Españoles en el Mundo

Big Brother, Take Me Out, Come Dine With Me… The list goes on. There are those reality TV programme formats that go from unknown to national obsessions almost overnight. As we are bombarded with ever greater choice in television, viewing habits have become very fickle, with preferred styles going out of fashion as quickly as they emerged. Reality TV seems to epitomise our viewing habits over the last decade, despite its relatively low budget and preparation. In Spain, Españoles en el Mundo (roughly translated as ‘Spaniards around the world’) is one of those programmes that has enjoyed near unrivalled success in the ratings over many years, yet maintains a deceptively basic format.

Españoles en el Mundo

Españoles en el Mundo. Source: tvoh.es

Españoles en el Mundo was first broadcast in 2009 on the national Spanish television network RTVE, and has now run to over 200 episodes, which can typically draw in as many as three million viewers on a Tuesday night. The premise is simple: each episode focuses on a particular city or region somewhere in the world besides Spain, and follows a handful of Spanish expats who are living there. From Istanbul in episode one, to Missouri at the end of series 12 this year, a varying cast of presenters have jetted to all four corners of the globe, tracking down Spanish natives who have settled there. Destinations range from tranquil Caribbean backwaters, to frozen Polar Regions, and thriving Asian metropolises.

The Españoles themselves are equally varied; finding themselves overseas for reasons of work, study, love, or pure accident. The cameras follow these diverse lives – entering places of work and homes, and exploring local attractions through foreign yet accustomed eyes. Perhaps this is why the format is so appealing, as Spanish people see others just like them, and how they respond to, and ultimately thrive in, completely different surroundings. Whether planning their next holiday or perhaps a move abroad, it gives the viewer a distinctly personal insight. However the programme has not been without criticism, with some suggesting that it paints the destinations in an overwhelmingly positive light, avoiding the hardships of living abroad. Indeed, it is sadly the case that many of the stories in recent series have been those of economic migration, with those featured representing the many thousands that have left an economically distressed Spain in search of work elsewhere.

Spanish resident abroad

Typical image from the show, introducing a Spanish resident abroad. Source: rtve.es

From our perspectives as language learners, keen to practice our Spanish, Españoles en el Mundo is a good option for many reasons, besides from the obvious immersion in Spanish it provides. Firstly, the subject matter tends to be relatively simple, and often supported by textual information points on screen. For the same reasons of its appeal for a Spanish audience, the programme is particularly strong in its exposure of Spanish cultural traits and behaviours. For more advanced learners, it can be an interesting means of attempting to distinguish between distinct accents and dialects of different parts of Spain, exhibited by those featured in an episode. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the episodes are all freely available online here in the UK. So why not have a look and see which destination takes your fancy… http://www.rtve.es/television/espanoles-en-el-mundo/

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Ronda: Spain’s most spectacularly sited settlement?

All towns are physically shaped and constrained by their surrounding environment, and Ronda, nestled in the rocky sierras of Andalucía, is a particularly striking example. The old centre is not only perched on a precarious mountain ridge, but is isolated from the rest of the town across the gaping chasm of the Tajo Gorge, that plunges some 130 metres from the town to the valley floor below. Connecting the two settlements is the almost improbable 18th Century Puente Nuevo (‘New Bridge’, though not really very new at all), with its lofty arch construction a true feat of early engineering.

Ronda and the Tajo Gorge

Ronda and the Tajo Gorge. Source: hickerphoto.com

The labyrinthine cliff-top alleyways of the old Moorish settlement are now known collectively as La Ciudad. One of Spain’s oldest towns, Ronda was founded in the 9th Century BC, and grew to become a key trading post during the period of Islamic rule, when southern Spain was governed as the Moorish kingdom of Al Andalus. Ronda prospered at this time, also becoming an important cultural centre brimming with mosques and palaces. After the Reconquista at the close of the 15th Century, most of the buildings were converted for Christian functions, though much of the elaborate urban fabric remains today.

Over time, the romanticism of the townscape drew in many artists and international writers such as Ernest Hemingway and George Eliot. Today, the tourists still come in search of the same dramatic vistas and essentially Andalucían cultural attractions. Ronda is now an unashamed tourist honeypot, for good reasons given its scenic credentials and easy access from the teeming resorts of the Costa Del Sol. However, the town retains its own character and historical Spanish flavour, and attracts international and domestic tourists in equal measure which gives plenty of opportunity to eat Spanish, hear Spanish and of course practice your Spanish!

Vibrant streetlife in Ronda

Vibrant streetlife in Ronda. Source: costadelparadise.com

Aside from the colossal Puente Nuevo itself, Ronda’s attractions are abundant and fascinating. The Casa del Rey Moro serves as a reminder of the challenge of inhabiting such a defensive site, with its Moorish foundations concealing a staircase of over 300 steps built by Christian slaves to access the river below at times of siege. Today, those undertaking the precarious descent are rewarded with dramatic views up the towering canyon walls. The beautiful Baños Arabes (‘Arab Baths’) are surprisingly intact in spite of being built in the 13th Century, and their sophistication reflects the highly civilised nature of the Moorish society in Spain. The Plaza de Toros (bullring) was built in 1781, and is one of the oldest and most culturally significant in Spain. Even if you are not a fan of this controversial sport, it is hard not to be moved by the atmosphere when setting foot in the arena…though not during the season of course!

The old ciudad remains vibrant and lived-in, with the central Plaza Duquesa de Parcent making an absorbing spot for observing Ronda at its most lively and picturesque. As the evening draws on, tapas at Almocabar just around the corner are not to be missed.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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A taste of Spain in London

Not so very long ago, you might remember we picked out a few of the hottest eating spots in the UK capital where you can sample the best of Latin American’s various cuisines. Not wishing to do a disservice to their Hispanic brethren across the Atlantic, it is now time to take a look at London’s thriving Spanish restaurant scene. Aside from some dismal chain offerings and token paella on pub menus, there are some truly cracking options for enjoying Spanish food across the city’s neighbourhoods, ranging from the innovative and cutting-edge to the homely and rustic.

Within the current movement for social, casual dining and ‘small plates’ offerings, the tapas tradition is bang on trend. Couple this with the fact that Spain remains our favourite holiday destination abroad, and you can see why Londoners have developed a discerning taste for quality Spanish meals. So, whether you are new to the city and need some guidance, or rather a jaded local in need of some refreshing new options, we hope to excite you with a Spanish eatery near you. Spaniards in London frequent these places, nostalgic for the tastes of home, giving you yet another opportunity to expand your Spanish language skills!

Trangallán restaurant - London

Inviting surroundings at Trangallán. Source: timeout.com

NORTH: Trangallán

61 Newington Green / Newington Green / Overground: Canonbury or Dalston Kingsland

This homely spot, with its bric-a-brac-chic interior seems to reflect its location between the hipster hangouts of Dalston and refined terraces of Islington. The food has a Galician slant, with a focus on hearty stews and delicate fish dishes rather than conventional tapas. The menu is brief and changes regularly, and the standard offerings are complemented by regular supper club and wine tasting events.

http://www.trangallan.com

SOUTH: José

104 Bermondsey Street / Bermondsey / Tube: London Bridge or Borough Street

The little, less polished brother of Pizarro a few doors down, José is persistently rammed despite the myriad of attractive dining and drinking options to have sprung up on Bermondsey street over the last decade. The surroundings are stylish but spartan, with seating at the bar and around reclaimed barrels. Try the classics like gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and velvety jamón accompanied by fine sherries.

http://www.josetapasbar.com

EAST: Tramontana Brindisa

152 Curtain Road / Shoreditch / Old Street Tube or Shoreditch High Street Overground

The Brindisa brand has become something of a Spanish food empire in London, after its humble beginnings as a wholesale importer of Iberian foodstuffs to the adventurous chefs of 25 years ago. Establishing themselves serving food to the public at the cornerstone of Borough Market, Brindisa became famous for their sizzling chorizo rolls. Tramontana is the third and newest tapas bar in the family, representing their first foray into East London and party central Shoreditch. On offer is a robust set menu of tapas favourites, as well as some more leftfield options such as Iberico pork loin with orange and raisings, and mini-burgers of Spanish butifarra sausage and black pudding.

http://www.brindisatapaskitchens.com/tramontana-brindisa-shoreditch/

Brindisa

Brindisa culinary creations. Source: brindisa.com

WEST: La Gitana

16 Garway Road / Bayswater / Tube: Bayswater

La Gitana is a relatively recent and very welcome addition to an area that is rich with ethnic eating options, but poorly served by Spanish restaurants. Despite its youth, the restaurant dishes out an impressive range of traditional tapas plates that people seem to love. The food here does not set out to push any boundaries as such, but focuses on the best of Spanish, especially Andalucían, flavour combinations. Colossal sharing paellas cooked to order are a must.

http://www.lagitana.co.uk

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Oaxaca: Mexico at its most Mexican

In Mexico, as in the UK, it is often the smaller cities that make the most rewarding destinations, offering more tranquil surroundings and greater exposure to historic traditions. Oaxaca is a noteworthy example: tucked away in misty mountain valleys in southern Mexico and giving its name to the surrounding province, it is firmly on the gringo tourist trail, yet equally popular with holidaying Mexicans. Oaxaca (pronounced ‘wa-ha-ca’ in case you were wondering) defies its small size in offering a wealth of cultural attractions, culinary finesse and a pulsating calendar of festivals.

Oaxaca streetscape

Oaxaca streetscape. Source: trekearth.com

Oaxaca’s centre is low rise and atmospheric, and in appearance can be largely attributed to its Spanish colonial past. However, the bold multicolour palette of the streetscapes and exotic plants give a distinctly Mexican flavour. Indigenous cultural references are everywhere, and serve as a reminder of the fact that this area was an important settlement even in prehispanic times. On the city fringes, you will find the architectural complex of Monte Albán, a relic of the once-flourishing capital of the Zapotec civilisation, well over two thousand years ago. Whilst obviously in ruins today, the grand scale and complexity of the layout hints at a developed and flourishing society. There are remains similar in richness left by the Spanish, most notably the churches. For example, Santo Domingo is arguably the most spectacular, with its colossal walls concealing an interior that is positively dripping with gold and ornamentation.

Oaxaca lives on as a cultured sort of place, constituting a centre for contemporary artists who exhibit enticing mixtures of daringly modern and deeply indigenous motifs. The city also stands out for its handicrafts, and is probably your best bet on a tour of Mexico to find unique jewellery, ornaments and fabrics. As well as these artistic signs, it is the people of Oaxaca themselves that keep pre-colonial cultures alive today, for the city’s population is over 50% indigenous, compared to around 20% for Mexico as a whole. The annual Guelaguetza festival is an exuberant celebration of these indigenous traditions. Towards the end of July, costumed parades fill the streets, accompanied by impromptu outbursts of music and dance. Regular theatrical representations of traditional folk tales pack out the stadium that was built in the city especially for the event.

Oaxaca’s people are keen to define themselves through their food, often regarded as among the finest in Mexico, and the inspiration behind the Mexican street food chain Wahaca that has been quite the trend-setter on the London restaurant scene. In the centre of Oaxaca, you can ditch the map and follow your sense of smell to Calle Mina, an entire street of chocolate vendors, where the revered product is ground from cocoa beans before your eyes (and nose). Try Mayordomo for a taste of the characteristically spicy Mexican hot chocolate. Be sure to follow the Mexican lead in using chocolate as an ingredient in savoury dishes in the form of mole: a spice mix that comes in many guises but usually based on cocoa and chilli. In the nearby Mercado 20 de Noviembre, you will find some winningly unpretentious stands at which to enjoy the best of local flavours. Try a tlayuda – a large crispy corn tortilla piled with salsa, avocado, beans, meat and a topping of the fresh stringy Oaxaca cheese. If you are both still hungry and particularly brave, you can fill up on chapulines, fried grasshoppers usually served fried with chilli. The stallholders here will be excited to hear you practice your Spanish whilst ordering, and you are likely to hear a wealth of new vocabulary for indigenous food and traditions that evaded the influence of the Spanish colonials. For the language here sums up Mexico itself: a rather complex but wonderfully exotic culture, admiring its past while embracing today.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Argentina: Happy 50th Mafalda!

This week, on September 29th, one of Argentina’s most cherished daughters turned 50. I use the word daughter in the literal sense, as she still stands just a few feet high, and continues to bear the youthful appearance of a schoolgirl. For this is the birthday of Mafalda, the politically astute and occasionally overbearing child who has endeared herself to generations of Argentineans through the pages of cartoonist Quino, or Joaquín Salvador Lavado’s witty and charming comic strips.

Quino celebrating 50 years of Mafalda

Quino celebrating 50 years of his beloved Mafalda. Source: nbcnews.com

With her bold cartoon image, and disregard for the conventional primary school lifestyle, Mafalda has been frequently compared to the star of US comic Peanuts: Charlie Brown. However, her sharp commentary on current affairs and family life sets her apart and ingrains her in the complex culture of the Argentine middle classes. Whilst the narrative is often framed by the banality of family life and Mafalda’s hatred for soup of any kind, it is marked by the turbulence and widening chasm between left and right in politics that Mafalda’s real-life contemporaries were growing up with. Quino developed the character in 1962, but it was in 1964 that Mafalda and her family were published in comic strip form in the magazine Primera Plana, and in the newspaper El Mundo later. As the fan base grew both locally and internationally, the comics were issued in a series of dedicated volumes, crowned finally by the compendium of the entire works, Toda Mafalda, in 1992.

Most of the action in the comics revolves around Mafalda and her close family members. Other friends and neighbours drop in and out of the storylines, with the strength of all characters rooted firmly in the societal trends they represent. Mafalda’s mother is the frequent butt of jokes relating to housework and her lack of a ‘real occupation’, Manolito, the son of Gallegos or Spanish migrants (lit. ‘Galicians’) is teased for his simple-mindedness and preoccupation with money, and even Mafalda’s pet tortoise is named Burocracia (bureaucracy) for his sluggish idleness. These characteristics may be borne out of distinctly Argentine circumstances, but the underlying stereotypes and contradictions ring true in all settings; reflected by the international acclaim that Mafalda achieved, being read in thirty languages worldwide.

Mafalda

Mafalda coolly predicting a ‘black’ future in a game of I Spy. Source: diarioveloz.com

Mafalda’s birthday celebrations, attended obviously by the great man Quino himself, were centred around the Paseo de la Historieta (translated into English ‘The Cartoon Walk’), a route around the historic San Telmo neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, taking in the rich comic heritage of Buenos Aires. A few years ago in 2009, a life-size statue of Mafalda was placed outside the former home of Joaquín Salvador Lavado, and became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. If you ever find yourself in Buenos Aires, exploring the bohemian cobbled streets and antique markets of San Telmo, be sure to pay her a visit!

If you are interested in finding out a bit more, many of Mafalda’s classic comics are freely available online, and the books are easy to come by in the original Argentinian Spanish. Indeed, comics can be a fantastic way to practice your Spanish skills, as the language is relatively approachable, and the visual storylines really help with your comprehension, making for much more satisfying progress than a hefty novel. If you fancy something a little different, how about the hapless detectives Mortadelo y Filamón who are dearly loved in their native Spain for their slapstick comics and ridiculous storylines. Who ever said reading was dull…?

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Madrid: DCODE festival

In recent years, the music festival industry has exploded every summer in a shower of tents, speakers and flashing lights across Europe. The opportunity to see a whole host of live acts and escape humdrum daily life surrounded by friends and diverse artistic attractions is too good to miss for many. As individual festivals have developed unique identities and appeal, fans are increasingly exploratory in travelling internationally in search of the next best thing. However, it is now that time of year again, when the weary fans and the well-travelled bands wind down their frenetic circuit of international music festivals. Valencia’s answer to Glastonbury, Benicàssim has been and gone, and Bestival has closed the particularly vibrant British festival calendar. Nonetheless, the Spanish in true national style keep the party going a little later. Saturday 13th September meant one thing to indie fans in the know: DCODE. This is easily Madrid’s most popular music festival, drawing in crowds of 25,000.

DCODE festival madrid

The DCODE stages in 2012. Source: radio3.rtve.es

Just a few years old, DCODE has undergone a few adaptations to become the winning formula it is now. The programme has been condensed into one electrifying day, and the date has been shifted forward from the sweltering high summer to more clement September temperatures. However, the festival has justifiably stayed put its expansive yet convenient urban location, at the Complejo Deportivo Cantarranas on the campus of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Whilst this means less of the escapism and green fields us Brits tend to associate with festivals, it does mean access in minutes via Line 6 of the Madrid Metro, not to mention the chance to combine the music with a more civilised hotel stay and discovery of Madrid’s flourishing cultural and culinary scenes.

Vetusta Morla

Vetusta Morla. Source: andalucia.org

So let’s cut to the chase, and talk about the class acts that performed. The indie veteran Beck made a solid headliner, marking his only tour date in Spain this year to promote the release of Morning Phase, his first new release in six years. British acts also dominated the line-up, with electric performances from La Roux and Chvrches, and an uplifting set from Bombay Bicycle Club. The UK influence even extended to one of the booked Spanish acts – Russian Red, who claims she is more comfortable singing in English as it reflects the tongue of her musical inspirations.

For those in search of something a little more Hispanic, there were plenty of Spanish-language performances. Notably from the indie-rock band Vetusta Morla, who have released three hugely successful albums over the last seven or so years. Their debut Un Día en el Mundo was held in particularly high musical regard, and was awarded ‘native indie album of the decade’ by Indyrock Magazine in 2010. Why not give them a listen online, and practice your Spanish? You may have missed them at DCODE this year, but keep an eye out for a huge variety of Spanish and Latin American musical styles that are making inroads in London bars, clubs and live venues. If you are dead set on DCODE, fingers crossed for a brilliant line up next year! For more information, visit: http://dcodefest.com/

Your Friendly Spanish team

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Spain: Rosalia Mera, the woman behind Zara

Particularly with reference to the business world, the topic of feminism is now more current than ever. As legislation in the developed world has sought to place men and women on a more equal footing in terms of their careers, there is still a considerable way to go in changing workplace mind-sets, and people’s ingrained gender stereotypes. This last week, Emma Watson delivered a speech at the UN describing the attitudinal shifts necessary for true gender equality, and initiated a veritable social media storm of support from many who agree that big business still aligns to male domination. In the context of Spanish society, much of this rings true. Despite progressive reform over the last few decades, men still dominate in the upper echelons of companies to a far greater extent than some European neighbours. However, most Spanish people will be quick to remind you that one woman in particular stands out as a model of entrepreneurship and astronomical self-made success – Rosalía Mera, the co-founder of the fast fashion ringleaders: Zara.

Mera, who recently died in 2013, amassed an estimated worth of $6.1 billion, making her not only Spain’s richest woman, but also the richest entrepreneur whose wealth did not depend on any finance inherited or acquired through marriage. Rosalía’s life began in humble circumstances, being born into a working class community in La Coruña, in the Galician region of northern Spain. Uninspired by academia, she left school in early adolescence to become a seamstress and fulfil part-time roles in clothes shops; gradually acquiring the basic knowledge of an industry that she would later dominate. Some years later Mera teamed up with her then-husband, Amancio Ortega Gaona, to design their own clothing range. In 1975, they established their first store in their native city, proposing to name it Zorba after a favourite film of theirs. To avoid confusion after realising a neighbourhood bar shared this name, a few letters were reshuffled and the Zara brand was born.

With a sharp focus on style, the locals lapped up the couples’ creations. Their characteristic designs pushed contemporary boundaries, and reflected a sentiment of progressiveness and change in Spain as Franco’s dictatorship faltered and waned. With this combination of success factors, Zara expanded quickly across Spain, and later across Europe. Mera and Ortega became directors of the vast Inditex Group, which comprises not only Zara, but many more of the Spanish high street giants like Bershka, Pull and Bear and Stradivarius. When the couple divorced in later life and Rosalía Mera ceased to run the company, she still retained a share in its operation and sat on the board of directors. It was in these times that Mera became most admired by many in Spain, as she used her position of influence for charitable and political campaigns. She became the patron of a charity that sought to integrate disabled people into wider society, and spoke out against austerity measures and restrictions to abortion rights proposed by the current Spanish government.

Zara in Beijing

Branch of Zara in Beijing, China. Source: dreamstime.com

So why exactly has Zara been so successful, becoming the envy of its competitors? In the same way as the British stalwart Topshop, they excel at targeting catwalk trends and reproducing them at mass market prices. Experts also attribute Zara’s dynamism to what is known as a ‘vertically integrated’ supply chain. Put simply, Zara does not outsource, but rather maintains complete control over its products from design to arrival in store. This allows a turnaround time for new items of just a couple of weeks to meet the fickle demands of fashion. Equally, unpopular items can be withdrawn before mistakes become too costly.

Despite some of the usual concerns of staff welfare and mass production endemic to the cutthroat fashion world, Zara has remained a respected brand within Spain, in part due to a commitment to keeping a large proportion of manufacture within Spain. As such, and due to its huge market share, Zara has become synonymous with Spanish fashion, and an important transmission of Spanish culture abroad. You will often find the common language in London branches to be Spanish, which can give you an opportunity to practice your skills as you shop. Perhaps it suggests that the Spanish associate themselves easily with Zara, with its familiarity proving a deciding factor when looking for temporary work whilst living abroad. Taste in fashion may vary, but the success of Zara is undeniable, and this success is without doubt largely attributable to the savvy entrepreneurship and unshakeable perseverance of Rosalía Mera.

Your Friendly Spanish team

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