September 13, 2011

Siesta in Seville

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I loved Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen brilliantly mocked the protagonist’s glorification of the 1920s and delayed realization of the obvious. The audience, watching Gil idealize the writers and artists whose ranks he aspired to join, awaited his slow realization of the obvious: Romanticism exists only as the outsider’s projection. And Woody Allen’s characteristically analytical and explicative punch line lent a nostalgic air to the film as a whole — another irony, as it hearkens back stylistically to Allen classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan. Though myself an avid reader and prone to idealizing, I laughed at Gil with the condescension and false confidence that I would not make his mistakes.

Like any mild neurotic, I prepare for new experiences with research. Before leaving for Spain I read all that Google had to offer on Andalusian culture, customs, clothing and cuisine, and figured that I knew exactly how to handle myself. I prepared for prettier accents, cooler stores, tastier food and general superiority. Much like Gil, most of my illusions still hold true. An outsider yet, a lot of things do just seem to make more sense here.

Siesta can be awesome. Everything closes, so there’s not a ton to do except for nap between 2 and 5 p.m. In consequence, the structure of the day is more lax and there’s a break from the constant rushing to and fro.

Before going to clubs, youngsters gather in the street and have some drinks rather than paying at a bar. Since public drinking is socially condoned, people seem to drink slower without the excess associated with the appeal of the forbidden.

Public transportation is convenient, quick and easy, and recycling bins abound. Trash on the street is rare and driving cars unnecessary.

In short, America could surely learn a lesson or two from Spanish culture; but these lessons are all too susceptible to Gil’s illusory illness.

The novelty of what’s different makes it easy to deem the familiar mundane and stupid. My outsider’s projections produce a romantic image, which is really just an exaggeration of foreign culture; the differences and idiosyncrasies are magnified and similarities ignored. A real place turns into something idealized, like Gil’s Paris of the 1920s. (Hemingway definitely was exactly like that though). But the longer I spend in Seville, the more trivial realities begin to seep into my ideal perception.

Even in Seville, there are chain restaurants — and not just Starbucks (which are abundant) but also Spanish chains. You can get 1 Euro cervezas and pretty good food, but they are chains nonetheless. Even the older generation doesn’t eat slow-cooked traditional fare nightly. One student’s host family made microwave pizza for dinner, and freezer croquetas are common.

While the younger drinking age arguably eliminates much of the novelty of alcohol and thus lessens the lure of binge drinking, the nightclub crowd is surprisingly fratty. The music is equally as mind-numbing and geared directly towards the inebriated. It’s tons of fun, but not so drastically different from the U.S.

So far I’ve learned that Sangria’s mostly served for tourists, paella is really just Valencian, Gazpacho has bread in it and potato chips are everywhere. People don’t actually sleep from 2 – 5 p.m. and the food actually is better. Nonetheless, reality erodes the illusory, clarifying cultural differences and dispelling myths that stand in the way of learning a new culture.

It would be easy to make the judgment that to a certain extent, as both countries exist in a Western world with ever increasing globalization, though some aspects will remain different, in the end it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other. I don’t believe this to be the case. After all, Spanish architecture is more beautiful, the people are generally more relaxed and while the days are a lot longer, nighttime is more fun. Inventing romantic ideals inevitably prevented Gil — and me — from experiencing reality, which itself is quite fantastic. But Gil wasn’t wrong to be enamored of the beauty ubiquitous in a world with such history as his Paris. Of course, Spain for me and Paris for Gil had changed from what the world’s literature lead us to believe we would find. And in the end of the movie, Gil chooses to leave 1920s Paris and his favorite authors for his own supposedly dull and lackluster era. But while Gil may have chosen to remain in the 21st century, he did stay in Paris.

Ruby Perlmutter is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be contacted at rperlmutter@cornellsun.com. Having Said That appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Ruby Perlmutter