Saturday, August 16, 2014

From ‘Don Quixote's Delusions. Travels in Castilian Spain’ by Miranda France

The owner of the brothel lived in a small flat over the business, with her son, Juanito, who had a lazy eye……He wore a strong pair of glasses that grossly magnified the disobedient eye, which seemed to have not only an independent trajectory, but a separate, sinister motivation. A conversation with the boy could be disconcerting, because while his right eye remained childishly attentive, the left one roamed about, appraising his interlocutor with lascivious knowingness. While the eight-year-old gabbled about homework, insects and machine guns, that pale, magnified eye was like a window into an older, cynical soul.

….the brothel owner….used to complain bitterly about the coming of ‘Europe’, as if it were a war, or some devastating plague…

Every evening, at about eight o’clock, a certain smell descends on Spain. At the moment when offices close and there is a collective recognition that the serious part of the day has ended, a marriage of hairspray and cologne breezes down the city streets. The aroma seems to be the same, give or take a floral note, everywhere in Spain. For all that they rail against the centre, the Basques smell like Castilians. The southern Andalusians’ character may be nothing like the north-eastern Galicians’, but they smell the same in the evening.

Spaniards love to go out, to be in the street and to talk, or rather to shout to one another in a way that makes other countries seem eerily quiet.
A government survey carried out in 1990 found that Spain had only slightly fewer bars than the rest of the European Union put together, Spaniards are the most social Europeans, spending at least two and a half hours with friends, usually in bars, every day. Even after a wedding, rather than drive to a private reception, sometimes the bridge and the groom will descend, in ruffles and tulle, on the bars and discos of their town. There are housewives who spend their day in a housecoat, then dress with meticulous care for the evening stroll, an institution that has its own name, el paseo.

They may be dying off but nuns still seem to be everywhere in Spain, so omnipresent that you can never take a bus, or a photograph without finding that a nun has slipped into it……nuns in Spain are always on the move.

The Mother Superior told me that they almost never went into the street, though they could hear the noise around them….
‘How long have you been here?’ I asked.
‘Much too long to remember,’ she said, with a sigh that seemed to slip under the heavy oak door and dash towards the street.

‘Are Spaniards quixotic by nature?’ I asked Don Gregorio.
‘Very much so, unfortunately.’…..
‘They’re stubborn like him. Its something to do with the determination to make the world fit your ideal. Spaniards don’t adapt themselves to the world, they try to force reality onto their own mould’….

….Pablo Neruda: ‘They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot detain the spring.’

The first time Rufus met Carmen he told her, ‘I would like to make love to you until we both catch fire and die asphyxiated by the flames.’
Carmen, fidding with her plaits, looked quite upset by the idea.

My friend and I took a course at one of the many language schools in Salamanca. In the mornings we learned how to use the subjunctive and in the evenings we roamed the town in packs of foreign students…..Once a polite Finn with neat hair came to visit us at the pension. Lars was much the quietest student on our course, but the excitement of being alone with two girls in a bedroom transformed him. He started romping around the room, giggling and proposing three-in-a-bed, misusing the subjunctive as he did so.

Spanish teenagers tend to be neater than their counterparts in northern Europe and a survey has shown them to be the latest in the world (after the Taiwanese) to lose their virginity. But things are changing. In recent years there have been dramatic rises in adolescent drinking and crime.

‘People in Spain don’t think enough, they don’t ask themselves about the reason for things, they don’t analyze,’ said Ana. ‘They opt for the easy route’…… ‘It’s a cliché to say that Spaniards work less and are more superficial, but its also true to a certain extent. The climate lends itself to an outside life, with lots of acquaintances, rather than close friends. Spaniards are good at social life, but the flip side of that is their relationships are not so profound. They see life in less tragic terms than northern Europeans. In the north there is more melancholy, more people living with a terrible sense of anguish.I spent a year studying in Germany and during that time several students threw themselves off the Faculty of Philosophy.’

…Spanish nuns and monks, who lived in closed orders – they account for two-thirds of the world’s cloistered men and women.

The bars served beer and spirits cheaply and in extravagant measures, but it was unusual to see scenes of drunkenness or violence.

Spaniards – and South Americans to a lesser degree – do not believe in beating around the bush. If they want something, in a shop, or at the dinner table, they ask plainly for it, dispensing with ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. Nicknames also go straight to the point. Fat people are called ‘fatty’, bald people ‘baldie’, with no offense meant or taken. Once I was on a bus with just one black passenger, who had asked the driver to let him know when the bus reached his stop. In due course, the driver called out: ‘This is your stop, negro.’

The idea of tempering truth with kindness is anathema to most Spaniards. They are not good with innuendo or euphemisms. Why waste time on platitudes? If you are fat or in need of psychiatric help, they will tell you so. Any woman who really wants to know if her bottom looks big can find out in Spain.

In the last line of Don Quixote, Cervantes says that the entire purpose of his book has been to do away with Spaniards’ fondness for chivalric literature.

Spain was once so densely wooded… Eightly per cent of Spain’s original forests have been destroyed since then.

One elderly man in a beret shouted to his embarrassed grandson…. His harangue was liberally dotted with swear words. The Spanish love to swear. Although ‘cono’ refers to the female genitals, it is not deemed offensive in Spain, in fact it seems favoured by the old, perhaps because it is relatively easy to say with few teeth.

At the beginning of the twentieth century about two-thirds of Spain’s population lived and worked in the country. In 1950 almost half the workforce was still engaged in agriculture. By 1990 the figure had fallen to twelve per cent….. although ninety per cent of the territory is rural, more than eighty per cent of the population live in cities. In the twentieth century the level of migration was such that several thousand Spanish villages have now been entirely abandoned by their inhabitants.

The weather of the great Castilian tableland is famously cruel: nine months of winter, three months of hell, they say….. today’s Castilians? They are reputed, especially among other Spaniards, to be closed, braced against emotion as they might be against sun or wind.

‘Life’, she [Saint Teresa of Avila] once complained, ‘is a night in a bad hotel.’

Spanish children are always beautifully dressed and seem well-loved, yet a report in that day’s newspaper suggested that the incidence of sexual abuse was high, though concealed in close-knit families.

As we waited, it occurred to me that one of the most pressing challenges facing Spaniards might be punctuality.

Spanish men are tediously loyal to their mothers..

It is hard not to fall in love in Spain, The climate, landscape and architecture connive at romance. Any visitor to Spain may be intrigued to see how much kissing goes on in the winding alleys of its ancient cities…..Cafes welcome lingerers and, after dusk, the parks rustle with fornicating youths

No nation is worse at queuing than Spain.

In 1567 Philip II prohibited all Muslim customs – ‘above all that most un-Christian, most peculiar oddity of taking a daily bath’

Spain is reputed to be the noisiest country in the world, after Japan. A report published while I was living in Madrid claimed that 20 per cent of Spanish adolescents suffered impaired hearing caused by excessive noise in discos and bars. Whereas Japan’s noise may be industrial, in Spain much of it is human; Spaniards love to shout.

If you observe any group of Spaniards talking, says Gibson, ‘you will notice how they switch off, or become intensely impatient, when anyone holds the conversational stage for too long.’

Spanish love routine, sameness. Perhaps one legacy of Franco’s long rule is a fear of change.

….that Spanish mothers could be domineering

No country rivals Spain for the variety and colour of its fiestas, of which there are about eight thousand a year. Every town holds some kind of annual celebration, to mark religious events, the harvest, the annual slaughter of animals or historic victories.

It occurred to me that Spaniards cannot get away from the drama of religion, from a love and hatred of it.

No comments: