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Spanish Culture

  • September 4th, 2009
  • Posted in

Tourist attractions in Spain

It is often said by people who have seen little of the world that Spain feeds on tourism generated by the continued relevance and survival of numerous clichés: beaches, fiestas, good, cheap food, and so on and so forth. At some point, we’re probably going to dedicate an article in this section to demonstrating that Spain is much more than a bunch of stereotypes. In this month’s article, however, we’re going to do a bit of investigating to see just how much of what’s still said and believed is actually true.

Camino de SantiagoWe’re certainly not going to deny our status as a beach country and we are fully aware that no less could be expected of a peninsula where the number of hours of sunlight may seem like science fiction to half of Europe’s inhabitants. Yes, Spanish coasts are a big tourist draw, as much for their pleasant climate as for their high quality, none of which goes unnoticed by the people in charge of distributing blue flags. Yet, is this aspect alone enough to attract millions of holidaymakers?

Way of Saint James

In the winter, of course, the coasts are no great asset, so there must be something more. Recapping a bit, we might also conclude that the food is a more enduring and equally powerful lure. A cuisine as rich and eclectic as Spain’s is more than enough reason to influence any traveller’s choice of destination. Nonetheless, it would be a naïve mistake to overlook the continual renewal of Spanish cuisine. Some of the most revolutionary chefs of the world can be found here, which puts the lie to the idea that Spain only maintains its culinary fame thanks to old recipes, or in other words, outdated clichés. Hard work and effort perpetuate our prestige!

And sure, we won’t deny that Spanish partying is worth a mention in the history books. The limitless entertainment offered in a good number of capital cities along with a Latin personality that has made us famous the world over are also an acceptable pretext for spending your free time here. Here, too, however, it is unsuitable to speak of stereotypes given that Spanish nightlife knows how to mix and integrate local beats with the latest international vanguard, wherever it happens to come from. These merits have little to do with the criticism of those who accuse us of living off of profits generated by a favourable, but antiquated, reputation.

What then? Well, not wanting to be biased, and in the interests of neutrality, we’ll say that everything that’s said about Spain is true, but we’re certainly not lacking quality. We haven’t even mentioned the art and culture, which we could quite rightfully boast about. What better way to find out if everything people say about Spain is true or not than by seeing for yourself?

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Midsummer’s Eve in Alicante (Saint John’s Night)

The night of June 23 in Alicante, as in many other parts of Spain, isn’t just linked to Saint John the Baptist but also to an ancient rite which has stood the test of time: bonfires.

It used to be customary in many European countries to light pyres to coincide with the arrival of the Alicantesummer solstice, to lend energy to the sun, which began its decline, as well as to purify and neutralise ills. Although the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, actually falls on June 21, in Spain it is still celebrated on Saint John’s night (June 23). In Alicante, specifically, the tradition dates back to the end of the 19th century, although it was in the 20th century when it went from being a rural ceremony to an official holiday to be celebrated in the cities. Alicante Town Hall wanted to ban the celebration to maintain public order, but it had already taken root and it became entrenched as a popular tradition.

AlicanteThus, the bonfires have been burning in Alicante every 23rd of June ever since. Of course, these bonfires are actually composed of artistic constructions called ninots, similar to those associated with Las Fallas in Valencia, which are also ritually burnt and disappear. The ninots are planted days before the big night in all of the neighbourhoods of the city and, after a magnificent fireworks display, they are passionately and joyfully burnt, leaving nearby façades with an eerie, diabolical appearance. But not everything is fire in these festivities; the recreational programming consists of a wide variety of ceremonies and celebrations, including parades, concerts, mascletás and pyrotechnical shows, sporting and bullfighting events, processions, marches… All in a summer atmosphere, to see off the spring with style. Alicante, which is sexy in and of itself, becomes even more attractive in the last days of June. This is the best time to relish the traditional local delicacies and get lost in the orange hue of narrow streets bathed in the steady glow of the bonfires.

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  • Did you know…?… The Camino de Santiago (Saint James’ Way), origins of the tradition and its worldwide fame
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San Isidro day in Madrid

San Isidro Labrador (Saint Isidore the Laborer), 11th-century Spanish Catholic saint, is, as his name indicates, the patron saint of the laborers and agricultural engineers who venerate him, along with many others who live off agriculture, to obtain his blessing for their crops or for simple tradition. Likewise, he is the patron saint of numerous Spanish cities, such as Talavera de la Reina or Nerja, amongst which one destination stands out for being not only the birthplace of the saint, but also a fascinating city: Madrid.

Spain’s capital city gears up and dresses to the nines every 15th of May, the feast day of the saint, in honor of whom the Festivities of San Isidro are celebrated. The most famous and authentic celebrations take place in the so-called Pradera de San Isidro (Meadow of San Isidro), a large park in Madrid, as well as throughout the surrounding streets of the homonymous neighborhood. The tradition, while still in force, has been losing steam over the years, as centuries ago it enjoyed much greater importance and social backing by practically every madrileño. Nowadays, already well into the 21st century, a great number of people make their way to the grounds to eat, drink and have fun like in years gone by, even if the scope of the celebration has yet quite returned to its glory days.

April fair
Feria de Sevilla

While other parts of Madrid host their own celebrations to honor San Isidro on different days, such as the famous bullfighting festival at the Las Ventas bullring, it’s at the Pradera de San Isidro where you can find this Madrid festival’s most typical pilgrimages and open-air celebrations. On May 15th it’s packed with visitors, families, groups of friends, curious newcomers and lifelong locals, all of whom take advantage of the comfortable grass to spend the day outdoors. In any gathering of people you’re likely to see tortillas de patatas (potato omelets), a lunchtime fare that’s never lacking on this day, that the revelers drizzle with red wine straight from the wineskin and accompany with hearty empanadas (pies filled with meat or tuna) and, of course, the city’s dish par excellence: cocido madrileño (Madrid stew). A large and traditional cocido is generally prepared for the enjoyment of all, including the mayor of Madrid, who tends to stop by to bless the stew and make a toast for an enjoyable day out in the countryside.

But the most characteristic element of San Isidro are the typical costumes of Madrid, the so-called chulapos and chulapas; the women (chulapas) wear polka-dotted dresses, shawls, red or white carnations and kerchiefs on their heads while the men (chulapos) don tight-fitting pants, vests with carnations in the lapels, checkered hats and white kerchiefs around their necks. Together, these chulapos and chulapas keep the festival’s iconography alive, further perpetuating it through Madrid’s most typical dance, the chotis, which is performed as it were some sort of astral system; the man spins in circles, with one hand in his pocket and the other holding the hand of his female counterpart who, in turn, dances around the man like some sort of satellite. All the while, the man must keep looking forwards and maintain the confident posture that characterizes the chotis and, why not, Madrid itself.

Read all the articles from the Enforex’s newsletter May edition!

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  • Did you know…?… Almodóvar and the portrayal of Spain in his movies
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Flamenco: origin and variations

To get an idea of the degree of popularity that flamenco has attained, particularly as an international icon, all you would have to do is ask any fairly educated person in the world to name something considered typically Spanish; in fact, he or she would probably raise his arms or start clapping while uttering those three magic syllables.

To really go into depth about an art form as rich and complex as flamenco, we would have to multiply the current length of this newsletter by at least five, and even then we wouldn’t be able to cover it all. Due to the evident limitations, we wanted to summarize the most important information pertaining to this famous musical genre, which you could get to know yourself with a combined Spanish + Flamenco course at our schools.

The origins of flamenco date back to the 18th century in Andalusia, the region of Spain where the art form has enjoyed the most popularity. Both in the past and today, Andalusians with gypsy ethnic roots have been the ones who most dedicate themselves to the development of flamenco; in fact, the art form was named “flamenco” after these southern gypsies, who at the time were referred to as “flamencos”. Granted, there are other theories about flamenco’s etymology, but there is still no consensus on the matter. Currently flamenco is classified as an artistic expression of Andalusian folklore, associated with the terms “cante jondo” (profoundly emotional Andalusian singing) and “duende” (the mysterious charm of Andalusia).

Bailaora

Flamenco can be divided into three artistic facets that are often combined with each other: el baile (dance), el cante (singing) and el toque (guitar-strumming). Those who perform each function are called, respectively, bailaores/as, cantaores/as and tocaores/as. Each branch has evolved individually in certain respects, combing with other styles and creating fairly strong and developed variants of flamenco. What’s more, each branch of artistic expression, particularly the singing, has yet another more complex classification system.

Flamenco

Each flamenco music style is referred to as a “palo” and is classified according to criteria such as the music’s rhythmic pattern (soleás, bulerías, seguiriyas, saetas, tientos…), its verses (romances, seguidillas, fandangos…) or its origin (corríos, alboreás, rumbas, martinetes…). Apart from these, other singing styles are characterized for being a cappella, or without guitar accompaniment, such as the carceleras, the tonás or the trilleras.

Regarding the toque (the act of playing the guitar), it’s interesting to take note of the posture adopted by the tocaores, who cross their legs and rest the instrument upon the elevated leg. Some use the so-called flamenco guitar, which has less sonority than the classic guitar and allows the voice of the singer to stand out over the guitar music. The toque itself has different techniques, such as the alzapúa, the rasgeo or the tremolo, as well as different types that are classified according to the performance: the toque airoso (rhythmic and lively), the pastueño (slow and tranquil), the virtuoso (experts only) or the frío (without the depth of the other types).

The evolution and divisions of flamenco are much more complex than they may seem here but, on the other hand, it isn’t necessary to have advanced knowledge about the art and its background to be able to enjoy and experience it with passion; attending any live performance can be a truly incredible experience due to the strength and power demonstrated by the performers. There’s a very famous word in Spanish that is used to energize the artists and cheer on their performance during the show: “Olé!” This expression, also commonly used in the bullfighting world, is another of the Spanish cultural legacies that has managed to make its way around the world. Likewise, we could mention a long list of words associated directly with the singing and dancing, such as cajones (box drums), castañuelas (castanets), palmas (rhythmic clapping), tercios (parts of the songs) or tablaos (flamenco venues).

We could also name numerous performers who have stood out over the years in the realm of flamenco and who, today, are heroes to the most loyal flamenco enthusiasts. The famous cantaor Camarón de la Isla, a true icon amongst his followers and certainly deserves a mention, as does the guitarist Paco de Lucía, a virtuoso tocaor that continues to delight anyone lucky enough to hear him play.

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The most curious and quirky facets of Salvador Dalí

Millions of lines of text could be written about Salvador Dalí, one of the great geniuses of the last century, without risk of boring the reader. While little of his life, and especially his work, can be said to be uninteresting, we want to focus on certain anecdotes in which he more or less voluntarily played a key role during the 84 years he spent in this world (while never leaving his own world). These are only some small details that contributed to the undeniable greatness, at least as a talented and creative mind, of this prodigious Spanish painter.

DaliIt is hard to believe that Dalí, with his strong personality, could have suffered a personality crisis, but it happened. The cause, or trigger, wasn’t trivial. One day he discovered that he’d had an older brother who died 9 months before he was born. This tragedy caused his parents to give him the same name as his late brother, Salvador. Dalí came to believe that he was merely a copy of his brother and at one point his parents even revealed to him, before the grave of the deceased, that he was in fact his brother’s authentic reincarnation.

Only the artist himself would come to truly know just how deeply this influenced the formation of his personality but, in any case, it didn’t take him very long to be seduced by surrealism and pure eccentricity. He demonstrated this during his stay in the Madrid Student Residence (Residencia de Estudiantes de Madrid), which he attended dressed up in Victorian style, with thick sideburns, a trench coat and gaiters and from which he was eventually expelled for complaining that there was no-one there qualified to grade him.

dali
As a result of this and other affronts he was labelled vain and an egomaniac by many, but no amount of criticism dissuaded him from his neuroses and he began growing his unmistakeable moustache in a bid to imitate Velázquez. He eventually returned to his house in Figueras, although his father threw him out after an argument about the genius’s late mother. Dalí later admitted that before leaving his house he’d handed his father a condom with his own sperm inside of it while barking at him, “Here! Now I don’t owe you anything!”

Years after meeting his wife, Gala, he left Paris for New York and continued spreading controversy there. On one occasion he held a masquerade party which husband and wife attended dressed up as baby Charles Lindbergh and his, at the time, well known kidnapper. Afterward he had to publicly apologise.

His excesses earned him the enmity of other surrealists, who expelled him from the movement following a very peculiar trial. Dalí responded haughtily, declaring “I am surrealism!”. Despite his “expulsion”, he kept on creating surrealist artwork and taking part in surrealist exhibitions and conferences. He attended one such conference dressed as a diver with a billiards cue and two Russian hounds, intending to illustrate that he was “submerging himself deeply in the human mind”.

The passing of time did not impede him from delivering those lines for which others accused him of being a megalomaniac, such as his famous declaration “every morning, when I get up, I experience a supreme pleasure: being Salvador Dalí”, or his frequent allusions to himself in the third person. Neither did he see any need to abandon his occasional eccentric behaviours, and was responsible for some disturbing episodes such as when he smashed with a bathtub a shop window that he’d himself decorated or his appearance on the “Tonight Show” which he attended with a leather rhinoceros, refusing to sit anywhere else.

Unfortunately, even a character such as he ended up succumbing to the dreaded process of human decline and, after some hypothetical suicide attempts, his final hour came naturally in his native Figueras as he listened to his favourite musical piece: Tristan and Isolde, by Richard Wagner.

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  • Urban activities… The three Wise Men processions in Spain
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Granada, Christmas with charm

Spending Christmas in Granada is like enjoying a pleasant get-together right in your living room; you have everything within your reach and that warm feeling provided by your nearest and dearest. Yet the Christmas magic of Granada couldn’t fit in 100 living rooms put together; in fact there wouldn’t even be room for even one little piece of the tradition-laden atmosphere that characterizes it.

The city gains points as each year slowly comes to a close; a warm glow emitted by the strings of twinkling lights illuminates the tiny streets and squares and bathes the cobblestones in a sort of gentle golden aura, while fir trees, their foliage equally affected by this docile and pleasant light, abound. Someone sits down in a bar and asks for some mantecados (an almond-flavored Christmas sweet); the aroma of the glass of anisette that accompanies them wafts out into the street, which smells of roasted chestnuts sold right on the sometimes frosty sidewalks. Any palate that samples such treats can’t help but be tempted by the sudden urge to try more Granada delicacies and drags its owner throughout the city’s most emblematic neighborhoods in search of candied almonds or typical sweets made in the local convents. Once you reach the Albaicín, you can’t help but stop chewing so as to really open your eyes, even rub them in wonder, to see if this Christmas atmosphere, seemingly straight out of a bygone era, is really there.

Some locals recommend sampling characteristic treats while either strolling the route of the Nativity Scenes, which winds through the arteries of Granada and fills them with small children with big Christmas spirit, or while counting the electric constellations that have appeared in the City Hall Square, a main spot around which all of Granada’s nooks and crannies fan out. In Granada it never gets late and it’s never time to go home, as you’re bound to have the impression that you’ve never left it at all.

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  • Did you know?… Christmas traditions in Spain
  • Spanish Grammar… The verbs Ser and Estar
  • Vocabulary… Typical Spanish Christmas terms
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Greeting with two kisses: Norms

Have you ever gone to greet a Spanish woman and wound up being kissed on both cheeks as if it were the most natural thing in the world? Probably, and maybe it’s even occurred to you outside of Spain. If you’ve experienced this exchange more than once, you’ve most likely deduced with some degree of certainty that it’s a habit of good manners that is deeply rooted in contemporary Spanish society; by no means should it be misinterpreted or taken as an offensive gesture.30361907

This tradition is relatively recent, and not as peculiar nor exclusive to Spaniards as one might think. Very similar or identical gestures are common in other European countries (in some places the custom is three kisses, in others it’s just one on the mouth), and the same is true of Latin American or Asian countries. In Spain it’s totally accepted and forms part of the day-to-day life of any citizen; it’s a gesture derived from friendly, Latin character of Spaniards and is considered a true sign of identity. While this idiosyncrasy comes across to many as odd, Spaniards expect foreigners in Spain to adapt and they value newcomers’ good intentions. Likewise, they overlook any unintentional errors committed, such as starting on the wrong side- the first kiss is given on the right cheek, unlike in Italy or Argentina, for example, where the ritual starts with the left cheek-. Generally, the double-kiss greeting is exchanged between two women or between a man and a woman, though between men it’s common to do so when they’re of the same family. Nowadays it’s also common within the homosexual community and is increasingly accepted, including when one of the two isn’t homosexual.

On the other hand, it’s not a gesture of courtesy that should be done always and in any situation. In reality, the act of greeting with two kisses logically carries with it a certain degree of affection and familiarity; if no bond exists between two strangers who exchange kisses, then they have likely either been introduced by a third person or find themselves in a context of trust that encourages it.

89316538The main exception is in the workplace, particularly during job interviews or meetings; in general, the more serious the situation, the less appropriate it is to introduce oneself by giving two kisses. In these cases, both men and women greet each other with a firm handshake that’s neither too weak nor too strong. The omission of the tradition can also extend to contexts beyond the workplace, applying in situations dominated by a serious or harsh atmosphere, or in situations in which objects in the way impede two people from getting close enough to exchange kisses.

Generally speaking, Spaniards don’t need excessive intimacy to greet others with two kisses and they tend to do it as long as the atmosphere is relaxed, even if they’ve had an embarrassing experience due to an out-of-place kiss.

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  • Urban Activities… Salamanca, Nightlife and Student Atmosphere
  • Spanish Grammar… Using Capital Letters
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The “siesta”:  Customs and Benefits

For the majority of Spaniards, the “siesta” can be summed up in two words: sacred moment. What, then, is the siesta? Simply stated, it’s allowing yourself just a few minutes after lunchtime to take a quick and relaxing nap.

Tapas - Spanish tipical food

Hardly an obsession or addiction, the siesta aims to meet the needs of the body which, in order to gear up for the second half of the day, yearns for a chance to recharge its batteries around mid afternoon. Spending just 15 or 20 minutes sitting or lying down is enough, though up to even a half hour is acceptable. While you should always try to be as comfortable as possible, it’s best to avoid actually getting into bed. This way, any built-up tensions are relieved, your mental and creative capacity is rejuvenated and resting without falling into a deep sleep produces a rejuvenating effect that can quash any tiredness accumulated since arising in the morning. Too long a siesta, on the other hand, can be counterproductive, as entering stages of sleep without completing them can not only throw off your biological clock but can also cause negative side effects such as confusion or migraines.

Tapas spanish Tipical food

This healthy custom, which is easy to adapt to and should be respected in the workplace, has been the subject of many studies by numerous experts and time and again the results point to the same conclusion: a well-executed nap has extremely beneficial effects. The studies indicate that short naps relieve pressure on the arteries, thereby lowering the risk of heart attack, and improve one’s overall health.

Some call it “the Spanish national sport”, though the demanding work schedule of today is chipping away at the practice of this undeniably healthy exercise. That’s why, schedule permitting, dedicating a few minutes to a short nap is highly recommended… even more so if you’re in a Spanish city.

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  • Featured Course… “Learn and Travel”
  • Popular Expression… “Cada oveja con su pareja.”
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