E is for Extras on the Letter K

As promised, here are the other suggestions I was sent through when I asked for Spanish personalities to feature in a post on the letter K.

Karina
60’s pop singer.

Kiko Veneno
Spanish artist still going strong.

Kaka de Luxe
A punk-rock group formed in the late 70’s, headed by Alaska. Olvido Gara, who has always been known as Alaska, has managed to reinvent herself through the decades and still remains in the public spotlight.

Kiko (from Verano azul)
Most probably spelt Quico, but what a great excuse to talk about Verano azul in this blog.

Verano Azul (Blue Summer) made its mark on Spanish teenagers who watched TV in the 80’s. I remember the gang, on their bicycles, happily riding around the town where they spent their summer holidays. And the tune, oh the tune. If you’ve got two minutes, have a look:

K is for Karlos Arguiñano

In February I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers to help me come up with the subject for a post on Spanish personalities, as I was pretty stuck on the letter K. I got some very interesting suggestions, some of which I had already thought of, some of which I would never have come up with, like the one heading this post (thanks @grahunt!).

It’s taken me a while to write this post – especially as I realised that in my angst to  talk about Juan Carlos I, the king who has fallen from grace, I missed out the post on “I”. So, before I tackle that one, here is my post on Karlos Arguiñano. It will be followed by an extra post on K, to include all the other interesting suggestions that were posted (or sent) my way.

Karlos Arguiñano

Karlos_Arguiñano

As is often the case, until I started writing this post, I knew very little about Arguiñano. as he shot to fame in 1991, just a year after I left Spain. He’s not just a celebrity chef, but a very charistmatic entrepreneur who owns a restaurant (which he set up way before he hit the spotlight), one of the co-founders of the Basque Culinary Centre, film producer and he even runs a moto-racing team. Oh, and he’s the father of eight children, two of whom are adopted.

Arguiñano grew up as the eldest of four children whose mother had become disabled. That was probably the reason why he had to start cooking at an early age and, by the time he was 17, he had decided he wanted to become a professional cook.

In 1978, he opened a hotel/restaurant in the town of Zarautz, in Gipuzkoa (native spelling). For 199 Euros, you can have a double room, a “taster” menu and breakfast in the KA, Karlos Arguiñano hotel.

In 1991, after hosting his own cooking programme on Basque television, he began to present “El menú de cada día” on TVE1, the main channel of Televisión Española. The programme got people talking about cooking, even if most of the audience rarely put any of the chef’s tips into practice and was just happy to watch this funny, charismatic man.

A man increasing the ratings of a TV cooking programme. That is why I thought it would be worth dedicating a post to him. I’m willing to be proved wrong, but the average family still favours women being the ones who cook and it was great to remind men that spending time in the kitchen was ok. Things are definitely changing and women my generation might still land someone to share the culinary chores with them.

Back to Arguiñano, having conquered the small screen, Karlos now has turned to another one of his passions: motorcycle racing. In 2011, he introduced the Arguiñano Racing Team when it took part in the Moto 2 competition. I watched an interview with him on YouTube and loved his relaxed manner as he talked about what is no doubt, the realisation of a dream. A dream which probably (my guess, not his words) began to look possible when he cooked for Carlos Sainz during the racer’s stay at the hotel where Arguiñano worked. I leave you with the interview, which I much prefer to the many clips there are of him telling jokes. I wish him the best of luck with this parallel career!


 

Image by By Ana Sánchez Cruzat [CC-BY-SA-2.1-es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/es/deed.en), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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”.)

D is for Plácido Domingo

Picture this.

The place: Santiago, Chile.

The time: the night of the 8th July 2012.

The weather: cold, very cold. 8 degrees below cero in some areas of the capital. The coldest night so far this year.

Rows and rows of people, in fact, millions of people, queuing. What are they waiting for?

They are waiting for the tickets for the cultural event of the century: Plácido Domingo brings Pablo Neruda to life in the operatic version of “Il Postino”. (For more information, you can read the article in Spanish by clicking here.)

Plácido Domingo is unique. He’s not only one of the most respected and revered opera singers in the world, but also a producer, administrator and general champion for the arts. Yes, he became incredibly famous worldwide when he toured with the three tenors (although anyone who knew anything about opera or classical music would have heard about him way before then) but I have allocated him the letter “D” because of what he is doing for music in Spain and the rest of the world. (For more information on this than I am able to give you in this humble blog, see his official website.)

At the age of 71, he continues to draw crowds, not just because of his artistic talent, but also because of his charismatic personality. I’m not an opera fan myself, but in a similar way to how I grew up hearing about Severiano Ballesteros (see B is for Seve Ballesteros), I grew up hearing about Plácido Domingo. Last year, I watched him being interviewed on the BBC and realised how, even after being the most successful opera singer currently around, he remains humble and committed to his audience. (Don’t take my word for it and have a look at the interview on YouTube.)

If I rest, I rust.
Plácido Domingo

You can clearly see how the man doesn’t rest. He was the General Director of  the Washington National Opera for fifteen years; he was the man responsible for kicking off the Musical Theatre genre in Spain when he produced Los Miserables for the first time in Madrid in 1992 (for more on this see the A to Z chapter Z is for Zarzuela); and he is directly involved in ensuring the world has a new generation of singers and musicians through the Centre de Perfeccionament Plácido Domingo in the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in Valencia.

His wonderful name (which means “peaceful Sunday”) has even made it into the Spanish jargon through the (bad) joke:

?Qué viene después de Plácido Domingo?
Jodido lunes.

I leave you now on this very pleasant Tuesday afternoon.

C is for Cervantes

C has to be for Cervantes in the same way as S would have to be for William Shakespeare if I was writing the A to Z of British Culture.

For Cervantes has become an icon representing high-quality Spanish literature, to the point that the organisation dedicated to promoting the study of Spanish and Spain’s culture does so under his name, the Instituto Cervantes.

The works of Cervantes are comparable to those of Shakespeare in both quality and quantity, and both writers died on the same day, 22 April 1616, a remarkable coincidence.

In 1571, Cervantes fought in a battle in Lepanto against the Turks and was severely wounded. His injuries left him with a paralysed left arm, which in turn earned him the label of “el manco de Lepanto” a rhyming phrase which means “the one-armed man of Lepanto”.

Cervantes is best known for his novel Don Quixote. (I won’t go into any detail here about this book, as you can easily find information about it somewhere else, including a post on my personal blog and a few lines in the chapter Q is for Quijote of The A to Z of Spanish Culture.) He also wrote a collection of “exemplary novels”, (the novelas ejemplares) which included Rinconete y Cortadillo, set in Seville and featuring two rascals who gave the novel its name.

 

Rinconete y Cortadillo by Antonio Muñoz Dergrain

Rinconete y Cortadillo are a pair of pícaros. The closest words in English are probably “rascals” or “rogues”. The word comes from “picaresca” which is a genre in Spanish literature but also refers to an aspect of society known as picaresca española. This is the ability to use your intelligence to con instead of to work. In Cervantes’ novel it’s reflected in the way the two teenagers con and steal from those around them. In modern days, you can see it in the way people slyly skip the queue, ask you for a donation for a charity that doesn’t exist or pocket the tips that someone else left for your grumpy waiter. These acts could also be labeled as petty theft or fraud, but the fact that all of them often come under the label of picaresca española says something about society’s history in Spain.

Cervantes, like all great artists, managed to capture the essence of  society, the underlying thrill of doing things just a little bit beyond written and unwritten laws. Sure, these pícaros were just trying to survive, pretty much like the Lazarillo de Tormes tricked all his masters to ensure his survival, food and a bit of comfort. (The Lazarillo de Tormes, the blind-man’s guide from Tormes, is the protagonist of the first novela picaresca, called by the same name.) The underworld they inhabit was also found outside Spain and reflected in other works of literature, like Oliver Twist. It’s interesting that, even though the two characters were well into their teens, they are often depicted in illustrations as young boys. Are their actions more palatable if we think of them as children?

Rinconete y Cortadillo was placed in the public’s eye before it was edited, as it made its first appearance in the first part of Don Quijote as the inn-keeper gives the novel to the priest. Was Cervantes the first person to create a spin-off?