You’ve got a friend in Spain

In The Art of Travel Fall 2015, Madrid, Books (2) by Maggie Boreham2 Comments

“I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards” is perhaps the most powerful quote, in my opinion from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. The story, told from the perspective of none other than Orwell himself, recounts his experience as a soldier fighting during the Spanish Civil War. He fought for the Republican side of the conflict (a bit confusing as the political parties here are flipped from the American political scale), and the side that ultimately lost to General Francisco Franco and the nationalist—a defeat that would change the political history of Spain to a dictatorship until only a little over 40 years ago.

I’m certain that if you’ve read my past posts, you know that I love to make really horrible cheesy puns and jokes that probably only I find amusing, however I fell like this week’s post, due to the nature of the novel is cause to be a bit more mature and reflective. As the story is a factual account of Orwell’s time in the militia it gets pretty real at points, for example when he is shot through the next and doesn’t receive medical attention for about a week. This kind of material was not exactly what I was expecting when I picked up the book, however I’m really pleased I read it.

Orwell writes about the Spain I learn about in class: a time of political and social divide, anarchy, oppression, urban centers, rural farms, industrial regions, and most of all national pride. While, fortunately, the Spain which I experience today is absolutely no where near the conditions of what Orwell and other soldiers during the Civil War (this was the 30s by the way) I can still see hints of it as I explore the city. Today, there is no running through louse infested trenches, dodging bullets, shooting at fascists, or starving for lack of resources, but there remains a strong sense of national pride, especially regionally in the Basque Country and Catalonia where Orwell did most of his fighting.

I’m sure you’ve heard in the news about Catalonia trying to become an independent, autonomous country, separate from Spain. The national pride that you see when you travel to Barcelona is incredible and sounds very similar to what Orwell describes: the people in Las Ramblas with flags, singing songs… it sounds like the day of an FC Barcelona game (which I have yet to go to I want to wrap up by going back to the first quote I used in this post: “I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards.” In my personal experience Spain has not been evil, but yes at times it hasn’t been the best. Classes have been grueling and I’ve had to work through some personal problems in my hunt for happiness abroad. However, the people of this country are so welcoming and open and helpful. Whenever you’re lost or need a recommendation just ask a random Spaniard—in all seriousness they are so nice it’s a little unnerving! Something I have to remind myself when I think “should I have gone to Berlin, or Sydney, or just stayed in New York?” Is perfectly summed up by Orwell when he goes on to say, “I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!”

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Comments

  1. Hi Maggie,
    I find your post to be super interesting. As you compared the current situation in Spain to the one in Orwell’s time, I feel like most European cities have remnants of their pasts. I mean we both know America surely has its own. Last week, my professor told me that the reason why many Italians do not wave a flag over their homes is because they do not want to appear to be Fascists. At the same time, I wish I had the environment where I could ask an Italian at random for help. Here, they are much less open to foreigners/tourists.

  2. Hi Maggie, I enjoyed reading your post this week. I am studying abroad in Argentina which, similarly to Spain, has a relatively recent sordid past. I read a book, though fictional, that also recounts events that took place during these tumultuous years in my host country. I don’t know if this is your experience as well, but in my time living in Spain as a nanny a few years ago, I felt that this past was swept under the rug and not often talked about in current discourse. I feel the same way here in Argentina. Though I do learn about the history in my classes, it is an entirely different political atmosphere outside the classroom setting. For that reason I am glad to have read a book that took on the task of addressing these atrocities. I hope that you continue to learn about and address Spain’s history, both its good and bad qualities.

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