Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Basque language has mysterious origins

During our seven weeks in Spain, I enjoyed noting the language differences by region, and Basque is in a class by itself. It predates the arrival of Indo-European languages that surround it and has no relation to Spanish or any other language in Europe. (Spain has four official languages: Basque and three with Romance roots: Galician, Catalán and Spanish.)

Linguists are unsure where Basque came from; there are many theories. How it managed to survive as a separate language for thousands of years is a mystery.

Video: Amsterdam moves on two wheels and water

Cindy and I spent two days in Amsterdam, a place she had always wanted to visit. Mainly we just walked around and gawked at the people.

Like Florence, Italy, Amsterdam is something like a cultural-historical theme park. Most of the old city seems to be dedicated to hotels, restaurants and tourist services.

Coming from a small country without a lot of natural resources, the Dutch invest in their people, and specifically in language training. The Dutch and the Scandinavians, also from small countries, are amazing in their ability to speak English with hardly a trace of an accent.

The music for this video is by Vartan Mamigonian.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday morning, in search of a cafe

The Spanish operate on a different clock, and by that I do not mean they are casual with appointments as they are in Latin America. I mean that the rhythm of their daily lives is quite different.

It is Sunday morning here in San Sebastian, and at 7 a.m. I went looking for a cafe where I could read and have a cafe con leche. There was nothing open but a news agency on the square near our pension so I walked out to the main street. Little knots of young people were on their way home after the long night of drinking and partying. They were drunk but in the Spanish way, which means they were singing and talking loud, not stumbling and puking, but swaying.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tapas or pinchos are our favorite food in Spain

Typical snacks at a bar include all kinds of concoctions like deviled ham on bread with a little slice of salmon, a few small shrimp with veggies in a sauce on a crust of bread, a mini-hamburger, some olives, some peanuts with lemon juice, curried chicken, a bit of paella, some Iberian ham and cheese, a slice of spanish tortilla (a potato-egg pie), a slice of pizza or almost anything you can imagine. Unlike traditional tapas, which were a very small snack offered free as a courtesy with every drink, these cost $1.50 to $2.50 apiece. Two people can make a meal out of four of them.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Pilgrims still come to honor St. James in Santiago de Compostela

In the square in front of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, school kids listen to a rock band that was part of a rally to promote use of the Galician language.
We’re in Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage mecca for over 1,000 years and the center of the autonomous region of Galicia in northwestern Spain. It still attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year, who pay homage to Santiago, or St. James, one of the 12 apostles, whose remains are supposed to be in the cathedral here.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Andalusia has different flavor from rest of Spain

On our swing through cities that were the Moorish centers of Andalusia, we were dazzled by the palaces, forts and mosques. We are doing the whole trip by train.

When we arrived in Cordoba in southern Spain, the accent told us we were in a different part of the country. Local people drop their S’s -- gracias becomes gracia’, más o menos becomes ma’ o meno’, tres euros becomes tre’ euro’ and so on. Consonants are softer than in the north.

The accent sounds very much like what you would hear in Cuba, Puerto Rico or other Caribbean countries. I have read and heard that  this is because many of the conquistadors came from Andalusia in southwestern Spain and left their linguistic imprint.