Category Archives: Non-fiction, Culture, Current Affairs

In the Garlic – Spain from A – Z

3 years ago my youngest sister arrived in Spain for a 12 month Erasmus study abroad program with little or no Spanish. Within months she was teaching Marina who, of course, is as Spanish as you can get, new words and phrases she’d never come across before. Part of her secret ‘learn Spanish sickeningly fast’ recipe involved sitting up in bed at night reading through the dictionary, picking out words that both fascinated her and later just stuck, for good. Sickening.

Anyway, much the same approach that my sister used to get ahead in Spanish could also be applied to Spanish culture, with Valerie Collins and Theresa O’Shea’s book In the Garlic. It’s an amusingly written A-Z of practically every aspect of Spanish culture you could begin to imagine, from Almuerzo (mid morning snacks) to Zara (Spanish version of Gap, sort of), via Chiringuito (beach-side or fiesta bar or restaurant/shack), Gilipuertas (polite version of Gilipollas – idiot) and Payo (gypsy term for non-gypsies). Apply my sister’s bedtime reading technique to this dictionary of Spain and you’ll soon be teaching Marina things she never knew about her own country!

But seriously, do you need this book? Well, here’s a little test. If you know what all of the following mean then you are definitely en el ajo (in the garlic = in the know) enough not to need it at all:

Llave inglesa, pataleo, piñata, selectividad, callista, dominguero, Ikastola.

How did you do? Definitions in the comments below please, and remember, if that little list completely stumped you, the book is available here!

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past – Giles Tremlett

The New Spaniards   Book review by Marbella, with our thanks: “…I found it quite uncomfortable reading at times. If anyone remembers the initiation ceremony in the Richard Harris film, A Man Called Horse? Well, if you still love Spain/the Spanish after reading some parts of this book then you’ll see what I mean by the analogy. I passed the test but it wasn’t easy.

It is a real rollercoaster ride through the civil war, ETA, catalanismo, drugs, tourism, corruption, flamenco…the list goes on. Giles Tremlett has an easy going, quite punchy style which made the coverage of so many subject areas achievable. I’m not sure if it is a good or bad thing that after reading it I have more questions than answers.

Before reading this book, I thought that Spaniards were being shifty in not confronting their past in relation to the civil war. I think now that if Spaniards want to forget then outsiders (like me, like Tremlett by his own admission) should let them do so.”
Pick up a copy at: (Europe)

The New Spaniards, by John Hooper (Book)

The New Spaniards   10 years old and still one of the clearest insights into the sociology and culture of Modern Spain available today. A must. After the death of Franco, Spain underwent social and cultural changes on a level previously unseen anywhere else in Europe. One moment it was illegal to kiss in public, a year later the streets were awash with liberalism, democracy, creativity, pornography, and reemerging cultural distinctions. This incredibly informative book really is essential to an understanding of how Spain made that change.
Pick up a copy at: (Europe) (USA)

A Basque History of the World

  A Basque History of the World (Book): The origins, myths, language, legends – everything you could ever want to know about the Basques, from their prowess as whale hunters and fearless long-distance fishermen, to how to make a perfect Basque Cake. A great read, fascinating on the beginnings and later development of ETA, and in all ways far more than just a history book.
Pick up a copy at: (Europe) (USA)

The Basque Ball

  Gritty documentary about life in the Basque country in the early 21st Century. Amazon synopsis – “A portrait and exploration of the language and traditions of the Basques and a look at the political nature of the region. Featuring archive footage and interviews with the likes of poets, musicians, terrorists and the people whose lives have been affected by violence.”
Pick up a copy at: (Europe)