Juan Ortega: España As Texts 2019

by Juan Ortega of FIU

Juan Ortega is a double major in Political Science and History. He is currently playing to law school. His dream job is to be President of the United States. He would also like to travel to Australia—just has to get rich first.

Madrid As Text

“Culture Clash”

By Juan Ortega of FIU in Madrid, España

Photograph by Juan Ortega

Madrid: the heart of Spain. What was once an irrelevant, poor, forgotten city now stands as the capital of the country. The soul of Spain is a fusion of Italian, French, and ancient Roman influences. The culture of Spain is largely a generic European culture. The aspects unique to Spain are typically adopted and adapted from the cultures that came before. The Jews and the Muslims that thrived in the Iberian Peninsula and then were expelled left their marks on. Madrid became the melting pot of the nation. Except these cultures have not necessarily melted together, as they have actually become pieces in a larger cubist painting. The architecture, art, and literature of Spain is almost forcibly Spanish. El Greco, which translates to “The Greek”, was not a Spanish native but the country adopted his style and claimed it to be their own. Federico Garcia Lorca changed poetry in the country by looking back into Spain instead of outside of its borders, like most other poets. The multiculturalism of the country creates a Spanish culture that is an amalgamation of those that came before and those that coexisted with Spain.

However, there is a stark similarity to the culture of Spain today and that of centuries ago: race. When walking down the intersecting roads of Madrid, one cannot avoid seeing the homeless faces. These faces, while ranging in age and story, rarely range in race. Black and Middle Eastern Spaniards try to make a living selling toys, clothes, or simply begging for food and money, yet the population walks on by. Gypsies and street vendors always look over their shoulders for the sight of a police office approaching.

The culture of Spain is one that struggles to address and deal with race relations. From the imperialist conquests of los conquistadors to the everyday avoidance of contact between fellow citizens, there is a seemingly understood hierarchy. Just as the Spaniards made painstakingly clear what each mixture of race was called, there still seems to be a belief in those old fashioned thoughts.

Toledo As Text

“A City on a Hill”

By Juan Ortega of FIU in Toledo, España

Photograph by Professor John William Bailly

Toledo is a land lost in time trapped in the middle of nowhere. A small labyrinth surrounded by the walls meant to protect it from invaders, no one can deny the layers of history built into the city. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity neighbor one another, coexisting and taking influences from one another. From the keyhole archways to the towering gothic cathedral that looms over the city, it is a city that by all historical accounts should not exist in the fashion it does. As one climbs the mountains around the city, it becomes clear that while each part of the city is gorgeous, it’s entirety is a work of art. 

The rocks themselves become a kind of metaphor for the city. The rocks and thorns that outline the trails are risk for injury and discomfort, much like the risk for conflict and eradication between that the three religions that have existed for centuries. However, Toledo is different. Toledo is a literal and metaphorical city on a hill. Gorgeous from the outside and exciting from within. The city take the conflict of culture clashes Spain has dealt with and transforms it into a beautiful example of what could be. There is no denying that the history of Toledo is far from fault, but taking the city at face value one can imagine a world where all coexist regardless of religion or creed.

Granada As Text

“Somewhere in Paradise”

By Juan Ortega of FIU in Granada, España

Photograph by Juan Ortega

A square rising to the heavens from the earth slowly transforms into a star. The spinning ceiling finds itself forming a circle: the symbol of perfection. In this circle lies a lote tree symbolizing what paradise awaits us after death. However, paradise is the Alhambra. It’s gardens, manicured and sculpted, bring the concept of what Heaven is down to the human realm. Meanwhile, the reflection pools mirror the skies above, calm and still. Also, the domes, grand in their scale and ambiance, attempt to give even the slightest impression of Allah’s greatness. And while it is believed that nothing can match His true glory, the structure comes close. Serving as a palace, a fortress, and a mosque, religion meets opulence all with the purpose of bringing glory to God. This is a contrast from all I have ever known. Cathedrals are grand but with a different purpose; it was all meant to display power here on Earth. Something seemed more pure in the representation of it all. The words in the poems that lined the walls all sounded familiar, like they could have been a passage straight from the Bible. This was an artwork and style so foreign to me but it’s inspiration strangely familiar. Having never seen Islamic art, I expected to be confused or lost, but I understood every purpose and meaning behind the smallest details. Catholicism and Islam pray to the same God, have some of the same texts, and teach the same tenets. However, the history of their relationship to one another is wrought with war and violence. How could two things that are so similar be at odds with one another? The Alhambra poses as massive Islamic being that exists in Spain and was preserved partly thanks to an American. It’s words are Muslim but could be Christian if they were said without context. There I realized that while the culture that built this was distinct and different from any culture I have ever known, it’s focus on solely religion, instead of politics, invited the formation of a community in its walls. There I felt like I was in paradise.

Sevilla As Text

“Pain of Spain”

By Juan Ortega of FIU in Sevilla, España

Photograph by Lauren Batista

Stomp.

Clap.

Strum.

The story of Spain begins. The woman, dressed in black slowly approaches the stage. The man, seated at the edge of his seat let’s out a mournful cry that echoes throughout the patio. The guitarist rapidly speeds up the tempo. The woman takes off in a rapid combination of stomps, hand movements, head turns, and spins, unraveling her hair from strictly slicked back to a mess. Her pain is evident. “Allah!” the man yells. Like an angel, she glides across the stage. Like an eagle, she snaps her long, talon-like fingers. Like an ox, she breaks out storming from one corner to the other. And like a lion, she roars her pain to the audience. The pain of a history wrought with oppression, colonialism, racism, and division becomes clear in only movement. A dance originating from the gypsies, an ethic and cultural group forced into the shadows, takes center stage to tell the story of the oppressing group. Dark, dreadful, distressing, the woman takes the role of the protagonist for a story so multifaceted and dynamic even Picasso would struggle to frame it. Who is she? Is she a Native American losing her home? Is she a Muslim or a Jew being expelled from it? Is she a Republican watching it burn? Only one thing is clear. She is Spain. Yet even in all this agony there is beauty. Never once does she seem weak. She controls the stage, her rage, and her survival. Her story is somehow foreign but relatable because it stretches across time. Whether a Spanish citizen by choice or by force, the unifying factor is their humanity. She stomps and pauses. As she looks back, she sees what has been only to realize that the present is not much different. Spanish remains a country split on identity: who wants to remain and who wants to leave. The answers of questions past and present will continue to remain confusing for the foreseeable future. But who knows, perhaps the answers will come through Sevilla, as all things once did.

Sitges As Text

“‘Home’ Away from Home”

By Juan Ortega of FIU in Sitges, España

Photograph by Juan Ortega

As I marveled at all the priceless art pieces, my thoughts traveled a mile a minute. Anchoring artifacts from Italy lay side by side with original Picasso’s which neighbored Goya’s and so on. If I was not overwhelmed enough already, it would be impossible to ignore the fact that the building that housed these works was a masterpiece in and of itself. The waves lapping below with a beautiful blue sky mirroring the ocean back, I was back in Miami. I was home. Yet I could not be home. In Miami sat artifacts and art pieces that could take even the most decorated art historian or critic’s breath away. However, that art sits in a foreign room in a foreign house on foreign land. That art is displayed in a cold, spaced out museum in Chicago. It was taken from its native land in because of a dark and clouded mind. But so goes the history of Spain does it not?

The country has taken, stolen, and exhibited countless items through its imperialist conquests. Even humans were shipped across the Atlantic to be ogled at, treated as exhibited themselves. Their cultures robbed and their histories bastardized, Spain has destroyed works of art. Catalonia claims this same victimhood as the civilizations whose cultures were manipulated by Spain. But so goes the history of Catalonia does it not?

It reaped the same benefits of Christoper Columbus’s expeditions. It grew in wealth from being by the sea, as a welcoming place for goods and trophies from abroad. The independence it sought came from a relatively new fervor following Franco’s regime.

So maybe Sitges is not so different from Miami. I am as much at home here as the artifacts taken to Spain and displayed on these walls.

Barcelona As Text

“I give you…”

By Juan Ortega of FIU in Barcelona, España

Photograph by Juan Ortega

At the peak of Tibidabo, over looking Barcelona, one can see a timeline. Below lies a city hugged by the mountains and the sea, cut off from the rest of Spain, a sentiment that runs deep here. One can see a history of a poor, nothing town that sprouted from the ground as hopeful individuals came looking for work. Look a little further and one can see those who were better off looking to the mountains for refuge from the common worker, building mansions to shadow their tiny homes and factories. Also there, one can see Gaudí painting the hill side with architecture never before seen, blending in with nature but ever so distinctly his man made creation. To the center of the city one can see Sagrada Familia erupting from the ground, a personal letter written for God from Gaudí and mailed to Him by the people of Barcelona. Still continuing, one can see a statue of Christoper Columbus peering over the streets, a constant reminder and celebration of Spain’s tainted past. One can see the beaches where millions have fled to trying desperately to cross the Mediterranean Sea from war torn regions searching for a new and better life. One can see the flag of Catalonia flying seemingly everywhere, defying Spanish identity and rule and constantly declaring sovereignty over the city. One sees Catalonia.

And here it lies, all at the base of Tibidabo. Translated, the word “Tibidabo” means “I give you.” Jesus stands overhead, arms spread open as if to say, “I give you Barcelona.” What do I do with it? Do I live it? Do I experience it? Do I dare? I do. I finish my first Catalonia as Text and walk into Barcelona.

XC Monserrat As Text

“A View On War”

By Juan Ortega of FIU in Monserrat, España

The trails were quiet in Monserrat, with only the crackling of leaves beneath my feet to tell me this was reality. Trees shot up from the ground to immense heights, shrouding me in their branches. The path continued leading upwards and upwards, almost like a staircase to heaven. Here the history of Spain, Africa, Catholicism, and Islam clashed and melded. Here legends were created, myths were born, and miracles were spoken of. The Black Madonna, found in one of the many caves of these mountains by its emission of light according to tradition, sat in the monastery below. Ever upwards, more caves, which were told to have held dragons tamed by the Moors and used for battle, stayed mouth open waiting to be explored. Here the Spanish pushed back the Moors in the Reconquest of Spain. All of this on the mountains said to have been cut with saws by angels. I got to be at the top of the world.

The world so small below me, everything came into a clearer perspective, ironically. These mountains held stories of war and propaganda. How stupid that fighting seemed from up here. Who could fight with a view like this?

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