‘Thank you,’ says a lovely middle-aged lady at the end of my first event, ‘we never thought anybody thought like this about Spain.’ Given the context, a large part of my interview with Peter Florence centred on the significant portion of Driving Home Both Ways that is my exploration of the country we are in. ‘When we think of Inglaterra,’ she says, meaning the United Kingdom as a whole, 'we think you have a strong economy, you have Margaret Thatcher…’
Given that I’ve already tackled the miner’s strike as a pivotal point in Welsh history, the choice of British iconography is highly unfortunate, but I understand her point. Being from south Wales, I completely comprehend the dynamics of an inferiority complex.
It’s an interesting thought, however. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years writing, thinking and talking about the Anglosphere’s perception of Spain. Orwell and Hemingway have been touchstones for a long while, and they duly emerged in the on stage conversation. I spoke of my admiration for the way they went right in.
Beyond pressing their faces against the glass as outsiders looking in, through participation in the Spanish Civil War, these writers were not simply foreign observers, but key actors in the story of Spain itself. But less often have I stopped to think about what the Spanish think of us.
I’ve long been used to the catchall term ingles, to mean English, British, American or English-speaking. Like ‘Hispanics’ or ‘Latinos’, there is a crude lumping together of diverse peoples that becomes necessary when making sweeping generalisations. At least, if this woman is to be believed, the general perception among Spaniards of los ingleses is that they are not really all that interested in Spain.
Maybe I have spent too long on the trail of Orwell and Hemingway, or more recently Giles Tremlett and Jason Webster. So many Anglophone writers, from Gerard Brenan to Paul Preston, have adopted this country as muse that I have failed to see the exceptionality of this. The lady is right. Most ingleses (and galeses, escoceses, irlandeses and americanos) do not take an interest in Spain; there may even be a northern European superiority complex at play that categorises Spain, along with perhaps Italy and Greece, as somehow second-rate, at least economically.
Eighteen million Brits visit Spain every year – that’s nearly a quarter of us – and the vast majority treat the place as a playground, rarely venturing beyond the playa or the pub. It is sun, sand, sex, sangria and San Miguel. In Benidorm, nobody is doing an Orwell.
So I am glad to have publically talked up my enthusiasm for the country, because for all its many, many faults, from where I am currently sitting – at a café table in the shadow of an incredible Roman aqueduct, looking across a square bathed in sunlight and alive with tourists, it’s incredibly easy to find it an endlessly enchanting place to be.
Dylan Moore is Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow 2018/19, travelling to each Hay Festival edition, exploring issues of displacement and exile. His debut collection, Driving Home Both Ways, is out now.