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Home / Reference / Reflections on Spain / November, 2013

Reflections on Spain

Gratitude: Spain and La Familia

Whenever I get a chance, I steal away to one of my favorite spots in all of Spain: the Plaza de Cabildo, located in the heart of the sleepy sherry town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, across from Doñana, a wildlife preserve on the shores of the Atlantic. The plaza is near the venerable market where each day, local housewives visit its stalls of fish, meat, citrus, cheese and garden fresh vegetables brought in early in the morning. Now and then, when I drop by there to enjoy the market atmosphere, I see the same old woman sitting at the entrance guarding her big basket of tiny snails – deftly sweeping back errant creatures as they seek to gain freedom by furtively crawling over the edge of the container.

In the center of Plaza de Cabildo is a large and welcoming ceramic fountain with a bubbling jet of water in the center, surrounded by a ring of about a dozen smaller jets. The fountain is a magnet for pigeons and little boys who like to play in the water. Around the edges are tall palm trees and extravagant bowers of bougainvillea, and throughout there are people sitting at tables in the warm Andalucian sun, sipping Manzanilla sherry or a caña of Cruzcampo beer and savoring the freshest of seafood – including the fabled langostinos de Sanlúcar, amazingly delicious prawns, and tortillitas de camarones, a fritter made of tiny brine shrimp.

As idyllic as this sounds, the real reason I return is because I enjoy the Spanish people and the way they live out each day involved with one another. There are kids everywhere, young parents and friends chatting at cafés, a few sherry bodega stalwarts, people from all walks of life spontaneously gathering as a lively community. A couple of weeks ago, when Ruth and I visited the plaza, we saw a little girl standing beside her young father who held what must have been a pound sack of birdseed. He was sowing handfuls on the tile pavement and the pigeons were ecstatic – and not only the birds, but also about a dozen excited little girls and boys running amongst the pigeons trying to catch them.

I have always thought what was special about the Spanish culture was the way they include their children, infants or teenagers, in all aspects of their life together as a family. More than forty years ago a Spanish friend asked me, “Why would you entrust your most precious child to a stranger?” - referring to our practice of hiring babysitters. Even if it was a midnight outing at a restaurant, the children would be there with them – not left in the care of another.

As a result, at many public locations, such as a tapas bar or a restaurant, there is often a cadre of little sons and daughters playing right next to all of the adults. Over the years, Ruth and I have noticed that, even at a public park, mothers would be very involved in conversation while the children are given free reign to play within the vicinity - without the involvement of supervisory “helicopter moms.” As a result, the children took care of one another. If there was a scratched knee, or someone fell down, for example, the child did not run to their mother nor did the parent quickly intervene - instead older children in the group rendered aid or comfort to the younger. In effect it was a community responsibility, not solely a parental one.

Of course this works well when your neighborhood is essentially unchanging and everyone knows one another at least casually. The churro lady at the market in El Puerto de Santa María has been in the same location for more than fifty years, and she followed in the footsteps of her father and in turn his father. Literally everyone in the town knows her, from the cleaning ladies to the corporate heads of the sherry bodegas. I bought my first churros from her in 1973. Sometimes I would take our boys to the market on Saturday morning and, for 60 pesetas, Charo would fill up a cone with sizzling hot churros (the cone was made out of an old newspaper).

The Spaniard is raised with this broader view of life where many people are viewed as family. Our type of privacy and 'rugged individualism' is unknown; rights and responsibilities are shared by all in the family. When you are in a smaller city you will notice that the three generations are together when people take a paseo – the afternoon stroll. Grandma may take her granddaughter by the hand, and she in turn knows that she is looked after by her son or daughter, or even grandson.

In America, we have evolved into a quite a different society than that of traditional Spain. Our economy often requires two paychecks, making daycare and babysitting a reluctant necessity, and often our families are scattered over hundreds or even thousands of miles. The biggest travel period of the year for the airlines is Thanksgiving weekend, the uniquely American holiday where we celebrate the importance of our family connection and go to great lengths to get together. The celebration hearkens back to our roots, when the original settlers experienced the kind of interdependence which much of rural America and traditional Spain still experience.

In Spain, the severe financial crisis continues to linger, and the response of the Spanish people is to pull together as a family. We seldom saw 'street people' or 'homeless' during our recent travel in Spain, despite the fact that unemployment still is hovering at close to 25% (for youths, almost 50%). I think this is because their culture has an unquestioned understanding that everyone belongs, and their families have a responsibility to include them. The family might have to "add water to the broth" - the caldo at the dinner table might be a little thinner, and the bed might be makeshift, but it is there for anyone without question.

When we arrived for the celebration of Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragoza a few weeks ago, we wondered if the feria would be on a smaller scale than when the economy was doing well. On the contrary, the city was bustling with more activity than ever! Compared to our visit five years ago, it appeared to us that the number of families dressed in native costume bringing flowers to the Virgin had doubled. Even at dusk there were still more groups processing into town - many singing and dancing. Along the Ebro River were dozens of stands selling homemade roscos and doughnuts, big loaves of country bread, grilled Ibérico ribs and chops, and trays of candied fruit and other sweets.

Now I do not want to sound like a Pollyanna. There are severe problems, and in some families there is barely enough food to share, and this is why the greater community feels a moral duty to respond: after all is said and done, we are all in this together. Last year we told you of the San Froilán soup kitchen in Lugo supported by the family who provides us with bread from Galicia. There is no law making them do this – it comes from a sense of responsibility: “When I was hungry you fed me.”

This generosity is not just confined to the mores of traditional Spain; it is part of the American character as well. Last year La Tienda met with representatives of the food banks distributing food to needy families all over Spain and decided to help out by launching the Campaign for Spain. Your generosity as a part the La Tienda family was amazing. We banded together to send $50,000 to our needy neighbors in Spain. Because of your enthusiasm and the continuing need in Spain, we are launching the Campaign for Spain 2013. I hope many of you will join with us to give what you can. As with last year, 100% of your gift will be forwarded to those who need our help.

Su amigo,

Don

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COMMENTS

"My husband and I visit Sanlúcar de Barrameda and the Plaza del Cabildo every summer and it is just as wonderful as you describe it. The location and food are terrific but what draws us back most of all are the people. We too love the way that Spanish families include their children and their old ones, and share all of life together. I had the great good fortune to be an exchange student with a Spanish family in Madrid back in the 60's, and we still get together with them more than 50 years later. This article expressed something I have felt for years but did not know how to say. Thank you! And thank you for the wonderful Spanish products that I am now able to enjoy here in the USA. "
Becki Bishop, Brighton, MI

"Dear Becki, what a treat it must be to return to Plaza de Cabildo each summer -- always something to look forward to. Who knows, next year maybe we will run into each other amidst the little boys and girls and pigeons -- and langostinos." - Don Harris

"Just returned from visiting family and I am in total agreement of your recent article. I was brought up with family taking care of family. My family is located in the Huerical overa area of Spain and my father followed all those traditions in the USA. I visit every two years along with my sisters and we will always be in love with this beautiful country!!! Viva Espana"
Isabel , Venice, FL

"Dear Isabel, where exactly is Huerical overa? "Family taking care of family" is the essential building block of a peaceful loving life. I am glad you are experiencing it in your own family. One has to work at it in the USA with its stress on the individual and the vastness of our continent. But as you know, it is worth it." - Don Harris

"Thank you for sharing very special thoughts and observations, Don. Your well-written thoughts are always a treat."
Donna, Sierra Vista, AZ

"Dear Donna, Thank you for your kind words. " - Don Harris

"Buenos Dias Don, I enjoyed your letter very much, as I enjoy your food offerings from Spain...ham, tuna, sardines, olives, olive oil, etc...a customer and amigo for some time. My wife and I have traveled many times to France, Germany, Italy, etc...but never to Spain...although we have often said we should go. I am a wine collector [to drink, not look at!] and un poco Espanol. We better hurry up and go...I am 76."
Craig Richardson, Royal Oak, MD

"Dear Craig, You are saving the best for last in your travels. Wait until you meet the Spanish people and their great country -- it is like none other. And don't just stay in the big cities, as interesting as they are. The roads are better than ours -- so just pick up a rental car and go. I am in the process of posting some suggested itineraries on my blog, springtime is especially nice -- also the fall is nice to visit the villages. If I can help, just send me an email. " - Don Harris

"Your article brought back sweet memories! My Tia Loli bought a little apartment in Sanlucar. It was her private respite from her life in Sevilla. I remember the same fountain you wrote about. My children were toddlers when we visited there and they loved it, as did we. As for Zaragosa, you'd best believe that going there on October 12 at least once is on my "bucket list"! After all, my name is Pilar!"
Pilar Jones, Fairfax, VA

"Hola Pilar, thanks for your message. By all means you should plan a trip to Zaragoza. Even if yours is a short trip. We find arriving on 10 or 11 October is perfect -- and leaving in the afternoon of the 12th, but surely allow enough time to taste all the goodies from the stands along the Ebro River. " - Don Harris

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Reflexiones en Español

Read in English
Gratitud: España y la Familia

Siempre que tengo ocasión, hago una escapada a uno de mis rincones predilectos de España: La Plaza del Cabildo, en el corazón del plácido municipio de Sanlúcar de Barrameda, situado en el llamado Marco del Jerez, junto a Doñana, una reserva natural a orillas del Atlántico. La plaza está cerca del venerable mercado, donde cada día las amas de casa de la localidad acuden a los puestos de pescado, carne, fruta, queso y verduras frescas de la huerta, traídas temprano cada mañana. De vez en cuando, cuando me paso por ahí para disfrutar del ambiente del mercado, me encuentro con la misma señora mayor sentada a la entrada custodiando un enorme cesto de diminutos caracoles- manteniendo hábilmente a raya a estas criaturas errantes mientras intentan encontrar su libertad arrastrándose furtivamente hacia el borde del recipiente.

En el centro de la Plaza del Cabildo, hay una gran y acogedora fuente de cerámica con un burbujeante chorro de agua en el centro, rodeado por un círculo de unos doce chorros más pequeños. La fuente es una imán para las palomas y para los niños pequeños, a los que les gusta jugar en el agua. En las esquinas de la plaza hay palmeras de gran tamaño y enredaderas de buganvillas, y por toda la plaza hay gente sentada en mesas al cálido sol de Andalucía, tomando un jerez o una caña de Cruzcampo mientras saborean un marisco fresquísimo, entre los que se encuentran los legendarios langostinos de Sanlúcar, que son unos gambones singularmente deliciosos, y las tortillas de camarones, un frito elaborado con unas diminutas gambas marinadas.

Por muy idílico que suene, la verdadera razón por la que sigo volviendo a España es por que disfruto enormemente de los españoles y de su forma de vivir el día a día relacionándose los unos con los otros. Se pueden ver niños por todas partes, padres jóvenes y amigos charlando en cafeterías, algunos incondicionales de las bodegas de Jerez,…. gente de toda condición que se mezcla espontáneamente formando una comunidad viva. Hace unas semanas, cuando Ruth y yo visitábamos la plaza, vimos a una niña pequeña de pie junto a su padre. Este sujetaba lo que debía de haber sido una bolsa de medio kilo de comida para pájaros. Estaba esparciendo puñados de alpiste en las baldosas del suelo, lo que hacía las delicias de las palomas, y no sólo de éstas, sino también una docena de alborotadísimos niños pequeños que corrían entre ellas intentando atraparlas.

Siempre he creído que lo que hacía especial a la cultura española era la forma en la que incluyen a los niños, sean estos pequeños o adolescentes, en todos los aspectos de la vida familiar. Hace más de cuarenta años un amigo español me preguntó: “¿Por qué confiarle el preciadísimo hijo de uno a un extraño?” refiriéndose a la costumbre de contratar niñeras. Incluso si se trata de estar en un restaurante hasta la media noche, los niños están ahí con sus padres, y no al cuidado de otra persona.

Consecuentemente, en muchos lugares públicos, como en bares de tapas o restaurantes, hay a menudo unos cuantos niños pequeños jugando junto a los adultos. A lo largo de los años, Ruth y yo nos hemos dado cuenta de que, incluso en un parque público, las madres están muy metidas en su conversación mientras los niños juegan a su libre albedrio en los alrededores sin que haya ninguna madre sobreprotectora supervisándolo todo. De esta manera, los niños se cuidan los unos a los otros. Si alguno se hiciese un arañazo en la rodilla, o alguno se cayese, por ejemplo, el niño en cuestión no iría corriendo a su madre, ni tampoco la madre saldría corriendo a atenderle, en vez de eso, los niños mayores del grupo ayudarían o confortarían al más pequeño. Se trata en efecto de una responsabilidad comunitaria y no exclusivamente parental.

Ni que decir tiene que esto funciona bien cuando el barrio de uno prácticamente no cambia y cuando todo el mundo conoce a todo el mundo, al menos de una manera informal. La churrera del mercado de El Puerto de Santa María ha estado en el mismo sitio durante más de cincuenta años, siguiendo los pasos de su padre y del padre de éste. Literalmente todo el pueblo la conoce, desde las señoras de la limpieza a los directivos de las bodegas jerezanas. Le compré mis primeros churros en 1973. A veces me llevaba a mis hijos al mercado el sábado por la mañana y por 60 pesetas, Charo me llenaba un cucurucho de churros calientes recién hechos (el cucurucho estaba hecho de papel de periódico).

A los españoles se les cría con una visión más amplia de la vida, según la cual muchas personas son consideradas familia. Nuestro tipo de privacidad y nuestro marcado individualismo les son desconocidos; los derechos y deberes se comparte por igual en la familia. Cuando se está en una ciudad pequeña, uno se puede percatar de que hay tres generaciones juntas de la misma familia dando un paseo por la tarde. La abuela coge a su nieta de la mano sabiendo que, su vez, su hijo o hija o incluso algún nieto, está pendiente de ella. En América hemos evolucionado a una sociedad bastante diferente a la sociedad tradicional de España.

Nuestra economía hace que a menudo sean necesarias dos nóminas, haciendo de la guardería y de la niñera una necesidad forzosa. A esto se le une el hecho de que nuestras familias están diseminadas a cientos o incluso miles de kilómetros. El día del año con más tráfico de viajeros para las aerolíneas es el fin de semana de la fiesta de Acción de Gracias, la única fiesta americana en la que celebramos la importancia de nuestros lazos familiares y en la que ponemos todo de nuestra parte para reunirnos. Esta celebración nos devuelve a nuestras raíces, cuando los primeros colonos experimentaron la clase de interdependencia que mucha de la América rural y de la España tradicional siguen experimentando.

En España, la severa crisis financiera sigue haciendo estragos y la respuesta de los españoles a esta situación es unirse ante la adversidad como familia. Hemos visto a pocos vagabundos o a poca gente sin hogar en nuestro reciente viaje a España, a pesar de que la tasa de desempleo sigue rondando el 25% (el 50% en el caso de los más jóvenes). Creo que esto se debe a que su cultura entiende perfectamente el hecho de que todo individuo es una parte importante y de que la familia tiene la responsabilidad de incluirles. La familia puede verse en la situación de tener que añadir agua al caldo. Puede que el caldo de la cena sea un poco menos consistente y que la cama sea improvisada, pero están ahí para el que lo necesite, sin lugar a dudas.

Cuando llegamos para las fiestas en honor a Nuestra Señora del Pilar en Zaragoza hace unas semanas, nos preguntábamos si la feria sería de menores proporciones que cuando la economía iba bien. Al contrario, la ciudad estaba más llena de gente que nunca. Comparada con nuestra vista de hace cinco años, nos pareció que el número de familias que llevaban flores a la Virgen ataviados con el traje típico se había duplicado. Incluso al anochecer seguía habiendo grupos procesionando hacia la ciudad, muchos de ellos cantando y bailando. A lo largo de las orillas del río Ebro había docenas de puestos que vendían roscos y rosquillas caseras, grandes panes de campo, costillas y chuletas de ibérico asadas y bandejas de fruta confitada y otros dulces.

No quiero pecar de optimista. Hay problemas muy serios y en muchas familias no hay prácticamente comida que compartir, y esta es la razón por la que la comunidad siente el deber moral de responder: después de todo, estamos en esto juntos. El año pasado les hablamos del comedor social de San Froilán de Lugo mantenido gracias la familia que nos suministra el pan de Galicia. No hay ninguna ley que les obligue a hacerlo, viene de un sentido de la responsabilidad: “cuando tuve hambre, me disteis de comer.”

Esta generosidad no se limita a las costumbres de la España tradicional, también forma parte del carácter americano. El año pasado La tienda se reunión con los representantes de los bancos de alimentos encargados de distribuir comida a las familias más necesitadas de toda España y decidió sumarse a su esfuerzo lanzando su Campaña por España. La generosidad de todos ustedes, como parte de nuestra familia de La Tienda, fue impresionante. Juntos logramos enviar 50.000 dólares a nuestros vecinos españoles necesitados. Debido a su entusiasmo y a la necesidad constante en España, vamos a lanzar nuestra Campaña por España 2013. Espero que muchos de ustedes se sumen a nuestra iniciativa para contribuir con lo que puedan. Al igual que el año pasado, el 100% de las donaciones irá a parar a aquellos que necesitan de nuestra ayuda.

Su amigo,

Don