People have gone Fifty Shades crazy! First, the books hit us like the plague. Then, timely planned for Valentine, the Hollywood movie came out, earning a whopping 81 million dollars on the first weekend in the States alone and becoming the biggest box office success of all times. Next, guaranteed, we will be inundated by Fifty Shades lingerie-sets with whip holsters, kinky video games subjugating women, build-your-own-torture-chamber kits and any other merchandising they can squeeze out of their shady brand. The author, Erica Mitchell, better known by her nom de plume E.L. James, must be laughing all the way to the bank!
My husband and I were stuck for eight long hours at a foggy former military airport just south of Oslo during Christmas 2012. The entire departure area had just a single place to purchase anything, a combined magazine store and café. After having read every paper available and consumed anything remotely eatable from their scant counter, we broke down and bought the first book of the Fifty Shades trilogy. Having read raving reviews about it, with even famous sexologist hailing it as the long-awaited novella-style female answer to soft porn, granted we were curious. And we were not alone…
The books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 52 languages! The supercharged best seller sold faster than any other author in history, more than 70 million books in the first eight months on sale in the US! In 2012, the author was named one of the ‘100 most influential people’ according to The Times. Three years and counting, Fifty Shades can still be found in almost every Papelera in villages across the conservative, über-Catholic Andalucía. The books popularity echoes the author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter success story, though while Rowling’s legacy was bringing the joy of reading back to literally millions of children and youngsters, E.L. James’ legacy, though surely heating up some bedchambers across the nation, may be to bring thousands of women under the whip and chain of their potentially domineering partners. It is not the astronomical sales of the books that I find scary, but the values, or the lack of values that this ‘epic’ propagates. It is the scary notion that millions of people think this is a ‘new’ and exciting discovery of sex, and furthermore what ideas the books may give men who already are prone to violence?
Like movies, works of fiction is dependent upon on our ‘suspension of disbelief’, requiring the author to infuse some seemingly genuine human characters and a semblance of truth into a drama for it to seem plausible. In the case of Fifty Shades, the protagonist, dramatically named Anastasia Steele, is a 21-year-old female university graduate who happens to not only be a barely-kissed virgin (surely the only one on the North West coast of USA), but also gorgeous, long-legged, peachy skinned and bone-thin. As to be expected, she is completely unaware of these assets and her affect on men. To me, sh4 is not believable, and cannot be equaled to cognitive estrangement, where the character’s ignorance or lack of knowledge justifies the suspension of disbelief.
Things do not get any better with the antagonist, Mr. Grey. Like a modern day Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, he is handsome, haunted, dangerous and astronomically rich. Using the contemporary version of the white horse, he sweeps ‘our heroine’ away in his private helicopter, which he of course knows how to pilot being so dexterous. Seasoned in the arts of S&M by his former nanny and thus strangely unhappy unless he can tie up and whip his female conquests, he presents ‘our heroine’ with a contract stating that she must kneel outside the torture chamber waiting for her ‘dom’ to come and pull her by the hair and that she is not allowed to speak unless spoken to. From their approchement at the hardware store where our cash-strapped protagonist works, until Mr. Grey breaks her virginity with instant success and climax on all parts, the book goes from bad to worse, with monotonously predictable sexual encounters every couple of pages. Having all the fittings of a cheap Harlequin romance, the story is completely implausible, the dialogue trite and our ‘heroine’s inner dialogue (with her ‘Inner Goddess’) infantile at best. So, my question is, why has this novel become so popular? Was it one of those ‘at the right time and at right place’ type of scenarios? Are the readers of the world so hungry for some smutty female porn that anything will do, even if it subjugates them?
Virginia Slims cigarettes used the ad slogan “You have come a long way, baby”. Not that female smoking is a great achievement of women’s lib, but I certainly feel that Fifty Shades has brought the female sex a hell of a long way back, regressing us to the time of being officially known as ‘the weaker sex’. Women’s liberation spent decades and even centuries to disprove and bring down misinformed and scientifically erred stereotypes of female sexual needs and wants, such as that women are naturally submissive, that they mean ‘yes’ when they say ‘no’, that they have endless orgasms, especially when raped, and that females generally like to be treated roughly. Then come Fifty Shades, poorly written, but timely and cleverly marketed, and brings all the stereotypes back again. The books portray the female as weak, poor, innocent to the point of ignorant and naturally submissive, and the male as strong, rich, handsome, powerful, violent and domineering. What is wrong with this picture in 2015?
I did not buy nor read the sequels to the first novel, as I find it neither great literature, nor the ‘hot stuff’ it was hailed to be. I had recently read Follett’s Pillars of the Earth before I went on to Fifty Shades and for all the ad nauseam sex scenes of the latter, I found the few sexual encounters in the former far more titillating. In fact, I rather take Anaïs Nin’s short stories written 50 years ago than the thousand-page tomes of Fifty Shades. But then again, with porn, it is usually more about quantity than quality.
As I walk around in my Andalucían neighbourhood, I look at the women and wonder if they all have read the book. Is bondage and submission what women’s escapist fantasy today is all about? Of course, people can do what they want behind closed doors, and I’ll swing myself on the chandelier as much as the next person. However, I find it most worrisome that the sex in Fifty Shades is now assumed to be every woman’s dream and desire. It is a dangerous proposition, certainly here in Spain where female and spousal abuse is rampant, and more dangerous still in other cultures where women have no voice and where abuse is seen as a spousal rights. Thankfully, I am not the only one to bring my thumbs down on Fifty Shades. Critics seem to collectively slam the movie and mock the book. I particularly enjoyed the movie commentary of Alynda Wheat (People): “It’s too bad the movie also imports James’s atrociously written prose and bizarre sexual politics, but then, no one buys a Fifty Shades ticket for the dialogue.”
E.L James is not the first, nor will she be the last to write ‘cheap porn’, though I believe she is the first female in history to have created a world famous ‘brand’ from pornographic books. She ‘owns’ the expression Fifty Shades, which probably is already accepted as a new expression in the Oxford Dictionary. She has made porn literature something everyone now can display at home without shame. She has also made written porn big business, being the world’s top earning author last year (95 million dollars). Add film- and merchandising royalties and she is soon richer than her fictive antagonist, Mr. Grey.
While the producer and the author is entangled in a power struggle as to how many explicit scenes they should include in the second and (heaven help us…) the third movie, the lasting effect of Fifty Shades remains to be seen. S&M popularity will come and go, but one thing is clear, Fifty Shades has certainly not done womankind, nor humankind any favours.
Andalucía is the southernmost and most populous of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions. Bordering the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea, it includes the provinces of Almería, Cádiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla. Though tourists flock to the Andalucian coasts for the stereotypical sun and Sangria, the region also offer a variety of cultural, historical and natural attractions for even the most discerning traveller, such as ancient Phoenician, Roman, Visigoth, and Moorish remains, medieval fortifications and its famous White Villages. Andalucia contains many of Spain’s most visited tourist sites, with Granada’s Alhambra taking the national lead last year with more than 2.4 million visitors per year. With such accolades, one would think that Andalucia would be on top of its game. Yet, the region is suffering from a poor public image. The Andalucians have become Spain’s laughing stock. However, it is time for change. The people of the south are tired of being laughed at!
The Andalucian writer Tomás Gutiérrez Forero whose latest book is titled ‘En defensa de la lengua andaluza’ (‘in the defence of the Andalucian language’), is an avid defender of the Andalucian language and identity. In a recent talk he did in Ronda he spoke of the marginazation of the Andalucian people and the need to defend the Andalucian nation. “We cannot permit that Andalucian is the language of humor”, says the writer. “It is an indignity, which we should not tolerate. We should not be embarrassed about how we speak. We ought to rediscover our own dignity so we can rid ourselves of the cultural stigma.”
Though the Andalucian language goes back thousands of years, the Spanish have come to ridicule the regions way of speaking, even claiming that their language does not exist. The general perception is that Andalucian is poorly spoken Spanish or Castellano.
Spanish media tend to promote the stereotype of the dumb or uneducated Andalucian, where the ‘village idiot’ speaks ‘Andalu’, while the clever one speaks Castellano, the lawyer speaks Castellano, while the delinquent speaks Andalu’, and the lord of the manor speaks Castellano, while the servants speak Andalu’. Local commerce is also affected by this poor image, as items produced in Andalucia will not receive the same prices as items produced further north. For this reason, cork grown in Andalucia will be sold to and re-labelled as product from northern Spain and Andalucian olive oil will be sold off to Italy and then resold as ‘genuine’ Tuscan olive oil. Coming from a northern country where hardly anything eatable grow the majority of the year, Andalucia has lots to celebrate in the fabulous local produce we can get here, fresh, basically all throughout the year.
Many cultural phenomena seen internationally as distinctively Spanish are largely or entirely Andalusian in origin and Andalucians will claim that many of its inventions have been ‘stolen’ by the Spain. Though Flamenco music and bull fighting were invented or originated here in Andalucia, Spain has adapted them as their own and ‘sold’ them as Spanish inventions. Though Picasso was born in Andalucía (Malaga to be precise) the artists have long been promoted and thus known to a Spanish artist. But whose fault is that? Clearly, everybody wants to take credit for their famous native brothers and sisters.
All in all, it seems we are dealing with a regional identity crisis, and when it comes to public image, be it others’ perception of one or ones own self image, nobody but we ourselves can change it. So, the only ones who can rid Andalucia of the laughing stock image are the Andalucians themselves.
Andalucia is of course not the only southern region to suffer a poor image. Think of Italy, where a successful businessperson from Milano is unlikely to admit that they are from the same country, let alone the same planet, as somebody from Napoli. Yet, some southern states have managed to get beyond the ‘lazy and dumb Southerner’ image. Take the United States, where the industries and economy of i.e. California and Texas have become their pride and ultimate ‘revenge’. Hence, one way out of a poor public image is to beat them with your own success.
Many regions, particularly those with powerful neighbours, suffer from a ‘little brother’ syndrome. Take Canada with its powerful neighbour in the south. Who used to know anything about Canada? How could ‘little Canada’ compete with the powerful USA? Canada realized that a public image lift was needed and started a movement called ‘Proudly Canadian’. The popular movement not only helped Canadians with their own poor self-image, but also gave a healthy boost to tourism and sales of Canadian goods nationally and internationally. People really were proud to be Canadians! Could Andalucia do something similar and promote ‘Proudly made in Andalucia’ autonomous goods? Clearly, Andalucian olive oil is every bit as good as Tuscan olive oil. (with my personal regrets to my olive oil-producing family in Chianti…) Andalucian oil, wine, cork, ham and cheese, to mention some, are not only world class, but also remarkably unique. Why does the Andalucian olive oil company ‘1881’ from the small and rather forgotten town of Osuna sell its product to five different world regions while most other regional producers sell their oil bulk and at bottom prices, because it is ‘merely’ Andalucian? There is no reason why Andalucia could not be able to promote and sell more successfully. It is largely a question of investing in proper marketing and branding.
If Spain has stolen our native brothers and autonomous inventions, it is time Andalucia reclaims them. Like the 1980’s movement ‘Take back the night’, where women and men walked out to reclaim the streets after too many women had been attacked at night. Adalucia can create a movement to take back what belongs to them. Clearly the region is part of Spain, so for instance an Andalucian dish like Gazpacho soup will also be a Spanish dish. But there is nothing standing in the way for Andalucia to reclaim its lost products and ancestors.
Why is it that all over the world one can buy dozens of annual calendars, almanacs and coffee table books with images of Tuscany and Province, while even here in Andalucía I cannot buy a single calendar of Andalucian nature? Our landscapes are certainly as lovely, sculptural and painteresque as those of France or Italy. The only thing we are lacking is the ability or will to market Andalucia to the world.
The Spanish may be laughing at Andalucia, but be assured, the rest of the world is not laughing at you! The world loves Andalucia, as witnessed by the millions of annual visitors and the thousands of foreigners who choose to leave their country and make the region their permanent home. My husband and I, who belong to this latter group, are nothing but in awe of our new home region. We have never experienced people of such kindness and generosity as the Andalucians. And though I may be pushing my luck in assuming I am already accepted as a native sister, I can certainly say that I am proudly ‘Andalu’!Read / Add Comments
The annual Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s über-traditional New Year’s Concert is more popular than ever. Televised in over 90 countries to an estimated audience of 50 million people, one admittedly is dealing with a universal ‘hit’. Yet, this greatly loved tradition hides a dubious past.
The orchestra, founded in 1842, is recognized as one of the finest in the world. Indeed, it was so fine that ‘mere’ popular music, such as the waltzes composed by the father son duo of the Strauss family, now considered synonymous with Vienna, were not included in the orchestra’s repertoire until the 1920s.
The orchestra’s first ever New Year’s Concert took place in 1939, organized as a fundraiser by the National Socialist Party to help the needy in the winter. The concert had exclusively Strauss (Jr.) on the program and when it emerged that the family had some Jewish ancestry, the Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels ensured the news was hushed up. Or so the story goes.
In spite of being an invention under Austria’s Nazi regime, the concert has prevailed, grown in popularity, and thankfully in acceptance. In 1980, Lorin Maazel was not only the first non-Austrian to conduct the orchestra, but also a Jewish-American of Russian decent. The orchestra is still a conservative lot, largely consisting of well-groomed Caucasian men, though in recent years one may note a slight increase in appearance diversity and a trickle of female players. For the 2015 concert, we counted all of six female musicians and one male player of possible Asian decent, in addition to the Philharmonic Orchestra’s honorary conductor, Zubin Mehta, who is a Zoroastrian Parsi. There is hope!
The demand for concert tickets is so high that one must register a year in advance to participate in a draw for tickets for the following year. (Some seats are held for certain Austrian families, passed down from generation to generation.) Should one be lucky enough to win, one will still have to purse out a small fortune, 1000-1500 euros, in addition to agents and brokers fees for the honor to attend. In addition, come the new outfits. I am happy to say that Loden- coloured military outfits are virtually gone and we even noted a row of Japanese in Kimonos this year. For those who neither win, nor can afford the going price, one can do like millions of people around the planet – from Japan to Swaziland – watch it on the telly.
In my family, the New Year’s concert was as holy as Christmas and something one simply could not miss. I recall my parents sitting in front of the TV, drink in hand to cheer on Herbert von Karajan or others of their favourite conductors. As every year, they would complain about the outfits of the dancers (my dad, bless his soul, did not like men in tights…) ohh and ahh at the flower arrangements and hum and clap along with the orchestra to the utter embarrassment of their offspring. And, as my husband and I crawled up on our couch to watch the 2015 concert, I noticed myself purring along with Strauss’ waltzes and clapping along with the Radetzky March, carefully following Mehta’s baton not to do a faux pas. Had the program been a thirty minutes longer, we would have nicknamed all the musicians. Heaven forbid, I am turning into my parents, lamenting about why the legendary Julie Andrews is no longer doing the BBC commentary and kvetching about not enough ballet inserts – just like my old folks…
Happy New Year to all. May it be a year of Peace, Love, and Understanding.Read / Add Comments
Forget about presents, Santas and Michael Buble’s Christmas Special. My favourite things about Norwegian Christmas are the taste of roasted reindeer, the smell of myrrh incense and, most of all, the tradition of lighting candles on the family graves. There is nothing more peaceful than seeing a snow covered churchyard at night with hundreds of candles flickering by the gravestones. And as our minds tend to soften the edges of memories with time, I seem to have forgotten how freezing cold it can be.
Norwegians practically schedule their Christmas Eve around their grave visits. It needs to be carefully timed, as daylight is scarce. Even in the very south the dusk starts about 3 pm. You ideally want to come after early mass or in between the masses, to hear the church bells as you light the candles. My mother, husband, son and myself were ready with a basket of specially lidded grave candles and no less than three lighters to be sure that the procedure would go smoothly and that no fingers would be sacrificed. This year, the snow was not a problem, but rather a layer of hip-breaking ice, which neither gravel nor salt seemed to make any safer. Like my father before us, my mom and I insisted that we go to all the graves – in three different graveyards – including five generations on my father’s side all with the same name and distant great grand aunts, starting with my grandfather’s cook who became like a grandmother for us, and who nobody else light a candle for.
Things were going swift as snow and nobody had broken any limbs or split any nails, until we got to the third grave in the second graveyard, where all lighters refused to function. This is what happens when one is in double-digit sub-zero temperatures with additional North Sea wind factor. My son tried to use a nearby grave lantern to light a candle when a compassionate gentleman came by on his way from mass, offering us his left over matchboxes. (Two used boxes glued together, one for the new matches, one to put the used ones, bless the care and frugality of the old…) My son thanked him profusely. ‘Team Grave-candle’ was in the race again. Between gusts of wind my lad de-gloved to light the first match, which died immediately. Our little group squeezed closer together, one holding the candle, one the match box, one cupping the match and one ready to slam on the lid, while all tried to shade for the freezing wind. Almost success, though at the last moment, the candlewick got a gust of wind and died.
Suddenly, all my childhoods Christmases came back me. My sister and I in our choir uniforms (with awful synthetic blouses which were ice cold in the winter and didn’t breathe in the summer), stomping our patent leather shoes in the snow. My dad insisting we go to all the graves, never mind the cold. Him telling us that here lies so and so, your great grand so and so, married to so and so and son of so and so in that branch of the family. Then, after the candle was lit, we were supposed to stand in quiet respect while we remembered the ancestors we had never met or could not for the life of us recall, as all we could think of was how long it would be until the grave lighting torture was over.
Back in the last churchyard, by our family grave with all the Linaae’s in a row, we were running desperately low in matches. Like Hans Christian Andersen’s story, we saw the flame flicker and die in front of our very eyes. My son was at this point beyond saving the old matches in the lower matchbox compartment. There is only so much one can take before the fingers stop working.
With only a couple of matches left, we managed to complete our mission. The time of quiet reflection was admittedly less than brief before we all as one took off and let the candle flicker as they may. At least we had done our Norse family duty to our ancestors. May they rest in peace until next year.
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When the Duchess of Alba, head of the 530-year-old House of Alba, passed away in her Sevilla palace last week at the age of 88, she truly marked the end of an area. Prior to her death, the duchess had more nobility titles than any living person (seven times Duchess, once Countess-Duchess, 19 times Marquesa, 22 times Countess and once Viscountess), making her outrank the King of Spain and her contemporary Queen Elizabeth. As a successor of the Stuart dynasty, a direct royal descendant of King James II of England, a descendant of Christopher Columbus, as well as granddaughter of Queen Victoria, la Duquesa would have been the rightful heiress to the throne of an independent Scotland, should the election results have turned out differently. Not that the duchess was looking for a job…
María del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Fitz-James Stuart, or Cayenana, as she preferred to be called, had all but a boring life. Born before the Spanish civil war, she outlived her first two husbands by several decades, had six children (eleven pregnancies) and married her last husband, a humble civil servant 25 years her junior, just before turning 85. Her middle-aged children were openly against the match and had the spouse-to-be sign a prenuptial agreement that neither her titles nor her alleged 3.5 billion euro fortune, larger than that of Spain’s Royal family, would go to him upon her death. But those who knew her saw her as happier than ever during the last 3 years of her life at the side of her beloved Alfonso. “Love is the same at forty, as at eighty”, she said.
Fame and fortune puts one under the scrutiny of the media and Cayetana certainly had her share of media scandals. Be it her plentiful and not all successful facial surgeries, her twenty-something palaces, her second marriage to an allegedly gay, ex-Jesuit priest or her last marriage to a man who was younger than her oldest son, Cayetana was a favoured topic of gossip magazines in Spain and abroad. However, in spite of her titles and her fortune, Cayatana did not care much for convention. She loved bullfights and flamenco, and even kicked of her shoes to dance at the doors of the Sevilla Cathedral after her 2011 wedding.
Though born in Madrid, la Duquesa de Alba was Andalcuian in spirit. She chose to live her last years and to die in Seville’s lovely Palacio de Duénos, a 15-century palace that had been in her family since the 17th century. She loved her hometown; saying in one of her last radio interviews that “Sevilla is the most magical place on earth.”
With more than 100,000 people filing by her coffin on regal display in Sevilla’s town hall, la Duquesa certainly made a grand exit. One of the last things she the duchess said, speaking to a hospital nurse, was “Please call me Cayetana”. One may think what one may about nobility, but La Duquesa de Alba was certainly no ordinary duchess.
Story Written for La Serranía Services
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For centuries, Ronda has been hailed by artists and romantic travelers as a Ciudad Soñada or a city of dreams. No time is this more apparent than when walking across the bridge that gaps the 120-meter gorge, which forms the main traffic artery through this dramatic town.
“Nothing in all Spain is more surprising than this wild town”
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Fall has definitively arrived in Ronda. Not with the gloomy darkness, wind-bursts and incessant rains of more northern climates, but with dramatically skies, sudden downpours, mystical mists and spectacular rainbows. It is autumn all right even on the southern tip of Spain.
By November, the steady pour of visitors flocking across Ronda’s famous Puente Nuevo has thinned to a trickling handful. Only the bold and the foolish (tourists and smokers) occupy the seats outside the bars, braving the elements. Most have left their flip-flops and tank tops at the coast, though there is always one skimpily clad ‘forever young’ Northerner who insists on wearing cut-off jeans to show off their goose bumps, regardless of the time of year. Seasonal dyslexia is clearly not only a teenage phenomenon…
After the hot summer months, fall in the Serranía de Ronda offers a most-needed nature revival. Fields that have been dry since June are once more sprouting a delicate layer of green. Most trees in the area, be it olives, pines, citrus, oaks, cork or fig trees, keep their leaves throughout the winter.
The mighty chestnut trees, however, turn golden and rusty, making for a visual spectacle worth a trip in itself. November is the season for local delicacies such as roasted chestnuts and wild mushrooms, which is the cause for many a village festivity. Around the countryside, soups and stews are percolating with root vegetables and meaty bits, such as callos (tripe), a local favourite. The pomegranates are at their reddest and the local nunneries are busy making membrillo, or quince jam and sweets for the holiday-season to come – though thankfully rarely uttered yet.
Though we are a mere five weeks way from Christmas, not a single store in town has put up decorations, nor have we heard a Christmas carol, which I am utterly grateful for. This way, one might even appreciate hearing the carols during their rightful seasons, since they have not been played ‘ad nauseam’ for months.
By now, temperatures have dropped to the low teens, making locals exclaim “Que frío!”, as they seek shelter in another tapas bar. People order their coffees and tinto (red wine) without ice and warm their fingers on deep-fried churros dipped in hot chocolate. Rondeñians, male and female alike, seem to favour the hunter and equestrian-style fashion. Both hunting and riding are admittedly traditional and common to this area, though riding-boots and hunting jackets are just as likely worn by those who have never held a gun or sat on a horse.
Be as it may, their outfits make for a rather stylish Sunday family promenade, another Andalucián favoured past time.Read / Add Comments
Robert Redford is no common piglet. He is a dangerously handsome Cerdo Ibérico or Spanish black pig with a deep husky oink and a winning grin.
Last evening, after his siesta, he starred in a video for Ronda Limpia, showing that pigs as well like a clean environment. Robert even did his own rather risk-filled stunt of jumping from a parked car. Not something all piglets would do so fearlessly!
Ronda Limpia, a community spirited group based in Ronda, has produced videos for the last year to teach Andalucíans good environmental habits. For the latest video, Ronda Limpia joined forces with Grupo ART (Aficionados rondeños al teatro) and we are happy to say that the group eagerly awaits new assignments.
Though neither Redford nor Almodóvar may have something to fear – yet, Ronda Limpia and Robert, the piglet, plan to take on the silver screen and hope that through our humorous and sometimes debated videos we can encourage rondeños and Andalucíans to ‘Go Green’.
Watch the video here: Ronda Limpia – Conductores limpios y cívicos – YouTube
Please stay tuned for other Ronda Limpia videos and career updates for Robert, the piglet.
When my almost 85-year-old father visited Ronda last year, he exclaimed that he had never been kissed so much before in his whole life!
Like it or not, Andalucíans are a passionate lot. They live, love, talk, dance, eat, drive, and certainly, as my late father pointed out, kiss with more ‘gusto’ than most of us from more northerly climates.
I am aware that I am moving on the shaky ground of stereotypes here, where whole nations are labeled as limes, kiwis and frogs. When it comes to my own kind, the Norwegians are generally portrayed as Fargo-like: tall, stoic and a bit slow, with conversational abilities limited to ‘Pass the cod’. I am the first to admit that there may be some truth to these sweeping generalizations, though like anything, there are exceptions.
A Swedish friend here in Ronda, Malin, told me that some locals use the expression ‘un sueco’ (a Swede) to describe someone doing something ‘dumb’. She is of course not pleased with this, but us Scandinavians are used to hearing ‘dumb blond’ jokes about our kind, even though she herself is a feisty redhead! Frankly, Norwegians are no better when it comes to stereotyping. We use the expression ‘to take a Spanish one’ when referring to taking a not-completely legal shortcut or doing something ‘quick and dirty’. It is not fair to the Spanish, of course, though I have to admit that I have never seen so many people taking illegal U-turns or jumping a long bank cue as here in Andalucia…
To get back to my father’s observation on frequent kissing, if one wants to live amongst passionate people, one has to expect the unexpected. With passion come more spontaneity, higher tempers and BIG pathos. In other worlds, if you want the kisses, you also have to take a few loud public arguments, car-honking and arm-waving. (But what would life in Spain be like without it?)
A logical bi-product of the lively Spanish temperament is what I call ‘the Spanish Quick-Fix Method’.
We see examples of this all around, though it is not testament to poor Spanish workmanship, as much as a proof of their wish to quickly mend something, with all the best intensions of coming back and fixing it better and more permanently at a later date. Though as the saying goes, tomorrow never comes, and this is even truer when one speaks of mañana….
Our first winter here was very rainy and on the main road between Ronda and the province capital Málaga, there was a large mudslide closing off the road. For months, we had to do a 30-minute detour through a village called Teba (well worth a visit, by the way…). When they opened the road again, they had simply pushed the earth a bit closer to the side of the road, still forcing cars to drive into the oncoming lane of traffic. Every time we would drive by, we were joking that we should bring a spade in the car and take a few digs each. This way, we said, the road would be cleared before the Andalucían road authorities got to it, though all it really would take was someone with a tractor zipping about for a few hours. Finally about 18 months later they fixed the road, and even built a nice new stone retaining wall. Be this as it may, to me, this is the perfect example of the Spanish Quick-Fix Method.
Henry Higgins was right when he said ‘the rain in Spain’, as it does actually rain here. Not as much as other places mind you, but certainly enough that people ought to make houses that are capable of taking some precipitation. Yet, you would be surprised to discover how many houses in our neighbourhood alone that have to put up a temporary rain shade, as in a piece of cardboard or a piece of ply-wood, slanted out from their front door and onto the sidewalk to prevent the water from running into the house.
We see innumerous examples of ingenious Spanish temporary solutions every day, from old mattress springs used as ‘temporary’ fencing to manhole covers padded with a piece of old tire to prevent the lid from making a sound each time a car passes. One may think it is very ‘third world’. However, though the electric wires which hangs like droopy Christmas garlands along our street look very much like the ones I observed in rural India, our electricity have not failed once in almost two years, which is more than what I can say about the modern electrical system in Vancouver, where sometimes the whole city goes black for hours.
Alas, the Spanish may fix things the ‘quick and dirty’ way, at least temporary, but to me this just adds to the unique charm of this place, just like the kissing…
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Fall has come to Ronda. I was alone in the community garden this morning, except for a couple of bees hiding in the Spanish lavender and a flock of birds doing their communal fall thing, flying south towards warmer climates.Read / Add Comments