Viva España: collage of imageries on Spain before first encounter

The idea of Spain did not invoke many imageries when I was a child. Apart from of course the country of the bullfight, the Matadors and Spanish Armada. However, my earliest recollection of Spain is a funny fact that came from a general knowledge book – a common sight in eighties’ Calcutta, mainly sold by hawkers on footpaths and public transports. There was a Spanish village, where all the people are born with seven fingers in their hands. In those books, written in Bengali, the name if the village was shown as ফের ভোরা ডিবুই ট্রাগো or “Fer Vora Dibui Trago”. I could not check the veracity of this information then, as our mind worked as a darkroom putting the information away but later in its hard to find them, although they are always there. About thirty years later, searching for this fact showed two references, one in Ripley’s believe it or not and another from Berkeley Times in 1929, claiming that there is a Madrid suburb, where people have six or more fingers as the norm with five fingers a rarity. Cervera de Buitrago, the township was misinterpreted by the Bengali compiler, but it’s amazing how news about a township around Madrid landing up in a general knowledge book in Calcutta many decades later.

Coming back to the reference to Spain, as I grew up, with the penchant to know about the world we live in, I soaked up all the information in the geography books about Europe, from industrial regions in Ruhr to Steppes in Russia and then about Sevilla steel. In 1992, when I watched my first Olympics I was stunned by Barcelona and how in grandeur and culture it only rivalled Paris. Starting to learn a bit more about sports and especially the fact that football teams show the name of the cities, made me aware of some other cities — Valencia, Bilbao, Zaragoza. Other than football, with time I came across names of famous Spaniards from a diverse background and time ranging Cervantes to Pablo Picasso to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. However, I did not have a complete image of Spain as a country and its culture for a long time, all such previous snippets formed a jumble of jigsaw pieces that needed putting together.

I read For whom the bell tolls around the year 2000, which gave me a little more insight about Spain, but that was a long time ago and the information somehow was lost in the way. However, the mysteries of Spanish culture slowly started to unfurl through Shakira, when she shook the world with her “whenever wherever”. That was, in essence, my first taste of Spanish language and music, although by then Spanish pop was quite popular in far corners of the world through Enrique Iglesias Ricky Martin and other new talents of the nineties. The songs of Shakira created enough interest in learning about Spanish music and language that made me buy a collection of her Spanish songs. Then in 2008, when I was coming to the UK, I decided to widen my gamut of languages, adding Spanish to the repertoire. And thus began endless nights of staying up at night, chatting with people from Spain and South America, which has given me first ideas of the structures of the language and words.

Then in 2008 whilst Cranfield, my next-door neighbour Clara took up a job in the community centre as a Spanish teacher and persuaded by her, I decided to join the Spanish class. Also, while listening to Shakira around this time, I came across a band named Amaral, and Miguel Bosé. The growing interest in the language paired with the love for Spanish music gave me a perfect platform to learn more about the country. Since Cranfield, I continued following this newfound passion through listening to Spanish music and watching Spanish films.

It made me appreciate Spain as a confluence of different cultures that extended its roots all over the world. How Spain remained, like Turkey, a witness of the coexistence and conflicts of Christian and Islamic regimes, how it even stayed under a dictatorship in the twentieth century, how bullfighting is still a popular sport in Spain, and how Spanish economy is on the brink of a meltdown — it paints a grim picture sometimes, but isn’t that always the case if we keep aside our nationalistic pride? To me, Spain is a country always gleaming in Mediterranean sunshine, the land of Alhambra and Santiago de Compostela, home of tiki-taka football, the country with arid landscape and gateway to Africa. Spain is the land of Paella, of colourful food but without being spicy, it is the ritualistic tomato-throwing in La Tomatina, the ideological debate between Madrid and Barcelona. But above all, it is the home of the fiery Spanish language, which is extended from literature to music to performance arts like dance, films, theatre and form the very core of the Spanish life and existence.

I didn’t intend to write a treatise on every country I plan to visit. My travelogues will serve that purpose. This is an exception that occurred to me, while we were planning the places to see on our Spanish holiday in October. Looking at the volcanic Canary isles, their famous lunar landscape and surroundings of deep blue Atlantic ocean in the Google StreetView reminded me that there is Spain beyond the European mainland, but the spirit is still unmissable, and the sun pours out its unabashed rays of golden sun all round the year — a far cry in the UK near arctic circle. The expectations of a great holiday in the glorious sun made me reflect how well that picture blended with my imageries of Spain. From a fun fact of people having seven fingers, past thirty years have added many pieces of the conundrum, and finally setting foot on the Spanish soil will be a giant step in bringing all such snippets together. Now just looking forward to la playa y el sol…