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Letter from Spain #26
Pijos, Spanish 'Sloanes' ... plus TBC notes & research
In this weekly blog, I normally include some observations about the week’s news in Spain, before writing about my research and other notes regarding The Barcelona Connection below. This week, however, the two coincide on the subject of pijos …
I felt prompted about this when reading this week’s excellent Tapa Newsletter on the public holiday for Spain’s National Day. It correctly mentioned that the military parade that takes place each year in Madrid borders the pijo (posh) barrio of Salamanca, and that ‘military + pijo = not PSOE voters’. This meant that Pedro Sánchez was inevitably jeered by the right-wing and far-right contingent again (for the fifth year running, I think) when he arrived for the event on 12 October - and who this year even chanted the controversial slogan of ¡Que te vote Txapote! …
But this week I don’t want to write about Sánchez, ‘Txapote’ or Spain’s National Day … I want to write about pijos. The reason is that it also coincides with planning to write about Chapter 26 of TBC, which introduces the pijo character of Beltrán Gómez de Longoria. It also coincides with having recently spent five days in Madrid, where I realised that pijos are more present than ever …
The Tapa Newsletter is right about pijos not being PSOE (socialist) voters. Unless it’s a bohemian, Ibiza-style, hippie-pijo, most pijos are right-wing (many even far-right). I’m not saying they all are, but there’s certainly a high percentage.
I should briefly explain my interest in the subject of pijos. Years ago, back in the surreal days of working at Vogue House in London for Condé Nast, I contributed to the very successful Sloane Ranger Handbook, published by Ebury Press in the early 1980s. It was edited by Peter York and Ann Barr - and modelled on a similarly successful publication, the ‘Official Preppy Handbook’ in the USA.
The best way for me to describe pijos is to publish below what I wrote about them in A Load of Bull, after I became great friends with one in Madrid - ‘an English public-school-educated hooray-Spaniard with slightly floppy blond hair, a long thin face and just that chinless hint of an upper-class twit about him’.
In a wonderful review of the Spanish edition (‘Mucho Toro’) by Enrique Murillo in La Vanguardia newspaper, this following section was described as ‘brilliant, hilarious’ and ‘spot on’ - and so I’m personally proud of my pijo-pinpointing! Bear in mind the book was first published in 2006, and relates to a period of time living in Madrid from 1988-1996 … but more about Madrid below …
Pijos were (and still are) essential to the workings of Spanish society and once I’d had them identified to me, it was impossible to avoid them. A pijo, or pija, was a bit like a Spanish ‘Sloane’, desperately imitating a British aristocrat, with extra weird twists as a result of the Spanish upper classes’ close association with Franco’s regime.
In my humble opinion, Franco still had an influence over the Spanish consciousness, and whilst modern Spain was certainly no longer just a land of conservative religious beliefs, rigid moral conventions, vast social divisions and violent political conflicts, the memory of Franco’s fascist party was still there. Some people described pijos as ‘rich posh kids’ who wore Lacoste or Benetton, but it was much deeper than that, and pijos were certainly not all young. True, if you listened carefully, you could hear some teenagers in Madrid saying stuff like, ‘This country must have been great under Franco,’ but they were just imitating their parents – that older, richer, landed set who were still there after everything Spain had been through. They hardly had a bad word to say about the past. Franco was OK as far as they were concerned. Franco paved the way back to a monarchy and reinstated their status. Franco was (whisper it) a jolly decent chap.
So my interpretation of the whole pijo phenomenon was that pijos were actually Spaniards who were frustrated. Frustrated that someone like Franco was not still around, yet also frustrated and embarrassed that he once was. Frustrated that no-one really recognised them – in the sense that they felt they should be recognised as being above everyone else. Frustrated that they weren’t as aristocratic, royal, rich, or landed as they liked to pretend they were. But worst of all, frustrated that they weren’t born British aristocrats. You see, accuse a pijo of being a pijo and they’d deny it. They could be wonderful, charming people, these pijos – but their real problem was that they didn’t want to be pijos. No, they wanted to be the Duke of Norfolk.
And pijos felt that they’d only really arrived if they had all the gear on. Their lives evolved around trying to look British or royal, or talking about horses, shooting, hunting, or Sotogrande, the tailor-made playground for the pijo Madrileño set who moved their homes and Filipino staff down there each summer and then name-dropped all autumn about their latest íntimos amigos. It was essential to not only know the right people, but to talk openly about them. And if you couldn’t keep up with those conversations, then forget it. If you scratched beneath the surface of the pijos, there wasn’t much else there at all, and the higher you went up in Spanish society, the higher the pijo, and the more frustrated they became.
A number of my new Spanish friends were pijos, but I didn’t loathe them. I found them hysterical. I found it funny that they never got their confused aristocratic look quite right. A studied carelessness could take generations to perfect – so I often wondered whether pijos knew how silly they looked in brand new tweeds, for example, in that heavy bullet-proof quality with shiny leather elbows and trimming on the cuffs. I’d see them shopping in brand new Barbours, with the Barbour badge still pinned on the collar and which would still be worn like capes. They wore little bottle-green smock-cardigan felt jackets and navy-blue anoraks with corduroy collars, as if they’d just come in from the estate. Even Hackett had just opened a shop in the heart of the pijo area of Salamanca. All this over a decade after the Sloane Ranger had first been identified in London.
The dress code of the female pijas was pretty predictable, too. They looked as if they’d just dismounted. They wore imitation jodhpurs, tweed jackets with velvet collars, flat pumps, and roll-neck cashmere jumpers – and anything else that looked as if it was from Gucci or Hermès. An equestrian motif also went down well – like a silk scarf with stirrups all over it, which they could then knot around the handle of their imitation ‘Kelly’ handbags. And to crown it all, years after Princess Diana had worn one, the ‘Big Velvet Hairband’ had finally hit Spain – in 1992! If you popped into the Loewe shop in Serrano, you’d see giant horsey assistants in giant velvet hairbands, greeting you with giant haughty voices and eyeing you up and down to see if you belonged. They spoke not with plums in their mouths, but with lisps. They scared the crap out of me, to be honest. They always slipped an ‘f’ in after the ‘s’, as in ‘buenasf diasf’. It was very hard to shop there with a straight face.
In fact, the entire pijo shopping experience was bizarre. In the decoration shops of Salamanca, I’d see Spaniards snap up English-embossed ‘wine cellar record’ and ‘visitors’ books or foxhunting coasters and tablemats while Brideshead music was piped gently in the background. And now that Marks & Spencer had also finally arrived, I’d see armies of pijos in the food department each Saturday, stocking up on such delights as tartan boxes of shortbread and Olde English marmalade, all pretending not to be Spanish in their sleeveless Puffa jackets and bullet-proof tweeds.
The tweeds may have been new, but they signified o-l-d: old Spain, old friends, old houses, old furniture, old wine, old family, old money, old blood. And old blood and pedigree didn’t exclude bullfighters. Bullfighting was to pijos what foxhunting was to most Sloanes: it simply had to be defended even if they didn’t necessarily admit to personally participating in it. Bullfighters may have seemed cruel and naff to the average package tourist, but they were often from ‘good families’, ‘buenas familias’. Bulls and bullfighting meant farms, fincas, horses, estates, land, olives, sherry, money. The obsession with buenas familias was an echo of the old Spanish obsession with the ‘thoroughbred’ pure race, ‘pura raza’, and pure blood, ‘pura sangre’, an obsession that was about as pijo as you could get. The family of the Duke of Alba, for example, famous in the sixteenth century for terrorising Dutch protestants, still exists today. And the eighteenth Duchess of Alba, the young daughter in that most titled of aristocratic European families, is married to … a bullfighter.
Okay … so the reason I go on about the subject of pijos this week is twofold:
It’s because Chapter 26 of The Barcelona Connection introduces Beltrán Gómez de Longoria … who could have equally been called Borja or Cayetano, I guess. In the book, Beltrán is described via Detective Inspector Vizcaya’s impression and opinion of him:
‘Vizcaya took an instant dislike to the young man just hearing his pretentious surname. The name reminded him of an old Francoist henchman, but he couldn’t recall which one …’
‘With his plastered-down hair … he’d obviously landed his job thanks to his surname and Spanish nepotism … the chinless wonder was the son of a diplomat, judge or state prosecutor, Vizcaya reckoned, and the grandson of some old fascist.’
The idea of having Beltrán being sent over from Madrid to Barcelona to ‘help’ oversee the investigation (the plot of the book), was to create a sort of parallel universe between Barcelona and Madrid (and even the Basque-born Vizcaya and Madrid), with all that it entails, without getting into the political conflicts that currently exist between Spain’s central government and the Catalan and Basque administrations. Those who have reviewed the book to date (see below), have definitely picked up on this - and which I am very happy about.
The second reason that pijos are topical for me right now, at least, is that I wasn’t aware that the Beltráns, Borjas and Cayetanos of this world were still present - indeed omnipresent - as they are. Having recently spent five days in Madrid, however (where I admit that I hung out only in the barrio of Salamanca), I realised that there are more pijos than ever. I think it is also since living here in Sitges-Barcelona, that I noticed the contrast even more. But Spain is a country of contrasts, which is why I love it - and I guess that’s my message for this week.
The Barcelona Connection - Research
Next week, I’ll write some notes about Chapter 28, and the background to the character of Jaume, Marquès de Guíxols …
Previous links to my research notes are here:
The Barcelona Connection - Reviews, News & Events
On Saturday 28 October at 2.30pm, I will be participating in a roundtable discussion hosted by Barcelona City Council for their annual International Community Day, with the topic being ‘How to enjoy and rediscover Barcelona through literature’. The event takes place at the Museu Marítim de Barcelona. It is free to attend the International Community Day, but prior registration is required via this link: https://inscripcions.barcelona.cat/barcelona_international_community_day_2023-en/
Hope to see you there!
Links to reviews & articles
A review of The Barcelona Connection by Michael Eaude has been published in the October edition of Catalonia Today.
‘Short, fast-moving scenes and the deft joining of two completely different plots … the novel is not just breathlessly rapid and action-packed, but overflows with humour and satire.’
‘The excellent plotting, the local knowledge, the surreal humour, the political satire and the speed of events … it’s an admirable and very readable crime novel.’
Here’s the link for a review of The Barcelona Connection by Dominic Begg that came out in La Revista, a publication of the British-Spanish Society.
‘The Barcelona Connection is a fast-moving page-turner with a helter-skelter plot.’
‘The background to this thriller is realistic and familiar to those who know Barcelona well. It’s a world of cynical, ambitious politicians; civil servants promoted via enchufe; friction between Spanish and Catalan investigators; disruptive anti-capitalist activists; bumbling US dignitaries and security guards; the continuing influence of old supporters of Franco; the soulless 21st century, exemplified by apartment hotels seemingly without human staff-members …’
Here’s a link to a review of the book by Eve Schnitzer published by the Spain in English online newspaper.
‘Tim Parfitt very cleverly weaves together two parallel though quite different stories, set against the background of a contemporary Barcelona that is even busier than usual with major international meetings.’
‘Two plot lines interweave, with some highly ironic as well as suspenseful results … this book has a lot to offer the reader, from pure entertainment to solid information and, possibly, a fuller understanding of the complexities of Spain and Catalonia in particular.’
Here’s the link to an article I was asked to write for The Art Newspaper about my research on Salvador Dalí.
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