Spanish Sound: the late 70s and 80s

Spanish popular music, not to be confused with Latino music, has yet to find an American audience — unless you count the success of Julio Iglesias. Or Charo. Discovering the music of Spain, with all its diversity, is a great pleasure. The death General Franco in 1975 was the turning point in the history of modern Spanish popular music. During the years of the dictatorship state censorship kept music safe and conformist. A tremendous amount of creative energy emerged from the music scene of late 70s and 80s that still inspires and pushes boundaries in Spain today.

Here are my 5 favorite songs and performers of the era:

Mecano

Hijo de la Luna (“Child of the Moon”)

Mecano was a Spanish pop band formed in 1981 and active until 1992, with lead singer Ana Torroja and brothers Nacho and José María Cano. It is the most successful band Spain has produced to date, selling over 25 million albums worldwide.

Hijo de la Luna, a hauntingly beautiful song, appeared on their 1986 album, Entre el cielo y el suelo and was an enormous hit in the Spanish-speaking world. The lyrics tell a gypsy legend:  a Roma woman falls in love with a man of the Calé tribe, who prays to the Moon to marry them because a marriage between their tribes was forbidden. The Moon asks for the woman’s first-born as payment.  When the child is born, his parents are shocked to see that his skin is pale white and his eyes are grey — they both have dark eyes and dark skin. He is a child of the Moon. But the husband believes that the boy is not his and kills his wife, then takes the child and abandons him to die. But the baby is said to live happily ever after with the Moon as his mother — when the child cries, the Moon wanes to cradle and comfort him.

La Unión

Hombre Lobo en Paris (“A Wolf Man in Paris”)

La Unión formed as a band in 1982 with Rafa Sánchez  as vocalist, Mario Martínez playing guitar and Luis Bolín on bass. First released in 1984,  Hombre Lobo en Paris is one of the most popular Spanish songs of the 1980s and still popular today— in fact, it is playing on the radio as I write this! It was at the top of the Spanish charts for 9 consecutive weeks. La Unión were on the first wave of Spain’s indie music scene, which continues to grow today, and the band still tours in Spain.

The song is inspired by the story El lobo-hombre (original title in French: Le loup garou), written in 1947 by Boris Vian, an author known for his subtle wordplay and surrealistic plots. The full moon in Paris shines light upon the Wolf Man on the prowl in decadent and dangerous corners.

Martirio

He Visto Color (“I see in Color”)

María Isabel Quiñones Gutiérrez, known under her stage name as Martirio (“Martyrdom”), born in Huelva, is a “New Flamenco” singer, emerging in the early 80s. Mixing traditional Flamenco as well as jazz and Latin rhythms with lyrics that reflect, often with humor, contemporary Spanish life, Martirio is an iconic figure. Her flamboyant peinetas (large decorative hair combs), costumes and sunglasses are her trademarks. Martirio still actively tours Spain, and I was fortunate to see her perform in Barcelona a few years ago — unforgettable.

He Visto Color is a celebration of liberating oneself from conformity — she does not care what people say or how they stare, she sees life in color, she is just going to be herself —sung to the music of a traditional sevillana folk dance.

Fangoria

El cementerio de mis sueños (“The Cemetery of my Dreams”)

Fangoria, a favorite on the summer concert circuit here, is an eclectic, eccentric, entertaining band. Lead singer Alaska (real name María Olvido Gara Jova) was one of the founding members of  La Movida Madrileña,  a cultural and artistic movement that emerged in Madrid following the end of the Franco dictatorship in the late 70s. She is a one-of-a-kind entertainment legend here.

El cementerio de Mis Sueños is one of my favorite Fangoria songs. It can be described as a Goth love song, as the longing expressed is to be eternally joined together in death, sharing the same coffin.

Miguel Bosé

Salamandra (“Salamander”)

The son of a famous bullfighter and an Italian movie star, Miguel Bosé has been on the Spanish musical vanguard for over 30 years — and still going strong.  Salamandra is one of the best (and most popular) songs of the 80s — and a superb example of his talent.  I have seen Miguel Bosé in concert many times — incomparable.

Bosé  was inspired to write the song Salamandra after reading Memoiren einer Sängerin (“Memoirs of a Songstress”), the most famous erotic novel in the German language, written by Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient ( 1804 –1860), a celebrated opera singer.

Quien la encantara?/Who will charm her?

Quien cederá?/Who will give in?

Entre la bella y la bestia/Between Beauty and the Beast

No hay superioridad/There is no superiority

Spain in Films

I always enjoy watching films as a way of understanding Spain and Spanish popular culture. Here is a list some of my favorites:

Blood and Sand (1941) Language: English

The film is based on the 1908 Spanish novel about bullfighting, Sangre y Arena by Valencia’s most famous writer, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. There are two earlier versions of Blood and Sand, a 1922 version starring Rudolph Valentino, and a 1916 version filmed by Blasco Ibáñez himself. The story follows the fate of  impetuous young Spaniard Juan Gallardo (played by Tyrone Power) who aspires to become a famous matador, following his dead father’s footsteps into the bullring.

Why I like it: A superbly entertaining Hollywood production depicting the world of Spanish bullfighting culture with accuracy.

Note: “Blood and Sand” is one of the few classic cocktails that includes Scotch. It was named for the 1922 version of the film that starred Rudolph Valentino. The red juice of the blood orange in the drink helped link it to the film. The recipe is first known to have appeared in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the recipe:

Main alcohol: Scotch whisky, Vermouth Ingredients: 3/4 oz Blood orange juice, 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth, 3/4 oz Cherry Heering, 3/4 oz Blended Scotch Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass, add another splash of orange juice then flame the zest over it.Served: Straight up; without ice Standard garnish: Maraschino cherry, Flamed orange zest Drinkware: Collins glass, Cocktail glass

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) Language: English

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is a British film, directed by Albert Lewin, based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman. The film stars Ava Gardner, James Mason, and bullfighter Mario Cabré. It was filmed mainly on the Costa Brava. A Dutchman, living in the 17th century, is not permitted to rest until he finds a woman who loves him enough to die for him. He meets and falls in love with the reincarnation of a woman from his past.

Why I like it:  It is an opulent mix of myth and Spanish culture, with gorgeous cinematography and well-crafted dialogue.

Note: Most of the movie was shot on location in Tossa de Mar, Catalonia, where a statue of Gardner has been erected on the hill overlooking the town’s main beach. Here is a photo I took of the statue:

¡Bienvenido Mister Marshall!/ “Welcome Mr. Marshall!” (1953) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Welcome Mr. Marshall! is a comedy film directed by Luis García Berlanga. It considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish cinema. After finding out that North Americans are visiting Spanish villages, the citizens of Villar del Río start preparing themselves to welcome them when they arrive, with the hope of making a profit.

Why I like it: A well-crafted classic comedy about the stereotypes held by both the Spanish and Americans regarding their cultures, with social criticism of 1950s Spain.

Muerte de un ciclista/ “Death of a Cyclist” (1955) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Death of a Cyclist is a Neorealist drama directed by Juan Antonio Bardem, starring Italian actress Lucia Bosè. While returning to Madrid after an illicit encounter, a wealthy socialite housewife and a university professor accidentally hit a bicyclist with their car.  Although they see that he is still alive after the accident, they decide not to send for help, as their affair would be revealed. They drive away and leave him to die. After the bicyclist’s death is reported in the newspaper, tension keeps rising out of fear they will be exposed.

Why I like it: The film takes the theme of selfishness and uses it as a metaphor of the Franco regime which ruled Spain at the time: the worst government is only concerned with its own interests, not those of the people.

Note: Director Juan Antonio Bardem is the uncle of actor Javier Bardem. Lucia Bosè is the mother of singer Miguel Bosé, who stars in another film on this list, Tacones Lejanos.

El Cid (1961) Language: English

El Cid is a epic historical drama about the life of the Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, called “El Cid” (from the Arabic as-sidi, meaning “The Lord”), who, in the 11th century, fought the North African Moors and contributed to the unification of Spain. The film stars Charlton Heston in the title role and was shot mostly on location in the beautiful city of Peñíscola, Spain.

 Why I like it: Based on the oldest preserved Spanish epic poem El Poema de mio Cid (“The Song of my Cid”), it is ambitious and very entertaining.  Arguably the best of the classic Hollywood historic epics.

El Espíritu de la Colmena/”The Spirit of the Beehive” (1973) Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Set in the 1940s, eight-year-old Ana lives in a small village with her mother Teresa, older sister Isabel and father Fernando, who is a beekeeper. After watching the film Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, Ana becomes convinced that the monster in living in one of the nearby, rundown houses. When an escaped convict seeks refuge in a house, Ana believes she has finally met the monster of her nightmares.

Why I like it: The Spirit of the Beehive is an engaging study of a child’s inner life having just experienced the traumatic violence Spanish Civil War.

El Amor Brujo/”Love, the Magician” (1986) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Directed by Carlos Saura, it is the third (and I think best) film in his Flamenco trilogy. El Amor Brujo is a ghostly love story, told as a Flamenco ballet. The ballet was composed in 1914-1915 by Manuel de Falla with a libretto by Gregorio Martínez Sierra.  At the center of the story is a young Andalusian gypsy girl, Candela, married to a man she does not love — he dies, but continues to haunt her.

Why I like it: The work is distinctively Andalusian in character with the songs in the Andalusian Spanish dialect of the Gypsies. Manuel de Falla’s beautiful  El Amor Brujo celebrates Andalusia in an unforgettable way.

¡Ay Carmela! (1990) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A comedy-drama directed by Carlos Saura. Carmela and Paulino are entertainers during the Spanish Civil War. They travel the country with their mute sidekick, Gustavete, performing for the Republican troops. They’re proud Republicans themselves, which puts them in danger when they are captured by Franco’s soldiers during their tour. But instead of death, they’re sentenced to perform for their enemy, pitting their loyalty against their survival.

Why I like it: The performance of Carmen Maura as Carmela is incredible. The film is unique in its ability to successfully treat the Spanish Civil War with some humor — to quote director Carlos Saura,”I would have been incapable a few years ago of treating our war with humor… but now it is different, for sufficient time has passed to adopt a broader perspective, and here there is no doubt that by employing humor it is possible to say things that it would be more difficult, if not impossible, to say in another way”. (Edwards, Gwynne, Indecent Exposures, PMarion Boyars, 1995.)

Note: The film takes its title from the song Ay Carmela, which begins and ends the film. Originally a song from the War of Independence against Napoleon, it was adapted and became the favourite song of the Republican soldiers and of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Tacones Lejanos /”High Heels” Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

Quirky Spanish melodrama written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar and starring Marisa Paredes, Victoria Abril and Miguel Bosé. The film is a murder mystery that follows the broken relationship between a narcissistic mother, Becky, who is a famous singer and the grown daughter she abandoned as a child. Spanish singer Miguel Bosé plays Letal, a female impersonator whose drag act is based on Becky — and he is also the investigating magistrate in the murder case. It’s Almodóvar, it’s complicated — and more than a little convoluted.

Why I like it: I agree with what critic Roger Ebert wrote “Pedro Almodóvar’s films are an acquired taste, and with High Heels I am at last beginning to acquire it”.  A good introduction to the work of Almodóvar, an icon of contemporary Spanish cinema.

Libertarias/”Freedom Fighters” (1996) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

An epic drama, directed by Vicente Aranda, with an ensemble cast that depicts the role played by anarchist women during the Spanish Civil War. It is set in Barcelona at the outbreak of the war. A young nun, Maria, is forced to flee her convent. She takes refuge in a brothel, soon liberated by a woman’s anarchist group. Maria joins the group and eventually goes to fight at the front. She is exposed to the realities of war and revolution, and comes to question her former, sheltered life. In the end, her idealistic dreams are brutally crushed.

Why I like it: It offers a rare cinematic glimpse into the role of women soldiers in the Spanish Civil war. Highly recommended for anyone interested in modern Spanish history and/or the Civil War.

El espinazo del diablo /”The Devil’s Backbone” (2001) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A ghost story and murder mystery directed by Guillermo del Toro. The film is set in 1939, during the final days of the Spanish Civil War.  A twelve-year-old boy, after his Republican father is killed, is sent to a haunted rural orphanage full of terrible secrets.

Why I like it: The Devil’s Backbone is frightening and emotionally complex— a powerful, unique film.

El Laberinto del Fauno/Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A dark fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro that takes place in 1944, during the early years of Franco’s dictatorship. The horrors of the real world and fantasy are perfectly mixed in this story of the strange journeys of an imaginative young girl who may be the mythical princess of an underground kingdom.

Why I like it: In my opinion, a cinema masterpiece. Artistically  and technically ambitious, Del Toro creates a world in which fantasy collides with the horrors of war – and the result is an astonishingly beautiful film.

 

El Orfanato/ “The Orphanage” (2007) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

El Orfanato centers on Laura, who returns to her childhood home, an orphanage.  She plans to turn the orphanage into a home for disabled children. One day, her adopted son Simón disappears. Simón is critically ill, and as the months go by with no trace of him,  he is presumed dead. Laura believes she hears spirits, who may or may not be trying to help her find Simón.

Why I like it: Full of atmosphere with no cheap thrills, this is a brooding, intense film. The performances are outstanding and I especially enjoyed Geraldine Chaplin in the role of Aurora, the medium.

Garbo: The Spy (2009) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

An engrossing documentary that reconstructs the career of “Garbo”, Juan Pujol García, a Spanish citizen who formed the centerpiece of Allied deception and counter-information to have the Nazis believe that D-Day landing would occur in Pas-de-Calais and not in Normandy.

Why I like it: Few true stories of World War II are more fascinating than that of Garbo the spy.

Ocho apellidos vascos/”Spanish Affair” (2014) Language: Spanish/ Subtitles: English

A blockbuster Spanish comedy film directed by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro. Rafael has never left Andalucia, dislikes the Basque country, imagining Basques to be cold and unpatriotic. His opinions are challenged, however, when he falls in love with a Basque woman, Amaia, and follows her to her native region. The story plays on stereotypes to produce a very funny film.

Why I like it: This home-grown comedy gives some keen insight into the diversity of Spain and its people — with their own prejudices — that many non-Spaniards are not aware of.

Note: It is the highest-grossing Spanish film ever produced to date.

Winter 2017: Places and Memories

January

Street Art In Valencia

Returning to Valencia after several months in Catalonia, I resumed my exploration of the vibrant street art scene here.  Some new work, some old but all new to me.

Click on thumbnails to enlarge images.

A Beautiful History of Silk

Falleras in their Valencian silk dresses

I paid my first visit to the Museo de la Seda (The Silk Museum) — it is a remarkable place. Over the years I had passed the Museo many times, always sad to see it in a sorry state of neglect. The building where the Museo de la Seda is located began construction in 1494 and was declared a national historical-artistic monument in 1981.  Restoration — finally — officially began on November 10th, 2014, and it re-opened to the public on June 18th, 2016. A visit to the museum is a journey to the heart of Valencian history and culture.

Silk arrived on the Iberian Peninsula with the Moors. Mulberry trees and worms were cultivated in the Valencian huerta (market farm belt). In Valencia itself,  the weaving of velvet began in the historic Velluters neighborhood.  Velluters comes from vellut, which means “velvet” in the Valencian language. Silk was then introduced and, at the height of the industry in the 15th and 16th centuries, there were more than 5,000 registered workshops weaving velvet and silk. Silk helped bring power and wealth to Valencia.

Tile design in the museum dedicated to San Jerónimo, patron saint of silk weavers

The Museo de la Seda (The Silk Museum) is one of the most important buildings in Valencia. This is where the Gremi de Velluters (Velvet Weavers Guild) was born, officially ratified by King Ferdinand the Catholic on October 13, 1479. It is one of the oldest guilds in Europe. The Guild was elevated to the El Colegio del Arte Mayor de la Seda (The College of High Silk Art ) by King Carlos II in 1686. The silk industry still survives in Valencia today thanks to demand  for use in traditional Valencian costumes — especially las Fallas, which is a celebration of Valencian silk — as well as for decoration.

February

For me, winter months are perfect for visiting the Costa Blanca — the Mediterranean coast north of Alicante.  The weather is warm, the tourists are scarce and the rates are low.

La Vila Joiosa

The colorful houses of La Vila Joiosa

I returned to one of my favorite Costa Blanca towns, La Vila Joiosa, to enjoy walking its beach promenade, exploring the narrow streets and multi-colored houses of the old town, and discovering its new history museum.

A Trip to Altea

From La Vila Joiosa, the town of Altea is an easy 35-minute trip north by the coastal tram. I had always been interested in visiting Altea, frequently described as one of the most charming towns of the Costa Blanca.

The town was fortified in the 13th century, creating what is now the “old town”.  The coastal highway runs through Altea — on the seaside there is a sandy beach with a long promenade and marina. On the other side of the road the old and new town are side-by-side.

The old town does have a lot of charm.  It is whitewashed, with narrow stepped streets that wind up to the historic church Nuestra Senora del Consuelo. The church has a beautiful dome of blue and white tiles — it is the (very) frequently photographed symbol of the town.  Neo-Baroque in style, it was built in the late 19th century on the ruins of a much older structure. The church plaza has beautiful views of the mountains and sea, including  the mighty rock outcrop of Peñón de Ifach, known as the Costa Blanca’s (mini) Gibraltar.

The cobbled streets are filled with restaurants (note: I have never visited a historic town on the Mediterranean coast with more pizza restaurants per plaza!), cafés and local craft shops catering to tourists. In fact, for me, the only disappointing thing about Altea’s old city is that everything is designed exclusively for tourism and all you meet is tourists. The real bustling heart of the city is in the new town.

Click on thumbnails to enlarge images.

Benidorm from a Distance

“I believe in Tokyo, Benidorm, La Grande Motte, Wake Island, Eniwetok, Dealey Plaza.”           J.G Ballard, What I Believe

Benidorm, the definition of package resort holidays in Spain, is located between La Vila Joiosa and Altea. With its forest of high-rise blocks, it has become a byword for the worst of mass tourism, entirely separated from the “real” Spain. Until the 1960s, Benidorm was a small fishing village — today It has the most high-rise buildings per capita in the world. No surprisingly, it was a source of inspiration for dystopian author J.G. Ballard. “Benidorm” is also the name of a British sitcom that features an ensemble cast of holiday makers and staff at an all-inclusive hotel in the city.

I did not visit Benidorm this winter, only seeing it from the distance of the tram.

Exposición del Ninot (Ninot Expo) 2017

When I  returned to Valencia, the Exposición del Ninot was underway. Beginning in during the first week of February and ending March 15th each year, the display of ninots begins las Fallas festival season.

More than 700 ninots were on display at the Sala Arquerías of the Museum of Sciences Principe Felipe, part of the City of Arts and Sciences complex. It is an impressive space to enjoy the carefully crafted ninots.

The Sala Arquerías of the Museum of Sciences Principe Felipe

The display, in which a ninot from each casal (neighborhood Fallas group) in Valencia is shown, has been held since 1934. It attracts large crowds of locals and visitors, offering a preview of what news events, personalities and politicians will feature prominently in the social satire of las Fallas.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Click on thumbnails to enlarge images.

As winter gave way to early spring, the orange trees in my neighbourhood were in full fruit.

Girona: Jewel of Northern Catalonia

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Window box

If I only had time to visit one city in Catalonia, it would be the ancient walled city of Girona, perched on a northern hillside close to the Costa Brava. Barcelona, over-hyped and tourist overwhelmed is bigger, but for me, Girona is a much better alternative.  Compact, relaxed, bohemian, and stylish,  it is a great base for day trips to the Pyrenees, the Costa Brava and the Salvador Dalí Museum in his nearby hometown of Figueres. Girona is located about 100 km (62 miles) north of Barcelona — perfect for a daytrip there.

Iglesia de Sant Lluc Girona Blog

Església de Sant Lluc/Church of Saint Luke

With a population of just under 100,000, Girona is northern Catalonia’s largest city. It’s wealth in medieval times produced many fine Romanesque and Gothic buildings that have survived repeated attacks and sieges. It is a stunningly beautiful city with plenty of inspiration, with an easy-to-stroll center and incredible food. Close to the French border, and with Catalan as the lingua franca, it has a distinct character not diluted by mass tourism.

Along the River Onyar Blog

Houses overlooking the River Onyar 

The River Onyar divides the city, joined by a several footbridges, including Pont Eiffel. It was built by Gustave Eiffel et Companie around 1877 — before the famous Tour Eiffel in Paris. The walled medieval quarter (Barri Vell) runs uphill from the eastern bank and the 18th-century shopping district lies on the western bank. Girona has an abundance of Moderniste (Catalan Art Nouveau) architecture , with many remarkable buildings designed by the same architects that attract tourists to Barcelona.

Cathedral

The Catedral de Santa Maria (detail)

The Catedral de Santa Maria, with 91 ascending stone steps, is one of the most important examples of Catalan Gothic architecture. It has a Romanesque tower and cloister, a Gothic nave and a Baroque facade. In the cathedral square, the grand episcopal palace is now home to the Art Museum housing historical and modern Catalan works.

Fountain copy

Old City Fountain

Just below the cathedral is the end of the Via Augusta, the Roman road that crossed Iberia, bringing  Moorish conquerors from Cádiz in the south and French from the north, who besieged Girona in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  The Passeig de la Muralla is a restored medieval defensive wall on the east side. It now forms a walking route high above the old city.

Courtyard Jewish Museum Blog

Patio of the Museum of Jewish History

There was a large Jewish community that flourished in Girona until their official expulsion in 1492. The old Jewish neighborhood or Call is one of the best preserved in Europe. Today it is on “The Sephardic Way”, a network of towns whose aim is to locate, revive and recover the cultural heritage of Jewish Spain.  The Museum of Jewish History (Carrer de la Forca 8) tells the story of the community that lived in Girona for centuries.

Old City Scene

Freshly washed clothes hanging out to dry in an old city street

Unlike Barcelona — whose much-touted Rambla has lost its locals and is now populated by tourists, underwhelming overpriced cafés and pickpockets — Girona has a Rambla that is still very local.  It is a tree-lined pedestrian street where you can stroll, shop and drink midday aperitifs in a small café. Girona has an impressive number of local designers and craftspeople, with many small shops offering unique clothing and jewellry.  Another great location is the Plaza de La Independencia with many excellent restaurants and cafés around it — I always look forward to lunch at  Casa Marieta (Placa Independencia 5), the perfect place to try classic northern Catalan cuisine.

Cafe Girona

Café La Terra, located at 23 Carrer de les Ballesteries, filled with atmosphere by the river

There are so many places to relax, reflect and be inspired in very bohemian Girona.  Just as you might imagine on a visit to southern Europe, one can sit in a café by the river, sip some excellent local wine and enjoy the sensation of being immersed in a different culture.

There is always something festive or cultural (or both!) on the calendar. One of the most famous events takes place in May: Temps de Flors (Time of the Flowers).

 

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

12 Favorite Photos from 2016

I take a lot of photos here in Spain — the 12 selected represent what (and where) inspired me the most in 2016.

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Tabernacle, chapel of the Huerto del Cura, Elche.

The Huerto del Cura (the Priest’s Garden), is a very tranquil spot in the center of the city of Elche. The city is most famous for the Palmeral (Palm Grove of Elche) — the only palm grove (oasis) of its type in Europe, and one of the largest in the world, surpassed in size only by some in Arab countries. The palm trees are the heart of the Huerto del Cura. There is a small chapel — no longer in use as a place of worship — just inside the garden, featuring a beautiful hand-painted altar. Another kind of oasis.

Photo taken February, 2016.

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Experimental Falla: Pesos i Conflictes (Weights and Conflicts), detail, Valencia.       

The Casal Lepanto – Guillen de Castro is known for its experimental Fallas — every March during the Fallas festival I look forward to their bold, imaginative vision. This year, artist Anna Ruiz Sospedra created a powerful statement in the falla titled Pesos i Conflictes (Weights and Conflicts). While it could be interpreted as a metaphor for many situations, the association most frequently made was with the refugee crisis in Europe.

Pesos i Conflictes (Weights and Conflicts) won second place in the Experimental Fallas category, Fallas Festival, 2016.

Photo taken March, 2016.

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Street art, Carrer de Camarón, Valencia.

The street art of Valencia is diverse and, especially in the old city (Ciutat Vella), very much a part of the architecture.  This classically beautiful example of Valencian street art is the work of a Spanish based artist duo who call themselves PichiAvo.

Photo taken March, 2016.

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Crucifix, Barri Santa Creu, Alicante.

Barri Santa Creu (Holy Cross neighborhood) in the old quarter of Alicante is full of narrow, colorful, uniquely decorated houses.

Photo taken April, 2016.

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Door knocker, La Vila Joiosa.

Hand-shaped door knockers are everywhere in Spain. There are many legends about them, mostly related to the history and traditions of Moorish Spain. The hand symbolizes the “Hand of Fatima” and is believed to be a sign of protection, representing blessings, power and strength.

Photo taken April, 2016.

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Moorish Window, Torre de la Calahorra, Elche.

Torre de la Calahorra is a watchtower of Moorish origin that was part of the defensive wall during the Al-Ándalus period in Elche. The construction of the tower dates from the late 12th or early 13th century. The quadrangular tower defended the entrance from the most important road from Alicante to Elche.

Photo taken April, 2016.

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Shoe store sign, La Vila Joiosa.

A hand-painted sign for a shoe store in the center La Vila Joiosa. The small city center of La Vila Joiosa has genuine old-fashioned charm, not compromised by tourism.

Photo taken May, 2016.

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Face of a child on an iron pipe, Valencia.

In Valencia, there are iron pipes with faces of young men, women, angels or children. Decorative and loaded with mystery — there is no definitive answer to the question of why they exist — the faces reflect an opulent time of decorative flourish in late 19th and early 20th century Valencian architecture and infrastructure.

Photo taken June, 2016.

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Parroquia de la Santísima Cruz (Iglesia del Carmen), Valencia.

Parroquia de la Santísima Cruz (Iglesia del Carmen) is located on la Plaza del Carmen, Carrer del Museo, 7, in  Valencia’s old city (Ciutat Vella). The medieval Plaza del Carmen is a great location to begin exploring. The adjacent Antiguo Convento del Carmen (Convent of the Carmelites) is now a major center for arts and culture in Valencia. The nearby Café Museu is a great place to relax and enjoy the local beer — Turia.

Photo taken June, 2016.

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WIndows beside the River Onyar, Girona.

The brightly painted houses overlooking the Onyar River are part of the great visual charm of Girona, the largest city in northeastern Catalonia. Among the bridges that span the river, which crosses the city, is the Palanques Vermelles bridge (1827), which was built by the Eiffel company.

Photo taken June, 2016.

Bar sign, Palamós, Costa Brava.

The fishing town of Palamós was the first stop on my Costa Brava summer tour, 2016. This sign was a happy welcome.

Photo taken June, 2016.

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Tiles, Café La Terra, Girona.

For me, Girona is the most bohemian of Catalan cities. Café La Terra, located at 23 Carrer de les Ballesteries, filled with atmosphere, is a perfect place to enjoy the local tapas and read, write or sketch. Or just relax.

Photo taken October, 2016.

Ask me a question about Spain: The Siesta

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A Fallas Festival (Valencia) satire of the British attitude towards the Spanish siesta — “The britishland vs. Ca Pepe”. (Ca Pepe = Pepe’s house, referring to Spain).

“…are afternoon siestas common, especially in the cities, and particularly in technology heavy businesses?”

In Spain, the siesta is a short nap of 15-30 minutes taken in the middle of the afternoon, after the midday meal. The siesta is historically common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, but most strongly associated with Spain.

A siesta is not the definition of the 3 hour break taken in the middle of the working day — many foreign tourists confuse la siesta with the 3 hour break, mistakenly assuming Spaniards sleep through the entire afternoon!  In fact, businesses, schools and government offices shut down from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. to allow the locals to enjoy lunch with their families, work colleges, or friends. In larger cities, the post office, national supermarket chains, bigger retail stores and some pharmacies stay open — but most towns, with the exception of restaurants and bars, completely close up.

Spaniards work from 8:30am to 8:00pm, and the long lunch break is important. Spaniards rarely invite business friends to their home, preferring to meet them in a restaurant or café.  People generally will not start discussing business before coffee has been served. In general, the Spanish are a very open and communicative.  No matter if you work in a large company or a small business, the long lunch break is a part of business and social life.  A hurried sandwich or salad at your desk is considered anti-social in a country where food and social exchange is very highly valued.

The tradition of the family dining together still exists here. If you work and can go home for lunch, are an ama de casa (housewife), a student in an elementary school or high school (many schools run from 9am to 5pm, with a two-hour lunch break) or retired, the siesta (short nap) is still a common tradition.

Tourists frequently find the 3 hour break both confusing and annoying. Many can’t understand why so many shops are closed and the streets are almost empty. In places where tourism is a big part of the economy, it is not difficult to find enterprising restaurateurs taking advantage of tourist frustration, offering a “Spanish lunch” at 12 noon — but you will find yourself eating an over-priced, mediocre meal surrounded only by other tourists. A real Spanish midday meal is never served before 1:30pm!

Best advice — shift your schedule and eat like a local during your stay.  There are restaurants and bars in every corner of Spain that serve a menu del día – a complete three-course lunch meal that offers good value for money and a great way to enjoy Spanish regional cuisine.  Whether or not you opt to take a siesta after the meal is your choice!

Photo©La Gringa Ibérica

 

 

 

All Saints Day

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Nadie más muerto que el olvidado (one is not dead until forgotten).  All Saints Day (Todos Los Santos) in Spain takes place on November 1st. It is a national public holiday and a hectic day of homecomings and high emotions. People from all over the country return to their native villages, towns or cities to lay flowers and remembrances on the graves of deceased relatives as a reminder that they are not forgotten.

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Roads around cemeteries have bumper-to-bumper traffic, and additional public transport services are organized in larger towns and cities. The cemeteries are filled with people, so full that some wait until the 2nd of November to visit. Others visit a few days prior to November 1st to clean the graves and have them ready for Todos Los Santos. Weeks before the holiday, local flower shops circulate ads offering special floral arrangements — in fact, it is the time year when the most flowers are sold. And restaurants are full of family reunions.

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On Todos Los Santos there is a tradition of eating roasted chestnuts (castañas). The chestnut element of the tradition comes from legend of Maria La Castañada, a chestnut seller, about whom there are many legends. One of the most common is as follows:

 Maria was a woman who always sold chestnuts when it began to dawn in the evening, but one day she stumbled because of her long skirt and all of the chestnuts she collected fell on the floor. Unfortunately she couldn’t find any of them again and so she got very angry, but then the goblins of the forest came to assure their help. And in the evening they came with lots of chestnuts and everyone was happy.

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And there is a Catalan legend of why roasted chestnuts are eaten on All Saints Day:

 … the night before All Hallow’s Day the men rang the church bells to honor the dead. As it was a very long and hard work the men ate chestnuts because they are a great source of energy and helped them not to get cold. Often, family and friends came to support the men and so it ended in a big get-together.

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Almond cakes are reminders of the days when home-made cakes and offerings were left with the bodies of the dead. At this time of the year, pastry shops offer huesos de santo (the saint’s bones) which have marzipan, eggs and sugar syrup and buñuelos de viento (puffs of wind) which are doughnuts sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. In Catalonia and Valencia, small almond cakes called pannellets are enjoyed.

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A day for both mourning the loss of loved ones and celebrating life.

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All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

A Costa Brava Summer, 2016

Sa Concha Blog

… Sa Concha beach, near Platja d’Aro …

I am spending the summer on the Costa Brava, in the northeastern corner of Catalonia. This is a region I have been exploring for many years  —  so sharing a few insights and images is way overdue!

Steps to the Sea - S'Agaro

steps to the sea, S’Agaro …

Stretching along the Mediterranean from Blanes, 30 miles (60km) north of Barcelona, to the French border at Portbou, the Costa Brava (Wild Coast) is filled with wooded coves, high rugged cliffs, peaceful beaches and clear blue water. On the streets everywhere the lingua franca is Catalan, not Spanish. Some areas are also overflowing with the damage that followed rapid tourist development beginning in the 1950s, but, in general, it remains a relatively unspoiled region.

Tossa de Mar

… the medieval walled town of Tossa de Mar, la Selva  …

The Catalan coast is divided into three coastal comarques (counties): la Selva to the south, Baix Empordà at the center, and the Alt Empordà in the north. During the winter months the Alt Empordà  can be subjected to the legendary Tramuntana, an impressive wind that blows off the Pyrenees.

Fishing Boat - Blanes

… a small fishing boat on the beach in Blanes …

The cultural heritage of the Costa Brava is tied to the fishing trade and ship-building. The city of Blanes, in la Selva , known as the “Gateway to the Costa Brava”, is a good example. Beginning in the 18th century, the local economy entered into a period of growth with all of the typical Costa Brava economic activities of the time:  extensive maritime-fishery, boat building plus lacework, rope making, and barrel making. The town was a center of shipbuilding and also had a famous sailing school. Tourism is the major industry of Blanes today.

Cami de Ronda near Sant Pol_edited-1

… view from the Cami de Ronda (walking trail) near Sant Pol, Baix Empordà …

One of the best ways to appreciate the Costa Brava is to walk the many coastal trails that connect traditional fishing villages. The Camins de Ronda (walking trails) were originally created by fishermen to protect coastal inhabitants from approaching pirates and smugglers. Certain parts of the old trails vanished with tourism development in the late 20th century but many trails have been recently restored. I find them very safe and well-marked. Difficulty varies in each section, but even the easiest section might be a challenge for visitors who don’t integrate walking or cycling into their daily routine.

Empúries - Blog

… ruins of Empúries …

Empúries Roman Tile Blog

Roman tile floor, one of many at the Empúries ruins

The ruins of the ancient Greco/Roman colony of Empúries, founded in 575 B.C., are located just north of the town of L’Escala, in the Alt Empordà. The strikingly beautiful coastal site is one of the most important Europe — and, for me, a very memorable visit. The site is open year-round and the Museum of Catalan Archaeology is located on the grounds.

Castell d'Aro

… a quiet street in the medieval town of Castell d’Aro …

Església de Sant Martí de Romanyà Blog

… the church of Sant Martí de Romanyà in the village of Romanyá de la Selva …

This is a region filled with medieval towns, churches and farmhouses. Small farms are everywhere, supplying the local markets.

Casa Font en Begur Blog

… the Indiano Casa Font (the Font house), Begur, Alt Empordà … 

Llagostera Blog

… an indiano in Llagostera, Baix Empordà …

Sant Pol

… the indiano Casa De Les Punxes in Sant Pol, Baix Empordà …

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… an indiano in Begur, Alt Empordà …

In the late 19th century a large number of inhabitants of the Costa Brava traveled or emigrated to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic — it has been estimated that as much as one third of the average town here left to make their fortune. Many of these immigrants were financially successful in the Caribbean, especially Cuba, and returned to their towns and villages on the Costa Brava where they constructed large and ornate houses. Many houses, referred to as Indianos (“from the Indies”) can still be seen — some are a bit dilapidated, many restored. During the first week of September, the town of Begur (Alt Empordà) celebrates their nostalgic relationship with Cuba with the Fira d’Indians (Festival of the Indianos).

Dali Museum Figueres

… the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Alt Empordà

The rugged Alt Empordà is Salvador Dalí country. Dalí lived most of his adult life in a unique house of converted and connected fishermen’s huts in Port Lligat (near the French border), and three excellent museums: Dalí Theatre-Museum, Salvador Dalí House – Port Lligat, and Gala Dalí Castle Púbol comprise what is known as the Dalinià Triangle. Here is a wonderful video about them: The Dalí Triangle.

Cabanas Blog

… the beach at Sant Pol,  Baix Empordà …

Beyond the intense summer tourist season, there is year-round activity on the Costa Brava. Out of season (November – March) the area returns to being “local” — the small coastal towns and villages go quiet and the bars, restaurants, hotels and shops that cater only for the summer tourists shutter during the winter. At times it can be bleak, windy and rainy — especially in January and February — but it is also when you can discover the calm and space of the coast — and the beautiful winter light.

Winter light

… January sunset over the Massís de les Cadiretes (Baix Empordà) …

 

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

El meu Barcelona (My Barcelona)

For over two years, I lived in Barcelona’s old city (Ciutat Vella). Here are some favorite photos — with a few memories — I took during my years in the Ciutat Comtal (the City of Counts):

Number One Blog

… Number 1 …

Location:  Carrer de la Mercè

The first photo I took in Barcelona. Of all the sights and sounds in the vibrant city, it was street art — graphiti, stencils, chalk and paint — that found my camera first.

Faceless Angel Blog

… faceless Angel …

Location: La Basílica de la Mercè , Carrer Ample

Called “an oasis in the city”,  La Basílica de la Mercè (The Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy) is a Baroque-style basilica, built between 1765 and 1775.  The “faceless Angel” watched over a favorite restaurant of mine (now defunct).

Study in Pink Blog

… my neighbor’s pink recliner …

Location: Carrer de Meer

In my neighborhood, the tradition was (and still is) enjoying any small bit of sidewalk as a community terrace, especially on hot and humid summer nights…it was sociable and peaceful, though in the last few years the locals have been battling with young, rowdy tourists for space.

Different Green Blog

… early Saturday evening …

Location: Plaça dels Traginers (Barri Gòtic)

Tucked away in corners of the ancient winding Barri Gótic (Gothic neighborhood) streets there were still a few plazas where Saturday nights are spontaneous “happenings”, centered around tiny bars. Music, poetry, art. Inspired times.

Picasso Blog

… Pablo …

Location:  Carrer d’en Rauric

I always navigated the small streets and alleyways of Barcelona because of both their character and  the distance away from the hordes of tourists. “Pablo” was always a welcome sight!

Barceloneta Balcony Blog

… my neighbor’s garden …

 Location: Carrer del Baluard

In my neighborhood, a small balcony (much like that little bit of sidewalk for a reclining chair) was/is a small expansion outward that could be either utilitarian or creative — or both.

Happy Face Blog

… happy face door knocker …

Location: Carrer del Correu Vell

 A touch of Barri Gótic (Gothic neighborhood) humor, another layer added to the history of an aging  door.

Barceloneta blog

Barceloneta patterns…

Location: Carrer Sant Elm

One of my favorite places in all of the city was/is  La Barceloneta, a neighborhood in the Ciutat Vella (Old City) district of Barcelona. It was constructed during the 18th century, with the residents working in and around the port. There is even a little museum,  La Casa de la Barceloneta, where the history of the neighborhood comes to life.  La Barceloneta is known for its long, sandy beach (which made an appearance in Don Quixote, Book 2).

Casa Bruno Quadros Blog

Casa-Bruno Cuadros

Location: La Rambla, 82

 When living in Barcelona, I associated La Rambla with hordes of tourists, over-priced cafés and pick pockets — and some amazing jewels of the Catalan Art Nouveau movement, Modernisme. The Casa Bruno Cuadros, also known as the Casa dels Paraigües (House of Umbrellas) is an example. The most opulent decorative element is the ornate Chinese dragon on the corner of the façade. It was used to advertise the shop, together with the umbrella below it.

 

All photos © La Gringa Ibérica

Spain: Security Shutter Art

I am really keen on security shutter art here. Because of the 3-4 hour afternoon Spanish siesta, the art on security shutters — often humorous and always creative — brightens the streets when businesses are closed. Here are few favorites my camera has captured in Barcelona and Valencia.

Note: please click on images to enlarge.

Shutter Art Blog 3

Barcelona • Hair Salon

Shutter Art Blog 2 BCN

Barcelona • Chill-Out Lounge

El Burrito Blog

Valencia  El Burrito Take-Away Food

Ride Blog BCN

Barcelona  Trixi Bike Cabs

For Your Listening Pleasure Blog

Valencia • La Flama Music Club + Bar

BCNartBlogBKstore

Barcelona Bookstore

Plug-In Blog BCN

Barcelona  Electrician

Eat, Eat! Blog

Valencia  ¡Come, Come! (Eat, Eat!) Take-Away Food

BCNartBlog Brains

Barcelona • Storefront

BCNartBlog Political

Barcelona •  Political (empty storefront)

A Noble Attempt

Barcelona • I have no idea what this is, but I call it a noble effort…