You would have thought that by living in Sevilla, I’d have a pretty updated and expansive knowledge of exatly what’s going on in the country, sadly I don’t. Thanks to my 4pm start time and 10pm finish time, it’s quite tricky to fit in the 3pm and 9pm news bulletins on the TV. So, after 11 years in the country, I’ve decided to pay more attention and have started following the news more. I normally do it in Spanish, just to improve my vocabulary and reading skills, but now and then I feel lazy and want to quickly scan the headlines, which is why I’ve come up with this list of websites to keep updated with Spanish news. Here they are, in no particular order.
I’ve decided to bring back my monthly list of the best blogs and posts about Spain and Expat life. Here’s a list of the best ones I’ve read in the last month.
Southern Spain a Desert
This summer has been the hottest for me in the last 10 years, so it’s no surprise that people are saying Southern Spain will turn into a desert by the start of next century. I guess that means I don’t need to worry anymore about the local government wanting to build a park in front of my house.
You can’t live in Spain for long without becoming a slight addict to this medicinal liquid. I used to think it was vile and expensive, but I now see the benefits of using it over traditional sunflower oil. Check out this blog on Lindsey O’Connor’s website, titled Can I get more olive oil please.
Have you heard of a cake shop in Seville called Mr Cake? Well, me neither. Check out this post by Jordan, a university student, who is also writing about his adventures in Seville. The post is called Seville Series, Mr Cake.
That’s all for this month. Hope you enjoyed these posts.
First was Mamamaria, mother of the family I stayed with in Quito, Ecuador. She was a lovely, kind, frail old lady. Her two daughters were in the flat, but her son worked in the South of Ecuador. I think she often saw me as his replacement, mainly because of how she was around me. She used to sit and watch me cook and eat my meals, would always stand at the top of the stairs in her pink dressing gown and wave me goodbye in the morning, and at night would check that I’d cleaned my teeth and washed behind my ears. Continue reading “Why are housemates so weird?”→
Every now and then I read a book about Spain which helps make understanding this country a little easier. Winter in Madrid, by C.J. Sansom, is one of those books.
This thriller is set mainly in Madrid just after the Spanish Civil War in 1940. I know what you’re thinking, not another blooming book about the Spanish Civil War, but this one is so much more. It’s not only an education read, helping you clarify exactly what went on back in those miserable days in Spain, but the detailed, colourful images paint superb images in your mind and the gripping plot and variety of characters keep you entertained.
The main character is Harry Brett, a World War veteran who reluctantly becomes a spy for the British Secret Service. Harry is sent to Madrid to check up on an old school colleague Sandy Forsyth, a dodgy business man. The main problem is that Harry is not really up for being a spy and dislikes having to lie. He soon becomes a professional though and works his way into Sandy’s corrupt life.
Barbara Clare, Sandy’s girlfriend, is desperately trying to discover whether her real love Bernie Piper, a Communist in the International Brigades – thought missing in action, is alive, or not.
It’s a bit slow to start with, but once Harry gets involved in Sandy’s crooked business, and also meets Sofia, a Spanish lady, the story becomes enticing. Not to mention the scenes in Bernie’s mind while he’s in prison.
The fact that Harry, Sandy, and Bernie all went to the same public school together adds to the storyline and creates an intense build up.
Why would I recommend it?
If you have a passion for Spain and an interest in finding out more about what really happened back around the Spanish Civil War then this is a great book.
I felt sorry for Harry from the start. He’s a bit of a clumsy old fool and is thrown in the deep end by being told he needs to become a spy. The job obviously isn’t for him but he is passionate about his feelings and wants to give it his best shot; jolly good show.
I also sympathised with Barbara. I’m sure a lot of people have lost their soul mates during wars and it must be a dreadful feeling not knowing whether the person of your life is alive, in a prisoner of war camp, or dead.
It shows you exactly what was happening in Spain around the Second World War as well, which is bizarrely interesting, as is the relationship between Franco and Hitler. I found out the other day that the car that drives around the King of Spain, now Felipe VI, was actually a present from Hitler to Franco.
It also makes you realise how far Spain has come since then. Fair enough, times are tough at the moment, there is a lot of hardship, people unemployed and losing their houses on a regular basis, but at least people aren’t killing each other, well, not yet anyway.
I always find Civil Wars the hardest to contemplate. How can people with the same blood feel that strongly about something that they would grass on their own brother or father and send them to their death? I find it incredible that this happened in Spain all those years ago, but it does explain sometimes the passionate personalities of people I have met over the years, and also why there is often still a lot of tension between people here.
Christopher John Sansom, born in Edinburgh, is the man responsible for this marvellous novel. I love the way he brings old Spain to life, develops the characters, and drip feeds details of the story to keep you intrigued.
Sansom is a writer of crime novels, which explains how he was able to devise such a thrilling plot. You can check out his website here.
Have you read Winter in Madrid? What did you think? Do you know any other excellent books about the Spanish Civil War?
Can Spain win the World Cup in Brazil? Could they pull off the unthinkable and become Champions of Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012, and now World Cup 2014? I’d be bloody impressed if they do, and if England don’t win (you have to be optimistic in life) then I will be rooting for La Roja as always.
I’m not so sure they can become World Cup champions again though. I had my doubts that they were going to win any of the previous three competitions, especially Euro 2008, but that was mainly because of the low expectations the locals had.
I remember that tournament in Austria and Switzerland clearly. Part of me was gutted that England wasn’t there, but another part was relieved that I didn’t have to suffer the usual torture of watching us getting smashed out on penalties again. I could support another team though, Spain. I respect Spain and have always liked the way they play. I sort of felt sorry for them too, just like England they had a half decent team, but never got past the quarter finals.
I was surprised by the attitude of my students back in 2008. I was teaching a bunch of adults and they all laughed when I asked if they thought Spain could win the Euros.
“Spain? Nah, we always lose in los cuartos.”
“Spain? But we are rubbish; the manager doesn’t know what he is doing.”
“Spain? I think England have more of a chance.”
“Well, I doubt that somehow,” I said.
You get the picture.
Even with the mighty Luis Aragonés as a manager, the expectations were generally low. I say generally but my brother-in-law was convinced Spain was going to make history.
“Look at the team we have: Casillas, Ramos, Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Fabregas, Torres, and Villa Maravilla.”
Once the campaign started and Spain smashed through the group stages by beating Russia, Sweden and Greece the atmosphere began to change. The fans really believed there was hope.
“I told you,” said my cuñao, “this is the year!”
As an Englishman my main fears were that Spain was going to get knocked out on penalties. When it was still 0 v 0 against Italy after extra time, I was convinced they were doomed. But luckily I was wrong. When Fabregas poked in the last penalty, suddenly my devotion for La Roja began to grow. I loved the way they played and respected their determination and will to win. I joined the rest of Spain in the celebrations and took on the new belief that Luis Aragonés could lead his men to victory.
Watching them do Russia, and of course the Germans in the final, was absolute magic. It was lucky because normally I go home to England in July, but that year I decided to stay. It was great to see the city of Seville partying that night, although the celebrations weren’t as intense as when Sevilla F.C. won the Uefa Cup.
I must say I was expecting the celebrations to continue though. The next day was as if nothing had happened. There were hardly any flags hanging out the windows and only a few people were wearing Spain shirts. Perhaps in other parts of Spain the celebrations were more intense.
I think the main reason why Spain won that year was because of Luis Aragonés. After his sad death on the 1st of February this year, they showed a documentary on his powerful impact on the Spanish team. A lot of people believe he inspired the players to victory that year and started this positive feeling in the Spanish side. You only have to watch the way he shouted and motivated his players to realise what a powerful man he was and how much he helped Spain. A lot of the main players; Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta all said in interviews how much of a leader he was. He will be sadly missed this year. Even Torres pointed to the sky in his honour when he scored against Bolivia the other night.
The World Cup 2010 in South Africa was equally as enjoyable. My Spanish students finally had some confidence about themselves and the general vibe in the air was positive. This time it was Vincente Del Bosque who led the team to victory. He kept the same tiki taka – passing football, strategy, which allowed Spain to beat Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and Holland to win the World Cup for the first time in history. Again it was a magical tournament, and as soon as England got knocked out I was rooting for them to win.
No one thought they were going to win the Euros again though. I certainly didn’t. But they only bloody did it. They smashed their group and then beat France, Portugal, and Italy (4 v 0 in the final) and went on do something that no one had ever done before, and probably never will again, by winning three in a row.
The big question is; can they make it four? They have a tough group this year with games against Holland (13th June – 17.00 Spanish time), Chile (18th June – 17.00), and Australia (23rd June – 14.00). Also they have the possibility of meeting Brazil or Croatia in the next round. I’m hoping to see them play Brazil, not only so one has to get knocked out (Come on, I’m English at heart), but also to see an amazing game where Diego Costa has to face his own country.
I’m not so sure they will make it this year, but I did say that at the start of Euro 2012. How can one team win four major international trophies in a row? Despite losing a few key players like Puyol, Navas, and Negredo, they still have the main bulk and experience of winning. The spirit must still be alive. Surely they will be playing with Luis Aragonés in their hearts.
I’d be absolutely amazed if they win it again. If they do, then it will have to be a massive chapò – hats off! I’m just hoping we manage to steer clear of them so there isn’t war at home.
What do you think? Do you want to see Spain win again? Or have you had enough of La Roja and want to see someone else win this year’s World Cup in Brazil?
This is my first review of books set in Spain: Duende, a journey in search of flamenco by Jason Webster. For me, reading a book is not only about being entertained, or inspired, but also about the memories around the book itself.
I first came across this excellent travelogue biography when I entered a second-hand book shop in Vejer de la Frontera while on a short holiday with my wife. It was a cosy little shop, full of books stacked in handmade pine bookcases and scattered over various tables. The red cover with a drawing of a flamenco dancer stuck out, so I picked it up and scanned the back.
“I found his descriptions of the flamenco underworld irresistible…I couldn’t put it down” Chris Stewart, author of Driving Over Lemons.
As a fan of Chris, I was drawn in immediately.
“A great account of a man’s attempt to learn flamenco,” said the bookshop owner. I turned and smiled as he peered down his nose over his glasses.
“Yeah? I’m looking for some books about flamenco, I’m thinking of writing a novel,” I replied.
“Well, that’s as good as any. I’m not entirely sure that everything happened, but it’s a great story and full of information about flamenco, if that’s what you’re after.”
I didn’t actually buy the book that day, but I kept a mental note of it and put it at the top of my Christmas book list.
What’s the book about?
Duende is about Jason’s mental adventure in Spain to discover the world of flamenco. He originally sets off to learn the flamenco guitar but gets a whole lot more than he bargained for (I know the feeling, my plan was to come to Seville for a year, that was nine years ago).
Jason admits in his prologue that for years he lived in Italy because he wanted to be in Spain. After his Italian girlfriend dumps him, a drunken busker makes him see the uselessness of his degree, and his university lecturer suggests looking into a life as an academic, he realises he should follow his dream, head to Spain and learn the flamenco guitar.
I was surprised that his adventure starts in Alicante, not the most popular destination for flamenco, but he knows Pedro, a friend of a friend, who takes him out for his first live flamenco performance where he first feels duende. That’s when he sees Lola, a flamenco dancer, who he bumps into again once he gets a job teaching English. Through Lola he meets various musicians and also finds Juan, who becomes his first flamenco guitar teacher. Over time his relationship with Lola becomes passionate and they have a steamy affair. The problem is that Lola’s husband, Vincente, is Jason’s boss. When Jason feels that Vincente might have a sneaky suspicion about the affair he escapes to Madrid, where he meets Jesús, a crazy gypsy, and the real flamenco adventure begins. I’ll let you find out what happens next.
Apart from the fact that Jason is a witty and descriptive writer, I love his enthusiasm for life. The way he takes risks by going abroad on his own in search of a better life and curiosity for learning about the flamenco world is inspiring. I can relate to his desire to explore and learn about Spain and respect the way he manages to emerge himself deep into the world of flamenco. His passion for learning a difficult instrument is also uplifting. One of the reasons I came to Spain was to learn the guitar, but I never really had the skill, so his passion impressed me.
I also like the characters he meets, especially Pedro, his witty first friend, and the mental Jesús who gets up to all sorts of madness. Lola is just how I imagine passionate flamenco dancers to be as well.
I also learnt a lot about flamenco. The different types of palos guitarist’s play, interesting historical facts about the origins of flamenco, lots of references to the big names in flamenco, and also how difficult it is to become a half-decent flamenco guitarist.
Would I recommend it?
Definitely! If you have a slight interest in flamenco, or even in what it’s like to live in Spain, then this is a great choice. Jason adds interesting snippets of history and facts about flamenco and Spain. His descriptions of the people he meets along the way are excellent and you really feel as if you are on the adventure with him.
Spain does weird things to me. One minute I think I’m living in one of the most charming and romantic places in the world, and the next I’m pulling my hair out wishing I was back in London.
I’ve had a rollercoaster of a ride during my eight years in Seville. I’ve travelled extensively round most of the country, had two jobs teaching English, moved four times, fallen in love with a Sevillana, got married, and had a baby boy. My chilled lifestyle here has also enabled me to become a writer, something I never would have had time for back in England.
Why am I writing this blog?
To entertain, inform, and have a bit of a laugh. A Novel Spain is my way of expressing to the world how I see life in Spain. I intend to write about the highs and lows, fun and annoying moments, fictitious and real stories, and perhaps give advice on the way. It’s a way of getting in contact with fans of Spain and meeting other bloggers as well.
Who is this blog for?
A Novel Spain should hopefully appeal to anyone with a slight interest in Spain. Whether you’re living here as an expat, just passing through on your holiday, or would like to read about the way of life here.
Author of From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...