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Crumbling worth grumbling about...or not

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

by Diana Nelson Jones/Feb 24

Walking about in Granada, Nicaragua earlier this month, I revisited a city about half the size of Pittsburgh that has a Steeler Sunday kind of vibrancy every day. It's a gem of a little city, with squat rows of colorful buildings with ripply tile roofs, palm trees and huge cathedrales whose clanging bells sound like church bells in old movies. Plus the people are, if sometimes infuriating, enchanting.A street near the marketplace

But I thought I would tell you a little about their infrastructure just to make you feel a little better.

Our crumbling and buckled streets can't compete. While a lot of us Northsiders walk in the street rather than trip over uneven bricks, Granaditos walk in the street because a sidewalk is piled with rubble or so narrow there's no room for everyone to fit, especially in the section of town where the marketplace is (i.e., the street in the photo at the right, which is darker here than on my camera screen). My photos from the market are too dark to show you, but the aisles of a bus are wider than the aisles that maze through the market.

And speaking of buses. Ever ride the 16B at 5:15 p.m.? Think it's crowded? Hah! Ride a bus in Nicaragua; any bus. Just when you think not one more person could possibly fit on, one gets on with a live chicken. But that's a testament to public transportation. The taxi drivers are another story. We had pretty nice cabbies but I watched one hit a dying dog on purpose and saw dozens run up dangerously behind cars and bicyclists.

For all my cycling friends out there, though, you would love Granada. Bikes outnumber cars, partly because most people there are too poor to afford cars.

Poverty explains a lot of why Granada, for all its beauty, is not on the cutting edge ecologically. A gulley of soapy-looking foul-smelling water flows parallel to the sidewalk down to Lake Nicaragua. Foul-smelling water runs along the curbs of some of other streets too. The smell of burning garbage on the city's outskirts - and throughout the country for that matter - is noxious. And Pittsburgh's litterbugs need to get crackin' to compete with the amount of basura strewn in streams and hillsides around Granada.

So while you're grousing about how the city of Pittsburgh doesn't fix this or that, just remember: You could be soaking up the sun and vibrancy in a much older, more crumbly and still beautiful place.

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