Non incautus futuri

A Washington & Lee junior and Marine Officer Candidate in Spain

To the North: Santiago de Compostela

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“There can be few cities in the world as beautiful as Santiago [de Compostela] that are founded on the basis of so preposterous a story.”Lonely Planet guide to Spain.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital city of Galicia, a vibrant autonomous community (sort of like a state) in the northwestern extremity of Spain. Galicia is known for some of the freshest seafood in Europe, owing to the many rías (fjords) along its coasts. It is also the origin of gallego, one of Spain’s four official languages (the others are Castilian Spanish, Catalán, and Basque). Additionally, the city is the ultimate destination for thousands of pilgrims who trek the Camino de Santiago, a rugged route across southern France and northern Spain.

Legend has it that the beheaded body of the Apostle James was transported to Galicia. In 813, a shepherd claimed to find the remains of Santiago. The discovery was “confirmed” by a bishop, and a great cathedral was erected over the saint’s body. Over time, the city of Santiago de Compostela grew around the cathedral, and became one of the great cities of Spain.

I spent three days in this historic city. Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy most of the time. Galicia is part of “green Spain,” the northern zone of the country. Its weather, geography, and culture are completely different from Alicante — at times, I wondered if I was in a different country.

Despite the weather, I had a great time. The gray weather actually enhanced the austere medieval feel of the city. And my travel companions and I got a lot done in three days! We ate some good food, saw the famous cathedral, and walked a TON. I am pretty sure that we saw the entire city on foot — Lord, we walked a lot.

Anyway, enough boring reading. Pictures:

I know I said enough with the boring reading, but I lied. In addition to studying Spanish, I also study politics. In fact, I’m a huge pol nerd. So I can’t restrain myself from recording this little observation.

The Spanish national elections are coming up, and all commentators expect a landslide victory for the right-wing Popular Party. But in Galicia, I noticed something interesting — the campaign signs for the other major party, the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) are all written in Galician!

The above PSOE slogan in Spanish is “Pelea por lo que quieres,” which means, “Fight for what you love.” On the other hand, the PP slogan is “Súmate al cambio,” or “Become part of the change.”

It doesn’t seem like a big deal that PSOE’s signs are in gallego unless you know a little bit about the history and politics of Spain. Under Franco’s regime, there was one Spain and one language. Regional differences were brutally repressed — if you spoke Galician in public, you were liable to end up in jail. After Franco’s death in 1975, the new Spanish government recognized “autonomous communities” that maintained their own separate languages and cultures.

The thing is, the degree of autonomy enjoyed by communities is contentious in Spanish politics. Supporters of PSOE tend to favor more autonomy for the local cultures, and you can see that stance reflected in the above picture. The PP, on the other hand, prefers more centralized government — which may be the reason why its campaign signs in Santiago are all in Castilian Spanish.

Anyway, enough political nerdiness. Maybe I’ll write a post sometimes about Spanish politics, but I don’t know that a) I have sufficient objective information about it and b) anyone would actually read it.

¡Un abrazo fuerte desde España!


Written by Lee

November 13, 2011 at 13:24

Posted in Spain

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