Our Seattle friend Gene Nutt says the Spanish are muy cultos, meaning very cultured, refined, civilized. He would know, being a Spanish speaker himself, raised in Latin America and a seasoned traveler in Spain. We agree with him.
We'd add "warm-hearted," "eager to engage" and "generous" to Gene's observations, after meeting Carlos, Cristina and their one-month-old daughter Inés, in a sunny plaza in Ezcaray, a Basque-influenced village (the name comes from the Basque language) in La Rioja.
Above is another photo that says it all: Carlos, Cristina and Inés in the town's premier restaurant Echaurren.
We had departed the big city of Barcelona, enthralled by the Art Deco genius of Gaudí and others we saw there. First, by high-speed train, we headed west to Zaragoza, and then north to Haro in a rented car, looking for some open countryside and a little wine tasting. On our second day there, we visited Ezcaray, on the western edge of La Rioja.
As we struggled over a menu of unfamiliar tapas, we heard "May we help you," in very good English.
After we ordered the tasty tapa suggested by Carlos, we learned that he has long been spending his holidays on his grandfather's farm in the area. Originally from the northern Basque city of Bilbao, he now lives in Madrid where he works for a Swiss bank. His wife Cristina, also in the financial services business, is employed by J.P. Morgan. She is now on parenthood leave, however, and will continue for some time. Carlos, himself, took a leave of a couple of weeks after Inés was born.
Learning this led to a discussion on the expanding role of the Spanish husband in the birthing and parenting process. I told the couple of the data showing this nascent trend presented by Giles Tremlett in his fascinating book "Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and its Silent Past." Back in the 1990s, he reports, "Only some 5,000 men a year ... take up their right to up to ten weeks' paternity leave in Spain, compared to 250,000 women who take maternity leave." Carlos and Cristina indicated that the larger role for the father is just now seems to becoming a norm for their generation. We also briefly talked about our observation of how calm the Spanish child is, in comparison with the anglosajón, the anglo saxon, and the Latin American child, a point also made by Tremlett. Tremlett points out that the Spanish child is less likely to rebel than his/her Latin American or American counterpart. (Pick up a copy of "Ghosts of Spain" and read Tremlett's chapter "Men and Children First," for a discussion of the Spanish family, the medical profession, death and dying, and the Spanish communal spirit since Franco; it's fascinating.)
As we gathered ourselves to leave our little sunny spot on the plaza, Carlos recommended dinner at Restaurante Echaurren. We took him up on it, and as we later entered the restaurant, we were greeted by them again, as you see in the above photo. Not long after settling in at our own table, the waiter arrived with a plate of croquettes, compliments of our new friends.
Muy cultos indeed.
We are now Facebook friends.
Click here for a few more photos of Ezcaray, with captions.