- Typical Spanish...Villages with funny names
- Featured City...San Jordi Day in Barcelona
- Famous Person...Ferrán Adriá
- Spanish recipe...Las torrijas
- Popular Sayiing...“Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos”
- Vocabulary...Spain's oddest demonyms (townsfolk names)
- Word of the month...“Voluptuoso”
A journey to the villages of Spain can be a unique experience, not just for the places that you can see, but also for the “interesting” names that you may discover - although the towns themselves are far more interesting than their names.
Here are some with towns with object names:
Cosa (Teruel): It may appear to be a normal place, but this town is not just any old thing.
Dólar (Granada): It’s no lie that this town has nothing to do with the American dollar.
La llave (Asturias): If you think that to call this town, key, is strange, keep in mind that it’s another 900km to Jaén (almost the other side of the country) where the village “La Cerradura” (the lock) is situated.
Las Mesas (Cuenca): They say that the tables are a good place to eat.
Motos (Guadalajara): The top spot for a ride on a Harley or moped.
Camas (Sevilla): There’s no doubt that beds is where you will rest the best.
There are also some with animal names:
Cabra (Córdoba): As you can imagine the goat is at the foot of the hills.
El Águila (Córdoba): The Eagle is firmly rooted to the ground it’s not a flying town!
Larva (Jaén): Don’t forget that larva is not a town full of little insects waiting to be born… in Spanish it also means ghost… spooky!
Toro (Zamora): The Bull is without doubt one of the most typically Spanish towns around.
And those named alter body parts:
Calaveras de Abajo (León): A joker once said that in skulls down, heads are always held high.
Pulgar (Toledo): it being a great place to thumb a lift to, not many hitchhikers make it.
Tobillos (Guadalajara): In the village of Ankles, they have the world at their feet.
Finally, three special mentions which were the most popular in our offices:
Guarromán (Jaén): It may sound like the town is called Dirty Man but according to many, the name actually evolved from ‘Juan Roman’, the first inhabitant.
Las casas de Fernándo Alonso (Albacete): The Houses of Fernando Alonso is nothing to do with the Formula 1 driver, although the villagers are big fans of the Spanish champion.
Las Galletas (Tenerife): A town inhabited by gingerbread men, just like in Shrek? No, The Biscuits/Cookies is just a regular coastal village.
It is told that a long time ago, a Roman soldier by the name of George (Jordi in Catalan), and a convert to Christianity, saved a damsel in distress from the claws of a terrifying dragon. After a long fight, George managed to spear the beast with his sword and from the dragon’s blood the first rose grew. Despite this tremendous feat, the poor soldier was executed on April 23rd and subsequently became known as a saint.
There are a number of theories to explain the reason why St George is the patron Saint of Cataluña (Catalonia) – they say that he took on the dragon in Conca de Barberà (Tarragona); that in the year 900 he helped the Christians to conquer Barcelona; that his remains can be found in the Generalitat de Cataluña’s chapel…
Either way, St George’s day in Barcelona is a big event. Balconies are adorned with the Catalan flag, typical cakes for the day are sold and the streets are filled with books and roses. According to tradition on St George’s day, women gift men a book, whilst the men present the women with a flower (and very often a book as well).
But why these two particular gifts? They say that the rose is for the one which grew from the dragon’s blood after his death by George’s sword, although some historians affirm that the custom is far more recent, dating it to the 15th century where a flower festival would be celebrated in the city. The books relate to Shakespeare and Cervantes who are both believed to have died on April 23rd which has also officially been named as the day of the book. So, we have a double celebration!
Truth be told, the origins of the custom don’t really matter. Who wouldn’t consider it nice to be surrounded by beautiful flowers and culture?
‘Art’, ‘kitchen’ and ‘polemic’ are not words which you usually find together in the same sentence, unless of course you are talking about Ferrán Adriá, a chef who has been called a visionary as much as he has been called eccentric. He is known for looking for new textures for classic dishes or for using elements such as liquid nitrogen as a cooking tool.
The most well known Spanish chef of our time was born in 1962, in Santa Eulàlia (Barcelona). He had intended to study Business Administration, but in 1980 he left his studies to become a dishwasher at a small hotel in Castelldefels where his initiation into traditional cuisine began. In 1982, following a period in Ibiza, he returned to Barcelona as chef for the prestigious restaurant, Finisterre, but he had to abandon the position in order to undertake military service which he did as part of the team of cooks for the Capitanía General de Cartagena (Cartagena military division).
He then worked temporarily in El Bulli for a period of one month. So delighted was the restaurant with him, he was offered a position as Chef de Partie or line cook. In 1984 Adriá became the Head Chef there.
At this time he undertook journeys to France to learn about nouvelle cuisine (concentrating on the intricacies of elaborating and presenting dishes) and the upcoming tendency towards molecular cooking (more vanguard and focusing on the physical-chemical properties of the ingredients and the technological processes to which they are submitted).
Simulating and in some cases actually achieving these ways proved to be as much a blessing as a curse for him. His supporters called him an innovator and genius whilst others accused him of being a chemist rather than a chef. As this was going on, he converted El Bulli into a restaurant where there was always a long waiting time for tables and critics called him “the best chef in the world”, as well as being one who had achieved some of the most awards.
However, whether it was the tedium of success, the desire to continue innovating or just for money (there are as many quarrels as there are opinions), in 2010 Adriá decided to close El Bulli for two years to transform it into a gastronomy foundation, focusing on training new talents.
Be as may, one thing which is certain is that Ferrán Adriá has become in his own right one of the most important creative people in the country and has the merit of being so in a field so disinclined to create artists, as gastronomy is.
The Torrija is a veritably simple sweet, yet has a lot of character: just a slice of bread which is moistened with milk or wine, then dipped into egg before being fried in an abundance of oil and served up with a powdering of sugar and cinnamon – very similar to French toast, eggy bread or pain perdu to use the French name.
It is difficult for many Spaniards to think about the Easter holy week without thinking about torrijas (it would be like Christmas without the turrón) and the eating of them at this religious time does make sense. During the 40 days of Lent, people looked for something ‘powerful’ and nutritious in order to resist the sin of eating meat. Given that the aforementioned ingredients are pretty fulfilling, you can see how someone can stave off hunger for a few hours by eating a couple.
It is not known when the recipe was conceived, although the first mention of the torrija dates to the 15th century as a dish ideal for women recovering from childbirth.
Nowadays it is thought that the torrija should not be relegated to a specific date. As such, many bars offer it as an alternative to toast or a baguette with tomato. But, we’ll tell you that you’ll never find torrijas as good as those made by a Spanish mother.
“Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos”. This tragic and sometimes painful refrain can be seen in the mouths of older people for whom life has been little more than a road filled with unknowing and ingratitude. It’s not in vain that this phrase is used to reflect the discontent of those, who having done a favor, are paid back in an unjust manner, even being hurt in the process.
The origin of the saying, according to the legend, dates to the times of Don Álvaro de Luna (leader of the kingdom of Castilla army in the 15th century). One day, the nobleman came across a blind man. Don Álvaro asked him what had happened to him and the poor man responded that he had picked up a dying crow. After meticulously caring for the creature, one day the bird had attacked him, pulling out his eyes.
De Luna, after giving the blind man some money, sighed sadly and in an ironic voice said to his companions “criad cuervos para que os saquen los ojos” (bring up crows so they can pull your eyes out). So, what in principal should be a statement about the harm some actions may receive has become synonymous with undeserved betrayal.
Before anything else, we need to explain the word “gentilicio” (demonym). According to the Royal Academy of Spanish Language, as an adjective it denotes the geographical area where someone is from or their nationality. So, one who is born in Madrid is “Madrileño”, etc, but what if they were born somewhere like “Cabra”? What would you call them then?
Some of these adjectives are somewhat strange as they do not correspond to the name of a place, but rather its history and many have a history dating back to Roman times:
The inhabitants of Almuñecar in Granada are called “sexitanos” as the town was known as Sexi Firmum lulium, many centuries ago.
It’s a similar story in Andújar, Jaén, although a little controversial. The town’s inhabitants are called “iliturgitanos”, stemming from the Roman city of Iliturgi, which according to archeological explorations in 1957, is actually at Mengíbar, some 31km away.
Those born in Cabra, Córdoba are known as “Egabrenses“ as the Roman name for the area was Egabro. Later, in Moorish times, the name was changed to Qabra, so as you can see, the name actually has nothing to do with the animals.
Similarly in Calatayud, Zaragoza, the townspeople are known as the “bilbilitanos“ in honor of the city of Bilbilis. According to a legend, the name Calatayud means “Castillo de Ayud” – Ayud would have been the Muslim governor of the city during the time of the Reconquest.
Other strange demonyms are for villages whose name incorporates something of the local elements. In Embid de la Ribera in Zaragoza we have the “embilejos” and in Santander’s San Vicente de la Barquera (Santander) the “evencianos”, from “Vicente”.
In some cases the adjective is a mystery and we can only guess. One example is Feria in Badajoz whose people are known as “coritos”. The reason why has been ignored although it could be to do with the founding of the town by northerners who during the Reconquest built a “castro” or castle there.
Other towns make their reference through the animal kingdom and there are various examples. The inhabitants of Santa Cruz del Retamar in Toledo are called “churriegos” because in the olden days the area had many flocks of churra ewes. Even more perplexing is the name of Villanueva del Duque’s inhabitants (Córdoba) who are called “cuervos”, but nobody knows the reason why.
Many, many demonyms are missing. It would fill a book to count them and tell their origins. For that reason, we’ll let you investigate the matter further yourselves.
“Voluptuoso” This is one of those words that seem to have been created to be said using a quiet voice and only with confidants. The word is a mouthful in itself and there are also those who are embarrassed to even say it.
It’s for nothing less than when we are referring to something as being “voluptuoso”, we are referring to something which incites and satisfies the senses. We also use this world to refer to sensual pleasures: a kiss can be “voluptuoso”, but so can a piece of pie, a given perfume… even a painting and especially a person who derives pleasure from experiencing the aforementioned things.
However, like many other words, “voluptuoso“ nowadays is considered a tad twee and old-fashioned. In fact, it might evoke, in more than one person’s mind, images of black and white pictures of Rita Hayworth or Sofia Loren.