THE BLOG

Strolling Along Seashores: A 'Taste' of Spain

17/01/2017 11:25 GMT | Updated 17/01/2017 11:25 GMT

Take one step forward with your left foot -- a small step suffices. Oh, no flip flops from this point on, please. Feel that delicate texture embracing your foot with such warmth and subtle sounds of acceptance. Another step forward with your right foot, and you experience a marvelous balance. Savour that sensation.

You tilt your head slightly, feel your long hair lifting and swinging in harmony with the 7:00 AM breeze, and admire the tranquil Cádiz seashores. The sandy beaches extend their extremities there, flat, smooth, free from footprints or any other tell-tale traces of prior visitors who had visited the most ancient town in Spain over the course of centuries, as if unexplored...

I enjoy these early morning strolls across Victoria Beach. In fact, my favourite route is parallel to the ever-shifting intersection points -- parabolas, though often much more unruly in a way that would be mathematically difficult to model, perhaps -- where the ocean kisses the land. This kiss must have been planted with much anticipation, for they say that the water is relatively cold here because across the ocean, you will not find land again until you reach all the way to Antarctica. Playful yet graceful as she is, the ocean never forgets to alters her colours, getting lighter and lighter from the brilliant shades of blues to a mild form of whiteness, as she approaches the land.

Image of the Sea: An Open Invitation

That precious Andalusian beach scene that I just painted for you is yearned for by many: in fact, the very image of it is gold. Yet, the picture that lingers on in my mind is a little more complex, and symbolic to a certain degree. Beaches are summer escapes, meant to be relaxing and fun: to that I concur whole-heartedly as a fan of building sand volcanoes, floating in the water while the waves push and pull me up and down with the magic of gravity, reading a book with a pair of sunglasses on, etc.

Simultaneously, beaches provide a perfect setting to ruminate. After all, I was not in Spain purely for the sake of admiring its magnificent seashores this summer. Cádiz was the starting point for one of my college-funded independent academic research projects, for which I investigated the country's gastronomic evolution in relation to its shifting regional and national identities as well as external influences such as globalisation. Sounds like quite a mouthful? Well, literally, I was there to get a 'taste' of Spain.

As I reflect on this trip and piece together memories of my three main sites (Cádiz, San Sebastián, and Barcelona: despite how different these places surely are, they share one commonality at least -- the ocean) along with places I passed by but did not get to explore in more depth this time (including Valencia, Cáceres, Salamanca, and Bilbao), I saw some interesting parallels between the ocean image and my findings. Rather than debriefing everything in dry, academic writing (please don't get me wrong here: I enjoy academic writing as well, but thanks to the nature of the grant, I can choose the creative option here), I will be alluding to the ocean scene as a visual symbol that will guide us through this brief journey of rumination: one that reconstructs, deconstructs, and re-reconstructs the day-to-day findings that could otherwise become fleeting memories so readily. Join me in this stroll, then, along the Iberian shorelines -- at our own pace.

On Slowness and Lateness, Ebbs and Flows

"No necesito fast, necesito food" ("I do not need fast, I need food"). Or so says the country's official tourism promo-video, launched in 2010. A key feature of eating in contemporary Spain, indeed, is that everything is a little late and a little slow at once. From literary works such as "Vuelve usted mañana" (which translates directly to "Come Back Tomorrow") to contemporary nonfictions like A Late Dinner: Discovering the Food of Spain, slowness and lateness seem to define traditional stereotypes of Spaniards and their modern lifestyles alike. On highways, for instance, one can seldom see fast food chains in the service joints.

There is a parallel between this feature of Spanishness and the evolution of food itself, almost in a way that resembles the ebbs and flows of the ocean. Like waves that come and go, there are always new ideas and innovation. Yet, they are not completely free - from tensions, resistance, and opposition. Like any other form of free discourse, the culinary arts intrinsically involve many different possible perspectives. You may advocate for change, tradition, or modernity blended with tradition, etc. Spain, it seems, does not always want to compromise its original identities for the new. This is surely not to say that Spain is resistant to change, however: no -- Spain is such an innovator in so many fields, such as Gaudí's architecture, Ferran Adrià's culinary philosophy, contemporary highstreet fashion brands (ZARA and Mango, among others), etc. My project strived to find out the balance between Spain's regional vs. national vs. international culinary identities, as well as its traditions vs. modernity.

When I was interviewing some of the most highly-regarded chefs in Cádiz, San Sebastián, and Barcelona, a focus that I chose in my questions are the plausible tensions between tradition and modernity, regional elements vs. the national and international, etc. While the restaurants I studied varied in their self-categorisations (traditional, renovated, contemporary, etc.), a common element of most replies is a desire to preserve the traditional. Managers, maîtres, and owners, including several who have worked in Michelin-recommended restaurants, often highlight that domestic and international tourists alike come to their particular region in Spain to experience local food. For this reason, they do not see much need to adapt to tourists' tastes or to alter traditions. This is particularly true in places like Cádiz, whose residents have observed relatively few changes to the gastronomic picture at home and in restaurants/bars over the years. While some interviewees proudly highlight the growing number of foreign tourists (mostly Europeans), others underscore that Cádiz's visitors are mostly domestic. All in all, there is some increase in the number of tourists in Cádiz over the years.