Spanish Nationalism: The Catalans, Basques and Spanish.

Disclaimer: I am Switzerland and not taking a side in this eternal argument. I am neither Spanish, nor Catalán, nor Basque, and this is not my battle. I am aiming to write a post about the current situation in Spain without taking a side, and I am trying my best to show respect to a delicate situation. So please, proceed with caution! Also, this is a VERY condensed history. The full history is much more complex. This is a watered-down version.

My first time in Barcelona, I fell in love.

I fell in love with the city, my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea, and my first glimpse at this amazing language Catalán. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I loved the discos, the beautiful Catalan guys, the streets, I even loved the Rambles, the kilometre long street that now is completely filled with tourists and I have successfully avoided on my last three visits.

I went back to Toledo, where I was studying for a semester, full of dreams of an amazing life in Barcelona.

I was greeted with “No, no way would you ever want to live in Barcelona. The Catalans are horrible people, and you’d have to learn Catalán. It would be better when you return to Spain to work and live in Madrid.”

I unfortunately took this attitude back to the States with me.

In 2008, my last year of university, I took a Spanish nationalism course. We studied the works of the famed Generación de ’98. We looked closely at works by Valencian, Catalán, Galician and Basque writers. We constantly talked about what it meant to be Spanish, using Ortega y Gasset, Unamuno and Machado as our sources. I wish I could retake this course now after living in Spain for so much more time. I would understand so much more than I did then.

Spain is not a nation. Spain is a country that consists of many nations. Galician, Asturian, Cantabrian, Basque, Navarran, Aragonese, Catalan, Valencian, Balearic, Murician (not “I’m *Mer-i-cuhn, give me my hamburger!), Andalusian, Canarian, Extremadurian, Castilian, Leonese…Spain is a concept dreamed up by the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella of a unified Iberian Peninsula.

To understand the situation in both the Basque Country (further referred to here as Euskadi) and Catalunya, one must look at their history.

The Catalans were always tied to Aragón and the Kingdom of Aragón since the 1137 union of Aragón and Barcelona. During the Catalán Revolt from 1640-1652, Catalunya was a republic under French protection. The northern parts of Catalunya were ceded to France in the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, and the victory of King Felipe V during the War of Spanish Sucession lead to the abolition of Catalan and all non-Castilian institutions, along with the change to Spanish in all legal documents.  During the 19th Century, Catalan Nacionalism began to grow, and the Generalitat de Catalunya returned during the Second Republic of Spain. However, during the Franco dictatorship, Catalan was prohibited. Of course, people continued to speak Catalan in secret. I know people in Valencia who studied it in the basements of their teachers as it was forbidden to be taught.

In the 1980s, Catalanismo was rampant throughout Catalunya. As Barcelona prepared to host the 1992 Olympic Games, Catalán began to regain the strength it had before Franco. The Catalans were also jealous of their Basque brothers-in-spirit who were given much more autonomy and freedom to do things their way.

Euskadi is a small corner of Spain located between Aragón, Castilla León, Cantabria and the Cantabrian Sea. Euskal Herria, the land of the Basque speaking people, refers to Euskadi, Navarra and Iparralde, or Basque France. It’s hard to get to on foot, and the weather makes the Irish and the Seattlites wish to return home to a less rainier environment. Noah, builder of the arc, is said to have been Basque. The Basques remained isolated, and the Romans and the Moors left them alone for the most part. During the reign of the Catholic Kings, the Basques made a deal, exchanging an oath of loyalty to Queen Isabel in return for overseas claims and the ability to govern themselves. The French revolution brought about the end of this self-governing term.

During the Carlist Wars, the Basques feared a liberal Spanish constitution that would ruin their self-government, so they sided with the traditional army under Tomás de Zumalacarregui, who died in the Siege of Bilbao in 1835. A weak Pamplona in Navarra would sign the Kingdom of Navarra out of existence in the 1841 Ley Paccionado (Compromise Act), and Navarra became a province of Spain. At the end of the third Carlist War in 1876, King Alfonso XII’s army emerged victorious, the Act for the Abolition of the Basque Charters was signed, and the southern Basques were under Spanish control. (The northern Basques have a similar complicated tale with France.)

During the Second Republic, both Catalunya and Euskadi enjoyed a lot of autonomous freedoms. The Spanish Civil War began, and the Basques sided with the Republican side where Navarra was supporting Franco and the Nationalists. After the bombing of Gernika (Guernica in Spanish. You might know a painting or the song by Brand New), many Basques went into exile. During the Franco regime, any regional language was prohibited. Basque, Catalán and Gallego were banned. The treatment of the Basques during this time lead to the terrorist group ETA, now in a permanent ceasefire since 2011.  (There have been Catalan terrorist groups too, for the record, but none lasted for a long time nor had the impact of ETA.)

When Franco died in the 1970s and King Juan Carlos restored a parliamentary monarchy, Euskadi and Catalunya were granted autonomous freedom (along with the other 15 autonomous regions of Spain). The Basques and Catalans were free to come out of the underground cellars where they had been studying their languages and speak it in the street.

The problem is, the Basque Country was granted a lot more freedom than Catalunya. After living in the Basque Country for two years now, I can honestly say I feel a big difference every time I cross the border into Cantabria or go to other parts of Spain. I can’t pinpoint the exact difference, but there is one. The Basques live as if they have already gained independence from Spain, referring to Spain as if it were a different country.

I honestly feel like the guy who tells the preacher to go f*** himself in the middle of Sunday School every time I say something positive about Spain while living in Bilbao. For that reason, I use “the greatest peninsula in the world”  on my blog to try to emphasize my love for the entire Iberian Peninsula. And you always have to say “Aquí” (here) or “la península” if you want to refer to Euskadi and Spain in the same sentence. It’s being politically correct and avoiding conflict.

The Cataláns, in my experience, still refer to themselves as being Spain, although with a frown or a sigh, dreaming of a unified “Països Catalans” (Catalunya, Andorra, Comunitat Valenciana and Illes Baleares, plus Northern Catalunya in France). “Aquí en España” is something never said in Euskadi but still said in Barcelona. The Basques will say “Voy a España, a La Rioja” (I’m going to Spain, to La Rioja), where as the Catalans still tend to  say “Voy a Logroño” (the capital of La Rioja).

The difference in autonomy has led to some resentment from the Catalans. Their quest for independence honestly began by feeling if they asked for something big, they would be rewarded with what they wanted, equal footing with Euskadi. Today, though, many Catalans want complete independence, fueled by Spanish government who wants to take away freedoms from the Catalan language and trying to go back to a Spanish-only way of life. As Spain has been suffering a horrible economic crisis since 2008 (despite the prime minister’s words to the contrary, the crisis is NOT over), they feel that they would have a better chance on their own without being bossed around by Madrid.

The Basques are sitting in silence, trying to recover from the horrors of ETA and restore their goodwill with the rest of the peninsula, learning from Catalunya’s trial and error process and planning a day in the probably not-too-distant future when they present their own plans for a referendum.

The rest of Spain usually remains angry and upset, and it’s a topic that is 100% unapproachable for mixed company. I may jest to my closer friends about how I miss Spain, but it’s not something I would ever say to the Basques at large. I still have dreams of perfecting my Catalán and living in a village somewhere between Barcelona and València with my husband and two golden retrievers, writing the day away. However, I would prefer to do it in Spain and not an independent Catalunya, which at this point in time could be catastrophic for both Spain and Catalunya, as economically, one cannot live without the other.  I also don’t want to have to go through customs and currency exchange every time I travelled from a point in the peninsula to my beloved Barcelona!

That said, I do respect the Catalans a lot and understand their frustration. Sometimes I worry that having a blog named in Catalán could lead toward resentment to me, the American with the Valencian soul.

This has just been a very brief introduction to the politics, the feelings and the history that has led to Catalunya’s quixotic quest for independence.

For more information on the Basques, be sure to check out The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky. It’s a fascinating read. I’d love to find something so entertaining on the Catalán history!

Dr. Spanishlove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Spain)

Santander 2014 053

Spanish flags in Santander.

In honour of Día de la Hispanidad in Spain, I thought it might be interesting to write about how I came to fall in love with Spanish and the land of Jamón Serrano.

Maybe I thought wrong, eh?

When I was just six years old, my parents took me to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The trip later continued on to Miami and the Florida Keys. In Miami, I became fascinated with this cool language that was everywhere, Spanish.

I would have to wait until I was in 8th grade and 13 years old before I could undertake this journey to learn this amazing and beautiful language. I had a seven week introductory course so I could see if it were something I would be interested in taking in high school. From my first minute in Spanish, I was in love with the language and studied it as much as possible. I even was selected to take achievement tests and placed really high in the region and made honourable mention in the state. While others struggled with understanding subjunctive and preterite versus imperfect, I caught on rather quickly.

(The key to learning languages is not to bog yourself down with the WHY. Just accept languages don’t make any sense.)

In university, I quickly decided to make Spanish my minor to complement my journalism major. Most of my teachers came from various parts of Spain. I had a few madrileños, a gallega and even a vasca from Bilbao. They instilled a greater love of Spanish in me, and I had already fallen in love with Spain before I even came to the Greatest Peninsula in the World in 2003 for study abroad.

On the bus from Madrid Barajas (now known as Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas) to Toledo, I began to cry as I saw everything in Spanish and I took everything in. I was so overcome  to be in place that I had read about so much in books. Everything from then seven years (I would add two more to my official Spanish studies) was finally making sense and coming to life for me. It was a truly emotional moment.

That semester in Toledo, I absorbed as much as Spain as I could. I travelled to Barcelona the last weekend in October, where standing on the Rambles de Mar, I made the decision that one day, I would live in Spain. I also travelled to Sevilla thanks to my Eurorail pass and cheap AVEs (high-speed trains). It rained the entire weekend in Sevilla, but I made the most of it.

My regret those three months was not travelling more. I went to Madrid nearly every weekend to walk around the streets and absorb Chueca, and my dream changed from living in Barcelona to living in Chueca and having a Spanish boyfriend.

I returned to the States, finished out the semester and university, and dreamed for five long years of returning to the Greatest Peninsula in the World. After my journalism degree got me no farther than the nearest Hollister folding clothes, I decided to return to school to make my Spanish minor a second major with the hopes of graduate school. I found a way to do it in a year and picked up Italian 101 and 102. I studied Spanish Cinema, Early and Medieval Spanish Literature, Spanish in the World, and Spanish Nationalism, a graduate course I was permitted to take which discussed the ongoing debates between Spain, the Basque Country, Catalunya, Galicia and Comunitat Valenciana. (Feliç 9 d’octubre als valencians) and what exactly being Spanish means anyway.

I applied to three graduate schools, and I was rejected from all three. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. On a whim, I applied to this program from the Spanish government that placed native speakers in the classrooms. I was accepted and sent to Linares, a small city (but still “pueblo” in the heart of Jaén). My intention was to just stay a year or so in Spain to improve my Spanish so I could be accepted into grad school.

I fell so hard in love with Spain that I found it impossible to leave. Sure, Linares was NOT the place for me. I enjoyed my school,  I enjoyed tostadas con tomate, and I enjoyed travelling through al-Andalus seeing all the beautiful things that exist in the south of Spain. I applied for a change to Madrid, where all my dreams turned into nightmares, but I continued travelling throughout the peninsula as I could.

Valencia drew me from the start. It was the first place I visited on my first “puente” (long weekend), and it’s a place I return to at least once a year (along with my beloved Barcelona). After being non-renewed for “being too shy and reserved”, I took off to Valencia to try to pursue a graduate degree at the Univeristat de València. The thing is, you need money for that. I didn’t have it. I fought to stay in Spain though. I knew if I didn’t fight, it would be something I would regret the rest of my life.

Luckily for me, there was a need for native speakers with that same program I was too shy and reserved for. And Madrid’s loss was Valencia’s gain. I fell in love with the city and despite payment problems, I had the best year of my Spain life so far.

I left Valencia in hopes of studying at Univeristat Autònoma de Barcelona, but the FASFA cut the student loans for UAB and although I was admitted, that pesky no money thing crept up again. The day it fell through, I was offered a job in Madrid, which I accepted.

It was the best school I’ve worked at, but Madrid and I just weren’t a match. Since I could only be there two years due to some weird visa law, it was time to move again. I loved the north, and so I applied for Catalunya, Valencia and the Basque Country. The program has been cut in Catalunya and Valencia due to lack of dinero (yet a certain comunidad autonoma thinks they can survive as an independent country) and it was Euskadi where I’ve ended up.

I cannot explain what it is about Spain that I love so much. A Spanish friend from the States says in the US, you live to work, and in Spain you work to live. I like that philosophy, the philosophy of “mañana”, the life in the streets, the amazing food, the 17 distinct cultures in one country the size of Texas, the Spanish language (and the Catalán language!)…Spain has some amazingly beautiful places to visit and one of the most fascinating histories. It may not always be a happy history, but it is an interesting history.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me past May 2016, but I do know that no matter what, Spain will always be a major part of me. I may not have Spanish blood, but I do know that my heart and soul belong to Spain. (Tengo el alma valenciana ;))

Viva España, Visca Catalunya, Gora Euskadi, y un saludo cordial a todos desde la mejor península del mundo.


Basic Spanish for el Camino de Santiago

Last week, when I tried helping some French pilgrims on their way to Santiago who didn’t know Spanish, it made me stop and think how fortunate I am to have begun learning Spanish when I was 13. I forget that not everyone has studied Spanish, and many times it makes me frustrated as I have put so much effort in my life into this amazing language (and now I’ve added Catalán and Italian to the mix).

So…I wanted to write up a few basic words to help pilgrims who are keen on doing the Camino but don’t know the difference between “hola” and “hasta luego”. This can also work for travelers to Spain who just want to enjoy the beach (playa) and sangria and siesta (nap) and fiesta (party). Learning just a few words when travelling always enhances my experience.

Hola: Hello
Hasta luego: See you later (more common than “adiós”, or “goodbye”, in Spain)
¿Habla inglés? : Do you speak English? (formal)
¿Hablas inglés?: Do you speak English? (informal, more common to hear in Spain)
¿Habla(s) alemán?: Do you speak German?
¿Habla(s) frances? Do you speak French?
No hablo castellano: I don’t speak Spanish (you could say “español”, but in Spain, it’s better to say “castellano”)

¿Cómo está(s)? How are you?

Buen Camino: Good journey to Santiago!

Peregrino: Pilgrim
Soy peregrino: I am a pilgrim.

Uno: 1 Dos: 2 Tres: 3 Cuatro: 4 Cinco: 5 Seis: 6 Siete: 7 Ocho:8 Nueve: 9 Diez: 10

¿Cúantos kilometros a…?: How many kilometres to…?

Pan: Bread
Vino: Wine
Cerveza: Beer
Coca-Cola: Coke
Café: Coffee
Café con leche: “White coffee”/coffee with milk/café au lait/café con leche
Café solo: Black coffee
Cortado: Coffee with a little bit of milk
Cappuccino: Cappuccino
Tortilla: Omelette
Tostada: Toast

Tip! You can ask for “un vaso de agua” (a glass of tap water) free when you order something.

Sello: Stamp (for the passport)

Por favor: Please
Gracias: Thank you
De nada: You’re welcome.

El libro de reclamaciones: Complaint book (if a business treats you really really bad)

Ampolla: Blister
Me duele: My ….. hurts. You can point to what hurts then.
Farmacia: Pharmacy/Chemist
Albergue: Youth Hostel
Pensión/Hostal: Cheap, often family-ran hotel
Hotel: Hotel
Restuarante: Restaurant

Sol: Sun
Lluvia: Rain
Nublado: Cloudy
Río: River
Monte/Sierra: Mountains

If you’re doing the Camino del Norte, a couple of Basque (Euskera) words. No one expects you to speak Basque, but an “aupa/kaixo” (Hello!) and “agur” (goodbye!) will forever endear you to the Basques.

Buen Camino! If there are any words you want to know, just ask, and I will gladly teach you!

For those learning Spanish (or Spanish people learning English), the best advice I can give you is DO NOT TRANSLATE LITERALLY as “Spain is the milk” does not make any sense in English, nor does “España está follando guay” make any sense in Spanish.