“Lo que una vista espectacular!”

Day 6

This morning there was no class scheduled, which gave us a chance to either sleep in or further explore Granada.

I revisited some of the spots I missed and hit a few of those touristy shops with Spanish goods, Moroccan imports, leather bags and parachute pants and some other things that tend to be on the kitschy side.  For lunch, I went to Bella & Bestia for tapas. I love that they play continuous music videos (as many other places do) because it gave me an insight into Spanish culture. I especially enjoyed “Talk About You” by Mika.

Some of us went to the Alhambra, which means “the red castle” in Arabic. It was one of the highlights of my trip to the see the beautiful medieval palace, Islamic architecture, enchanting gardens, and fountains.  Its view over city was exquisite.  I learned the expression “Lo que una vista espectacular!” which means “What a spectacular view!”

We met for yoga at 7pm, an hour later than usual, since it was a particularly hot day that reached 110 degrees by 4 p.m. Yoga class was great and comical. Sometimes a big distraction is a great way to challenge yourself and your own ability to control your focus in yoga practice.  We began class with nadi shodana pranayama, a breathing technique to draw your attention inward so that you are not so easily distracted and pulled out by what’s going on around you.

A man on a loud Vespa came by twice during class to check out the scene — it was the local security patrol. We must have looked very suspicious on our yoga mats. A group of young boys and later two elderly ladies sat to watch us as if it was a performance. In spite of all the distractions, I felt that yoga class was very successful. By the end I looked around and everyone was calm, happy, and focused on their goals for the rest of our trip.

Dio’ que calo’ 

During the fifth day of our writing retreat, Peter Orner taught a fascinating three hour workshop on Spanish literature in the morning and afternoon. We jumped right into Don Quixote, book one, chapter XV. Don Quixote is arguably the first fiction novel. We read interpretations by Unamuno and Kafka, among others. We talked about the brilliant invention of the character of Sancho Panza, the beloved friend that plays along with Don Quixote’s fictional world. Peter asked us to think about our own writing, our character’s own Sancho’s. One of our goals for Sunday’s class was to invent a secondary character who is willing to play along and see beyond the scope of what the character can.     
Later in the afternoon, the temperature reached a stifling 110 degrees. I bought a magenta fan at one of the touristy shops that have Moroccan imports, leather bags, parachute pants and some other things that tend to be on the kitschy side. There is such a fantastic selection of fans that you can find in the tourist shops, on sheets laid out in the street, or high-end shops where scenes are painted on the fans. We boasted about a “fan language”, which has been fun to play around with. A swift downward movement says, “I’m not interested.” Quick movements like the flutter of a hummingbird say, “I’m smitten.”

During siesta in the late afternoon I was surprised to hear rain beating on the roof of our hotel. Although it was only drizzle, the pink sky indicated thunderstorms. In Granada it only rains an average of eight days per year. What a relief that today was one of those days! The rain cooled everything down and by the time we were finished with dinner at Jardins Alberto the sky had cleared, the rain had stopped. and the roof above the restaurant had opened. It stayed light until about 11pm.

 “Lo que pasa en Granada se queda en Granada” 

I heard some juicy gossip today but I can’t say what it is… What happens in Granada stays in Granada or “Lo que pasa en Granada se queda en Granada.” The server at our nearby restaurant taught us this phrase when he noticed us talking secretively. He said it’s an important phrase to know in Granada and put his hand over his heart: “Un phrase de Granada muy bonito con sentimento.”

This morning Norma led a fascinating workshop called “What’s At Stake?” Her theory is that “What’s At Stake” is the central driving force of a piece of writing.  When something is at stake for the character (either in the personal, social, professional or political sphere) it makes the character more believable, creates intrigue, and gives us a glimpse into the psychology or inner world of the character. We took ten minutes to write about a moment in time (5 seconds) in which something is revealed. We went around the table to read our stories of suspense: two past lovers meeting and being trapped between two glass doors were just a few of our stories.


We went to our yoga spot at 6 p.m. and took some photos before practice for fun.  Yoga was focused on the 3rd chakra, which represents will power and the self, or the ego. We ended with meditation — this time with the Tibetan purification meditation. It involves a lot of visualization and helps clear the mind of all that we are processing at a given time.

In the evening, our visiting teacher and novelist Peter Orner arrived!  We welcomed him with a night out to see Flamenco at El Taller, which is near Place Nueva. The four musicians sat in a straight line facing forward and clapped fiercely, while the man in the middle sang with intense emotion. We waited in anticipation for the women in black lace to dance.  After 20 minutes of build up she finally danced, expressing her pain through movement and her facial expressions.

Poeta en Nueva York

At breakfast a few of us recounted the night before at the theatre in the Alhambra gardens.  We went to see a play about Gabriel Garcia Lorca called Poeta en Nueva York.  It was especially interesting since some of us are poets and writers from New York. The play was artistic and contained less words and poetry than we expected. Yet, I appreciated the collaboration between the projected film and the Flamenco dance that seemed to be an interpretation of Lorca’s story.

After breakfast, Rita led a thought-provoking workshop on narrative development. We discussed elements of narrative, and how to explore and defy them. We read Maya Sonenberg, whose work doesn’t follow a traditional plot line but seems to wrap in concentric circles and get closer to a middle understanding.  Someone compared it to a centrifugal force where the plot spins around a center, then in the moment stops and falls. We dissected the narrative of a few stories, including one of my favorites: “The Kidney Shaped Stone” by Haruki Murakami.

Yoga was focused on the second chakra, which is related to the water element, creativity, flow, and sexuality.  We practiced yoga asanas to open the hips, pigeon pose, half moon, and baddhakonasana (goddess pose). Class ended with the visualization of water to help relax, followed by meditation and the option for participants to write a few words in their journal. It was a prolific day — we all chose to stay close to the hotel and get lots of writing done.

En Grana no pasa na’

Today we meet for breakfast at Jardins Alberto — the “j” is pronounced as an “h.”  We are beginning to use Spanish, like “Medas un caffe con leche.” which means “A coffee with milk, please.”

After a leisurely breakfast, we met for Norma’s class on voice.  Everyone read a section of writing and recorded their voice readings. I read from Clarice Lispector’s novel A Breath of Life and other people read from their own writing. Norma went over the different elements of voice and layed out a series of questions we could use to engage in self reflection about the underlying question of the class: “What gives shape to your voice?”

Our assignment was to incorporate any of the elements of voice into our reading, like cadence, tone, or volume. For inspiration, we listened to Tennyson, Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bishop, Langston Hughes, Saul Williams, Jade Sylvan, Saeed Jones and some of Norma’s own work, like a collaborative poem and video entitled “Moth Light.” The unique voices of poets and writers seemed to make their words come alive.

Close to our hotel there is a relatively unknown spot that a local, Javier, told me about. There, a structure with columns and covered with weaved grapevines peers out to the hills in the distance. I taught yoga there at 6 p.m. It felt cool and breezy underneath, although any earlier would have been too hot.  Our first class was based on the first chakra, which represents grounding and security. It is the place I usually start with new students. I focus on working the legs and feet, in addition to physically building a foundation from the ground up.  After a warming physical practice, I gave the option to meditate or write or any combination of the two to help “hit the reset button” and clear the mind for writing.

It was an engaging yet leisurely day. Victor taught us the phrase “En Grana’ no pasa na’,” which means something like “Everything’s good in Granada.” That seems to be the case.

Bienvenidos a paraiso! 

Granada, day 1

We were warmly welcomed in Granada by the hot sun, it’s dry heat and the colorful character of the city. Today is our first day together and for many of us it was our first time in Spain. After checking into our rooms in the late afternoon, we met for orientation. At 6pm, we sat around a large table in the lobby of our hotel and introduced ourselves. It already seems like such a great group!

One of our CWW faculty members, Victor, lived in Granada for two years and made for a fun and excellent tour guide. He studied Flamenco guitar here and made us feel familiar with the city’s best venues for Flamenco shows, tapas joints, and its little idiosyncrasies.

We went to Babel, where we were seduced by the free tapas and friendly atmosphere. Granada is the only place in Spain that offers free tapas with a drink. We were in paradise! Our favorite drinks were sangria and “tinto de verano,” a rose-colored drink known as the tint of summer. Rita Banerjee led a class called “Literary Taboo,” where you can’t use the word written on your card in your writing. Others try guess your word after you read. Some words were: vampire, mulberry bush, rain, and femme fatale.

What a nice first day!  We went back up the hill to our hotel and passed through the beautiful gardens of the Alhambra on the way.  Our hotel room windows look out on olive groves.  There is still so much left to explore in Granada.

Just the beginning of our retreat in lovely paris…

We were thrilled to begin our writing and yoga retreat in Paris today! People trickled in the hotel Daguerre with their luggage throughout the morning and afternoon. Some crashed in their comfy room after a long voyage. Other people explored the vastness of rue Daguerre, a street bustling with brasseries, book shops, artisan chocolateries, patisseries, a very tempting massage parlor, an accordion shop and so on.  


The group got together for the first time at 5pm for orientation. We followed that up with a game of literary taboo, a writing exercise where you must omit any ‘taboo’ words that are listed on your card. We followed that up with a champagne toast to Cambridge Writers’ workshop. 
We didn’t have to walk far to enjoy a delicious dinner at the restaurant on the 1st floor of our hotel. We loved the gorgeous moroccan decor, the thriving plants, the comfortable bench seats you can sink into decorated with bright pillows, and the family’s cat, canelle, who apparently loves to snuggle. The diner was to die for, fluffy couscous and tender chicken complimented with raisins and harissa. We’re off to a good start!