Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I've found that in Spain, many things are rich with meaning and I've increasingly become fascinated with the historic, ideological, political and religious imagery that comes in the form of simple symbols.

Take the Spanish coat of arms, for example. It's the design you'll see in the center of the Spanish flag. It's a pretty design, but it becomes more than a design when one discovers the history behind each part.

The castle, the lion, the striped lines, and the chain symbolize the four great kingdoms that eventually became united through conquest and marriage to form modern Spain: Castilla, Leon, Aragon and Navarra. These were no patsy kingdoms either: Castilla sent a royal delegation to the Mongols to press for a global alliance against the Turks, and Aragon dominated the western Mediterranean. One of my favorite statues in Spain is Columbus' tomb in Sevilla, where four golden kings representing the four kingdoms bear the load of his coffin.

When Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, they added the symbol of Granada: a pomegranate on a field of white (the word for pomegranate in Spanish is granada). The columns refer to the pillars of Hercules, which in ancient times referred to the entrance to the Mediterranean: the straight of Gibraltar. Go ahead and ask a Spaniard if the Brits deserve to keep Gibraltar!

Old monarchs don't monopolize symbolism in Spain either. Look no further than the colors of the Spanish flag. Replace the bottom band of red with one of purple and you're calling for abolition of the monarchy and the implementation of the Spanish republic. We saw a few of those in the communist party caseta in Sevilla.

As I've written before, the Catalan separatists have their own flag too, its stripes are based on the old flag of Aragon. The Catalan republican independence flag is inspired by the blue triangle and star of Cuba's flag.

One of the most interesting symbols I've encountered is the emblem of Sevilla, which looks like the letters NO, a side-ways infinity sign and then DO. It looks kind of like NO8DO (photo below). The story behind this guy is that during a civil war between King Alfonso X and his son, the city of Sevilla stayed loyal to Alfonso. He later bestowed the emblem upon the city in thanks. The 8 symbol is a skein of wool or madeja, making the whole phrase NO madeja DO, which can be pronounced no me ha dejado. "It [Sevilla] has not abandoned me." Cool!

You might also look for deep meaning in the city of Madrid's symbol: a bear leaning against a Madroño tree. I asked my roommate Mat, who seems to know about these things, about the symbolism and he answered: "Well, there used to be bears around here. And I guess there are Madroño trees around too."

Ok, maybe not so profound then.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Seen in Madrid #12 - Football in Retiro

... American football.

Bike Trip II

Inspired from my ride with Fátima back in January, I took some of my friends on a pleasant day ride through Casa de Campo last weekend.


New pro-tip: El Urogallo bar by the lake in Casa De Campo gives you a whole plate of food for free when you order drinks.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Surf Trip to Somo

This last weekend a took a last-minute train to Cantabria. I hadn't gone surfing since my forays to Portugal and California in December, so I was prime for some waves! My destination: a little town outside of Santander called Somo.

After a short night in Santander itself, I caught the ferry across the Bay of Santander to Somo.

I found the Cantabria surf school on the recommendation of a coworker, rented a board and wetsuit and hit the waves before noon. What a great feeling to be sitting out past the break, looking across the bay at Santander and the snowy white mountains beyond. Have you ever seen snow while sitting in the ocean? It's awesome.

Somo is a small beach town, so you can imagine my surprise when on my way to lunch I heard somebody shout "Bryan!"

I was here by myself. Who in this little pueblito 500 kilometers from Madrid would know my name?? It turned out that a girl named Ali who works in my building at the bank is from Somo and was home visiting her mom for mothers' day. What a small world.

I went surfing again in the afternoon, but Ali drove me out to downtown Santander to hang out with her friends that night, and after another morning of surfing on Sunday, was gracious to give me a ride home as well. Here's to surfing and bumping into acquaintances in northern Spain!