Spain, in the far southwestern corner of Europe, is a nation geographically isolated by steep mountains and seas. Most of the country is covered by the Meseta, a broad, almost treeless plateau crisscrossed by sierras, or mountain ranges. To the north, the long, unbroken mountain chain of the Pyrenees creates a natural border with France, while to the west, along the Bay of Biscay, lay the Cantabrian Mountains. Spain, known as Hispania during Roman times, occupies more than 80 percent of the Iberian Peninsula. Many ethnic groups, several of which have kept a strong separate cultural and linguistic identity, make up the country’s population. Castilian Spanish, spoken by nearly three-quarters of the people, is the official language nationwide. Other tongues however, including Catalan, Galician, Basque and Occitan are regionally recognized as official.
Many influences have left their stamp on Spain, creating a history and society that is richly layered and vibrant. Spaniards are known for their diversity and their spirited nature shaped by Celtic and Phoenicians settlers, by the Carthaginians and Greeks, and by the Moors and the Romans. In turn, through the Spanish Empire that once spread around the globe, the Spaniards have left a durable imprint on world culture, making Spanish the second most spoken language in the world.
A strong sense of family has long been the foundation of Spanish society, with Catholic values still permeating many aspects of the public and private spheres. The ‘siesta’, the afternoon rest time during which schools, stores and businesses close to allow people to go home for lunch and escape the warmest hours of the day, is still observed in many parts of the country. Spaniards are also notorious for taking their evening meal late into the night. Meals are usually enjoyed with family and friends and remain at the center of social life. Spanish cuisine has influenced world cuisine with dishes such as tapas (bite-sized appetizers), jamon iberrico (Spanish ham) and paella (rice with seafood or chicken). Spaniards love celebrations and fiestas (festivals).
In addition to being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and the novel —with the publication of Don Quixote in 1605— the country is widely known for its lively song, music and dance style called Flamenco. Flamenco culture originated in Andalusia, a fitting birthplace since, during the 16th century, the guitar was invented. Flamenco dancing is performed to the beautiful rhythms of the guitar, enhanced with the staccato sounds of stomping heels and castanets. Dancers wear brightly coloured costumes that vibrantly complement this dynamic dance; a passionate expression of the people’s true zest for life.
Spaniards have a long, prolific history in the arts. Various architectural movements, such as Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic and Baroque and Modernist, embellish buildings throughout the country. Spanish literature, with authors from Cervantes to Frederico Garcia Lorca, and cinema, through the works of directors Luis Bunuel or Pedro Almodovar, is loved all over the world. Spanish painters such as El Greco, Goya, Velasquez, Dali and Picasso, have left a durable imprint on the art world.
Spaniards’ treasure their arts and crafts. Pottery, such as the pieces made in Talavera de la Reina, or the painted azulejos ceramic tiles, with their hues of blue, are found in almost every Spanish home. Toledo was once at the center of bladesmithing in Europe, and swords and Damascened jewellery are still made there today. Lace and ‘blonda’, a silk fabric resembling lace, is produced in Catalonia, Galicia and Castilla while Lagartera is known for its embroidery. Part of many Spanish women’s attire is the traditional mantilla, a lace shawl worn over the head and shoulders. Spain was a major producer of wool, especially from merinowool. Leatherwork is a major industry: shoes and handbags made in Spain are known for their quality and innovative designs. Woodworking, particularly the making of guitars, is a Spanish specialty.
Spaniards have been coming to Canada since 1913, although the first mass emigration did not occur until the mid-1950s. Some came because of rural over-population, the collapse of certain occupations and industrial expansion, while others came simply for the adventure and the desire to better their lives. Many who arrived during the mid-1960s were skilled workers (technicians, welders, electricians and mechanics) who gravitated to Canada’s urban centres. Today there are over 368,000 people of Spanish ancestry in Canada, particularly in six cities: Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, as well as smaller communities throughout the country. Their influence is evident in cuisine, art and music and, even in the names of many of Canada’s gulfs, straits and islands, including Port aux Basques, Newfoundland––Basque fishermen explored Canada’s Atlantic coastal waters centuries ago––and British Columbia’s Galiano Island, Navarez Bay and Mount Bodega.
Sponsor: Far and Near Gourmet Club | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons