Culture and spanish language - April 2012

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Spanish Culture April 2012
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Seat 600

Seat 600: A Legend of Spanish Car Making

It’s strange: in many countries by the end of the 50’s and during the 60’s they produced cars which ended up becoming national symbols. So in Germany we have the Volkswagen "Beetle" (yes…we know that it was designed in the 30’s, but the main period of production began in 1961), in France the Citroën 2CV, in England the Morris Mini Cooper, in Italy the FIAT 500…and in Spain the SEAT 600.

Why this period in particular? In the western sphere these were the years of the economic boom and lack of concern: at last the post-war forces reaped their rewards, so people were allowed to be happy with no expense spared… many families could even begin to consider actually buying a car.

Spain was no exception: it became what was to be known as "developmentalism". The autarkic regime of General Franco extended their hand to foreign investments and some Spaniards saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Proof of this is that the motor world grew thanks to an agreement between FIAT and the recently created SEAT according to which the Spanish makers promised to commercialise the Italian branded models. Among those of the 600: a small pram, round and pleasant (we realise that this description also refers to the stereotypical "Mediterranean" male, coincidence?).

Soon SEAT’s management reported that it was now able to produce this model for itself: its production in Spain would reduce costs. FIAT made no objection and thought that it would also end up gaining given that making a car more economical would render it more popular. In light of this, despite being more economical, the SEAT 600 cost 65,000 pesetas…at a time when the minimum salary was around 60. But on the plus side they could be paid for in instalments.

Seat 600
Seat 600

The first 600 left the SEAT factory in Barcelona in 1957. Throughout its history Spain released various models of the "pelotilla" (as it was called): model "N" for "normal" (produced from 1957 until 1963), model "D" (1963-1970), model "E" (1970-1973) and model "L" (a special edition, only commercialised during 1973). Of course the latest versions were most powerful, but the most recognised are the first two: they had a special charm with a multitude of gadgets (which were to be removed from later models) and above all its doors, which opened "backwards". It may sound quite strange (and for some almost offensive) but this detail is easily remembered because, unforgettably, this was also the era of the mini-skirt; so the opening mechanism of the doors in combination with the creation of Mary Quant allowed Spaniards to glimpse women’s legs as they got out of the car (as we say, those were different times).

In 1973, as we have already mentioned, the very last 600 model was produced. In recognition and as homage the workers at SEAT dedicated a banner to it carrying the following slogan "born a prince and died a king". However the production of the final model didn’t assume its decline. A whole generation of youths bought the 600 second hand which was much more affordable than buying other new cars (an example of this is that the father of one of our editors, who remembers his first car: a 600 – by complete coincidence of life – was born on the same day that his car was registered).

In theory the life of this car is over, but in practice its existence has been prolonged, thanks to clubs dedicated exclusively to its legacy, right up until the present day: it has been converted into a classic small car, a star and winner of competitions against other cars "of the time".

You could say that the story of the SEAT 600 happened like that of the kings of epic sagas, who made history by being fierce warriors dirtied by the dust of the battlefield, but have become legends personified by noble knights in shining armor with high ideals.

P.S.: The editors would like to thank the father of one of them, driver (and mechanic) of various "pelotilla", his help was provided by way of documentation.

Featured City

Alicante (Easter) April

Virgen de la Amargura

Immediately, if we mention spending Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Alicante it will surprise you that a port and consecrated city as commercial as Alicante would celebrate something as spiritual and different from what you would expect.

However the city has been celebrating its Semana Santa since the year 1600: the date the first chronicle was mentioned, although it is quite possible that it could already have been celebrated for many years prior to these…even centuries.

Why is it worth travelling to Alicante during these holidays in particular? Well…anybody you ask will say that Semana Santa is unique in comparison to other “fiestas” which take place in the region, such as the bonfires of San Juan or the Moors and the Christians, for their tranquil, quiet, peaceful and melancholy characters; something which seems strange in a happy, festive and extroverted area like that of Alicante.

The steps, the brotherhoods, the penitents, the congregation…they march solemnly accompanied by ceremonial music, with suppressed feeling visible on the surface. A strong yet melancholy atmosphere surrounds the city from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday. On the days in between, visitors will have the opportunity to see more than 30 brotherhoods in procession and carrying sculptures such as that of la Virgen de la Soledad (Our Lady of Solitude), la Virgen de la Amargura (Our Lady of Bitterness) and that of Ecce-homo.

Of these processions perhaps the most well-known are those of Palm Sunday, also called "la burrita" (literally translated as “the little donkey”), which the majority of Alicante citizens take part in; and that of Santa Cruz, which takes place on Holy Wednesday and with over 1000 members taking part. You will also notice an eerie peculiarity: that of the Pardon and the Silence. The participants in this procession leave the Cathedral of San Nicolás and walk by the old quarter of the city in complete silence and illuminated only by candles. The carvings which are carried are equally impressive: El Cristo de la Buena Muerte (which dates back to the 17th century) and Nuestra Señora de las Angustias (Our Lady of Sorrows).

Of course there are many more processions to see. But we will leave the task of discovering them to the traveller: we will leave Semana Santa in Alicante to surprise you for itself.

Famous Person

Juana la Loca

Her story is worthy of theatre: the daughter of the most important royals in the history of our country, the mother of who would come to be the most powerful Emperor of the time. But also that of a misunderstood woman whose passion eventually caused her to lose her head.

Juana la Loca has become an almost mythical celebrity of our history. This has its advantages and disadvantages: the good thing is that all Spanish men and women know who she is; the bad thing is that the mythical aura (the unfortunate princess) has prevailed against her personal history (in fact very few people know that she was the first Queen of unified Spain and that her reign lasted from 1504 until 1555).

Juana was the third daughter of Catholic royals, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon; remember that although their marriage unified Spanish territory during their reign there was no governmental union and Castile and Aragon remained independent kingdoms. Born in Toledo on the 6th of November 1479 her destiny was already laid out: being the third born as well as a woman it was clear that she wouldn’t be a “princess” (as she was a legitimate daughter of the King but not an heiress). So, although she received a privileged education in which languages, dance, music and etiquette were prioritised, she was educated to be part of the court, someone who accepted the norms more than anyone who dictated or governed her. This corresponded to her brother Juan.

Juana La Loca
Juana I de Castilla

The princess was a player on the chessboard of troubled Europe at the time; important, yes, but a player after all. Her role in external politics was typical of a princess who married another prince in order to secure treaties of various natures between two kingdoms or to form a common front against a third. We should not be surprised that Isabella and Ferdinand had prepared suitors for her that included Prince Charles of France; Philip, son of Maximiliano I of Austria, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire…and then Jacob IV, king of Scotland.

At that time the most favourable position for Isabella and Ferdinand would be to join the largest European empire against France…so Juana had to marry Philip at the tender age of 17, without having previously met him. As life goes, when she saw that he was an attractive and brave boy she fell completely in love. However the feelings were not returned: Philip became bored with his spouse as the years passed, which provoked great despair and awful fits of jealousy and hysteria in Juana (this continues to be described as the reason for her "madness") heightened by the yearning for her homeland, as at the time she was living in Flanders, homeland of her husband. At that time their first daughter had already been born, Leonor, and the future Emperor Carlos V was on the way. A short time afterwards another girl followed, Isabel.

Coinciding with the birth of Carlos, in 1500 fate took a strange turn: Juana became the heiress of the unified kingdom of Castile and Aragon following the death of her two siblings (Juan was the victim of tuberculosis and Isabella died due to complications during childbirth). Philip didn’t give very much support to Juana in the face of the responsibility she had now acquired and left to "resolve some business" (although it was probably to go in search of some advice from courts of the empire to find out how he could take advantage of the new situation). Pregnant once again, Juana returned to Castile.

In 1504 destiny took another turn. Queen Isabella died, and so Juana became sovereign of Castile. Philip, ready to stay with some degree of power (and well advised by his people), did what was necessary so that King Ferdinand would proclaim him co-reigning in 1505, the same year that Juana gave birth to another daughter, Maria. Juana’s father reluctantly agreed with what some defined as the “weakness of old age” of a monarch who had been known for his strength and his ruses (Ferdinand of Aragon was a figure admired by Maquiavelo, which tells us a lot). In 1506, with Juana pregnant once again, relations between father-in-law and son-in-law (proclaimed Philip I of Castile) became worse. The reign of Philip didn’t last much longer as he died the same year on the 25th of February: some say that it was due to fevers that he acquired after drinking very cold water following considerable exercise, others say that he was poisoned by Juana’s father, which was achieved with questionable methods that were against the law.

Juana La Loca
Juana I de Castilla

The legendary madness of Juana worsened with the passing of Philip: she did not leave his coffins during the 8 months that it took to transport the body from Burgos to Granada (stopping to collect his daughter on the way). The rumours that the Queen was more occupied crying about the death of her husband than running the country escalated, forcing the court and King Ferdinand to lock her away in Tordesillas in 1509. Queen Juana almost officially became known as the mentally disabled "Juana la Loca" ("Juana the mad") and the government fell into the hands of regent Cardinal Cisneros. However she continued her reign as Queen of Castile and in 1516, after the death of Ferdinand, became Queen of Aragon. However the government failed to exercise their power and as a result she remained shut away with the young Catalina. The effective sovereignty of the Hispanic kingdom remained in the hands of Juana’s son, Carlos, from that moment known as Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany. And so began the period of Imperial Spain.

The figure of Juana was vindicated by the common movement in 1520. This movement, formed by nobles of Old Castile, opposed the government of a foreign king (Carlos was born in Gante, now located in Brussels). We say “vindicated” because at no point was Juana known to have apposed the commons (nor did she sign documents which testified her sympathy for the rebellion). We don’t know if it was for motives of health or because, after seeing her family divided, she didn’t want to enter into a war with her own son. After 2 years of fighting the rebellion was overwhelmed by forces loyal to the emperor who, of course, never ceased to regard his mother as queen.

The imprisonment and melancholy (many now use the word “depression”) damaged Juana’s health. She died in 1555. Curiously her son, Emperor Charles, only outlived her by 3 years. Her story still remains for eternity and here’s a question for scholars, what would Spain have been like had it been governed by Juana herself?

Spanish Recipe


Grilled Catalan Spring Onions (Calçotada)

Spring onions are one of the most typical Catalan dishes and are the treated almost like an event. So much so that when speaking of "calçotada" it is unclear at what point we finish talking about a recipe and begin talking about a ritual.

The "calçotada" period takes place at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. During this time these Catalan spring onions (a type of fine, white onion) are collected, they are then roasted on the grill and accompanied by a sauce called "romesco" made with tomato, bread, almond, dried peppers, rosemary, olive oil and salt.

It sounds simple, but as we said the "calçotada" has various characteristics which make it special.

  • Firstly: the embers on which they roast the spring onions have to be from vine shoots (the knotted stem of the vine).

  • Secondly: the first layers of the spring onions have to carbonise; to ensure that the insides are well cooked, but also creamy.

  • Thirdly: the onions have to be brought to the table on clay tiles, in order to preserve their heat before they are served.

  • Fourthly: the guest has to remove the carbonised layer by hand, cover it in the sauce by making circular movements with the onion, and finally eat the calçot by dropping it into their mouth from a position above their head.

  • So...the best thing to do is observe how the other guests do it and then copy their example.

    You can imagine that during the process there is something which is inevitable: not getting dirty. Of course you have to take this eventuality into account, so the organiser of the "calçotada" should provide you with a bib. However you will see that guests with more experience are capable of eating various spring onions without even dirtying their bib at all.

    The positive thing is that it hasn’t stayed this way. At any traditional "calçotada" you will also see meats and sausage which are also prepared on the grill. While the embers are still glowing you have to make the most of them.

    As you can see the "calçotada" is an event worth seeing and enjoying. That said: it is practically a ritual. However this doesn’t mean that you can't try it out in your own garden. It may not be exactly the same as the Catalans or you may lack some elements such as the vine shoot or tiles…but don’t worry. We won’t tell anyone.

    Popular Saying

    "Nunca digas de este agua no beberé" ("Never say: I shan’t drink this water" / "Never say never")

    The Spanish are famous for being faithful to their word: if we say we will do something we will end up doing it, and if we promise that we won’t do something we will never do it...

    Yeah...I wish it were that easy. Every circumstance is unique and you never know which path will lead to which fate. It is always something that we said we would never accomplish that we eventually end up doing anyway out of necessity.

    And this is what this popular saying is talking about: you don’t have to be as foolish as to assure that you will never proceed in a certain way. In fact, it’s certain that you will end up swallowing your words. Who, for example, has never lied to their family in order to protect a friend despite swearing that you would never deceive your mother?

    For the many of us who boast about being truthful and staying true to our word the reality is the opposite: as painful and harsh as it is.

    And now that we’re on the subject of "harsh" must know that the more traditional form of this proverb is a lot "ruder". The exact saying is "nunca digas de esta agua no beberé ni este cura no es mi padre" / "never say: I shan’t drink this water nor is my father the cure" (who says that they have sworn celibacy knowing that one day they will meet attractive temptation?). Of course for many years this second part was avoided because it was no doubt the word of an emissary of God. But what is certain is that flesh is flesh, weakness is weakness and the things that we promise are only, as Hamlet said, "Words, words, words".

    What does all this have to do with water? As you know there are many types of springs: fresh water, bitter, salt. It may be that we only taste the fresh water and we don’t give a second thought to trying another flavour, but, what would we do if we were really thirsty and there was only salt water?, wouldn’t we forget about our preferences and just drink whatever we have? For this we can never say "de esta agua no beberé" (I shan’t drink this water), because having been faithful to our intentions or tastes we would have died of thirst.

    It seems unbelievable that we have such a "pragmatic" proverb, but we have to forget one thing: proverbs, although today they sound like poetry, in days gone by were sayings used by practical people. We can assure you that it will always be this way...although "nunca digas de esta agua no beberé".


    Rural Jargon

    In days gone by Spain was a country that was eminently rural. You could say that there are no families in our country that don’t have rural origins, and in fact, it is very common to go on vacation or spend the holidays on a visit to "the village" (although in the family that I’m talking about only the grandmother is still living in the village). We shouldn’t be surprised then that there are many rural terms in the Spanish language. In fact you could say that every town has "its vocabulary". We can’t look at all of the words, but we have made a selection of the most commonly used ones: so if one day you go to "the village" of a Spanish friend and you hear things like "pon en el fuego el trébede" ("To Light the Fire in the Trivet"), "ve a la era a trillar las mieses" ("To Go to the Plot to Thresh the Cornfields") or "jalbega de una vez las paredes" ("To Whitewash the Walls").


    Alpaca: the alpaca for many English speakers (especially North Americans) is a type of Andean llama with thick wool. But in numerous Spanish villages an "alpaca" is a rectangular block of straw or hay.

    Bala: of course in Spanish a "bala" is also a bullet, but in this case when using "bala" we are referring to a tight bale of straw, hay or grass.

    Cochiquera: you may have been to the house of a Spanish friend, to spend the afternoon in a very untidy room. If at this moment the mother of your friend enters saying "limpia de una vez esta cochiquera" you must know that a "cochiquera" is a "pigsty" (or "pocilga" in more common Spanish). And that a pigsty is a stable for pigs.

    Corral: a place where birds are kept such as, for example, chickens. It’s no wonder that when a place is full of people who talk a lot about everything it is called a "corral" ("farmyard").

    Era: when talking about a rural environment an "era" is a box of clean and firm land destined for cultivation or the separation of the wheat grain.

    Establo: another type of enclosure made to keep animals. But this time we are talking about a place to take a rest and where the cattle eat. Some Spanish mothers make jokes at the expense of their party-animal offspring (who are hardly ever at home) saying that they treat the house more like a stable than a home.

    Jalbegar (or enjalbegar): have you seen those villages full of white houses? There, walls have been "jalbegadas" ("whitewashed"), which means to say, painted with whitewash lime or plaster. It is said that this word comes from the vulgarisation of the Latin word "exalbicāre", which means "to bleach or whitewash".

    Mies: this word is closely linked to bread. It can mean both the cereal which it is made from (remember that it doesn’t have to be just wheat) at the time of harvest as well as the harvest of wheat.


    Pedanía: as we said before there are many villages in Spain, of which some of them very small. For administration reasons some belong to the same territory. This territory is called “pedanía” ("hamlet").

    Recua: it is typical in some areas to brand a gang of friends as a "recua". This is the same name given to a pack of animals. As you can imagine, it isn’t a particularly nice term.

    Siega: reaping is part of the harvest, principally of the cereals. It is the moment when farmers cut the spikes. It describes a very unpleasant job; because of this in some places they use "siega" as a synonym for a hard time.

    Silo: the silo is an underground granary, although in some places it is used as a simple synonym for a farm or construction done underground.

    Trajinar: it is one of the rural terms which have had more fortune in modern times. Originally it meant "take something from one place to another"; but nowadays it has been vulgarised and has a slightly imprecise meaning, but good for all. We say that "trajinar" ("to be busy") has been converted to mean a repetitive task which entails certain effort.

    Trébede: you could say that it is a "deformation" of the word "trípode" ("tripod"). We can’t say that this is a lie, as a "trébede" is a support with three legs which allows you to put pots onto the table without burning the tablecloth and a support over the fire on which you can put a cooking pot.

    Trillar: the action which takes place after the reaping. It consists of separating the grain from the cereal of the straw, generally by snapping the spike. In addition it also means to leave something worn by age. For example, if a cinema critic spoke of a "very banal" report he will be speaking about a plot twist or a repeated camera shot making it no longer interesting.

    Zamarra: this term has had a lot of fortune outside of the rural atmosphere. A "zamarra" was, originally, sheepskin. In addition it began to be known as "pelliza" ("fur-lined coat"), a coat made from this skin. Nowadays a "zamarra" is a coat made of any kind of fabric.

    Zurrón: this word, strangely, is used a lot in schools at Christmas. Mostly because a "zurrón" is a bag made of hide, leather or wool used by shepherds (and all children have dressed up as shepherds with a "zurrón" at least once to sing Christmas carols in class).

    Of course the rural field has many more terms (and, we say again, some are specific to a particular region). So we won’t rule out returning to this theme in future editions.

    Réprobo (Reprobate)

    This word, which sounds a bit old to the Spanish, has an almost mystical sense, a "réprobo" ("reprobate" in English) is someone who is condemned to eternal sorrow, a person whose soul will not be at peace. Therefore it is understood that a "réprobo" is also wicked, even isolated from religious orthodox. Cutting to the chase: the definitive "réprobo" would be Dracula.

    However this term is, at least, taken as an adjective or noun referring to the verb "reprobar", which means "to condemn, not to approve or take as bad". They sound similar and their significance is similar, but there is a subtle detail which marks the difference: when something is condemned it is questioned: but when somebody is a "reprobate" there is no debate, they are evil and that’s it. In every case, a person whose action is questionable (and we mention this because "lo que es malo para unos es bueno para otros" / "what is bad for some is good for others") would be a condemned person.

    Nor should we confuse "réprobo" and "reprobado" when we refer to an academic mark. A student "reprobado" is a student that has failed a subject, though we know that for many a fail is the equivalent of a curse or eternal sorrow.

    Definitively and to understand us: if you do "the evil" you will be a "réprobos" ("reprobate"), but if you do something bad you will be "reprobados" ("condemned").

    Of course, we already know that it is very confusing. Now you understand the reason why the term is in disuse right?

    As you know the DELE (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera) is the qualification which officially and indefinitely accredits your competence and command of the Spanish language. This qualification is awarded by the Instituto Cervantes in the name of the Ministry of Spanish Education, Culture and Sport.

    It is a qualification which you can study for with us. In fact we have accredited centres in Madrid and Valencia where you can take the exam to obtain it. There are various sessions for this exam throughout the year. They begin in May, they end in November and there are a total of five.

    So that you are informed about the courses, dates and prices of both the courses and the exams we have made a section available on our website within the section "Student’s corner". You can’t miss it because it’s the first option on the menu.

    Once inside you will see that the page has three tabs: one dedicated to the description of the courses, another with their prices and the last one in which dates of the exams are listed. This information is divided in this way so that you can quickly find and have a look at the dates which you need to know.

    Nevertheless, if you have any doubts about the courses, the exams or both you can contact us. We will be happy to give you any help that you need.

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