SOMETIMES something in your life is not quite right, and a big change is called for. For me, that change was moving to Granada, one month ago, from London – a city in which I had lived for over ten years, first as a philosophy student at King’s College, thereafter working as a journalist.
I had had contact with two English language newspapers in southern Spain and both had offered me freelance work. I had a Spanish friend called Chemi living in La Zubia, just outside Granada, who had offered me a place to stay until I found a flat, and I had an interview at the English academy IML. That was enough for me and, after a farewell drinks party with close friends in Soho, I headed for Gatwick on a freezing early March morning, kitted out with a rucksack and a hangover.
After a weekend at my family’s apartment in the countryside near Malaga, Chemi and I arrived on Granada’s outskirts at about 9pm on Sunday night. During our exhausting two and a half hour drive, we’d managed to get lost several times and almost run over a dog that was dozing, with utter disdain for death, in the middle of a petrol station forecourt. Beers and tapas were badly needed.
We quickly found a parking place – a minor miracle in Granada – and headed straight for Calle Pedro Antonio. This is a bar-packed street on the city’s southern edge and a favourite of Chemi’s because of its grungy, tourist-free hangouts and the ease of scoring weed along its length. ‘You’re not joking’, I said as we got out of the car into the warm evening: I was instantly smacked in the face by a passing whiff of strong marijuana.
On Pedro Antonio, tapas bars, take away joints, kebab shops and heavy metal clubs were all busy with Spaniards enjoying the last hours of the weekend. And judging by the amount of litter on the pavements – cigarette stubs, food wrappers, empty beer bottles and cans – it had been quite a weekend. Teenagers, too, hung out in large groups on the pavements, drinking from litre-bottles of Alhambra (the locally brewed, excellent lager) and smoking; the lovely, clattering rhythms of Andalusian Spanish emanated from their crowds.
This was how I spent my first night in Granada: on a spontaneous bar-crawl on the delightfully louche Calle Pedro Antonio, motivated by wanting few beers after a long drive. Perched at the bar in our first pit stop we drank cool beer and snacked on tapas-sized burritos with names like ‘Motherf***er’ and ‘Slut’. Still very much in London-mode, I was amazed that the animated, industrious guy behind the bar didn’t seem to absolutely hate being there at almost 10pm on a Sunday, trying to get rid of his remaining customers as soon as possible so he could close up.
The edge taken off our hunger with the delicious burrito-tapas, we headed for another bar a few doors down. You could hear it well before you reached it, metal music blaring out through its doors. Inside, there turned out to be just two people in its tiny bar room. One was the barman, who lounged around behind the bar in full leather biking gear, shouting to his only customer, a friend of his, above the raging music. It suddenly occurred to me that, in my jeans, white shirt and black blazer, I looked absurdly out of place – but I thought this guy seemed, somehow, to be pretty out of it, so I reckoned he wouldn’t even notice.
That impression turned out to be correct. We sat at the bar again, and Chemi chatted intermittently to the biker barman. After a couple of pints we could barely hear ourselves think anymore so we decided to move on. Once out in the street I asked my friend, ‘What was the matter with that guy behind the bar? He seemed totally out of it’. It turns out that, in true Pedro Antonio style, he’d just smoked an entire joint on his break.
His altered state, however, didn’t prevent him from recommending a couple of other loud and lively bars nearby for further beers. These were duly visited. In one we bumped into some friends of Chemi’s and we were thrashed at an impromptu game of table football. This crushing defeat aside, however, it was a wonderful first evening in Granada for me, because I spent it on a street few tourists ever visit. I liked Pedro Antonio’s rough-and-ready, unpretentious atmosphere and its friendliness. I was eager to see the rest of city and would have plenty of opportunities to do so in the coming week, when my mission was to find a flat, preferably on one of the almost laughably romantic streets of Albaicin.
For now, though, Sunday night was turning into Monday morning, Pedro Antonio’s revellers were finally weaving home, chattering all the way, and we were exhausted. It was time to head for our final destination of the day: Chemi’s house in La Zubia. I wondered to myself how rigidly drink-driving laws were enforced in Andalucia as we slowly drove out of Granada’s suburbs, leaving behind, for the night, the setting for my new life.