Ourense? Never heard of it.

October 12, 2015
My love affair with France has come to an end and my heart's been captured by it's slightly cooler but less sophisticated neighbour. The deeper that I plunge into the belly of this country, the more I fall in love. Whenever people ask where I'm living, their faces look blank when I tell them "it's a place called Galicia, in the corner of Spain." Before I moved here, I too had never heard of my city, Ourense. however, has so much to offer that it's a wonder that it has stayed hidden.
A view from the Millennium Bridge
People have previously described Galicia as being a bridge away from mainland Spain thanks to it's completely different culture and landscape. Galicia, unlike the rest of Spain, is still very heavily influenced by Celtic culture, having been first inhabited by humans during the Stone Age. Despite having later been invaded by both Romans and Visigoths, the Galicians are to this day very proud of their Celtic roots. Walking around the Galician cities, it's so easy to denote not only architectural similarities to other Celtic regions such as Brittany, Ireland and Wales, but also cultural similarities. For example, whilst mainly being associated with our Scottish friends, the bagpipes are also the national instrument here and can be heard whilst ambling around any city, no matter how small. As I mentioned last week, the vast green landscapes too bear a strong resemblance to the folding hills of our small nation.
We visited Santiago de Compostela on Saturday
Santiago de Compostela




















Galicia is so fleshy with culture and history, particularly so in the 20th century. Spain's fascist dictator General Franco, who ruled Spain from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975, was born in Galicia. Despite being a Galician, he was responsible for the marginalisation of Galicia and it's people; suppressing the Galician language and traditions. Known Galician nationalists were often taken in the middle of the nights and murdered under Franco's orders. Subsequently, Galicia became a land of mass emigration- since the beginning of the 20th century approximately 2 million people have departed for foreign lands. (The population of Galicia is currently around 2.1 million to give some perspective.) A coworker of mine told me recently that as a result of the mass migration, many Galicians today have family connections across the world, particularly Latin America and other parts of Europe. 
The old Roman Bridge seen from the Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge is much steeper than it looks  




















Perhaps the only positive to come out of oppression is art, and there are many examples of this in Galicia. My favourite that I've discovered so far is the poet, Rosalía de Castro. A romanticist poet, her work is marked by saudade, I'm told, a Galician word that has no English meaning. However, it is used to describe a deep longing and nostalgia for something absent- be it a person, a country or an object. For me, there's no word in English that suggests such intense emotions but if you read her poetry, the bittersweet recollection of pleasure and melancholy for her land is apparent. Perhaps another reason why I feel such admiration for de Castro is because she was an activist against abuse of authority and defender of women's rights- both of which I feel extremely strong about. You can find examples of her work here

It seems to me that Galicia is Spain's best kept secret. Sprawling coasts are un-littered from British tourists and it's a foodie's heaven. I'm not a seafood fan myself, but I'm quite sure that this will change over the next eight months. King crabs, prawns, clams, cockles, and of course, octopus from Galicia are world famous. Almost every bar you see here offers some variation of fresh sea food. I usually enjoy food that doesn't squeak when I eat it, but there's something about paprika covered octopus that the Spanish can't resist. Did I also mention that Galicia is famous for its cafe liquor? I've been told that a shot of liquor de café is standard on a Sunday after dinner, in the same way we Brits enjoy a shot of vodka after a roast.
Pick and Mix sea food in the supermarket
Spending 20 years in Derby has meant that I'm probably oblivious to the history and culture of which the city has to offer me, whereas living in Ourense has opened my eyes. Everything and everyone has a story to tell which is so inspiring. Festivals are omnipresent here- there are bank holidays at least once a month to cater for national fiestas/national piss ups. Festivals are something completely new and exciting to me because it's something that I feel died a long time ago in England; no longer do we celebrate St George's day or take to the streets to burn things as a community (this is a Spanish tradition). Having been here two weeks, we're already celebrating our first bank holiday today and the following one is a four day weekend at the end of October. The Spanish take partying very seriously.

The endless opportunities for learning in this region quench my curiosity thirst, leaving me with an experience I could only have dreamed of. I'm overwhelmed by the infectious love for life the Galicians have and have quickly adopted their mañana mañana attitude.  (It wasn't too difficult, believe me.) I've discovered so much in the past two weeks, I can't wait to see what more Galicia has to offer over the next eight months. 

Mayah
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