Culture and spanish language - November 2011

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Enforex Newsletter 2011
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Typical Spanish

The Andalusian Courtyard
The Andalusian Courtyard
The Andalusian Courtyard

Were we to walk on a sweltering summer’s day through the old portion of an Andalusian city or town, sooner or later we would come across an open door or a gate, behind which we would be able to see lush vegetation, to smell the scent of geraniums, to hear water running and almost to feel the freshness and the peace inside. Should we, besides, sense a certain “charm” about it, then we can be sure about what we are facing: an Andalusian courtyard.

Much like many other traditions and building habits in Spain, the Andalusian courtyard derives from the blend of several cultures: on the one hand, the legacy of Roman villas, built around a courtyard, and, on the other, the Muslim tradition of filling entire areas of their houses with life and vegetation. While Romans only used to have a cistern in their patios to collect the rainfall, Muslims required a reduced but comfortable area: a small portion of paradise in an arid and dusty land.

Often these courtyards have been interpreted as proof that the people living in those houses were true followers of the Prophet, insofar as the gardens within the courtyards could be considered miniature replicas of Paradise as portrayed in the Quran (note to self: double check this in the Quran kept at home). Nevertheless, while this is an interesting theory, no documents have been found to shed light on the matter in any definite way. 

As years went by, the courtyard has become a portion of Andalusian culture well worth studying, given that often the instinct of those who decorate their courtyards makes them face problems that would drive landscapers and designers completely mad – and they have to solve them using only three elements: water, plants and lime or tiles. In order to reward the efforts of the citizens (and also to attract some visitors), the councils of various cities organise courtyard competitions every year. For instance, the one that takes place in Cordoba during the month of May counts among the most famous of them.

The aesthetic and even sensual power of these courtyards is irresistible. So much so that even Spaniards, especially prone to self-deprecatory comments about our own identity, still think, romantically, that every house in Andalusia has one of these courtyards. Probably because, despite our jovial and festive character, deep down inside we would all like to enjoy the peace and quiet of an earthly paradise.

Featured City

Granada. (Jazz Festival)

Some might be shocked to hear that the ancient land where La Alhambra is located, which was the last Muslim territory in Spain, the place that saw Boabdil sigh for his lost kingdom, might now be home to the most representative tunes of New Orleans. Be that as it may, the Granada Jazz Festival is one of the oldest in Spain. It has been around for over 30 years and its stage has seen some legendary performers, such as Tete Montoliu, Dizzy Gillespie or Herbie Hancock.

The long standing tradition of this festival has derived in a large number of jazz fans in the city of Grenada, who await its arrival all year long. Concerts, conferences, film screenings… even exhibitions devoted to this musical genre take place during the days of the festival.

Vast portions of the city become a ‘jam session’, to the tune of the events in the Casa Morisca, the HQ of the Oficina Técnica de los Festivales de Jazz de Granada (Technical Office of the Granada Jazz Festival), which also houses jazz-related cultural activities all year long. A fascinating place where classy melodies blend harmoniously with the remote past.

The festival is spread across five different stages in the city, together with performances in night clubs, an international competition with contestants from over 30 countries, and even jazz classes for enthusiasts.
The festival has earned international recognition both for its quality and for the activities it promotes. As a matter of fact, activities related to this musical genre never end, as samples and conferences can be attended practically all year round.

So, there you go: if you want to discover a beautiful city to the tune of some wonderful chords, then you have a forced date with the Granada Jazz Festival.

Famous Person

The Princess of Éboli
The Princess of Éboli
The Princess of Éboli

If we look into the history of any country, sooner or later we will find the figure of a fascinating woman who has ended up turning into the stuff of legends: in Spain, this is the case with Ana de Mendoza, the Princess of Éboli.

You might not have heard her name, but you would recognise her portrait: a beautiful woman, dressed in black (as was the rule in the court of King Philip II) and, due to an accident while fencing as a child, wearing an eye patch over her right eye: a trait that, curiously, made her more enigmatic, more interesting.

Doña Ana, born in 1540 in Cifuentes (Guadalajara), was the only child of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza y de la Cerda, Viceroy of Aragon, and doña María Catalina de Silva y Toledo. At the tender age of 12, she married Ruy Gómez de Silva, Prince of Éboli, by recommendation of King Philip II. While we might be shocked by such practice these days, the fact remains that back then it was common practice to conduct arranged marriages at an early age for political and diplomatic gains. There were no romantic motives behind it, as can be surmised from the fact that Ruy only saw Ana for three months during the first five years of their marriage.

Faithful to her role as a member of the high nobility of the time, Ana spent her life in court, as a friend and companion to the Queen: Elizabeth of Valois, third wife to Philip II. During this time she took part in the activities organised by a portion of the nobility, led by Ruy, who sought a peaceful solution to the conflict with Flanders. This faction, to give it a name, met with the opposition of the faction faithful to the Duke of Alba, turning palaces and mansions into rumour mills and filling them with conspiracies, from which the Princess of Éboli usually escaped unharmed, thanks to her close friendship with Don Juan de Austria, King Philip’s brother, and ironically, one of the most important military leaders in the kingdom. 

As a matter of fact, Ana’s good standing in court was hurt by Don Juan’s departure to deal with the Moorish revolt in Alpujarras. Her political situation was also affected following the death of her husband: the leadership of the liberal faction of the court fell on the hands of Antonio Pérez, secretary to the King. Ana became a staunch supporter of Antonio’s position and came to the knowledge of important secrets of State, which she would use astutely to reinforce the presence in court of the faction seeking a peaceful solution to the war. However, the secretary turned out to be a conspirator: while he tried to convince Philip II that it was a good idea to sign a peace in Flanders, he also claimed that Don Juan de Austria was scheming a secret armistice with England that would go against the interests of the kingdom. Pérez did not hesitate to collaborate in the plot to assassinate Juan Escobedo, Don Juan’s secretary, who had travelled to Madrid in order to clear up the misunderstanding surrounding his master and to expose Pérez’s lies. The king, aware of the intrigue, got rid of Pérez in all haste and, believing the Princess of Éboli to be involved in the whole affair (some say he took the opportunity to dispose of an uncomfortable element in the court), banned her and sentenced her to reclusion in Pastrana (Guadalajara), where she died in 1592.

While this is just a quick sketch of the figure of the princess, she evidently was a unique woman with a lot of character and commitment. We encourage the readers among you to look further about her (there are plenty of books written in Spanish about her, and there is no scarcity of films, either) and to be mesmerised by the passion, intrigue and conspiracy that surround her figure.

Spanish Recipe

El bollo preñao
El bollo preñao
El bollo “preñao” (´The pregnant bread roll’)

You might find the whole ‘pregnant’ (that is, literally, the meaning of preñao) thing a bit revolting. But don’t worry: we are not talking about any strange or disgusting recipe, here. This is just the way people in Asturias or in Cantabria call a piece of bread with a ‘surprise’ inside: a good piece of chorizo or pancetta.

We are not going to lie to you: this speciality requires time, patience and the skill of making bread, a super power only enjoyed by precious few. But, given that nothing can beat the determination of a starving student with too much time in her hands, we are going to give you the recipe.

According to tradition, you have to cook the chorizos in cider until they soften. Meanwhile, start making the bread roll: put milk, slightly melted butter, beat egg, salt and sifted yeast in a bowl and mix the resulting paste until you get a homogeneous substance. Spread some flour over it until the dough is no longer sticky and allow it to rest over a couple of hours, covered with a humid cloth.

Following those agonising two hours spread the dough and cut it into portions, such that one or two chorizos can be wrapped in them. Then, place the rolls on a greased tray (to keep them from sticking together) and brush them with beat egg. Oh, yes! In the meantime the oven should be pre-heated to 200 degrees. As soon as you have finished painting the rolls with the beat egg, place the tray in the oven and let it cook for roughly 20 minutes, or until the bread gains the consistency you like.

By now, you might not even be hungry any more, certainly after cleaning up the kitchen. Therefore, some people recommend buying frozen bread, or even just sticking some chorizo on a piece of bread and heating it up a tad. The end result isn’t the same, of course, but it might just do. Although, if you are in Cantabria or Asturias, the best option is rocking by the bakery and buying one, because master bakers make incomparable pregnant bread rolls.

Popular Saying

“A hortelano tonto, patatas gordas” (´The thick farmer will get fat potatoes´)

This proverb is a bit of wisdom arrived from the north of Spain, specifically from the region of Aragon. That in itself entails a problem, because, while people from the southern end of the country are more direct and open, northern folks tend to be more cryptic and given to puns (this might be a simplistic trope, but in this case it’s true, no matter how much it pains us).

The thick farmer will get fat potatoes’, what on earth might that mean? Apparently, it has two meanings, so let us explain.

Meaning 1: Sometimes success does not come to the smartest, but to the luckiest: a fat potato entails the peasant is lucky for several reasons. It shows the best soil has been chosen and that he will need to work less to feed himself, given that he will have to peel one potato, rather than twenty. And when it comes to that sort of luck, intelligence has a small role to play.

Meaning 2: If you have no talent, in the end, it will show: let’s suppose the farmer has to sell his potatoes. Would someone accept a huge one? Should his client try to cut it into pieces to use only as much as she needs, then the rest will rot by the end of the day, so it wouldn’t be terribly smart to buy several fat potatoes, no matter how good they are. In this case, while the farmer has known how to cultivate and choose his land, his lack of vision has been exposed by the fact that he couldn’t profit from his produce.

The two meanings might not be contradictory, but some distinction can be seen. While one bemoans the unfairness of someone benefitting from his luck and not his merit, the other one makes fun of someone who tries to outwit everyone else and ends up without any reward, because he never considers that his own good depends, in end effect, on the good derived by the others.

So, a complicated adage, by all means, but one with truthful interpretations. Maybe it’s all about knowing how to use one meaning or the other according to the circumstances.


Curious origins of some Spanish words

Studying the origin of Spanish words can be – how to put it tactfully? – boring: a vast amount of them come from Greek or Latin words. However, there are others whose origins is strange, even amusing. Here are some of those curious words.

Asesino (assassin): it derives from the Arab hashissi, which means ‘consumer of hashish’ and refers to a sect that, in the time of the Crusades, used to carry out crimes both against Christians and against Muslims, Their members were very keen on consuming the aforementioned plant, so much so that, in the end, it became a sign of their identity.

Azafata (stewardess): another word with an Arab origin. In Muslim Spain, the safats were trays on which maids would carry their ladies’ jewels. These maids (the assafats) were beautiful, refined and devoted, which is why in the 1950s it was decided that the young and educated stewardesses in planes should pay tribute to their predecessors. For this very reason, many believe the masculine form of the name (‘azafato’) should use a different word.

Bigote (moustache): there was a time when the fates of Spain and Germany ran together. And this word, which designates the facial hair that grows beneath the nose, originates from back then. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Burgundian by birth, brought several German mercenaries to Spain who, as a form of greeting, pulled from their abundant moustache and called, ‘Bei Got!’ (‘God lives!’). Spaniards found this practice particularly amusing, and began calling that hairy growth ‘bigote’.

Canarias (Canaries): the origin of the word is still being debated. Some say that the sailors first who arrived in the islands (in the XV century) found many dogs (cannis in Latin); others claim that what they found was a large plantation of bitter cane, called ‘cannas’. The only thing that everyone agrees on is that the small, yellow birds were not the origin of the name, but rather, that the islands gave the bird its name.

Corbata (tie): the garment that gentlemen and businessmen tie around their necks was already used in the XVII century by the Croatian cavalry, which is where the word comes from, as corvatta was the name Italians gave to those who originated from Croatia.

Estúpido (stupid): this insult wasn’t such in the beginning. Its origin is traced to the Latin verb stupeo, which means ‘to be stunned or amazed about something’. But from ‘stunned’ to ‘dumbstruck’ there is a subtle line. So, over the years, being mesmerised by something wonderful turned into something done only by people who are easily impressed or simply dumb.

Inmolar (immolate): we might thing that there is little relation between the performance of a sacrifice and flour (mola in Latin). But the fact is that in ancient Rome part of the preparation of the animals that would be sacrificed involved sprinkling a mixture of flour and salt over their heads.

Larva (larvae): the name of the often repulsive state into which the offspring of insects develop is designated by a word that in Latin was referred to ghosts and the masks used to represent them. The Swedish naturalist, Linneo, is the one responsible of giving the word its present meaning, when he explained that larvae masked the true insect, which would be born later on.

Llanta (wheel): used to designate both a tyre and the metal rim of the wheels, this word comes from the French jante, which means ‘edge’. We believe the reason why we use this word is because a llanta touches the edge of the tyre (when talking about the metal rim) as well as the edge of the road (if we are referring to the actual tyre).

Menisco (meniscus): the cartilage found beneath the knee, well known in our country because it’s the most common injury among footballers, has a truly descriptive name. Meniskós in Greek means ‘quarter-moon’, and that is precisely the shape of the troublesome cartilage.

Macarra: this is how you call an aggressive and vulgar person. The word comes from the Catalan macarró, which, in turn, originates from the French maquereau, a type of fish whose name was also used as a synonym for ‘pimp’.

Pantalón (trousers): we refer to the garment used to cover our legs. The Spanish word has a curious story: Saint Pantaleón was a Turkish saint who served as physician to Emperors and who attracted the attention of the citizens of Rome because he dressed in the Turkish fashion, i.e. wearing trousers. 

Pepe: many wonder why this is the Spanish diminutive of ‘José’. The story goes that this tradition dates back to the days when the writings used in the churches referred to Saint Joseph as P.P. (short for Pater Putabitus, something along the lines of ‘putative father’ of Jesus). Others say that it comes from an incorrect translation of the Italian name ‘Giuseppe’, which was turned into ‘Josepepe’.

Platano (bananas): why do we call bananas plátanos in Spain? Simple, except also a little bit complicated: it stems from the Latin platanus, meaning ‘wide’. Apparently the first thing that struck when they first came across a banana tree was its wide leaves, not its elongated fruit. Nevertheless, we must stress the fact that the word ‘banana’ is also used in Spain, even though it usually refers to African or American bananas, while plátano refers to bananas from the Canary Islands. Ask your local greengrocer: he’ll explain it better.

Evidently, there are many more Spanish words with picturesque origins. And the Internet is a wonderful tool to discover them. Just a quick warning, though: once you start looking for random origins, it becomes really hard to stop.

Hortera (tacky, naff) It is one of the most common words, if you want to talk evil of someone or to criticise the way they dress. An hortera is a vulgar person, with bad taste: for instance, the random neighbour who can’t get her colour combinations right, or the token relative who shows up in your cousin’s wedding party dressed as if he were John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

The term has a truly curious story and is a living example of the way meanings can evolve in time. Formerly, an hortera used to be a wooden platter where chemists used to place the ingredients of their formulae; shortly thereafter the word was used to refer to the chemist’s trainee, who usually held the wooden platter. During the XIX century the word was also used to refer to trainees in other professions, such as shopkeepers, who showed their lack of experience in the fake politeness they displayed towards their clients; it was during the 1920s when the term was expanded, to refer to people who, like the aforementioned trainees, pretended to be sophisticated, when in reality they were nothing other than hypocritical brutes. Since then, the meaning has evolved relatively little, although an aesthetic component has been added to it; nevertheless, the perception of what is and isn’t hortera changes according with our interlocutor. For instance, some find Lady Gaga risqué, while others think she is more hortera than a cabbage with a lace (‘más hortera que un repollo con lazo’).

Funny how words can change and end up with a totally different meaning to the original one, isn’t it?

We have news for our students in Seville. Enforex opens a new students’ residence! It is found in the Calle Viriato – a lively place, packed with good restaurants. Near the residence you will also find the Plaza de la Encarnación, the location of the Metropol Parasol, one of the largest wooden structures in Europe, which also houses the Museo Arqueológico Antiquarium (Archaeological Museum). Needless to say, you won’t be short of things to do around there…

The residence is located in a charming and cosy street, full of history. The building in which it is housed has been refurbished, keeping some of its Andalusian essence, and it boasts a modern kitchen, communal living room and comfortable bedrooms with A/C. The terrace of the residence is a highlight, designed for students to get together and take the sun, which in Seville shines all year long.

The building is right in the centre of town and is well communicated to other places of interest in Seville: a perfect place to organise visits and daytrips with the rest of your mates from the residence! You will experience Seville as just another one of its citizens and, besides, it will give you ample opportunity to practice the theory you have learnt in class.

If you would like to know more about this residence and courses in Seville, do not hesitate in contacting us. We shall be delighted to help you.

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