Living Abroad in Spain
© Nikki Weinstein, from Living Abroad in Spain , 1st Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.
The Andalusian poet and dramatist Frederico García Lorca once noted that in Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world. When I read that line, I mulled it over for a while and eventually repeated the quote to a Spanish friend. She laughed. “That’s great. It so perfectly describes Spain!” But she was stumped when I asked her to explain exactly why she thought so. Finally, she summed it up with a triumphant smile. “It just feels right.”
Perhaps that really is why Lorca’s description of Spain is so fitting—because it elicits a feeling that is even more important than the actual words. It often seems that what binds Spain together is a collective feeling. Emotion is the unifying glue in a culture awash with contradictions, rife with regional differences, and alive with the past. From Galicia to Ibiza, the Spanish jump into life heart first.
Spain is a passionate country where people have an enormous appetite for absolutely everything—parties, wine, familial love, political sparring, and oh yes, food. God, do the Spanish love food. This is a country where lunch can last for three hours, legs of jamón (ham) hang in nearly every restaurant and home, and when you order paella, what lands on your table can be so huge that it leaves no room for your wine glass. That enormous platter says it all. Dig in but take it slowly and savor every bite—there’s no rush.
Spain is fully modern today and its teeming city streets reveal the country’s commitment to commerce, but something old-world still prevails. The union of tradition and forward-looking vision might strike Americans as incongruous, but in Spain it works. The siesta is a perfect example of that. Sure, the Spanish may no longer snooze during midday, but lunch is often a long meal accompanied by a glass or two of wine. In order to take that leisurely break—one that many view as a necessity more than a luxury—the Spanish will work into the evenings to accommodate their ample, afternoon rest.
When one of the country’s many annual fiestas rolls around, the revelry pulls out the entire town. Grandmother to teenager, everyone stops what they’re doing to stroll through the streets, eat churros y chocolate (fritters and hot chocolate), and celebrate with their neighbors. Work is important but it revolves around life rather than the reverse, and that says something important about the Spanish: what matters here is what you’re doing with your time when you’re not working. Family is everything, the bonds of friendship are ironclad links that often date back to childhood, and ample vacation is paramount.
I suspect that so many people fall in love with Spain at first visit because of the country’s enormous enthusiasm for life. Of course the strong, Andalusian sun is also a powerful draw, the verdant mountains in the north are beautiful, Madrid oozes charm, and Barcelona woos visitors with a culture that is both avant-garde and rooted in thousands of years of history. But most people who visit Spain remember the passionate temperament of the Spanish more than anything else. Those who are really smitten return because they want more than just a small dose of that culture—they want to become a part of it. Some of those visitors return to the country over and over, until they finally decide to stay and make Spain home.
I still wonder what Lorca really meant by his statement about Spain’s dead being so alive. It probably refers to the country’s long history; one marked by bloody battles, shifting kingdoms, and romantic myths. But when I think about the Spanish appetite for life, I change my mind about the writer’s intention. Maybe Lorca was commenting on the Spanish character, and he figured that a fire so strong couldn’t be snuffed out. Ultimately I just don’t know—but still, his quote somehow feels so right.