November 30, 2011

Film: Lázaro de Tormes (2001)

So this film recommendation is less about the movie itself, and more about the cultural significance of the story it tells. Lázaro de Tormes (2001) is based on a classic Spanish novella, La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades (1554). Published anonymously (because of its heretical content) in the "Edad de Oro," Lazarillo de Tormes is considered an important work within the canon of Spanish literature and has a timelessly entertaining satirical humor which shifts to modern media (like film) more easily than many other equally important literary works (such as the curse of filming Don Quijote).

The movie loosely follows the plot of the book. It tells the story of a boy from Salamanca "of humble origins" who is apprenticed to a wily blind beggar. (It is from the character's name in this book that the term "lazarillo" was coined to mean a person or animal that guides a blind person ("ciego"), e.g. a seeing eye dog, or "perro lazarillo".) The devious blind man teaches the boy the art of deception ("engaño"), and in subsequent chapters/scenes he uses this cunning to make the most of his new situations and each of his various new masters: a priest, a squire, a friar, a pardoner, a chaplain, and finally a bailiff and archbishop. Through these vignettes, the story offers a glimpse of different professions and levels of 16th-century society, while also undercutting their nobleness and authority.

Goya's Lazarillo de Tormes (painted from 1808-1812, previously known as "El Garrotillo").

The novel is widely credited for founding a new literary genre, the picaresque ("picaresca") novel. The term picaresque comes from the word "pícaro" ("rogue" or "rascal"), and part of what makes the novel/film so incredibly entertaining is how the protagonist, both at the same time charming and troublesome, somehow manages to reveal the hypocrisy and duplicity of those around him even as it is he who is pulling the wool over their eyes. Using humor to underscore the stark reality of power and social structures. On one level this style of humor touches on some kind of universal human nature. It fits in with what 19th-century American ethnologist Daniel Brinton categorized as the trickster myth or archetype, embodied in the Coyote stories of Native American mythology or the fox in present-day Anglophone children's fables.

And indeed the picaresque would become wildly popular internationally as a literary style, influencing Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) (also made into a wonderful movie) about a naive and charming protagonist, whose dumb luck saves the day, and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), whose naughtiness and many adventures undresses the 19th-century Antebellum South much as Lazarillo does 16th-century Castillian Spain… and is arguably present in even darker more twisted works, such as the Marquis de Sade's Justine (or The Misfortune of Virtue) (1779), whose protagonist's naiveté functions as a kind of inverted pícaro, leaving her consumed by the corruption of society around her as she passes among different masters. It's a tradition of storytelling that lives on in today's "anti-heros".

The Navajo myth of the Coyote,
one of many tricksters throughout time
But I also think this kind of humor, as played out in this particular novel/film is a typically _Spanish_ style of humor, what we would call in contemporary American parlance: stickin' it to the man. I can't help but hear the same tone of indulgent sarcasm that runs through this film, and the book that inspired it, in the voices of my friends or neighbors when they gossip or complain with each other about the latest political corruption scandal or how they managed to sidestep the steep sales tax by paying in cash on some recent purchase or repair service. This humor touches on a worldview here that may help explain why most continental Europeans Spaniards are not nearly so startled or disturbed as many Anglophones by the near universal _fact_ of bribery, corruption, black markets, and "paying under the table". ("I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!")

The lead in the 2001 film version is a famous contemporary theater actor, Rafael Álvarez, a.k.a. "El Brujo", whose substantial stage background helped to lend artistic credibility to the film adaptation. El Brujo is well known and well respected in Spain for his unique stage presence and style, and he, along with a star-studded cast of cinema _and_ stage-tested supporting actors, offers one more reason for watching what is a very entertaining movie and a classic tale.

Living legend Rafael Álvarez (1950- ), "El Brujo," in one of his many stage performances.

November 28, 2011

That Perfect Gift: Spanish Cookbooks

If you, your friend, or your family don't already have a good Spanish cuisine cookbook, then why not add that to the Christmas shopping list this year? My wife and I like to cook, and when we were in the States we found a few cookbooks that met her high standards for "authentic," but also addressed the fact that you can't always find the exact same ingredients in the U.S. that authentic recipes call for in Spain.

In my opinion _the_ best Spanish cookbook in English is Penelope Casas's The Food and Wines of Spain (1982). Casas, married to a madrileño and a regular visitor to Spain, has been writing cookbooks for more than three decades. The Foods and Wines of Spain continues to be my favorite book by her, though she has other good ones. Great insights and cultural commentary accompany her recipes, which are pretty close to authentic if not spot on, but which also make good suggestions on sometimes necessary substitutions.

All the books in the Culinaria series will
make for nice additions to your kitchen
Another great cookbook to own is Culinaria Spain, by Marion Trutter. This is simply a beautiful book to own. It is great not just for the recipes and tips on cooking, but you will also want to put it on display and eat up the large colorful photos with your eyes. (This book actually makes a nice accompaniment to Penelope Casas's, which has no photos at all.) Culinaria is organized by region and has really nice spreads on the typical foods, ingredients, and dishes one can find in each region of Spain.

I also recommend you consider the various books by my fellow expat blogger Janet Mendel. On her blog she gives a nice overview of local ingredients and the kinds of cooking techniques and styles that people here use to prepare them. Given that she has been living in Spain for decades, the depth of her knowledge and appreciation for Spanish cuisine give her books an edge over the dozens of hack Tapas and Mediterranean cookbooks that are now flooding U.S. bookshelves. Perusing the online descriptions and profiles for each of her books, I would say that Cooking in Spain (1987, 2006) is your best bet for a standard recipe book. Cooking from the Heart of Spain (2006) and Traditional Spanish Cooking (2006) are better for those foodies who like to journey through the cultures and histories of their dishes and recipes. And Tapas—A Bite of Spain (2008), her latest book, caters to those of you wishing to tap into the recent culinary craze of tapas in the UK and U.S.

Check out Mendel's own description of her books at her blog here.

In general Mendel's recipes sound delicious, but be warned, they are often slightly different than traditional or conventional recipes. My litmus test for Americans who cook Spanish food is their paella recipe. (I can't help it, what with living in Valencia, the paella heartland.) Mendel's approach to this dish on her blog is actually quite ingenious. Recognizing the difficulty of reproducing authentic paella, she offers her readers "Paella a la Americana," a twist on the recipe chock-full of seafood goodies that Americans will enjoy and which simulates the idea of Spanish paella. I commend her efforts at exporting the paella principle abroad, though with my wife's proviso: this is not Spanish, and certainly not Valencian paella. (Penelope Casas, for example, is correct to observe that it is a common misconception in the US "that paella is loaded with ingredients." It is actually usually served in Valencia with fixed ensembles or combinations of a few select ingredients.) Since Mendel makes no pretense of her recipes being "traditional," I'm inclined to forgive these divergences from the "real thing." The most important thing is that the dishes taste good, right?

One feature that I like about Mendel's blog is that, since she is blogging her recipes throughout the year, she more or less follows the seasonal eating that Spaniards follow. In other words, she uses the ingredients as they become available and are in season. So the blog indirectly gives you some sense of when to look for figs or "higos" (answer: late summer) or cook traditional dishes with pomegranate, a.k.a. "granadas" (when they appear in Spanish markets in the fall).

For more cookbook or Spanish cuisine ideas, you can also check out these links:

November 26, 2011

Local Vocab: "Echar de menos"… homesick in Valencia, part 2

Yesterday I mentioned some good locales for hanging out whenever you're missing home, and started to shift gears to where you can buy products from home. Here I'll pick up where I left off...

• Shopping for expat products (cont.): 
One good centrally located place where you can find a bunch of expat goods, and support local business, is at Valencia's Mercat Central. In general the vendors at the Mercat Central specialize in regional produce, fish and meat. However, as a regular there, I've discovered several stands whose owners are catering to exotic, foreign tastes, and who sell many of the items that even El Corte Inglés fails to offer or offers at a much higher price. Probably the most valuable stands for expats are run by José Luis Meri, who is quite an entrepreneur and is actively canvasing the extpat community for ideas of what to carry. He runs three stands (#115), all located on the "Pasillo Luís Vives": "British" (self explanatory name, though also has a US section), "La + Latina" (with mostly South American, but some Central American products), and "Asiática" (Japanese and other asian products), the last of which is me and my wife's favorite since it opens up an entire continent of Asian cuisine for us at home.

That covers much of the typical guiri gastronomía. But probably this Texan's favorite stand in the Market is "Hierbas Frescas y Aromas Rafa y Maria José" (#259) located on "Pasillo Arquitecto Enrique Viedma". The owner of this stand shares with me a passion for spicy food, which I'm sure most of you have discovered is quiet uncommon in Spaniards. He always has some chili or hot pepper, usually carrying thai red chilis, an adequate substitute for many American chilis in Tex-Mex, but he also frequently has Habanero peppers… Yes! Habanero peppers, possibly the spiciest chili produced and sold on a mass scale. Most importantly, this summer (around July-August) they carried fresh jalapeños brought from a local Valencian farm that is able to produce it on a modest scale then. (I was cooking jalapeño dishes for weeks, and we still have a supply frozen in the freezer). For foodies, the best part of buying from his stand (which also carries other exotic produce and herbs) is that the owner always has ready suggestions on how to prepare the rare or unusual ingredients that he carries, i.e. he is a complete foodie himself and loves to cook.

Finally, if you've struggled to find baking ("repostería") ingredients for baking those American goodies you miss from home, there are couple of very helpful stands in the Market. You can rely on "Xocolates Vamm" for difficult-to-find chocolate ingredients, like white chocolate chips! There is another great stand for baking materials, whose name escapes me at the moment, but which I believe is located on "Pasillo Conde de Trenor" near the Calle Palafox entrance. My wife, who is quite the baker, has been thrilled to find ingredients there which seemed impossible to get elsewhere in Valencia/Spain.

For these and many other reasons, I highly recommend you take a stroll through the Mercat Central. I promise you I will one day give a much more thorough introduction to it in a future post. (I also suspect you can find plenty of exotic ingredients at the Russafa Market, given how international the neighborhood has become, but I have yet to go there.)

For those of you missing middle eastern food and ingredients,
there is a great stand located right off the center, El Racó de Feri

The world is flat – Chains catering to global tastes:
And I could also mention the many familiar chains in Valencia importing or catering to American tastes… TGI Friday's is easily the best, with its happy hour cocktails offer and pretty decent Americana dishes. But there's also Tony Roma's, and then those paragons of globalization: McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, KFC, etc. My personal experience with these is that they are slightly different to what you'll find in the States: 1) slightly better quality ingredients, 2) mostly teenager/preteen clientele (as opposed to small children and parents), and 3) often the only easily accessible bathrooms in town… Which is why I've taken to referring to McDonald's as "free public bathroom" whenever traveling throughout continental Europe.

One longtime, popular "American Restaurant" here in Spain, with a couple of locations in Valencia, is Foster's Hollywood. Though themed as an American restaurant, it is actually a Spanish chain. And who could leave out Starbucks? Valencia has at least two locations, which seem to be popular with American expats and tourists… though for the life of me I can't understand why expats would frequent them. Nothing marks you as a guiri more quickly than hanging out there, and the coffee most everywhere in Spain is incredible, easily competes with Startbucks. (And, again, in Valencia you can find hip hangout places like En Babia or DeliKate.)

As much as I ought to resist assimilation to the big global corporations, it wouldn't be honest of me not to thank two Spanish chains for carrying a fair number of helpful expat staples: El Corte Inglés and Mercadona. I feel sorry for those of you living outside the Mercadona range in Spain, since it is incredible for its inexpensiveness, quality products, and for carrying many exotic, foreign products catering to the eclectic international tastes of college students. I've talked with Spaniards in the Basque Country, for example, who wished that Mercadona would open there. El Corte Inglés probably needs no introduction, but due to its expense I'll just say that you should only go here for products when you've made sure you can't find them anywhere else. (For example, this is where I get my maple syrup for our weekend pancakes, or certain canned chilies for my Tex-Mex dishes.)

One of the coolest things El Corte Inglés does is its Christmas lights displays.
If you have a chance to visit Barcelona during the Xmas season, I highly recommend
 you visit the Plaza de Cataluña at night, where there are at least four such displays.

And increasingly the web brings it all to your home. just got started up, and looks like it will eventually be as good as our back home at providing otherwise hard to get items online. (It also has a market place option, further enhancing Spain's secondhand products market.) At the moment, though, I also recommend you check if dot-ES fails you, since often the shipping from the UK is free to Spain, and you find many more products catering to US-UK audiences there. And for those of you settled enough here in Spain to be building your own library, I recommend looking for non-Spanish language books at, though I read that it was purchased by Amazon, so I don't know how long it will maintain its independence…

And there you are, my long two-day homage to how I've foraged over the years in Valencia for products that let me maintain a connection with back home. You probably won't hear much more on this from me for a while. The truth is that, in general, Valencia is now my home. Most days I'm perfectly happy here, and cocido, tortilla de patatas, my mother-in-law's paella, these are my new comfort foods.

But we all have those days when we feel wistful and think nostalgically of where we grew up, of those tastes of our childhood and old acquaintances long forgot. If you ever need to explain this to a local… say they get a little exasperated with you for clinging to your old country customs… just tell them: "tengo morriña". The word morriña comes from a Gallego word (morrinha) which Galician sailors and fishermen might have used to express that sadness and nostalgia that would come over them on a long voyages out to sea and journeys away from home. It captures the kind of homesick melancholy that any Spaniard whose gone away for a while can relate to.

Once you've indulge that fresh jalapeño pepper binge, or heard that "last call" as you down the final pint at your local "paf", it will pass. Tomorrow morning you'll wake up hankering for that tortilla de patatas again and feel plenty excited about your new home.

Galicia has a long history of sailors on long journeys out to sea and, I just learned with the recent elections,
it is also not surprisingly the region with the highest percentage of citizens who vote by mail (i.e. don't reside there).

November 25, 2011

Local Vocab: "Echar de menos"… homesick in Valencia, part 1

This time of year I think a lot of American exchange students and expats get a bit homesick. Halloween passes by, and it is not quite the same as in the States. And along comes Thanksgiving, and nobody here cares quite as much as you do about having turkey and organizing the big meal. And soon Christmas will approach and we will remember how far away our families are. And why lay all the blame on holidays? What better season for feeling nostalgia than autumn? (Once again, I'm not alone. Is it a coincidence that Spanish Sabores just posted this entry on "Things I miss about the US when I'm in Spain"?)

While I have still not yet properly introduced my favorite city, Valencia, on this blog, here I wanted to take a moment and do a call out to those places around the city which have done a service to expats here who have, at least momentarily, found themselves longing wistfully for their native land, and missing ("echando de menos") certain typical products. Here I've charted out a map of the places that I have come to know where Americans and Brits frequent when looking for a genuine taste of home...

• Hip locales:
I'll start with hip locales. For Americans, _the_ place to get in touch with other American expats, or Spaniards looking for language exchanges, and which captures that very American vibe of draft house, is Portland Ale House. I also have to say that, in my personal opinion, they have the best burgers in Valencia, and possibly in Spain. For Brits and Irish, the two local pubs (for some inexplicable reason pronounced "paf" by Spaniards) with the most history in Valencia are probably Sally O'Brien, where you're sure to find Valencian Philology students scooting out language partners (it's located not far from the University of Valencia Blasco Ibáñez campus), and Finnegan's, more centrally located. (But I don't pretend to have the pub radar of your standard Brit... maybe one of you reading would have better suggestions?)

Though comparatively new to the scene, Portland Ale House has gained a loyal clientele by hosting
both predictably popular events like American sports events, but also English Language nights,
where native speakers earn free beer through language exchanges with eager listeners.

Finnegan's, a typical Irish Pub whose central location on Plaza de la Reina
makes it a popular hang out for expats and locals

Two other really great places in Valencia to get a taste of home are Café En Bàbia and DeliKate. As an Austinite, discovering Café En Bàbia a couple of years ago was a revelation. Austin has an old coffee shop culture. (In the U.S., coffee shop culture does not mean Amsterdam, but rather casual, alternative, non-corporate version of Starbucks.) En Bàbia provides a hip, casual atmosphere for hanging out and chatting with friends, including coffee shop 'must haves' like sofas to sit on. DeliKate, which is still comparatively new, provides great food, a fusion of NY-style deli sandwiches with Spanish tapas twists. It also has a nice, causal vibe, and features a Saturday brunch. (Can you get more American than brunch?). A third place which I have been meaning to try, but haven't yet had a chance, is Birra y Blues, an ale house located on La Patacona beach (just north of Malvarrosa), and which one local beer aficionado and blogger swears by.

For me, this image says it all. The chilled, hip atmosphere at Café En Bàbia will satisfy
any expat who misses that coffee shop vibe from back home.

And this image also says it all. It is really hard to find a place like
Birra y Blues in Spain that microbrews its own beer.

For those of you looking for original language cinema in Valencia, you really have only two options: Babel & Yelmo. Babel is one of the few remaining small movie house style cinemas in Valencia, since Albatros closed down last year (sadness). Yelmo is part of a national chain and does both regular (a.k.a. dubbed) screenings, but also has certain "versión original" (a.k.a. "v.o.") screenings.

• Shopping for expat products:
If you are hunting for some specific products, I can also recommend the following shops. La Petite Planèthé is a great tea shop, centrally located, with hundreds of tea varieties, standard and creative. My wife is a serious fan, and just walking into the shop (with all its glorious smells) is likely to commit you to buying some of the mixes. They also have a very classy policy of giving you a free small sample of any tea of your choice with your purchase... brilliant, because it encourages you to try new flavors and come back for more. I haven't been able to make it there, yet, but the shop's name alone has me convinced that Spainsbury is probably a good place to hunt for all things British food. (Though unfortunately it is a little out of the way, in the pueblo Llíria just northwest of Valencia.)

La Petite Planèthé, its walls covered with fragrant choices for teas to try

KandABooks, located a couple of
blocks off Plaza de la Reina
One thing I miss from back home is all the secondhand shops ("de segunda mano"). It is a business model that faces a bit of an uphill battle culturally here in Spain. There's no Ebay equivalent here. (To be clear, there is, in fact, an, but from what I can tell it doesn't have quite the same market presence as its US equivalent.) isn't quite as successful as (and Craigslist in Spain seems to only be used by Americans)... and there are a variety of other online secondhand websites, but none with quite the following and constant activity as those in the States. (Nobody here could pull off a "curbside alert" quite so fantastically as they happen back home.) But the real gap is in actual shops. A friend of mine in Barcelona tried to open a vintage clothing shop, Retro Collective, in Barcelona, and ended up having to close it an move her operations online. Still, especially given the economic crisis, I'm convinced that this market has a lot of potential here. So I was pleased when I recently visited KandABooks, a block off of Plaza de la Reina, whose expat owner has done a nice job of catering to people looking for used (and discounted) foreign language books, and has a nice market model based on book swaps. It reminded me of my oh-so-missed Half Price Books back in Texas.

And this is just a start. Tomorrow I'll continue this call out, and include some great shops in Mercat Central which us expats thrive on...

November 23, 2011

Two Spains, Many Spains: The Spanish Civil War

"Here lies half of Spain. It died of the other half."
—  Mariano José de Larra, 19th-century Spanish satirist

When I first visited my wife in Valencia I stayed with her at her parent's house. One day I was passing through the hallway where, like many families all around the world, they had hanging photos of both parents' families, pictures more or less organized with my father-in-law's family on one side and my mother-in-law's on the other. As I looked at the old photos with curiosity, I was suddenly struck by a curious discrepancy: the portrait picture taken of my wife's father's father when he was a young man showed him in one kind of uniform, while the photo of her other grandfather showed him in a different uniform. Given their age, I knew her grandfathers (whom she referred to in Valencian as "los iaios") would have only fought in one war, the Spanish Civil War. And apparently, I realized, they fought on opposite sides: one grandfather, from the city, in the Republican uniform, the other grandpa, from the pueblo, in a Nationalist (pro-Franco) uniform.

Somehow that impression, of the two grandfathers on the family photo wall, has stuck with me, a symbol of the personal divisions caused by the war, neighbor killing neighbor, regions (like Valencia) divided by city and countryside. But also of how people had moved on. While it took little effort for me, even the clumsy, Spanish-challenged outsider that I was, to realize that my wife's two families have very different politics, the civil war _never_ came up in family visits or meals with them, nor did any bitterness or resentfulness, at least of a personal nature, about their opposite positions during the war.

And yet there they sat, the two photos, side-by-side on the same wall of portraits, both at the top of their respective family trees, which joined together with my wife (or with her parent's marriage). What to make of it?

Easily the most iconic depiction of the Spanish Civil War is Pablo Picasso's Guernica (1937),
which depicts the Spanish Nationalist forces bombing the Basque town on April 26, 1937.
As well as being a national Election Day, this past Sunday (November 20th) was the 36th anniversary of Franco's death, which was a very important symbolic marker point in Spain's democratic transition… and which I'll use as an excuse to continue my essay series on "Las Dos Españas". Of all the arguments for it, the Spanish Civil War seems to be the ultimate proof of there actually having existed Two Spains. The war literally tore the country in two, and factions seemed to line up ready to die for their half of Spain.

I'm sure all of you, having taken an interest to Spain, have heard something about the war, but it's worth recapping its main events for those of you who found history class dull. Fixing a "start" to the Civil War, is one of many narrative points continuously under dispute, further underscoring a classic dilemma historians regularly run into when telling a story… Aristotle once nicely summarized the principal structures of a story by saying that any narrative must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Given this basic arch, any account of a polemical past event usually embeds its argument in what the storyteller chooses to be the beginning, middle, and end of what took place as they tell it.

An example of the many political and ideological recruitment
 posters of the war, this one featuring the Republican
slogan ("lema"): "¡No pasarán! ¡Pasaremos!"
Some start with the chaos of the Spanish Second Republic (suggesting the military coop was an inevitable maneuver to reestablish political order), others take it back to the Spanish-American war of 1898 and the failure of Spanish Imperialism (arguing that the military and old order was still in denial about the democratic consequences of modernization). Or maybe it started in 1492… Rather than invoke these deeper origin stories, I'll just schematicize the war here so as to do my due diligence that you have some sense of when it happened and what was the outcome.

On July 17, 1936, a faction of rebel military troops led by Franco and two other generals declared a coup d'état and moved from their different satellite positions to seize power from the Republican government in Madrid. Over the next few months both sides consolidated control over certain regions of the country, effectively dividing the country in half, with the city of Madrid itself at the border and under siege. Early in the conflict Republican Spain had to move its headquarters to the city of Valencia. For the next two years front lines move little with the exception of the Basque region falling to Franco. Then, from May 1938 through April 1939 Franco's armies progressively began to defeat the Republican Spain, first winning the Battle of Ebro in the fall of 1938, splitting the Republican territory, and then besieging both cities separately. On April 1, 1939 Franco declared victory when the last Republican troops surrendered.

The Siege of Madrid a major site of the Civil War conflict,
and inspiration for Hemingway's play The Fifth Column.

When I asked my wife, what image does she think of when she thinks of the Civil War,
she told me: "battles and trenches in fields." And it's true that these kinds of photographs,
representing a new kind of battle field journalism, are typical representations of the war.

Though as the war progressed and intensified, more and more images of urban fights and
 destruction, like this one which I believe is from the siege of Teruel, would also appear.

General Francisco Franco y Bahamonde,
leader of the rebelian forces and future dictator.
In the time between July 1936 and April 1939 both sides committed horrible atrocities, executing prisoners, and even civilians. One area of much dispute and symbolic argument today is whether the total death tolls on both sides were comparable, or whether the winners (Franco and the Nationalists) were more brutal. (Whatever one's feelings on this question, a second question, where it is harder to argue there is doubt or confusion, is whether Franco's postwar repression was brutal, inhumane, and arguably criminal.)

In this entry I'm not really interested in educating you about the Civil War. (You can find plenty on that at other sites like this one.) Rather, what I want to turn to is how it is remembered (and deployed) today. With Franco's victory, and the postwar internal repression of any opposition (think Laberinto del Fauno (2006)), the lived-history of the civil war quickly became a taboo subject, either discussed behind doors in secret or white-washed by a Franco regime eager to turn the page and modernize industrialize Spain on its own terms.

In this vacuum of Spanish commentary on the Civil War (other than the clearly biased Franco regime doctrinal accounts), foreigners came to define the war, its political significance and symbolic meaning. The first and most prominent group to do so were former members of the International Brigade. Here is where we can situate Hemingway's Civil War as retold in The Fifth Column (1938) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). To quote Spanish historian Paco Pereda on Hemingway's place in these debates:
"Hemingway is an ambiguous character in Spanish history because he was more or less well liked by both the Republicans and the Fascists. It was his political beliefs that did it for the Republicans and the fact that he liked bullfighting, drinking, hunting, and powerful emotions (pleased) for the Fascists".
Indeed, at the start of the war, Hemingway spent some of his energies trying to lobby the Republican side to protect bullfighting even though it was heavily implicated with the pro-Franco rebels. After the war, according to Laprade, Censura y Recepción de Hemingway en España (1991), Spanish censors struggled from 1953 into the 1970s with striking a balance between celebrating certain Hemingway prose (basking in the glow of international recognition he gave bullfighting) while censoring other things Hemingway wrote (that awkward little story he published about bells tolling, or his affiliation with communist Cuba). The popularity of the film For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), however, proved too much to ban outright, and so apparently it was also screened, though with more politically delicate segments edited out.

Hemingway was not alone. There were many other expat and outsiders' recollections and opinions on the Spanish Civil War. Many of them, though attempting to show support for Republicans, perpetuate certain common stereotypes that I've put under the title of the "Hemingway paradigm"… the alleged ineptitude of well-meaning leftist Spaniards (accounts exaggerate the incompetence of Socialists, the inane political divisions among left-wing parties, depiction of anarchists as politically naive), and their hot-bloodedness and intensity. One of the best written of these expat accounts is George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (1938), which improves on some of these stereotypes (e.g. an interesting account of anarchists proving to be quite adept community managers and organizers), while still remaining trapped in a very English style of Romanticism and nostalgia for a simpler Spain.

While I have not yet read it, I'm certain, given the quality of Paul Preston's historical work, that his book We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War (2008) would give you a very good sense of this community's take on the war, and situate their work in a particular post-Civil War campaign. The list of figures he discusses—Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Josephine Herbst, Martha Gellhorn (a.k.a. Hemingway's third wife), W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Kim Philby, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Cyril Connolly, André Malraux, Antoine de Saint Exupéry—gives you an idea of the quality, color, and character of this impressive and vocal group of expat witnesses.

For most of these accounts, written in the 1940s at the beginning of what was suddenly a global war, World War II, the Spanish Civil War was quickly redefined as a precursor to the WWII struggle of fascists versus socialists (with usually no compunction shown in such accounts about the blatant presumptions of internationalism that ignored any Spanish singularities). This is still often the Spanish Civil War's place in European or World Histories… preface to WWII… as it is taught in the UK or USA. (Thus, expats like Hemingway and Orwell are quite dogged about their efforts to depict German airplanes or Italian resources involved in the Civil War, or to address the questions about Soviet Russia's relationship to the Republican Socialist government… all proxy questions about the "cold war" in the mid-1930s which they believed foreshadowed the outbreak of WWII.)

Notice the caption for this map, "the little World War,"
with all of its embedded internationalist presumptions about the conflict.
But the Expat International Brigaders weren't the only ones at liberty to write. In a later entry I'll discuss the Spanish exodus which resulted from Spaniards who fled Spain at the end of the war for France, Russia, Mexico, and other countries around the world. Many of these Spanish exiles ("exiliados españoles") would spend the rest of their lives trying to restore Spain's image, denounce Franco's dictatorship, or continue their particular political projects on behalf of an international communism, socialism, or such. (Some would return in the 1970s at the end of the dictatorship.) In the process, many wrote their own recollections and memoirs, few of which achieve the same renown as Orwell's or Hemingway's. But they gave a powerful personal account to the cultural dislocation caused by the war. And one that was not so peculiarly Anglo-Saxon. (A huge thanks to my undergraduate UT Austin history professor for encouraging me and other students to examine the University's very large collection of such memoirs and war-related materials… For a stroll down memory lane, I reread my undergraduate paper on Jaun Bautista Climent’s memoir, Crónica de Valencia, published in serial form between 1989 and 1991 in a Mexican journal, Novedades.)

And in all these recollections there are many visions of Spain and of what happened during the Civil War. Here again, one can see the neatness of the "Two Spains" thesis begin to unravel. On the Left: Andalusian anarchists, Catalan communists, Basque unionists… all loosely managed by a Socialist-party government expelled to Valencia. (The Republican government, it should be remembered, also repressed anarchist uprisings, and outlawed the Marxist POUM group.) On the Right: Monarchists, Fascist idealists ("Falange"), Catholics… all eventually riding along with the might of Franco's military. (Franco, however, was wary of the ideological wing of the Falange, would expel the King, and only halfheartedly catered to Catholic concerns… though perhaps, after the army, this last group was the one that most clearly profited from his dictatorship.)

And in the middle, I can only imagine, were those people who had no particular -ism or -ist, but simply had the misfortune of being born in a country pulled apart at the seams by divisive, radical, and eventually violent sentiments. Every one of these groups would project their own worldview, personal experience, and vision of Spain onto their account of the Civil War.

Yet, many of these Spanish stories aren't told, or aren't published. One of the peculiar features of the democratic transition in the 1970s was the collective decision (or at least the decision made by the architects of the Spanish Constitutions) to simply move forward, and to not officially, publicly scrutinize the atrocities of the Franco Regime. In some sense, during the 1980s, most Spaniards were satisfied with this great forgetting simply because of all the work and opportunity the country faced with joining Europe and embracing its new democracy. (But you can contrast this transition with other countries that have dealt with systematic repression followed by social repair, such as South Africa's approach to ending Apartheid through its "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," widely considered to be a model of humanitarian justice and peaceful transition. Or an analogy closer to home, and much more politically disputed, might be the debate in the United States over awarding "reparations" for slavery or more recently the use of "affirmative action" to offset the history of segregation.).

A colleague of mine, Oliver Hochadel, brought this creative critique cartoon to my
attention. It plays on the excessive interest and attention given to the archeological dig
at Atapuerca, as compared to the continued delay and deliberate diss-attention
paid to uncovering the graves of the victims of Franco's repression.

García Lorca (1898-1936), easily one of the most famous and
tragic victims of the Franco repression during the Civil War
This "decision" to forget the war and postwar dictatorship was always only partial, as disputes continue today over what officials, the government, and individuals owe the victims and exiles from the Franco period. It surfaces in disputes about unburying the mass graves of victims of Franco's repressive purges during and after the end of the war, including Federico García Lorca's unmarked grave. It surfaced with the passage of the "Ley de Memoria Histórica" in 2007, providing institutional mechanism by which victims can seek "reclamaciones", removing Francoist symbols such as statues throughout the country, and granting "right to return" to all exiles and Spanish nationality to any descendants who seek it. And it resurfaces in professional debates among those who actually write history, historians. (There was recently a flare up of outrage over definitions in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE), which in the initial version gave "franquismo" (Francoist movement) an innocuous description as a "political movement with totalitarian tendencies".)

Today there is a new historicism emerging within Spain, an interest in exploring the history of Spanish exiles, the Civil War, and the postwar regime, and their many legacies today in Spain. And this local movement is offering "surprising discoveries": that Spain was not backward in the 1910s and 1920s, but had Nobel Laureates, important scientific research centers, thriving cultural movements; critiques of "Spanish exceptionalism" but also attempting to add a Spanish perspective to a long line of predominantly English historians writing on this subject: Gerald Brenan (The Spanish Labyrinth, 1943), Raymond Carr (The Spanish Tragedy, 1977), or Paul Preston (The Spanish Civil War, 2006), to name a few prominent ones. These accounts characterize the Civil War as a (startling) rupture in the history of a country that was advancing and modernizing like any other European country, and do not accept the vision of Spain as a country doomed by disposition to violent implosions as Hemingway or others might have led us to believe. Does this mean Spain can move on now?

Until recently, it was hard to find a cultural account of Spain, especially if it is written by an expat, that did not weigh in, in some way or another, on the Spanish Civil War and editorialize about what it meant for the country. In some respects this makes sense. The War is still recent history, still has major ramifications for Spain's social, economic, and political realities, and there are still people alive who were directly affected by the war and by the repression following it. This said, I encourage my readers to consider two pieces of advice when you encounter any mention of the Civil War, in books or when talking with people. First, be wary of any neat account of the war which depicts the conflict as inevitable or demonizes one side or the other. Even my fairly limited forays into its history have shown me that it was a real mess, and that one must tread lightly about offering strong theses about its significance and legacies.

Second, it is important to remember that there is a new generation of Spaniards that were born _after_ the dictatorship, and for whom the bell never tolled. They do have photos of their grandfathers up on the wall of family portraits, but they are also ardently (and digitally) photographing new images of Spain and (increasingly) of their adventures abroad. Many self-identify as much or more as Europeans than with either of the "Two Spains" (the so-called "Erasmus generation"). For them, the Civil War is a tragic moment in their collective past, but their eyes are directed towards the future.

November 21, 2011

That Perfect Gift: Cute Kitchenware

L'escuraeta is the diminutive in catalán for the cleaning, which
I would guess in the case of this traditional May market refers to getting
rid of things with the spring cleaning like at a "rastro," or flea market.
Every May in Valencia there is a wonderful visiting artisanal market at the Plaza de la Reina, known as the "mercat de l'escuraeta." Traditionally a pottery market, today you can find a wide variety of products made by local artisans. Why am I mentioning it now, in November, as a Christmas gift idea? Because this past year I discovered that many of this market's treasures, which make for excellent gifts, can be acquired throughout the year online or in regular shops in Spain. Here I mention two of my favorite typical Spanish kitchenware items which you might consider getting for that foodie friend of yours who loves to cook.

    • Cubiertos de madera
As we all now, olive oil and olives form a basic part of the Mediterranean cuisine. So not surprisingly, one can find a lot of olive tree ("el olivo") groves throughout Spain. What you may not have known is that olive wood ("madera de olivo") is excellent material for wooden cooking utensils. One of the stands at Mercat de l'escuraeta every year for 3-4 weeks of May is that of Los Oliveros [Miguel Beltrán s/n 12360 Chert (Cs), Xert/Chert, Castellón 12360; p: 964 490 359  f: 964 490 359], an artisanal shop specializing in carved wooden products using olive wood, and based in the small town of Chert in Castellón. If you visit their online shop, you can get a sense of their product line and contact them to make an order.

Los Oliveros makes really beautiful craft wooden kitchenware and utensils
The olive tree, iconic feature of the
Mediterranean landscape.
You should have no fear of ordering from them by mail (at least within Spain). They can arrange to mail it to you such that you don't have to pay for the order until you pick up the package at the Post Office. I have purchased a variety of things from them using this online/via mail method, including salad utensils ("cubiertos"), i.e. a serving spoon and fork, a spoon for cooking ("cuchara clásica"), and a flat spatula ("paleta") for cooking meats. I have been totally happy with my purchases. And as my in-laws tell me, a cooking spoon made from olive wood is "para toda la vida" [translation: it will last a lifetime].

    • Recipientes de barro cocido
The more traditional items at the market were "loza," i.e. crockery, a.k.a. earthen cooking pots. Two of the traditional ones make for great keepsakes from Spain. One is that traditional mortar ("mortero"), usually yellow with a dash of green on it. While is is meant to come as a set to use as a mortar and pestle, I bought a small one to use as a dip bowl (for example, for ajoaceite to serve with paella), which is a common use for it nowadays in Spain. The other typical kitchen item is a "cazuela de barro (cocido)" or (baked) clay pot, which is used here in Valencia for arroz al horno. If the standard, serves-four cazuela is too large and heavy for you to take on a plane back to the States, you can buy a smaller one for making crema catalana, gambas al ajillo, or huevos al plato. And you don't have to wait until the spring to buy one at this Valencian market. You can find them in most supermarkets or a bazaar chino all year long throughout Spain.

Whether wooden or clay, functional or decorative, these products help to dress up one's kitchen and one's meals and are, as they say here, "typical espanish"!

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