It Was 40 Years Ago Today…

Do I remember it like it was yesterday?
Or have I just talked about it so much it feels recent?

Here’s my account of Spain’s 23-F, part of the chapter C is for Corona, in The A to Z of Spanish Culture.

On the 23rd February 1981, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was ready to become the second president of Spain’s new democracy. All Spanish eyes (or most of them) were glued to the television to witness another event with democracy at its core. 

And then it happened. 

Under the counting of the votes, a commotion.

A bit of noise outside. 

The President of the Congress asking softly, “¿Qué pasa?” (“What’s going on?”)

And then a lieutenant, in full guardia civil gear, wearing the classic tricornio (a three-pointed hat worn by the civil guard) entered the Congress, with a gun in his hand. 

“Quieto todo el mundo.” (“Everyone, stand still.”)

Followed by:

“Al suelo, al suelo todo el mundo.” (“Everyone, down on the floor.”)

Then more military, this time with machine guns. A few shots and most of the politicians were forced to crouch down in their seats. Most except Suárez and Gutierrez Mellado, a military man who was Minister of Defence at the time and who directly challenged the intruders. Luckily for him, he was just pushed around a bit and not shot. I was watching this on television and I remember Suárez shouting at the military, “I’m the president, I’m the president,” as if thinking that his resignation had caused the mess and wanted to take it back. 

Looking for footage of the event on YouTube, I found a video with commentary from a radio journalist. You don’t need to speak Spanish to hear the panic in his voice as he realised what was happening. Meanwhile, the camera darts everywhere following the bullets from the machine guns and finally it stops, pointing at the ceiling. A male voice is then heard saying:

“No intentes apuntar la cámara que te mato.” 

(“Don’t try to point the camera or I’ll kill you.”)

You can imagine every Spanish heart sinking very low as they watched this coup. People who’d fought for freedom of speech; politicians who had been involved in the transition to democracy (la Transición), young people like me (I was 9 years old) who knew they had narrowly escaped repression and oppression and could see clearly in their parents’ faces the words “No, please, not again…” Everyone stared at the TV, waiting to see if this event would affect their lives. 

The phone rang in my house. It was the Danish mother of a friend of mine, calling to ask for advice. What was going on?What should she do? Send the kids to school the following day? Keep them home?

Luckily, all this happened at a time when TV was already a part of most Spanish households. Calvo Sotelo (who was being elected president on the 23rd February) points out in his book Memoria viva de la transición, that watching the drama unfold on T.V. stripped the coup of any mystery and therefore, of some of its impact. There wouldn’t be time for rumours or urban myths to emerge, as everyone had had the chance to witness the event live on T.V. Just as the Spanish population saw the event live, they also witnessed how it was knocked on the head by a simple, straightforward speech. 

Extracted from the chapter C is for Corona, The A to Z of Spanish Culture.

Introduction to the 3rd Edition of The A to Z of Spanish Culture

The third edition of The A to Z of Spanish Culture is now out, as Kindle, e-book and paperback. You can find out how the book has been updated in this post. If you purchased the previous edition and would like the updated sections, please comment in this blog (all comments need to be approved first, so I won’t publish them) and let me know. I will send you a PDF will the updates.

Many thanks again to Paul Read for his contribution. There’s no way this update would have happened otherwise. You can listen to Paul and Pilar talk about the update here:

Here’s the introduction to the third edition:

The A to Z of Spanish Culture. Updated Third EditionWhen I originally wrote ‘The A to Z of Spanish Culture’, I was hoping to sell a few books and make enough money to cover the costs of book formatting and cover design. So I was very pleased with how well the book was received by those with an interest in Spain and to my surprise, my little book about my country of origin made the recommended reading lists of academic programmes in both schools and universities.

An A-level Spanish teacher called Cristina told me that she recommends the book to the students in her London school precisely because it is such a condensed read. “Once they’ve read the book, they can identify which aspects of Spanish history and culture interests them most, and they can go and study those topics in depth.”
When I first found out how the book was being used, I considered updating it but felt too removed from the country to be able to do so. I’d also stopped publishing the ‘Spain Uncovered’ podcast, so I had little motivation to catch up with and share what had gone on in Spain. But when last year a generous reviewer pointed out that “An update to 2017 would be great as a lot has happened there,” I thought, “Right, now is the time to do this.”
I’d written ‘The A to Z’ to show how much Spanish society had evolved during the 1980s, 90s and first decade of the 21st Century. I thought the country had evolved and changed massively during that time. What I didn’t expect was there would still be more twists and turns on their way.

Introducing Paul Read
In the first edition of ‘The A to Z’, I said everything I had to say about Spain. I’ve now been away from the country for more than 25 years and I don’t stay much up to date with what’s going on there. This means I’m not the best person to update this book, so I reached out to the only other writer who I knew would enjoy putting down some brief words about those aspects of Spanish society and politics that had undergone the most significant changes since the last edition of the book.

Luckily, in between his own projects (which mainly involve teaching TaiChi online), Paul Read aka “Gazpacho Monk” accepted to take on the task of writing a few paragraphs to bring this ‘A to Z’ up to date.

So, what’s new then?

– There is a new, M is for Más Movidas chapter which summarises the recent change in Spain’s political landscape, as well as the rising number of corruption cases. Paul has done a brilliant job of explaining some very complex court cases, some of which are still ongoing (which means we had to tread carefully when laying them out in front of you).

– Speaking of corruption, I’ve expanded the chapter on C is for Corona to include the recent scandal involving members of the Spanish Royal Family using some of Paul’s notes.

– The chapter Ñ is for Ñ has been expanded to include the current situation in Cataluña. In the original chapter, I didn’t go into the different nationalist movements in much depth. That was because I have never had much of an identity as a Spaniard, and so I’ve never empathised with those holding strong nationalistic views. Even though I’ve been aware of the quest for independence from both Basque and Catalans all my life, I never took much interest. However, at this point in time, to have a book about Spanish culture that didn’t cover the Catalan movement in some depth would be to miss out a very important moment in contemporary history.

– In the new section When Ñ Becomes NY, I have left Paul’s words almost intact. He’s always had an interest in the history of Cataluña (which is at the centre of his book ‘Forgotten Stories From Spain: 1984 and The Spanish Civil War’) and once again, he’s been able to summarise clearly a very complex situation. Unfortunately, this chapter has an open ending, reflecting the unresolved status of this episode in history.

Paul has also provided me with bits and pieces to bring other chapters of the book up to date. I’ve peppered them around and adapted them to my own voice as much as possible.
Finally, in the interest of balancing his own opinions with facts (or at least with other opinions in the public arena), Paul has provided us with the long list of sources he used while writing the new pieces. You can find them all in the appendix Vocabulary and References.

I hope you enjoy this new edition, which, as well as facts and my own stories, now also includes someone else’s voice.

Pilar Orti
London, March 2018

Podcast on Spanish Podcasting

I am delighted to let you know that Craig Wealand (from La mansión del inglés)  and myself have teamed up to produce the podcast En clave de podcast – uncovering Spanish podcasting, in order to find out what on Earth is going on in that medium in Spain.

So far, we’re loving it.

But instead of writing about it, let us tell you about the show in this introductory episode cero. (And if you want to read about it, here’s the blog:

I hope you enjoy it – espero que os guste.

The A to Z of Spanish Christmas – Podcast

In the first of two special episodes on The A to Z of Spanish Christmas, I talk about

Estoy como unas pascuas
Fruta escarchada
Gallo (misa del)
K – no K, sorry.

Please follow this link to listen to the podcast,

or look for Spain Uncovered in iTunes, Stitcher of your favourite podcast app.

U is for Uvas

It’s Christmas time!

I’ve completely neglected this blog while I’ve been setting up the Spain Uncovered podcast and building up that site. But I’m back! And as it’s Christmas time, I wanted to share with you one of the chapters from the A to Z of Spanish Culture: U is for Uvas, where I talk through some of the Spanish Christmas traditions, or at least, through some of the ones I’ve come across throughout my life.

Here it is.

Feliz navidad.

F is for Federico Garcia Lorca

Yesterday was definitely a Twitter day. I spent all day tweeting about Federico, promoting the podcast, tweeting his quotes and thanking the people who had re-tweeted my posts.

And in the process, oh no! I forgot to stop by this A to Z of Spanish Culture to let you know about the podcast. The fact that 19 August fell on a Tuesday, which is the weekday when I’m releasing the Spain Uncovered Podcast, was too good an opportunity to miss. Lorca died on that day (or was it the night before?). He was half way through revolutionising Spanish theatre and so, like all artists who dare challenge society (especially a repressive society), he was dangerous. And so, the Fascists decided to remove him. No more Federico.

This special edition of the Spain Uncovered Podcast is my little homage to his memory. I used to teach “Blood Wedding” as part of Drama ‘A’ Level and to the answer of “Why do you think Lorca was killed?” I always got the same answer, “Because he was gay.” Ok, let’s face it, there was probably some truth in that, but that was not the main story. He was an open supporter of the Left, he was popular and he treated “the people” with respect. But I always used the scene between the Bride and the Maid in ‘Blood Wedding’ to illustrate one of the main reasons why he was killed, the scene between two women talking about their sensuality, talking openly about the fact that one of them might have the pleasure of enjoying sex. I told you, dangerous.

So, here is the podcast. I babble a bit, but you’ll also have the chance to hear other people. Caroline Angus Baker talks about his early poetry work, Maria Ferrara talks about Lorca’s language, in particular regarding the Rural Tragedies and the Gazpacho Monk presents his very own ode to Lorca.

If you like the podcast, do subscribe to the Spain Uncovered Podcast via iTunes or Stitcher Radio. Enjoy!

Click here to listen to the episode.

Lorca image: Lorca (1934)” by Unknown – [1]. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

P is for Podcast – a New Podcast About Spain

Spain Uncovered podcast imageMy new, humble venture has seen the light. “Spain Uncovered” is the name I’ve given to the podcast where I talk to people living in Spain about what’s going on in their area, what’s happening in Spain and of course, about their own stories.

I’m trying to get a range of voices on the podcast – as the podcast is in English, you will hear many English voices. You might have well come across some of our guests before on Twitter, Facebook, G+, you name it… But I also want to bring on board people who you might otherwise never come across. And let’s face it, for now, these are likely to be my friends.

What do we talk about in the podcast?

Anything Spain related. Anna Kemp talks about how she’s heading the mammoth project of building an amphitheatre in Laroles (La Alpujarra); Graham Hunt talks about how he ended up running Valencia Property; Debs Jenkins shares her favourite spots in Murcia and Marta Rubio discusses how the theatre scene is changing in Madrid.

I also have interviews plan where we talk about Gran Canaria, taking your family to Spain and Spanish architecture.

So, if you enjoy listening to podcasts, head over to There you can listen to past episodes and subscribe via iTunes. I’ll also be adding other platforms as I roll out the podcast.

And do get in touch if you would like to contribute to the podcast in some way.

G is for Guiri. Happy Guiri.

Who is the Happy Guiri?

He (or she, they can also be a she) is a person currently away from the land they grew up in.

That doesn’t mean they’re not happy. On the contrary. The happy guiris, by their very name and nature, manage to find happiness everywhere they go. Why?

They look around them and wonder at the wanders of human nature. They also wonder at the wanders of nature, full stop.

They take in what’s different, they take in what’s new. They compare, maybe, and then they move on.

The happy guiri is warm, not indifferent.

The smile behind his eyes takes in the whole world.

If he carries a camera, he still takes in life as he breathes and doesn’t just see the world through a rose-tinted lens. He might be “away” for two days, he might be “away” for two years, two decades…

Happy guiris know that there’s no place like home, but they also know that home is where the heart is. (They also speak in clichés every now and then.)

He’ll always feel like a guiri because he knows there’s a different way. But he will always be happy. A happy guiri.

“What is a guiri?” Guiri is the term that the Spanish use for foreigners, mainly for tourists, but not exclusively. I mainly hear it used affectionately now. In Spain, you can still spot a tourist or a foreigner; in London it’s a little bit harder. So a guiri is someone who breaks the mold, if only because their points of reference are different to most people around him/her. I now consider myself a guiri in Spain; I even look like one, especially when I walk around with my Dutch boyfriend who really looks the part. So, I’m a foreigner in the UK and a guiri in Spain. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…

B is for Batalla de Vecinos

Batalla = Battle. Vecinos = Neighbours

Hello, it’s been a while. Time flies and I only really like to blog when I have something to say. If you’re wondering what made me return to my keyboard, have a look at this, the view from my parents’ kitchen window one quiet Easter afternoon in Madrid. (Click on the image, you’ll enjoy it more.)


It probably doesn’t look that dramatic, but it was interesting enough to pick up the binoculars and have a close look. This car park is surrounded by three seven-storey buildings and to enter it, you have to open a gate. (I know this might sound like we’re a bit posh, but this is not the case.)

As I was staring at the car, I saw a man walk nearby, look at it, look at the building in front of it, and look back at the car.

“Surely this hasn’t happened here. This huge dent on the car’s roof is probably the result of it being near a building site or similar,” I thought.

Not quite.

My mother found out what had happened from our portero (concierge).

You might be able to see the blue paint under the car. It shows the space is a disabled parking space. Well, apparently the nice owner of this car keeps parking in one of the three disabled spaces. She has been warned by the chair of the residents’ association a few times, in writing. The nice lady’s reply seems to be that there are 3 parking spaces, but only eight badge holders in this community, so she can’t see the problem with parking in this space. Maybe she doesn’t understand that there are ways of approaching this which are much more civil and better than breaking the law. You would think that, as apparently, she works as a prosecutor.

This neglect of following any rules of civility in the car park is commonplace in this community. There are some areas in the car park where you can only park for 30 minutes maximum. This is so that there’s always a space for the cars to maneuver and to have room for emergencies. Or for ambulances to park – when last summer my father was brought back home in an ambulance, the ambulance had to park on the pavement, cowboy-style.

So eventually, it looks like a neighbour got fed up and decided that the only way to stop this nice (prosecutor) woman was by throwing a rock at the top of her car. They also left her some poetic bits of text on the windscreen, but unfortunately by the time I decided I wanted to write this post, the car had gone so I can’t share them with you here. Apparently the nice (prosecutor) lady has kept the rock and will obviously press charges. Good luck to her and all the other people who think social rules were written for somebody else.

S is for Siesta

The word siesta (that nap people take in the afternoon) is as well known and popular as the word tapas. In the same way that you can’t assume that Spanish people eat tapas all day, you also can’t assume that all Spanish people take siestas. Some do and some don’t, but the time after lunch, from around 3.30 to 5.30 pm is still referred to as la hora de la siesta.

As you can imagine, I never thought about the origin of the word siesta, it’s just a word. But yesterday I was reading Tony Schwartz’s excellent book Be Excellent at Anything when I came across the origin of the word. The book talks about how to structure your work and look after yourself to make the most out of life (a very, very interesting proposition and one which is laid out extremely well). The author dedicates quite a chunky chapter to sleep and mentions the restorative power of naps. It also talks about how useful and productive dividing your day into separate periods can be. The Romans used to do it apparently, as far as the first century B.C. One of these periods was the midday rest, which took place six hours after dawn, so it had the name of “sexta”, sixth. Sexta has eventually involved into siesta, which has come to mean “the nap after lunchtime”.

If you’re like me and begin to feel sleepy just before lunch, around, then you might be related to a bovine animal, as this nap is referred to as “la siesta del carnero”, the ram’s nap.

(For more on Siesta, check out the A to Z of Spanish Culture podcast on iTunes.)