Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

A leisurely time when women wore picture hats

I've read a few books by a Spanish author called Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867 -1928). A couple of the books were about life in Valencia, about the new bourgeoisie, the sort of people who didn't make their money by the sweat of their brow but by playing with money. The sort who despite being in debt need a new carriage to keep up appearances, the sort who would go on to be politicians if only they would stop impregnating the scullery maids. I found the picture the books conjured up of Spanish life at the tail end of the 19th Century fascinating.

We went to Valencia to catch up with one of Maggie's nieces who was in the city for a European Arts Project. Maggie had booked a hotel that was about 3km from the Cathedral, near to the City of Arts and Sciences. It was in a district full of the sort of buildings that conjured up the characters from the Blasco Ibáñez books.  Big impressive buildings with lots of decoration, ample windows, high ceilings and fancy facades. The streets were lined with trees and there were lots of shaded little squares. Just around the corner was the old course of the River Turia. For the Blasco Ibáñez characters the circuit round and round from one side of the river to the other offered the perfect opportunity to show off those new carriages, flaunt that Parisian dress and even to allow appropriate, chaperoned, conversations between young men and women.

Valencia city centre is another showcase for those big turn of the Twentieth Century buildings that are so typical of the centres of many Spanish cities. We don't have anything similar in Culebrón or even in Pinoso. In fact there were quite a few noticeable differences between the Spain that I live in and the one that we visited for a few hours.

Somebody complained about some of the generalisations that I often make on this blog. They told me that I shouldn't draw conclusions about Spain from Pinoso or Cieza or Fortuna, which they referred to, as España profunda, Deep Spain. I took issue with my reader on the grounds that nowhere is particularly isolated nowadays. If you can watch Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur in Bollywood's Airlift as easily as you can watch Kit Harrington in Game of Thrones on your mobile phone, if you can follow the progress of some round the world cyclist as they cross Uzbekistan via their Facebook page and if the drones overflying Afghanistan are controlled from Lincolnshire then it stands to reason that nowhere offers a safe haven from modernity. Even those who want to live in a cave will still find the world chasing them down through old technologies like television and radio. That said there are major differences of course. Living without running water in Havana or being enslaved in Nouakchott, Mauritania bears little comparison to living in Chelsea or the swanky bits of Mumbai. Conversely Pinoso and Valencia are hardly worlds apart.

So we were in Valencia and I thought these houses are nice, I liked the dappled light effect from the sun shining through the trees. I liked the variety and the choice of cakes in the tea shoppy sort of bar we went to. In the central market the stalls were perfectly ordinary but they were selling in an innovative way - micro brewery beers here, oriental vegetables there - a little twist on my everyday. I know a mango smoothie is hardly a hold the front page moment but we are a bit short of smoothie stalls in Pinoso even if you can buy the product in the supermarket. There were hire bikes, the segway groups, the guides showing people around the Old Exchange and the good sounding tour from someone explaining the War of Succession in Estuary English to a bunch of Dutch and French people. All something for we yokels to gawp at. The bars were a bit trendier, the shops were a lot more diverse, there were buses and taxis to take you where you needed to go. On the other hand I was quite sure there was some skulduggery with the addition on our first bill in that tea shoppy bar, the noise of those buses and taxis and bikes and cars pounding down those sun dappled avenues was extremely unpleasant and the interminable hunt for a parking space amongst those leafy squares was exasperating to say the least. The crowds of tourists following the raised umbrella kept bumping into me and spoiling the snaps. There were a lot of people who approached us with outstretched hands or hoped that we would pay to hear them play the bandoneón. It was great, it was interesting, we were surrounded by galleries and great architecture. There were expensive cars and things happening and tourist information and people from all over the world and there were business people doing their thing with suits and posh skirts but it was even better when the motorway quietened down and the countryside opened up and we saw Almansa castle in the distance and the dusty little towns and countryside of Deep Spain spread out before us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, it was me the one who complained, I am afraid. But I didn't mean Pinoso is Deep Spain. Fortuna, maybe a bit. Culebrón, I don't really know although everything you describe sounds so "deep". People from Murcia is generally more kind that people from Valencia, more humble also, but historically Murcia and Extremadura are considered part of that Deep Spain. Even in Pinoso, they secretly despise people from Murcia, and that is a problem because they are in the border. Even if things have changed so much, people from the other parts of Spain look quite down on them. The following could be of your interest, because I know you are one of those few brits who like to read :-) Besides, it was written by a British writer, Chris Ealham, about people from Murcia going to Barcelona before the civil war:

"Los murcianos eran el principal blanco de estas críticas, pese a representar tan sólo un porcentaje pequeño de la población inmigrante de Barcelona. Se les vilipendiaba de forma muy parecida a los irlandeses durante la Inglaterra victoriana, acusándoles de ser fuente de crimen, enfermedad y conflicto. Según el estereotipo del «murciano inculto», los inmigrantes eran una tribu inferior de degenerados, como los miembros «retrasados» y «salvajes» de las tribus africanas. Esta mentalidad de tipo colonial podía vislumbrarse en las viñetas de hombres y mujeres murcianos, donde aparecían como feos seres infrahumanos. (...)"

Manuel Segura is from Murcia, by the way.

And, yes, deep Spain still exists even if you think they use facebook in the caves and tv and radio save them from the "depths". Deep Spain is the illiterate, the religious, the superstitious. You describe deep Spain in your post every time but then you reach a conclusion that spoils everything: That all the Spaniards are like that and all the British are like you. False.