here, there, everywhere

Lost in Translation

In Europe, Spain on July 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

A fountain at Al Hambra, Granada

Yesterday we went to Granada to check out the Alhambra, a 13th, 14th, and 15th structure from the Nasrid dynasty. I won´t give details here, everything that could be said has been said so I don´t need to try and add to anything. Rather, this post is about how being a North American has taken away certain coping mechanisms.

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We are so used to cities and towns being laid out on a grid. This makes it very easy to find your way around, especially if one way streets are limited. Here, however, as in most European cities, it´s rare to find things laid out in such a methodical way. Cities grew up around the centres so their maps resemble the spokes of a wheel or a mishmash of streets. This is fine if you´re from one of them but can be confusing if you´re not. Take Granada for example, not only were the streets wrapped around like snakes, none of them had street signs which meant we couldn´t even get a point of reference once down in the Old City. Or was it the New City, or the Moorish quarter? Our GPS unit sucks big time, it´s more confused than we are I think. What I found disconcerting about this, apart from being lost and 32 degrees out and everyone´s tired from a long day, is that all of a sudden it felt like my coping mechanisms had gone the way of the street signs. I sat there feeling like an idiot for not being able to find my way out of there.

The city of Granada. It looks very simple from up here, no?

We tried asking people where we were on the map but here again we hit road blocks. Some said map was too small, which I doubt to be true since we ended up being pretty close to where we meant to go in the end. What´s probably more true is that people don´t read maps. I tried with two ladies, they had no clue where to find us on the map, and this became more apparent the more people you asked. I find that odd, that an entire group of citizens can´t find where they are on a map. Maybe this is more due to the fact they are from the area and perhaps they find their way around by points of reference. Once again I´m led to believe that North Americans have standardized life so much that if we´re met with a challenge like this, we don´t cope as well as others might.

And the other thing I find strange, and kind of hate myself for saying it, is how surprised I am by the lack of English speaking. When I lived in The Netherlands, or visited other European countries, even in the Arab speaking countries, it was something of a badge of honour for at least the younger generation to be able to string a few sentences together. They saw it as survival in the sense that their countries are generally small, who´s going to learn their language, or that the world is developing with English as the common language, it might be necessary to adapt if you´re going to keep up. Here, you are hard pressed to find anyone of any generation you can have a basic conversation with. Maybe in Barcelona it´s a bit easier, but even there it was difficult. And these are international places, you see and hear so many languages, to not pick up the basics is hard to understand. My sense is that they´ve dug their heels in and will not learn English. Maybe it´s because Spain is a large country, relatively speaking, and doesn´t move much outside it´s borders. But I wonder if that is part of their current economic problem, that they see themselves in isolation and don´t understand they are part of the larger world stage. It´s a surprise when other countries start telling you how you have to change your rules. I wouldn´t like it either.

Anyway, back to yesterday, our rental car is gutless as evidenced by our inability to leave our car park. There was no way that thing was going to make it up the steep incline in one go and in the end it required a team effort, Dad reefing on the e-break and Andrew revving the engine in the hopes it would propel us forward. It probably took 3 minutes of starting, revving, and stalling before we finally got to the top at which point the power in the garage went out and we couldn´t give our ticket to exit. Once again it was a Griswold experience. I´m not sure if I liked Granada in the end, it was reminding me of those creepy towns in American movies where a family inadvertently gets stuck in a town full of inbreds and everytime they try to leave they arrive at the same intersection which sends them back to town centre. Alhambra was great, the rest, well, I don´t need to go back.

Today is for recovering, sleeping in the sun and rotisseriíng my body for a full tan. And I´m going to ponder this regimented life we lead back home and figure out if there´s a way I can relax a little more when I get back.

Doesn’t need an explanation

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