Category Archives: Spanish Culture and News

Two Great New Spain Blogs

Two great new Spain blogs worth checking out.

The first is Spain by Mike Randolph. Mike is a professional photographer and writer, and this is a great place to learn a lot about Spain and Spanish Culture.

The second is a joint project between me and my friend John, who lives in Asturias. It’s about making time to get away from the computer screen and out into the world: Making Time To Live

Amazon To Open in Spain – Big Changes Ahead?

According to the press, Amazon is due to open in Spain on Sept. 15th. [Update: Amazon.es is now open.] This is hardly surprising – all over Madrid you see MRW vans delivering Amazon packages every day, and it isn’t just expats like me buying English books. Many Spanish people have been turning to Amazon for some time to ship better priced electronics to Spain with the minimum of fuss and good guarantees: cameras etc are generally cheaper on Amazon than from major retailers here. Apparently one million Spaniards already visit Amazon websites every month.

Importantly, Amazon opening in Spain could have huge implications for the Spanish on- and off-line market.

First of all e-commerce is way behind in Spain, and one of the reasons I’ve always posited for this is that Spain never had Amazon. I believe that Amazon.co.uk/.com/.fr/.de has had a huge role in fostering trust in ecommerce in those countries. Buying on-line in the US or the UK is largely considered normal, safe, and reliable thanks to Amazon, whereas here in Spain it is still not considered a normal way to shop amongst large sectors of the population.

Spain sits about 3 times behind the UK in terms of ecommerce. Online sales accounted for only 3% of all retail sales in Spain in 2010, whereas in the UK online sales accounted for 10% of all sales in the same year.

First quarter online retail sales in Spain were up 23.1% this year with respect to 2010 first quarter sales, but Spain still lags a long way behind. Amazon opening in Spain could change that in the same way it helped develop ecommerce in countries like the UK – by doing things well, efficiently, and offering generally great customer service.

The question is, if Amazon Spain brings these same important retail values to Spain (good customer service, efficient product delivery etc), could it have a knock on effect for off-line retailers as well, as Amazon sets new higher standards (e.g. in returns policies and customer service) not always seen here before?

Who knows, but one thing is for sure, I would be worried if I ran any kind of books/electronics/household goods ecommerce site in Spain right now – the bar is about to be lifted significantly, and Amazon is going to make other online operators who aren’t providing an immaculate service already, look pretty bad, very quickly.

Personally I think this is great news, I hope Amazon does in Spain everything it’s been able to do elsewhere – offering the same range of products, good customer service, and guarantees. We’ll find out what they have in store for us on September 15th.

Update: As mentioned above, Amazon.es in now open, and will thrive.

The Spanish Revolution Continues – Notes from Spain Podcast 79


[Download MP3]

Ben and Marina discuss on-going events in “The Spanish Revolution”.

Other links mentioned in the podcast:

Our Cazorla coverage
The 150 posters and slogans from the Sol encampment
The best one of all, from this South of Watford post
– Rosa Diez’s party mentioned in the podcast (that we couldn’t remember the name of!) is Unión Progreso y Democracia (explained on wikipedia here)
Our Spanish learning site: Notes in Spanishnew videos up for Spanish learners!

And Finally… 2 Videos

The first, from 4Ojos, shows life under the awnings in the Puerta del Sol encampment at its height, just a day before the May 22nd elections:

And this wonderful video (in Spanish) that is doing the rounds at the moment that really explains the whole mess in Spanish politics and economics about as well as anyone could hope to:

The Spanish Revolution

I hadn’t bought a newspaper in a very long time until I heard about the incredibly exciting events of the Spanish Revolution last week – then I bought El Pais every day while we were out of Madrid on a short break, amazed by what has been happening in the capital’s Puerta del Sol and other parts of the country.

Rather than comment more on these historic events now, I refer you to two much better informed sources of information, that, unlike me, have actually been down on the ground in Sol to see for themselves what is going on.

Check out South of Watford’s reports from Sol, and Enrique Flores’ excellent reportage drawings and videos from the scene.

A short history of Spanish cinema, and Spanish graduates heading abroad…

Cabo de Trafalgar, Near Vejer de la Frontera
Photo: Cabo de Trafalgar, near Vejer de la Frontera

Two very interesting articles in the Guardian have recently been pointed out to me by listeners at our Spanish learning sister site Notesinspanish.com

First, A short history of Spanish cinema – loads of trailers.

Do read the Guardian comments too for more recommendations. (As the first comment points out, you might need a 3 hour lunch-break to watch all the trailers in the article!)

Secondly, Spain’s lost generation of graduates join wave of migrants in search of jobs tells the story of those fleeing the crisis in Spain to seek work in locations like London.

Finally, a quick plug…

…a very good friend of mine has put a website together to help his mother (also a great friend of mine!) rent her very nice house in Vejer de la Frontera. Even if you don’t want to rent a holiday house in Vejer, then I thoroughly recommend looking at the photos in the galleries, they are great! This is without doubt one of my favourite parts of Spain. Check it all out here: A house in Vejer

Quick Notes from Spain…

Competition time!

Over at Notes in Spanish we are holding a quick competition with a 100 Euro prize for the best Spanish-learning question.

Virtual Business cards!

I was in our local herbolario (health-food store) the other day, when I saw that there were a bunch of cards on the counter belonging to a friend of ours that has opened a yoga studio. How nice for the store owner to advertise this for them for free.

It made me wonder what the online equivalent of ‘leaving a few cards on the counter’ would be. I know the web has ‘link exchanges’ (though we don’t do that), and just plain linking to something one likes (we do do this!), but how would a friend leave a card on the Notes from Spain counter?

Later that day I got an email from Simon at Los Gazquez (where we recorded a great podcast!) sent out to all his friends:

If you believe in sustainable and cultural tourism, if you believe art has the ability to make communities and individuals thrive, if you believe that a house built on profound ecological principles as a means to set an example to the world on how individuals can bring change and reverse the adverse effects of climate change and environmental pollution then become an Amigo de Los Gázquez.
All we ask is that you help out with a little promotion. From time to time we will produce a new graphic image such as those you can see on the blog page (cool, tasteful and entertaining, not spammy) promoting either new residencies by artists, creative courses or eco-holidays.

Well we certainly believe in all those things, so here is Simon’s card, on our counter, from these Amigos de Los Gazquez:

At last, Apple is doing film rentals in Spain

Spain has been way way behind on the on-line rentals thing (no netflix for us!), but according to El Pais, Apple has finally opened up a modern-day video club to the nation. It will be interesting to see how much uptake it has in a country that is rather fond of the bit-torrent option… “According to the United States, Spain has one of the worst file-sharing “problems” in the world.”

Click here to see what movies Apple is offering in iTunes so far in Spain – not much!

Spain and Not Spain

Sherry Bar, Malaga, Spain

Photo: Not Greece (A great bar in great Malaga – Antigua Casa de Guardia, at Alameda Principal 18)

Spain:

‘Spain is not Greece’, ‘Spain is not Greece’ – it’s been all over every newspaper, national and international, for so long now, that everyone starts scratching their heads and thinking… Oh, maybe Spain is like Greece?! I suppose it’s a deliberate conspiracy to undermine the Spanish economy… Perhaps if we had months of headlines decrying “Spain is not Mars!”, or “Spain is not Las Vegas!”, then we’d all be wondering whether in fact Spain was a nice warm red planet, or a good place to throw away your life savings at roulette.

In any case, according to the BBC, Spain is “to unveil deep budget cuts amid EU economic fears” – just to make sure that Spain is not Greece, Spain is not Greece, etc…. (I wonder what the timeframe between ‘unveiling’ and ‘doing’ is…)

Not Totally Spain:

And now, for some good news… A few recommendations of things I’ve found interesting recently that have nothing or a just tiny bit to do with Spain…

1. A History of the World in 100 Objects is one of the most interesting podcasts I’ve ever listened to.

Each short episode is based around an ancient object from the British Museum (a 5,000 year old writing tablet from Iraq, a 10,000 year old sculpture of 2 lovers from the time when man invented farming…), and is filled with fascinating information about the world at the time the object was created.

2. I’ve been watching Simon Schama’s The Power Of Art – also totally fascinating, and especially interesting to Spain lovers is the episode on Picasso’s Guernica, his epic response to the bombing of the small Basque town by German military planes at Franco’s behest in the civil war. Really worth watching, and the other episodes are more than worth the price of the DVD too.

3. I’ve started reading The Grapes Of Wrath and, only 40 pages in, think it’s some of the best literature I’ve ever come across. I’m in no hurry to get to the end, every page shakes with the power of Steinbeck’s horror at the fate of man, every line is poetry!

And finally…

Feel free to start any comments by completing the following newspaper headline:
“Spain is not _________________”

“I LOVE the fact that I never feel rushed in a restaurant” – Great Comment

I love this comment from JoyceM (worth reading the whole thing) in last week’s Accustomed vs Resigned thread:

If they are going to enjoy 3 hour lunches, I am going to enjoy 3 hour lunches. If they are going to invite me out for a two hour coffee, I am going to go and enjoy the amazing flavors, the conversation and getting to know my new friends. By the way, I LOVE the fact that I never feel rushed in a restaurant. Contrast that with NYC and the pressure to “turn” the tables and as a customer, you will pick the Spanish way every time. Also, here you are able to get away with leaving “cheap” tips (the norm). Try that in NYC and see what kind of service you get.

I also love not being turned off a table once the meal is finished, even an hour after the meal has finsihed! Though I have to confess that it still makes the Brit in me nervous deep inside (“I’ve finished, I better go, they might want the table for someone else!”)

Meanwhile, some cool Spain links worth checking out:

Anton’s blog about life in Catalonia – check out the post on Calçotada – Yum yum!

– Check out the lovely old photos of Madrid’s Gran Via in this post at A View Of Madrid, where Richard is fast becoming Madrid’s most eminent ex-pat historian!

– There’s a dark discussion going on in the forum about Spain’s worsening economic situation… including interesting links, such as “Spain’s intelligence services are investigating the role of British and American media in fomenting financial turmoil

You know you’re a parent in Spain when…

…when as you are going to bed exhausted at 10.30 pm on a Saturday night, you glance out of the window and see that guests are just arriving at the party in the student flat opposite…

… when you get up to coax baby back to sleep at 5.30 am, and the last of the guests at the party opposite are just leaving…

…when you finally start your day at 7am and the hosts in the flat opposite are just going to bed!

Then again, when I lived in London we used to extinguish our house parties at 7 am too, the only difference being that ours started 2 hours earlier at 8.30 pm, proving perhaps, that the Brits party harder than the Spanish ;)

Life and Death of the ‘Mediterranean Diet’

My thoughts below were inspired by a tremendous talk by Jamie Oliver at TED this week, if you have 20 minutes please watch it (below). It’s moving to see so much passion. His fight is against obesity, and to bring real food back into our lives, and it certainly got me thinking about what’s going on here in Spain too (my thoughts follow):

Thoughts:

I wonder what happened to the Mediterranean diet? I was out eating some delicious Spanish tapas with friends recently – huevos rotos (fried eggs on fried potatoes), albondigas (meatballs), and chorizo, when one of us pointed out, “this food isn’t healthy, look at it! It’s pure meat and grease!” I suppose the glass of red wine counted for something…

I have no facts and figures, but there is a lot of embutido (cured pig products, jamon etc) and meat eaten in restaurants here in Spain these days, and not always a lot of attention paid to vegetables.

Still, I’m not sure it’s a huge problem yet. Good food still flourishes in good homes. But look at this report from 2008:

In Spain nearly two children out of every ten are obese which is nearly double the number compared to 20 years ago. This places Spain in third place after the US and the United Kingdom in terms of child obesity according to the International Association for Obesity.

That was two years ago, but a quick search on Google News shows the problem isn’t going away.

Like everywhere else in the modern world, life in Spain is speeding up. There is more to do, and less time to do it in. Less time for boring incoveniences like cooking good food.

I love the way the Spanish can talk for hours about food during a meal. It drove me mad for the first few years of meals with the in-laws, but now I relish the passion behind conversations about where, for example, to eat the best gambas in Madrid, or why everyone ate so many garbanzos in the 50’s and 60’s, and just how good they were.

But you only have to go into a supermarket, or walk down the high street, to see the same packaged foods, and the same fast-food outlets, that you find everywhere else in the world these days.

I hope there is still a chance for the future of real, home-cooked food in Spain. The increase in obesity in kids here makes it easy to presume that things don’t look good for the Mediterranean diet. I wonder what’s going on?

As I said above it’s moving to see so much passion from jamie Oliver, and his fight against obesity, his dream to bring real food back into our lives, but I think it’s more than just about food. Food is just one aspect of a better life we are losing.

We don’t just need to eat better, we need to slooooooooooow down, stop rushing rushing rushing, striving striving striving, and enjoy the good things – like good healthy food – in life again.

And Spain still has all the traditional values deeply ingrained enough to spearhead a return to that good life.

Let’s forget the Mediteranean diet.

How about going deeper still, and championing an entire Mediterranean Lifestyle again, before it too is lost forever in the running-running, rushing-rushing, hustling, bustling reality of our consumer-driven, TV-iPad-iPod-BMW-loving, fast-city-living, world.

What do you think? Do you see any chance for the concept of a ‘Mediterranean Lifestyle’ that includes that famous diet everyone is so fond of talking about?