24 November, 2007


Needless to say, Thanksgiving is not a Spanish holiday. Assumption Day, Ascension Day, dozens of saints days and the entire month of August are holidays but we were surrounded by about 4,000,000 people who had no idea why we took the girls out of school! (As an aside, you can buy a turkey here though it’s not something the Spanish eat. And the price matched…about US$4.50/pound!)

Taylor was totally freaked out about how the holidays were going to be so different and Thanksgiving without the cousins in Dallas and running the Turkey Trot just wasn’t going to be any Thanksgiving at all. But she totally underestimated her mother!

While I went out for a glorious long run in Casa de Campo, Taylor baked a pumpkin pie and Becca/Laura Macie chocolate mousse. After that, she and the girls spent the morning at the police station getting fingerprinted for their residency cards. We should have them about the time we head back to the US.

But when they returned, we dragged our bags full of US Thanksgiving goodies, we walked over to our friends Chris and Kathy Cooper for the full on deal with turkey, dressing, gravy mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and on and on. They did a terrific job at moving their apartment 3000 miles west for an afternoon. Two other Americans joined us and we had a day that would have been recognizable in just about any house in America. We missed our families and we managed to recreate a sense of belonging that will be a Thanksgiving we’ll remember.

Otono en Madrid

I have been traveling a lot for YPO work, and some with the family, since mid-October. There was even a three week period or so where Becca and I saw each other for less than 24 hours…that was nuts. But when I came back from the latest trip to Cartagena de Indies, Colombia it really hit me how much el otono had settled in. For a week or so earlier in NOvebmer, while I was gone and the girls didn’t have any heat, the temperature dropped down to the low 20sF!

Someone had told us that November is usually the worst weather month in Madrid but we had been extremely lucky. Instead of the usual wet and windy weather, we have been blessed with brilliant blue skies and cool evenings and moderately warm days. As I went out to meet the girls on their way home from school earlier this week, the walk through el Retiro’s beautiful trees, water and that sky just hit me. We are very fortunate to be here and be together.

With all the signs of continued good weather, today we decided to hie ourselves up to Cercedilla for a hike. It was probably 10 degrees cooler in the foothills and much windier but we had a delightful day walking through the trees, always looking for a sunny spot, till we stopped for a picnic lunch and then back to the station for the 90 minute train ride back to Madrid. I think we’ll all sleep well tonight.

Granada and La Alhambra

Well. I am making no apologies for being so far behind. Travel and work have taken over for the last six weeks and I may not be able to catch up. I do apologize, however, for those of you who have come to visit and found nothing but old news. Still, here’s to a fresh start!

One of the recent family trips was to Granada in October. We had the chance to visit with some new friends there, Cliff, Sara and Alex (four years old). Matt and Julianna introduced us last year in Dallas. They went to school with Cliff in Texas and Cliff married native Granadian Sara. They hosted us for breakfast, let us borrow one of their cars and gave us an overview of their city. I don't know how we could repay the debt but hope we have the chance sometime.

We stayed in a cortijo (old farmhouse converted to a hotel/inn) called Cortijo del Pino just outside the city that is owned by some of Cliff and Sara’s friends. An old tobacco farm, the rooms were simple and comfortable and we really had a sense that we were someplace, not a generic hotel that could be anywhere. The girls in particular fell in love with the passel of cats and kittens which found Taylor and Laura Macie a generous source of treats. And they got to ride horses without any of the usual "worried about liability" outfits they're used to! (I was off doing a long run getting ready for the Cactus Rose 100, which was a total blast for me. I ran about 35+ miles and saw Granada and environs in a different way than most visitors, I'm sure.)

The old Granada is a very walkable city with beautiful streets, plazas and buildings. Life seems to move at a very nice pace and, as a major university city, full of students from all over the world. The only odd note in this peaceful city was as I was waiting one afternoon, outside a church where a small crowd was filling up their water bottles, an older lady was cussing a blue streak (my Spanish is good enough to recognize a few of them) at a young woman who appeared impervious to the invective being screamed at her. The older lady must have been doing a good job as several people passing by on the street showed surprise and then laughter.

The real reason to visit Granada, however, is La Alhambra (please take a few minutes to read this article and look at the fantastic photos.) It is the most visited monument in Spain and we now understand why. Our first real experience of seeing the fort was the night before our scheduled visit. We wandered through the town looking for a place to eat. We wound up in El Albacin, which is the old Arab quarter. In a very tight area, there are hundreds of streets that were oddly quiet. It was about 8:30 when we sat down at a restaurant with a little outside patio. We sat down and, much to our surprise, as we looked up we saw the sheer side of La Alhambra with a ¾ moon rising behind it. Just fantastic and really got us excited about seeing the entire thing.

There is no way I can do justice to La Alhambra. Books by smart people and full of pictures by professionals are dedicated to trying. But this 13th century wonder was built by Muslims, taken over by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand when the Reconquest of Spain was complete in 1492. This is also the spot where Cristobal Colon and the Catholic Monarchs, as they were known, sealed the deal for his voyage to the New World. The palace fell into disrepair for hundreds of years. Vagrants and Gypsies lived in it, taking or destroying the furniture and paintings and generally trashing the place.

Strangely enough, it was an American who saved it. Washington Irving (author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow among others), was in Spain in the 1820s when he became enchanted by the legends of La Alhambra. He wrote Tales of the Alhambra and soon people were flocking there to bask in the romantic aura. The government got reengaged and now the palace and gardens are being restored and maintained and it’s pure magic.

One other note. Granada is also home to most of the Gitano (Roma or Gypsy) population of Spain and they have lived in and around the area since before the medieval times. With the Gypsies, you also have flamenco. We were walking through the streets, late in the afternoon, and heard this couple playing flamenco outside the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella and their children. It was a cool combustion of Muslim streets, Gypsy music and the Spanish monarchy. Here’s a link to some of the music Song 1, Song 2, Song 3. I bought a CD from the musicians…one of whom, I'm sad to say, might have been one of the ugliest women I have ever seen. But she played the guitar incredibly and she helped create a lasting memory of Granada.