Sweeping generalisations – I love 'em. So here we go – Spaniards have the best attitude to life in the world. After I returned from a month in Spain I found I had developed an overwhelming crush on mo vida. In Spain there are so many things that the people do that send a clear "Fuck you – I’m alright" to the world that is rendered totally charming by being simultaneously served up with "But you’re alright too and isn’t the world an amazing place and who’d be dead for quids?" kind of vibe.
It seems to me that a country with a spot-on attitude, with a definite zest for life, is one that features a specialist lingerie shop in every town. In every village in Spain – no matter how small – if you wander around enough you will eventually come across just such a shop. Or at least a shop that has a section dedicated to lingerie. And that shop may well be the newsagent, or the laundry, or the general foodstuffs store. There’s nothing quite like the delighted surprise of coming across some seriously sexy underwear displayed next to a pyramid of canned peppers. And what makes this even more delightful is that prior to the discovery of this treasure trove of exquisite scanties, you have been wandering for hours up and down the narrow cobbled alleys and you have seen very few people under the age of 60, and very few women wearing the latest in designer outfits. Rather the norm appears to be ancient, serviceable, dark-coloured clothing just perfect for tending the veggie garden. Oh the visions conjured of what lies beneath that practical clothing!
Let's also talk about the veggie gardens. What right-minded Spaniard doesn't have some sort of vegetables, fruit or herbs growing somewhere around their home? As far as I could tell – bugger all. Whether front garden, back garden, nature strip or simple balcony pot, every home I saw grew something edible.
This leads to thinking about other types of edible product – say meat. And in particular jamon. Jamon is almost a religion in Spain. At any given moment 100s of 1000s of legs of jamon are proudly displayed for worship – hanging in neat rows above the heads of tapas eaters everywhere. If you don’t believe the iconic status of the stuff let me just mention that in Madrid I personally visited the Palace, the Museum and the Paradise of Ham (Palacio de Jamon, Museo de Jamon and Paradisio de Jamon). Now because you are a Spaniard, just because ham has reached such an elevated status and is so proudly embraced by nearly all, that doesn't mean that you need to go overboard in your reverence. By all means call your shop the Paradise of Ham, but then don't let such niceties as health and safety get in the way of your enjoyment. Certainly you should hang the ham from the ceiling then smoke, drink, and throw foodstuffs on the floor with abandon.
Still on the food and drink side of things, it seems to me that you can't fault a culture that serves up a bit of complimentary food every time you order a drink. Maybe you will simply receive a couple of olives with your cerveza, or a little dish of anchovies with your fino, but like as not (particularly in the south) you will be served up such delicacies as pickled fish, lightly fried fresh-as-fresh calamari, a few choice slices of jamon with some bread, snails in wine and garlic, sausage on a toothpick. So civilized, so hospitable, so conducive to inspiring a feeling of "let’s sit, enjoy, take our time, drink in the feeling of this moment".
This very attractive attitude to living is not all about the food though. It is embodied by the notion that any spot is a good spot to stop and have a chat. What a lovely thing to see gaggles of gents standing in broad sunlight in the middle of a busy footpath having a lively conversation. How gorgeous to observe a tête-à-tête between two distinguished dames halfway up a staircase. How delightful to see an exuberant group of youth lounging in a plaza passing the time of day.
It is also personified by what appears to be the national support for a constitutional. A daily stroll seems on the cards for pretty well every Spaniard. Most impressive are the seniors (and I’m talking seriously senior) who in Australia would be calling out for a walking stick, perhaps even a wheelchair, or quite possibly campaigning for an end to anti-euthanasia laws. In Spain these people who look to be on their last legs, grab a gnarled old cane, pop on their best galoshes or gardening shoes and strike off up impossible slopes as an apparently good way to finish the day.
Perhaps the distinctive Spanish outlook is typified by the siesta. Here's a nation that says "Yes we are a global economy and yes we are sophisticates on the world stage but bugger it we all have to eat you know and let's not underestimate the importance of a relax and some digesting time so we'll just close all our shops (except the ones serving food and beverages) and all our offices in the middle of the day and we'll open them later when we’re good and ready." Nice.
And perhaps someone will drop by for a chat – and better still bring some jamon.
There’s nothing quite like the delighted surprise of coming across some seriously sexy underwear displayed next to a pyramid of canned peppers.