In memory of Gregorio Peces Barba
As part of my language learning activities, I sit in the local bar once a week and scour the local papers for news and photos of politicians I might recognise. This process of gradual familiarity with local faces, names and places in the news sets up future reference points for conversations.
Yet, if I am honest, regular fluency in this language is still on the far distant horizon. True, there were days in which I slide euphorically along the motorway of fluency, and then there were days when I stagger drunkenly into the side-lane of incomprehensibility. Try as I may to work out the why´s and wherefores, the more I analyse, the less I learn.
So I tell myself I must read more, talk more, listen more, study more...setting unachievable goals and ever extending to-do lists. For that is the way of languages: There is no end, there is no arrival point. Although there are moments when word order and conjugation appear fleetingly to have been embraced. One such moment was the day Mr. Fish Beard came to town.
ACCENTS AND THE LOCAL FLAVOUR OF LANGUAGE
One of the 'Seven Fathers' of the Spanish Constitution visited my town a few years back. He came to receive the Ibn al-Jatib annual award for cultural and social services to the country. Gregorio Peces Barba (or Gregory Fish-Beard in English) was an important lawyer and defender of many civil rights cases in Spain after the prolonged death of the Great Tortilla Dictator.
At times arrested, other times simply forbidden to practise law, Gregorio was eventually recruited by the new fledgling state to participate in the creation of the new Constitution during the traumatic post-Franco period. Later, he was asked to be a minister in the Felipe González government of the early 1980´s, but he declined and instead took the role as President of the Congress of Deputies (Leader of the House).
In 2004, Peces Barba was named as the High Commissioner for the support of terrorist victims during which he received much criticism from the conservative Partido Popular (PP) who portrayed him as someone partial towards the Governments (PSOE) view and not that of the victims. This arose after he refused to join a demonstration against the government (a demonstration organised by a group that had aligned themselves with the Partido Popular).
In short, Fish-Beard was a heavyweight: A man of great depth, courage, opinion and foresight. So when he rolled into town, I was there to listen to his speech. First on stage though came another speaker: Carlos Derqui del Rosall.
DR HOUSE AND THE EXTRA SET OF EARS
Carlos Derqui del Rosall was a local doctor who gave a long and anecdotal story of his life, told in a deep and (to me) unintelligible Granadino accent. I tried to enjoy his contribution to the evening, but experiencing one of my frequent fits of audible incompetence, it was as though I was watching a Chinese film and someone had selected the wrong subtitles. I understood nothing. I found myself drifting off into a fantasy world where I would be conversing not with Dr Rosall, but instead with Dr House. We discussed the pros and cons of surgical help and Dr House told me nothing short of an ear donation from a native speaker will overcome my difficulties with this local accent. I nodded in agreement and fondled my ears, wondering where exactly he would place the extra set.
Suddenly, I was shaken from my reverie by the real Doctor staggering back into his chair and old Fish-Beard himself rising to his feet. He staggers over to the microphone and I listen to his story in detail, before realising I´m understanding almost every word. Instinctively I reach out a hand in search of an extra ear, but find only my old and faithful set
As Gregorio spoke of his background in Madrid, I realised that my listening difficulties are partially related to the idiosyncrasies of this local drawl, and my geographical choice of town has played, and continues to play, more than a minor part in this eternal struggle with the Iberian tongue. Then suddenly he is finished, and I find myself applauding Gregory not so much for the content of his life but rather the manner of his speech. I wondered what it would be like to live amongst people who spoke that way all the time.
Gregorio Peces Barba died July 24th 2012.
(This is an abridged version of the Chapter on language leaning approaches in the book Inside the Tortilla.)
As part of my series on worthwhile podcasts to download - podcasts about aspects of Spain's economic, political and social history, I'm going to kick off with this interesting investigative BBC Documentary on the Airport in Cuidad Real that closed just 3 years after it was built. What can such a story tell us about the recent economic history of this country?
Upon first sight you may understandably mistake their presence as of religious significance, and indeed many have the characteristic grey stone appearance of the churches, but no, you would be wrong-ish.
Neither are they small hotels for pilgrims on their way to Santiago - though perhaps were they to be used for this end, there would be fewer in such a poor state.
Neither are they elaborate kennels for the many dogs that live on this green and welcoming region of the peninsular. Though this did not stop my trusty Hound from salivating - after the first few cold nights - at the thought of sleeping in a warm room of his own.
However, the truth is of an agricultural nature. They are granaries built in wood or stone, with slits for ventilation and are raised from the ground by pillars - esteos in Galician that end in flat stones (vira-ratos in Galician) to avoid the access of rodents and the invasive Galician humidity
The oldest dates back to the 15th century whilst the longest hórreo in Galicia is 35 m long
The first decree to protect the remaining 30.000 Hórreos was passed back in 1973, but it was not until 1995 that the Galician Parliament finally took control over its own heritage by passing its own protective legislation.
What strikes the visitor as of particular interest is the siting of these small buildings - alongside motorways, in the car parks of hotels, perched above cliff tops, in the middle of fern forests and roundabouts.
And each one draws your attention, as though you had never seen one before. There is something spiritual about their preservation, their proud standing on their concrete legs that reminds me of the Spirit houses of Thailand.
Perhaps, in our rush to understand and classify our collective heritage, to label our most profound traditions, we have overlooked something indefinable from this very special Gallic tradition?
The Ancient Kindom of Galicia once extended into Portugal, Asturias and Castilla y Leon. This relatively unexplored area of Spain is nearly one-and-a-half times the size of Wales and will be the subject of my next few series of posts as the Gazpachomonk travels along the infamous estuaries - Rías Baixas and Rías Altas, Coast of Death and plunging into Galicia Profunda as we hunt out the best places to take a Van and a Hound.
The first impression as you enter from the south, via Zamora is the cooker temperatures and the presence of clouds once more. This makes for pleasant travelling coming from the heat of Andalucia in July.
The second impression is that of the Gallego language. Yes it resembles Castillian and has a similarity to Catalan in some aspects, but the lilt and rhythm demarcate this regional tongue from others. There is almost a Latin American tone and when I first heard it spoke, I believed that there was a community of exiled Argentinians following me around.
And of course the links to Latin Anerica are strong of course, the Galicians being superb sailors and forging an important part of the history of the "discovery" of that continent.
Finally, I'll be adding some pointers about camping in Galicia. The trials and tribulations of mounting your tent on an underground Bee hive for example, or why you may need warming head wear at night, even in July.
All this and more in Black and White. .
Whatever you thought of the man, Lorca set the literary world on fire during the 1920's and early 1930's before he was brutally assassinated during the outbreak of the civil war. Had he lived, not only would he be a remarkable 114 years old, but his creative outpourings would have undoubtedly continued to place Spain in the very centre of the worlds theatrical and literary stage.
To celebrate his 114t-ish birthday, the Gazpachomonk is releasing this tribute to Freddy Lorca poster - to download and place on your phone wallpaer for the month.
Friends of Dalí and Buñuel, Manuel de Falla and a leading light of the Generation of 27, Lorca's efforts to bring Culture to the masses was as important then, as now. Perhaps we may yet see another Baraka...in the meantime read about his untimely ending in the classic research carried out by Ian Gibson in his book...The Assasination of Garcia Lorca.
Watch the great short video (3mins) on Lorca's life (best seen full screen) by Rafael Jurado. And should you want more...you could also pick up a copy of Romancero Gitano for a taste of his powerful poetry.
Why Orwell is essential to understanding Spain today. More here - Forgotten Stories From Spain
Find out More about the ebook and audio
Forgotten Stories From Spain Book HERE
AND WATCH THE TORTILLA VIDEO HERE