Michener’s Spain: Words that define Spain’s ‘essence’

This is the third in a series of posts on James Michener’s Iberia. You can read the first two posts here and here. This week, I stick with the first chapter and specifically the Spanish words and phrases Michener feels the reader needs to know to understand Spain.

There are some key Spanish words and phrases one first needs to grasp to even begin understanding the “mystery” of Spain. That’s at least according to James Michener, who would know better than anyone outside Spain.  These words and phrases “relate to the soul of Spain and are indeed of its essence,” he writes. I’ll step out of the way and let him explain. If you’re only going to skim, allow me to direct your attention to Viva yo at the bottom of the post. For a traveler to Spain, it might be the most important (and the one that makes me chuckle whenever I reread Michener’s description). (Note: Michener’s definitions have been edited for space reasons.)


I find myself unable to define duende, yet it seems to have become the sine qua non of Spanish existence. Without duende one might as well quit the game, and I mean seriously. To say that a friend or performer has duende is the highest praise one can bestow…
…The dictionary of the Real Academia de la Lengua (language) defines it as ‘mysterious and ineffable charm.’ A night club has duende of all things are in proportion, all properly Spanish, and if a sense of lovely, swinging motion pervades. A singer possesses duende if suddenly she can tilt her voice in such a way that everyone automatically cries ‘¡Olé! A bullfighter has duende when he displays not bravery but unmistakable class. The essence of the word lies in its peculiar usage, as in the sentence I heard not long ago describing a dancer, “My God! He has duende upon him.” I judge from that that duende is something that no man can will upon himself, but occasionally, when he is one with the spirit of a place or with the inherent quality of Spain, it rises from some deep reserve within him. I am aware of its presence when I see it.


This is a lovely word, which my Spanish friends use a good deal and which for a long time I was unable to understand. “Does it mean grace?” I asked. That and much more. “Is it a sense of humor?” Without one you could not have gracia, but it would have to be a very gentle sense of humor, one that smiled quietly at the inanities of the world. “Sometimes you use the word as if it meant good judgment or breeding.” It includes all of that and much more…There is much in Spain that has gracia which cannot be found elsewhere.


A Spaniard would willingly travel an extra 50 miles to find a spot with ambiente. Let word get around that a restaurant has ambiente and it is filled. If a vacation spot has ambiente its registration is crowded. The antique bullring at Ronda has ambiente, so that even though it lies perched in almost inaccessible mountains, people from all over Spain willingly travel long distances to see a fight there. The entire city of Sevilla has ambiente and is loved therefore. Madrid is too young to have achieved ambiente yet, but since it has power it is respected. What bestows ambiente on a place? I don’t know. But I have often been with Spaniards who have walked into what outwardly appeared to be a rather ordinary place and have been struck instantly by its charm. “This place has ambiente!” they have cried, and in that split second I have known that it did. How did they know? How did I know? No one can explain, but without ambiente a thing can scarcely be Spanish. With ambiente it needs little else.


It has been left to Spain to cultivate not only the world’s most austere definition of honor, which means roughly what it does in French, but also the word pundonor, which is a contraction of punta de honor (point of honor). At any rate, it is not sufficient for a meticulous Spaniard to word about his honor. Many things that an American man can in all decency forgive, the Spaniard cannot. If he is a man of pundonor, he must take action against insult…
…After all, Don Quixote is an engaging study of Spanish traits not only because it lampoons the concept of pundonor but also because it demonstrates that no man ever possessed pundonor to a greater degree than the doleful knight.


Sin = without. Vergüenza = shame. A sinvergüenza is a man the precise opposite of one with pundonor. In no country of the world except Japan is it so damaging to a man to charge him with being a sinvergüenza, and when one throws this accusation against another he must be prepared to defend his judgment.

Estupendo, Maravilloso, Fantástico, Magnífico

Few Americans and no Englishman have ever mastered these peculiarly Spanish expressions for we have reserved them for things like Cecil B. De Mille movies and the circus. But observe my experience in Madrid. I had rented a car and like others found much difficulty in parking it, but at a restaurant nearby I became acquainted with a doorman who seemed to have psychic powers in determining where empty parking spaces would be. For this service I tipped him rather generously, I thought, about a quarter in American money, which he accepted grudgingly. Against my better judgment, I raised the tip to thirty-five cents, with no appreciable modification of his manners, and then to forty cents, which brought only the same surly acknowledgement. However, one day I went to this restaurant with Victor olmos, the ebullient Reader’s Digest editor for Spain, who wheeled into the parking area, slammed on his brakes, leaped from the car, and left it. When we returned, the attendant hurried for the car (he dawdled disgracefully when getting mine) and cried, “Señor, I found you a place.” “Estupendo!” Olmos said and gave the man a six-cent tip. The attendant’s face was wreathed in smiles. “Fantástico!” Olmos added. “Simply maravilloso.” The attendant nodded and I could see that he felt good all over. When I parked there I gave him a twenty-cent tip and cried “Estupendo!” and he beamed. Later on it was fantastic and extraordinario, and I had built myself a secure place in his attentions. My car came promptly now, for like a good Spaniard he needed words as much as he needed money, and the words he wanted had to be the most expansive and inflated available. In Spain words form a kind of currency which must be spent freely, and to do this is not easy for an American, yet not to do it in Spain is to miss the spirit of human relationships.

Viva yo

This phrase will not be found in dictionaries. Some time ago there was a competition for the cartoon which best expressed the Spanish character, and the winner, without a close second, was one showing an arrogant little boy urinating in the middle of the street and spelling out the words, “Viva yo,” which could be translated as “Hurray for me,” except that the guts of the phrase is the implied second half, “and to hell with everyone else.” A comprehension of the Spaniard’s addiction to Viva yo will help anyone trying to make his way in Spain. When the little car barrels right down the middle of the highway, forcing everyone else into the ditch, you don’t swear at the driver. You say “Viva yo” and you understand what happened and why. When you pay seven dollars for a seat at the bullfight and find it occupied by a man who will not move, you don’t punch him. You say “Viva yo” and steal someone else’s seat…
…If…one finds that the constant exhibition of Viva yo irritates him, he should probably stay out of Spain and probably Texas too.


Spain’s ‘China phenomenon’

A Chinese restaurant in Madrid

Spain of late has become a land where immigrants’ dreams go to die, at least since the financial crisis began to unfold. Many migrants from Latin America and North Africa, who had left their homes in search of a better life in Spain, have had to return home in anguish.

But one immigrant group is staying strong and it happens to be one of the newest groups of immigrants in Spain: the Chinese.

A couple of weeks ago, the Financial Times had a really good piece on the Chinese community in Spain.

(You can click here for the story; the site requires registration.)

The China phenomenon in Spain is barely a decade old, but its importance is growing. Chinese immigrants came later to Spain than they did to other developed European economies, probably because the country was itself a slow developer and late arrival in the European Union.

Size of the Community

The Chinese population in Spain has grown from 161 in 1961 to 170,000 today, the FT reports, citing “official statistics.” But even as recently as 1995, the population was only around 10,000. As a percentage of the overall population, using data from the World Bank, the Chinese community has grown to 0.4% of the population today from .03% in 1995 and .0005% in 1961.

By comparison, roughly 1.2% of Americans (3.5 million) in 2007 either claimed Chinese ancestry or were born in China, according to American Community Survey data.


The Chinese immigrants in Spain are, by and large, an enterprising bunch, which certainly has its benefits.

Pedro Nueno, president of the China Europe International Business School, said the following to the FT: “[The Chinese community] is very entrepreneurial and hardworking and creates no problems. There are no big health costs or unemployment costs.”

They are well established in the trade of clothing, shoes and toys. They have also established restaurants and 99-cent-type stores (in Spain they’re called ‘todo a cien’ shops, which Spaniards have taken to calling “chinos”).

Chinese people in Spain

The establishment of the Chinese community coincides with a burgeoning relationship between Spain and China. Trade has been increasing between the two countries as is tourism. Spain is making a push to increase the flow of Chinese tourists over the next decade. And let’s not forget that China was one of the first to show confidence in Spain’s economic vitality a couple of months ago, at a time when investors were wary of touching Spanish debt.

Potential Problems

The growing population of Spain’s Chinese community doesn’t come without warning signals of future trouble. As the FT reports:

Spanish business owners have reacted to the rise of Chinese enterprise in their midst with a mixture of admiration, resentment and fear. Six years ago there were violent protests against Chinese shoe imports. Spaniards have since been obliged to recognise the importance of the Chinese as customers, competitors and, increasingly, employers.

“Now that China is very strong, people get to know us more and start to respect us more, but they are also afraid of the commercial ‘invasion’ and the idea that ‘Chinese people are taking our jobs’,” a Chinese executive at a large Spanish company told the FT.

It probably doesn’t help that the Chinese immigrants in Spain don’t appear to be making a concerted effort to assimilate. “We’re not truly integrated,” lawyer Yijong Ji Wang tells Time. “Many Chinese don’t even learn Spanish because they don’t have to — they can even get TV in Chinese here.”

That doesn’t mean the Chinese community hasn’t conducted any outreach. The article in Time highlighted one such effort: a ‘Miss China in Spain’ contest. Read about it here.

Esperanza Liu, who organized the event, told Time: “Spaniards think we Chinese only care about work. We want to show them we care about beauty too.”


Michener’s Spain: Badajoz

Last week, I began what will be a series of posts on James Michener’s Iberia. You can read the first post here. This week I take a look at the first chapter of the book, which focuses on the city of Badajoz and the surrounding region of Extremadura.

Of all the colorful, historical, alluring places in Spain with which to open Iberia, the colossal book about the country he loved so much, James Michener chose Badajoz. Drawing a blank? You can try for some information here. But even that doesn’t illuminate the subject much. It would be like introducing someone to the U.S. by first discussing Indianapolis*.

Skyline of Badajoz; in the background stretches the empty rockiness of Extremadura (photo by Antonio Fiol).

Now, I’m sure Badajoz is wonderful. And some pictures I’ve seen of the city are rather beautiful and underscore a certain unique character to the place. Not to mention the fact that Badajoz has had a somewhat colorful history and has played an important role in several military engagements on the Iberian peninsula over the years. (How many sieges have the people of Indianapolis survived?) But still, surely there was a better city with which to open his book and capture the attention of his readers.

But in this you have to give Michener the benefit of the doubt. He has a method and according to that method there was perhaps no better city to put out there first. That method relates to his approach to “exploring a strange land.” Anyone who loves to travel should pay keen attention to this advice from a man who spent a lifetime exploring the world. Here it is in his own words:

I cannot remember how I discovered my technique for exploring a strange land, for I have followed this procedure for as long as I can recall. I enter the country unannounced and without a letter to anyone. I stand back and look at the scene before me, talk with anyone who cares to talk to me, then go to the bus station and buy a ticket for the end of any random line. This drops me in some village out in the country, and there I spend a couple of days just sitting and looking and talking. This produces some very dull days, but also some memorable ones.

This takes guts, no doubt, because God only knows where you’ll end up. I think I’d even have reservations doing this at the Port Authority in Manhattan (“I’m where in New Jersey?!”). But Michener does it to witness the country he’s visiting in all its authenticity, to get away from the tourist traps and meet the people, witness their lives and immerse himself in the culture. It’s clear that Michener applied a similar tactic to how he organized Iberia, choosing to cover in his first chapter the most unlikely of Spanish cities: Badajoz, the major metropolis in Extremadura, which Michener calls “that empty, rocky section of Spain lying southwest from Madrid along the Portuguese border.”

Without this reasoning, Michener seems to admit the choice of Badajoz is befuddling.

In America when I had explained to my friends that I was heading for Badajoz, they had shrugged because they had never heard of it, and when I told my Spanish friends they grimaced because they had. ‘For the love of Jesus, why Badajoz? It has absolutely nothing.’ In Spanish, this last phrase sounds quite final: ‘Absolutamente nada,’ with the six syllables of the first word strung out in emphasis.

But for Michener, no other area of Spain would suffice.

When I heard the word Spain, I visualized not kings and priests, nor painters and hidalgos, nor Madrid and Sevilla, but the vast reaches of emptiness, lonely uplands occupied by the solitary shepherd, the hard land of Spain stretching off to interminable distances, and populated by tough, weatherbeaten men with never a ruffle at their throats nor a caparisoned hose beneath them. In short, when I thought of Spain, I thought primarily of Extremadura, the brutal region in the west, of which Badajoz was the principal city.

Through his profile of Badajoz, what does he teach us about Spain in the 1960s?

  • We meet Spaniards from a city and region that hasn’t been romanticized out of recognition:
    “Badajoz was Spain and no place else… [I]t was not an exaggerated Spain, not a musical-comedy land at all.”
  • We see the changes to Spain being wrought by an encroaching 1960s’ modernity. There was the old section of Badajoz “with its narrow streets and memories of Spain as it used to be,” which to Michener was authentic Spain. But he also saw the newer developments of the city, which, to him, were indistinguishable from any other European city.
  • We learn the truth that permeates Spanish life. He describes getting swept up in a procession to honor Our Lady of Fatima, which reminded him of the “first essential for anyone who wishes to understand Spain:  in every manifestation of life Spain is a Catholic country.” And even though Spain has become much more secular since the 1960s, I think one could argue that much of what Spaniards do is still done within the context of centuries of living in a staunchly Catholic culture.

Finally, in the rural areas around Badajoz we encounter poverty at shocking levels for a European country.

In Badajoz… I had seen people dressed as well as my neighbors dress in Pennsylvania, but in no part of America could I find farmers living at the miserable level that these farmers lived. It was a miracle, I thought, that Spain maintained its tranquility when such conditions prevailed.

Due to the poverty, many extremeños, especially young men, were driven to find work in Germany. The situation has changed of course since then. But as Spain has teetered recently on the brink of financial ruin, one has to wonder if some Spaniards have begun reliving such painful memories.

Michener, with his keen sense of history, couldn’t write about Extremadura without touching on the incredible list of conquistadors who came from this harsh land. And he takes several side trips to visit the birthplace of men such as Hernan Cortes. (For more on the number of conquistadors who were also extremeños, see my post here.)

He also uses the first chapter to explore some general themes about Spain that will be necessary for the rest of the book. These include important Spanish terms, the amazing chain of paradors that makes travel a little easier for the tourist in Spain, and the almost magical quality of the bull in Spanish culture. I will explore these themes further in coming weeks.

*Dear Indianapolisians: I’m only kidding! I once spent a weekend in Indianapolis and had a good time. I remember some fun bars with good jazz and very nice people. Don’t hate me. I could just have easily picked, oh, I don’t know, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Okay, that probably didn’t help much.)


New Spanish food site targets U.S. consumers

PM Iberico + Montelarreina

La Tienda, the online Spanish food store that I’ve often fawned over, is getting some competition from a new website called Food Spain 101.

It’s so named because it “present[s] the rich and varied foods of Spain in a simple and straightforward way, much like an entry level class on the Spanish cuisine,” according to a press release. (Yes, but wouldn’t the class be called something more like Spanish Food 101, not Food Spain 101? None of us took Language Spain 101. Okay, okay. Moving on.)

The site is owned by Solex Partners, a Chicago-based company that imports and distributes foods from Spain to U.S. restaurants and specialty stores. Food Spain 101 is the company’s first effort to sell directly to consumers like you and me.

Jamón Serrano

Jose Sarrate of Food Spain 101 says “we have successfully distributed artisanal foods from Spain to restaurants and specialty food stores for years and thought it was about time we make these wonderful products that express our native Spain’s joy for life directly to consumers in our adopted home in the United States.” Bless your heart Jose. We could probably all stand a few more helpings of ‘Spain’s joy for life.’

The press release claims the new site will allow us to get our hands on Spanish foods that “used to be available only to chefs.” That might be stretching it a little. For instance, the press release mentions that the site sells Montelarreina, “which won a gold medal for being the best sheep’s milk cheese worldwide for multiple years.” But you could just as easily order Montelrreina from SpanishFeast.com (click here for the item). Spain Food 101 also boasts an inventory of sausages like Chistorra and Cantimpalo, which are just as easily found at LaTienda.com (see here and here).

Wine Goat Mini

But the bottom line here is we have yet another place to go to find Spanish food. So, not sure where to find the right kind of rice for paella? Spain Food 101 can help (click here).

My favorite part of the site is the page of “Baskets with a Story.” Each would make a fun gift — if you’ve got the money — and are based on “stories” that would be familiar to Americans. The basket’s themes include:

  • Hemingway in Spain
  • La Alhambra
  • Way of St. James
  • Ecologically Friendly Spain
  • 7th of July… San Fermin!!


Michener’s Spain: An Introduction

“I have long believed that any man interested in either the mystic or the romantic aspects of life must sooner or later define his attitude concerning Spain.”

Chief Spainiac in Charge, James Michener, seen here in 1991 at the age of 84 attending an observance in Hawaii commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Thus did James Michener write the unforgettable opening line to Iberia, his classic non-fictional portrait of Spain. It’s quite a statement. Read it a couple of times carefully. “Any man”? Really, James? Not just those who have traveled to Spain. Not just Europeans. Not just Westerners. No, anyone anywhere in the world. And that’s just the first point in a list of rather surprising claims about the allure of Spain on the human soul, all packed tightly into one sentence.

If this were any other writer, even Ernest Hemingway, I might be willing to dismiss the sentence as hyperbole. But this is James Michener, a writer who chose his words deliberately, with care, laboring for hours over sentences. No, this isn’t hyperbole. Michener, the greatest Spainiac ever, in the opening to his masterful tome, outlines the causes of the mania people from all over the world have developed for Spain.

I finally found time to read the book. It sat on my shelf for years beckoning. I’m not going to bother with a traditional review. There’s too much to say and too much that would be left unsaid. For now, I’ll go as far as this: Read it. Then read it again. It’s timeless despite being written in the mid-1960s. It’s balanced. And it’s written by a writer who considered Spain his “second home,” who once found canned gazpacho in a grocery store in Pennsylvania and it brought tears to his eyes. There are a lot of books out there trying to define Spain. They might be worth reading. But not until you’ve read this one.

Over the next several weeks, hopefully on Mondays (Mondays with Michener? ), I plan to explore the chapters little by little. There’s no way to review a work like this in one post. Heck, I can’t get past the first sentence. And with good reason. It’s loaded and deserves a little more inspection.

How exactly does Michener define the pull Spain exerts?

We already established that he is apparently speaking about people around the world. He then goes on to define them a little better. These people have one of two qualities about them: they pay attention in some degree (are “interested”) in “the mystic or the romantic aspects of life.” Who might that include? He seems to be painting with a broad brush and yet it’s specific enough to create a portrait of whom he speaks. He speaks of those who take an interest in love, chivalry, adventure, passion (i.e. “romantic aspects of life”) etc. And he speaks of those who seek some sort of connection to the ultimate reality or meaning of our existence (i.e. the “mystic” aspect of life). I would think there’s a little of the romantic or mystic in almost all of us. Indeed, being romantic or mystical is really part of the human experience. So again, Michener hasn’t really narrowed the field much.

The final point is the kicker: All these people the world over who have that romantic or mystical itch, at some point in their lives, must “define” their “attitude concerning Spain.” In other words, a love of Spain is not guaranteed. Rather, Michener, explains later in his introduction, one is “haunted” by Spain and must decide how to respond. Hence, history gives us James Michener but it also gives us Francis Drake.

Okay, I’ve beaten this well written sentence enough with my gibberish. But I do maintain that Michener chose each word carefully and so such analysis is necessary before diving into Iberia. Because from the introduction Michener then dives into the country he loved so much and in it he introduces a cast of characters who are all in their own way defining their attitude toward Spain. Michener, however, is careful to point out in his introduction that defining one’s attitude toward Spain does not equate with understanding this complex nation.

I knew then that Spain was a special land, and I have spent many subsequent trips endeavoring to unravel its peculiarities. I have not succeeded, and in this failure I am not unhappy, for Spain is a mystery and I am not at all convinced that those who live within the peninsula and were born there understand it much better than I, but that we all love the wild, contradictory, passionately beautiful land there can be no doubt.

I’ll be exploring his love of Spain over the coming weeks and I’ll proceed in the way Michener organized his masterpiece. Here is how Michener divided his book by chapter:

* Badajoz
* Toledo, Cordoba
* Las Marismas
* Sevilla
* Madrid
* Salamanca,
* Pamplona
* Barcelona
* Teruel
* Santiago De Compostela


My gift to you for el Día de los Reyes Magos

Last year's Three Kings' celebration in Bigastro (photo by Keith Williamson)

My posts have been few and far between of late. That has a lot to do with the bustle of the holiday season and even more to do with my wife giving birth to our fourth little Spaniac, a girl named Isabel. I’ve also been trying to figure out ways to bring you more useful content more frequently without redesigning the site. And so, I’m back with my gift to you for Three Kings’ Day: Look to the right, and up a bit. That’s right. Nothing but the best for my loyal reader(s). I’ve added a news ticker with all the latest news from Spain as well as a daily Spanish vocabulary word. I wanted the word to be useful to people of all levels of competency at speaking Spanish so I’m relying on the judgment of the Spanish Royal Academy. Check back often and ¡feliz dia de reyes!


Doing business with Spaniards

My wife recently came across this website, which has detailed cultural profiles of several countries, including Spain. The profiles are geared toward those doing business in these countries, but much of what the website provides could easily apply to any visitor.

The website is run by a U.K. company called Kwintenssential, which, according to its Linkedin profile, was founded in 2003 “to support the process of globalization and internationalization.”

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the profiles. And gross generalizations can be misleading. But from what I do know of various cultures, including our own in the U.S., I’d have to say they seem on the whole rather accurate. Much of the profile of the United States rings true (i.e. “In general, people in the East dress more formally, while people in the West are known for being a bit more casual”). Still, I’d be interested in hearing feedback from anyone with experience living in Spain, or, better yet, doing business with Spaniards.

Go here for Spain’s profile. The site also provides a page of useful, although extremely basic, language tips for travelers.

Here are some of my favorites details from Spain’s profile.

During meals…

  • Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table.
  • Use utensils to eat most food. Even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork.

Building business relationships…

  • Once you develop a relationship, it will prevail even if you switch companies, since your Spanish business colleagues’ allegiance will be to you rather than the company you represent.
  • Face-to-face contact is preferred to written or telephone communication.
  • The way you present yourself is of critical importance when dealing with Spaniards.
  • You may be interrupted while you are speaking. This is not an insult, it merely means the person is interested in what you are saying.
  • Spaniards do not like to lose face, so they will not necessarily say that they do not understand something, particularly if you are not speaking Spanish. You must be adept at discerning body language.

The little things…

  • Business dress is stylish yet, conservative.
  • Elegant accessories are important for both men and women.
  • Present your business card to the receptionist upon arriving.
  • Have one side of your card translated into Spanish.
  • Hand your card so the Spanish side faces the recipient.


My Spanish Taste of Christmas

Two of my fondest Christmas memories growing up as a (half) Spanish American were 1) that Christmas came again on Jan. 6 (more presents!) and 2) the taste of turrón.

Typically made from egg white, honey, sugar and almonds, turrón is an authentic taste of Spain for the holidays. Almonds comprise upwards of  almost two thirds of the recipe for many varieties of turrón.

I’ll give you a couple of places to purchase some in a moment. But first, a little description.

I classify turrón into two categories: 1) the kind that will break all your teeth and 2) the kind that won’t.

Here’s a photo of the kind that will, Turrón Alicante “Duro.” It’s duro all right and is one of my father’s favorites.

What you lose in teeth, you gain in taste (photo: La Tienda)

Then there’s the gentler kind, in many varieties. Extra oils are added to give it a much softer consistency. Here are my favorites:

Almond and Honey Turrón

Your teeth will thank you (photo: La Tienda)

It’s soft, flaky and sweet and has roughly the taste and consistency of marzipan.

Egg Yolk Turrón

A chewier turrón from 1880 (photo: La Tienda)

This one holds together better than the almond and honey turrón and is almost chewy in comparison.

Milk Chocolate Turrón

Turrón + chocolate = well, chocolate turrón of course, and it's damn good (photo: La Tienda)

Something tells me this is a deviation from the traditional recipe. But it’s rather prevalent and rather delicious. When it comes to chocolate, I for one am not too concerned about tradition.

Where to Find Turrón

Where can you get it? Assuming my parents don’t send you any, you’ll be hard pressed to locate turrón in your local grocery store. And yet you just might. I found some last year in a small market near our apartment in Brooklyn. It was made in Spain and tasted as it ought to taste. Such luck aside, you might have to go online. Oh, don’t worry about having it in time for Christmas. Don’t forget the Epiphany, Jan. 6, a day Spainiacs should consider celebrating with gifts and more general merrymaking.

Here are a couple of online stores:

There is of course, La Tienda. Just go to the site and search for turrón. There’s a good selection although it’s all a bit pricey. It’s probably some of the best brands of turrón. I wouldn’t know. The stuff I bought at the Wikimart in Brooklyn probably wasn’t top-of-the-line. But, like I said, it tasted as turrón should. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate of La Tienda, which means feel free to buy high and in large quantities.)

You can purchase turrón more cheaply at The Spanish Table, a store to which my older sister recently alerted me. They also have a really good selection and it appears cheaper than what La Tienda is selling. But what do I know? Perhaps The Spanish Table gets you on shipping.


Wikileaks and the Spain-U.S. Alliance

Blast you Wikileaks. Just when it appeared Spain and the United States had found a way to maintain a steady and relatively strong alliance, the release by Wikileaks of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables has revealed an apparent imbalance in the relationship that could cause future problems.

In various cables released on Wikileaks.org the U.S. appears to treat Spain as its lackey, a nation that will do its bidding. And that’s just not going to sit well with a proud Spanish public.

Here’s how Spanish newspaper El País describes the more damaging cables, according to this guy’s translation.

“Over the last several years, the Embassy of the United States in Madrid wielded powerful resources in an extraordinary effort to impede or terminate pending criminal investigations in Spain which involved American political and military figures assumed to have been involved in incidents of torture in Guantánamo, violations of the laws of war in Iraq or kidnappings in connection with the CIA’s extraordinary renditions program.”

Here’s why Spain cares about these “incidents”:

– the torture in Guantánamo allegedly involved Spanish citizens held captive there;

– the CIA’s renditions program included secret stopovers at Spanish airports; and

– the violations of war involved the death of a Spanish camerman José Couso during the 2003 invasion of Baghdad. Couso died when a U.S. M1 Abraham tank fired on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel.

It just doesn’t look good for the Spanish government. “The implication that top Spanish officials did bidding for the US is very damaging,” Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, tells the Christian Science Monitor.

But wait there’s more. The leaked cables also reportedly reveal that the U.S. trade representative and U.S. industry groups are the main forces behind the tough intellectual property legislation being considered by Spain’s Congress.

Then there was the question of who was going to build a new helicopter engine for the Spanish military. The Ministry of Defense wanted to award the contract to Rolls-Royce. The only problem was that General Electric wanted it too. The U.S. Ambassador to Spain at the time, Eduardo Aguirre, who’s featured in a lot of the leaked documents, made it clear to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero Rodriguez that this wouldn’t fly with U.S. corporate executives. Aguirre reportedly said U.S. firms might stop bidding for Spanish contracts due to a “growing perception” that Spain was “not welcoming” Spanish bids, the BBC reports, citing the leaked State Department cables.

Zapatero told Aguirre “to let him know if there was something important to the US government and he would take care of it.”

Indeed, there appears to have been something just so important. The U.S. government was lobbying for GE and Aguirre told Zapatero that “failure to win the contract would cause that branch of GE to cease operations in Spain.” GE got the contract.

Of course, these cables could just be a random sampling of thousands of documents concerning the relations of the two nations. But the perception they create of a weak Spain in a one-sided alliance with the U.S. is going to be hard for the two nations’ diplomats to combat.

Then again, they do have this as a model of diplomatic negotiation and cooperation. But for all the wrangling Spain has apparently done for the U.S., you’d think we could have left out the request for the French painting.


La Tienda’s 12 Days of Christmas

Dear Santa, I'll take one of these $1100 gift boxes with Iberico ham. Hey, on Dec. 20 you can get it for me 20% off!

La Tienda, also known in certain circles as the best on-line store ever (despite being a tad pricey), is counting down to Christmas day with a series of rather aggressive sales offers. It’s a 12-day sales event (never mind that the 12 days of Christmas actually start on Christmas day, just roll with it), with a different item on sale each day, except for Sunday.

La Tienda says on its website that for Christmas delivery you must order by noon on Dec. 23. If the Dec. 24 offer strikes your fancy as a gift idea, just deliver it for Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany, or “little Christmas,” the day Spaniards have traditionally exchanged gifts.

Below are the deals by date. I’ve also tried to identify what the normal cost of each product would be.

Monday, December 13 – 60% off Pinzellat Ceramics

I’m not sure what the people at La Tienda are referring to here. Pinzellat doesn’t turn up any results on their website. It appears to be a Catalan word that might either mean brushes or brushed. So perhaps it means hand-painted ceramics. Either way, they sell some beautiful ceramics from Spain. I guess you’d have to call to get the specifics. And either way, at 60% off, this is La Tienda’s best deal of the season.

Tuesday, December 14 – 30% off Paella Kits

They have several choices of kits, ranging in price from $49.95 for the “Mini Paella Kit in Gift Basket” to $149 for the “Deluxe Paella Kit with Paella Cookbook – Packed in Gift Box.”

Wednesday, December 15 – 30% off Anchovy Stuffed Olives per case

Their most popular variety goes for $7.95 for two cans. I couldn’t find the cost for a case.

Thursday, December 16 – 20% off Sliced Jamon Serrano

Eight ounces of this heavenly meat will typically run you $18.95 or so.

Friday, December 17 – 20% off Select 90 point wines

Some examples of these wines include Luna Beberide Reserva Tinto 1999, normally $29.95, or a Spainiacs favorite Juan Gil 2008 by Bodegas Juan Gil, which normally sells for $18.25.

Saturday, December 18 – 20% off Palacios Chorizo

Depending on how much you want, you can pay between $8.50 and $38.50 for this cured meat.

Click here to see Palacios Mild Chorizo from Spain.

Sunday, December 19 – Closed

Hmm. Not much of an offer.

Monday, December 20 – 20% off Gift Baskets

There are all kinds of gifts baskets to choose. They range from the $1100 ‘Pata Negra’ Gift Box with Iberico Ham to the Spanish Breakfast Gift Basket for $48.

Tuesday, December 21 – 50% off Colorful Flor Ceramics

This is another great deal on ceramics. These range from the ‘Flor’ Design Sangria Pitcher for $45 to this four-piece setting for $99.

Wednesday, December 22 – 30% off Olive Wood Pieces

There are various olive wood products to choose from, including the Olive Wood Dish for Serving Olives on the low end ($19.95) to the Olive Wood Cheese Board for $75 on the higher end.

Thursday, December 23 – 30% off Boutique Olive Oils

I couldn’t say what a boutique olive oil is but I’m sure you could browse around and find one to your liking. Prices vary for a single bottle from 5 liters of Almazara Perales Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $78.50 to seventeen ounces of Ybarra ‘Aromatico’ Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $12.95.

Friday, December 24 – 50% off Cazuela Dishes

This is another great deal (half off!) this time on these beautiful terracotta dishes ranging from this 15 inch dish for $39.95 to this handled bowl for $11.95.

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