“Man, Spanish food sucks, I want a burger!”, loudly proclaimed a teenager sitting on a nearby table. Jules and I raised our heads and looked at him disapprovingly. The food did indeed suck, but we needed to stick up for Spanish culinary. Much like family, we had an exclusive on badmouthing our neighbouring country.
We continue to write under lockdown, from our home in Lisbon, using photos from previous travels. Much like the previous text, this one starts with food and then wanders off aimlessly. Instead of getting lost in new places, it seems these days we get lost in our own heads.
The only other occupied table at the restaurant held a trio of Spaniards. When they heard us speaking Portuguese, they chatted us up in Galician, an official language in A Coruña and the rest of the Galicia region. Galician sits somewhere between Portuguese (from which it originated) and Spanish (from which it borrows a growing number of words).
Besides Galician, Spain and Portugal have much in common and have mostly behaved neighbourly throughout history. The border between the two countries is one of Europe’s oldest, and has remained unchanged since the 13th century.
Well, almost. “So, you still want Olivenza back?”, asked one of the Spaniards, grinning between two mouthfuls.
Olivenza (or Olivença, in Portuguese), was occupied by Spain in the 18th century, when the country sided with Napoleon in the Peninsular War. After the war, Spain removed its troops from other Portuguese cities it had occupied, but not from Olivenza.
The long sequence of treaties, covenants, appeals and other diplomatic innuendos that followed reminds two neighbours politely arguing over a parking space. To this day, both countries continue to formally claim sovereignty over Olivenza, but no one seems to lose much sleep over it.
While Gabriel attempted to cram an entire loaf of bread into his mouth, Jules and I counter-attacked: “Never mind Olivenza. Have you guys learned to sail yet?”. Our search for further causes of attrition had taken us back to the 15th century, when Spain – despite having seas to the North, South, East and West – had little maritime chops.
“Well”, started one of the Spaniards while slowly reclining on his chair, “Columbus presented his plans first to Portugal, and Magellan only came to Spain after being mistreated by the Portuguese king. A shame there was no cure for myopia back then, your kings were in dire need of one…”
Check, but not quite checkmate. The lack of foresight was not exclusive to Portuguese leadership but, before we could counteract with a snarky remark about Spain’s economic shambles, the restaurant owner came over.
A lousy cook but a great host, he joined our tables and poured each one of us a glass of wine. “Here’s to another 900 years of brotherly banter!” he toasted.
After all, the list of conflicts between both countries is surprisingly short for almost a millennium of coexistence. Not only were clashes few and far between, many were solved with diplomacy and compromise, rather than outright war. To another 900 years indeed.
From Lisbon to all our Spanish friends, may we all be together again soon,