the most spectacular architectural component of the entire Alhambra complex (and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard);
3. The Alcazaba, the fortress or defense fortification complete with the impressive Torre de la Vela, the watchtower;
4. The Palacio de Carlos V, the palace of Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor, built in the 16th century in the years following the surrender of the Alhambra to the Catholic Monarchs Fernando and Isabel, and the end of Islamic influence in and control of southern Spain, after more than 700 years.
All in all, my experience of the Alhambra was everything I expected it would be, and more. And unlike my experience in Barcelona, the purported wonder, awe, and bedazzlement of this particular site was apparent the instant Lauren and I began our tour. While my fourth full week here in Spain may have gotten off to a rough start, Lauren’s visit, with the added bonus of a marvelous experience at the Alhambra together, made for a most excellent silver lining to make up for all the frustration and annoyance with the weather and matriculation-related issues (and for all intents and purposes, the clouds) I was dealing with earlier in the week.
Example #3: FOOD; from boring bocadillos to tantalizing tapas
Another reason why I need to go back to Barcelona? I didn’t get a really good sense of their cuisine in the short time I was there. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the food there is a bit more expensive than here, so the majority of my meals consisted of the cheapest and most substantial food item I could find, which was a bocadillo for 2-3 euro, what I consider to be a tasty but relatively boring sandwich of (usually) jamón ibérico or serrano (cured ham) and cheese, and nothing else. While I’m a huge fan of jamón ibérico, after three days in a row of bocadillos, let’s just say I could go for a while without another one of these plain sandwiches.
But I thank my lucky stars for Lauren’s visit, as Maddy (our other UBC friend) and I seized the opportunity to take her out for tapas…multiple times, of course. And since she’s been studying here since September, Maddy has had the opportunity to go to more tapas bars and therefore knows some of the best places, all of which we made sure to hit up. Here are some of the tapas highlights from this week:
It’s been eleven days full of eating, exploring, and trying to stay dry (and optimistic) despite the poor weather, but despite being a week with various setbacks and frustrations, it’s been full and I’ve been keeping busy and (for the most part) keeping up with school, new friends, and family and friends back home. So whoever coined the phrase, no hay mal que por bien no venga, and “every cloud has a silver lining,” maybe they did have a point, in the end.
Whether or not something “good” always comes out of every “bad” thing, maybe it’s just the thought that counts. Maybe the dichos are just reminders that when life gets you down, or when things in life just don’t seem to be going your way, there always comes a point when things will start looking up. This came true for me both in Barcelona and during my fourth full week here in Granada; things weren’t as optimal as I had expected and would’ve liked them to be, but good things did follow and seem to balance out any bad that might have been.
It seems to me that to expect constant, consistent “good” would be unrealistic; life is full of ups and downs, and the most important thing we can do when we find ourselves down, is to try and get back up again.