Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mi vida española

IT'S not easy being Spanish when you haven't got a drop of Spanish blood in your body and live in Ireland - but I try.
My day usually starts with a cafe con leche and a bit of bread while I sit and watch the news on 24H, an online news channel broadcast by Televisión Española. A couple of times a month I will pick up a copy of El Pais (which is usually a day out of date).
Lunch is often paella, tortilla español (potato omelet), sopa Castellano (garlic, egg and chorizo soup), or gambas a la plancha con ensalada (grilled prawns with salad). Sometimes I might have a copa de tinto (small glass of wine) with my lunch.
Other Spanish delicacies are harder to come by. There is a shop in Belfast which sells boquerones (anchovies in vinegar) - but they are absurdly expensive. As for navajas (razor clams) I have never even seen them on a restaurant menu in Ireland.
There is a continental market being held in the centre of Belfast at the minute which sells churros (deep fried strips of donut) but it is not quite the same standing outside in a frosty December and eating them as sitting in warm bar in Madrid with cup of hot chocolate to dip them in.
In terms of music I have a decent selection of Flamenco, Galician traditional music and more contemporary Spanish artists – including Mano Chao, Los Rodrigues, Celtas Cortos – and quite a lot of very dodgy Spanish pop. Thanks to broadband I can also listen to a lot of Spanish radio stations.
I also enjoy Spanish (and South American) cinema and would probably rate the Pedro Almodovar film Hable Con Ella (Talk to Her) as my favourite movie.
I've spent quite a bit of time in Spain, teaching in Madrid and working in the tourism industry in Mallorca and in Andalucia - but that was in the early 1990s. However, I still go back when I can, I was there in June this year, 10 days last year and a fortnight the year before that.
My Spanish is flawed and very ungrammatical but it is a language I am fairly competent in. Technically I should be able to speak Irish at least as well but I lack the confidence to launch into a conversation and worry that I'm using the wrong tense or transposing English idioms.
No such problem with Spanish... if I don't know how to say something I'll find my way around it and have often launched into topics of conversation with absolutely no idea of how I'm going to construct a sentence.
For the most part I find that I am understood and I can usually understand what is being said back - watching Spanish television and listening to the radio has also helped, as has reading the papers, in print and online.
Of course there are nuances of Spanish life that I will never master and like anywhere else there are vast regional differences that tend to be glossed over in the overall outsider’s image of Spain.
I am fairly au-fait with the broader politics concerning the Basque issue and Catalan autonomy but I have found it best to avoid getting involved in debate - it is a bit like an outsider coming to Ireland and launching into a conversation about constitutional issues here.
I occasionally muse on the possibility of going back to live in Spain. Maybe not in Madrid which is a much bigger and much more complicated city than the one I remember, although I'm sure I could adapt.
I quite fancy Malaga. It is on the coast of Andalucia, within easy reach of Seville, Granada and Cordoba as well as the northern coast of Africa. Given the huge ex-pat population living down the coast on the Costa Del Sol and the number of holiday makers who come to the region there would be plenty of work for an English speaker.
But while I enjoy a hot climate I also like a bit of rain now and again and so I think I would be more suited to a northern city - Zaragoza, Valladolid, or even Santiago de Compostella in Galicia.
However, maybe I'm simply deluding myself that is what I want. Could I really live without being close to the Mourne Mountains or my favourite coastal walks.
I have quite a romantic image of Spain and eulogise it because of the memories I have of the times I spent there. But I was in my twenties when I lived there, was much more sociable and enjoyed going out and meeting people. Now I prefer taking it easy with a quiet glass of wine and a bit of music.
No reason why I couldn't do that still but there are other factors - not least Sinead who quite likes Spain but who might not necessarily want to live there.
There is also the danger that I am simply deluding myself that I would prefer life there. I remember a couple of years ago dropping off a hire car at Barajas Airport in Madrid and when the guy who worked in the office saw my passport he started lamenting how he'd spent the best year of his life in Ireland and would love to come back and live here. We almost agreed to swap lives.
I wonder if he wakes up in the morning and makes a cup of tea and toast and has fish fingers with beans or a big greasy fry for lunch and yearns for sausages and champ accompanied by a pint of Guinness for his evening meal?


Fionnchú said...

Under the Mourne Mountains, munching empanadas, swilling Rioja, humming cancíones, y que? Great image of you, Antonio! I wonder how many do switch roles in exile, off the other culture's second-day newspapers and tinned foods from import shops? This struck me the other day reading A.N. Wilson's "My Name Is Legion" when a South London-born daughter of a Bahamian shops for parrot fish and plantains in the open-air markets of her inner-city Caribbean neighborhood. While we have one Irish import shop in Hollywood, my wife complains that their Wine Gums (otherwise contraband in the U.S. due to a red dye!) sit long past their shelf life.

Curious how Spain's treated in Irish fiction and vice versa. Cólm Toíbín's done it in "The South." Walter Starkie tramped about, but more the Romany trails. There's a travelogue "An Bóthar ar Santiago." You get the mythology of the SCW and the International Brigades in Pogues songs and Ken Loach and the odd reference in a book. There's an active Irish Studies association in Spain; I contribute to their peer-edited, on-line journal Estudios Irlandeses, but unlike, say, the French or Hungarian counterparts in academia, I don't know if there's been sustained investigation into the cross-cultural and literary intersections. Why not take it on?

Tony Bailie said...

I don't know if you can even get winegums here in Ireland any more. I thought they stopped making them some time in the early 80s!
I had a quick scan across my bookshelf and found very few Irish writers who took on Spain as a subject, which I was actually a bit surprised by. ALthough of course there is nothing particularly definitive about my book shelf. Liam O'Flaherty writes about going to a bull fight in Shame The Devil, while the poet Pearse Hutchinson takes on quite a few Catalan, Galician and Casillian in his collection of translations, Done Into English. Michael Hartnett took on some of Lorca's Gypsy Ballads.
There is quite a bit of writing about the Irish involvement with the Spanish Civil War, although they tend to be factual books - a couple of biographies about Frank Ryan and a book called The Irish and the Civil War by Robert A Stradling.
Apart from that, nada.
Maybe you could forward me a link to the Estudios Irlandeses.
Hasta ahora

Phil said...

You've probably heard of, if not already read or bought but I think you'd enjoy Chris Stewarts 'Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia'.
Stewart was a sheep-shearer and onetime Genesis drummer who sold up shop in England and moved his family into the Alpujarrás in persuit of dream lifestyle.

Since living in New Zealand and now Australia, I've had to put up with am almost complete lack of Rioja. Having asked 9/10 Wine Store workers if they stock it, they look at you as if you're crazy.
I finally tracked down one of my favourite in a boutique Christchurch wine store but it was very expensive so I couldn't indulge in more than one bottle.
Unfortunatly it's much the same in Sydney but the huge upside is that you're never far from a vineyard so I can't complain too much!
Anyway, enough talking about wine, I think it's time for a glass :)

Fionnchú said...

Está aquí: Estudios Irlandeses. The interface can be a bit poky, and the bars for links to "Issues" for example come out on some browsers as bare slivers rather than boxes, but they can still be (barely) clicked. You may have to roam the site deeper for back issues. Buen leyendo! (No puedo poner puntas en frente de las palabras...)

Michael O'Toole said...

¡Yo tengo hambre!