This is the second and final part of Bart Sedgebear’s “¡Alegria! Foundation” interview with editor, Mike Booth
What did you do for a living when you arrived in Spain?
I wrote and photographed travel stories for newspapers and magazines. On winter mornings I breakfasted a couple of “sol y sombras” (brandy with anise) with my neighbors in the “Diablo’s Bar” just off the village square. For years I thought that was the normal breakfast in Spain. Since then I’ve done a lot of other things in journalism, PR and photography. The arrival of Internet dazzled me and now I do mainly Internet publishing.
How has Spain changed since you arrived here?
Spain today, with its chic modern buildings, stylish street lighting, upscale shopping malls, kids with cell phones, mazes of autopistas, and well-dressed citizens—Spaniards dress up to go to town—resembles almost any Northern European country more than it does the Spain of four decades ago. Our village used to have a hundred donkeys and mules; now it has as many cars. Everything has evolved at an incredible rate. The education system is better than before and their universal medical service is among the finest in Europe. Spain leads the world in organ transplants.
It’s an understatement to say that this country has changed, but in important intangible ways it’s still the same. If you interrupt people eating they will still offer you their food: “¿Quiere Vd. comer?” “Would you like some?” Family relationships are still intense, and friends still greet each other effusively when they meet on the street. Two kisses and a hug are standard.
What are you working on currently?
Now Spain is undergoing an economic crisis that is only partially of their own making, along with some embarrassing political corruption scandals. But those things will pass. Spain—the Spanish people–will remain. Considering everything that this country has paid me forward I figure the least I can do is to pay something back. That’s what my latest project is about. One of the factors gravely affecting Spain’s current economic situation is the backlog of unsold homes left over from the building boom in the first decade of this century. It would help the economy immensely if they could sell them.
How can an appreciative adopted son help them solve this problem? My current—and best effort thus far, I think–is an English-language online magazine called ¡Alegría! The Joy of Spanish Living (http://alegriaonline.net). It’s about Spanish culture, customs and lifestyles. It also features interviews in text, photos and video, with foreigners who have moved to Spain and created rewarding new lives. To get the project off the ground I had the invaluable financial backing of an old friend from Granada, Antonio Macías Jiménez.
How can an online magazine help sell homes in Spain?
“Alegría” is Spanish for “Joy!” The idea is to show and tell English-speaking foreigners around the world of the delights that escape casual visitors, no matter how many successive years they spend vacationing on the Spanish costas. This country has so much more to offer than sunshine, beaches, bullfights and shrink-wrapped flamenco shows, but few foreigners ever discover it. You have to go looking for Spanish Spain. The goal of this magazine is to show English-speaking foreigners around the world how to do that, about the new joys and discoveries that Spain offers them, and to tempt them to get to know the country better and, ultimately, to come here to live. So, ultimately, ¡Alegria! offers them a valuable service, too.
Spain, I think, is the best place to dip one’s toe into the Mediterranean lifestyle. This country can be a garden of earthly delights for people willing to invest some time, effort and creativity in discovering them. The best way to start is to learn the language. That, and a bit of affability, will open up a whole new world for foreign visitors to Spain, a world of fresh customs and lifestyle options: new friends, sincere hospitality, cultural and sports activities, wonderful homes in wonderful places, a whole new gastronomy, a world of wines and much more.
It all sounds very appealing. How do we get started?
It’s easy. Spain even provides you with the mechanism. It’s the tapas bar, the alluring Spanish invention that brings the whole country together every day before lunch and dinner, especially on weekends, to drink wine (and increasingly beer) together, accompanied by irresistible little plates of Mediterranean delicacies they call “tapas.” Nothing in the world can compare for conviviality and fun with a Spanish “ronda de tapas” with friends. If you haven’t tried it you’re in for a big surprise. Want to learn more? Go to ¡Alegria! The Joy of Spanish Living.
Photos by Mike Booth and Joe Weed