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

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


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

C is for Cesta de Navidad

La Cesta de Navidad – the Christmas hamper.

The way in which businesses thank their employees at the end of the year. The way in which businesses remind their clients that they exist. From large boxes full of drink, food and sweets to the more trendy fruit baskets or luscious boxes of expensive chocolates. I wonder what’s going on this year…

If you are curious as to what’s inside a Spanish Christmas hamper, have a look at the one Graham Hunt from Houses for Sale in Spain got this year…

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.

B is for Severiano Ballesteros

I’ve never really followed sports much – well, maybe the odd championship or two. I never had any interest in golf, but I grew up hearing the name Ballesteros over and over again, mainly associated with sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication.

I never had any personal connection with the man. I never had any emotional connection with the game of golf. Yet reading about his death as I researched this post still brings tears to my eyes.

Seve, as he was known, didn’t learn to play golf in the comfort of a golf course, but on the beach, a fact that many think was key to his success. Only every now and then, at night time, when there was a full moon, would he sneak into the golf course next to his house in Pedreña (Cantabria, in the North of Spain).

At 16, he took part in his first professional national championship (Campeonato de España) and came 20th. Two years later, he came second in the British Open, alongside Jack Nicklaus.

Ballesteros rapidly became well known and respected in international circles. Tom Kites said of him:

When he gets going, it’s almost as if Seve is driving a Ferrari and the rest of us are in Chevrolets.

He was the first European player to win the Masters in 1980 at the age of 23 – and the youngest player to win the title at that time.

During his lifetime, Seve won 87 championships but his greatest achievement was to put European golf up there with its American counterpart. It was under his leadership that the European team won the Ryder Cup in 1997. The public’s adoration of the man only grew as, unable to play himself due to his status of home ground captain, he passionately rode alongside the team in a golf cart, encouraging the rest of the team.

In 2008, Ballesteros was diagnosed with a brain tumour, after which he set up the Fundación Seve Ballesteros, dedicated to promoting and financing brain cancer research.

On 7th May 2011, after numerous operations and chemotherapy, Seve died at the age of 54, becoming a legendary figure representing hard work, sportsmanship and decency.

To find out more about Severiano Ballesteros and his foundation, visit his official web.

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.

P is for Paella

Paella is mainly consumed as a main dish but you can also have a tapa or a ración. It is another of Spain’s most popular and mispronounced exports. The double ‘l’ in paella (or ll – elle, as it was called when it enjoyed the privilege of being a letter on its own) has a sound similar to “y” in English, like in the first consonant in “yesterday”.

Traditional paella consists mainly of rice, vegetables and meat and takes its name from the large, typical pan in which it is made: la paella. The paella valenciana or arroz valenciano (Valencian rice) has given rise to many variations is other Spanish regions and households, not to mention the number of unpalatable versions you can find abroad. Some of the variations have become official and are expected from dishes consumed in some Valencian towns. For example, in Benicarló, they will add artichokes, while in L’Albufera, instead of chicken or rabbit, they will use duck.

Cooked in Beniganim by Sonia and Pachi

A paella valenciana can only carry that name if it has the ten ingredients which give it its Protected Geographical Status (its Denominación de Origen) which it has enjoyed since 2011, although it can still claim its name if the variations are along the lines of those mentioned above.

So, how do you know if you are eating the “real thing”? A paella valenciana will have rice, oil, chicken, rabbit, tomato, water, salt, saffron, ferraura (a type of green bean) and garrofó, a type of white kidney bean. However, the Spanish are far from purist in this respect and the paella mixta (“mixed” paella, with both meat and fish) or the paella de mariscos (with seafood) are also popular.

If you are more of a fish person or are not too keen on rice, you might want to try the fideuá, which is a fishy version of the paella-style rice, arroz abanda, but with pasta (chifferini) as its base. This dish originated in the city of Gandía, where I spent many a happy childhood moment as it is my father’s hometown. It has fish such as monkfish (rape), various mollusks such as cuttlefish (sepia) and shellfish such as prawns (langostinos).

The urban myth extended in the internet about the origin of the fideúa (possible thanks to Wikipedia) is that it was invented by a ship’s cook in the 1930s, who usually cooked arroz abanda for the crew. As the Captain was a greedy man who often ate much more than the rest of his men, the cook decided to change the main ingredient of the dish to pasta, hoping the Captain would eat less and leave more food for the rest of the men. Unfortunately, the Captain liked this new version just as much as the old one as it was so delicious that it was soon adopted throughout the port.

Though this is an unverified tale, it is a much more romantic than the one I’d always heard: that the fideuá was invented by someone who had no rice in stock but plenty of fideos (chifferini pasta). In any case, the best experience for eating either paella or fideuá, is to sit around the paella with your fork and eat directly from the pan – but first use a wooden spoon to scrape the grains of rice that have become crispy and stuck to the pan. They are my favourite bits: the agarraet. (Which comes from agarrado, that which has stuck.)

¡Qué aproveche!

(This is an extract of the chapter ‘T is for Tapas’ from The A to Z of Spanish Culture.)

S is for Semana Santa Part 2

Easter is a really big deal in Spain. You can see procesiones everywhere, where large images of Christ are carried around the city. Unfortunately, Easter is also a time of pain in Spain, as it often rains and the illusions of both those who eagerly await to carry the effigy and those who have been waiting all year to watch them, are shattered.

Here are some pictures from Easter in Madrid, from a few years ago.
And no, they are not tourists from the KKK.

M is for Metro de Madrid

Madrid is very proud of its metro. Or should I say that the Metro de Madrid is very proud of its metro.

I’m always struck by the different slogans the Comunidad de Madrid comes up with. Their latest one, on their website, is



I do like the tube system in Madrid very much, so here is a short video for those of you who haven’t been on it before.

Enjoy the ride!

Metro madrid EOS 550D Rebel 2Ti from VJ Cookie / Kevin K on Vimeo.

G is for Guernica

‘El Guernica’ was created as a response to the bombing of the town of Guernica in the Basque country. In April 1937, the German and Italian troops who were helping the rebels under Franco bombed the town with the aim of attacking its civil population. Following the request of the president of the Spanish republic, who still hadn’t succumbed to Franco’s rule, Picasso, already living in France, depicted the massacre in a painting to be shown in Paris that year.

The painting is a large black and white canvas, (3.50m x 7.80m) painted in a recognisable Picasso style (cubism). Picasso didn’t want the painting to return to Spain until the country became a democracy again and so it was housed in the MOMA in New York until 1981. It was then transferred to an annexe in the Prado Museum, the Cason del Buen Retiro. Since 1992, the painting has been hanging in Madrid’s Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, a public museum dedicated to contemporary art.

‘El Guernica’ is an emotive reminder of the horrors of war. As such, it hangs outside the UN’s security council’s entrance in New York. When in 2003, Colin Powell delivered a speech to convince the world of the need to attack Iraq, the copy of the Guernica was covered with a drape.

Picasso had wished for the US to keep his painting safe until Spain became a democracy once more. I wonder what he would have made of this.

During my research for The A to Z of Spanish Culture, I came across this video put together by the national TV channel, about the return of Picasso’s Guernica to Spain.

Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video here, but here is the link.