H is for Hernán Cortés

After quCortes-Hernan-LOCite a break from my last Spanish Personalities post, I’m back, ready to give it another try.

I was a little stuck with ‘H’. I have to admit that the first name that came to mind was ‘Horacio Pinchadiscos’, 80’s girl that I am. (I will come back to him at the end of the post, even if it’s just to make my cousin laugh.)

Instead, I am dedicating this post to Hernán Cortés, which, if he had been alive today, would probably have been an unpopular figure.

Hernán Cortés was one of the famous conquistadores. He started looking for adventure in 1504, just 12 years after America was discovered by Columbus. Cortés was only 17 years old then and had abandoned studying law to become an explorer. After being involved in the conquest of Cuba, he was the conquistador responsible for taking over the Aztec empire, conquering Mexico in 1521.

The conquistadores were ruthless, taking over new lands by force, with the sole purpose of building an empire. Things have most definitely changed: the Spanish empire has not only completely disappeared (although there’s still Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands to remind us that Spain used to own land beyond their borders) but Spain itself seems to be falling apart. At a time when the economic crisis should be pulling everyone together, the regions are voicing their desire for independence more strongly than ever and it’s difficult to talk about “one Spain”. I wonder whether a song which was popular in the 80’s “The Empire Strikes Back” by a group called Los Nikis could have been written now. Probably not, but that’s not a bad thing.

But I digress (once more). Having had eleven children from six different women (including natives from the lands which he was invading), having owned land and slaves in Cuba, having been in jail for “conspiring” against the Cuban ruler and having led various wars and invasions in Mexico, Cortés died in 1547. His body, like that of Felipe el Hermoso, did not rest in peace but was moved around various times due to different reasons such as refurbishment of the temple where he was buried and an attempt to follow his will, where he changed his mind various times as to where he wanted to be laid to rest.

So, that was quite a dark ‘H’ so I would now like to leave you with a more colourful one. horacio

Let me introduce you to Horacio Pinchadiscos. He was the best D.J. in the 80s, delighting children like yours truly, with his marcha. It would have been too much to dedicate a full post to him, but I’m happy to give him my last few words.


G is for Goya

Maybe you were waiting for something a bit more original, a little bit more obscure, but Goya IS my favourite painter (up there with Hieronymus Bosch, whose work can also be found in the Prado Museum), so I really have no choice.

What I find interesting about Goya is the range of his work – from wonderfully frothy paintings of picnics in the Pradera de San Isidro
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes 021

to his Dark Paintings, including my favourite Saturno devorando a un hijo (Saturn Devouring a Son).

Francisco de Goya, Saturno devorando a su hijo (1819-1823)

Like all great artists, Goya commented on the world around him. He reflected the horrors of war in his series Los desastres de la guerra (The War Disasters) where he shows the effects on society and the individual of the Independence War that Spain fought against the French from 1808 to 1814. One of his best known paintings, currently at the Prado Museum in Madrid is the Fusilamientos del tres de mayo (3rd May Executions), which shows Napoleon’s troops executing the Spanish population that had rebelled against them in Madrid in 1808. The painting saw the light in 1814, after the French were expelled from Spain.

El Tres de Mayo, by Francisco de Goya, from Prado in Google Earth

Through his Caprichos, a series of 80 prints, he laughed at ignorance, superstition and society in general. (To see the whole series, visit wikipedia.) By the way, if you teach any kind of performance art (or creative writing) and ever need inspiration, these drawings are wonderfully surreal and inspiring.

Nobody saw us.

Francisco de Goya was one of Spain’s most prolific painters. Born in 1746, he painted over 2000 works of art, including paintings, sketches, drawings, portraits and self-portraits until his death in 1828.

He left an amazing legacy and through his varied artistic styles, he showed that variety is the spice of life.

Mission Accomplished!

Well, kind of.

The Kindle version of The A to Z of Spanish Culture is finally out.

I have also uploaded a version to Smashwords and so it will also soon be available from all e-book stores. I’m on my way to creating the paperback version, for those of you who still prefer to hold your book with both hands.

John Wolfendale in his Eco Vida blog described this blog as a “light-hearted look at Spain”. I think his description is spot on, not just for this blog, but also for the book as a whole.

So, if you fancy something light (and let’s face it, at the moment we need some lightness when thinking about Spain) to give you an insight into Spanish culture, life, history, art, traditions and even its language, click through to Smashwords or the Kindle store now. For £2.88, I hope you enjoy the trip.

M is for Moros y Cristianos

My friend Fidel comes from Alcoy, a beautiful small town on the Mediterranean coast. It is through him that I learnt properly about Moros y Cristianos. Well, through him and his son Alvaro, who very kindly shared with me the school presentation he did on this fiesta.

This Moros y Cristianos tradition recreates a very specific battle that took place in 1276 in Alcoy. On the 23 April, having lost the city to the Kingdom of Valencia (Spain has quite a tradition of division, it was made up of lots of separate kingdoms until 1492) the Moors tried to conquer the city once more under the leadership of “el azul”, (the blue one), Al-Azraq – blue due to the colour of his eyes. A bloody battle ensued between Muslim and Christian troops.

When it seemed inevitable that the Arabs were going to win the battle, a mysterious male figure appeared, riding a white horse and displaying a red cross on his chest. With one blow, the warrior, identified by the Christian troops as St Jordi (patron saint on that day), took the life of the Arab leader, causing the rest of his troops to disperse.

The result of such an important day (the Spanish got their city back) is celebrated in Alcoy over three days no less. This trilogía runs from 22 to 24 April. The first day features different music bands playing through the streets of Alcoy and it ends with the whole town eating an olleta alcoyana, a caserol-type dish including pork, beef, potatoes, beans and morcilla, a kind of sausage made of pig’s blood and meat.

The following day starts early. At 6am, the trumpet sounds and both sets of troops parade through the city as the sun begins to rise. (My friend Fidel has impersonated a Moor for ages.) A beautiful reconstruction of medieval times ensues, with the Christian side parading in the morning and the Moorish side taking over the streets in the afternoon.

The second day is dedicated to St Jordi. It consists mainly of procesiones similar to those seen during Easter, but featuring an image of St Jordi which is carried from church to church.

On the last day, the whole thing explodes. Literally. Gunpowder features heavily on this day as the battle between Moros and Cristianos is reconstructed, showing the Moors victorious in the morning while in the afternoon, the Christians are able to take the city back.

Plenty of noise and celebratory behaviour then, but not nearly as much as that which you can see in Las Fallas in Valencia.

For more information on Moros y Cristianos, visit the web www.associaciosantjordi.org/

G is for Golpe de Estado 23-F 1981

I don’t know how it happened.

This year I missed the anniversary – maybe I was out for most of the day and busy all afternoon, but I missed the anniversary of one of the scariest days of Spanish democracy and just when I was getting to writing about the event for the AtoZ book, I realised. It’s gone, I missed it.

Adolfo Suarez, who had been at the head of Spain’s new democracy since 1976, resigned in 1981 feeling like he was losing the support of the people. He was passing on the role of president on 23rd February 1981 to Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, when suddenly, there was some noise outside the Congress building. Some commotion, a bit of noise and then this guy with a mustache and a military hat oh wait, and a gun in his hand, came into the hall and said

Todos al suelo.

Nobody knew what was going on – was it a stunt? Indeed, if you look now at the footage, he looks like a clown but then it was really scary. I can tell you, cause I was 9 and I was watching it on TV. (In his book, Calvo Sotelo says that he actually thought it was a group of terrorists dressed up as guardias civiles that had entered the building.)T is also for Tejero, he was “that guy”. The sense of parody increases Gutierrez Mellado (part of the military himself and Minister of Defense at the time), stands up against them and you can see they don’t have a clue about how to react. Luckily they just pushed him around a bit, instead of shooting him in the head.

This military coup kept Spain breathless for one day. The mother of one of my school friends, who was foreign, called my house to ask for advice. What should she do? Send the kids to school the next day? Keep them at home? What was going on?

Luckily, the King stepped up. He asked the Spanish population to back democracy. Luckily, the military did too.

Do watch the videos: the first one has about 30 seconds of normality, making it all ever so powerful. The second one has the commentary of the journalist – even if you don’t understand what he’s saying, you’ll hear the panic in his voice as he sees the machine-guns come out.