Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock


January 10, 2018

The Catalan Chronicles: More Inconvenient Truths

A few years back, a Spanish comedy came out in theaters that would end up becoming the most popular film in this country’s history.  It was called Ocho Apellidos Vascos (Eight Basque Surnames) which is a reference to the sanguine purity of one’s origins.  An individual could not call themselves a true Basque if not all eight last names were Basque.  What does that mean exactly? How shall I explain this? You see, in Spain, a person has two last names; the first from the father and the second from the mother.  Each parent has two, totaling four.  So, following that system, if you go back and analyze each surname of all four grandparents and prove that they are all from Basque Country, then you are a true 100% native.  The movie was a sleeper blockbuster mainly due to the fact that it touched on so many previously thought taboo topics, like the Basque terrorist group, ETA.  A groundbreaking strip of celluloid, indeed.  It came to be the biggest hit at the box office ever, after Avatar.


It’s also a rather ordinary and overrated comedy, strickly speaking.   It’s fast-paced and quite cleverly done in spots, especially in the first hour, but it falls apart towards the end and becomes a kind of standard slapstick show that would entered the realms of oblivion had it not been for the groundbreaking subject matter.


Its popularity was so great that it caught the eye of the international entertainment world, and more than one producer even considered releasing it in other countries. There was just one problem: it was immensely difficult to understand abroad.  Many of the jokes were so inside they would go way over the heads of any foreigner but the most experienced.  One of the funniest moments for me is when Dani Rovira, the comedian who plays the posh young man from Sevilla, goes to the hometown of a Basque girl he’s fallen for, and says to her with his funny Andalusian accent, “What did you do to your hair, girl?”  It’s a cultural reference to the unorthodox way many Basque women, especially the radical ones wear their hair, but you would never come close to picking up on it without some pretty in depth knowledge of Spain.  Just it is tough to grasp much of what happens in this country when lacking all that is going on.


Spain, as we now know from its history, is chock full of cultures, the variety of which borders on stunning if you take into account its modest size.   All it takes is for one to cross the river bridge between Galicia and Asturias and even the houses look different. Drive from Navarra to Almeria in one day and you’ll be convinced you are in two different countries.   Spend a weekend in the city of Mérida and another in San Sebastian, and tell me what you think.  Planets apart.  So, when Catalan enthusiasts go on about how different and special their culture is, its their prerogative.  They’re absolutely on the mark.  They have a language, gastronomy, wine, music, traditional, arhitecture, etc. that are particular to their land.  Enough to warrant their forming their own nation.  After all, those are pretty much the ingredients anyone would need to claim sovereignty.


However, let’s consider some of the other  regions and see how they stack up against the rest of the country.


Regions with their own language: Catalonia, Valencia, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Asturias, Leon (to a much lesser extent), Galicia, Aranese and Aragonese.  The big five are Spanish, Galician, Catalan, Basque and Valencian (which is really Catalan).


Regions with their own gastronomy: They all do.  Paella is from Valencia, gazpacho comes from Andalusia, Butifarra from Catalonia, seafood from Galicia, hake from the Basque Country, fabada from Asturias.  And that’s really the tip of the iceberg.  It’ can even be broken down into provinces.   Madrid has its cocido; thr black pudding from Burgos; the suckling pig and lamb from Segovia; the shrimp from Huelva; the turrón from Alicante.  It goes on and on. The same goes for its wine.  I wrote a book years ago on this very subject.  Someone told me I had done a book about Spanish wine, and I said that wasn’t true.  “I wrote a book about Spain through its wine.”


Regions with their own music:  Spain is world famous for its flamenco music. But that’s not all there is.  In Aragon, they have the jota, Madrid boasts its chotis, Galicia whirls around in a muiñeira, to mention a few.


Regions with their own architecture: One distinction these regions have are its country houses. Catalonia has its masías, Andalusia has its cortijos, Galician manors are known as pazos, Asturias has pretty indianos, and so on.


Regions with their own traditions: All of them. There are scores of them. It’s almost impossible to know where to start.


So, yes, once again, Catalans have every reason in the world to show off the many features that are so characteristic of their region.  But what in God’s name possesses them to believe that their culture is somehow so different from the other cultures of Spain that they deserve to form their own country is beyond me.







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