Mar 29th, 2009
If you talk to Spaniards, most of them will speak more of their own regional pride rather than national Spanish pride. For instance, before my weekend trip to Barcelona last Friday, I asked my señora what she thought about the northern Catalonian city. She promptly screwed up her face and made her typical “oishhh” sounds that I’ve come to associate with anything perceived as “bad,” such as rain or cold weather or drunk Americans. “They’re not like us [Andalucíans],” she said. Above all else, my señora considers herself a Sevillana (not a Spaniard), then she values her membership as a resident of Andalucía, and then she mentioned her national Spanish pride.
Since I am based in Sevilla, the heart and capital of Spain’s southern-most region, Andalucía, I sometimes forget that Spain possesses incredible social, political, and geographical diversity. Spain is a big place.
The country is roughly 504,782 square kilometers, which is more than twice the size of Oregon. Four major languages are spoken: Castilian Spanish (Castellano), Catalan, Galician, and Basque. There are 17 autonomous communities, such as Andalucía (my personal favorite) and Catalonia (and I’m not even going to get into the fact that there’s a sizeable political movement pressing for Catalonian independence from Spain). Each region is fiercely proud of its own culture.
Upon entering the airport terminal after arriving in Barcelona, I could already tell that the city is immeasurably a world apart from Sevilla. First of all, the official language of Catalonia is not Spanish: it’s Catalan. Airport signs read “Sortida” (exit) instead of the Spanish “Salida” – although there was no doubt that I was heading in the right direction when I noticed the English line that read: “way out.” [I love bizarre English translations. I even found obvious typos in the explanatory signs at the Sagrada Familia – “threes” is definitely is not the same thing as “trees,” for example.]
In Sevilla, the stereotypical image of Spanish culture comes to life. We have sunny, warm weather most days, and hundreds of orange trees line the street. There are always, always people outside chatting in plazas, and folks take their siesta break by returning home for a leisurely lunch with the entire family (no, siesta is not normally a nap; it’s simply a long break in the work day). You can see a free flamenco show every night at a very chill bar in Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Sevilla composed of narrow, winding stone streets and centuries-old architecture. People don’t rush.
But many foreigners automatically associate all of Spain with flamenco, sunny beaches, beautiful women, and bullfighting (as evidenced by the multitude of over-priced postcards and key chains sold on Las Ramblas: the most famous (and most frequented by tourist) street in Barcelona). However, to my mind, all of those tourist artifacts do not represent Spain, because they are more geared to the typical Andalucían image of what people think Spain should be. Barcelona is something else.
Barcelona is very much an international, cosmopolitan city, located in northern Spain and a cheap plane flight away from major European cities like London, Paris, and Rome. The pace of life is a lot faster; I felt like I was always struggling to break through a mad crush of tourists, or I was the only person (with my friend) on the street. Major sites are relatively walk-able, but the metro is an integral component of daily travel (especially if you’re someone who wants to see Parc Güell and the gothic cathedral all in one day à mission accomplished!). The city has a wonderful mix of old gothic architecture side-by-side with innovative modernist architecture. Barcelona’s nightlife culture is insane; clubs start getting exciting around 1 or 2 a.m., and my friend and I still saw people straggling out of clubs when we went to catch our bus at 6 a.m. on Monday morning.
Barcelona is one part of Spain, and it’s different from the rest. It’s a fabulous place for a vacation and I haven’t stopped raving about the city’s amazing architecture, delicious food, and rich culture since I returned last week. But when I exited the plane, felt the warm sun on my face, and watched Sevilla residents meandering towards the airport shuttle bus, I was so happy to be back in Sevilla. If you ask me, Andalucía is the best autonomous community in Spain…but then again, I’m biased.
*Shoutout to Olga, fellow blog-journalist studying in Barcelona!