The word “tertulia” is commonplace in Spain. It denotes a gathering where intellectuals get together in a stylish cafe to freely discuss social, political and cultural events. Allegedly, the term stems from Tertullian, a Christian author and polemicist of the 2nd century AD. It is said that during Spain’s Golden Century, renowned authors like Lope de Vega, much like it was customary in the French salons, shared with their literary peers the fruit of their creative endeavors. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the “tertulias” flourished in all their splendor. In Madrid, the informal gatherings became institutionalized in a myriad of cafes, some of which still remain as a remembrance of things past.
The Café Gijón and the Cervecería Alemana, for instance. Here, personalities of the Spanish intellectual elite of the last two centuries, contributed to the expansion of modern ideas in Spanish society and set the pace for artistic development which has rightfully claimed its place in history. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a famed intellectual to enjoy the delights of a good “tertulia”. Nowadays, scattered throughout the city, in terraces, bars and cafeterias, it is easy to find groups of friends, cronies and colleagues engaged in lively exchanges about current affairs and a large array of topics. Sometimes, things get heated and noisy. It’s a sign of our cultural identity. Moreover, the habit of group conversation has become a popular media event. Radio talk shows involve large groups of know-it-all journalists trying to pass their political agendas as universal truths.
Same with TV shows which have profited from Spain’s unstable political climate during the last few months. However, a good “tertulia”, be it spontaneous or orchestrated in advance, is the product of an archetypical need to communicate, to feel part of a community, to share one’s concerns with your fellow citizens. It’s an essential part of the Spanish way of life. Once you have experienced its enchantment, you’ll invariably feel the urge for more.