Alive in Spain

A travel diary

Archive for the tag “Language”

Vacas, Vacas, Books, and Vacas!

In an effort to travel light, I packed only one book for this trip — a difficult feat for a writer and a decision over which I agonized. The first thing I usually pack for trips is a selection of books, but I was preparing for various climates (summer clothes, fall clothes, winter clothes) with only a knapsack and a carry-on suitcase. It became like the game where you are asked, if you were on a deserted island, what one book would you like to have? Boy! That’s a tough one. One week into the trip, I was salivating at the mere mention of books. True, I could get ebooks on my iPad, but it’s just not the same. I pined. I passed the used bookstore in Toledo with a pang knowing I couldn’t put more things in my bags.

In Galicia, I finally lightened my load a bit after giving my aunt and uncle their gifts. As a treat, I bought a novel and went “home” with a smile on my face and a book in my hand. It was a thick and enjoyable novel, which I savored like the finest dark chocolate. But, it only served as an appetizer. I needed more. One week later, in Gijón, I stopped by the central bookstore and bought two poetry books. TWO POETRY BOOKS! One is a book by Angel González, a poet from Asturias who, I was sad to find out, died in 2008. I would have loved to meet him! The other is an anthology of the Generation of 1927 (Antología del Grupo Poético de 1927), including, of course, poems by Federico García Lorca. image

Lorca has been a favorite from the first time I read him. Rereading him in Spain was as exciting as kissing a lover for the first time, and as comforting as greeting my husband each morning while half awake. I have since finished the novel and hope I can find the sequel, since it’s part of a trilogy. It’s not the type of book I would normally read — a bit of word candy — nevertheless, I enjoyed it. And now I have two poetry books, plus one has poems by García Lorca!

As those of you who are Facebook friends with me know, aside from my love of words, I am obsessed with nature, and there’s lots of it here: trees, fruit, slugs, snails, butterflies, horses, and cows. Yesterday, as I walked through my neighborhood, I came across a group of honey-colored cows in a field and immediately thought of Lorca’s “Vaca” (“Cow”).

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It’s not one of the poems in my new anthology, but it is one I analyzed in detail two or three years ago as part of an independent study I did with my former professor and good friend Will Hochman, and one I keep coming back to. I wasn’t able to find a good English translation on the internet, and my bilingual version of A Poet in New York (edited by BU’s own Christopher Maurer) is at home in the U.S.

I hope you can enjoy the poem in Spanish. If not, I would urge you to get a GOOD translation of Lorca’s work. He is wonderful.

Vaca

Se tendió la vaca herida;
árboles y arroyos trepaban por sus cuernos.
Su hocico sangraba en el cielo.

Su hocico de abejas
bajo el bigote lento de la baba.
Un alarido blanco puso en pie la mañana.

Las vacas muertas y las vivas,
rubor de luz o miel de establo,
balaban con los ojos entornados.

Que se enteren las raíces
y aquel niño que afila su navaja
de que ya se pueden comer la vaca.

Arriba palidecen
luces y yugulares.
Cuatro pezuñas tiemblan en el aire.

Que se entere la luna
y esa noche de rocas amarillas:
que ya se fue la vaca de ceniza.
Que ya se fue balando
por el derribo de los cielos yertos
donde meriendan muerte los borrachos.

— Federico García Lorca

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Language, Blonds, and Beans

A view of Gijón from its outskirts.

A view of Gijón from its outskirts.

In my current neighborhood, there are Spanish-style houses, mountains, and moss. Snails travel fences and steep wooded trails. At the bottom, the beach. It’s as if Ibagué, Colombia (my birthplace), and Connecticut (my former home) had coalesced. It’s akin to the way we commingle people and facts in our dreams. In my dreams, my mother (four years gone this month) is alive and dead, and we’re all in our house in New York. Aunts whom I’ve never met and my grandmother, who died 30 years prior to my birth, are also there. And I’m present, invisible, and omnipresent. That’s the strangeness I feel in Gijón.

One of many trails in the area.

One of many trails in the area.

Growing up in the U.S., I’ve been conditioned to expect that people with fair skin, blond or red-hair, and European features speak English. Here, most everyone matches that description, yet it’s Spanish they speak. But the Spanish is different to my ear.

When I was little, my maternal aunts would chide me: “Hable Catellano!” Speak Castilian! But the language I speak is not quite the Castilian of Asturias. In Colombia, the soft c’s and z’s are pronounced as s’s. Here, they’re pronounced like “th’s.” On my fourth week in Spain, saying gracias as “grathias” has become second nature. Other words do not come as easily. If I paused to think about the spelling of the words, I could pronounce them like a continental, but who pauses to analyze spelling in mid conversation? So, I confuse my c’s, z’s, and s’s.

There are other things that peg me as an alien. Last week, for instance, I decided to purchase white beans at the local market. In Colombia, beans are fríjoles. In the Dominican Republic, they’re called habichuelas. The Spaniards don’t use either name. I was clueless. I pointed to the lower shelf behind the counter. “Los blancos,” the white ones, I told the shopkeeper. She pointed to a jar of garbanzos. “No, not garbanzos, the white things,” I said.

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