GETTING TO GRIPS WITH……………..SPAIN

INTRODUCTION

This blog is aimed to share those things I have discovered about Spain, things which may be invisible to the eye or deaf to the ear of many English speakers who live in Spain, but haven´t yet mastered the language.
Living in a country where you can´t understand the language can be like living in a goldfish bowl: constantly banging your head against the transparent barrier which allows you to exist within new frontiers without being part of it. Many English speakers came here to retire and the old adage “You can´t teach a dog new tricks” rings true as they struggle to learn what is basically a Latin language, but with an Arab influence putting a complex spanner in the works.
Some new residents, of course, have no interest in learning the language, coming to Spain for the sun and cheap booze. No problem, that’s their choice and there’s no judgment here, but this blog probably is not for them.
I came to Spain and bought a house in the middle of the property boom, with all that airheaded enthusiasm of the booming 1990´s. I met a Spanish man, 17 years my junior, who had the madcap idea of publishing a bilingual local newspaper. He didn´t speak English and I spoke Italian and some grammar book Spanish. The only advantage we had, which he didn´t even know at the time, was that my first life job was journalism and I cut my teeth on some the best local newspapers in the in the North of England. Plus, like many of us who came over in the first flush of the UK love affair with Spain, I was naive, too trusting, and as a result, fearless.
Very few of the new UK residents in the small Murcian town where I settled spoke any Spanish, and were, therefore, sitting ducks for the criminal, unscrupulous or simply greedy. Spain was in the middle of the property boom, the Brits were buying and everyone, probably quite understandably, wanted their share. Our newspaper attempted to inform and protect those who had chosen to settle here, and to name and shame the shysters and their dubious, and often damaging practices.
This journalistic adventure brought two things: a tempestuous love story with my coeditor, which continues to this day, against all odds, age difference and language barrier included, and an instant baptism into Spanish life: which, at times, felt more like drowning.
I never had any interest in a twilight existence of living in a country where I couldn´t speak the language, and I chose Spain because it seemed to me to reflect the best parts of Italy, without the surge of right wing, and the best parts of France, without the silent dining rooms and stuffy waiters, so I was determined to learn the language as soon as possible.
I avoided the small English-speaking community, instead seeking out the few Spanish residents who spoke a little English to help me translate the Spanish national newspaper, El Pais, which I took religiously every day. I can´t say I understood much but I enlisted the help of a delightful elderly resident artist, who claimed to have met both Bacon and Dali while living in London, and an elderly woman who worked as a translator for the US army.  I hunted them both down without mercy at every possible opportunity with a battery of questions and queries.
What I learned was that I wanted to learn more.
They both told me long stories about the dictatorship and the chronic poverty of the post-civil war years although they were both eventually exiled only returning in the 1970´s after the death of Franco. The artist was exiled in London from the beginning of the dictatorship but my other elderly friend suffered cruel hardship after her parents died when she was an adolescent and was “given” to another family member as a servant.
When I met her she was in her 80´s and suffering from crippling arthritis in her hands, which she blamed on years of breaking through ice with her bare hands to wash the family´s clothes.
By sheer luck, she had met a benefactor who offered to take her to America and with courage probably borne of desperation, she boarded a boat to the other side of the world, where she worked for her new family before getting a job with the US army. She too returned after Franco´s death, widowed and leaving two grown children behind.
Thanks in no small part to these stories, I became completely hooked on recent Spanish history and fascinated to understand the gigantic contradictions of a country which seems to have monumentally failed to come to terms with its past.
Somewhat ironically the famous quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” attributed amongst others to Winston Churchill, probably dates back to the Spanish Born American writer, George Santayana.
As the extreme right wing has stumbled and lost its foot hold in Italy, it is climbing steadily in Spain, a story repeating itself in much of Europe and the rest of the world. But a story that is especially incomprehensible in a country that suffered under nearly 40 years of a fascist dictatorship, in living memory for many.
These contradictions are not restricted to politics and I would add to the list music, education, gastronomy, drugs, Flamenco……an endless richness of idiosyncrasies to explore.
Getting to grips with…..Spain,  is an enormous title for a big country with a gigantic personality honed by two brief flirtations with republicanism, nearly 40 years of dictatorship, a “transition” and the existing  fledgling democracy.
The music scene is one of the most diverse in Europe; the literature gives a true record of the recent history of Spain, which the school curriculum still denies; the food and the language retain a strong Arab influence even though many Spaniards still refer to Arabs somewhat disparagingly as “moros;” and it was one of the first countries in Europe to legalise gay marriages yet the favourite insult is “maricón,” a derogatory term for homosexuals.
For me, Spain has become an intimate stranger, surreptitiously disclosing, bit by bit, tantalizing titbits which help explain why she is as she is. There are a thousand adjectives I could use to describe her: frustrating, fractious, frivolous, …. and above all, fascinating.
Like all love affairs, mine with Spain has its ups and downs, with things that annoy me and others that are the root of a total infatuation.
But I am here to stay…unless of course, history really does repeat itself, in which case Portugal seems like an option.

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2 pensamiento sobre “GETTING TO GRIPS WITH……………..SPAIN

  1. Colm Bradley

    Thank you for posting your thoughts. Your background in journalism is evident and your writing makes it an absolute pleasure to read. Like you, I am somewhat smitten with Spain – and exasperated in equal measure! But that is all part of the learning experience. So far the positives are winning out and long may that continue. Thanks again for your blog.

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