Caught with one foot in the past and the other firmly in the 21st century, Spain conjures up stereotypes and then shatters them all. Flamenco and paella may be the country’s defacto symbols, but the first is from Andalucía and the second is from Valencia. The Spanish themselves sometimes refer to ‘Las Españas’, and it doesn’t take long to discover that the notion of ‘Spanishness’ is more complicated than you might expect.
The country is divided into 17 autonomous communities, each with its own celebrated history, culture and traditions. You won’t find flamenco in Barcelona, and the stately Catalan sardana certainly isn’t danced on the streets of Seville. This cultural disparity is echoed in other ways. While old Al-Andalus may still linger in the elaborate Moorish palaces of Granada, the pure austerity of Romanesque holds sway in the northern provinces where the Christian Reconquest was born.
The co-existence of apparently opposing values is a peculiarly Spanish gift. More than one writer has remarked that dreamy, idealistic Don Quixote and his earthy pragmatic side-kick Sancho Panza represent two sides of the Spanish psyche; this is, after all, a country in which miracles still happen in one part of town while a hot, new nightclub is being toasted in another. It’s partly the Spanish preoccupation with death – and not just in the bullring – that encourages them to live life with such intense energy. And however this energy is expressed, in slick new buildings projects or a rowdy carnival celebration, it’s impossible not to be seduced by it.
If you spend any time in Spain, you’re almost guaranteed to come across a fiesta. Ranging in spirit from the solemnly religious to the wholly anarchic, local fiestas provide the focus for a range of social, cultural and sporting activity and could turn out to be a highlight of your trip. Whatever the occasion, food and drink will be a focus for the revelry. Nothing characterizes Spain more than its eating and drinking culture. Whether you’re halfway through Sunday lunch at 1800 in the evening, or ordering up a plate of octopus sometime after midnight, or snacking on tapas in the street, or watching a businessman down a hefty brandy with his morning coffee, it hits you at some point that the whole of Spanish society more or less revolves around food and drink. Buen provecho!
Places of interest in Spain
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Activities in Spain
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