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The 9-year old niece of King Felipe VI, Irene de Urdangarin y Borbon, Grandee of Spain, has just received her First Holy Communion. The Catholic rite of partaking of the body and blood of Jesus, in the form of bread and wine, is, as with most Spanish families, sacred to Spain’s devout Royal Family and when any of its members receives the Sacrament it is widely covered by the media.
Pretty Irene had her share of media attention on receiving her First Holy Communion in the small church of the lovely little town of Hermance in Geneva last 2 May. Her grandmother, Queen Sofia, her aunt, the Infanta Elena, and Elenas’s son Froilan attended.
The Infanta Cristina, Irene’s mother, is the king’s younger sister to whom he was especially close, sharing friends and likes: movies, skiing, disco, sailing. . . But when Cristina’s husband, the commoner Iñaki Urdangarin, got involved in a scandal of full-blown magnitude, and is now accused of corruption and money laundering, the Royal Family had no choice but to send the Urdangarin-Borbons packing in an attempt at damage control.
Since then the seemingly foolproof sibling bond has been severed utterly. The Urdangarin-Borbons are, for all intents and purposes, exiled in Switzerland. Privately, beyond the range of prying cameras, the Queen Sofia and the Infanta Elena, Felipe’s older sister, try to patch up the rift but the task is hopelessly quixotic.
Come the 20th of May, Irene’s cousin Leonor, Princess of Asturias, heir to the Spanish throne, will also be receiving her first Eucharist. It is after all the season of the First Sacrament, traditionally between Easter and Pentecost. Before the close-knit Royal Family was torn apart by the Urdangarin scandal, the two young girls were natural friends and playmates as only cousins of the same age could be. (Both were born in 2005.) In the fallout, they no longer are. They’d have gained precious memories attending each other’s First Communion that they could look back to in their adulthood when life will tend to be more complicated. The complications came early – in their young lives.
Church of Hermance by Roland Zumbühl – http://www.picswiss.ch . Uploaded by Magnus Manske: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:File_Upload_Bot_(Magnus_Manske). CC BY-SA 3.0, Cropped
By June of this year, the gastronomy workshop “Master Class” organized in Paris by the Instituto Cervantes (Spain’s answer to Alliance Française and the Goethe Haus) will have been over. It started off in October 2014 and every month during the period Spanish chef Alberto Herraiz has been creating menus inspired by the still lifes of selected Spanish and French painters (Picasso, Miro, Velazquez, Chardin, Pierre Roy . . . )
Why Alberto Herraiz? Herraiz is the founder of El Fogon (The Stove) 20 years ago, the prestigious restaurant fronting the Notre Dame. Thanks to him – and his Fogon – the Parisians and other gourmets who flock to the City of Exquisite Taste have discovered that the Spanish arroces could – and do – sit sensational on the palate. Foremost among these “rices” is of course the paella.
Herraiz serves tapas for openers at El Fogon but his main dish is paella and its variants, not least the fideua (paella made not of rice but noodles).
Spain has been coming steadily out of its shell and now dares to seriously compete in almost any field around the world. Now that the tapas have become universally known, Spain is branching out to sturdier dishes, paella to begin with, making the Spain Brand known far and wide.
One walks down Gran Via, the hub of tourism in Madrid, and one sees tourists drawn irresistibly to the famous rice dish, some of which are provisioned by Paellador, a Spanish franchise company. One crosses the Pyrenees and one meets the same brand of paella in mainstream French restaurants. And one can’t help but think that Spain has finally made it to the world stage, with the direct and indirect help of such efficient institutions as the Instituto Cervantes and chefs the likes of Alberto Herraiz. These chefs have proven that dining on Spanish dishes is de buen gusto even in the formidable Land of Haute Cuisine where there seems to be no room for the unFrench, and that which isn’t French is automatically deemed an upstart.
Typical Spanish dishes are of course just one measure of how far the country has come from when it was reputed to wallow in the backwaters of Europe.
Spain had had to fight for its independence when Napoleon Bonaparte overran the country with a view to establishing a French/Napoleonic Empire. On 2 May 1808, the people of Madrid rose up spontaneously in an armed rebellion against the French imperial forces who had been occupying the city since 23 March. This sparked the Spanish War of Independence that lasted till 1814, despite the brutal repression of the Madrid uprising.
In honor of that heroic uprising, 2 May is celebrated as the Day of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, an official regional holiday.
This year, like other years, there were parades and street parties in the city, and local celebrations elsewhere in the Community, though the celebrations were somewhat overshadowed by the impending local elections believed to put an end to the two-party system that the Madrileños have grown accustomed to.
2 de Mayo poster: by TetuanMadrid.com (http://www.tetuanmadrid.com/arrancan-las-fiestas-del-2-de-mayo-en-madrid/) via Creative Commons
Madrid uprising memorial, photographed by Luis Garcia (Zaqarbal), PD
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