¡Hola a todos!
One week ago today I arrived in Málaga, Spain, and I´d like to tell you about some of my adventures and first impressions of this part of the world.
After traveling for about 24 hours, including several hours spent in layovers, I landed in Málaga at about 4:30 PM local time (8:30 AM in Arizona). I walked out of the airport and immediately caught a city bus that would take me to the center of this city of about half a million people. When I stepped off the bus I had no clue what direction I was facing, and since I did not feel like hanging around a downtown bus station in the middle of an unfamiliar city, I just started walking. Since Málaga is a port city, I had assumed that I would be able to spot the sea and get my bearings, but the buildings were tall and the skies were cloudy, and so I became the typical lost tourist looking around with a puzzled look on my face. So I started asking people for directions, but unfortunately the map that I had printed which showed the location of the house I would stay in the first two nights DID NOT show the area of the bus station. Thus, no one that I showed the map to could tell me what direction to go … so, I did the next best thing and started following people. Clearly, in a downtown there are people who are walking in all directions, but I decided to go where the highest percentage of people were going. Finally I wandered into an area of the city that was also shown on my map, and the next person I asked could point me in the right direction. Next time I will bring a better map!
I stayed the first two nights in the home of a family who had posted on www.airbnb.com a room for rent for only $22 a night. Fernando is an emergency room physician who grew up in Chile, and his Spanish partner Carmen makes jewelry that she sells on the internet. They were so nice and welcoming, and they even invited me to return two days later to enjoy Easter dinner with their family … we enjoyed a feast of Paella, which is a very popular local dish. And oh, they also have three small dogs that instantly became my amigas … every time I sat down, those three were on me in an instant giving me that doggie love. One was named Blanco (White), the second named Negro (Black), and I forget the name of the third because I decided to call her Marrón since she had a brown coat.
After two days I moved into the small rental house that I also found on www.airbnb.com, and small is a good description of this place because I am sure that it has less than 500 square feet of living space. There is a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. Interestingly, the owner Antonio is proud to be able to call it a “casa mata,”which I have been told refers to any private dwelling irregardless of size that sits on its own lot. There are so many multiple-story buildings around me, but this little place has no dwelling above it while sharing a wall with the dwellings on each side (kind of like a townhouse). Antonio bought this place 20 years ago about 5 years after graduating from college, and it no doubt has been a good investment for him. (Now Antonio lives with his family in Granada, Spain, a town located about 1.5 hours away).
God willing, I will be in Spanish immersion school for the next 2 months, and this first week has been fairly intense. One of my challenges is to adapt to the Spanish accent of the people who live in this part of Spain, which is different from the Spanish spoken in other parts of Spain, which is different from the Spanish spoken in Argentina, which is different from the Spanish spoken in Mexico, and so on. Of course, the same is true of English, for the English spoken in Nashville is different from the English spoken in New Jersey, which is different from the English spoken in South Africa, which is different from the English spoken in India, which is different from the English spoken in Britain, and many other places. I can´t tell you how many times in my life I have met people who spoke to me in English that I could barely understand, their accent was so very different from mine. As a result, this first week I have been focused on tuning my ear to recognize and understand the Spanish as it is spoken here. The other big challenge for me is that I specifically asked to be in an upper intermediate Spanish class, which is a bit beyond my current level. But hey, you have to stretch yourself in order to grow.
Málaga is located in the (normally) sunny, southern coast of Spain, and indeed this area is known as La Costa del Sol. (I said “normally” because all the locals are talking about how it has rained more here in the last few months than in any other year in memory). Since the shores of Málaga touch the sea, one staple of the diet here is seafood. Today one of our Spanish teachers took us on a tour of the large food market in the center of town, and I was amazed by the volume and assortment of fish and seafood … not to mention all the other meats, as well a cheeses, breads, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olives by the ton since this is olive country. Fortunately, my lovely wife and I are dedicated to regular exercise, otherwise you might not recognize us when we return.
Málaga is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, and where he lived for most of his life. There is a huge museum here dedicated to him, as well as just about everything else that can be named Pablo Picasso … such as Pablo Picasso street, Pablo Picasso café, Pablo Picasso Spanish school, Pablo Picasso books, Pablo Picasso pillows, Pablo Picasso ice cream, and Pablo Picasso this, that, and the other thing.
The “siesta” is alive and well here in Málaga, and by that I am referring to the customary afternoon nap. In fact, a majority of the stores close here from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM so that people can go home and have lunch with their family, lunch being the primary meal of the day here as in many other Spanish-speaking countries. Then, after a nap of an hour or two, people return to work and the doors of the stores start swinging open again right at 5:00 PM. Many of the stores will then stay open until 8:00 PM or later before closing for good for the day. As a result, the people here generally don´t eat dinner until 8:30 or 9:00 PM, and in fact there are some restaurants that don´t even open for dinner until 9:00 PM. Accordingly, in the morning businesses generally do not open until 9:00 or 10:00 AM. It´s a very different schedule than what I am accustomed to, and it takes a little while to get used to it. There is, however, one notable exception … the Chinese variety stores, which are kind of like mini-mini-Wal-marts that have a little bit of everything, you can count on these stores being open all day from about 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM. Don´t expect these Chinese store operators to speak to you in English, because what you will find is someone who speaks Chinese natively and Spanish fluently, but who speaks little or no English.
Okay, there you have it … some of my early adventures and first impressions of Málaga. Overall, I have found the people here to be very welcoming and generous and kind, and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to meet new people and experience this part of the world.