I’m a Flamenco ‘Friki’ ! (module 4)
While in Sevilla, I got totally lost in the winding streets of Santa Cruz searching for the museum of Flamenco dance. I had to ask for directions about 10 times and the heat of mid day was brutal. There’s little I can say about Flamenco art that hasn’t been said, but I was amazed by the beauty of the museum and learned a lot. I am what they would say in Spanish a “friki” for flamenco, or in English, a geek!
Flamenco is such a rich art, it reflects how beautiful the result can be when cultures grow from each other and create something new. Flamenco dance and song have ancient roots going back to India from where the Roma people originally migrated. The song has Moorish and Sefardic influences, born out of these three cultures interacting when marginalized and oppressed by the Catholics after the 15th century. The Castillian influence brings the guitar and other folk forms. Flamenco transformed into a modern art as the importance shifted towards the individual self-expression or interpretation of communal folk forms, using improvisation to add flourishes of individuality with the ultimate goal of communicating, connecting with the rawest, most heart-felt emotions. They say flamenco gives you ‘piel de gallina’ — goose bumps— when it’s done sincerely. I will attest to that!
**NOTE: I’ve added my own comments to these photos, but you have to click on the photo to read them. The words from the museum itself are informative and valuable, so it is with great pleasure that I share them with Grupo España for those who didn’t have the chance to make it to this wonderful museum. I think it ought to be required in the future!
Seeing this last very modern painting I was reminded that one of my favorite aspects of Flamenco is that it is a living art, one that continues to inspire so many people around the world today. Flamenco is a world unto itself that lives. This means that it is not a thing of the past kept locked up in a museum. Rather it is an art that breathes every time it is heard, studied, played, danced or even painted. It doesn’t need institutions to keep it alive because it belongs to humanity.
Is Spain one nation? What is “Spanish”?
The uniting of Spain coincided with the conquering of the Moors, the last Islamic kingdom in Europe, the exile and genocide of the Jews and the beginning of colonization of the Americas. We saw this rich history in the Alhambra, and in the streets of Sevilla.
To me however, it is no coincidence that these historical occurrences happened simultaneously. Spain was one of the very first modern nations. In order for the Catholic Casillians to conquer such a vast territory that is modern day Spain, religious intolerance and xenophobia gave a way to distinguish who was an infidel or heretic or inferior, and thus impose dominance. The nation of Spain reminds us that all political borders are fictions created by man. The idea of a Spanish identity is not even taken seriously by most Spaniards themselves, who are loyal to their regional identity first.
This regionalism is reflected in the places we visited but also in the places we were not able to visit (this time!)
But regionalism is just a subset of nationalism when you look at larger issues of immigration. In Granada you can see the presence of a large Moroccan population in the Bajo Albaizyn neighborhood. In the Lavapies neighborhood of Madrid we saw a lively, extremely mixed population of Senegalese, Bangladeshi, Moroccan and more. In Spain at times the tensions of xenophobia towards these populations has at times turned ugly. This is similar to the mainstream culture of the United States’ relationship towards its immigrant populations. Though xenophobia is not cool by any means (!), we can learn something about ourselves by trying to examine the roots of this in Spain. It reminds us that we have to understand Spain’s history and that it was a very isolated country until very recently under Franco. Immigration is new, and for people of older generations they may not wish to understand others. We can see a reflection of this tension in our own society.
Module 6 continued
Many do not know that Asturian is a language (of the province of Asturias, the mountainous region famous for it’s milk in Spain). Galician language is also not very familiar to many Americans. But these two provinces’ history differs greatly from much of Spain, as they were never ruled by the Moors. In the case of Galicia, there are strong Celtic and Portuguese influences.
Module 6 continued
Catlunya and the Basque Country have cultures, languages and histories distinct from the rest of Spain. Basque language is not even a romance language. There are Catalan people in southern France. The Basque country is actually in Spain and France regardless of what the border shows. Both provinces were brutally oppressed by Franco in order to keep them in the nation. ETA fought against Franco and after Franco continued fighting by using violence and terrorism. Today many ETA fighters are still in jail or on the run.
Module 6 continued
In Andalucía, the regional loyalty shows a great appreciation towards the mix of peoples that created their identity. Monuments such as the Alhambra and the Mezquita are sources of pride and cherished. Today the people recognize the Moorish contribution to their heritage. The jewish neighborhoods of Sevilla (Santa Cruz), Cordoba (la Judería) and Granada (el Realejo) and gorgeous and are very popular destinations for tourists as well as Andalusians.
I wouldn’t want to eat a meal in a world without the New World!
Food is one of the main pillars of any culture. When Columbus “discovered” the New World, he introduced Europe to a whole ecological world that he never imagined. So much of Spanish cuisine today would be unrecognizable to Spaniards from the 15th century. For example: Spain’s national dish, one that every grandma in the country knows how to make, is Tortilla Española. It’s two ingredients (classically): potato and egg. Potato is a new world vegetable/tuber. Gazpacho? Cucumber and tomato are both from the new world, without which there is no gazpacho. Without green beans, carrots or onions there would be no puchero (stew) or traditional lentejas (lentils) nor a plethora of other dishes. Can you imagine Isabel and Ferdinand travelling forward in time to today and having a meal in Madrid? They wouldn’t have a clue what they were eating! The whole world of food owes so much to the new world, not just in Spain of course. It makes me reflect that sometimes the best food is always the result of mixing cultures. Italian Spaghetti for example: Tomatoes are from the Americas and pasta is from China!
Today Spain has a lot more to offer in the culinary arts and experiences. In Barcelona we were met with Lebanese, Vietnamese, Indian and many more options. Everywhere we went it was our goal to find the best, healthiest food. I was surprised by how little the vegetarian options were, health food and organic options as well. But I was also happy to see that these trends are growing in Spain.
The Mercado de Triana: Module 4
I am a huge fan of Spanish food but more importantly the culture around food. Taking a break from work or school to eat at home and have a siesta—wonderful and “civilized”. Having access to fresh fruits vegetables—even better. In Sevilla I discovered the Mercado de Triana and didn’t spend another day in the city without visiting it. There we made friends with Juan Carlos, a bar owner (the market has bars/cafterías inside!). The market is not just a nutriontal resource but also a social one! There in your interactions with vendors you can get a real slice of Spanish culture!
In the market you can observe all the cultural norms around eating. In the morning you can see traditional breakfast customs, (espresso with milk and a toasted baguette with tomato and olive oil). Some older men will have an Anis at breakfast sometimes, which is not healthy at all. The market closes for the siesta of course. The market is also open late on weekends for the traditionally light dinner. You will see how many Spaniards eat standing up! This seems to me to reflect the social aspect of sharing a meal, which lends itself to social spontaneity.
The market is also a good way to observe nightlife. We were invited to arrive for a drink before the market closes, and then many young people stayed afterwards as Juan Carlos’ bar remained open though the market was locked. To me in Andalucía there is a sort of no none-sense, almost anti-authority ethos that seems normal (ie, why should we not do as we please?) that is reflected in this sort of after-hours activity.
Bullfighting, Art or Torture? Module 2
Spain produced some of the most famous artists of the 20th century (Picasso, Dalí, Miro, Lorca, Buñuel and more). Poetry, music and painting are a rich part of the history and culture of this country. In today’s world, art, history and “culture” become commodities and this is nowhere more clear than in Spain, where tourism is the number one industry to the national economy.
Bull fighting highlights the dark side of this. Whilst in Madrid we were taken on a tour in which we were shown the facade of the city’s bull ring. Bullfights and bull rings are touted tourist destinations, strange and curious artifacts that exemplify the countries “exotic” character (Spain is Different!).
I have a theory about the roots of this ambivalence towards bullfighting that connects it to art and how this in turn shapes the current circumstances. It goes like this: Spain was a muse in the work of writer Ernest Hemingway. As an enormously popular writer in the English speaking world, he was the first to write a manual, or academic explanation, of Bullfighting. He also wrote about the Civil War in A Farewell to Arms and romanticised bullfighters and bullfighting in The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Summer. Hemingway was also super macho and used Bullfighting and Spain to create an archetype of manhood. He made the running of the bulls famous, and not thousands of Americans and English (mostly men) flock to Pamplona to get drunk and thrill seek, showing their manliness by joining in this particular local tradition.
But more importantly, to many Spaniards, (the overwhelming majority of young Spaniards) Bullfighting is an aberration. Above is a link that shows the fight against bullfighting and that not all Spaniards consider bullfighting art or even a part of their culture. This fact however is not included in the package version of Spanish culture that is sold to tourists.
Pride, Language, Culture and Politics. Catalan and Andaluz: Module 1
While in Barcelona I visited the amazing Parc Montjuïc. There I was impressed by an exhibit about Lluis Company’s, the president of Catalunya when the Civil War began. He was executed by Franco and is buried at Montjuïc.To my surprise the exhibit contained no Spanish or English translations (it was all in Catalan, the language of Barcelona).
Under Franco, Catalan culture was suppressed by limiting the use of Catalan language, which was replaced officially in a public spheres by Castellano (politics, education etc.) This was a means to control this province, which considers itself a nation apart from Spain. As a reaction Catalans take this language divide very seriously.
I reflected on the underlying nationalist tension that continues today at the exhibit. This showed a great pride and honor in Catalan culture towards their language and history. Yet it also seemed to reflect the continuing political divide and unhealed wounds from the dictatorship.
Spain is a country of many more languages than most Americans realize (Castellano, Euskara, Catalan, Gallego, Valenciano Extremeño). The Andaluz accent is not considered it’s own language despite the fact that it may be unintelligable to a Catalan from Barcelona, depending on the listener and the speaker in many cases. Andaluz, from Andalucía is considered a dialect despite many differences in words and pronunciation (to’ instead of todos, pa’ instead of para, and on and on).
Andalusians, are looked down on for their dialect/language as uneducated, although it can carry with it a concise poeticism and succinct charm. Even in Andlucía there is an ingrained attitude that their own dialect is a sign of speaking ‘poor’ or bad Spanish. There is a whole loaded history in these language differences that show how language is inseperable from culture.
To explain: Andalucia is the poorest region of Spain, the least industrial, the least “developed” economy, the highest iliteracy rate and on and on. Catalunya on the other hand is the richest, most developed, most modern region. There is a tension between the two because the industrial revolution in Catalunya that converted into Spain’s powerhouse was only possible by the migration of poor Andalusians who sought work in the factories of Barcelona. Many Catalans, however, resent that it is through their economy and taxes that support the rest of Spain. Language only fuels these misunderstandings.
New Guadalupe Plata vid
el columpio asesino grows on me
La Susi - El día llegaba
I know why I love it. Do you?