So here I am, four days back in Oz, after an amazing six week trip to Scotland and Spain. There is so much I've been wanting to share with you but this is the first day I've actually felt normal enough to write. Jet lag has been short but intense this time around.
When you meet someone for the first time in Spain you say "Encantada", which means "Pleased to meet you". The literal translation, however, is "Enchanted". I couldn't think of a more fitting way to describe my feelings for this beautiful part of the world. I am truly encantada with Andalusia, Spain.
Each time friends ask about our trip I find it difficult to express just how much it meant to me to have found my true home, my people, in southern Spain. To be clear, both my parents were born in Italy, Mum's from Sicily, and Dad's from Naples. I was born in Australia and, physically, have inherited a majority of Mum's Mediterranean genes; olive skin, dark curly hair, small stature etc. I can speak Italian fairly well because my sisters and I were all forced to attend Saturday morning Italian school (wog school). I've travelled to Italy many times and love it, but in southern Spain, for the first time in my life, I felt like I really belonged.
How much do I love Spain? Let me count the ways...
The number one reason, and the one I had least control over, is that the Spanish accepted me as one of them. There were so many times I was approached in the street by Spaniards from out of town, asking me for directions, and I loved it. Shopkeepers, who can speak several languages in the larger cities, automatically chose Spanish to converse with me. What a wonderful feeling to be seen as belonging to a race of people you absolutely love. This is a first. You see, in Italy I am only ever considered to be one of two things; an "Americana" which is any foreigner who speaks English, or a Southerner, aka "Terrone", which is definitely NOT a complement coming from the mouth of a Northerner. Such is the divide between Italy's north and south I've always found it easier to introduce myself as Carmel (the anglicised version of my true name Carmela) so I don't have to indulge in the inevitable conversation about how very southern I am. All that changed in Spain and I was finally pronouncing my birth name with pride, strongly rolling the 'r' and ending with a smile.
The second reason for my love of Spain is the language. Of course my knowledge of the Italian language has helped me immensely with grasping Spanish. They're frustratingly similar. In fact, I like to describe Spanish as being a lazy version of Italian. If I didn't know how to say something in Spanish I'd revert to Italian and was easily understood. It was interesting to note that the Spaniards don't slow down their speech to help you understand. Rather they just keep talking at full speed knowing that eventually you'll get it. This made me laugh on more than one occasion, as they were right, eventually I DID work out what they were saying.
Spaniards are the most chilled people I've ever met. Nothing seems to phase them, and they know how to enjoy life. They say what they think, at the time they think it. They don't go around bottling shit up, pretending everything is fine, and putting on a happy front. If they don't like what you've done or said, they'll say so, there and then. They're not afraid of hurting your feelings and they don't sugar coat their comments. No PC bullshit. They get it out and move on which is why they're so relaxed. Us Aussies can learn so much from them, just through observation.
Spaniards are beautiful. Even the ugly ones are average, at worst, by our standards. Walking through towns, villages, and cities with a predominance of good looking men and women has an interesting effect on libido. Why? Because you're thinking about it more often throughout your day. By the same token, Spanish men do not try to hide the fact that they're checking you out. Rather than feeling objectified by this I found myself feeling flattered and it boosted my confidence considerably. It wasn't vulgar or covert, it was simply a natural thing for the sexes to look at and appreciate each other. When did looking at the opposite sex become a sin? It's completely normal.
They are open, honest, and friendly. Need I say more?
They have a rich musical and artistic culture. Flamenco, having come from the gypsies, is now their most famous form of expression. And what a spectacle it is. I've been learning Flamenco dance for a few years now, on and off. It is the most difficult style I've ever tried as the rhythms do not follow those of traditional music. It is also a challenge because, in order to be authentic, it has to come from within. It is not about learning a few steps, practising until you're perfect, and then performing on a stage; the professionals improvise everything, and it is a constant interplay between the guitarist, the singer, and the dancer. So, if they're feeling low it will be expressed through their dancing or singing, likewise if they're feeling joyful. My husband, Casey, is learning flamenco guitar, and I'm in awe of how much progress he's made, because it looks even more complex than the dancing. I only went to one dance class in Triana, Seville, but it was enough for me to know that I'll be returning and living there for months at a time so I can have a dose of that in my everyday life.
Spaniards have siestas. Any culture that incorporates a large lunch followed by a nap, is alright by me. A siesta is the ultimate in self care and mindful living. It is not rushing through life so that at the end of each day you collapse in a heap. We, as humans, are supposed to get about 8 hours of sleep per day for optimum health, but the big secret is that it doesn't have to be all at once, despite what the mattress industry is telling us. A siesta is the perfect way to rejuvenate AND elongate your day. When you wake from a siesta it's as though you've got a whole new day ahead of you. Genius.
To reinforce the above point, the shops in Spain close for lunch/siesta time and REOPEN for four or five more hours in the evening. When the hell will Australia catch onto this great idea?!?! It makes perfect sense. If retail stores keep the same trading hours as all the other industries, when are they supposed to make any sales? Sure, the stay-at-home mums and retirees can shop during business hours but what about everyone else? Our shopping in Australia is confined to rushing around in our short lunch breaks, 'late' night trading once a week, or our precious weekends when we usually have twenty other things to fit in. I'm hopeful that retailers in Australia will take a leaf out of Spain's book and soon remain open for trade well into the evenings.
Football is their strongest religion. Although I like football, I wouldn't say I was passionate about it. That was, of course, until I went to a game in Seville. The atmosphere inside the massive, packed stadium was electric, and the chanting and singing did not stop from before the players entered the field to well after the game was over. You couldn't help but join in…a truly European experience. A couple things to note about it; the only drinks available are non alcoholic beer, soft drinks, and water, and you're not allowed to take the small plastic bottle lids into the stadium. So, everyone was sober, well behaved, and only there for their love of football. Fantastic.
The sun. Thanks to our depleted ozone layer, most of us can't spend more than twenty minutes in the Australian sun without frying (unless you have dark skin). In Spain, and most other Mediterranean countries, you can spend all day out in the sun and all you'll come home with, unless you're pinky white-skinned, is a good tan. What freedom!
There is sooooooo much more I want to write about but If I sit here any longer this first travel post will never get published, so I'll keep the rest of my thoughts for later. I'll also be adding photographs at a later stage, once I work out how to do that. Thanks for your patience and interest. I'm new to blogging but like being able to connect to others in this way.
Till next time…..adios!