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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Everything I Know About Spain I Learned in a Café

This would make a good title for a book. The problem is I really despise these types of self-help books which attempt to explain everything in one little treatise written on a junior high school level. Of course, I haven’t really learned everything I know about this country simply by sitting in cafés. This would discount all of the incredibly hard work I have done attempting to learn the language. If you want to know anything about Spain you need to travel, watch their movies, listen to their music, read their novels, and—above all—talk to the people. But who wants to read a book about a guy who had to work so hard to learn the paltry bit I have about this place? We want 15 minute abdominalss, we want to learn Spanish in seven days, we want everything and we want it for free. And we want it yesterday.

But you can look at a Spanish café as a sort of microcosm for daily life here. I think cafés in July really bring out the Spanish in the Spanish—if that makes sense. People here in July seem to be a distilled version of themselves as they plop down at a table on a beautiful terrace to have a coffee or a beer. There is a certain truth to the part about this being a distilled form of the people because there as so many fewer cafés to choose from in summer as many owners have closed for holiday. Everyone else generally has more free time in summer to sit in cafés so things can get a little hectic, or they would get a little hectic but this is Spain and they are notorious for not putting up with the hectic. Chaotic they do well but even in the most chaotic situations there is a numbing calm about it—and they will celebrate with food.

Speaking of chaos, they love stories about natural disasters on Spanish television. If there is a flood somewhere it will surely make it on the afternoon news. I can’t really explain why it is they enjoy watching footage of villagers being swept downstream by a flooding river except that perhaps it’s because not much else happens in Spain to satisfy what seems to be people’s need for the spectacular. In the USA we like stories of gang-related violence or serial killer news—activities not too common in Spain. Getting back to the summer months, you will notice a lot of news stories about bulls behaving badly as this is the month of lots of village bullfighting festivals where they set raging bulls loose in the streets. America has the Crips and the Bloods, Spain has 500 kilo bulls running amuck.

I suppose that you could learn everything about this country by sitting in a café. Sooner or later you are going to see everything the nation has to offer. It may take a while but it's a nice place to wait.

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