Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Book Review: Spanish Dogs by Karla Ingleton Darocas

Spanish Dogs

Karla Ingleton Darocas is based in Benitachell on Spain’s Costa Blanca. On her website, spainlifestyle.com, she describes herself as:

An educator with a passion to inspire and facilitate a lust to learn.

Karla has a BA Hons, and is also a photographer, author and Spanish Fine Arts Historian. She’s also a self-confessed dog lover, with two rescue dogs, Venus and Mars. Her latest book, Spanish Dogs: The Story of Dogs in Spanish History, Culture and the Arts, is a testament to Karla’s love of dogs, the arts, and all things connected to her adopted homeland, Spain.

From the first sentence, I was hooked, because I share Karla’s passion for dogs and Spanish culture. I also firmly believe that once you stop learning, you stop living, and there’s a lot of learning packed into the 70 pages of this book.

Don’t let that put you off though – Karla has a wonderful way with words that makes absorbing knowledge a pleasure, and she also has a great sense of humour.

Describing how court painters Velazquez and Goya painted their royal sponsors, she points out that Velazquez was very keen to underplay the facial deformities resulting from the interbreeding of the Habsburg monarchs. Spanish kings loved to be painted in full hunting dress, with their faithful – and generally subservient – hounds by their sides. It subtly emphasised the idea, first verbalised in the Bible, that Man has dominion over the beasts. (Genesis 1: 26, 27)

Karla Ingleton Darocas

Goya, on the other hand, preferred to focus on the real beauty of his subjects, or as Karla puts it:

Velazquez used his admirable inventiveness to hide the protruding lower lip and pronounced chin … Goya didn’t modify the royals … On the contrary, we see the monarch, (Carlos III) with his strange small face, beady eyes, and a great big honker of a nose.

Goya was certainly an artist after Karla’s own heart, using his skills to represent the true narrative and true worth of the subjects of his portraits. In his art, there is no doubt where his allegiances lie. Discussing the hunting portrait of Carlos IV and his hound, Karla notes:

Looking up at his master with adoration and fidelity, this dog is the most regal thing in this painting.

This fabulous book gives some great insights into the origins of the dog breeds in Spain. The ubiquitous Podencos arrived in Spain as a result of conquests and explorations over the centuries. It’s most likely that the Podencos came across from Algeria, while the distinctive Water Dogs came over with the Berbers during the first Muslim conquest of Spain. Today, there are still 49 different Water Dogs in Spain.

Another typically Spanish dog, the Galgo, or Greyhound, is believed to have landed on the Iberian Peninsula with the Celts. There’s plenty of contemporary artwork, in the shape of cave paintings, engravings and pottery, to support these theories, and it’s uncanny to see the resemblance between these ancient canine ancestors and the Spanish dogs we are so familiar with today.

Fast forward to the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Spanish found another use for dogs, but it’s not one of their proudest moments. The inventors of the Inquisition had a favourite torture method which involved chaining prisoners, then allowing them to be savaged by Mastiffs. Today, these gentle giants are more noted for their loving, faithful nature, which is typical of Man’s Best Friend.

Overall though, this is an upbeat book, and Karla soon lifts the mood by informing the reader of the term that was used for this barbaric practice. It was called – wait for it – dogging! That’s quite a juxtaposition for modern audiences to deal with, since ‘dogging’ has come to mean having sex with strangers in the open air. In fact, in the popular television sitcom Benidorm, the eponymous resort is said to have a designated ‘Dogging Beach!’

Karla wraps up the book with the tale – or should that be tail? – of Pablo Picasso’s beloved Dachsund, Lump. Lump arrived in 1957 with photographer David Douglas Duncan, who was doing a feature on Picasso, and never left the artist’s side until his death in March 1973. Picasso followed Lump across the Rainbow Bridge just 10 days later. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s a suitably emotional ending for a book about the creatures that inspire so many emotions in their human guardians.

There are so many interesting anecdotes, culture connections and light moments that describing Spanish Dogs as just a book about dogs is a bit like saying Jose Carreras, one third of the Three Tenors, is ‘just a singer.’ If you love dogs, art and Spain, or any combination of these, you really need to read this. Get your copy here, and settle down for a rattling good read.

Karla Ingleton Darocas with Venus on the beach

Image Credits: Karla Ingleton Darocas

Dia de Todos los Santos – 1 November

All Saints Day

All Saints Day, 1 November, is known in Spain as Dia de Todos los Santos. At one time it was always celebrated in May, but tradition has it that it was moved to November to offset some of the paganism associated with Hallowe’en. In Spain it’s one of the 14 national public holidays, so banks and shops will be closed. When Todos Santos falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, many Spaniards follow the tradition  of ‘Haciendo Puerte,’ literally ‘taking a bridge.’  In other words, they’ll take the Monday or Friday off too, to award themselves a 4 day weekend. In 2014, Todos Santos falls on a Saturday, so there are likely to be some rather disappointed locals in a village near you!

Todos Santos is a day  to remember the saints (santos) who were martyrs to their faith. That in itself is a vital element of Catholicism,but it’s also a day when Spanish people everywhere remember all their dead. In some Spanish speaking countries, particularly Mexico, it’s also or alternatively referred to as ‘Dia de Los Muertos,’ literally ‘Day of the Dead.’ On Todos Santos, every Spaniard will make sure that the day is free of unnecessary chores so that it can be celebrated to the full. There is a special Mass, which is often celebrated in the local cemetery. And there will be a silent procession to the hallowed ground. Incidentally, you might have noticed that there are considerably more cemeteries in Spain than in England. Spain is a Catholic country, and Catholics don’t tend to go in for cremation.

All Saints Day

It’s customary to take ‘offrendas,’ or offerings of flowers, to the cemetery, making Todos Santos the busiest day of the year for Spanish florists. However, you won’t see the price of flowers rocketing as you do in England around Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday. That really isn’t the Spanish way.

Todos Santos involves a spending a lot of time at the cemetery, so traffic will be unusually heavy in the vicinity of your local burial place. In Algorfa, if there are more than 4 cars at a junction or queuing on a roundabout, we say we have a traffic jam, and by local standards, the roundabout by the local cemetery is gridlocked on Todos Santos. As a mark of respect, you should drive slowly near the cemeteries, and don’t toot on the horn. It’s also a nice gesture to allow priority to cars turning into cemeteries. If you’re on foot in the vicinity of the local cemetery, try not to  disturb those who are visiting departed loved ones. This might seem pointless to more secular sensibilities, but remember you’re a guest in a country whose residents tend to revere their dead in any case, but especially on Todos Santos.

Because you’re in Spain, you probably expect food to play a major part in the day, and it certainly does. ‘La Castanada’ is traditional, particularly in Catalonia. This means roasting and feasting on chestnuts (las castanadas) and sweet potatoes (los boniatos). The shops and markets are already full of them. After that there are panelletes, small almond cakes. The food eaten on Todos Santos is inspired by traditional funeral feasts in ancient Spain, and it can also be enjoyed on the evening before Todos Santos. Huesos de Santo, (saint’s bones) are small marzipan cakes which are also enjoyed as part of La Castanada.

If you possibly can, arrange to see a performance of Don Juan Tenorio. This play about the legendary Spanish lover is always performed on Todos Santos. The final scene of the play is set in a cemetery, where Don Juan begs his deceased fiancé to forgive him.

All Saints Day

As always, the Spanish throw themselves wholeheartedly into their fiestas. As well as a time of reflection and prayer, Todos Santos is also a day to celebrate the lives of the departed. Wherever you may be in Spain, enjoy Todos Santos with your Spanish neighbours.