The trouble with being an expat is that you end up being a stranger to your own hometown. In your absence things move on; after a few years you being to feel alienated. The post How to Live like a Local in Budapest two years ago was born of the experience of visiting my own city with the eyes of a tourist: I was trying to show off the attractions – especially the unique ones – to my children. It was a wintery experience of Budapest, however, so today, you’re going to get the summer edition. If it’ll inspire you to visit one of the most lovable and liveable cities in Europe, good. 🙂
…during the Second World War he [Jorge Luis Borges] had considered giving up his habit of not reading the papers (because it made more sense to read the classics), but had decided instead to spend some time every day reading Tacitus on a different, early war. In a world like his, in which events repeat themselves ad infinitum, his decision was not without logic and Tacitus had the advantage of a superior style while, in his view, the content remained essentially the same.
Todo esto que don Quijote decía escuchaba un escudero de los que el coche acompañaban, que era vizcaíno; el cual, viendo que no quería dejar pasar el coche adelante, sino que decía que luego había dar la vuelta al Toboso, se fue para don Quijote y, asiéndole de la lanza, le dijo, en mala lengua castellana y peor vizcaína, desta manera:
—Anda, caballero que mal andes; por el Dios que crióme que, si no dejas coche, así te matas como estás ahí vizcaíno.
Entendióle muy bien don Quijote, y con mucho sosiego le respondió:
—Si fueras caballero, como no lo eres, ya yo hubiera castigado tu sandez y atrevimiento, cautiva criatura.
—¿Yo no caballero? Juro a Dios tan mientes como cristiano. Si lanza arrojas y espada sacas, ¡el agua cuán presto verás que al gato llevas! Vizcaíno por tierra, hidalgo por mar, hidalgo por el diablo, y mientes que mira si otra dices cosa.
(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha)
All this was listened to by a Biscayan Squire who accompanied the coach. He hearing that the coach was not to pass on but was to return to Toboso, went up to Don Quixote, and, laying hold of his lance, said to him: ‘Get away with thee, Sir Knight, for if thou leave not the coach I will kill thee as sure as I am a Biscayan.’
‘If,’ replied Don Quixote haughtily, ‘thou wert a gentleman, as thou art not, I would ere this have punished thy folly and insolence, caitiff creature.’
‘I no gentleman?’ cried the enraged Biscayan. ‘Throw down thy lance and draw thy sword, and thou shalt soon see that thou liest.’
(Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote de la Mancha, transl. by Judge Parry)
Note for English readers:
You might wonder what this was all about?
Regrettably, the English translation doesn't convey the joke - which is based on the Biscayan squire's bad Spanish. Understandably perhaps, this episode is generally omitted from most English versions; the version above renders the exchange in correct English. (And I had to consult three different translations before I found one that included it at all!)
If you read the whole chapter, however, you may still find it enjoyable. You can find Parry's translation on Project Gutenberg:
⇒ Don Quixote of the Mancha (chapter VI - following on from the adventure of the windmills). Enjoy!
People go off by themselves to cry, but man is not by nature solitary. It’s just that when people cry, they don’t want anybody joining in. And quite right too, since there’s no higher state than being inconsolable.
One of my favourite Spanish historical ballads is A Very Mournful Ballad of the Siege and Conquest of Alhama, also known as The Moorish King Rides Up and Down or Woe Is Me, Alhama! It was also one of the first Spanish ballads I’ve ever read in the original (Spanish learners take note – the text is that accessible). I came across it in a collection of ballads which I found in a second-hand bookshop in Southport in Lancashire; it was a university textbook from the 1960s. In A Brief (Literary) History of the Reconquista I have already shared an excerpt with you (and a shorter version a few years ago in The Moorish King Rides Up & Down) but the ballad deserves better, so today you’re going to get the full version – plus the Spanish original for those of you who can enjoy it.
As mentioned last week, six years ago I forcefully dragged my family to Delphi; and despite themselves, they so liked the place that they gave me a Greek vase as a thank you present:
I gave you a chance in last week’s post to figure out which Greek myth is depicted on the vase, and today… well, you’re getting the answer. 🙂
Theseus kills Procrustes
We’ll hand over to Robert Graves here:
On reaching Attic Cordallus, Theseus slew Sinis’s father Polypemon, surnamed Procrustes, who lived beside the road and had two beds in his house, one small, the other large. Offering a night’s lodging to travellers, he would lay the short men on the large bed, and rack them out to fit it; but the tall men on the small bed, sawing off as much of their legs as projected beyond it. Some say, however, that he used only one bed, and lengthened or shortened his lodgers according to its measure. In either case, Theseus served him as he had served others.
(Robert Graves: Greek Myths)
The picture on my vase is, of course, only a replica. The original is this kylix (wine-drinking cup), c. 440 B.C.:
La primera vez que oí hablar de Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, mejor conocido como El Cid, tenía unos diez u once años. De hecho, no había oído hablar de él en absoluto: lo vi en una película que dieron en la tele en Hungría. Fue una película de Hollywood de 1961, titulado El Cid, con Charlton Heston en el papel del Cid y Sophia Loren en el papel de Doña Jimena. Os recomiendo si os gustan las películas románticas. 🙂
La cita muy romántica – en el sentido literario – de esta semana es, entonces, de Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, escritor y rector de la Universidad de Salamanca en su tiempo.
I first heard of the Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid (The Lord), when I was about ten or eleven. Actually, I didn’t exactly hear of him: I saw him in a film, shown on Hungarian television. It was the 1961 Hollywood epic, El Cid, with Charlton Heston as the Cid and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena. I recommend it to anybody with a romantic turn of mind. 🙂 The Cid was a Castilian knight in the eleventh century, who fought the Moors during the period of the Reconquista, that is, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors.
This week’s very romantic – in the literary sense – quote is from Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, a Spanish essayist and rector at the University of Salamanca in his time.
La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:
La Reconquista! ¡Cosas tuvieron nuestros Cides que han hecho hablar a las piedras¡ ¡Y cómo nos hablan las piedras sagradas des estos páramos! Reconquistado su suelo, Castilla, que había estado de pie, se acostó a soñar en éxtasis, en arrobo sosegado, cara al Señor eterno.
(Miguel de Unamuno: Por las tierras del Cid)
The reconquista! The things done by our Cids which have made the rocks talk. And how the holy rocks of these plateaus talk! Having reconquered her land, Castile, who had been standing, laid herself down to dream in ecstasy, in peaceful bliss, with her face to the eternal Lord.
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
(John Keats: Ode on a Grecian Urn)
Six years ago I dragged my family to Delphi – three hours coach travel from Athens in thirty degrees heat. As it happens, my family is – mostly – interested in history but they had extreme doubts as to why they were asked to see some more Greek ruins; after all we already visited the Acropolis and the Agora of Athens, the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Knossos in Crete… But I couldn’t imagine a visit to Greece being complete without having visited Delphi, home to the Delphi Oracle, where Apollo himself dealt with the invading Persians… and well, Delphi, right?
As it happened, they were all really impressed by the ruins in Delphi (even Young Friend of the Elephants, aged 5, who had zero interest in traipsing around on hot mountain sides among ancient ruins but was more than happy to crawl into random holes in the ground) and they got me a Greek vase as a thank you present.
It took me quite a while to figure out which Greek myth is depicted on this side of the vase.
Today’s challenge is for you to work it out for yourselves. 🙂 I’m making it easier for you by turning it into a multiple choice question – please vote. I’ll give you the correct answer next week. Have fun!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Suddenly it dawned on me: it’s that time of the year again. Four years ago to the day I wrote my first blog post although I didn’t know it at the time. (I didn’t know what a blog was, either.) Four years and I’m still at it; four years and I’m still full of ideas. The difficulty, in fact, lies in finding the time and energy to turn those ideas into posts. At the moment, I’m in no danger of running out of topics.
In the past four years I came to read a lot of great books and I wrote a lot of posts that were great fun to write. Here comes my entirely self-pleasing highlights for each period of twelve months (excluding books that I was re-reading):
19 July 2015 – 19 July 2016
Best Book: El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel) by Gabriel García Márquez
Runner Up: Moscow Stations by Venedikt Yerofeev
Two very short books about life not being funny at all – full of dark humour. Beg, borrow or steal, but read these two books before you die.
A post that brings together Austrian author Stephan Zweig, the English poet John Keats and a great moment in history. I only wish my writing was up to the quality of the topic.
20 July 2016 – 19 July 2017
Best Book: The Bible in Spain by George Borrow
Runner Up: Anabasis (The Persian Expedition) by Xenophon
Two first hand accounts: two quests for salvation, two journeys full of adventure, landscape and human interaction. Borrow travelled a civil warn torn Spain peddling a forbidden edition of the Bible to the locals; Xenophon led an army of Greek mercenaries across hostile territory from the heart of Mesopotamia back to Greece. Both are unforgettable.
I probably wrote better posts in this twelve month period; I definitely wrote more informative ones. But with this one, I was just having a bit of shameless fun.
20 July 2017-19 July 2018:
Best Book: The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Runner Up: Vida de este capitán (The Life of This Captain) by Alonso de Contreras
Two books treating real events in the beginning of the 17th century. The first one is a novel about a Japanese embassy to Spain and to the Vatican in the 17th century; a wonderful travel story and an amazing culture clash. The second one is autobiography of Spanish desperado, who lived at the turn of the 16th-17th century. You couldn’t make the stories up if you tried.
This period was quite rich in posts that I really enjoyed writing: The Master of Cold Mountain for example, or An Evening with Matsuo Basho are such examples. In the end, Implacabile won it because of the research that went into it and because – believe me – you won’t find a word about this topic in English anywhere else on the web. Unique. 🙂
20 July 2018-19 July 2019:
Best Book: The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam
Runner Up: Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra
I discovered Omar Khayyam, this 11th century Persian fatalist, a lover of wine, women, good books and gardens (probably in that order). And I rediscovered Don Quijote in the recent edition of the Spanish Royal Academy – which I can only recommend, if you can read Spanish.
I didn’t have a particularly difficult time to choose this one: in the last twelve months unfortunately I had struggled to keep the blog going at all and I wrote much fewer posts than previously. It came down to a relatively simple choice, with The Dark Side of Life (In Nine Haikus) being a strong runner up. In the end Burns vs Petőfi won because of the outrageousness of the idea to rubbish two national poets. Boy, did I enjoy slagging them off (well, they deserve it). 🙂
Hefesto, el dios herrero, era tan enclenque cuando nació que su madre Hera, disgustada, lo arrojó desde la cima del Olimpo para librarse de la vergüenza…
Robert Graves: Los mitos griegos
Bueno, exactemente aquí ya puedes ver de dónde sacaron los espartanos su idea de arrojar los recién nacidos con defectos físicos o enfermos de los acantilados del Taigeto. Pero en cuanto a Hefesto, el dios del fuego y de la forja, el herrero de los dioses del Olimpo, él tenía suerte en esta primera caída: se cayó en el mar, donde la ninfa Tetis lo encontró y lo llevó a casa. Unos años más tarde, Hefesto estableció una pequeña forja submarina, y le pagó por la amabilidad con unas chucherías domesticas, por no mencionar unas joyas estupendas que llamaron la atención de Hera. Debido a lo cual no sólo se le permitió regresar al Olimpo sino que también se le dio Afrodita para su esposa… Pues eso acabó bien, o, al menos, hubiera acabado bien, si Hefesto entonces calló. Pero no, dedicó unas palabras poco prudentes a Zeus, quién, de nuevo, lo arrojó de la montaña… Esta vez tenía menos suerte, como que se cayo en tierra, y se quedó cojo para el resto de su vida inmortal.
Adelanto rápido a los tiempos romanos. Como sabemos, los romanos fueron muy ingeniosos en la ingeniería (mi favorito es el corvus, una puente para el abordaje de las galeras cartaginenses, la solución clásica para el problema de cómo-cambiar-una-batalla-del-mar-en-que-somos-inútiles-en-una-batalla-de-tierra-en-que-somos-mucho-mejores), por no mencionar sus varios otros éxitos que llamaron la atención. A pesar de esto, parece que los romanos no tenían ninguna imaginación cuando se trataba de su religión: tanto que no se molestaron en inventar la suya propia, sino que sencillamente importaron la antigua griega. Y así Hefesto, el griego, se convirtió en Vulcano, ciudadano de Roma. Larga vida a los dioses, bajo un nombre u otro.
Pues pasó que cuando Hefesto volvió al favor de Hera, abandonó su herrero submarino y establició una forja nueva en el Olimpo. O al menos eso dice la leyenda pero las leyendas son sujetos a cambios… y dicen que Hefesto tenía forjas en lugares distintos.
Los colonos griegos en Sicilia ya tomaron nota del lugar, pero probablemente debemos la ubicación de la forja de Vulcano a los romanos, quienes elegiron el lugar perfecto: una isla pequeña cerca de las orillas de Sicilia, convinientemente llamada…
Hephaestus, the ugly and ill-tempered Smith-god, was so weakly at birth that his disgusted mother, Hera, dropped him from the height of Olympus, to rid herself of the embarrassment…
Greek Myths by Robert Graves
Well, right there you can see where the Spartans might have got their notions of throwing sickly newborns off the cliffs of Taygetus. But as regards Hephaestus, god of fire and the blacksmith of the gods of Mt Olympus, in this first fall he was lucky: he fell into the sea, where he was found by the nymph Thetys, who duly took him home. A few years later, Hephaestus repaid the kindness by setting up a little undersea smithy and making for her some useful household odds and ends, not to mention some fancy jewellery which caught the eye of Hera. Owing to which not only he was allowed to return to Olympus but was given Aphrodite for his wife. All’s well that ends well, or would have, except that he then said some unwise words to Zeus, who once again hurled him off the mountain… This time he was less lucky, because he fell on hard ground and remained lame for the rest of his immortal life.
Fast forward to Roman times. As we know, the Romans were quite ingenious when it came to engineering (my personal favourite is the corvus, a bridge for boarding Carthaginian galleys, the classic solution to the conundrum of how-to-turn-a-naval-battle-at-which-we’re-****-into-a-land-battle-at-which-we’re-so-much-better), not to mention their various other achievements that clamour for attention. Despite of this, the Romans seemed sadly lacking in imagination when it came to their religion: so much so that they didn’t bother to come up with their own – they merely imported in the Ancient Greek one. And so Hephaestus the Greek became Vulcan, the citizen of Rome. Long live the gods, under one name or another.
Now it so happened that when Hephaestus returned to Hera’s favour, owing to his ability to make fancy jewellery, he abandoned his undersea workshop and set up a new smithy on Mt Olympus. Or at least so says the original myth but myths are subject to change… and Hephaestus is reputed to have forges in more than one place.
The Greeks settlers on Sicily have already noted the place, but ultimately we probably owe the location of Vulcan’s forge to the incoming Romans who have hit on just the spot: a little volcanic island off the shores of Sicily, conveniently named…
What can one do when the temperature rises to 40°C? Do as the Sevillans do: sigh, and wait until the sun has set to go out in search of coolness in gardens and churches to stroll along the Guadalquivir, but at a slow pace, until night spreads itself out like a black cloth over the city and the river, over the twelve-sided tower where the merchant ships set sail for the Indies, over the palm trees and the rose bushes, the lilies and the cypresses in the gardens of the Alcázar.
The other day (okay, a few weeks ago, it took me a while to finish this post) I wrote a few lines about Covadonga in Asturias, the place where the reconquista, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors began in 722 A.D. If you haven’t read it:
…then you’d bloody well better 🙂 because today you’re going to get part two of the story that started in Covadonga: the story of the reconquista.
In keeping with Waterblogged tradition, we’re going to explore the topic through the medium of literature; I hope you’ll enjoy this brief history of the reconquista as told by Spanish historical ballads!