Newsletter September 2012
Popular destinations in Spain

Typical Spanish

Why is Madrid the capital of Spain? (from the political theory to the esoteric theory)

We all know that the capital of Spain is a big city located on Spain’s geographical centre called "Madrid". What few people know is that this is a "new" city: in the time when other cities like Barcelona, Valencia, Toledo, Salamanca or Seville were already first range cities, both politically and economically, Madrid was no more than a small hamlet. How could a small village beat other more consolidated, older, and more powerful cities?

Up to the XVI century, Spanish rulers didn’t have a stable place of residence: it was the time of the "Itinerant Parliament", which meant that the kings and their entourage spent some time in different cities. It wasn’t until the rule of Philip II that the possibility of centralizing the administration and the government. It was often commented that this monarch had a sedentary and shy character that felt more at ease amongst papers than amongst people, in clear contrast with his father, the adventurous fighter and traveller Charles V. It seems normal that Philip wanted to stay somewhere for good, a place where he could set his bureau, so in 1561 he decided that the Court would be set in Madrid.


This was a controversial decision, for the city had been one of the places that had stirred up revolt against Emperor Charles during the uprising of the villagers, that wouldn’t accept the authority of a foreign ruler (Charles V had been born in Ghent, had arrived to Spain at age 16 and he couldn’t speak Spanish at the time). Despite that fact, Philip’s opinion prevailed and he settled in Madrid.

What made the monarch take that decision? There isn’t one true explanation (another of Philip’s characteristics was his inscrutability), but there are several theories, some more plausible than others...

Some say the election of Madrid was precisely because of its "little importance". This way, there would be no notoriety or interest conflict amongst the other cities we mentioned earlier. Let’s say that the alternative was chose for being the least bad of all.

Others argue on the delicate health of the king, who would have wanted to settle in a place with good water, dry heat and cold and a clean air. It seems that the only Spanish city in which all those conditions coincided would have been Madrid. We say "would have been" because we are sure that the air that can be breathed nowadays in the capital is, at least, of a poor quality.

Another theory is based on the city’s location: Madrid is virtually in the central spot of the peninsula. That meant an advantage when it came to administrating the country and travelling around it, for any bureaucrat or the king himself could rapidly reach any point of the country. But there could also be a "defensive" factor, for in the case that there would be an invasion, the invading army would have to travel through a big part of the territory before reaching the capital, which would have enough time to prepare its defences and prepare for an eventual siege.

Lastly, we should also include a more esoteric theory (in the last times, Spain is flooded with esoteric explanations for almost anything). According to some authors, the cultivated and mysterious Philip II would have chosen the site for his city for the Renaissance tendency to consider man as the measure of all things, or "centre" of creation. Thus, setting a city built by the new man in the centre of the kingdom would transcend other spheres of existence. For others, the king, who considered himself a standard-bearer for God, would have ordered to install the Court on Hell’s entrance itself, to keep a close eye on the devil’s activities. Considering the heat there is in Madrid’s summer, it seems logical that the fires from hell are right underneath the city.

There are more theories, of course, and each is free to choose the one that convinces him the most. The important thing is that one upon a time there was a king who thought that a small village could be the capital of a vast empire.

Featured City

Salamanca: Virgen de la Vega

Between the 8th and the 15th of September the festivities of the Virgen de la Vega take place in Salamanca. Many people are surprised by the fact that such an important city celebrates its patron saint’s festivities in September, instead of August, but there is a good reason for this.

For centuries, a cattle fair was celebrated in Salamanca, and it eventually turned into a fiesta. As we all know, during fiestas one relaxes and tries to enjoy oneself. This circumstance didn’t pass unannounced to the Portuguese soldiers loyal to Archduke Carlos, an aspiring candidate to the Spanish throne during the Was of Succession. So in September 1706, they set off to conquer the city. The people of Salamanca were about to be caught unawares, but they entrusted themselves to the Virgen de la Vega, patron saint of the city since 1618, and managed to repulse the attack.


From then on, the devotion to the Virgin and its celebration can be found in the city. During these days there are offerings, one can see the locals dressed in the typical charro costumes, and wander around the famous "Day Fair", that features stalls set around the city’s streets offering handcrafts and all sorts of delicatessen. Wherever you go you will find a place in which to try a good tapa or buy something.

The cultural offer during these days is also remarkable. This year 2012 there will be performances of the musical "My Fair Lady", concerts like the one by the famous singer Manolo García, or live performances of the famous comedians Faemino y Cansado, and not only that: there will also be art and music festivals, and a traditional medieval market.

So, if you want to visit the city in September (a good month, because the heat that’s consuming us will be over), take the chance that these traditional festivity offers you. Oh! And don’t forget visiting the Old Cathedral, where you can see the Virgen de la Vega herself, an image as old as the XII century, but very well preserved of the pass of time: just as the celebrations in her honour, that every year offer the best selection of activities to the visitor.

Famous Person

The Spanish Romantics

A corny observer would say that all of us Spaniards are romantic. But this month we would like to focus on some of the writers that spoke about the fight of men against the elements, about the quest for freedom, about the love to history and its legends... and not only those that say "Your eyes are two suns that enlighten my path".

As you all probably know, Romanticism was a literary movement that had its moment around the end of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX century. Well, as many other things it arrived to Spain with delay, so its time of splendour in our country was more in the beginning of the XIX century, but there were a few leading figures of Spanish literature that appeared under this trend. We will tell you about some of them (they are organized by date of birth).

  • Ramón de Mesonero Romanos (1803 – 1882): this was a writer that can be placed under the Costumbrist style. He is almost unknown today, but in other times his writings about the habits and customs of the population of Madrid were very famous for their simple and animated style. We recommend his book "Memories of a 70 year old", both to spend a good time and to know how the Spanish capital was during most of the XIX century.
  • José de Espronceda (1808 – 1842): one of the great Spanish Romantics. His poetical work was greatly influenced by Lord Byron or James Macpherson. The quest for freedom, the fight against injustice, or the epic treatment of marginal issues, are the most characteristic features of his work. His relevance was such that most Spanish students have learned his poems in literature class, pieces like "El Diablo Mundo", "El estudiante de Salamanca" or "La canción del pirata" (which starts with the super-famous verses "The breeze fair aft, all sails on high / Ten guns on each side mounted seen").


  • Mariano José de Larra (1809-1837): this is another well-known Romantic writer by all Spanish students. His production was basically in the journalism field, participating in publications like "El duende satírico del día", "El duende especulativo de la vida civil", "El Pensador" and "El Censor", in which he stands out for his satiric vision of Spanish society, like in such articles as "Vuelva usted mañana" (Please, return tomorrow), in which he criticises the Spanish bureaucracy and laziness; or "Día de difuntos de 1836" (All Saints Day, 1936), in which he exposes a harsh vision of the Spanish society’s backward state, with tradition in the background. He also wrote a play called "Macías", and the historic novel "El doncel de don Enrique el Doliente". He was often called "the most Romantic of Romantics", due to the fact that he put an end to his life with a gunshot, after being refused by his lover, Dolores Armijo. He was 27 years old.
  • José Zorrilla (1817 – 1893): a lyric and epic poet, he is better known for his dramatic facet and, specially, for his immortal work "Don Juan Tenorio", that turned the legendary heartbreaker in the archetype of the condemned playboy. By the way, one detail that the public usually ignores is that he wrote other plays apart from that one, such as "Traidor, inconfeso y mártir", or a series of writings longing his good friend Larra, which would grant him Espronceda’s sympathy. Womanizer, tormented, sickly and a friend of lost causes, Zorrilla could be an Iberian version of Lord Byron himself, even though Don José wrote more and managed to life longer than the English master.
  • Carolina Coronado (1820 – 1911): there were also women amongst the Romantics, and Carolina is a very little known example. Revolutionary, precocious (she wrote her first poems at age 10) and a bit eccentric, she won the admiration of other writers with her poems (amongst them, "Paquita" and "La rueda de la desgracia") and several plays. She also organized literary meetings at her house, to which assisted the cream of the crop of the culture of Madrid at the time, figures that were attracted by the intelligence, ideology and beauty of the author. In fact, it has been said that Espronceda himself was in love with her.
  • Rosalía de Castro (1837 – 1885): this writer represents the best known example of a woman member of the Romantic Movement. She is one of the main authors of Galicia, and set the starting point for the "Rexurdimento" (Galician cultural resurgence) with the publishing of her book "Cantares Gallegos" in 1863. This book, together with "Folla Novas" of 1880, have become her best known works (both of them written in Galician). Her production is Spanish is also notable, where the novels "Ruinas" and "El caballero de las botas azules" stand out. Nevertheless, her biggest moment of fame arrived when her face appeared in the 500 peseta bills (yes, it’s quite sad).


  • Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836 -1870): for many, he is the Romantic author par excellence. With him takes place the strange situation in which students who are obliged to read his writings at school actually like them. Most of his folkloric and poetical writings appeared in different newspapers and magazines, and were later compiled in the book "Rimas" (Rhymes), to which there would be added the section "Leyendas" (Legends), which shape the oeuvre we know today and that has helped many of us in the task of courting our female classmates. Today they may seem a bit cheesy to us, but at their time they were groundbreaking poems, a hymn to freedom and love. Are we surprised, then, that generations of youngsters have enjoyed the reading of these texts?

These are just some basic outlines of the lives and works of some of the Spanish Romantics, but there are many others. Don’t hesitate going to the library to know the works of Spanish Romanticism a bit better, you will surely find something that you like!

Spanish recipe

Melon with ham

It must be that after the heat of the summer we are usually a bit lazy, so this month we bring you one of the easiest recipes of Spanish cuisine. As its name indicates, it is as easy as cutting some slices of melon and add slices of ham on top of each of them. As easy as it gets, and, like my grandpa would say, "More simple than the mechanism of a jar". The hard part is finding a good ham and a melon at its optimum ripeness. This is the reason why we recommend the method of trial and error with different hams and melons (but, please, not all on the same day).

Another tricky matter is the origin of the recipe: while some believe that it is a truly authentic Spanish recipe, others think that this cold combination was brought by the Italians in the XVII century, even though they covered the melon in salami, mortadella or Parma ham. In that case, we would have done the same as other cultures with foreign inventions: bettering them!

...or messing up, because some specialists think that these two flavours are not compatible at all, for the sweetness of the melon would kill the taste of the ham, and the ham would contaminate the melon with its saltiness.


Of course, we are not going against those that like to mix the fruit of the orchard with the delicacy of the pasture: a fusion that offers plenty of forms; you can cut the melon and put the slices of ham on top, you can roll stripes of ham around melon balls, and you can even offer it as a salad with dices of ham and melon... there are even people that make a sort of gazpacho with the melon and then sprinkle the ham on top... anyway goes!

In any case, if the ham is not your cup of tea you can always try a curious variation: melon with salt. It is even easier to prepare: you only have to sprinkle some salt on the fruit and voila! Ready it is! As the other recipe, this also has a controversial origin. Not so long ago, people thought that seasoning the melon was a somewhat protest-like: the popular classes that couldn’t buy ham cheated on their taste buds with the mineral. Nevertheless, it is said that this custom was invented by cooks that wanted to hide the taste of the bad melons they served their clients. Politics and economy made cooking.

Aside from political discussions the resulting union of ham and melon has been enjoyed by the rich and the poor, the powerful and the pariah, the noble and the village men... and the origin of it has been of little or no importance to them: what’s been important was to enjoy it!

Popular saying

Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente ("Out of sight, out of mind")

This saying would be the equivalent of the saying that states that "ignorance is bliss", but on a more physical and less metaphysical level. We could also say that this is, in a way, an ancestor of that other one saying "no blind as those who refuse to see".

It is funny how the eyes seem to be not only organs that provide with vision. They are also takes as the receptors of reality, even if it is subjective, and even as the configurators of our surroundings in such a way that something that we don’t see is something that doesn’t exist.

With this concept of sight as a creator is with what the saying is playing around: what we don’t see doesn’t exist, and what doesn’t exist cannot hurt us. We know for sure that it really doesn’t mean anything, that evil exists although we ignore it, but at least it is comforting to know that, if we are not conscious of it, its impact will be minimal, so that we can keep on with our lives. That’s the reason why many hate this saying and believe it to be a kind of justification of conformism, very typical of this country in other times.

Nowadays, this saying seems a bit out of place: nobody seems to take any more abuse and we all want to build a better world. Summing up, this thing of closing your eyes and feeling no pain seems like a thing of the past. But we also have to keep in mind that the old ones that refer to this proverb were also young and wanted to change the world once. So you never know... maybe we end up saying this, even in a louder voice.


Words referring to feelings (from "estás rayado" to "estás engorilado")

"The Spanish way of feeling is hard to explain". This hackneyed sentence has some truth in it, because in order to describe many of our states we have chosen words that might confuse the foreigners, especially if we are talking about the "popular slang". Wander around in a park where there are people seated on a bench. It is very possible that you hear things like this: "Estoy muy rayado porque el amargado ése me ha llamado sobrado" or "¿Estás sobado o amuermado? Que no me entero". It is normal that you don’t understand what they mean, so here’s a small list with some of those everyday use terms with an unfathomable meaning.

  • Alucinado (Hallucinated): this first word creates a problem, for it can have a positive or a negative meaning depending on the context. When someone is "alucinado" he can be so disoriented that he has lost contact with reality, but we are also "alucinados" when something surprises us so favourably that we almost reach an ecstasy.
  • Amargado (Bitter): many words referring to taste can be applied to a feeling or a mood. When we say that someone is "amargado" it means that they hold a resentment or frustration that turns hi into a person that constantly fights the world.
  • Amuermado: this word that may seem vulgar to many has an illustrious ancestor, the word "morbus" which means "illness" in Latin. An illness leaves us tired, weary and even bored. And from there comes the meaning of "amuermado", to be bored to the nausea.


  • Avinagrado (Jaundiced): have you tasted vinegar? Not as a salad dressing, but, as they say here, "a capella". It has a strong and rough taste that you probably won’t like. Do you understand now why that people with a surly and disgusted behaviour are called "avinagrada"?
  • Descastado (Outcast): this is the name given to the bulls that does not meet the conditions of its kin. In the same way, a "descastado" is someone that feels no affection for his own family or disowns his roots.
  • Empanado (Breaded): it is not necessary to have bread smeared on oneself to feel this way. When someone is "empanado" he simply is confused and not aware of anything. The term is believed to make reference to the ingredients that make up the filling of a patty, scattered with no order inside the dough.
  • Engorilado: gorillas are famous for being abrupt animals that get easily angry, and from there being "engorilado" is being so angry that one resembles an animal. In Chile there is another meaning, which is "to be drunk".
  • Flipado (Flipped out, smashed): according to the RAE (the Spanish Academy of the Language), it would come from "flip". In Spanish, a "flipado" can be someone that suffers the effects of a drug, but it also applies to someone who likes something a lot. In the recent times, it is also used in an ironic way when someone receives bad news. A trick is: if you hear "Estoy flipando" it refers to the positive meaning, while if you hear "Yo es que lo flipo", that person is using the negative meaning of the expression.
  • Mohíno (In a sulk): this word comes from the Arab term "muhin", which means "offended". So someone that is "mohíno" is someone who seems sad or offended for an unknown reason.
  • Pillado: it is very frequent to hear the expression "me dejó todo pillado". In this case it means that the person that said this, when surprised doing something, was left low of defences to react or respond. It can also mean that someone has a terribly strong and powerful attraction to another person, in which case you would say "estoy pillado por ti".
  • Pimplado: this expression comes from the verb "pimplar", of a vulgar and unknown origin, which means "drinking wine or another alcoholic drink in excess". Needless to say, then, what happens to a friend that has "pimplado".
  • Rayado (Screwy, nutty): a very popular term in the recent times, it has nothing to do with wearing a striped outfit. This "rayado" most probably comes from the Chilean verb "rayar", referred to "going crazy", so in the popular slang someone "rayado" is a person that is going crazy because of a problem and doesn’t know how to solve it.


  • Seco (Dry): Apart from someone that has just taken off an excess of water, a "seca" person whose behaviour is sharp and rough with others. Think about the neighbour that greets you with a short and mean "hello" when you cross him on the stairs.
  • Sobado: in a literal sense, something "sobado" is an object that has been excessively used or touched; but it is also a much appreciated bakery item in Spanish breakfasts. We don’t know if this last meaning may have something to do with the fact that "sobado" also means "being sleepy or half-asleep".
  • Sobrado: "sobrar" means "to overcome" or "to exceed". So, when we say that someone is "sobrado" or "va sobrado" we mean that the person is daring or that he has an excess of pride.

All these terms –we advise you- must only be used when we are amongst friends or acquaintances, and never in a formal way. You are advised, then, so don’t even think about giving out a speech and asking at the end of it "¿Os ha flipado la presentación?", or saying that your boss "va sobrado".

Emotivo (Emotional, moving, sensitive)

This is one of those "formal" words that designates something in a phlegmatic, almost cold way. With "emotivo" we refer to something that causes an emotion, but in a less intense way as if we used the word "emocionante" (exciting, thrilling), even though they almost mean the same.

But, as they say, "it is the same thing... but it’s not quite it". "Emotivo" is a more serious and formal term, one of those things that make us feel good in a controlled fashion. For example, an encounter that is "emocionante" would be the meeting of two lovers that cannot restrain their passion, while an "emotivo" encounter would be the one of two serious gentlemen that meet each other after a long time not seeing each other. Or, at least, that’s how it sounds to us Spaniards.

This strange behaviour of the word has caused it to be very little used outside the literary or informative realms. It is so formal that it sounds a bit ridiculous when used in the street or in the everyday life. For example, it would sound weird to say that a film has seemed "emotivo" to us, unless our friends are movie critics in their working hours. We should also avoid telling our couple that our relationship is very "emotiva", because it could look as if we didn’t feel enough passion.

It is clear, then, that in some occasions it is better to know the meaning of a word... in order to avoid its usage.

Visit the Student Resources space of our web

There is no substitute for learning Spanish where it is spoken, we know... But we are also conscious that, when it comes to speaking, it is also a good idea to have the tools that can help us pull off a fast resource.

That’s why on our website you can check a Resources page with the most important subjects on vocabulary, grammar, or the most used tenses in our language. Do you want to learn the conjugation of the complicated subjunctive, or learn a fun tongue twister in Spanish? Then you should already be visiting our website!

Arriving to the Resources section is very easy: go to our website’s menu and click on "Spanish Language resources", and there, select the option "Language Tools". There, you will find many options so that you can select the ones that are more interesting to you... and off you go! We will explain you what you want in a clear, to the point and fun way.

So, if you have doubts with the language and need to know an answer, you just have to go online and look for us. The rest is even easier!

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