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Saturday, 4 June 2011


There have been a lot of articles in the Guardian on Spain as part of their meet the neighbours month or something like that. Some of them are quite good and make for interesting classes with the adults but they are quite often, for me anyway, an uninspired version of Spain, a version that doesn't really give the reader an insight into what it's really like living here. For that you have to be here a while, say five years at least, and just as London doesn't give you a clue to what the rest of Britain is like, to really experience Spain, you have to move off the beaten track, and there are a lot of unexplored places left. Whenever friends come to visit they often remark 'where the hell are we?' as they are transported through the vast countryside doted with small villages. Before we had Zaragoza airport, friends could take the slow train from Barcelona to a small village called Tardienta but that is out of the question now although I am told there is still a train once a day.There is always the bus from Barcelona, which thanks to the new motorway which is not quite finished, takes about three hours. The very slow train up to Canfranc would be vastly improved if the tunnel was reopened and there were trains again to France. It would be wonderful to travel back to England by train through this part of the Pyrenees

My friends mum in Galway often refers to England really as 'that Godless country', yet you can find lots of places in England that are spiritually nourishing often in that English obsession the garden, but I think it goes beyond that with a certain understanding between folk that you don't often see or appreciate till you leave and view it all from afar. In Spain people are religious or not. It isn't what I would describe as spiritual. There isn't any history or tradition of experimenting with different religions, philosophies, psychoanalisis or whatever choice there is for people to improve or enrich their lives. Occasionally I'll see an ad for Gestalt therapy or as I saw recently, an Indian guru whose face I last saw grinning from a poster in Bayswater. The majority of Spanish people don't know any Jews or Hindus or any religion really apart from Muslims and most Spanish people harbour some dislike for them. Bad feeling towards the Muslims and the Jews goes back centuries.

In fact, unlike other countries in Europe, they don't really know any foreigners unless they live in one of the big cities. If they do know a foreigner they will rarely get to know them very well as most people stick to their close friends and family so for outsiders, those de fuera, it is often difficult or unusual to make friends. One of my bosses, a Spaniard, agrees and tells me he didn't realise it at first but admits that when Spanish people say they are very open it is in fact not always true if we are talking about being open and friendly and welcoming you into their home. There are loads of small towns up and down the country but probably more so in abandoned, isolated regions like Aragon, where outsiders will never really integrate unless they marry a Spaniard. For the rest it is the inevitable tendency to graviate towards others from your country of origin or to hang out with Spanish singletons and everyone else on the fringes of society. So apart from the obvious which is nature, there are few places where you can seek solace and an enormous effort is required if you are to stay and make a life here. Not everyone wants to live in ex-pat communities where no one speaks Spanish or knows anything about Spanish culture apart from all the usual trite. There is a wealth of history, culture and nature that few foreigners get to see or feel.

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