Having seen the Alhambra for the second time this morning, I had a lot of time during my three-hour tour to look out over Granada and think about my impressions of Spain thus far.
Spain is confusing in the messages it puts out to one who is not a native. On the one hand, it is a passionate and fervent country, with a past full of turmoil and historically hard times under Franco. Funnily enough, as a result, the people of Spain living in it today, seem a little superficial to me. Now, before I get written complaints via email about this comment, let me explain myself...
I watch Spanish TV in my hotel rooms after a hard day of being a good tourist. Almost every channel I see touches on subjects in a very sensational, glib way... the 24-hour news channel is always showing the same headlines over and over, without presenting stories of any depth containing profound examination of issues that may be present. I can't help comparing the coverage of the same news story on Spanish television with the BBC World news channel, or with the coverage I have gotten in the habit of reading online via The Age web site. Even though I am not fluent in the Spanish language, I understand enough to know that issues and controversial, late-breaking news such as the recent Japanese tsunami are covered in a shallow and trivial manner. It leaves me unsatisfied and wanting to know more.
A contradiction to this is the Parliament of Spain. I have watched the gobeirno (government) of Spain addressing issues in their parliament. They do so in a very orderly fashion, each member having the opportunity to discuss each issue and put their opinion on the record, without harrassment, or interruption. A far cry from the Australians' conduct in parliament - particularly on the federal level. Down Under, we scream at one another, insult, cajole, embarrass, condescend and irritate in the interest of scoring political points and securing a better chance of winning at the next election. In Spain, even if the parties disagree with one another, they spend their time debating issues in a manner expected of adults, even referring to one another as usted (the polite way to call another person with respect).
These observations, in turn, have made me watch the Spanish community more carefully. I scrutinise their interactions whilst eating, drinking, talking, discussing... Previous impressions and use of words such as passionate and interactive to describe them are accurate, but again, I can't help now having the impression that, on many occasions, I probably wouldn't care too much to know what they're talking about.
This mystifies me. Where is the Spain that I have read about? Where is the deep and profound thinking that I see for myself in their artwork and cultural offerings? Where is the environment I have often longed to be a part of? Does one have to be fluent in the language to find out where these intellectuals seem to hide?
I have the feeling that I will feel far more at home in Barcelona. This is the city that houses Los Cuatro Gatos, a cafe that became a favourite meeting place for artists in the 20th century, Pablo Picasso included. Seeing more of Antoni Gaudí's amazing creations that Barcelona is famous for - in particular, I am looking forward to seeing how La Sagrada Familia has progressed since I was there in 2005. (This is the cathedral that Gaudí designed for the city, which is due for completion in 2026.)
This is the city of La Rambla, the main thoroughfare leading to Barcelona's port, which features an enormous amount of street performers, mime, musicians, street theatre. It is open 24/7 and I am going to have a marvellous time watching it in earnest from my hotel room balcony, when I am not actually spending time walking on it.
I have come to the conclusion that I need to learn more Spanish, and actually reside in one of this country's cities, behaving as a Spaniard, working, living, pursuing recreational activities in my spare time. Perhaps this will become a goal for me in the next few years? Perhaps it may not?
I also know that I cannot comment on what I have seen here with accuracy - I need to be alone, finding out what these people are about for myself, without using a translator, without hesitating to pursue a more meaningful exchange, in the interests of getting out of my comfort zone and really delving into what makes Spain and its people the way they are.
What saddens me is that I only have one lifetime to fulfil a desire such as this.
Until next time... hasta pronto mis amigos...