I have discovered the eating tradition in San Sebastian which I have not seen in any other part of Spain so far. Pinchos. There are taverns everywhere in the Parte Vieja (Old Part) of the city. These open late morning, and stay open until late into the night. Around lunch-time through to early evening, after a hard day of shopping at all the markets and stores to be found throughout the Parte Vieja, you can stop at one of these taverns to have a few pinchos with a cerveza or a copa (cup) of sangria. Ahhh... this is the life...
Anyone who's been out for a meal with me will know that most of the time I am unable to finish my meal, unless I eat really slowly and drink lots to wash it down. I have often complained about the large size of some of the meals in Australia. I will plead with the friend accompanying me to finish my meal for me, as I cannot bear to leave food on the plate when I leave the table.
Now, in San Sebastian, I don't have to do that. Picture this... you walk into a tavern, and you are greeted with plates and plates of little serves of food. You choose what you want to eat, put it on your plate, and pay accordingly. You can eat whilst standing, if you're on the go and just want some sustenance to see you through the day, or can sit at a table and make a small meal of it, and socialise, drink, people-watch.
They are like tapas, but they aren't cooked at the back of the restaurant while you wait with a drink, olives and bread. They could also be compared to hors d'oeuvres, but not that small. A typical pincho I have found available on the bar during the last two days? A slice of French stick-style bread, topped with crab in a white sauce, and garnished with a prawn-tail. Heaven!
Of course, there's more than that to choose from. However, in San Sebastian, because it's on the coast, there are a lot of pinchos with fish, and, of course, the favourite throughout Spain, jamon cerrano (smoked ham). Imagine walking through a city, or better still, having a short lunch break? And being able to stop quickly and have a bite to eat... literally? I have always hesitated to even get lunch during a work day because of lack of time to eat at my pace, as well as the size of the meal I am offered. I have often been known to sit at my desk whilst working, eating a lunch over an hour or so, as half an hour doesn't let me finish my meal in time. Most of the time, I skip lunch for this reason.
Pinchos are particularly a Basque tradition. So, I imagine that these snack offerings are available throughout the north of Spain, as this is the Basque region. I have found San Sebastian even more fascinating for this reason. After weeks of being in this beautiful country, and becoming used to hearing Spanish spoken around me most of the time, I am now hearing people around me speak in Basque... something which I just cannot understand a word of.
Of course, the locals speak both languages... for the tourists and, because they have not managed to claim their independence from Spain, and are still part of it. Hence, the existence of politically-motivated groups such as ETA. To illustrate my point, we were talking to a taxi driver earlier today who told us that he was born in San Sebastian. He also told us that when he was little, he wasn't allowed to speak or write in Basque at school. It was banned. Spain was determined to control these people and turn them into proper Spaniards.
However, today, things are better. Signs everywhere around San Sebastian are in both Basque and Spanish. Most of the shops and taverns in the Parte Vieja of the city have Basque names. It makes it harder for me, as an English speaker, but it's welcomed... I no longer have to rely so much on translations being provided to me by my mother. She doesn't know what the Basque people are saying either. It's liberating, in a weird way.
Before I sign off, there's one thing that has been constant throughout this trip. I have become even more aware of how unimportant and almost irrelevant I am in this world. I am one person of how many? All of use speak different languages, even within our own countries.
I watch the people around me in Spain... each one of them with their own joys, worries, goals, hopes and dreams. And yet, I know nothing of their lives. However, I see a person's face light up when I ask about them, rather than just the regular tourist-type question: where is this? where is that? etc. They seem really pleased when they know that someone they don't know is taking an interest in them personally. From my perspective, I am trying to grab that slice of a culture I am still mostly unfamiliar with. So, it becomes a transaction of mutual advantage - I hope.
This also makes me wonder more and more... with all the problems that are currently going on in the world, and have throughout history, why are we not all taking the time to be more interested in one another? Another culture, another person, another tradition, another history? We seem to talk about these all, mostly meaninglessly... almost like a reportage. Why are most of us not doing more to find out about the other? Some of us are - and those are the people I gravitate towards the most. But for most of us... are we hopelessly distracted by life? The everyday, the responsibilities, the humdrum? If one is able to break free from that, perhaps we can get closer to what we all aspire to attain... true happiness? Or are we ultimately seeking something else? A reason?
Just throwing out some thoughts I have been grappling with during my time in Spain. Along with many others throughout the existence of man.
Tomorrow, Barcelona! I have been really been looking forward to this! I plan to culture myself to death in Barcelona! I hope it's still as vibrant and interesting a city as I remember! Rest, assured that I'll keep you posted.
Hasta la vista mis amigos!