The Power and the Glory

I started to look at photos of the soaring church towers of Spain the other day, thinking of turning them into a photo post, but by a series of those associations that you afterwards can never explain, I ended up with my tattered and bath-soaked copy of Graham Greene’s best novel in my hand instead.

(You’ll have to wait for the church towers.)

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Five Short Novels to Read on an Aeroplane

Okay, so your work sucks and you only live for the holidays, right? Or maybe your work is the best thing ever, but even so you do go on holidays sometimes – right? So you need a book to read that’s just the right length for a short-haul flight.

(I’ll let you know my recommendations for long-haul when I’ve managed to get further than three hours’ flight.)

Continue reading “Five Short Novels to Read on an Aeroplane”

Lengua e imperio (Language and Empire)

La gloria “será nuestra, que fuemos los primeros inventores de obra tan necessaria”

En 1492, la primera gramática del castellano fue escrito por Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522), un humanista renacentista español educado en las universidades de Salamanca y Bolonia (Italia). Y ni siquiera era la obra sólo la primera gramática del castellano; era la primera gramática de cualquier idioma moderno de Europa, y punto. La primera gramática del inglés no fue publicado hasta casi un siglo más tarde (en 1586), lo del francés en 1550.

The glory “will be ours, as we were the first inventors of a work so necessary”

In 1492, the first grammar of Castilian – the language better known as Spanish to English-speakers – was written by Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522), a Spanish Renaissance humanist, educated in the universities of Salamanca and Bologne (Italy). And not only it was the first Spanish grammar; it was the first grammar of a modern European language, full stop. The first English grammar was only published nearly a century later (in 1586), the first French one in 1550.

La gramática de Nebrija /Nebrija’s Grammar. (Biblioteca Gonzalo de Berceo) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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Don Quijote de la Mancha

En un lugar de la Mancha…

When I picked up El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantes last week and opened it on the first page (okay, in my edition that would be page 113), and read,

En un lugar de la Mancha,

de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo…

In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen…

 …I felt the heady effect of a sudden shift in time and space: all at once I was somewhere in La Mancha, under a harsh sun, confronting whitewashed windmills.

Somewhere in La Mancha… Cerro Calderico, near Consuegra. Photo by Manuel via Flickr. [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

(Cervantes once looked at these.)

—¿Qué gigantes?—dijo Sancho Panza.
—Aquellos que allí ves —respondió su amo— de los brazos largos, que los suelen tener algunos de casi dos leguas.
—Mire vuestra merced —respondió Sancho— que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento…

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.
“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills…

It is not often that you pick up a book – no matter how old, how famous – and you’re transported with such urgency before you even finished reading the first half sentence. But the unassuming En un lugar de la Mancha… must be the most well-known and memorable first line in Spanish-language literature – ever.

Somehow it doesn’t quite work the same way in other languages.

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Return from Spain

Sunset over Seville

Perhaps that is the travellers deepest melancholy, that the joy of return is always mixed with a felling that is harder to define, the feeling that the places you have ached for since you first saw them simply went on existing without you, that if you really wanted to hold them close you would have to stay with them for ever. But that would turn you into someone you cannot be, someone who stays at home, a sedentary being.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

The paradox of travel.

The Art of Zurbarán

In the Museum of Prado in Madrid and the Museum of Fine Arts in Seville you can see a number of paintings by the 17th century Spanish painter, Francisco de Zurbarán. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall ever having heard Zurbarán’s name when I was in school, although admittedly art history was no longer part of the grammar school curriculum by then.

The first time I took notice of Zurbarán was, in fact, in the Prado, seven years ago now – I must have seen him in the National Gallery in London before, but the National Gallery is so vast and so full of masterpieces of all styles that I passed him by. The Prado was different. Not that it’s short of masterpieces from all over the world, mind, but I went there specifically to look at Spanish paintings. I wanted to see Goya and El Greco and Velázquez… and while doing so, I came across Zurbarán.

Saint Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664), National Gallery, London (NG230) [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]
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Time and Chance Happens to Them All

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, a novel about the 18th century collapse of a bridge in Peru in which five people were killed, is neatly bracketed by the opening and the closing chapters titled, respectively, Perhaps an Accident and Perhaps an Intention. The titles refer to the question that the Franciscan monk who witnessed the disaster was wrestling with: why did those particular five die? Brother Juniper expanded a great amount of effort and energy in trying to find the answer (but if you want to know what he came up with, you’ll have to read the book).

Vanitas (Adriaan Coorte) Photo by zullie via Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA 2.0]
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The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II

While Byron chose to tell the story of the Battle of Salamis short and sweet in The Isles of Greece – which, by the way, is part of a much longer poem, Don Juan -, the Athenian playwright Aeschylus wrote an entire play based upon it.

ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων ἴτε
ἐλευθεροῦτε πατρίδ᾽, ἐλευθεροῦτε δὲ
παῖδας, γυναῖκας, θεῶν τέ πατρῴων ἕδη,
θήκας τε προγόνων: νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών.

O children of the Greeks, go,
free your homeland, free also
your children, your wives, the temples of your fathers’ gods,
and the tombs of your ancestors: now the struggle is for all things.

Aeschylus: The Persians

The Battle of Salamis According to Aeschylus

Can you imagine telling a story, with your audience hanging upon your every word, breathless with excitement or moved to tears – although they had heard the story many times before and know the final outcome? Because that’s exactly what Ancient Greek playwrights had to do; and Aeschylus pulled it off beautifully with The Persians.

Continue reading “The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II”

The View from the Ivory Tower

Should we admire or despair of those single-minded people who dedicate themselves to the pursuit of a pet obsession? Who put what we’d consider a ‘normal’ life on hold to disappear into the wilderness spending years in research?

I’m talking about the likes of Milman Parry, who traipsed around the remote mountains of pre-WWII Yugoslavia for a decade, recording folk songs in an attempt to gain an insight into the oral tradition as surviving since the time of Homer… Or Walter Muir Whitehill, who, similarly obsessed, spent nine years in Spain at around the same time, discovering and cataloguing Romanesque churches in the most godforsaken locations. (Both Harvard academics, I notice.) I came across this second one, Muir, while reading Roads to Santiago by Cees Nooteboom.

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La bailarina (The Dancer)

Flamenco dancer, Seville

Cita del día:

El temblor del corazón de la bailarina ha de ser armonizado desde las puntas de sus zapatos hasta el abrir y cerrar de sus pestañas, desde el último volante de so cola al juego incesante de sus dedos. Verdadera náufraga en un campo de aire, la bailarina ha de medir líneas, silencios, zigzags y rápidas curvas, con un sexto sentido de arome y geometría, sin equivocar nunca su terreno, como hace el torero, cuyo corazón de estar en el cuello del toro, porque corren el mismo peligro, él de muerte, ella de oscuridad.

(Federico García Lorca: Elogia de Antonia Mercé, «La Argentina»)


 Quote of the Day:

The dancer’s trembling heart must bring everything into harmony, from the tips of her shoes to the flutter of her eyelashes, from the rustles of her dress to the incessant play of her fingers. Shipwrecked in a field of air, she must measure lines, silences, zigzags and rapid curves, with a sixth sense of aroma and geometry, without ever mistaking her terrain. In this she resembles the torero, whose heart must keep to the neck of the bull. Both of them face the same danger–he, death; and she, darkness.

(Federico García Lorca: In Praise of Antonia Mercé, “La Argentina”)

Quizá también te gusta / You might also like:Alegrías by Pepe HabichuelaFederico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajesSketches of Spain: CastileSketches of Spain: Granada 

Clase de literatura (Literature Class)

Scroll down the page to read this in English

Acabo de volver del Instituto Cervantes de Londres – de mi primer clase de literatura en español. Esperaba que volvería a casa más sofisticada y con una experiencia de haber hablado en español mucho tiempo durante de las dos horas del clase sobre literatura, y bueno, quizá también con el título de un libro que tendré que empezar a leer para el próximo clase.

Que no.

Volví a casa con una fotocopia de los primeros treinta páginas de un libro argentino y el deseo de cambiar el curso. Si lo puedo, a esas alturas.

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Eight Catalan Surnames (Ocho Apellidos Catalanes)

Have you ever seen somebody from a distance and sussed their nationality at first glance, without even having heard them speak – because they looked so stereotypical?

(All right, excluding Japanese tourists.)

Well, we did, last Sunday.

¿Has visto alguna vez a alguien de la distancia y adivinado de dónde es, a la primera vista, sin que lo has oído hablar – porque se parecía tan estereotípico?

(Bueno, excluyendo a los turistas japoneses.)

Pues, eso es exactamente lo que nos pasó el domingo pasado.

Continue reading “Eight Catalan Surnames (Ocho Apellidos Catalanes)”

How to Survive Semana Santa in Seville

Tips to Make Your Semana Santa Memorable

We spent Semana Santa in Seville this year – and although we enjoyed it, we could have enjoyed it so much better if we knew what we know now. (And it’s not like we didn’t do our research in the internet and guidebooks first.) So read this to find out how to make the most of your stay in Seville during Semana Santa!

Let’s start with…

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Aesop’s Fables in Nahuatl

While reading a history of the Latin language recently, I came across one of the fables of Aesop – translated into English from Nahuatl. In case you’ve never heard of Nahuatl, it was the language of the Aztec empire and in consequence the lingua franca of Central-America up to the 16th century; it is still spoken in parts of Mexico.

The book in question is Ad infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler and I wouldn’t recommend it to the general public although if you do happen to be interested in historical linguistics and especially in Latin, it’s fine; all the more enjoyable if you can actually know Latin of course (sadly I don’t).

But what has a Nahuatl version of the fables of Aesop – who after all was Greek – got to do with the history of Latin?

Continue reading “Aesop’s Fables in Nahuatl”

Mantillas on Maundy Thursday (Las mantillas de Jueves Santo)

Seville in Holy Week…

Processions, processions. And then some more processions.

Huge floats covered in flowers moving slowly forwards in narrow streets among the throng of people. Hooded penitents bearing crosses or candles, church flags, incense, bands, children handing out sweets, a man singing laments from the balcony at four a.m. People dressed in mourning on Holy Thursday: women in black dresses with black mantillas, men in black or navy suits wearing ties. In blazing sunshine and thirty degrees heat.

I love Spain.

Sevilla en Semana Santa…

Procesiones, procesiones. Y luego aún más procesiones.

Pasos enormes cubiertos en flores que mueven lentamente adelante en calles estrechos entre la muchedumbre. Nazarenos en capirotes llevando cruces o velas, banderas de la iglesia, incienso, bandas de música, un hombre cantando saetas del balcón a las cuatro de la madrugada. Gente que se viste ropa de luto el Jueves Santo: mujeres en vestidos negros con mantillas, hombres en trajes negros o azules oscuros con corbatas. Y eso bajo un sol ardiente, en un calor de treinta grados.

Quiero a España.

Continue reading “Mantillas on Maundy Thursday (Las mantillas de Jueves Santo)”

Waterloo Sunset

I thought I’d photograph the sky at sunset as it has been so spectacular recently.

Me ocurrió sacar unas fotos del cielo cuando se pone el sol, como recientemente estaba tan impresionante.

So I went down to the Thames and picked a prime spot where there was nothing in the way of my spectacular sunset. No trees, no tall buildings, no radio masts – nothing. There was the river, the sky and me. And there was going to be this sunset.

Así que fui al Támesis y elegí un lugar perfecto, donde no había nada para bloquear la vista de mi puesta de sol espectacular. No árboles, ni rascacielos, ni torres de telecomunicación – nada de nada. Había el río, el cielo y yo. Y iba a ser esta puesta de sol.

I waited.

Esperaba.

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Mediterranean Brilliance

Mediterranean brilliance hit me like a bolt of lightning; the whole of human life was enacted on a single, fabulous, public stage against a careless backdrop of thousands of years of sublime art. Colours, foods, markets, clothing, gestures, language: everything seemed more refined, more vivid, more vibrant…

(Cees Nooteboom)

Hero Under the Death Sentence (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés II)

Continued from Save the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)

Sometimes people have the misfortune to live in ‘interesting’ times. Exciting, even. In the case of Spain, in fact, it’s difficult to find a period of history when the times were not ‘exciting’ – so it shouldn’t come as surprise that the excitement in Cayetano Valdés’s life not ended with Trafalgar, but rather, it began.

I mean you’d think there he was, sitting ashore in the naval ports of Cádiz and Cartagena, figuratively licking his wounds… having been promoted to senior officer, safely behind a desk in an office, pushing paper in the grand Spanish fashion, into quiet old age – since there wasn’t much of a navy left for him to command, right?

Wrong.

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Save the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)

Date: 14 February 1797 
Place: The Atlantic, off Cape St Vincent (Portugal)

If you’re English and into naval history, you will recognise the time and place as the Battle of Cape St Vincent – one of nine, that is. (Clearly it was a popular place for enemy fleet rendezvous.) This particular Battle of Cape St Vincent was the one which became famous for Nelson’s Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates1 so you’re now settling in for a nice read about Horatio Nelson and various associated heroics of the Royal Navy, right? Let’s go:

It was a cold and foggy day…

Er, no. It was a cold and foggy day but you should have taken a look at the title perhaps.

Rather than detailing Nelson’s heroics of which you can read on plenty of other websites, I’m going to write about a Spanish naval officer: Cayetano Valdés, who had been cast in the role of having to save the Santísima Trinidad, the pride of the Spanish navy, the largest warship of its time.

Twice.

A topic that you won’t find much discussed in English elsewhere (for entirely understandable reasons).

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Along the Thames (Black & White)

You might have thankfully forgotten but I’m working my way through the Dogwood 2016 photography challenge. I spared you Red (my efforts were dismal) and I’m not sharing Headshot because Sophisticated Young Lady, the only willing volunteer, is entitled to her privacy.

Which brings us to last week’s challenge: Landscape: Black & White. I went down to the Thames on Sunday afternoon; it was low tide.

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Westminster

Overheard outside the Houses of Parliament yesterday afternoon as I passed two middle aged women.

Oí esto fuera de las Casas del Parlamento ayer por la tarde cuando pasaba dos mujeres de mediana edad.

Woman 1: No, it happened on the bridge.
Woman 2 (animated): Oh right… shall we go and have a look?

Mujer 1: No, lo ocurrió en el puente.
Mujer 2 (animada): Vale… ¿Vamos a echar un vistazo entonces?

Well, that explains why the bridge was more full of pedestrians than ever.

Bien, eso explica por qué el puente tenía más peatones que nunca.

(So much for terrorism.)

(El fracaso del terrorismo.)

 

A Sense of History

History (from Greek ἱστορία, historia, meaning inquiry) is the study of the past…

History is asking questions.

?

And answering them.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great and wonderful deeds – some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians – not go unsung as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.

Herodotus: The Histories, 1:1

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Spain in Black & White IV (España en blanco y negro IV)

Let’s not let March go by without some pictures of Spain…

Marzo no debe transcurrir sin fotos de España…

P.S. I think this will be the last post of Mediterranean Mondays (unless there are howls of protest). It's been running for a long time and I fancy a change. I will still continue to write and post photos about the Mediterranean of course; it just won't be always on Monday.

P.D. Creo que esto será el último post de Mediterranean Mondays (a menos que hayan aullidos de protesta). Llevo escribiendo esta serie mucho tiempo y me apatece un cambio. Por supuesto, seguiré escribiendo y publicando fotos del Mediterráneo, es que no será siempre el lunes.

A Day’s Hiking (No One Writes to the Colonel)

Two years ago I read No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) by Gabriel García Márquez on the train en route for a day’s hiking. (It was just the right length.) Yesterday it was the first genuinely nice day of the year, so we went hiking; and I re-read No One Writes to the Colonel on the train.

I mean the first time round I thought it was brilliant and my Spanish is two years better now.

It’s BRILLIANT.

(The day’s hiking wasn’t bad either.)

There’s only one problem with No One Writes to the Colonel: I feel completely discouraged from picking up any of García Márquez’s other books ever again: there’s no way  he could have surpassed this one.

In fact, I know he didn’t think he ever did.

You might also like:Gabriel García Márquez, Minus Magical Realism

The Siege (El asedio)

In a city under siege, the bodies of gruesomely murdered young women begin to appear. And at every spot where the police finds a corpse, a bomb has fallen. Is there a connection?

This is the (brutally simplified) premise of The Siege, a historical novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A novel set in Cádiz during the French siege in 1811 and 1812, in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, two years during what the Spanish call the War of Independence.

Cádiz. [Public domain via Pixabay]
En una ciudad bajo sitio aparecen cadáveres de jovencitas asesinadas en una manera horripilante. Y en cada lugar en que el policía encuentra un cadáver, ha caído una bomba. ¿Hay alguna conexión?

Eso es la premisa (simplificada de manera brutal) de El Asedio, una novela histórica por Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Una novela ambientada en Cádiz durante el asedio francés en los años 1811 y 1812, la era de la Guerra de la Independencia. 

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Pablo Neruda Explains a Few Things

I read in the news on Friday that in Madrid they are renaming the streets that carry Francoist names – high time. The same afternoon, Sophisticated Young Lady came home for the weekend from university (where she reads Spanish and History) and reminded me of a poem that I haven’t heard for decades… and certainly never read in the original until last Friday night. So today we’ll remember the Spanish Civil War…

Pablo Neruda explica algunas cosas

El viernes leí en las noticias que en Madrid van a dar nombres sustituivos para calles con nombres franquistas – ya es hora. La misma tarde, La Señorita Sofisticada volvió a casa de la universidad (donde estudia español  y historia) para visitarnos para el fin de semana y me recordó a una poema que no había oído hace décadas… y seguramente no he leído en lo original nunca hasta la noche del viernes pasado. Así que hoy recordamos la guerra civil española…

Continue reading “Pablo Neruda Explains a Few Things”