A land of good food, remarkable culture, and the siesta.
If you ever get the chance to go to Spain, just go. Get there as fast as you can!
Several years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to give a guest lecture on public sphere theory at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) in the heart of Madrid’s financial district. I must tell you this is an awesome campus in an amazing city. It has approximately 1900 students from 90 different countries, so it is very cosmopolitan. There is also a satellite campus in the ancient city of Segovia. There, classrooms are built above and around archeological sites. The whole experience was simply extraordinary.
All guest faculty at IE in Madrid stay in the Residencia de Estudiantes. This was the first cultural center of Spain and it has hosted a number of artistic and scientific scholars…including the painter Salvador Dali. All faculty members in residence eat meals together and gather in common areas to encourage dialogue between the arts and sciences. Other scholars who have stayed there include Albert Einstein and Jose Ortega y Gasset. I was humbled to be in the shadow of such great minds.
As always in intercultural communication, let’s start with food. Meals in Spain are, well, different to an American. Breakfast is light, lunch is an extended affair, and dinner is late. Breakfast is very Continental and usually eaten on the run before work. It consists of coffee or tea and toast with jam. Lunch is the largest meal of the day and may take up to 2 hours. You can expect soups, meats, salads, desserts, and coffee. Dinner is much smaller, but it is not eaten until between 9:00-12:00 pm. Yes, I said 9:00-12:00 pm. I must say it was hard to stay up so late for dinner as an American. And then there are tapas…small snacks that can be eaten throughout the day. They are excellent.
OK, on to culture. After my lecture, I moved on and spent some vacation time in Madrid’s Avenue of Art. The Abono Paseo del Arte has some of the world’s most famous artworks. I spent an entire day in the Museo Nacional del Prado where I saw classics such as Las Meninas by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez and The Third of May 1808 in Madrid: The Executions on Principe Pio Hill by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Of course you can also spend a day in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia where you can see 20th century art. There is an extensive collection of Salvador Dali’s work in this museum.
And then there is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza which many believe to be one of the world’s most important private art collections. Here, you can see Pablo Picasso’s Harlequin with a Mirror. Another day can be spent in this vast collection as well.
And on to the siesta! I must admit I was a little skeptical about the siesta (normally taken after the large mid-day meal). Well, when it is 110 Fahrenheit on a June afternoon…I get it. All you want to do is sleep and go back to work at a later time when it is cooler. While Madrid is changing to fit more seamlessly into the European Union business culture, most of Spain is holding on to the tradition. This might be something Houstonians would enjoy during the summer months. Just a thought.
My time in Spain was an amazing intercultural experience. I would be remiss to not mention the fact that when I was returning to the airport to go back home to Houston, the Spanish football (known as soccer to Americans) team was returning from their UEFA European Football Championship with a win over Germany. The airport was hopping with excited Spanish fans when the athletes arrived. They were more animated than Superbowl fans! Seriously. It was the perfect end to an amazing intercultural experience and I’m sure Salvador Dali could have depicted it in one of his paintings.