what's so cool about spain? if you didn't actually go up and ask them, you might never find out. known in the soccer world as the perennial under-achievers of europe, spaniards seem to lack the marketing flair of their more dramatic cousins, france and italy. occasionally, though, you get to see glimpses of the sleeping iberian giant.
fact is, there are a lot of cool things about spain. how can you not love the country that brings us the food uber-trend of the moment, tapas. bar snacks for people who don't want chicken fingers, these ingenious little plates have us all wondering why no one ever told us about them before. spain produces more olive oil than italy and more wine than either italy or france, but you'd never know it, because they seem very happy to keep these things for themselves. (i guess they're worried about running out of wine to go with the tapas...)
and then there's paella, which is tonight's meal. granted, paella is becoming better known. (getting a plug on an episode of seinfeld doesn't hurt.) paella is risotto's sexier cousin. made in any number of regional styles, the base is always rice prepared in a saffron infusion, mixed with local produce and meats. but let's face it, it's the saffron that makes it special.
saffron, the world's most expensive spice, is not particularly common in other european cuisines. you're much more likely to find it in north african or middle eastern cookery, which shouldn't be entirely surprising. after all, spain's history and culture is deeply marked by its proximity and interaction with the empires of north africa, one more thing that makes them unique.
spain made history for a brief, shining moment by managing to establish a functioning anarchist enclave during the civil war. this is a remarkable feat, sadly overlooked by historians who prefer to see the twentieth century as a dialectic between capitalism and communism only.
perhaps it was decades of repression under one of the only fascist governments in europe to survive the second world war that makes spain less bold, less overtly proud of their achievements, than its neighbours. evidently in sport and in politics, though, this big country can do big things.