Spain became the original gateway to the Americas, shortly after 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. His historic coming ashore in the New World is still commemorated on October 12th from North to South America (with some exceptions, including Canada). The festivities are dubbed differently from one country to another: in the US as Columbus Day, in many countries in Latin America as “El Dia de la Raza”, in Spain as “El Dia de la Hispanidad” and other variations. Although old Chris and his merry men never made it to India - the original goal - they definitely managed to leave their mark on an entire region. The majority of Spanish Latin America and Caribbean can trace back their cultural inheritance from Spain – whether they like this or not – along with an added distinctive blend of aboriginal culture to spice up the flavour.
|Nope, the world is not flat like a pancake...|
I first ventured to Spain back in the winter of 2004, with the purpose of visiting post graduate institutions to potentially pursue studies in international law. In Ontario, we generally have a short week’s vacation in February from university called Reading Week, which proved a suitable moment to make this trip. I possessed a keen interest in this country as a South American – a trait developed over years of residing in the continent – and had only a textbook knowledge on certain cultural and historic facets of what was once the Motherland. Of course, few truly feel comfortable in the New World calling the former empire as the Madre Patria. Furthermore, part of my own roots could be traced back to Castilla y Leon on my maternal grandmother’s side, which signified a sort of homecoming once more. It is quite an understatement to mention that I was excited to make this trip.
I spent my first few day in Madrid, the capital located literally at the geographical centre of the Spanish territory. I was initially surprised that in European terms, it is relatively a new city. It was a small city for several centuries before King Philip II moseyed on over from Toledo in 1561. The construction boom really hit town in the 18th century during the Bourbon Kings rule – and no, the royal family was not from Kentucky or Tennessee although they may have had a well-defined “booze tooth”. Interesting enough, most of the Latin America’s colonial buildings and structures are reminiscent of Madrid’s architecture – they were all built around the same era on both sides of the pond. After spending a prolonged exile in Canada, I felt as if I had travelled to a major South American capital city, with many of the buildings reminding me of downtown Santiago, Lima and Mexico City.
My first impression of Madrileños was that they operated on high octane or had caffeine running through their veins. For those who are new to this city, you may feel like you easily get on people’s nerves. I hopped on a cab on La Castellana and upon closing the door, the driver aggressively and rudely commented “Darn foreigners always slam the door” – I dumbed down the comment to make it suitable for all audiences. Following this unpleasant exchange, he continued to make strange noises almost to express that he had much better things to do than to drive a tourist even though it was a paid service. Afterwards, he came back to questioning my door closing protocol in regards to his car and I responded with a command to stop his car and let me out. I refused to pay the fare due to the delivery of horrendous service, expressing that I was not willing to flush my cash down the proverbial toilet. Hopefully this gentleman learned some manners, although he must have thought I was the one with the problem.
|Street view of beautiful Madrid|
This is not to say all of the city-dwellers were obtuse. It is a very common behaviour I have dubbed the capital syndrome: residents in these cities tend to live life on a different pedantic wave length. Perhaps being the centre of politics, economy and culture is a pressure where many struggle to thrive and become bitter. Nevertheless, I met some very friendly people who did in fact share many of the friendly, joyful and hospitable behaviour that reminded me of Latin Americans. The similarity was uncanny. The primary difference seemed to lie in language. Latin Americans tend to beat around the bush when speaking and often tend to drown you in politeness, whereas the Spaniard does not waste time with niceties and manners. They seem to always get straight to the point, which can also feel rude to those of us who like protocol. Next, I was on to Seville. Stay tuned!