Tertuliante por excelencia. Those of who do not know Spanish may nevertheless surmise that the last two words mean what in English is called ‘par excellence’ (from the French). And tertuliante? Well, simply, a person who engages in tertulias.
So, what then, Lorenzo, is a tertulia?
Ah, so glad you asked. It is a term that encapsulates one of the most attractive features of Spanish culture and a favorite pastime of my own. Though impossible to capture its meaning in a single English word, you can basically think of it as a cross between a literary salon and a coffee klatch, with some of the lofty focus of the former and the relaxed friendly informality of the latter; not as fusty as the salon, a bit less gossipy than the chat circle. No dissertations, no bellyaching about mothers-in-law. Neither overly high-brow nor too low-brow, but just-right-brow, themed chitchat amongst friends.
The history of Spanish poetry, literature, painting, philosophy and cultural movements and currents in general would be unrecognizable without tertulias. Madrid is dotted with the wonderful cafes, taverns, bars and restaurants that hosted such gatherings in the 19th century and much of the 20th (although the term and practice dates back centuries earlier). Sadly, some of those locales have disappeared, and others have become pricey tourist watering holes, but something abides nonetheless. How could it not, when we are talking about tables and bars frequented nearly everyday over decades by some of the country’s greatest playwrights, poets, composers, painters, philosophers, actors, journalists…?
|Café del espejo 1845 — Museo de Historia de Madrid
And the term has come to host what for me is a luxurious mainstay of Spanish culture, the habit of following all good meals with relaxed conversation, where no clocks tick, and our attention is wholly trained on the voices and banter of our fellow tertuliantes. It is still considered somewhat uncouth for a waiter to pressure diners to wind down the talk, pay and clear the table. I have never seen a “Don’t loiter” sign in Spain, and would have trouble translating the term and explaining the concept behind it for my Spanish friends. I have seen, however, and even been embarrassed by my role in, the almost heroic patience of tired waiters and cooks, holding their growing exasperation on a short stoic leash while standing by and waiting for after-dinner tertulias that just refuse to wind down and stretch well beyond any reasonable work hours. Just try that in a New York City restaurant.
Spain has always struck me as a very conversational culture. There is a love of words, especially the spoken word. After all, most of the people here do adhere to a faith whose sacred text begins “In the beginning was the Word”. Words are important, talk matters. Although when taken to the extreme of all-talk, no-action, it can feel hollow, or when spilled over into the terrain of gossip, it may grate, the notion of the art of conversation still has an important place. More than a can-do society, this is a let’s-talk culture. Since, traditionally, in towns and cities, homes were smaller than families, this need and love for conversation is largely indulged in semi-private nooks of public places, in bars, cafés, taverns, restaurants.
|Bar Viva Madrid
But blogging strikes me as a seat at a cyber-tertulia. And that is what this whole post is actually about, an introduction to a tertuliante por excelencia. I am referring to Bonnie of Original Art Studio, one of the coziest and most spiritually nourishing café tertulias out there. Whether taking us for a walk in her garden, or a look at her art work and photography, on incursions into the world of psychology and philosophy, or along on her spirited and spiritual forays, Bonnie’s blog always makes for rewarding reading. Hers is a restive and questing mind and she has much to say and teach and show, yet never preaches, proselytizes or pontificates.
And, above all, and this is what makes her such a tertuliante extraordinaire, she has the art of conversation. Often, blog comments are little more than appreciative admiring quips, or brief references to some point made on the blog post. But Bonnie always seems to want to make it a conversation, not a quipfest. She has a knack for drawing people out (she is a psychotherapist, after all) on her own blog and participates actively on the blogs of others, with exchanges that can grow into two, three or several more ‘comments’ by each tertuliante. Seeing the fascinating conversations that result between her and George of Transit Notes, Ruth of synch-ro-ni-zing, Robert of Solitary Walker and others, always makes for stimulating talk, enlightening conversation and, yes, just plain fun.
In recent days, Bonnie has put a lot of admirable effort into conducting interviews with some bloggers of her choosing. The results have been beautiful. The series has allowed me to meet new bloggers for our virtual tertulias, like Kent of Expat from Hell, Meri of Meri’s Musings and Friko of Friko’s Musings (I will not give links to their individual blogs, you can click through to them from Bonnie’s). Other interviews have helped me get a fuller view of the individuals behind blogs I so enjoy: the ever poetic Ruth of synch-ro-ni-zing, who has lately gotten into the alarming habit of making me fall in love with her every time she posts something new; George of Transit Notes, whose posts seem like one new tour de force of art and words after another; Brian of Waystation One, who seems to grow as a person, blogger, writer, poet and friend every day right before our eyes.
|Bodegas Ángel Sierra
And today, Bonnie has posted an interview with yours truly, prefaced by some very kind words about this blog and me. You can read it by clicking here and will understand how touched I am by her thoughtfulness and generosity. I really enjoyed doing this with Bonnie. I know I have been fairly anonymous behind my blog and lapis lazuli elephant, and sort of like it that way. But it has been nice to let her brush aside a veil or two. If you have any questions you would like to put to me, I would be very happy to answer them there in the tertulia over at Bonnie’s Original Art Studio.
So go visit Bonnie and see the interview. Enjoy the other ones. And then stay around after the meal for the conversations that Bonnie, our tertuliante por excelencia, generously hosts, guides and energizes. There’s a seat for you at the tertulia. Pull up a chair. Loitering is allowed and welcomed.