Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spanish comes in many flavors; gasoline at $7.20 a gallon

A proud dad snaps shots of his daughter in a traditional dress.
Scientists who study the human brain have noted that memories created by smell have a special emotional power. It probably has something to do with our thousands of years as hunters and gatherers.

In any case, the scent of orange blossoms recalls a special experience for me. It takes me back to my first visit to Seville, Spain, 25 years ago. It was the first days of spring, and that city´s orange trees were in full flower. Their perfume helped freeze the images of moorish arches and mosaics, the fountains of the Alcázar and the stunning light of the Andalusian sun.


The Central Market of Valencia, built in 1928.

The local language of Valencia


I was invited to give a one-day course to journalists in Valencia, which is on the other side of Spain from Seville, but when we arrived there last week, we were soon awash in the scent of orange blossoms and memories of Andalusia. The trees fill many parks and plazas. The effect is magical but some Valencianos are so used to the smell as to be unaware of it.

The Lettuce Boutique, the sign says
Valencia has its own identity within Spain and its own local language, Valenciano, which resembles Spanish and French the way it is written. Street signs and place names reflect it -- carrer instead of calle for street, palau instead of palacio for palace and many more.

Schools require children to learn Valenciano. The local daily newspaper included some articles in Valenciano on a book fair and cultural events. Some radio programs use it. Unlike Catalunya, whose capital is Barcelona, Valencia does not make its local language a part of an autonomous movement nor a requirement in public life.  A journalism professor told me she can understand Valenciano but has never been able to speak it fluently. Certain sounds have no equivalent in Spanish.

Schools in Spain take students on cultural trips at spring break. There were lots of them around Valencia.
A couple at a bus stop.

In the main park through the center of the city.

A chaos of Romance languages

I used to think that the language police of the Royal Spanish Academy and its peers in France and Italy were cave-dwelling protectors of the status quo. But when you see the hundreds of dialectical variations of the Romance languages, it becomes clear that there is a use for an Academy that establishes spellings and recognizes words.

Spain recognizes Catalan (northeast) and Galician (northwest) as official languages, but Valencian and other dialects add both richness and confusion to the Romance heritage. (Basque is the fourth official language, but it has Indo-European roots unrelated to the Latin-based tongues.)


When I lived in Bolivia and Mexico, I could see regional variations of Spanish that reflected their cohabitation with more than 100 indigenous languages in those countries alone. The Royal Spanish Academy has to deal with all those new words as well.

Paella, gasoline prices and high-speed rail


Valencia lies on the Mediterranean coast and gave the world paella, a dish of rice with seafood, chicken, sausage and hundreds of other ingredients according to the tastes of the chef. I could have it every day in one of its guises.

Incidentally, we got to the port city on the Madrid-Valencia train, which covers 240 miles in 100 minutes, an average of 145 mph. Much of the way, it was cruising at 180. Ohio´s governor, John Kasich, should make this trip. It would change his mind about high-speed rail. With gasoline at $7.20 a gallon, taking a train makes sense.

We traveled on a Eurail pass, but our tickets would have cost $112 each. They are cheaper than airline tickets for the same route, and just as fast when you consider the hassle at the airport on both ends. Airlines used to have 75% of the traffic and trains 25% between Madrid and Valencia. But since the high-speed alternative opened up in December, trains have 50% of the traffic.

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