During childhood, I heard a lot from my mother about the famous Muslim civilisation of Cordoba, the great mosque and also the magnificent Alhambra Palace, a splendid architectural landmark of Granada; both situated in the historic and picturesque southern region of Andalusia, Spain.
I had a great passion for painting since my early school days. Later, I was inspired by the unique paintings of eminent Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, not to mention his masterpiece, ‘Guernica.’ Apart from that, Don Quixote by Cervantes also left an indelible impression on me.
In this way, I became acquainted with Spanish art, literature and culture to some extent. From then on, although I was keen to visit Spain, I never thought that I would be posted there as the Commercial Attaché in the Embassy of Bangladesh, Madrid.
I arrived in Madrid, along with my family, on Christmas Day, 25 December, 2014, by a wide-bodied aircraft of Turkish Airlines. On our way to the hotel, we were truly amazed to see Madrid, the capital of Spain, wearing a festive look. All the streets were magnificently illuminated to celebrate Christmas.
I started my assignment on 1 January, 2015. As it was my first foreign posting, a sense of excitement, laced with fear, gripped me. Time flies so fast! Since I have returned to Dhaka recently on successful completion of my tenure of almost five years in Spain, I am willing to share my practical experience through this writing. This little endeavour, I believe, will make for an enlightening reading experience.
Spain is one of the most diverse and visually stunning nations of Europe. This traveller’s paradise is replete with incredible historic sites and mesmerising beauty. Located in South Western Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, it is the second largest country in the European Union, next to France, with a land mass of 504,750 sq.km.
Spain shares its land boundaries with Portugal, Andorra, France, Morocco, and Gibraltar. It also borders the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. The Strait of Gibraltar separates Spain from Africa.
Spain is the sunniest country in Europe, with an average of 2500 and 3000 hours of sunshine per annum. Its population is 46 million. Although the official language is Castilian Spanish (the world’s second most widely spoken language), Galician, Catalan and Valencian are also spoken in the regions of Galicia, Catalonia, Valencia and the Basque country.
Spain is a constitutional monarchy; the Head of the State is the King, while the Prime Minister, often officially regarded as ‘President of the Government,’ is the Head of the government.
The Spaniards are very open-minded, fun-loving, and affable. Social bonding matters a lot to them. Spain possesses world-class know-how in electrical energy, telecommunications, infrastructure, tourism, ship-building, and railway sector. It also has state-of-the-art literature, music, architecture, painting, fashion designing, and gastronomy.
Spain is popularly known as a land of Fiesta and Siesta. Etymologically, ‘Fiesta’ means party, whereas ‘siesta’ refers to a short nap after the midday meal, and the Spanish are experts at both.
Spain celebrates numerous fiestas all the year round. Traditional bull fighting (Corrida de Toros), running of the bulls, football tournament (Torneo de fútbol), flamenco (Baile flamenco) and La Tomatina (Tomato festival) are among the most prominent ones.
To me, food, flamenco, and football make Spanish culture unique and distinct from other countries. Every year, many tourists from across the globe travel to Spain to experience the fanciful ambience of these festivals.
Siesta usually takes place every day, between 3 to 5PM. Most of the stores, pharmacies and public institutions remain closed during this stipulated time. It took a long time for me to get accustomed to this practice. Though Siesta is now considered a luxury, it was once thought to be essential for people in hot climates to have a quick afternoon respite to avoid the sun’s strong midday rays.
It is believed that Spain introduced the siesta centuries ago to provide their farmers with a little time to rest during peak temperatures to restore their energy levels.
This has been recognised as a traditional event in Spain. It is certainly one of the most popular and at the same time, most controversial of Spanish customs.
Bull fighting is often referred to as a blood sport, as it causes injury, and even death to the bull fighter by the bull’s horns. Plaza de Toro Stadium in Madrid has one of the world’s largest bull rings.
Bull fights usually commence towards the end of March and continues till the end of October. Generally, it takes place every Sunday. Besides, it also occurs during public holidays and festivals.
The main bull fighter is called a matador. This is one of most spectator viewed events in the world. The stadium can accommodate up to 25,000 people.
Six bulls, at least over the age of four, are required to accomplish each bull fight, and are eventually killed by three matadors. This spectacle usually lasts one and half hours. Considering the magnitude of its cruelty, Catalonia and Canary Islands have banned bull fighting.
Flamenco is a specialised art-form, comprising three basic components — music, dance, and guitar. It has its origin from the Spanish gipsy or nomad. Flamenco belongs to the folk genre of music, which is quite similar to Arabic songs. It was first introduced in the historic Andalusia region of Spain. Due to its widespread popularity, flamenco was gradually extended throughout Spain.
In Flamenco performances, finger snapping, castañuelas (a percussion instrument), hand clapping and stamping of the feet are intermingled. Performers are dressed in vibrant and flamboyant outfits to captivate the audience.
Spanish gastronomy has a global reputation. The Mediterranean diet is the basis of Spanish food, which is considered to be the healthiest in the world.
Garlic and olive oil, two essential ingredients of Mediterranean recipes, have widespread use in Spanish cooking. Sea food also occupies a prominent place in Spain for its location in the Iberian Peninsula.
Paella, tortilla, gaspacho, cocido madrileño, and torrijas are the most typical of Spanish cuisines.
Tapas are a wide variety of appetisers or snacks in Spanish gastronomy. Served in different bars and restaurants along with drinks, tapas form an integral part of Spanish lifestyle and culture.
There are several accounts of how the custom of eating tapas emerged. Legend says that due to failing health, the Castilian King Alfonso X (the Wise) of the 13th century was advised by his doctor to eat light snacks with his wine between meals. After recovery, he enacted a law that wine or beer served in taverns had to be accompanied by food.
According to another myth, King Alfonso ordered a glass of sherry at an inn in the province of Cadiz. Since it was a windy day, the innkeeper covered his glass of sherry with a slice of ham to keep the dust and dirt out of the glass. King Alfonso liked the sherry and ordered a second glass with another slice of ham covering it.
Tapas, in its modern form, are generally believed to have started in the taverns and bars of Seville. Pincho de tortilla, calamares, Iibericos, gambas al ajillo, pimientos del padron are among the most palatable options of tapas.
There are football grounds in every Spanish town. Real Madrid Club de Fútbol (C.F.), commonly known as Real Madrid is a professional football club based in Madrid, Spain. It is by far the most successful club of the 20th century, as well as achiever of the highest number of accolades.
Santiago Bernabeu is the home stadium of Real Madrid. Inaugurated on 14 December, 1947, Real Madrid is the charter member of FIFA. This club won the European championship 11 times and also won the La Liga championship 32 times. Unlike other soccer teams, Real Madrid did not change its ownership. Globally renowned footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane played for this club. Futbol Club (FC) Barcelona, popularly known as Barça, is another famous professional football club based in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It is the arch rival of Real Madrid.
Camp Nou is the home stadium of FC Barcelona, since its completion in 1957. With a seating capacity of 99,354 it is the largest stadium in Spain and Europe. Some of the world’s most famous soccer players in the world, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, and Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior played for Barca.
My tenure as the Commercial Counsellor in Spain was phenomenal, productive and full of fond memories. I have gained a wealth of information and delightful experience in this land of fiesta and siesta, and will treasure these experiences and memories forever.