Monday, December 21, 2015

The Virgin of Guadalupe reveals a language mystery

The image of the Virgin in the Basilica in Mexico City.
Here in Spain my colleagues sometimes kid me on my use of Mexican expressions.

Mexicans have a tendency to add the diminuitive suffix -ito or -ita to many words in ordinary conversation: your close friends might be your "amiguitos" (little friends), "Aquí tienes algún papelito" (here's some little paper for you) or "Ven aquí en la sombrita" (come on over here in the little shade).

So sometimes I might say, "tomemos una cervecita" (let's have a little bottle of beer), "vamos por un cafecito" (let's get a little cup of coffee).

I wondered about why this tendency was so common in Mexico but not in Spain. I think I discovered the reason while reading a book about the Virgin of Guadalupe -- the most revered religious figure in  Mexico and much of Latin America.

It was a translation into Spanish of the original text from the Aztec language, Nahuatl, describing the Virgin's miraculous appearance to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531 and the sign she left him -- her image on his tunic.

In the Spanish translation from Nahuatl, Juan Diego calls Mary, "my Little Virgin" (mi Virgencita) and she calls him "my little son" (mi hijito). It turns out that the translator was struggling to find an equivalent in Spanish for the Aztec suffix -tzin, which means something like "beloved" or "revered" but also is used for children and pets. So the translator used the closest Spanish equivalent, the diminuitive suffix, -ita or -ito.

Nahuatl is still spoken by more than 1 million Mexicans, and the linguistic tendency has lived on, so that when people are being friendly, they use the diminuitive for all kinds of everyday things.

English translators of Nahuatl have the same problem, as described in an article about the original text describing the Virgin's miracle:

A challenge for the English translator is the suffix -tzin, heavily used in this text. On the one hand, it is a diminutive, used for children and pets. On the other hand it is reverential, used for lords and gods. And sometimes it seems to be thrown in merely to show that the situation, the audience, or the text itself is classy or much loved or both. It is inaccurate to equate -tzin routinely with the Spanish diminutive, which is more limited in scope, although probably somewhat expanded in Colonial Mexico under the influence of Nahuatl usage.

So my use of the diminuitive sounds funny here to my colleagues. They enjoy kidding me about other Mexican expressions. For example, the professors refer to the students here as "chavales", roughly "kids", while in Mexico we called them "chavos/chavas". Add that to my soft Latin American accent (not as guttural on the "j" sound, softer consonants), and I am charming without even having to try.

If your Spanish is good and you really want to explore the many variants of diminuitives in Nahuatl, I recommend this four-page excerpt from a book by Jose Ignacio Davila Garibi, who wrote extensively about Nahuatl in the 1920s and '30s. (Thanks to Angel Arrese for calling my attention to it.)

Hillary Clinton and the Virgin 

When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state in 2009, she made a visit to the basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City where Juan Diego's tunic bearing the Virgin's image is framed and displayed (see my photo above).

Despite the vast intelligence-gathering resources of the United States government, and the enormous staff at Hillary's disposal, she made a horrible gaffe. She asked the priest who was explaining the image to her, "Who painted it?" The priest replied, "It was God painted it."

The Mexican press let her off easy. Since Hillary and Bill are people they like, they wrote it off as an itty-bitty error.


Basque language has mysterious origins
When you say "Tepotzotlán", it's like magic 
How to spend nine weeks in Europe without losing your shirt
Columbus Day story: How he brought me to Spain
20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain
In Pamplona, they party like it's 1591 
Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite
Cordoba's main attraction: mix of Jewish, Moorish, Christian cultures  

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Celebration for Francis Xavier, born nearby, patron saint of Navarra

At a Christmas market in the bull ring.
PAMPLONA, Spain -- Today, Dec. 3, is a public holiday in all of the province of Navarra to celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier, who was born in the nearby town of Javier (just another way of spelling Xavier). He has been one of two official patron saints of the province since 1622. The other is San Fermin, whose feast day is connected with that thing they do with the bulls every July.

Francisco Javier (pronounced hah-vee-AIR) was one of the first disciples of St. Ignatius Loyola and the priestly order he founded, the Society of Jesus -- the Jesuits. Francis traveled around Japan, China, and India baptizing and converting thousands.

This year, the newly elected leftists decided to break with tradition and not host a mass honoring the saint in his birthplace, some 40 minutes away by car. That sort of thing should be the job of the church, not the government, said the new president of the provincial partliament. Instead, the secularists stayed home, campaigned for another upcoming election, and gave a medal to a local historian. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving in Spain: trout on the menu

Grandpa Fred Breiner, with ever-present cigar. Richie, Danny, Mickey, and cousin Bobby Marcus. Maybe 1949.
PAMPLONA, Spain -- I do miss Thanksgiving. It is the best American holiday with the best memories for me. This year is the ninth that I have been outside the country. Again it is a work day -- department meeting, then coffee with a colleague who specializes in German philosophy and collects news clips about Bridget for me. Then grading 18 final projects from 75 students. Cindy has plans for trout for dinner.

Thanksgiving 1961, Bart Starr and Packers vs. Lions, Press-Gazette Archive
On Thanksgiving Day in 2006 I gave a lecture at the public university in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and walked out into the tropical heat and humidity, feeling really homesick. Along one of the main roads, the lame Santa Claus displays set against an inappropriate cultural background poisoned any warm feelings of nostalgia. Depressing, really, especially there, where the poor are really poor and the middle class lives in walled communities.

What I really needed to pick me up was a dose of the Lions vs. the Packers. For some reason, no one in Santa Cruz cares about that game. No TV, no John Madden, no family. If I had been at the Kuhns' in Columbus, we would have gone over to the neighbors' yard and played some pickup hoops in the driveway. Or in Cleveland, maybe a Turkey Trot or some hoops.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Spanish soccer game is 6 times bigger than the Super Bowl

Luis Suarez scores for Barcelona in Saturday night's clásico. ESPN photo
Cindy and I went to the closest neighborhood bar on Saturday night to do what most of the rest of Spain was doing, which was watching the two best soccer teams in Spain duke it out.

Barcelona whomped Real Madrid, 4-0, in what was supposed to be a close match, but that was almost beside the point.

Ronaldo and Real Madrid had a rough night. Getty Images via BBC
Barcelona and Real Madrid were playing a regular season game--they play twice, home and home--so it was not a playoff or final or anything special.

But their matches--which have so much history and drama that they are referred to as clásicos--regularly draw hundreds of millions of TV viewers.

First, the teams are rich and successful. Forbes ranks Barcelona and Real Madrid as the two most valuable sports franchises in the world. The BBC last year recounted the history of the 200-plus clásicos, and gave a sense of why they deserve the designation as classics. Similar to the Patriots-Giants or Red Sox-Yankees rivalries, but bigger.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Columbus Day story: how he brought me to Spain

Departure of Columbus from Palos, Spain, 1492, Emanuel Leutze. Photo: Wikipedia, public domain.
The painting's owner was seeking to have the image placed on the $1 bill.
PAMPLONA, Spain -- For me it started in March of 1987 when a bunch of public officials from Columbus, Ohio (named for the explorer) headed off to Europe on one of those trips that newspapers always attack as wasteful junkets. 

First stop, Genoa, Italy, 1987.
I got to go along, and the trip turned out to be a life-changer. I was 35 and had been working at The (Columbus) Dispatch for 10 years. At that time I was leading a team of five reporters working on investigative and long-term projects. I enjoyed my work, but there was this other thing that I had always wanted to do -- live and work abroad.

I got the assignment to go to Europe partly because I had a passport (a strange story in itself) and could be ready to leave in just a few days. 

The purpose of the traveling party of about 20 was to organize the city's participation in the worldwide recognition five years hence of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to America. (He made landfall in the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492, a date commemorated today in the U.S., Spain, and Latin America with three-day weekends, parades, and demonstrations against racism and colonialism.)

It was going to be a big deal, the quincentennial of 1992. The delegation included state and local elected officials, as well as Ohio State University administrators and professors of history, Italian, and Spanish, who also acted as translators.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's OK to eat baby sheep (lamb), but not baby horses

Logo for the association of colt meat producers of Navarra.
PAMPLONA, Spain -- The logo at right is supposed to look like a horse, but not too much like a horse.

Probably the producers of colt meat, a local delicacy that costs around $6-$9 a pound here, don't want you thinking too much about the fact that you are eating a baby horse.

We Americans think of horses and dogs and cats as part of our family. So eating colts or kitties or puppies would be like cannibalism. (Although we have no problem eating lamb and veal, babies as well.)

Our notions are pretty strange, if you think about it. According to the local paper (this digital version is less detailed than the print version), there are 420 local farmers who produce about 75,000 pounds of meat a year from 2,000 colts. About 10% is consumed locally, and the rest is shipped to Catalonia (northeast Spain), Italy and the Middle East.

I can't wait to try it. I want to see if it is as good as the marinated donkey burger I had in China. Or the chocolate covered insects I had in Mexico. Mmmmmmm.



Inspirational kickoff to the academic year
20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain
In Pamplona, they party like it's 1591
Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite
Cordoba's main attraction: mix of Jewish, Moorish, Christian cultures  
Basque language has mysterious origins 
Andalusia has different flavor from rest of Spain  
Tapas or pinchos are our favorite foods in Spain  
Pilgrims still come to honor St. James in Santiago de Compostela

Friday, September 04, 2015

Inspirational kickoff to the academic year

The rector, Alfonso Sanchez-Tabernero, center, talks with two of the new local provincial officials. UNAV photo
PAMPLONA, Spain -- Some of my colleagues here at the University of Navarra have been anxious  since local elections in May brought in a new crop of populist reformers whose rhetoric sounds radical to them.

They think the university could be a target for the newcomers, given that it is private, Catholic and relatively expensive (though about a fourth as expensive as a comparable university in the U.S.).

So the university's rector, Alfonso Sanchez-Tabernero, showed himself to be an able diplomat when he addressed an audience of close to 1,000 faculty, local officials, and students today with a message that said essentially: We are ready to cooperate with and collaborate with whoever the local officials are. He was telling his staff, in effect, calm down, already. Don't worry. We'll survive.

But he was also sending a collegial message to the new leaders of the province of Navarra, who were with him on the dais. Very astute, I thought. He is in the photo above with Uxue Barkos, new president of the province, and Ainhoa Aznarez, the new president of the provincial parliament. Barkos is the leader of the Basque coaltion. Some of her group would like to see Navarra, a wealthy province that is about 25% Basque, unite with the adjacent Basque Country region. This could have economic, political and cultural implications, such as the languages taught in schools.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Academic terminology can be complicated

Some of the academic terminology here trips me up. At universities in Mexico, they said things one way. Here in Spain they say them differently.

Fortunately a friend of mine here, Prof. Samuel Negredo, has created an extensive Spanish-English glossary of academic terms. Some of the basics for me have been:

  • "Students" in Mexico were "estudiantes" mainly, but here in Spain they are almost always referred to as "alumnos." 
  • What we would call "alumni" here are called "antiguos alumnos" (old students) or "graduados" (graduates).  However I have sometimes seen and heard people here use the Latin plural "alumni" to refer to their graduates.
  • Mexican professors often referred to their students as "chicos", or boys and girls. And they would even address the classes that way: "Buenos días, Chicos." I didn't feel right doing that. It seemed counterproductive when I wanted them to act as adults. So after asking around, I came up with an  equivalent of "Ladies and Gentlemen" -- "Damas y Caballeros." That's what I use here. I was told that "Señoras y Señores" sounded way too formal.
  • "Grado" doesn't mean grade here but rather "major". To say "I am a journalism major in the Communication Department," you would say, "Estoy en el grado de periodismo de la Facultad de Comunicación." Those who are doing a bilingual major, with half their courses in English, are in the "grado bilingüe."
  • A "grade" is una nota or una calificación.
  • "Facultad", by the way, doesn't mean "faculty." It means "academic department". When you want to refer to "the faculty" you say "el profesorado", and the student body isn't "el cuerpo de alumnos" but rather the "alumnado".
  • What we call a "course", as in "a math course," is called an "asignatura" here in Spain, but in Mexico it was called a "materia". All three words come from Latin and all refer to the same thing but have different roots. 
  • And "curso" here is not a course but an "academic year". So we are in the "curso 2015-2016".
  • Una "clase" here is a singular event. It refers to the class you taught yesterday or the class you are going to teach today. If we want to talk about the class of 2015, you say "generación" or "promoción" de 2015.

Flunk and pass

 If you "pass a course" you don't pasar, you "aprobar" la asignatura. It comes from the same Latin root as "approve." To fail is "reprobar", and someone who has failed is "un reprobado" (English "reprobate" comes from the same root but has a different meaning).

At Tec of Monterrey in Mexico, a "classroom" was a "sala" or if it was really big, a "salón". A classroom building was called "Las aulas 1" or 2 or 3, which was very confusing to me at first because here in Spain the big lecture halls are called "aulas". And the building that houses the aulas is called the "facultad" or faculty. Confusing, yes? I mean, confusing, no?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Pamplona, they party like it's 1591

A poster from the 1929 Festival of San Fermin.
From the Toronto Star, October 27, 1923 -- "In Pamplona, a white-walled, sun baked town high up in the hills of Navarre, is held in the first two weeks of July each year the World’s Series of bull fighting. Bull fight fans from all Spain jam into the little town. Hotels double their prices and fill every room. The cafés under the wide arcades that run around the Plaza de la Constitución have every table crowded...As far as I know we were the only English speaking people in Pamplona during the Feria..."

This was Ernest Hemingway's first trip to Pamplona, and it provided some of the material for his 1926 novel, "The Sun Also Rises." Today the top bullfighters still come, but now there are mobs of English speakers.

We are just a few days away from the start of the annual nine-day Festival of San Fermin, collectively referred to as the sanfermines, which is a combination of commercial fair, showcase of Spain's top bullfighters, and international debauch whose most memorable images are of people in red kerchiefs running down medieval streets chased by a stampede of bulls.

Hemingway was a latecomer. The earliest mention of bullfighting as part of the sanfermines was in the 14th century, and the festival was moved to its current dates in 1591 in order to coincide with the annual agricultural fair and thus produce more traffic for merchants. (The most comprehensive information about the festival is in Wikipedia, which has links to many historical references.) 

Monday, June 22, 2015

People are still upset about a battle from 1521

The regional differences in the United States have nothing on those in Spain. People have really long memories here.

Today I was reading an advertisement in the local paper, the Daily News (Diario de Noticias) of Navarra, advertising a book called "The Battle of Noain," described as "the unfortunate episode of 1521".

Navarra, in dark green, is on the southwest border of France.
The ad describes how the powerful Castilians (read "Spanish") defeated the local forces and "invaded our town" (Pamplona), which had been part of the French kingdom of Navarre.

For just 6.95 euros, the ad reads, you too can read this story of how "our forefathers struggled and spilled their blood" in a desperate battle that led to "the loss of idependence of Navarra".

The Castilians "devastated a kingdom that was ahead of its time in every sense".

Add this volume of 128 pages to your collection of the History of Navarra, says the ad.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain

My sister Nancy and her husband, Tom Lukens, came to visit in May and we spent a good deal of the time on the north coast of Spain. I dragged them along to one of my favorite places, the cave of Altamira, which has paintings dating back as far as 22,000 years ago.

Modern artist's interpretation of an Altamira painting of an aurochs.

You can get a sense of the brilliance of the paintings in the example above. The artists used bulges in the cave walls and ceiling to emphasize the musculature of the aurochs (cattle), deer, and horses they depicted.

Pablo Picasso visited the cave and said, "After Altamira, everything is decadence." The ceiling has been called the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art.

Lifesize replica

The cave was discovered in 1879 when a tree fell and exposed an opening. Archeological work revealed that the cave had not been occupied for 13,000 years. The paintings were created over a span of at least 9 thousand years as different groups occupied the cave.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the site became such a popular tourist attraction that carbon dioxide in the breath of the thousands of visitors damaged the artworks. It was closed to the public in 1977.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Holy Week in Spain: a religious tradition and tourist spectacle

Our Lady of the Pillar Church, Zaragoza, on the Ebro River
ZARAGOZA, Spain -- For those of you who like anniversary celebrations, this one is the oldest I know of: the 1,975th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of the Pillar to the Apostle James, and it occurred here in Zaragoza in 40 A.D.

James was discouraged about how hard it was to convert to Christianity the residents of what we now call Spain. The Virgin Mary appeared to him on a pillar and encouraged him to keep at it. Which he did. Today there is an amazing Baroque church dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar in the heart of the city.

Holy Week processions

Zaragoza has dozens of cofradías that are known for their drum corps. Each of these groups has hundreds of members who participate in the Holy Week processions and observances. Each has a slightly different rhythm to their playing, but all beat the big bass drums hard.

Each has its own floats depicting religious scenes. Acolytes with censers fill the air with the smell of incense to create a visual, audio, and olfactory experience.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite

In the Gothic Quarter, 1996. Christine is a freshman at Kenyon College. Patrick is 12.
BARCELONA, Spain -- We were here 19 years ago with the whole family, and at that time Cindy pronounced Barcelona her favorite city. She has always loved Art Deco architecture and its Barcelona cousin, Modernisme. Gaudi is its best known practitioner.

Gothic Quarter, same fountain 2015
The Moorish architecture of southern Spain made her think that maybe Barcelona was just a passing fancy. Manchester, England, wooed her with its Victorian brick.

But no. After visiting Barcelona again in March, she said that now she is sure. Barcelona and its curving, vegetable facades, its wrought iron balconies, and its geometric tiles are her favorite. Along the tree-lined streets, artistic touches are everywhere, from the sgraffito plaster facades to the decorative manhole covers.

Actually, Barcelona has a couple thousand years of architecture on display. You can tour large sections of the old Roman city in the City Museum.

The Gothic quarter preserves the cathedral and religious buildings. There are Renaissance palaces converted into schools.

Invasion of the Anglo Saxons

Barcelona made huge upgrades to its transportation systems and tourist facilities for the 1992 Olympics. As a reporter and editor, I did some stories about all of the investment. It has paid off in attracting foreign investment and visitors. In the process, the city has lost some of its charm.

Sgraffito facade. Layers of plaster of different colors create the effect.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pamplona: Lots of running, no bulls

Pamplona is in NE Spain close to Basque country. A 1,200-year-old pilgrimage route passes through the city and goes to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of the country. 
The city of 200,000 sits on a plateau, surrounded by hills. 
PAMPLONA, Spain -- After one week we love this place. It has lots of parks, bike paths, cafes and restaurants all within a short walk of our apartment.

On our block are a butcher shop, fruit and vegetable shop, a small general store and a bar or two. A big grocery-department store like a Wal-Mart is two or three blocks away. Cindy likes all the shopping opportunities.

The local people are generally friendly and very polite, although local people tell us that they are more reserved than the people in the South.

We have been running around getting various documents at various government agencies so we can get paid, get health care, etc. The offices are professional and efficient. Not a lot of waiting.