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The intangible and the edible

November 18, 2010 – 11:39 am


Well, what a week it’s been for news - and for once, all good.

First, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma, and talked about the strange and unaccustomed sensation of holding, talking into, and listening to, a tiny mobile phone. Then, the Chandlers were freed by their Somali pirate captors. Then some royal bloke got engaged to his long-term girlfriend, which everyone seemed to get very excited about. Some funny comments on Twitter (“Let’s hope Harry organises the stag do” etc).

But most importantly of all, for Andalucia, flamenco was accepted by UNESCO as Cultural Heritage. To give it its full title, it was “inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Heritage of Mankind” (Patrimonio Inmaterial de la Humanidad in Spanish). There was great rejoicing here in Seville, as you can imagine. It is rare for me to talk about the same topic in two consecutive posts, but in this case, I’m going to break that rule.

“So what on earth is ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage?’” I hear you ask. UNESCO describes it as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.”

It goes on to say that “it is not the cultural manifestation itself, but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.” It also talks about the importance of these traditions is the face of growing globalization.

The generational aspect is very important in flamenco – the skills are often passed down through a family. Farruquito, for example, who stars in the new Carlos Saura film, Flamenco Flamenco along with his family (pictured above), appeared in Saura’s previous flamenco film (no prizes for guessing the title), with his grandfather, the legendary dancer Farruco, when he was a boy. In this latest cinematographic offering (which I highly recommend), Farruquito stars with his 13-year-old brother.

Flamenco is very closely associated with Andalucia, as our readers’ poll earlier this year showed – more readers thought Andalucia was famous for the music and dance form than for bullfighting, beaches or tapas (more of which later). If you’re coming to visit Andalucia, I urge you to see a live flamenco show. It will send chills down your spine, and have you tapping your feet. You may even feel the duende, the strong emotion which flamenco inspires in some listeners. Goethe described it as “a mysterious power”, and Lorca said that “you can’t use a map to find duende”. You can also visit the Flamenco Museum in Seville. If you’re lucky enough to see authentic, spontaneous flamenco performed by gitanos (gypsies) – in a bar or at a party – this is known as juerga, an informal gathering.

If you live in Andalucia and you have kids at school, you’ll be interested to hear that on Tuesday, when UNESCO had made their announcement, the President of the Junta de Andalucia said that flamenco would be included in the school curriculum. His colleague, the Education Minister, disagreed, so this one may runand run.

The other highly typical aspect of Andalucia which was accepted onto the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List was the Mediterranean Diet. It is defined as a diet which includes olive oil, fruit and vegetables, moderate fish, dairy and meat, accompanied by wine, which “promotes social interaction, since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events.” I would have though this was true of most cultures, but as families become more and more dictated to and governed by media and communications (TV, internet, mobile phones), sitting down to eat a meal together is becoming rarer. The UNESCO statement also talks about respect for the land and knowledge and practices of farming, fishing (well, it is the Mediterranean diet) and harvesting. Picking olives, almonds, grapes, oranges, chestnuts, by hand, and the matanza, all are essential parts of Andalucian agriculture and gastronomy, but also of country life. The calendar used to be punctuated by these seasonal occasions, and many are still celebrated with fiestas, such as the Vendimia, the grape harvest festival in Jerez in September.

Singing, dancing, eating and drinking are all a way of life in Andalucia, and have been for centuries. Now, thanks to UNESCO, the whole world knows about out little secret.

  1. 7 Responses to “The intangible and the edible”

  2. Hooray! And at bloody last.

    By lesley burridge on Nov 18, 2010

  3. Thanks Fiona,
    This is a big news item and it took me a lot of searching to find the definitive list of all 232 items on the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list which started in 2003. This list is here for those interested.

    It was also surprising to see a note on this section of the Unesco webside which reads “This website is developed and maintained with the support of the Government of Spain.”

    By Bert Selby on Nov 21, 2010

  4. Inspiring! Also, I am definitely going to try and see the film now.

    By Jo on Nov 21, 2010

  5. I found it quite easily, Bert, thanks to trusty Google. Anyway, it makes very interesting reading, especially the fact that Popayan’s Semana Santa (Colombia) is in there, but not Seville’s.

    By fiona on Nov 22, 2010

  6. Interesting. I did not notice that, but can understand it, having been to both. How would you include Seville and not Malaga?

    By Bert Selby on Nov 27, 2010

  7. Either Seville or Malaga, they’re the most famous in Andalucia, I guess.

    By fiona on Nov 27, 2010

  8. Past research studies have confirmed the healthy benefits of consuming a traditional Mediterranean style diet. Researchers have demonstrated that this type of diet consisting of healthy quantities of extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, fruits and leafy greens and largely void of excess calories from animal protein is beneficial in the prevention of developing heart disease, diabetes, stroke and dementia. Mediterranean-style foods are packed with antioxidants that aid cellular function and polyphenol-rich olive oil, shown to lower systemic inflammation and risk from many chronic diseases.’

    By Peggy Zannino on Mar 22, 2013

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