- Typical Spanish... Spain's image outside the country
- Featured City... Tenerife and the 3 wise men
- Famous Person... Federico García Lorca
- Spanish recipe... Epiphany cake
- Popular Sayiing... “A cada cerdo le llega su San Martín”
- Vocabulary... Spanish words used in other languages
- Word of the month... “Ensortijar”
Many years ago, there was a publicity slogan for Spain aimed at foreign tourists saying, “Spain is different”. Spain has always been a country seen as an exotic place, somewhat unique to the rest of Europe. Goethe, the German poet, used to say that Spain was “the beautiful country of wine and songs”. Napoleon affirmed that in the country whose terrain reflected the skin of a bull, there lived “a rabble of villages who were guided by a mob of priests”. Even Antonio Canovas del Castillo, a Spanish politician in the 19th century said that “the Spanish… are those that cannot be anything else” – and this coming from the mouth of a man from Malaga – and one of the most Spanish of all! (As Andalusians tend to be the butt of Spanish jokes, the irony is all the more prolific!)
In the 21st century, are these still the images of Spain? Whilst it is true that no-one believes that a Spanish man will be seen strolling down the street dressed in the gay costume of a bullfighter, looking for his wife, Maria - who is of course a dancer - after he has finished his day’s work at the flamenco dance bar, there are other views and beliefs. Here are some of them.
- The Spanish are rarely punctual. For many and in particular the English, that the Spanish can show up 20 minutes after the arranged meeting time is deemed to be a lack of respect, yet the Spanish don’t deem it to be at all.
- The Spanish work many hours and yet are not productive. The majority of Europeans are surprised at the number of hours the Spanish spend at work or their long schedules, yet they do not take into account the very many cigarette and/or coffee breaks which are taken throughout the working day.
- The Spanish have renounced their ways and customs. Many are actually surprised that the Spanish can deny some aspects of their culture such as Flamenco or bullfighting. Many say this is because they are fed up of them.
- The Spanish are ideal party-pals. Despite having busy days, you can always go out with them and enjoy a drink in the many bars and disco’s which are open throughout the week through to the early hours of every morning.
- The Spanish have 2 distinct personalities – those from the north and those from the south. Whilst many believe that those in the south are fun, extraverted and somewhat exaggerated personalities, those from the north have the reputation of being more reserved, melancholic and pessimistic.
- It is difficult to find a cultured and knowledgeable Spaniard. Despite the number of Spanish intellectuals and writers it is believed that the Spanish have little, if any, interest in culture. Taking last place in the European countries Program for International Student Assessment and the fact that the sport section of the newspapers is always the most widely read in Spain, does not do the country any favors in changing the world’s opinion.
Of course, we Spanish do not think that it is true and it is unlikely that the average Spaniard will take time to correct those who think this type of thing. As the poet Joaquin Bartrina said, “those that boast of England are English, those that speak badly of Prussia will be French and those that say bad things about Spain will be Spanish”.
However, we should also consider; why has Spain given the world 8 Nobel prizes? Why do so many European students study in Spanish universities? And why is it that some of the most tragic and heartbreaking songs come from the south of Spain?
We can only do but one thing and that is to invite people to come and discover Spain for themselves.
It is the moment in which many children wait (as do many adults): the 3 kings, charged with delivering gifts to the children of Spain, parade through the streets of cities across Spain on the evening of January 5th on fancy floats and accompanied by a large entourage, all throwing out sweets and candies to the eagerly watching children.
One of the most well known parades is that of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. It’s true that different municipalities of the island have been celebrating the king’s parade for well over 100 years, including Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Puerto de la Cruz, Arona and Adeje.
The most famous of which is Santa Cruz, the island’s capital. The 3 Kings of the Orient arrive in spectacular style at the Rodriguez Lopez Heliport. On some occasions they have arrived by helicopter. As yet we don’t know what their plans are for this year, but we promise you they will be arriving in majestic style.
The streets of the city can be found brimming with spectators, some of which arrive long before the parade is due to start, ready to cheer on the kings, pages, jugglers along with their horses and camels in charge of carrying the gifts. The parade marches for 2 kilometers, usually reaching the Plaza de la Candelaria, with time often standing still or even reversing for many of the adults who feel like children during the parade.
For many it may seem unusual, particularly as the only snow that may be seen on the day is that resting on Mount Teide. The temperate climate of Tenerife leads to many taking to the streets and as well as the king’s parade, you will find people dancing and enjoying live music in different plazas across the island.
With such ebullience, good weather and happy people, who would refuse such great gifts?
If there is a poet who can reflect the hot-blooded passion of Spain, the full moons, olives and navaja blades, charged with the bewitchment of the Greek tragedies, it is the dramatist and poet from Granada, Federico Garcia Lorca.
Born into a wealthy, cultured family, some of the first books he read were works of Victor Hugo and Miguel de Cervantes and they say that the first works he produced as a child were scenes of religious ceremonies.
‘Officially’, Garcia Lorca began his literary career in Granada. After publishing his first book, Impresiones y paisajes (Impressions and Landscapes) in 1918 he went to Madrid to further his education, studying law, philosophy and literature. It was in the student residence that he formed a bizarre and eccentric group along with the painter, Salvador Dali, future film-maker, Luis Buñuel and the intellectual, Pepin Bello.
In 1920, the dramatics company of playwright and theatrical entrepreneur, Gregorio Martinez Sierra presented the first theatrical work of Lorca, El maleficio de la mariposa (The Curse of the Butterfly).
His contacts with the cultural elite did not stop there. As a member of the Iberian Artists Society he worked with the musician, Manuel de Falla and the poet, Juan Ramon Jimenez, winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize.
It was in 1921 when he published his first works in verse Libro de poemas (Book of Poems) and started writing Poema del cante jondo, (Poem of Deep Song), one of his more mature works which would not be published until 1931. It was unfortunate as he had to wait some time before gaining public recognition and success with Canciones (Songs) in 1928 and which he later achieved with the theatrical piece Mariana Pineda, a patriotic drama which was staged many times in Madrid.
As a successful author, Lorca traveled to New York where he stayed from 1929-1930 by means of an educational grant. Unfortunately, he found the city to be ‘distressing’ and ‘inhumane’ and he described his impressions in Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York) which was published posthumously in 1940.
Upon his return to Spain, in 1932, he was named director of the La Barranca university theatre company whose aim was to spread the theatre of the Golden Age throughout the villages of the country. It was this experience which influenced him such that his later books and works would have a more direct style so they could reach those more humble. From this period date Diván del Tamarit (Tamarit Divan poems) and Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, 1936) a dedication to his friend the bullfighter.
The last years of his life were dedicated primarily to theatre. Yerma (1934), Greek tragedy inspired; Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding, 1933), influenced by a true crime; and above all La Casa de Bernada Alba (The House of Bernada Alba, 1936) about the oppression within a family are all works from this time. It was this which was his final work. The same year the Spanish Civil War broke out and the author was shot for his political affiliations amongst other reasons (as were other writers and intellectuals on both sides during the conflict).
The style of Lorca is unmistakable – popular and racial, yet raised thanks to a delicate style which covers universal themes. Without doubt he is one of the great Spanish authors who is believed to have been capable of giving so much more if he had not died so soon.
There will have been few Spanish homes this past Christmas which did not have this large ring-shaped cake, sweetened with sugary fruits and hiding a surprise or a mere bean inside. The roscón is traditionally eaten on Epiphany (January 6th), although nowadays it is not unusual to be gracing tables ahead of time.
The cake’s origins are unknown and many theories are given as to how it came about. Some say that it is an edible version of the crowns of the 3 wise men or 3 kings, others say that it is a sweet from medieval times, fashionable in the court of King Louis XIV of France who would insert a gold coin in the cake and then the trend brought southwards by his grandson, the future king Felipe V of Spain.
The truth is that when one finds themselves at Epiphany with a large chunk of cake in one hand and a mug of hot chocolate in the other, the history of the roscón is given little if any thought.
The ingredients of the roscón are simple, but with a less simple preparation – you just need a handful of flour, milk, baking powder, eggs, butter, crystallized fruits, lemon peel and water, and it all has to be kneaded with just the right strength, then let it sit, cover it with beaten egg, decorate it with the fruits…. Not forgetting to add a small surprise into the mix, before it goes into the oven. You can understand why many families opt to buy their roscón already prepared! Although it still remains to be a problematic sweet as no member of the family will ever agree with another as it if it should be bought dry, covered in cream or with chocolate!
“A cada cerdo le llega su San Martín” (Every pig will have his Saint Martin). This refrain is one used to say that those who act wrongly or with malice will, sooner or later pay the price for their actions – you will get your come-uppance!
But, why use an animal and a saint to conjure up divine justice, expressing how karma will always balance out? The answer is simple.
In Spanish and other languages a pig is not just an animal, but also an expression used to define a bad person. You should also take into account that on Saint Martin (November 11th) many Spanish villages practice ‘la matanza’ – the day the pigs go to slaughter. Putting two and two together, just as a suckling pig will end up as sausages and bacon, a villain will sooner or later get their punishment.
We live in times where there are practically no borders. So, it is no surprise that languages ‘borrow’ words from others. Spanish does so no less than any other language and has taken different words from different languages, adapting them to the occasion. The list is endless, but we have summarized some of the most interesting ones taken from English and French.
- Bestseller: Has been accepted by the Royal Academy of Spanish language as a book or record which has been highly successful with many sales.
- Casting: Is where aspiring Spanish actors go in order to take a selection test.
- Cóctel: Is the Spanish way and academically accepted way to mix drinks (cocktails).
- Gentleman: Is the foreign word adopted by cultural circles to refer to an elegant person with good manners.
- Güisqui: According to the Royal Academy is the correct way to write “whiskey”, although to many Spaniards this overly Spanishized way of writing is considered to be a joke.
- Fashion: Is not a word which has been accepted by the Royal Academy, but is used regularly and its use is a tad confusing. Years ago it was used as a word for “trendy”, although as time has gone on, “fashion” has become more used with something tacky and tasteless.
- Look: Is the appearance of someone, particularly when it is used for the purpose of distinction. Although the term is academically accepted, the term may be deleted from the Royal Academy’s dictionary.
- Zapping: Is the changing of TV channel. It has been suggested that the word requires some Spanish-ization to become “zapear”, but so far there has been little support and acceptation for changing it.
- Autoestop: Refers to hitchhikers who stick their thumb out on the main road with the intention of securing a ride without the need for paying. Many people actually believe that the word is of English origin.
- Boutique: In French refers to a modest shop yet in Spanish refers to shops of distinguished and luxury clothing shops which display expensive price tags. Interestingly enough, someone has tried to make the expression more popular class by using “butí”.
- Bufé: Refers to help yourself buffet-style food where a variety of food options can be chosen and clients can help themselves to what they like. It should not be confused with “bufete” referring to a panel of lawyers. Imagine the resulting chaos when those wanting the “bufete” find themselves at the “bufé”!
- Chic: Has been used from the beginning for something with elegance and distinction, yet it has not been considered chic to actually use the word. It is now used more in the sense of “trendy” as opposed to “fashion”. Yes, it is complicated and don’t we know it!
- Croqueta: To the surprise of many is the name given to the portion of dough in breadcrumbs famous throughout Spain, which actually comes from the French “croquette”.
- Pedigrí: Comes from the word “pedigree” and is used when talking about the genealogy of an animal, mockingly as if the animal was of noble lineage.
As you can see, it is fun to see how a word can end up being used when borrowed from another language. Sometimes it has very little to do with the meaning it has in its country of origin.
“Ensortijar”. You could say that this is one of those words is like a jewel which you use when you want to add some sparkle or create an image of luxury. It is no surprise that the word reminds us of sortija (a type of special chunky, gold ring, decorated with a shining stone, not dissimilar to the type which were also used as stamps when using a wax sealing), an elaborate and decorative ring.
According to the Royal Academy of Spanish Language, “ensortijar” means to curl or wave the hair, etc in the form of ringlets. Although it appears not to be true, it is not often used to describe something as being confusing or complicated. The verb is used to give added value to a description, yet it is fairly common to say that a pretty lady has wavy hair or that “su cabello es ensortijado” although with the passing of time such an expression add less romanticism or mystery, but sounds in effect more childish. Strangely enough, it was not long ago when the word was used to describe the not at all poetic action of putting a ring through the nose of an animal.
As you can see, this is one of those cases where the Spanish language uses a word just as much for something poetic as for something mundane – we Spanish have such a fascinating language!