- Typical Spanish... Unsolved mysteries and conspiracies in Spain’s history
- Featured City... Granada (Cadiar’s wine fountain)
- Famous Person... Margarita Landi
- Spanish recipe... "Cojonudas" and "Cojonudos"
- Popular Sayiing... El que no llora no mama (The squeaky wheel gets the grease or Only a crying baby gets milk.)
- Vocabulary... Detective-related vocabulary ("clue", "hint", "alibi", "interrogation"...)
- Word of the month... Conciliábulo (secret meeting)
- Notices: Offer: 2013 course with 2012 prices, and new price list
Unsolved mysteries and conspiracies in Spain’s history (from the murder of the Count of Villamediana to the attempt on Prim’s life)
Every country has its hidden history, unsolved murders and mysteries that, because they don’t have a clear solution or explanation they end up turning into mythical elements of the country’s culture. In Spain there are quite a few of these, but we will only tell you those that struck us the most. We also invite you to investigate them on your own and get your own conclusions.
- Murder of the Count of Villamediana: Don Juan de Tassis y Peralta, Second Count of Villamediana, could be the mix of two different pleasure seekers: a fictional one, like Don Juan, and a real one like Casanova. He was good-looking, a good poet and playwright, and was well positioned in Philip IV’s court... but he was also a womanizer, a player, and somewhat vain and scathing, what granted him rivalries both in curt and in the cultural world. Enemies of his were both Francisco de Quevedo (a famous poet and novelist of the times) and the Count-Duke of Olivares (favourite of the king).
The courtiers, in an attempt to turn the king against the Count, spread the rumour that Villamediana was flirting with the king’s wife, Queen Elisabeth. Unfortunately, it turned out that the rumour was true. The event that raised the king’s suspicions was when the Count saved the Queen from a fire in a theatre to which they assisted together. It seems that Villamediana took the Queen in his arms to her chamber and "took too long" in making sure that she was all right.
Three weeks later, the Count was knifed when he was on his way home from the royal palace, under one of the arcs of Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. A stranger hopped on his carriage and slashed him on the side and the Count bled to death. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether it was the work of a jealous and betrayed husband, or it was the king and the Count-Duke’s will, but it has been unveiled that the murderer was Alonso Mateo... one of the king’s crossbowmen.
- Attempt on Prim’s life:In 1870 Spain was living in a quite complex political period (well... when hasn’t it?) After the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1868, Elisabeth II abandons the country and a political debate started, should Spain turn into a Republic or should it continue being a Monarchy? Juan Prim, President of the Cabinet Council and Minister of War, as well as General Captain of the Army, bet big on a middle solution: that Spain kept being a Monarchy, but with a king from another dynasty, Amadeo of Saboya. He was successful at influencing on the majority of representatives of the Congress to accept his proposal. Of course this event granted him the hatred of the supporters of the Bourbon royal House as well as the republican sector.
With this background we arrive to December 27th, 1870. Prim was exiting the Parliament in his brougham led by two horses. He was on his way home when, on the Turco street (today called Marqués de Cubas), he found two carriages blocking his way. Then, several men appeared on both sides of the street and opened fire on the politician. The attempt was unsuccessful, but Prim died because of the bad healing of one of his wounds: the one on the chest, in which came a lock of hair of the bear coat he wore, what caused his blood to get infected.
Prim’s death didn’t stop the crowning process of Amadeo of Saboya, but, without the support of the charismatic Prim, in 1873 the new king abandoned Spain and the First Republic was proclaimed. Who had won? The "Bourbonists" or the "radical Republicans"? It isn’t known for sure, though a very atypical theory is getting stronger: that the Duke of Montpensier, conspirator par excellence and supporter of the Bourbons to the quick, would have instigated José Paúl y Angulo, a famous radical Republican journalist, to carry out the attempt together with some comrades. If it were so, how did both extremes come to terms to agree on exterminating the middle? There are still many unsolved questions.
- The death of Francisco Pizarro:There is no doubt that the conqueror Francisco Pizarro was an unpopular man: covetous and cruel (always according to one side of the story), he hadn’t enough so he had confronted another conqueror, Diego de Almagro, over Cuzco’s possession. This confrontment was ended by Hernando, one of Pizarro’s brothers, murdering Almagro.
Without a doubt, these actions of Pizarro had opened the way to a vengeance, which was executed on the night of June 26th, 1541, when a fellow of Almagro slaughtered him during a dinner that ended up in a combat. Up to here, everything has an explanation, but in 1984 a new factor came into the picture. It seems that Pizarro didn’t get murdered by one stab wound, but by four. Further examination revealed that several spades had been soaked in his blood. Could it have been a plot? Were all the participants supporters of Almagro? Lately, some voices talk about the "convenient delay" of the Crown’s judge in settling the dispute between the supporters of Almagro and those of Pizarro. Could it have been that the Crown had interest somehow in the conqueror’s death?
- The black dog of El Escorial: We finish with a mystery that, even when it has a slightly fantastic feel, could be a consequence or a means to a conspiracy. It was the year 1577 and the Palace of El Escorial was still being built. Although the works hadn’t finished yet the monks were already living in the monastery and carried out their daily routines until one morning, during the 25th of August morning prayers, a spine-chilling howl was heard. Such terrifying sound was also heard during the following days, in which news also came that a giant black dog was seen prowling around the monastery’s scaffoldings.
To many, the devilish origin of the dog was out of question, but for the friar who was in charge of the works, Antonio de Villacastín, it was clear that there was no devil intervention. A day he had seen the dog prowling around he chased it until he was able to hunt him, proving that it wasn’t but a rabid dog. But for the religious and superstitious king, the dog was still a monstrous emissary that stalked him because of some misdemeanour he had committed. He thought it over with his advisers and came to the conclusion that the dog was the instrument of divine punishment for not paying well the quarrymen that provided the materials for the monastery. So he decided to improve the working conditions of the workers.
Was it a coincidence or did the quarrymen guild, conscious of the king’s predisposition to believe such things, release a rabid dog on the works site and spread the rumour with the hope that their lives and salaries improved? If this were so, it must be one of the most creative salary increase requests in history. The bad thing is that, given the possibility that it could have been the temple’s constructors who did this, many people see the hand of masonry behind this event.
Our stories end here, but there are many other. As we said before: research on your own and you will see that, apart from being the country of sun, paella and sangria, Spain is a country full of mysteries.
Granada (Cadiar’s wine fountain)
No more than an hour from Granada there is the small town of Cádiar which celebrates its festivities during this month. Its autumn fair, which starts on October 5th, is celebrated in the honour of the Christ of Health, but has become popular due to a peculiarity: its wine fountain.
This innovation is already a bit old; it all started in 1967, when the local poet Enrique Morón thought about installing a fountain that would provide the neighbours with the precious drink during the five days of the village’s feasts. The idea was inspired by an anecdote that tells how the people of Madrid celebrated the wedding of Queen Elisabeth II making all the city fountains pour wine on the day of the event.
The poet got down to work together with three friends: Manuel Tarifa, Francisco Dumont Álvarez and Luis Rodríguez Zapata (the town’s doctor). They designed a fountain with two spurts: one that poured wine and another one that poured water to clean the glasses.
Everything was going alright until the time to get the drink came. At first, the three friends thought about asking each wine producer and harvester for an arroba of wine (a Spanish unit of liquid measurement equivalent to around 16 liters). But then they realised that, for the success of their initiative, it would be a bad idea to mix the wines. So it was finally agreed to ask each neighbour for a small amount of money to be able to buy the wine. The funny part (and flagrant for some) was that they even asked for a contribution from some of Doctor Zapata’s patients, whom he had forbid to drink.
Needless to say, the initiative was hugely successful. But there was another doubt: how would it be set up each year? Would the neighbours be willing to give some money away again for an initiative that was free in its origin? No problem: the town’s Casino first, and then the Town Hall itself took charge of the fountain.
And it has been 45 years since this prodigy that quenches the thirst and cheers the soul fills out the wine glasses to anyone that comes next to it (always within the limits of one’s virtue) from the 1440 liters that the fountain spurts out.
This is considered one of the most important and eye-catching festivities of the region, which is confirmed by the Junta de Andalusia’s concession of the range of Cultural Interest.
Think about it: Andalusia, wine and fiesta... is there anything more appealing to the visitor?
Most probable, this name doesn’t ring a bell to you at all. But, in its time, the famous character we will talk about today was an institution in the rough world of criminal investigation. She wasn’t a detective, but with her old-fashioned wardrobe and her pipe she could have been taken for a hypothetical daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple: her original name was Margarita Landi.
She was born in the neighbourhood of Chamberi, in Madrid, in 1918, and one could say that journalism was a genetic passion for her: she was the daughter of Alfredo Verdugo (illustrator of the newspaper "El Sol"); and granddaughter of Joaquín Verdugo (director of the Malaga newspaper "Las noticias").
We know little about her childhood (it may be good to do some research on this). The next landmark in her biography happened in 1936, when she married Ángel Torres at age 17. She has studied to be a nurse, and he was a Lieutenant of Engineers of the Republican Army. The war came but, at the beginning, Ángel lived quietly in a post of little conflict, Carrión de Calatrava (in La Mancha). Nevertheless, things got worse as he was assigned to Teruel and then to Castellón, where he was made prisoner. Although he was liberated after the conflict, reprisals were taken against him, what undermined his health. He died in 1947, when Margarita was 29 years old and had a five year old son.
But she was determined not to drown. More even so, she decided to try her luck in the complicated world of journalism. She started her career as a fashion journalist, first for the magazine "El Ventanal" and then on the newspaper "Informaciones". But for Margarita, a person of character, that was somewhat frivolous. Decided to take profit from her knowledge in nursery, and her love for criminology, she managed to be the first woman journalist in the famous newspaper "El Caso", specialised in accident and crime reports. Of course, at the time she had to sign her chronicles with a male pseudonym.
She started cultivating her contacts with the police. She was famous amongst policemen for her professional work, away from the sensationalism of some of her fellows, and for her carefully composed image: a blonde maid who, as any good detective, smoked a pipe. There was also the rumour that she arrived to the crime scenes in a flashy red convertible, though this last thing is just a product of legend. Due to the proverbial lack of parking space in Madrid, Margarita always took a taxi.... And she got to be so famous amongst the drivers that some of then didn’t even charge her the ride.
Her continuous signs of efficiency and respect granted her the honorific title of Police Sub-Inspector; and she was later promoted to Inspector once she finished her studies in criminology.
She continued her work during the eighties in the polemic magazine Interviú (maybe being one of the few women that appeared in its pages fully dressed). In 1989 she decided to retire from written journalism after receiving the "Rodríguez Santamaría" Prize from the Spanish Press Association.
That year she started her television appearances in such programs as "La huella del crímen", "Código Uno" (where she worked with Arturo Pérez Reverte), or "Mis crímenes favoritos", on the local television channel of Madrid. She combined this work with the writing of essays and novels, most of them criminological studies or detective stories.
With a long and -many times- extenuating career, Mrs. Landi died in 2004 in Asturias. Se turned into a beloved character for the audiences. Her nickname, though evident, reflects how much of an efficient, distinguished and respected professional she was. Even today she is still known as "The Lady of Crime".
"Cojonudas" and "Cojonudos"
The name of the recipe may sound a little bit rude, but as an apology we will also say that when something is "cojonudo" it also means that it is exceptionally good and delicious. Besides, it is very easy to prepare... Yes, this time it’s for real!
We ignore who was the delighted guest that named them, but we do know that the "cojonudas" and "cojonudos" are a specialty typical of Burgos -specifically of the region right next to La Rioja. If you are watching the photos it will look like an ideal tapa. Well... it really is all about that, a tapa whose ultimate purpose was to promote the chorizo and morcilla (black pudding) from Burgos.
Before we tell you how to elaborate them, we want to tell you that the difference between them is their ingredients: the "cojonudo" uses chorizo as a base, while the "cojonuda" is made of morcilla. The rest of the ingredients and the elaboration method are identical.
Let’s jump to the preparation: you will need bread, morcilla or chorizo (naturally), oil and quail eggs (don’t worry about this last ingredient; it can be found in any poultry store of Spain).
The first thing that you need to do is cut the bread in slices, not too thin but also not too thick. We introduce the bread in the oven so that it browns (watch the oven closely, for very little browning time will be needed). We now cut the chorizo in thin slices, and the morcilla in thick slices. We fry the sausages (four minutes will be enough) and we place it on some kitchen paper, so that the excess of oil is absorbed.
The next thing we do is frying the quail eggs (one for each slice of bread). Before you open the first one we have to warn you that you should be very careful, for quail eggs are more fragile than hens’. Do not open them with one hit: do it carefully and with a knife.
Once the eggs are fried, we place them on the slices of bread. And then, add the chorizo or morcilla next to it. Ready! A "cojonuda" tapa! By the way: this tapa should be eaten while hot, so prepare it just a few minutes before your guests come.
Oh! And after you make them, don’t forget to tell us how has the experience been and whether the dish deserves the name that it is known by.
El que no llora no mama (The squeaky wheel gets the grease or Only a crying baby gets milk.)
One of the most surprising things about our society is that many times in order to achieve something one has to complain angrily, especially when we are talking about bureaucracy or mobile telephone services. And this is precisely what this saying is all about.
As you know, babies cry when they don’t like something or when they want to obtain something. So, when they are hungry, they cry in an outrageous way to call their mom and get her to breast feed them. That is the image used in this proverb.
But, why use such an infantile image? Maybe we should consider the mocking character of the Spaniards. It is assumed that complaining about something that we want or that belongs to us by right is such a basic behaviour that even babies do it. So, when we say that we didn’t get a salary raise or a discount on our telephone line, people respond to us with sarcasm that "el que no llora no mama"; that is, that we have been a bit silly for not demanding what we wanted furiously.
To many, this saying is an example of the Spanish character, which grows in the face of adversity and fights for what it wants. For others, however, it is the proof that, sadly, even the most unimportant things can only be obtained through complaints and annoyance.
Whether it is a reality or an example of the infamous "Spanish tragic feeling", this is an expression that has an active life, one of those sentences that you will hear sooner or later, whether in an informal atmosphere or after a meeting at work.
Detective-related vocabulary ("clue", "hint", "alibi", "interrogation"...)
We often say that this vocabulary section is meant for you to get to use the words in it in your everyday lives. Given the nature of this month’s terms, we hope you don’t have to use them... unless you are describing a novel in which Javier Falcón solves a case to one of your Spanish friends.
- Asesinato (murder): killing a person; as simple as that. We must, nevertheless, make a clarification. This is a word of common use, without distinctions. Not like in English, where you can make a difference between "assasination" (of a political leader) and "murder" (killing someone). In any case, there is a word in Spanish to refer to the assassination of a political figure, the word "magnicidio", but it is a disappearing cultism.
- Atracador (thief): the "atracador" is the kind of thief that assaults you and even threatens you with a knife, gun, or a similar weapon. If it is a thief that doesn’t use weapons and has a special talent for stealing things without being noticed, then he is a "ratero".
- Autopsia (autopsy): the autopsy is a medical and anatomical examination of a corpse. If you have ever watched one of those TV series on criminologists... more than one forensic scientist would tell you that "what they do is not an autopsy".
- Calibre (caliber): this is the inner diameter, measured in millimetres, of firearms or the projectile that is shot through them. You probably read, in a novel, sentences such as "I begged his pardon twice: each of them was a 38 caliber apology".
- Casquillo (case, bullet shell): It is the empty metallic case left after the bullet is shot. They are those things that the CSI cops pick up with a ball pen and then examine under the microscope.
- Coacción (coerce): According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is "to persuade (an unwilling person) to do something by using force or threats". When a mother tells her son "Eat the purée or I slap you", she is coercing him just like a thug from the mafia would coerce a helpless store owner.
- Coartada (alibi): the detective looks to his partner and, complaining, says "that bastard has an alibi. On October 3rd he was fishing trouts with his father-in-law in Hoboken". Then, we know that the suspect has an argument that goes to prove his innocence. That is an alibi. Another matter is whether it is true or false.
- Detective: in Spain this term does not designate a police officer. With "detective" we are only referring to the investigator that operates independently from the police. When a Spaniard thinks about a detective, he pictures Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe, but never a guy with a badge.
- Fallo (sentence, veredict): in this case this word does not designate a mistake, but the judge’s or a jury’s decision. In many films, the police officer or the detective has to prove that a defendant is innocent before the judge delivers his inevitable "fallo".
- Forense (forensic scientist): it is a doctor who is appointed by a justice administration organism to pass judgement on legal medicine matters. For us, he is the guy in a white coat that carries out the autopsies and usually has a strange gallows humour.
- Hurto (theft): this is a complicated legal concept, at least in Spain. Supposedly, a "hurto" is committed when someone takes something against your will, but without intimidation or violence. Summing up, if your friend silently takes a CD from your house knowing that it is yours; if he takes it from your hands and slaps you, it is a robbery.
- Indicio (hint): although it is usually mistaken with clue, it is not the same thing. The "indicio" is the phenomenon that lets us know or infer the existence of a non-perceived event. So it doesn’t have to be a physical object. Let’s set an example with the previous case: that your friend leaves your house without saying goodbye and a CD is missing are both "indicios" that he has stolen your disc.
- Interrogatorio (interrogation): a series of questions that are directed to someone that has some relation to a case and from whom one can obtain confessions or hints. Contrary to what TV-watchers may think, it is not a necessary condition that there are "good cops and bad cops".
- Ladrón (thief): it is a person that steals, robs or burgles. In some sense, it is similar in English: "ladrón" is a generic term that can refer both to the person that robs our wallet with skilled fingers, and the one that takes our cell phone after putting a knife on us. We will be more specific when we make a formal complaint.
- Pipa (pipe): It is a vulgar way of referring to a gun. We don’t know why this name is used... May it be because of its resemblance to the smoking utensil if you hold it by the barrel? Or maybe because the onomatopoeia that designates a firearm is "pim pam pum"? Because the shape of the bullets resembles that of the sunflower seeds (pipas in Spanish)? Each person has their own theory.
- Pista (clue): one could say that the "pista" is a tangible hint: a mountain of ash that reveals who was standing in front of the window, a fragment of cloth on the floor... all that that leads a detective to find a suspect.
- Sospechoso (suspect): it is the individual that we think has committed a crime or that is, at least, somehow related to it, due to a series of clues and hints. In detective movies or TV series it is usually the one that turns out to be innocent while the killer is usually the least expected character. In real life it isn’t often like that... we think...
- Testigo (witness): the person generally not related to a crime that has witnessed its execution and gives a testimony of it to the authorities. In novels or films he / she usually ends up coerced, murdered, or in an affaire with the detective.
We think that these words are enough for you to understand some sentences of a Spanish detective story, or the Spanish-dubbed version of your favourite criminologist TV series.
Conciliábulo (secret meeting)
This seems like an ideal word, given the repetition of conspiracy, mystery and criminal themes that have taken over October’s newsletter. "Concilíabulo" means "not lawfully convened meeting organized to address a topic that you want to keep hidden". Both the word and its meaning evoke the meetings of powerful conspirators in nineteenth-century palaces.
But the origin of the word is even older. It has a Latin origin and it was applied –in its time- to the reunion of heretics or shismatic elements against the church. The most famous "conciliábulo" was the one that led Dioscorus, the first Patriarch of Alexandria, to rebel against Pope Leo I. Needless to say, the thing ended up in quite a nasty manner. Maybe because of this story the word has now a negative connotation.
Needless to say, it is a word in disuse. Nowadays it is preferred to use more pronounceable and more modern terms like "camarilla", "corrillo" or simply "conspirators reunion". In these times, we don’t imagine a group of sinister powerful men dressed in black and watching the moves of markets and nations sitting in a "conciliábulo". More than terrible, it would sound ridiculous.
Is this yet another word on its way to extinction? Maybe, even though if we have to point out a word to talk about Prim’s or the Count of Villamediana’s assassination, it would definitely look nicer to talk about a "conciliábulo".
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