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 – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lorca_(1934).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lorca_(1934).jpg

F is for Feliz Navidad

It’s difficult not to be caught up in the Christmas spirit, as it’s everywhere, for better or for worse.

So here is a short audio piece, which I’ve recorded through Audioboo, where I show you how to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy New Year”, “Happy Christmas Eve” and where I talk a little bit about the “roscón de reyes”.

So, have a feliz nochebuena, a feliz navidad and a feliz año nuevo.


F is for Felipe el Hermoso

Felipe el Hermoso, who ruled Spain in the 15th Century, is interesting in a “gossipy” kind of way, as he has gone down in history as the man who drove Juana la Loca to madness with his infidelities.

I could have also talked about Felipe González, who played an important part in post-Franco politics as the leader of the PSOE, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party.

Or this post could also be about Felipe de Borbón, Spain’s handsome Prince. It will be interesting to see what happens to him as the country becomes disenchanted with Spain’s monarchy (the King breaking his leg while shooting elephants in Botswana in the middle of the crisis, his son-in-law being judged for corruption and his nephew shooting himself in the foot, literally.)

In the end, I have gone with Felipe el Hermoso, because of his connection with Juana la Loca, Spain’s mad queen. (Who knows, I might have to come back to write about Felipe de Borbón and his fairy-tale marriage to ex-journalist Letizia soon.)

Felipe, el hermoso? There’s no accounting for taste.

Felipe El Hermoso

Felipe el Hermoso heads a story of intrigue, scandal and power struggle.

Felipe “the handsome one”, ruler of Burgundy, became part of Spain’s royalty when he married Juana, daughter of the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Kings) in 1496. This arranged marriage protected their kingdoms from the French threat. It suited Felipe, who already owned a few dukedoms, (Luxembourg and Flanders amongst others) and was hungry for power, just fine.

When the Queen of Castille, one of Spain’s biggest kingdoms, died in 1504, Felipe began to lick his lips as he saw himself sitting comfortably on the throne next to his wife Juana, who would inherit the land. However, the Queen had asked in her will that the throne remain with her husband Fernando if Juana showed any signs of madness. Oops, Juana eventually became Juana la Loca, and already then she began to show signs of mental instability.

Juana’s jealousy was slowly beginning to drive her mad and became visible in actions such as her attacking with a comb one of the court’s women, whom she suspected of having an affair with Felipe (or pulling out her hair with her hands, depending on which internet source you believe). However, King Fernando was not able to hang on to Castille for very long, and soon Felipe became the ruler of Spain. (If you are interested in the long list of coincidences which resulted in Felipe becoming King, visit the Wikipedia page.)

His ruling did not last long, which was probably a good thing as it was characterised by corruption and cronyism. In September 1506,  six months after becoming King, Felipe died after drinking a glass of cold water during a game of ball.

Poisoned? Most probably typhus fever, but that was one of the conspiracy theories at the time.

Shed No Tears

In any case, Felipe’s death threw Juana into even deeper madness.

For a start, she didn’t weep at all for her husband’s death, even though her love for him was uncontested. There were rumours that the mad Queen asked for Felipe’s heart to be taken out of his body, so it would not belong to anyone else. A few months later, when Juana was adviced to leave the City of Burgos to escape an epidemic, she decided to take Felipe’s body with her, to stay close to him at all times. Her journey became a pilgrimage with her husband’s body and it wasn’t until her father came to look after her, that she was separated from Felipe.

Juana’s father, Fernando, came back to Castille to reclaim the throne. Fearing his daughter would at some point try to reign again, he confined her to a convent in Tordesillas, Valladolid, proclaiming her insane. One of her six children, Carlos, eventually became King and also made sure his power wasn’t challenged by making sure his mother remained in the convent.

Juana died in 1555, aged 51, having spent the last year’s of her life wailing in captivity.

(You can find out more about Juana in the book The Last Queen by C.W.Gortner or in the film “Juana la Loca” or “Mad Love”.)

T is for Tres Veces Campeones: Spain Wins the Eurocup

I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to write a book on Spanish culture. Things in Spain keep changing and I keep thinking I should go back to the e-book to update it.

Luckily, now we have blogs. So here is my update for

F is for Fútbol.

Over the next few days we can expect the front pages of Spanish newspapers to demote stories of economic debt, unemployment, corruption, social unrest etc to second place while the country celebrates the victory of La Roja.

A second Eurocup in a row? Unheard of. With a World Champion title squeezed in the middle? Even more unheard of.

I loved the headline in El Mundo newspaper yesterday:

“La España que Cambió el Mundo”.
The Spain that Changed the World.

Señores, please, a little bit of perspective.

I can’t underestimate the buzz felt in the country at the moment and it was, let’s face it, a fantastic match. Clean, exciting, exuberant, energetic football, there is no doubt about that. On top of that, the players continue to guide our thoughts to those young stars who are no longer with us by paying homage to them on their white t-shirts (see below and also see F is for Fútbol).

But unfortunately, I’m not sure that this shot of adrenaline will have any long-lasting effects. There has been a lot of money spent by consumers because of the football, great: it would be interesting to know how much public money will be spent as a result of this victory: probably not so great. If we are to believe Aleix Saló, author or Simiocracia, let’s hope that this time the Spanish players leave their bonuses in Spain and don’t deposit them in Austrian banks, as Spain could surely do with the taxes.

Does anyone have the numbers? I’m sure they would provide an interesting read.

Another troubling thought.

Yesterday, after the team received the cup, what flag did Piqué and Fabregás pull out?

I think in the name of the “happiness bubble” currently covering Spain, the newspapers haven’t picked up on it today. But have a look at this photo (from El Mundo) and you will see a Spain that, far from united, continues to be divided.

F is for Fútbol

It’s here, the Eurocup is finally here. And “La Roja” is playing its first match today.

For a month, we can all look forward to some interesting news about Europe that have nothing to do with the incredibly gloomy, complicated economic situation. Spanish writer Javier Marías, in one of his recent articles defined the championship as a “very welcome opium”,  a dose of 90 minutes during which Europeans can get high on football and forget about everything else. (You can read his article in Spanish, here.)

We’ll see whether this is the case. What’s true is that two years ago, Spain won the World Cup and the whole country became united and proud. Here’s how I recall it in The A to Z of Spanish Culture, let’s see what happens this year, in Spain, or anywhere else.

F is for Fútbol

Some of the Spanish league teams are amongst the best in the world, there’s no doubt about it. Unfortunately, the Spanish national team was never glorious… until 2008, when they won the European cup. And then, they did it again in 2010, winning the World Cup.

La Roja

Football fever swept the nation. The goalkeeper, Iker Casillas was referred to as an “héroe nacional” (national hero) on Spanish morning TV shows. La Roja (“the red” squad – luckily the Socialists were in power then) became a symbol of the Spain everyone wanted to see: vivacious, vibrant and victorious.

The national flag began to fly again. No longer a symbol of fascism but of unity and success. The country re-conquered its flag and re-instated the pride in being Spanish.

The Spanish squad represented the country in all its glory: young guys, playing very clean football, persistent and gelling together on the pitch. To top it all up, when Andrés Iniesta scored a goal, his thoughts weren’t on the pitch but back with his friend and colleague Dani Jarque, who had died earlier that year from a heart attack. As he celebrated his goal, Iniesta lifted his shirt to show a white t-shirt underneath with the words “DANI JARQUE, SIEMPRE CON NOSOTROS.” (“Dani Jarque, always will be with us.”)

Unfortunately, Iniesta got sanctioned as the rules forbid removing your t-shirt on the pitch. Still, I’m sure the thrill of winning the world cup made up for that.

The beautiful Casillas, the goalkeeper, had been getting all sorts of unwanted attention from the Spanish press for being in a relationship with an equally beautiful reporter. Just after the match, said reporter interviewed Casillas, asking the usual question of “How does it feel to be king of the world?” Casillas, speechless, could not but express his elation through a full kiss to his girlfriend, on camera. The country cheered at this metaphorical middle finger at those who had said he was under-performing because his girlfriend was watching the matches in the stadiums. (You can watch this for yourself below.)

Against the backdrop of rising unemployment and political corruption left, right and centre, the 2010 World Cup flooded the country with a new wave of hope. The story of this victory had it all: honour, pride, respect, romance, emotion and even the knowledge that Nadal (who became world champion himself just a day later) had celebrated the victory with his fellow sportsmen.

F is for Fallas

(If you speak Spanish, you might want to read my cousin Pachi’s account, below this one in English. Thanks to Kathe for the photographs.)


For the four days prior to 19 March (San José, the carpenters’ patron saint – and Valencia’s (see Y is for Yo for more information on patron saints)), Valencia turns into a concoction of noise, music and smoke. Every day, to make sure that you don’t miss out on every single celebratory moment, you will be woken up at 8am by the despertetá, a series of very loud noises designed to get everyone out of bed and into the streets. In the afternoon, from the first Sunday in March, prepare yourself to have your eardrums challenged by the “mascletás” created by extremely powerful bangers which are set off over the noise and chanting of the population. If fireworks are your poison, then you can enjoy what is probably one of the most impressive fireworks display in the world. ‘La Nit del Foc’ in Valencia, the night of fire, attracts around 650,000 people every year at 1.30 in the morning before San José.

Finally, on the last day of the Fallas, Valencia is flooded by flames and smoke as all the ‘ninots’ burn. The ninots are wonderfully artistic figures made of different flammable materials. It is these ninots, when put together to create a work of art, that make a “falla” which gives this celebration its name. . Months of work go into these figures which surrender to their fate on the last day of las Fallas. All, except one, the competition winner.

You might be asking yourself: “Why?” The answer is a common one: tradition. Prior to the 17th century, the carpenters and artisans of Valencia would celebrate the arrival of spring by burning the holders which had supported the oil lamps used to give light in the winter. On the night before San José, they would burn piles of unwanted lamp holders and any other bits of leftover wood. With time, the carpenters began to dress up these unwanted items to create parodies of the middle classes and the Church and satirise society.

Gradually, this event became more popular and sophisticated and of course, controversial. After trying to suppress these celebrations over decades, the Mayor finally succumbed and in 1932, the Council became the official organiser of the event. Not only that, what was initially an event financed by the people and local businesses, became a state funded event.

Now Las Fallas has become one of the most popular celebrations in Spain – great fun for those wishing to party all night but not so great for people like my aunt, who are left unable to sleep for one week.

For more on loud Spanish traditions, see M is for Moros y Cristianos.

LAS FALLAS – The Spanish version

Fiestas tradicionales valencianas, que han sabido conservar el espíritu popular, hasta donde lo permiten los tiempos modernos. Antiguamente, se financiaban íntegramente con aportaciones de los vecinos y empresarios de los barrios donde se levantaba el monumento. Hoy día, por su interés “cultural”, la financiación mayoritaria corre a cargo de organismos públicos (ayuntamiento, distritos, etc.).

El reinado de la pólvora, organizada (despertá, nit del foc, cordás y mascletás), y desorganizada (la guerra en la calle). Las despertás se hacen a las 8 de la mañana, quemando pólvora para avisar a los vecinos que empieza la jornada; las mascletás empiezan el primer domingo de marzo; los castillos de fuego se concentran los sábados, hasta el último fin de semana, que se queman uno al día –el del día 18 es el castillo estrella-; y las cordás, muy restringidas y controladas, por accidentes pasados –no me extraña-.

Las tardes de los días de fallas: o se participa o visita el engalanamiento floral de la Virgen de los Desamparados (la cheperudeta, es decir, la jorobadita, en valenciano),  o  se va a dormir la siesta, porque el resto del día y noche estarán ocupados. Los amantes de los toros tienen las primeras corridas grandes de la temporada taurina, que se abre en la plaza de Toros de Valencia, corridas de San José.

Las fallas en sí podrían verse como un subgénero de la escultura, que se trabaja con papel-cartón y madera. Auténticos artistas que trabajan la forma, la belleza artística, y el fondo. La falla no deja de ser un vehículo para plasmar la vida de la ciudad, del país y del mundo, desde un punto de vista crítico y satírico. Sus dimensiones varían entre los 5 metros de alto, y superficies de 25 m2, a las de categoría especial, que pueden alcanzar 20 m de alto, y 200 m2 de superficie –a ojo–. La quema final supone purificar los pecados pasados, previamente destapados, como el fuego purificaba el pecado. No hay que olvidar que se celebra un día muy próximo al equinoccio de primavera. Yo vincularía el origen a una costumbre rural: terminada la poda en el campo, cuando empiezan los frutales a florecer, se quemaban sarmientos y ramas, para limpiar y abonar con ello los campos. Por la época, sospecho que algo tiene que ver.

Cada falla tiene su falla infantil, dedicada a los niños del barrio, con temas infantiles –cuentos, dragones y princesas-, sin crítica especial. Apenas se alzan dos metros de tierra, y ocupando diez metros cuadrados normalmente.

Como es fiesta callejera, hay muchos casales falleros donde se reúnen las gentes del barrio, para charlar, beber, comer, dormitar, … Merece la pena hacer alguna parada para probar las primeras horchatas de la temporada con fartons, o un buen chocolate con buñuelos de calabaza.

Copyright notice: Please, do not hesitate to contact me if these Ninots are under restricted copyright. Just leave a comment below, all comments are moderated.

F is for Fuente Ovejuna

¿Quién mató al comendador?
Fuenteovejuna, señor.
¿Y quién es Fuenteovejuna?
Todos a una.

These are some of the most famous lines of Spanish dramatic text. They come from the play “Fuenteovejuna”, by Félix Arturo Lope de Vega, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, whose talent is definitely comparable. Lope de Vega wrote over 1,500 plays but his most famous one is  Fuenteovejuna.

Fuenteovejuna is the name of a town which literally could be translated as  “fountain for the sheep”: “fuente” means “fountain” and “ovejuna” means “derived from sheep” (“oveja”). This town still exists today and the square housing its town hall has been named after Lope.

Fuenteovejuna is full of drama. Set in feudal times, the “comendador” (military commander) rapes Lucrecia, one of the town’s women. After she lashes out (verbally) at the town’s men for doing nothing to defend her, one of them kills the commander on his next visit. In order to protect him and take collective responsibility for the crime (and hence avoid punishment) the whole population takes the blame. Hence the lines at the beginning of this post. I will try to translate them here, I hope Lope doesn’t turn too much in his grave.

Who killed the commander?
Fuenteovejuna, sir.
And who is Fuenteovejuna?
All together we are one.