May 1, 2013

The Hemingway Paradigm Is... Hispanomanía (100th entry!)

So every 25 entries or so I take a moment to pause from generating new content for the blog and reflect on why I started it, that is, to do my part to help rupture the "Hemingway paradigm". This is my 100th entry (yay!), so I thought I would focus on a subject a Valencia twitter acquaintance of mine once posed to me, what is it with foreigners (especially Anglophones) and their particular obsession vision of Spain. It's an obsession that a Spanish-British author, Tom Burns Marañón, brilliantly named "Hispanomanía".

Obviously Ernest Hemingway, our blog patron saint, was one notable example of it: an American who came to Spain with a particular kind of Romantic vision of the country, its "authenticity", its "charm". In my 50th entry I traced it back to older roots, with Richard Ford. At some point I also hope to write an entry on "Not Washington Irving's Granada", since his book Tales from the Alhambra is a laugh for all of its vivid, fanciful stereotypes of Spaniards... doubly funny for how many of those stereotypes seem to persevere today. (Just check out my 75th entry on the "impertinente curiouso", for some present-day examples.) If you want to explore the full gamut of literary examples of this Hispanomanía, I recommend you visit the "Books on Spain" blog, Kirsty Hooper's scholarly study of the subject.

Or you can simply run a Google Image search on "Spanish culture":

Grrrr!!! Why does the paella here have red peppers!!!

For comparison (sorry, vanity couldn't resist), try running a Google Image search on "Not Hemingway's Spain":

The main difference seems to be more subdued colors and less bull shit imagery.

One of the things this Valencian twitter friend said to me, which I'm inclined to agree with, is that Burns Marañon's description of Hispanomanía tends to focus too narrowly on the North-South interior axis (Pamplona-Madrid-Andalucía), but ignores the equally important, more contemporary East coast axis (Barcelona-Alicante-Málaga... an axis that somehow skips over Valencia!). Today, it is not just Hemingway/Lorca thrill-seekers who come to Spain, looking for that exotic, mysterious Romantic past, but also the beach bums and hedonists wanting their fun-in-the-sun and that "laid back" culture they associate with the Spanish Mediterranean way of life.

I'm still convinced that one of the best visual documentations of what is "profoundly Spanish",
albeit in a Romanticized, nostalgic vein, was the early 20th-century painting expedition
by (Valencian) painter Joaquín Sorolla, sponsored by the Hispanic Society of America.

Some of Sorolla's most beloved works, at least with Valencian locals,
are his pictures of people (particularly kids) on the seaside beach.

Sorolla's contemporary, the American painter John Singer Sargent, captured perhaps
the best rendition of Hispanophiles' quintessential image of Romantic Spain, the flamenco dancer.

At one point I sat down and started to brainstorm a list of what exactly would Hispanomanía look like in Hemingway's time versus what it would look like today:
Bulls, red bandanas, castanets, flamenco dancing, gypsies, frill dresses, dark eyes, dark hair, thick lisp, blood, roast pig, Iberian ham, bullfights, matadors, Pamplona, "Olé", siesta, fiesta, hot-tempered, machista, sherry, red wine, picaresque, the Spanish Civil War, Don Quixote, Cervantes, Madrid, Sevilla, Andalucía, Granada, Ronda, castles, warm weather, sunny, arid landscapes, conquistadors, windmills, the Spanish Inquisition, Catholicism, cathedrals, 1492, civil strife…
Beaches, warm weather, Málaga, Ibiza, the "Costas", sangría, nightclubs, economic crisis, corruption, PIGS, soccer, Barcelona, Gaudí, Dalí, Almodóvar, Lorca, Camino de Santiago, the Mediterranean diet, paella, gazpacho, cava, tortilla de patatas, the running of the bulls, Hemingway, la Tomatina, Hispanidad, Semana Santa, study abroad, TEFL, Feria de Abril, German tourists, British tourists
Some things haven't changed, and would make the list both then and now. Though I think what was once seen to be deeply rooted and deeply "Spanish" (Catholicism, "las dos Españas") has been transformed, with the rise of the consumer(ist) society, and is now consumed (by foreigners and locals alike) in a lighter, more fanciful form (Semana Santa festivals, "el clásico" football rivalries).

I've never heard an Hispanophile go on and on about the Aragón "jota" dance
the way they do about flamenco.

I remember seeing this Sorolla depiction of Valencian life, in the Hispanic Society of America exhibit,
and thinking: "even in paintings the light in Valencia just look brighter than everywhere else".

Perhaps in my 125th or 150th entry I'll list the things about Spain that never seem to make the shortlist but should...
advanced telecommunications engineering, Spain's "brain drain", the Erasmus generation, alternative energy technologies (i.e. wind energy), Moneo, the new Spanish cuisine (Adrià, Arzak...), its nature, nature, nature, high-speed trains, FallasMudéjar ceramics, Valencia, Sorolla, Calatrava, Kukuxumusu, the Democratic transition, the Pyrenees, skiing, immigrationtennis, basketball, almonds, Álex de la Iglesiagraphic arts innovators... etc.
The future image of Hispanomanía?


Trevor Huxham said...

Congratulations on post #100! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for the past year or so, getting not necessarily the “real” view of Spain (whatever that means) but a view without stereotypes. Looking forward to the blog posts you hinted at!

Kaley [Y Mucho Más] said...

I always feel better educated after reading your posts.

You know, Lonely Planet even describes Castilla y León as "Spain without stereotypes," and in a way I think it's true, and part of the reason I love it so. There aren't that many bulls, flamenco dancers, or people eating paella, but there is a strong culture that I believe represents modern Spain there.

An Expat in Spain said...

Trevor, thanks! I'll try to deliver them. I've had so many ideas for posts, but never enough time to execute them... particularly since I write way-too-long entries.

Kaley, I think you mean it to be a complement, but I also suspect that "feeling educated" from my blog is partly a result of my overly pedantic style. Sigh, my weakness as a professional educator - I'm always in my classroom mode, trying to "teach people lessons".

Sometime maybe I'll write a bit about what I think of stereotypes. For me they aren't in-and-of-themselves bad. I think of a stereotype as a useful starting point, but never the destination in understanding others' culture. More than ending stereotypes about Spain, I'd just like to see people update them a bit, by, say, a 100 years or so.

Thank you both for reading!

Tumbit - Mr Grumpy said...

Congrats on getting to triple figures !

An Expat in Spain said...

Thanks Mr. Grumpy! I'll consider retirement at quadruple figures.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your 100th post! Have the years really gone by that fast? I think of you fondly and am happy to hear you're doing so well. It has been really enlightening to learn more about Spain through your eyes. Considering visiting this winter. Perhaps we'll be able to come say hello. -Brenna

New Life in Spain said...

Very interesting post! I really enjoyed reading. I am fascinated by how much this country changes from region to region. Here in Canarias I feel more like I am in south America than Spain. In Catalunya it also felt quite separate from what is "typical Spanish" and actually I wouldn't know what to say if someone asked me what is typical Spanish.

P.S. I had never done a Google image search on "New life in Spain" and I just did! What a nice way to be reminded of wonderful moments and places in my New life in Spain, thanks for that :)

Anna said...


Can you explain what you mean with "the Erasmus generation"?

I know what Erasmus is (being an Asian who desperately wants to get an Erasmus Mundus scholarship) but I get the feeling that you meant something else with that phrase.

An Expat in Spain said...

Brenna, I haven't quite made it to two years, but time does seem to fly by! Thanks for reading, and I hope you can make it here this winter. If you do, just email me about meeting.

New Life in Spain, I've heard Spaniards describe Canarias as having a South American vibe. Whenever I give my "schtick" to Americans about Spain, I tell them that it may be a small country (by comparison), but it is incredibly diverse. So you're right, there's no single "typical Espanish" so far as I can tell. (Glad to have inspired the Google search trip down memory lane.)

An Expat in Spain said...

Anna, as you know (but for any other readers who don't) the Erasmus grant is how many European students do study abroad exchange between EU countries, and it is intended to foster a European identity (Erasmus being an early proponent of pan-European identity and harmony). About five years ago I read an interesting article in El País about "la generación Erasmus", basically describing the sociological consequences of a generation of Spaniards who in large numbers (some substantial proportion of the total Spanish population) have spent time abroad on the Erasmus grant, a generation of Spaniards who, unlike their parents, have spent a substantial amount of time in another European country and view it as an important part of their identity. So I suppose what I meant by the Erasmus generation is that Spaniards of a certain age are not as provincial as they once were, and many of them see themselves as European as much or more than Spanish.

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