Category Archives: Reporting from Salamanca

Spanish bullfights: the tradition and its uncertain future

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Spanish wine thrives in global market

Story by Emily Pollak // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA- It was after business hours but before sunset on a Friday afternoon in late May and Hacienda Zorita, a small winery in the Douro Valley region of Salamanca, was still humming with activity.

A walking tour with about 20 people was under way through the vineyard and into a cavernous dark room where hundreds of chest-high barrels were stacked against ancient, damp stone walls. There were people settling down for an early meal at the winery’s restaurant. There were residents of the 192-acre estate – patrons of its five-star hotel – walking the grounds in the waning sunlight.

Jaime Boville Garcia de Vinuesa, President of Hacienda Zoritas, leads a degustation to a group of visitors.

Jaime Boville García de Vinuesa is the vice president of Hacienda Zorita vineyard and also its spokesman.

This celebration of wine and fascination of wine culture is what industry experts such as Jaime Boville García De Vinusa are banking on for the continued dominance of their industry. A vice president at Hacienda Zorita, Boville García De Vinusa is one of many vineyard operators who are capitalizing on a growing world-wide love of Spanish wines. Now the No. 2 exporter behind France globally, Spain is enjoying a production and export boom, and its beautiful vineyards are a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster economy that has seen many other industries cutting staff and reducing services.

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Famed font brings tradition to modern city

Story by Mackenzie Nichols

SALAMANCA – Look up. Look to the left, to the right. Look under awnings, on store signs, on the ropes that corral people in museums, even on people’s flesh.

Just about everywhere in Salamanca, it’s easy to spot the pervasive red lettering that brands this city, tying its past to its present with a unique and unmistakable red gothic font.

This victor symbol and corresponding text was written in 2005. The victor symbol is more horizontal with the ‘c’ and ‘r’ on either side of the ‘v’ and the ‘s’ of the font is much more slanted.

This Victor symbol and corresponding text was written in 2005. The Victor symbol is more horizontal with the ‘c’ and ‘r’ on either side of the ‘v’ and the ‘s’ of the font is much more slanted.

Known now as simply “Salamanca,” the lettering originated inside the ancient University of Salamanca, where rights of passage were fiercely honored among Spain’s male intellectual elite. Here, inside the stone walls that formed the country’s oldest university, boys who arrived to study subjects such as law, theology, economics and medicine left as men only when they earned the Vitor, a symbol designed around a large “V” for “victory” that would be written onto a wall along with the student’s name and date of graduation.

If that’s not intriguing enough, consider this: The writing was painted on with bull’s blood – both because a bull, then and now, represents power and dominance in Spain, and also because the dark red liquid stained the porous sandstone walls enough so that the symbols endured. Students and teachers would use blood from the corridas, or bullfights, and local meat shops – plentiful here because Salamanca has more bull farms than any other region in Spain.

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Architectural Review: City’s famous golden stone needs repair, protection

Story by Ian Debevoise // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA – Like many squares in Spanish cities, the Plaza Mayor is Salamanca’s epicenter, but there’s an element that distinguishes this centerpiece from those found in any other city in the country.

The City Hall of Salamanca, in the heart of the Plaza Mayor, is made completely out of the Villamayor stone. Salamanca has been dubbed the "Golden City" for the warm glow created by the sun's reflection on the stone.

The City Hall of Salamanca, in the heart of the Plaza Mayor, is made completely out of the Villamayor stone. Salamanca has been dubbed the “Golden City” for the warm glow created by the sun’s reflection on the stone.

Famously known as the “Golden City,” Salamanca is an architectural masterpiece, built with a certain type of blond sandstone found in the deep quarries in the region of Castile-León. The stone in its pure form is a combination of creams and caramel colors that shine gold in the sunlight. After centuries of oxidation and exposure to the elements, though, the high-iron sandstones are deteriorating, giving the buildings and facades of Salamanca a distinctive reddish patina that dominates the aesthetic of the city today.

Recently, with quarries nearly depleted and fears mounting that their beloved city of gold is vulnerable, historians and scholars have been mobilizing to preserve, restore and protect Salamanca’s “Old City” with the help of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Culture Organization, or UNESCO.

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Spotlight on food: Tapas are Spain’s miniature culinary masterpieces

Story by Bryan King // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA – At the bar Don Mauro, on the east side of the bustling Plaza Mayor, Chef Juan Jose Vega Rodriguez carefully lays out the ingredients for the day’s tapas selection.He’s making gazpacho, the traditional Spanish warm-weather dish. The creamy soup is a customer favorite.

“People like it because it’s a seasonal item,” said Rodriguez through a translator. “It’s only for the summer.”

To begin, the chef loads 20 tomatoes into a large silver pot. He tosses in a peeled, whole yellow onion, four cloves of garlic, a peeled cucumber and red bell pepper. Next, Rodriguez adds a quart of olive oil, two cups of water and a handful of salt.

If he looks poised and confident, it’s because this isn’t the first pot of gazpacho for Rodriguez, 38. He studied at Auxiliar de Clinica, where there is an emphasis on nutrition and health, and has been working at this particular restaurant for four years. He is in charge of the kitchen.

With two hands bracing a heavy industrial Bermixer, Rodriguez purees the ingredients and removes the pulp with a cone strainer. The result is hard to resist, a pinkish-red soup that’s smooth, rich and velvety on the tongue and meant to taste the same as it did 800 years ago when it emerged in the cafes and taverns of southern Spain.

Historically, the word tapas means lid, or to cover – as in to use the food as a cover on top of a glass of wine to keep bugs out. Functionally, the concept is to have a small portion of food that can be held in one hand.

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To Spaniards, tapas are not just about convenience. Their presence in everyday Spanish life is part of the country’s cultural mélange of food, drink and socializing.

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Spain lawmakers tell kids to pick up a broom at home

Story by Gina-Maria Garcia

SALAMANCA – In Spain, children may now be forced to stop – and sweep – in the name of the law.

From toddlers to teenagers, Spanish children under the age of 18 may soon be legally obliged to set down the video game controller and start picking up a broom, according to a draft bill in the Spanish Parliament proposed in late April. If passed through the Senate in May, the Child Protection Bill will technically make it against the law to not help out with household chores.

In other words, the new legislation is a Spanish mother or father’s dream come true because it asks their children to respect them, and, as the language in the proposal puts it,  “[carry] out domestic tasks in accordance with their age, regardless of their gender.”

“They have their rights, but they need responsibility too,” says Alberto Gutiérrez Alberca, the senator of the Popular Party for the city of Valladolid who also clarified that this section of the bill is more like a list of expectations of minors. “It’s more of an inspiration. This is not something that they are going to be punishing anybody for. They are trying to make the youngsters help their parents with the chores in the house, to teach them some responsibility.”

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Social spending cuts leave country’s most vulnerable fearing for food and shelter

Story by Kelsey Luing

SALAMANCA — Jose Luis Martin Halgado considers himself one of the lucky ones. The former construction worker, who lost his job in 2009, was recently given part-time work after putting in long hours at the food bank near his home.

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Jose Luis Martin Halgado (right), 40, has been working part-time at the Food Bank of Salamanca since losing his job as a construction worker in 2009. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

“Before, the government would help out [people without jobs], but that isn’t the case anymore,” he said at the start of his five-hour shift. “I try to put on a brave face for the children, but it’s been difficult.”

Halgado, 40, is not alone in his struggle. In fact, the father of two is just one of millions of Spanish citizens who have fallen victim to an overburdened, underfunded system that has made budget reductions to public expenditures in the midst of widespread unemployment and an expanding underclass. These cuts, which dipped into medical care, education and social services, were put in place in 2012 as part of an effort to shrink Spain’s growing budget deficit. But experts fear that the rollbacks have pushed the nation’s underprivileged over the edge to the point that they’re losing their homes, their ability to feed their families and their dignity.

“They are doing it in the worst possible way because it’s [indiscriminate],” said José Garcia-Montalvo, about how all social services – even those for the most needy – have been cut. A professor of economics at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Garcia-Montalvo said that the government is fixing its problems at the expense of the country’s most vulnerable. “You have to take the time to find the expenses that are ineffective and cut those, not make them across the board.”

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Government involvement stymies creativity, interest in film industry

Story by Danny Mortimer

SALAMANCA – Outside, the cafes along Avenida Portugal are bustling with life. Inside the lobby of the Cines Van Dyke, nestled in Salamanca’s lively main street, it’s hard to tell that the movie theater is open for business.

The Cines Van Dyke is one of many Spanish movie theaters dealing with declining attendance raising ticket prices due to value-added tax increases. Photo by Danny Mortimer

The Cines Van Dyke is one of many Spanish movie theaters dealing with declining attendance after raising ticket prices due to value-added tax increases. Photo by Danny Mortimer.

A handful of couples mill about waiting for Sunday night’s 10:30 shows. A lone ticket-holder buys popcorn from the only employee on duty. The poor attendance isn’t due to the film being shown – Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel has garnered strong reviews – but a more practical issue, a local man at the theater says.

“The problem is tickets are too expensive so now people don’t go,” said Juan Villerillos.

Ticket prices in Spain are rising to levels that are causing many Spaniards to spurn the cinema. “A couple months ago, you could buy tickets for about 3 euro,” or a little more than $4, said Isabel Barrios, a professor of Spanish film at the University of Salamanca. “Now they cost about 6.50 euro,” which is about $9.

The reason for the sharp increase is part of an ongoing political dispute. This year, funding for the film industry from the right-wing Partido Popular (The People’s Party) has been cut by almost 15 percent. Additionally, the value-added tax on ticket sales for theaters has been raised from 8 percent to 21 percent, causing many cinemas to increase their ticket prices drastically while others have been forced to shut down. In comparison, in France, the tax is 5 percent; in Italy it’s 10 percent.

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Spain asks citizens to cough, say “ahh” and pull out their wallets for health care

Story by Olivia Sears

SALAMANCA – Over the past two years, Concepción Quill, 85, has seen the cost of her insulin prescription go from nothing to $5.65 a month. Though a small increase, the notion of paying for medications is new to Quill and other low-income Spaniards who are now worried about their access to long-term treatment.

“I have had Type I diabetes my whole life. I need insulin treatments each day, three times,” the Madrid resident said through a translator from her wheelchair on a visit to Salamanca. A retired secretary living off a limited public pension, Quill explained that her family has picked up the bill for her rising medical costs.

Quill is among the 870,000 who have been affected by recent health care cuts passed by the Spanish government.

Dr. Leire Ochoa has worked at the Hospital de la Santísima Trinidad in Salamanca for the past two years, where patients are worried about new legislation that restricts access to health care.

Dr. Leire Ochoa has worked at the Hospital de la Santísima Trinidad in Salamanca for the past two years, where patients are worried about new legislation that restricts access to health care.

As a part of the Spanish government’s austerity measures, state health care spending decreased 13 percent in 2012 and another 16 percent in 2013. The cuts are the result of the passage of the “Royal Decree Law 16/2012” which denies health care access to undocumented foreigners unless they are pregnant, under the age of 18 or in need of emergency care. In addition to eliminating universal health care, the law also reduces financing for more than 400 different medications including insulin treatments for people with diabetes.

In the two years since its introduction, the law has forced patients without private insurance to adjust to a new health care system with narrower coverage options and higher out-of-pocket expenses. Individuals requiring prescriptions for chronic illnesses including Hepatitis B and C, multiple sclerosis, some types of cancers and diabetes are particularly affected.

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Street artists transform, defy and reinvigorate a historic city

Story by Jessica Mendoza

SALAMANCA — On a busy street within sight of the city’s celebrated cathedral, a man in dirty jeans draws on a broken wall. With a practiced stroke, he colors the concrete blue, green, red and yellow; whirls and swirls appear wherever his markers touch.

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Iñaki works on his street piece on Salamanca’s Rua Mayor. Photo by Jessica Mendoza.

Behind him, tourists stroll by. Some stop to take photos.

The man, who uses the pseudonym Iñaki, is one of a growing number of artists whose works are transforming the streets of Salamanca. They use the city’s walls and buildings as their canvas, framing their art opposite the Romanesque churches and Gothic structures that characterize Spain’s oldest university town.

“I like my work. It makes the city beautiful,” Iñaki, 47, said through a translator. “[It’s] free and for everyone to see. I love it.”

But it’s more than aesthetics: Street art is a growing part of Salamanca’s urban landscape. In this staunchly conservative city, more artists are using public space as a platform for their work. Some use it to express their political and religious opinions. Others see it as a mark of defiance and daring. It’s also becoming an avenue for attracting visitors and revitalizing businesses in the city’s less affluent neighborhoods.

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Facing grim employment prospects, Spanish students seek jobs abroad

Story by Amanda Hoover

SALAMANCA – When Maria Abellàn began the long process of earning her degree in medicine, she was more focused on anatomy and physiology than the state of the economy.

Maria Alfonso (left) and Maria Abellan (right) are unsure whether they'll be able to work after finishing medical school in Spain's struggling economy.

Maria Alfonso (left) and Maria Abellàn (right) are unsure whether they’ll be able to work after finishing medical school in Spain’s struggling economy. Photo by Amanda Hoover.

“Every year, more and more people come here to study,” said Abellàn, a medical student at the University of Salamanca. Now just two years away from graduation, Abellàn is facing fierce competition for a job in an economy that can barely support those already in the workforce.

“I think we may go to another country in Europe or the USA to work,” said Abellàn, who, like all university students, is studying for her year-end exams in two weeks. She’s afraid that if she does leave, she’ll be forced to take her exams again in another language.

For the sixth year in a row, the unemployment rate in Spain has been going up. Now at nearly 26 percent overall, Spaniards are suffering and scared. Hardest hit are recent college graduates – more than 57 percent of whom are out of work, according to Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union. Many, like Abellàn, are planning to move because there are no options for them in their home country. Still more are what experts describe as “underemployed” – meaning they have jobs they are overqualified for.

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Students rally in Spain streets to protest rising tuition costs

Story by Julia Moss and Shandana Mufti // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA—Carrying signs and chanting complaints about the public university and Spain’s largest bank, about 300 students rallied and marched through the city’s main streets on Thursday, demanding both an end to cuts in education funding and more scholarships to meet their needs.

Student protesters chant at the end of their march: "Long live the life of the working class." Photo by Maria Amasanti

Student protesters chant at the end of their march: “Long live the life of the working class.”

The students, who have been protesting regularly for months, started at 8:30 a.m. at a University of Salamanca building on the outskirts of the city. They ended at 2:45 at a state government building close to the central plaza where they spoke about how they wanted to keep higher education accessible to working-class Spaniards.

“We’re marching because we want public education,” says Maria Garcia, a 19-year-old second-year student at the university. “We don’t want government to steal our money or steal our lives.”

In Spain, the cost of higher education has increased by about 50 percent in the last year to an average of $2,800. As a result, the rate of college-aged students not in school has risen by 10 percent, according to data provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. The group that organized the protest, called the Colectivo Estudantil Alternativo or CEA – which translates to Alternative Student Collective – described the march as a rejection of Spain’s move to make the people, not the government, pay for education.

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