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Monday, October 26, 2009

Discovery Day Redux

When I wrote about October 12 and Christopher Columbus, or Cristóbal Colón, as he is known in Spanish, I blithely recited the conventional wisdom that he sailed for Spain's Queen Isabella even though he himself was Italian. That was before the Euro Weekly News told me that "experts have confirmed that Christopher Columbus's writings prove he was neither Italian nor Portuguese but Spanish--as the Spanish themselves have always claimed."

Oh? Well, apparently so. An article in La Vanguardia explains that for decades there have been claims that Columbus originated either from the Spanish region of Catalunya or the Balearic Islands. With the exception of a sole Peruvian voice (Luis Ulloa), those claims have come from Catalans. Now a new book, El ADN de los escritos de Cristóbal Colón (The DNA of Columbus's Writings), by linguist Estelle Irizarry of Georgetown University, shows that the vocabulary and syntax, and specifically the use of the virgule (a / sign) in Columbus's written work, is typical of Catalan speakers of the fifteenth century.

Catalan remains today one of the four official languages of Spain and is spoken in the northeastern part of the Iberian peninsula (between France and Valencia), and in the Balearics. Also, according to Wikipedia, in the country of Andorra and the Italian town of Alghero on the island of Sardinia. But not in Genoa, where the conventional wisdom placed Columbus's origins for decades. A post in the Medieval News blog tells more about Irizarry's book.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

This is (Still) Spain

As I mentioned in a belated "happy birthday" greeting to a friend a week or so ago, I don't pay much attention to celebrating birthdays and the dates on which they fall. That's why it wasn't until I returned from a "This is Spain" home show and expat exposition this afternoon, and remembered that I had written about my first "This is Spain" show a year ago, that I realized that the Sundays in Spain blog has slid quietly and unceremoniously into its second year.

Looking back, I find that I first posted on October 12, 2008. I've pretty much kept to the goals and schedule I originally promised, and I have no intention of stopping soon. Thanks to all my family and friends, and the occasional stranger, who let me know from time to time that they are reading and enjoying. You probably don't know how helpful that is to me.

So, anyway, today (Saturday) was year two that I went to "This is Spain." It was held at a bigger and fancier hotel than last year, the four-star La Zenia, which is immediately south of Torrevieja in Orijuela Costa. But the financial crisis has taken its toll. Whereas my entry last year at this time says there were 150 exhibits, the showguide today lists only 59. I have come to admire those northern Europeans who move to Spain to work rather than to retire, because I know that running a business is hard work, and running one in a country new to you, with a language not your own, is very risky. I am sure that some of the businesses that exhibited last year are now gone, and others may still be alive, but find the promotional cost impossible at this time.

Another difference between last year and this: last year we were living temporarily in a rented house, knowing that we couldn't move to the Costa Blanca until we sold an apartment in Roquetas. This year we have sold the apartment and now have our own house. So all the stands with offers of various reformas were interesting to us today. We talked to several people about underfloor heating systems, magnetic insect screens, sun awnings, house and "underbuild" ventilation, and small interior construction projects to improve cosmetics and storage. In my never-ending quest to find English language satellite TV systems that offer American programs, I read the offerings from three different vendors, and found none. I picked up two 2010 calendars and a nice assortment of little guidebooks to restaurants, leisure and wellness centers, and other businesses in the region. I accepted at least three flyers about prepaid funerals and stuffed them in my bag--they are now in the wastebasket. I got another free blood pressure test: 123/69, a bit up since last year's free test. That may be because I spent more time at the XOCAI chocolate stand, where a very nice woman explained the health benefits of this particular type of dark chocolate, and I believed her. But at the cost of €30 for a one week supply--even though it tasted fabulous--I don't think that I can afford to eat those three chocolates a day, no matter how great it would make me feel! We spend far less than that each week on red wine for two people!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

¡Sí, Voy a Hablar Español!

I know my family and friends are probably tired of hearing me say that I don't speak Spanish very well, and they may even be wondering whether I ever will, after living in Spain for about five years. The truth is that I have studied the language in formal classes for most of the months that I have been here. I understand a lot of the Spanish that I read in the newspapers and magazines, brochures, signs, and even some books. I can ask questions and usually understand the answer, at least well enough to phrase a follow-up question or confirmation sentence. I have written letters and essays in Spanish about various trips and visits, the production of maple syrup in New England, Google Book Search, and Hans Christian Andersen's nineteenth-century visit to Barcelona (translating from the Danish).

When it comes to speaking, however, I am very reticent. I am naturally shy, I can't think fast enough to find the proper words and phrases, I tend to get confused and frustrated if the slightest thing goes wrong, and I am now living in such a multinational (read that as English-speaking) area that I don't need to speak Spanish very often. But I am still determined to study the language and continue classes, and as soon as September approached, I was on the lookout for classes in my new neighborhood.

I haven't been very lucky. The municipal classes that were advertised as starting in October have yet to materialize. The teacher I accosted between two beginner classes in the neighboring town promised to call me about a more advanced class, but I have yet to hear from her. The Danish club arranged for beginner and intermediate classes for its members, but the last thing I thought I needed was to learn Spanish through Danish explanations and especially grammar--which I don't know anyway.

I have been successful, though, in arranging private classes with the Danish instructor of those group classes, and we had our first meeting this week. And I think I was wrong to think that it's always better to learn a language from a native speaker of that language. All my previous teachers (seven of them since I've been in Spain) have been native Spanish, and I've "learned," or at least been taught, just about everything--through a grammar-based approach. Now this teacher has become comfortable enough to speak and teach the language after living in Spain for a decade. The most important thing, she says, is to speak it! Almost immediately she gave me "permission" to ignore the differences between the two past tenses, and to forget about using the future tense--"use 'I am going to' to indicate future action," she says. After all, Spaniards speak fast, and if you stutter around trying to figure out which past tense to use (or whether you should use subjunctive or indicative, I add to myself) they will have walked away by the time you get the perfectly correct word out of your mouth!

I think she is on to something. I will continue my classes with her, and I am going to speak Spanish!

Fall Is Here, I Think

We had another gota fría this week, on Friday. Just as we were set to march off to our usual morning pétanque game, the heavens opened and the rains came. Five minutes earlier I had remarked about what a beautiful morning sky we had. The storm was totally unexpected. It rained out the morning exercise ritual, but we were sure that we would be able to play pétanque that afternoon at the customary Danish social gathering at El Rancho. At 4:15, after a full day of on-again, off-again downpours, we acknowledged that there certainly wasn't any pétanque at El Rancho at 5:00 and probably not much social gathering, either.

Though long, the rains didn't seem to produce as much flooding as the first gota fría almost two weeks ago, but then, we were on this side of the low spot leading to our community this time, safe and dry and inside. The rains stopped Friday evening, and Saturday morning, I walked around the town of Algorfa in cool but sunny weather. I had made an excursion into the mysterious and long-forgotten depths of the top of my closet on Friday to find a pair of socks from my winter wardrobe stash, and I was glad to have them on again Saturday during my outside walk.

This Sunday morning we were finally able to play pétanque again. The rains had washed some of the sand in our playing fields into the roadway between the recreation area and the orange grove, and our pétanque lane had acquired a solidity and hardness that changed the way the jack rolled and the metal balls dropped. For the first time since we moved here, I wore full-length slacks to play, and that changed my game somewhat, too--I kept hitting the extra cloth of my pants on the backswing.

There is another sign that autumn is here and winter is coming. Even though we want to be out and exercising soon after we get up, we have to delay our game now--it is not light at 7:30 or 8:00 any more. In fact, the light is still dim at 9:00 and the pétanque lane remains in the shadow as the sun makes its appearance. It was only during the third game this morning that the sun moved to a position where it shone on the whole lane. By the fourth game, I had shed my long-sleeved cotton jacket and was enjoying the sun on my arms in a short-sleeved T-shirt. And later in the morning at the Sunday market, when I had switched to three-quarter length pants and an almost-sleeveless blouse, I was still downright hot in the direct sun.

I came home and hung clean laundry out on the line on our rooftop terrace. It will be dry in an hour, unless we get another unexpected rain.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Discovery Day

Today is a national holiday in Spain and in almost all of the Spanish-speaking world. October 12 is remembered by many U.S. citizens of my generation as the day Columbus discovered America. "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," with funding from Spain's Queen Isabella, even though he himself was Italian. Of course, we know now that Columbus was not the first European to discover the Americas: Leif Ericson had built a small colony in Newfoundland 500 years earlier, though it was short-lived. And it wasn't even really on October 12 that Christopher Columbus--or actually Rodrigo de Triana, one of his crew members--first sited land in what we now call the Bahamas. In the 15th century the Julian calendar governed; the world has since switched to the Gregorian calendar, and we should be observing the siting on October 21 instead of October 12.

In Spain, according to the Spanish-language Wikipedia, October 12 is observed as a day commemorating the beginning of contact between Europe and America, which culminated in "a meeting of two worlds" that changed visions of the world both for Europeans and for Americans. Its observance is not without controversy here any more than in the Americas--the Wikipedia entry has been edited six times since I first checked it this morning. But I continue to hold fast to the idea that encounters between the peoples of the two continents can enhance visions both in Europe and America, and at this writing, those words have not been excised from the article.

Since 1987 this day, formerly known as El Día de la Hispanidad and El Día de la Raza, has been officially called La Fiesta Nacional de España and is one of two national secular holidays (the other is Constitution Day). The day began like most fiesta days in Spain--with fireworks. Our regular 9:00 pétanque game was punctuated by sounds of firecrackers from surrounding towns and villages; rarely a minute passed without some observance of the day. Stores and businesses are closed throughout the country--our gardeners called last night to postpone their usual tidying up of our yard, saying they would be liable to heavy fines if they worked on the national holiday. And even I have given myself a day off from work to write this short post, to contemplate and celebrate connections between Spain and the Americas, and to be on the look-out for new visions.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gota Fría

At the end of September, Monday the 28th to be exact, we experienced our first gota fría in the Alicante region, and, according to reports, the worst in this area in twelve years. A gota fría, literally translated, is a cold drop (as in drop of water). In this context it refers to a weather phenomenon in which a cold front meets the warm air rising over the Mediterranean and dumps muchas gotas of agua onto the land below.

When we get rain here, which is not often, it almost always comes very conveniently at night. This time it started on Sunday mid-morning, and continued on and off all that day and night. Monday morning during a temporary "off" period we went out to the grocery store, since the rain the day before had kept us away from the local Sunday market. We bumped into friends at Lidl, decided to go for a cup of coffee, and sat too long inside talking as the rain poured down.

When we left we drove through rain-filled streets with water up to our hubcaps. We made our way slowly towards home, which thankfully sits on higher ground than the surrounding area, but we still had to get through that lower surrounding area. At the roundabout leading from the highway toward Montebello, we encountered more water, a couple cars coming toward us very slowly, and another abandoned on the side of the road. As we rounded a curve, we saw a car up ahead stalled in water up to the windows. We turned around and headed back to Ciudad Quesada, the closest commercial area, to find a more comfortable place to wait until the water went down.

El Bancal restauante was the first dry spot we came to--though the downstairs ladies room was flooded so the mens on the upper level became unisex. We warmed up in the restaurante with a tasty goulash soup and glass of wine. After ninety minutes or so we ventured out again, but only because a man there spoke on his cell phone with a friend in Montebello, who told him that the roundabout at the highway was now cordoned off but we might be able to get in by driving north to the town of Algorfa and then back south to come in "the back way." We did, holding our breath for much of the half hour it took to follow this detour, and arrived at our Montebello entrance intact and with motor still running.

Our house and most of the develoment were weathering the torrent with no problems, though the following day we discovered that a wall surrounding the green rubbish dumping area--adjacent to the back road by which we came--had caved in with the force of the rushing water.

Subsequent newspaper reports said that the torrents brought 100 liters of water per square meter in just four hours. If you don't know exactly how much that is, you are not alone. It is a lot! Hundreds of drivers abandoned their cars, and dozens of people had to be evacuated from their homes. But amazingly after the rains stopped, the water receded rapidly. By the next morning, when we had a 9:00 appointment to have the car inspected prior to its official inpection, we were able to drive out the front road, but the appointment was postponed as garages had more business than they could handle rescuing and cleaning mud-packed vehicles.

The news reports that this was the worst gota fría in twelve years. Also that it was only the first one of the season.