Catalonia, Spain, 2000
Like so many other states in Europe, Spain is not one country, but rather a conglomerate of different regions of which the north-eastern region of Catalonia is not only (one of) the richest and most densely populated, but also the part that is closest to the rest of Europe in culture. Even the language (Catalan) seems to be closer to the regional dialect spoken in southern France on the other side of the Pyrenees than it is to the Castilian spoken in Madrid.
Catalonian history and culture is very different from that of the Spanish south: Catalonians donít appreciate bull fighting, donít dance the flamenco, donít retain in their social life the feudal attitude found in other parts of Spain, and they donít think of themselves as Spaniards, but Catalonians first and foremost.
Thus at the opening of the Olympic Games in Barcelona 1992 the Catalonian banner and national anthem were (dis)played before those of Spain Ė Catalonians are Catalonians first and Spaniards next.
Catalonians speak both their native Catalan as well as the official Spanish Castilian, and the street signs in Barcelona are thus in both languages. Due to massive forced migration during the fascist Franco regime many Spanish speaking Spaniards from mainland Spain moved to Barcelona, and today they constitute a minority big enough to be considered. Yet, as a move of reprisal against the penal cultural laws imposed by Franco upon the Catalans, the Catalans now retaliate by introducing reversed orders: the primary language is again the Catalan which many of the newcomers donít speak, and they are thus kept out of business and education if they donít learn the native tongue. The situation is similar to the one in Ireland where the English banned Irish culture and language for centuries to near extinction.
In the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) Barcelona was a stronghold for the (legal) government troops fighting (the illegal) fascism, and the death toll of more than one million people (Spaniards as well as voluntary soldiers) created wounds that will take long in healing.
During our summer holidays 2000 on the coast (Costa Brava) just north of Barcelona we noted that the area is affluent, industry is booming, and people are generally friendly and open to foreigners. The pace of life is comparable to life in the northern and central parts of Europe, e.g. siesta is not observed strictly in all businesses. At times we didnít feel we were in Spain exactly, just south, mostly due to the good weather. However, certain features such as vegetation, architecture, the preferred colors, the food, the clothes people wear and how, the pace of their strollÖ, all indicated that we were, in fact, in Spain. Evening meals are eaten very late (around 10 p.m.) though starving tourist may have their meals served earlier.
On our excursions into the countryside and along the coast we noted the special beauty of the country: its mountains running parallel to the Pyrenees and thus making the east-west traveling difficult; the quiet villages on the coast next to the booming tourist centers that attract people from all over Europe; the potteries; the cork manufacturing industry; and the local wine (the main bulk of vegetables is grown further south).
In tourist ghettos some people speak English with a limited (i.e. culinary) vocabulary, but away from the tourist minded industries only Spanish (and, of course, Catalan) is spoken. Due to the proximity of France many people understand French (or could it be the proximity of Catalan and the southern French dialect?) Ė anyway, in these parts of the world English is not yet a world language. If a Spanish family can afford it, they may hire a "governess" to teach their children English as English lessons are still scarce in schools. (Our daughter Mathilde worked as a governess nanny for such a family in Madrid.)
European football (soccer) is the favorite spectatorís sport, and Spain harbors a number of outstanding soccer teams: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Deportiva de Coruna, Valencia, Seville and many others Ė in fact, Spain is close to being the number one soccer country in Europe. Interestingly enough, Spain has never had a similarly strong national team. it is as if the regional boundaries have set a limit as to how far the national integration, even in terms of soccer, can go.
The rivalry beteeen the two major soccer clubs of Barcelona and Real Madrid have caused several outbursts of murderous animosity, especially when internationals like the Danish Michael Laudrup and most recently Luis Figo, his Portuguese substitute as playmaker for Barcelona, have been "lured" to move to Madrid to play for the club that to Catalonians represents the centralist, authoritarian, and fascist establishment (for many years Real Madrid didn't allow any colored players on their team).
Since all of our four children speak Spanish (by 2001 two of them will have finished their B.A.s in Spanish Lit.), and since they visit Spain and Latin America quite often, we their parents feel that we must study the Spanish language, too. To make the most of our studies we plan future visits to some of the famous sights in Granada, e.g. the Alhambra .