Interview by Nancy Todd
With more than 15 years in Spain under his hats, versatile Paul Read is an ex-pat from the UK. Paul’s recent book, “Inside The Tortilla,” is a “travel story with a Taoist slant.” He creates podcasts, has a great blog, and teaches Tai Chi. Check him out to see the styles of his other hats.
1.You have chosen to live in Loja, a small city. Many expats head to larger cities. How/why did you choose Loja?
Laurie Lee wrote in the last century that only war had destroyed more of our natural environment than tourism. Personally, I think Laurie was prone to exaggerate a little, but he raises a fair point. Having lived through some of this insidious erosion of cities such Toledo, Seville and on the coast of Granada, I made a personal decision to abandon this world of transition and impermanence; a world of micro-waved residents and commercial dominance for a place that hopefully would not suffer the same fate. Don’t get me wrong, tourism can do good. Sort of. But it often comes with a hefty price-tag. Meanwhile, Loja – one of the few towns left in Spain I believe that does not aspire to be the next Marbella – has a lot to offer its residents. Just not a lot for investors or day-trippers.
2. You are most diverse with your creative endeavors: podcasts, writing books, blogging, photography, etc. Do you have a favorite niche? What is ahead for you in the future?
The present convergence of technologies is enabling everyone to diversify their interests and skills. It’s also slowly, enabling people like myself to fuse otherwise distinct directions. My photo book on Spain -“Shadows and Silhouettes”, is part of this convergence and my aim is to produce more of this kind of material. Now we have no literary gatekeepers, the whole world and their dog has a story to upload to Amazon, so it will be increasingly important for writers of all backgrounds to employ a more authentic voice, to produce increasingly original material that resonates with a wider audience than those solely in search of the ‘Spanish Dream.’
At the moment I’m working on several writing projects that fuse ideas about adaptation, integration and education for the 21st century immigrant – looking to answer questions about how we can better employ our skills as we change our cultural and social surroundings. Not sure what I’ll call it yet…Outside the Tortilla?
3. Apart from blogging and writing books, you also do podcasts. Tell us what your podcasts cover, and how creating a podcast is different from the writing and blogging process.
I began podcasting a few years back, producing one a week for a 12 month period. Back then it was called Talking Tai Chi with the Teapotmonk (my alter digital ego) and it served to explain Tai Chi to people who didn’t want to practice Tai Chi.. This year I’ve been working on another podcast called Speaking of Spain with the Gazpachomonk – trying to get out an episode approximately every fortnight. I podcast about history, politics, culture or just recipes – but whatever the content there is always one message: What does this story tell us about the times and place we are living in now? That’s the underlying message. That’s what drives me to do all this. With an audible you can employ more layers than just writing. I can speak about one subject yet play music or sounds in the background that juxtapose the spoken content. Its fun, but takes a lot of time to edit.
4. At The Spain Scoop, we receive many questions about moving to Spain. You have been here since 1996. Any advice?
If you were to ask me 15, 10, 5 years ago I would probably have had endless tips and suggestions to give. Now – like my grasping of the imperfect subjunctive – the more I know, the more I realise how little I know.
5. Your book, “Inside The Tortilla,” is in part about the search for home. Many seek home. How much do you think it is about one’s inner search rather than location?
Absolutely. All that we seek is fundamentally the search for a sense of belonging. For example, we may claim we have moved here because we “love Spain, and the Spanish people”. But then we buy an isolated cortijo in the hills with lots of land, sea views and a donkey for a neighbour. It will take 40 minutes to drive the 4×4 into town to shop at Lidl once a week, check our post office box and withdraw some cash from the ATM. Our connections with this new world are minimal. And once we have unpacked the shopping, seated ourselves once more on our terrace to watch the sun set, and pour ourselves another glass of Ribera – flipping though the satellite tv viewing page for the evening viewing – I wonder when it is we will be brave enough to ask: In what sense exactly am I in Spain?
A sense of belonging I believe, comes from feeling connected. Not just to an olive tree, the glimmer of sunlight on the Mediterranean or adopting an abandoned donkey, but to a place and a people who have a culture a history and definable present. Once we begin to see ourselves as part of that, and begin to participate on some small level, then I believe we can talk about living in Spain and having found a something called home. Otherwise, we may just have well have saved the trouble of moving here, bought a sun-ray lamp and Google-earthed our way along the coast.
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More good stuff from Paul Read: