I’ve now been studying Spanish at a school in Alicante for six days. I’ve really enjoyed the learning experience and, as mad dog woman has still not left the villa that I’ll be moving into, I’m planning on booking an additional week. This’ll take me up to my trip to Lisbon for the now annual drunken mess that is the Eurovision party. It’s frustrating that the original plan, to write the novel in the sunshine by a pool, has yet to begin but I’m filling the time with all sorts of cultural experience.
We do things differently in the U.K. Those who cling to a misguided and outdated sense of the islands importance could do far worse than spending a few days in this part of Spain. Open your mind and there are lessons to be had. Everyone knows about the weather, the food and the general camaraderie but there’s other, more specific things that I’ve been learning.
Today is ‘el dia del libro’ or ‘world book day’ in much of the world. UNESCO decided years ago that April 23rd would be a good day to hold it given that it’s the date of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes. Of course, us Brits, cantankerous and awkward to the end, choose to pick another date for it (School Easter holidays being used as the excuse for us not playing ball with the rest of the world). April 23rd, as the English will know is also St. Georges Day (Dia de San Jorge in Spain and Sant Jordi in Catalonia). But whereas the English use the slaying of the dragon to pump their nationalistic fists and drape themselves in flags, it’s quite different here and particularly in Catalonia. There, in a day that’s akin to Valentines Day, men give their women roses whilst women reciprocate by giving books. I think it sounds like quite a charming cultural tradition.
A much newer cultural ‘tradition’ but one that has nevertheless impressed me is the ‘tardeo’. When I arrived in Alicante on that Saturday afternoon, I had no idea why the streets seemed so alive at 4PM. But, I’ve since learnt that this is a concept that has emerged from Murcia. As we get older, it’s harder to justify dancing the night away. So, the tardeo makes the whole nightclub experience easier. In the afternoon and early evening, the nightclubs open their doors to an older generation. They typically play party music from the 80’s and 90’s and encourage the clientele to reminisce. Predominantly populated by people in their 30’s and 40’s, I can still just about cut the mustard there. The clubs don’t seem to charge an entrance fee and the middle-aged adults are up for a dance. I found myself wondering if such an experience could ever take off in the UK but then remembered how stubborn we are about foreign imports!
One of my favourite bars that I’ve discovered in Alicante is Freaks Arts Bar. The proposition there is different in that it considers itself a cultural cafe. It hosts art exhibitions, theatre, art workshops and film programmes amidst a really friendly space. I’ve been along twice now for a form of ‘cambio de Idiomas’ (or language exchange). Essentially, people seem to travel from miles around to learn about new cultures. The Spanish people there seem really keen to practice their English whilst I use the opportunity to learn more Spanish. Maxi, the bar owner, is an amiable Argentinian chap who’s lived here for a fair few years now. When I ask him why his English is so good, he declares it’s all from the films that he watches. He’s clearly a film buff; he’s a film-maker as well.
I briefly allow myself to think why ‘cambio de Idiomas’ are barely a thing in England yet so vibrant in Spain but stop when the appalling thought becomes so obvious. We’re not a curious nation; we have little interest in language and we can get away with being lazy. More than that, we have little interest in others. Whether it’s world book day, Tardeo or language exchanges, we have to maintain our own place and identity. And we’re culturally poorer as a result.
On another visit to Freaks Arts Bar I met Tim Ellis. Tim hosts a discussion class at the bar every Wednesday. Last week, we talked about a favourite subject, the weather. Tim’s a musician in this town. He’s clearly travelled extensively and shows no sign of wanting to return to his native Brighton. I can’t blame him. A composer of film and TV music, the humble Tim decides not to tell me that he’s produced for Julian Lennon but does tell me that he’s a singer-songwriter. That phrase conjures up all sorts of images but he’s not a man to be pigeon-holed. When I return to my student lodgings, I watch one of Tim’s songs on YouTube in a video that was produced by Maxi. This dark, warped and angry electronica pulls influence from the likes of Depeche Mode and Gary Numan. It’s about as far removed from the traditional singer-songwriter genre as you might expect. And I really quite like it. The adventure keeps on giving.