10-06-2020

Everyone seems to be at it. Last week I drew attention to the proposal by the Balearic government's directorate for food sovereignty policies (part of the agriculture ministry) for fairs and markets in the Balearics to be declared intangible cultural heritage of humanity, there having been a study to back this proposal up - "The role of the peasant in the material and intangible culture of the singular fairs and markets of the Balearic Islands". I hadn't anticipated returning so soon to world heritage and Unesco matters, but then I hadn't anticipated there being a campaign to declare Spanish bars and restaurants world heritage.

There are three organisations behind this campaign. One of them is Confederación Empresarial de Hostelería de España, the confederation which represents over 300,000 bars, restaurants, cafés, pubs in Spain. The other two are the Spanish Federation of Food and Drink Industries (FIAB) and the AECOC Association of Manufacturers and Distributors. Together they are involved in a platform - Juntos con la Hostelería - to "protect and pay tribute to the bars and restaurants in the whole of the national territory". #SoyPatrimonio2020 is the hashtag for this campaign and for calling for signatures for a petition to back the call for world heritage status.

It's not clear if this is also intangible cultural heritage of humanity or a call for a world heritage site. The latter would, I think, be somewhat unusual. The whole of Spain and 300,000-plus establishments a world heritage site? I'm guessing, therefore, that it is the intangible cultural heritage instead, albeit that bars, restaurants, and what have you are tangible, as are nightlife venues, because they also come into the equation.

On the SoyPatrimonio2020 website, it states: "Our bars, restaurants and nightlife establishments are a part of us, of our society, of the way in which we form relationships, and of our history. They have a very important role in Spanish culture: in music, in cinema, literature, theatre, monologues, architecture and gastronomy. This is to the point that we are the country with the most bars per person." And this, most bars per person, will almost certainly not come as any great surprise; 1.7 million people work in the bar and restaurant sector, which provides 4.7% of national GDP.

Among the contributions of bars to Spain's history, so the website tells us, is that the Spanish Constitution was drafted by debating it in a bar. I presume by this that they mean the current one and not the various previous ones, some of which were probably also debated in bars and involved the odd drink too many. Two of them were never enacted, and others were shortlived by comparison with the existing version, for which coffee was perhaps the order of the day and not several bottles of wine.

There are different images with different legends to support this campaign: "One in three couples had their first date in a bar"; "The first restaurant was founded in Spain 249 years ago"; "Pulling a good caña is an art"; "Lorca, Hemingway, Valle-Inclán wrote their books in bars"; "The tradition for preparing good coffee is over 350 years old"; "Eating tapas has 750 years of history"; "Our chefs are leaders in world gastronomy"; "More than ten million people celebrated the World Cup in a bar".

History longer than the first of the constitutions (1812) can therefore be called upon in advancing the case for bar and restaurant culture. It was Alfonso X, who reigned from 1252 to 1284, who supposedly invented the tapas concept. Recovering from illness, he would drink wine and eat small dishes. Upon regaining his health, he ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine unless it was accompanied by a small snack, i.e. a tapa. There is at least one other take on this of a similar kind - Felipe III (1598 to 1621), whose order was that mugs or goblets had to be covered with something containing a small quantity of food (a tapa cover). This food would supposedly prevent people from getting too drunk.

As to the first restaurant in Spain having been founded 249 years ago, there is a bit of a question mark over this. Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, originally known as Casa Botín, dates from 1725. The Guinness Book of Records reckons that it is the oldest restaurant in the world in continuous operation, although it is argued that it was initially an inn as opposed to a restaurant. 249 or 295 years ago; it's still a fair old time and is indicative of a long history and a long tradition.

The campaign says that Spain's hospitality industry "meets all the requirements indicated by Unesco for consideration as world heritage, as it is characteristic of our culture, is testimony to a cultural tradition of our civilisation and is associated with traditions of living from our land".

Your local bar might soon become world heritage.

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