Viva España y la vida

I love Spain and I hate it too.

I come here all the time, every few weeks. It feels like a second home. I’m here again now in Sevilla, the capital of Andalucia. I love the light which is crystal clear and feels delicious against my skin; I love the landscape, which is rugged and surreal and inspires a constant dialogue in my mind of stories to write; I love the language, which is guttural and dramatic and crazy and beautiful and passionate and dark; I love the culture and the history – the centuries of fighting against repression, the fieriness of the people, the courage of the Spanish spirit, the way Spanish people hold themselves in dignity, never appear to let things get them down, always dress well and look amazing, even when they haven’t got a penny.

I love the fact that they present themselves ‘en masse’ as a community force against evil, and that they make so much noise, so as to tell the world – we will not be beaten. You might think you can beat us, torture us, repress us – and maybe individually you can – but as a group you can’t – so we’ll stick together. We are Andalucia. We are Catalunya. We are Valencia. We are Asturias. We are Galicia, and so it goes on. 

And I adore flamenco, the music, the singing, the dancing, it all leaves me high on life. There’s nothing like it.

But…..

I am constantly frustrated by the corruption, the attitude of ‘it’s who you know’, how much you are able to grease the wheels of intimate relationships, how important your family is, how well-connected you are, the attitude that foreigners are stupid and can be ripped off, the laziness of the ‘siesta’, the unwillingness to even mention Franco – their dead dictator, their ‘small-worldness’ which discounts anything that is not Spanish. I hate their traditions too and their umbilical link to the Church even though the Church is now persona non-grata.

I know I will never fit in here, and that saddens me, but it’s OK, I respect that also. 

I also hate the misogyny, the separation of the sexes, the traditional nature of family life in Spain which I would find claustrophobic, the hideous adoration of their children – who can do no wrong – and who are brought up to be spoilt brats. Any child who does not show emotion in Spain is marched off to the child psychologist and tagged as ‘weird’. Any boy who doesn’t cry is deemed mentally unhinged. 

Spain has within its history books, tales that demand to be read, understood and retold over and over. Its history – as part of the Iberian Peninsula – along with modern-day Portugal – takes your breath away; the invasions, the wars, the autonomous regions hating the other autonomous regions, the size of the country which is massive. The ‘reign’ of the Catholic Church and royalty, the Muslim influence, and then Franco and his links with the British, none of this is ever talked about. It’s as though Spain’s history is dead and only of interest to the tourists. I hate too their obsession with crowds and noise, as much as I love it, but their ‘ruido’ (noise) is unbearable and their collective desire to do everything always together is another claustrophobia-inducing quality. Spain is now ruinously expensive, almost on a par with the UK. Bring back the peseta I say, and death to the Euro. Spain is still a third-world country that has been given a mantel of respectability by its late membership of the European Union, but scratch the surface and you could be in Morocco.

I am ambivalent about this place. I come back all the time, don’t know why really, but I am here again. It’s a place that has changed a lot since I started coming here regularly in 2011. House prices – the houses sold to tourists – have gone through the roof, unemployment is still very high, wages are still cripplingly low. There is a very distinct line between the educated and the non-educated. Educated people in Spain speak English or at least a little bit of English. Uneducated people or older people in Spain speak no other languages apart from their own Spanish and their regional dialect. Young people tend to speak English and are proud of their ability. Older people move around always – and I mean always – in groups of three or four, always, always talking. 

Young people are always shouting and laughing. Older people are always talking politics. No one is ever quiet. You simply cannot be an introvert in Spain, impossible – or a vegan or vegetarian; according to a Guardian newspaper article a few months back, there are more pigs in Spain than people. I believe it. 

Women in Spain never go out without full make up, doesn’t matter what age they are, and their hair fully groomed, long, shiny, beautiful, glowing. Men look good until their late 30s, then they stop caring and grow old overnight, developing huge beer bellies and lived in faces that are swollen and tired. 

It seems just as in Jamaica and Africa, that women in Spain rule. Their voices are louder, their presence more forceful, their anger more palpable. They never sit around. They are out with their friends shouting at the world while foreigners look on in amusement. Their men don’t care, have been chucked by them, so they sit at bars drinking beer for breakfast and looking very sad indeed. They have become useless. 

But I love Spain. Viva España, Viva la vida. 

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