The one thing to remember if you ever travel to the south of Spain, specifically to Andalusia, the second most populous province, the birthplace of Flamenco, Bullfighting and pretty much every single Spaniard cliche us Westerners hold dear, is that people there smoke. A LOT. Sure, there are beaches, Roman ruins, a historic castle on every hill –or every other block– and more churches per capita, that by now every Spaniard can easily afford to coldly kill three priests and still get into heaven by proxy. Yet nothing will hit or leave a longer, lasting effect than their tobacco.
Spain is truly a smoker’s nirvana. I felt guilty for not smoking enough and looked at ways to integrate myself into this culturally rich, gray-lunged society. A task in which I excelled! And as a plus, I have now been back for over two weeks and there is hardly a trace of my smoker’s cough! Well worth it. However if you don’t smoke at all, are a tourist and do not speak Spanish, just skip the country altogether. Go to a wimp smokers’ country, like France. Aside from delicious nicotine, which you will learn to love or become a master at holding off your gag reflex as your body struggles for survival, Spain is quite a breathtaking country. The weather is hot and dry, covered in yellow clay and almost arid inland, yet oh so breezy near the sea.
Fish, pork and beef are in abundance. Always, ready to be served at one of the many Tapas restaurants which litter the region. If you hate falling into tourist traps you will be pleased to know that non-tourist friendly and therefore easier on the wallet areas abound. All that is needed is an adventurous spirit and a fifteen minute walk in any direction away from gift shops selling badly punned T-shirts, over priced photographic books and to no surprise: engraved ashtrays. Knowing Spanish helps, as most Spaniards can’t be bothered to learn English but if you are adventurous, then you would not be above using some pointing and sign language to get what you want. The staff will be understanding, helpful and only mock you once you are gone.
About the most annoying and yet refreshing thing in Spain, especially for Westerners is the Siesta. Entire towns screech to a halt from about noon to about 4:00pm, as if the whole city goes into a deep slumber. During the August’s month-long celebrations, they can go for even longer. Restaurants will re-open at 8:00pm, so expect to have dinner at around 10:00pm. Every night. That’s just the Spanish way. So pack a snack if you are planning to meander through the older cobbled-street cities.
If you are a night-owl you will be utterly comfortable with this lifestyle, while others will wonder how exactly can Spaniards earn a living. I did. Same goes for the food, supermarkets simply do not exist, groceries stores which are smaller do. However they are few and far between. Alcohol is an entirely different story, you will find booze every where digestible matter is sold and likely it will be cheap. Especially in the capital of Sevilla where with its two million inhabitants is the largest city in Andalusia.
It is interesting to note in the week I traversed the land, I never saw one local drunk, the only ones were tourists, who were both loud and obnoxious. It made me feel how my ex-girlfriend probably felt when I used to get boozed up on red wine many years ago. I felt embarrassed for them. As if we all had been invited to the same party, and they were my annoying cousins I never talked to or liked, who got stinking drunk and everybody looked at me for an explanation. Strange since while in an unknown country, being foreigners can, and does unite complete strangers. An odd and brief comradery which luckily and quickly subsided well before we reached the next street.
People drink, with the goal to hang out and socialize not get inebriated. You will find tapas restaurants bursting with people drinking beer and ‘Tinto de Verano,’ a refreshing red wine and lime flavoured soda drink. Sangria is left for the tourists as no local in their right mind would prefer so sweet a drink in such dry heat.
Ah, the South of Spain, a land where passionate and energetic dancing, lisps, Moor and Roman architecture, castles and Mosques are poetically inter-winded. The land Muslims conquered in 711AD and the rest of Spain spent the next 587 years extirpating. But on the upside they taught the whole of Europe how to bathe! But that is another story which I will probably cover in another blog entry.
Ah, Andalucia, where you can sustain a family of four with wine for a week for less than it costs to feed them for a day. You will forever have a special place in my heart and now, after visiting you, a dark spot on the x-rays of my lungs.