Scribbler in Seville

Interview with Paul Read, the Gazpachomonk. #WABAS12

Paul Read - writer, broadcaster and Tai Chi master.

Paul Read – writer, broadcaster and Tai Chi master.

As a blogger and tweeter, I follow and read many other expats here in Spain. One who has intrigued me for some time is the Gazpachomonk. Apart from the obvious appeal of the name, I was delighted on meeting Paul at the recent WABAS weekend in Malaga recently to find that he is different from other expats – he has fresh and fascinating views on living here in Spain, coloured by his experience of Tai Chi, his love of history, and his wonderfully dry humour. I enjoyed Paul’s book, Inside the Tortilla: A Journey In Search of Authenticity, and am avidly watching his series of videos on Spain in the WABAS12 series (12 bloggers-on-Spain each posting a video every day for 12 consecutive days), so I decided to ask him some probing questions about authenticity, gastronomy, and eyewear.

Why are you called the Gazpachomonk?

In a parallel universe I am known as the “teapotmonk” (where I write about Eastern philosophy, teach Tai Chi and spout Taoist nonsense). When I moved to Spain, I wanted to keep something of this identity, but as I was now working in an Iberian context, I exchanged the tea for gazpacho. Critics argue that I still spout the same nonsense, it just has more of a garlic flavour these days.

How long have you lived here in Spain?

In 1994 I spent a year in Seville as part of a degree course I was taking. I returned to Spain in 1996 with my partner, Cherry, and we have been living here since then.

the town of Loja,in Granada province, which Paul brings to life in his book Inside the Tortilla.

The town of Loja,in Granada province, which Paul brings to life in his book Inside the Tortilla.

A previous chapter in Paul's life: working in markets on the Costa Tropical.

A previous chapter in Paul’s life: working in markets on the Costa Tropical.

Where have you lived, and which place(s) have you liked most, and why?

Ohhh, big question. The year in Seville was exciting and it still remains one of my favourite cities in the world. In 1996 we moved to Tarragona, but just for four months. Loved the place and the people, but couldn’t get work, so shifted to Madrid. However, found that too hectic, noisy, expensive and it reminded us too much of London. So we moved to Toledo – atmospheric and medieval and a really convenient place to buy a suit of armour and marzipan. However, it wasn’t too long before we realised it wasn’t so good for getting a pint of milk or a loaf of bread.

After two years without bread and many adventures later, we fled to Castille and Leon. But it was too quiet and too cold, so we headed south and in 1998 found ourselves in the coastal resort of Almuñecar in Granada. We stayed there working the markets for seven years until we couldn’t stand the ebb and flow of so many people – it was a bit like living in a big bus station, just more watery, and so we fled the coast and found ourselves here in Loja, where we’ve been since 2006.

What still frustrates you most about living in Spain?

When I hear people complain about either Spanish bureaucracy, corruption or oily tapas, I tend to want to poke them in the kidneys – not because of what they are saying, but because I find such posturing ultimately disempowering.

If frustrating things happen – and obviously they do to everyone – I’m convinced it’s as much to do with ourselves as our chosen country. Clashes of culture, language, social differences will inevitably lead to misunderstandings. How we respond is the only tool we have – and it comes down to this: how do we wish to play out our life here? Is it going to be an obstacle forever, or will it be a challenge?

What do you think of the expat scene?

Let’s be honest, we are all expats, and we all operate in some circle or another. Some do so on the coast, others in the campo or inland. Some are bound together by their inability to speak or contextualise the affairs of the country, others by their – often misguided – belief that they can actually do so.

Yet we all need to touch base now and then with our past, with people who share our history, our cultural or social reference points, wherever we find ourselves. In a way, I can understand the expat communities of the coastal strip who honestly make no claim about learning the language or integrating into another lifestyle. I may not be in agreement with their aims, but I respect their honesty. On the other hand, a lot of other expats – particularly those who boast of their ability to conjugate an irregular verb or publicly rejoice in shunning the rest of the foreigners in town – are simply hypocritical. It’s pure class politics raising its ugly head once more.

Paul's book covers many aspects of life in Spain, from flamenco to

Paul’s book covers many aspects of life in Spain, from siestas to Semana Santa.

Which Spanish dish do you make best? (apart from gazpacho!)

“Sopa de ajo” is my winter favourite right now. Whatever is in season is the base of all my favourite recipes – and of course that changes with the time of year – Ive a section on my website with all my best recipes – if you want to check that out.

Where did you get idea for your series of #WABAS12 videos?

I’d been doing podcasts for the last couple of years and had based them on the concept of trying to understand the foolishness of our present lifestyle choices by looking for explanations in the past. History is not about answering the questions of when or where, but rather why and how? These questions bring history alive, particularly when you can relate universal themes to somewhere as specific as the town you live in. So when the WABAS12 project was born, I decided to try and apply these ideas to the medium of video, and try my best to portray one small town in the most universal of ways. I wanted to show that you don’t need to be living in a major city to see the history of the world in front of your eyes.

Why do you always wear shades in your videos?

There are two possible answers:

1) Robin, Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man – they all hide behind something when publicly fighting injustice, right? Well the Gazpachomonk wears shades.

2) “Uveitis Anterior” is an eye condition that dilates the pupils of the sufferer and makes sunlight almost unbearable.

Why don’t you mention your partner in your book, Inside the Tortilla?

It’s true that my partner, Cherry, was by my side during many of the episodes in the book, and her presence is there if you look for it. But I chose not to include her directly because the emphasis of the book is themes and not characters – hence we never get to know a lot about the narrator, and the Hound has no name. Even the identity of the town is never mentioned, other than by its fictional name of “La Llave.” In this way I hoped the book would not fall into the pit of two bumbling expats “Year in Andalusia, Driving over Figs” home-improvement yarn so prevalent since the last wave of North European immigrants discovered blogging.

Do you have any future book or video ideas/plans? You mention a sequel at the end of Inside the Tortilla: The Labyrinth Years.

The Labyrinth book was co-written by Cherry and I during our Toledo years and sits as an unfinished manuscript at home. Whilst we ponder over its future I’m working on a new book for 2014 called Voices, in which a series of historical characters describe what keeps them sane in an insane world: themes of love, passion, migration, gazpacho, corruption, churros. Meanwhile, I’m still working on my Tai Chi series of books with the teapotmonk – and a selection of videos and podcasts that accompany them (http://teapotmonk.com/).

How and where do you find authenticity?

Authenticity is an endangered species these days. Like people, towns have their authentic voices – at times loud and clear, other times silenced in the rush to embrace the latest expression of modernity ( eco-tourism and Facebook pages come to mind). My search for authenticity arose because I felt myself drowning in this sea of nonsense.

When any place or person engages in the exploitation of people or the land, and tags it as something new and trendy, they suppress its unique voice, its character, and we all lose out. I hope the greed we have seen exposed politically these last few years encourages us to look once more at the uniqueness of where we live and who we are, and not to fall back on the old cycle of unfettered growth in a world with finite means. Have I personally found it? Let’s just say it’s an ongoing project.

What advice would you offer for those thinking of moving to Spain?

If I had to give two piece of advice I’d say…

1. I know this is difficult, but try not to move to Spain without renting for a full year first. Yes, it means paying out cash, but it will give you so many advantages over buying. You can move around and check out the area, the town, the people, the dialect, the weather, the noise, the heat, the health services, the working possibilities etc without committing yourself to a huge investment that would be difficult to change later on.

2. Language – forget the imperfect subjunctive, just get familiar with the basics and let your new world teach you the rest. This of course means that if your new world is composed of satellite TV, internet news and watching rugby in the local Sports Bar, then you may have to make a bit more effort. Think of language as a useful app on your smart phone. It’s a tool that’ll help to contextualise this strange new world, explain it to you and help you explain yourself to others. Moving to Spain without the language is, as I’m often prone to say, akin to taking up golf and then pulling your arms of their sockets just before your first round.

You can find out more about Paul’s Spain-related books, ebooks, podcasts and videos at his website, Speaking of Spain: Resources on Living, Working and Sweating in Spain. (Paul has a great line in subtitles, as you can see.)
Watch his WABAS12 videos on his YouTube channel.
Other links: Paul’s books and his blog about Tai Chi.

16 thoughts on “Interview with Paul Read, the Gazpachomonk. #WABAS12

  1. the artichoke adventures

    Nice interview,Fiona.When it comes to understanding Spain,not many people have such an emotionally intelligent insight as Paul does.He has the knack of looking at things from a different angle….must be something to do with those shades.

  2. roughseasinthemed

    Well it was interestiing. I agree with some of his views, but not all. For example I certainly wouldn’t recommend renting for a year although probably easier now with the poor economy as it is easier to find cheap rentals. Back when we arrived renting wasn’t cheap.

    As for the expat scene, I don’t think we all do it. Partly because in my village there are so few. I speak more to my Spanish neighbours because I see them more often, but that’s just happenstance. It’s not elitism or choice, it’s just how it is. I do try and conjugate my irregular verbs correctly but usually forget them.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Rough seas, I think checking out the area in depth is good advice – I think a lot of people buy too hastily without looking into, for example (and where relevant), local schools. Or transport, proximity to shops etc. And also just if they feel they fit into the place, as that’s equally important, especially in Spain which is so rooted in geographical identity.

      1. roughseasinthemed

        Would you spend up to a year renting in the UK before you bought a house? Schools are relevant if you have kids, and education is certainly dubious in Andalucia so much of a muchness. Transport is easy, if you are in towns, villages there may be buses, if you are out the back there won’t be any. Fairly easy to see where shops are too. That doesn’t take long.

        We rented for a month and found a house in that period. We’re still there and happy with what we bought. As for fitting in, you’ll fit in if you want to.

        1. Fiona Flores Watson

          I think another good reason to rent for a year before buying is to see how a place is in every season – some people are a bit shocked by how hot in summer, and cold in winter, Spain can be. I disagree about schools, they vary a lot, although much of it (at least in primaria) is down to the specific teacher. Public transport is dwindling with constant cuts, especially in rural areas. In general, I agree with Paul about many people not doing enough research and preparation before moving to Spain.

      2. Paul Read

        The proposal about renting for a year is not exclusively mine. A number of expat advice agencies recommend it too for a whole series of sound reasons. But at the end of the day its only advisory. Personally, having seen far more Expats move back to the UK than stay over the last 20 years – I can’t help but conclude that a little more research before committing to a new life might not go a miss in many cases.

  3. Paul Murphy

    Interesting interview, I havn’t been an ex-pat living in Spain now since the early 80s when I spent 2 years living in Santander but spent many weeks in Spain last year making a journey down from Vigo to Malaga, following in Laurie Lee’s ” As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’s” footsteps for a book I am writing. I didn’t meet many ex pats on my journey but did stay at a posh B and B run by an English couple for English couples. Copy of the Times everyday, High Tea, Gin and Tonic, Sloane Square in the mountains to the west of Seville. I confess I probably was a bit of an “Expat Snob” living in Santander as I wanted to learn the language and view my home country more objectively from afar. It was the time of the Falklands War which made life very interesting.

    I sympathise re the book writing, I have been working on mine now for 2 years. However I have a keen incentive to complete it. Next year in June it is Laurie Lee’s Centenary so my book needs to published before that. It will in May. It is called “As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee.”

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Thanks for your comment, Paul. I think I know the expat B&B you’re talking about; I prefer to think of them as English eccentrics. They do amazing food using their own organic home-grown ingredients. It isn’t for everyone, but they’re lovely people and visitors generally enjoy the experience.

      You obviously have plenty of experience of living in, and travelling around Spain, so can’t wait to read your book about Laurie Lee – maybe I could interview you about it for the blog!

  4. Josh

    Excellent interview here – well done to both of you! You have a brilliantly frank angle on Spain and its expat-related themes Paul. And all the Tai Chi stuff is very intriguing. I will have to add the book to the long list of ‘to reads’!

  5. Pingback: My most popular posts of 2013, plus a mini-review | Scribbler in Seville

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