As the vast majority of entries in this blog will about Spain, I thought it might be a good idea to write a little about Spain, my history here, and a little bit about why it is so fascinating for those people who think the Spanish eat tacos while chasing bulls around.
I came to Spain for the first time my first senior year of college/university. I wanted to study abroad and improve my Spanish, which at the time was my minor. (I’d later go back for a second senior year to make this minor equivalent to my journalism major). I spent a semester in Toledo, an hour south of Madrid and has nothing to do with Toledo of Ohio, not even the pronounciation. I fell in love with this intriguing country. It was during a weekend in Barcelona where I decided that I would have to come back one day to live. Five years later, I did.
I’ve taught English in various parts of Spain now. My first year was in a small town in Jaén in Andalucía where there were more olive trees than people. My second, fourth and fifth years were in the too-big metropolis of Madrid. My third year was in Valencia, on the sea. And I am currently in Bilbao in the Basque Country. Valencia has been my favourite and the place I most identify with, although I still want to try out Catalunya. That said, el País vasco is my favourite place. The rain just affects my mood too much unfortunately.
The thing about Spain is no one feels Spanish or that their region is actually Spain. The Basques and Catalans are most adement about this. The Basques had a terrorist group, ETA (who most Basques are against despite their strong independent streak) for about forty years, “fighting” for their independence. ETA disbanded in 2011, and I feel completely safe here.
Today, Catalunya is pissed off at the crisis, so they are talking loud about becoming independent when in actuality they are hoping more for an autonomous status equal to the Basque Country. To be honest, at times here in Bilbao, I forget that this is still part of Spain. Seeing Euskera (Basque) everywhere sometimes makes me feel odd about greeting someone in Spanish (which, by the way, is the predominant language here.) The history of the two regions are quite different.
I’ll be honest. I am half in love with the Catalan language. Barcelona is an incredibly beautiful city and very cosmpolitan. It has nothing to do with Sevilla, a city in Andalucía full of life, fiesta, siesta and heat. Valencia has nothing to do with either one.
Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities and 50 provinces. Each autonomous community is a nation unto itself. From Galicia in the northwest corner to Murcia in the southeast corner, Spain is varied with distinct landscape, language and people. The only thing that unite the different types of Spaniards are the Spanish language and a hatred of the government.
Spain has been in an economic crisis since 2008. The current prime minister says things are improving, but it’s quite easy to see it’s not when the unemployment rate still is about 25%. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the transition from Juan Carlos to Felipe how long the monarchy will continue. The people are unhappy with the government.
But despite this crisis weighing everyone down, the Spanish still put on a happy face. There is always time for drinks with friends or a tapa/pintxo (pintxos are larger and cost money, typical in the north, especially the Basque Country. Tapas are smaller and come free with the order. To all the tapas bars springing up in the States, you are NOT serving taps BUT pintxos. Consider yourself informed!). Wherever you go, during lunch time, it’s common to linger over your meal long after the servers have cleaned your plates. No one really sleeps a siesta. The siesta is a time to eat and rest from your busy job. Nights are long, full of fiesta that doesn’t begin until well after midnight. During the summer, the sun doesn’t set until around 10 PM.
Despite its troubles, Spain is an amazing country full of history and culture. For me, the languages add to the mystique. The Spanish are passionate about life (and fútbol, and food, and wine).
Spain is so much more than Penélope Cruz (who I love, I must admit) and bullfights (who most Spanish hate). They don’t really know what tacos and burritos are, for the people who think if you speak Spanish, you are Mexican. Paella and Spanish tortilla (potato omelette), gazpacho and ensaladilla rusa (neither Russian or a salad)…these are the more typical plates.
I have been here six years now, and every day I continue to find new things to love and discover about this incredible country of 17 nations. I may not have been born here, but for me, Spain is home.
Navarra and Ibiza (Illes Baleares) are done. I have quite a long way to go with explaining each province and the wonders waiting to be found in each. I’m sure even Albacete will have something interesting.
Let’s go exploring.