I'll never forget my last night in Granada… I bid a bittersweet farewell to some of the Spanish friends I had made during the semester. I knew that our kiss goodbye, left cheek then right, was more of an, “hasta la vista,” than an, “adios.” I slipped out of the cafe trying to hide the tears filling the corners of my eyes, but one splashed onto the black and white tiles of the sidewalk, drenched in the warm afternoon sun. Passing through the streets, scents of exotic spices and teas scented the fresh mountain air. I needed to collect as many sights, sounds, and moments as I could to last me the indefinite future.
Flamenco fans and whole legs of jamón ibérico dangled from shop windows as I passed through the city center. Pictures of celebrities, American presidents, and other famous clients smiled at me from the walls of the famous “Los Italianos,” tempting me to grab one last scoop of gelato on my way. I resisted, but barely. My favorite activity was to count how many pomegranates I could find along my walks. Granada means pomegranate in Spanish and they’re everywhere: on door knockers, bollards, flower pots, and street signs, just waiting to be discovered.
I met up with my American friends in Plaza Nueva, just outside the IES Granada center, and we started up the hillside. We wove our way through the narrow, winding streets of the Albayzín, the old medieval quarter of town. No matter how many times I got lost in the maze of white walls and red rooves, I always managed to come around a corner and find ten new paths to be explored. We hiked up and up, passing through and out of the city. The sudden transition between Granada and the surrounding forests, hills and mountains never failed to take me by surprise.
We were now on a dirt path ascending Sacromonte, “the holy mountain.” Our final destination was in our sights: the ancient muralla. This old wall was part of the fortifications built hundreds of years ago to protect the city. Despite its age, it still stands strong, though cracks betray it every few meters. By the time I caught up, two of the boys had already used these cracks to scale the side and were busy helping the rest of us up. We walked up its length, pretending it was just a wide balance beam. Finally, we settled on a good section, pulled out the bottle of red wine we had brought, and sat down to watch the sun set.
As the sun disappeared over the mountains, it lit up the city. Granada sat like a glittering jewel before us. It wasn’t hard to imagine why the Catholic rulers Isabel and Ferdinand coveted it so much during the Inquisition. The Alhambra glowed warmly. You could almost see the Moorish kings looking out of their throne rooms over their kingdom. It baffled me when I first arrived that 2.4 million people visit every year just to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site. After many class field trips to the palace, I could not believe it wasn’t more! An Ernest Hemingway quote came to my mind: “How lazily the sun goes down in Granada, it hides beneath the water, it conceals in the Alhambra.”
As dusk became twilight, we swung our legs over the other side other wall and watched the full moon appear over the Sierra Nevadas. Despite it being late May, snow still clung to the sides of the highest peaks on the Iberian Peninsula, giving weight to their etymology (in Spanish, literally “snowy saw”). The big, yellow disc rose higher and higher in the sky, signaling it was time leave.
We climbed down the backside in the moonlight and wove our way down the valley, passing by wood smoke wafting out of the chimneys of the cave houses. We finally stopped in one of these caves owned by an old gypsy man. These original inhabitants of the caves pioneered the art form of flamenco, filling their music and dance with their souls. He brought us “Alhambra” brand beers from the bar and we watched tourists spill into caves while the sound of tapping shoes and guitars spilled out.
My boyfriend walked me home. We were back in the center of town now. The last month workers had been setting up for the city’s fería, or festival. Every Spanish town has one. For Granada, think less of Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls and more dancing in the streets in traditional flamenco dresses. I had forgotten our last night was the first day of the festival. My boyfriend was catching a 3AM bus to the airport so we walked around the streets to pass the time until his departure (3AM is not that late at night on Spanish time…). We were walking through Plaza Bib Rambla when it struck midnight and suddenly all the festival lights that were strung throughout the city turned on. The opening ceremony played on a TV in a restaurant and the sound of Granada’s anthem filled the air.
It was a magical moment and one that made the reality of leaving hit me suddenly. I walked into my apartment and cried on my host mother’s shoulder, telling her how much I was going to miss it all: my friends, my family, my amazing professors and the IES staff, the food, the history, the place I had grown to call home. I left the next morning for a five-week tour around Europe. I couldn’t complain, but at the same time, I knew I had left a little pomegranate shaped piece of my heart in Granada.