Friday, March 1, 2013

On being iconic

Are you old enough to remember The Saint, the TV series with Roger Moore as Simon Templar, the urbane, Volvo P1800 driving thief? Simon went to exotic places. When there was a shot of the Eiffel Tower he was in Paris. When it was Rome we'd get a view of Fiats rushing by the Coliseum. Now stick with the idea, and think of the establishing shots you would use for New York, London, Rio de Janeiro or Sydney. Not too difficult eh?

Now do it for Spain. How would you show that Simon was heading for Madrid? My guess is that you would have to use a guitarist wearing a broad brimmed flat hat sitting alongside a frock twirling, castanet clicking señorita with a caption underneath saying Madrid.

It does seem quite odd to me that Spain has very little that most people would immediately associate visually with the country. Show me a cow half way up a hillside and I think chocolate, numbered bank accounts and cuckoo clocks. A mermaid; Copenhagen and beer, a plate of spaghetti and we're in Italy. After all Spain had a huge Empire and it's been an important European power for centuries. It's chock a block with big impressive buildings in all the major towns. It has plenty of writers, painters, film makers and the like. It should have plenty of obvious icons but the only things that come to mind are bulls, castanets, swirly frocks and maybe, at a push, paella.

I wonder if it's because Spain has so often been inward looking during long periods of it's history. Nowadays lots of the Britons I know plan holidays to far flung spots – China, Thailand, India, Kenya or South America whilst the majority of Spanish people I talk to go to the same place year after year. Usually it's a place close to home. If you live in Elche you holiday in Santa Pola, Murcia and you head for La Manga. Think of all those Hollywood films. I can't remember a single one that revolves around Spaniards. There are plenty about Italians, the Irish, Jewish people, Mexicans, and even the French but no Spaniards.

In 2007 there was a competition to find the New Seven Wonders of the World. The eventual winner was the Taj Mahal in India. The Spanish entry was the Alhambra in Granada. It's a lovely place. I've been there a couple of times and I have vivid memories of the sensation of it. I couldn't though describe the general external appearance to you. The Alhambra didn't get into the final seven neither did the British entry of Stonehenge.

Now here, for what it's worth, is my top ten of the most iconic architecture in Spain.

The Mezquita at Cordoba
The Giralda in Seville
The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
El Escorial
The aqueduct in Segovia
The skyline of Toledo
The “Don Quixote” windmills in Consuegra
The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
The Alhambra in Granada

If you have any suggestions or amendments to the list why not have your say on the TIM website?

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