It definitely feels like Autumn is here. These huge clouds appeared this afternoon over the hills to the east. Yeah, there's a bit of Photoshop there but my camera seemed incapable of capturing their majesty.
John at Iberian Notes has a post about the new national newspaper, Público, which launches tomorrow. Apparently, El Mundo (that reasoned, impartial organ) reckons that Público will be "clearly to the left of El País". I'm not sure what this means, given that El País isn't a particularly left-wing paper (it has some pretty radical columns from time to time but nothing as extreme as you'd see in El Mundo).
John's clearly worried about Público. His response: "Great, just what Spain needs, another America-bashing Zap mouthpiece spouting sustainability, solidarity, and surrender". Right, because sustainability and solidarity are such malevolent forces in the world today. The only problem I have with my sustainable solidarity is when it gets in the way of my surrender. Or is that the other way around? Sounds like I should stick to El Periódico.
My wife and I have spent the last few days in Tarragona, the family town. Sadly, this was due to the death of Gemma's 96 yr. old grandmother, Maria Teresa ("l'Avia", or "grandma"). It was, understandably, a moving and draining experience. It was also the first funeral I've ever attended as an adult, let alone outside England.
Maria Teresa was an amazing woman who lived a life full of happiness, sadness and imagination. Born in 1911 in Tarragona, she lived through huge changes in her town and country, from the industrialisation of Tarragona, through the 2nd Republic, the Civil War and following repression, to democracy, bereavement and 9/11… she witnessed so much and had so many stories, you wouldn't believe. A prolific (though mostly unpublished) writer, she won the first poetry prize in Tarragona. She was also, apparently, the first woman in Tarragona to get a driving license. She frequently recounted her memories of having the vote taken away from her, as well as the restrictions imposed on her and her family during the dark early days of the dictatorship – but all these sad memories were tempered with her great love for her husband, sons and grandchildren, as well as her business life and her writing.
She had a heart attack on Monday and was admitted to hospital. Gemma went to see her immediately and found her animated – even nervous. That said, she was still perfectly lucid and was pleased to hear about, among various subjects, the state of Gemma's parents' new bathroom and the arrangements for Santa Tecla (Tarragona's festa major). Her breathing became difficult, until she received the last rites when she apparently relaxed before passing away.
On Thursday, the family met at the tanatorio – basically a mortuary. This was a pretty harrowing experience for everyone (particularly for Gemma and her father). In England, it's no longer normal to present the recently deceased in an open coffin and while for some it clearly offers some 'closure', I don't think anyone who passed into that darkened alcove felt any better for seeing Maria Teresa.
Yesterday was the funeral. It was a very Catholic affair (Maria Teresa was a devout churchgoer and the guardian of a chapel in the city's cathedral). I was struck by the way that the service seemed to be more about Jesus than the person we were all there for. Toward the end of the service, Gemma read a prize-wining poem that Maria Teresa had written for her grandmother. It was an immensely emotional moment. Personally, I had an apple-sized lump in my throat for hours afterwards.
The final part of the ceremony took place at the cemetery. Maria Teresa was laid to rest with her husband who died nearly 28 years before her. Some family members couldn't bear attending this part of the ceremony – partly due to something quite shocking that occurred when Gemma's grandfather was buried. Apparently, previous to the interment, the last occupant of the niche had been removed and their bones smashed to pieces in front of the mourners. It seems unbelievably insensitive that someone would do that… fortunately, this gruesome task was performed prior to our arrival this time.
Gemma and her dad decided to have an English-style wake, which involves drinks, food and singing. This went down very well with the attendant mourners – friends and family celebrating would definitely have been what Maria Teresa would have enjoyed. She was a great woman who'll be sadly missed.
MARIA TERESA PUIG ALTES 1911-2007
One of the silliest changes which occurred during the ignominious years of the dictatorship was the re-hispanicisation of Catalan place names. Lleida became 'Lerida', Girona 'Gerona' and my town, Cerdanyola del Vallès became 'Sardañola del Vallés'. While many of these names had existed previously (see 1929's Plaza de España in Seville), these towns changed their names officially during a time when Catalan was officially discouraged.
Now, they're not used at all. While some older people from a more 'Castilian' background may still use the Spanish versions, the Generalitat and the Spanish government now exclusively use Catalan toponyms, probably for a mixture of reasons. I figure that the main reason behind using Catalan toponyms is that having two names for a place would be silly. Especially when the Castilian toponym is rarely if ever used.
Or so I thought. I happened to take a look at the Spanish wikipedia entry for Cerdanyola del Vallès and was surprised to see that it redirects to a page called 'Sardañola del Vallés'. Weird, I thought: that's not the name I recognise for this town. Those of you who are regular Wikipedia users will be aware that there are a lot of rules in place which govern the naming of articles, 'point of view', sources and so on. Before clicking on the 'discussion' page, I was fairly confident that this naming convention would have caused some dissent – and I wasn't disappointed.
The crux of the argument that is laid out in defence of the Castilian spelling is that the Spanish Wikipedia does not use foreign language toponyms. For example, Bangkok is not referred to as "Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit", it's called Bangkok. Girona redirects to 'Gerona', but as with Cerdanyola, notes that the Catalan naming convention is also the official one. As supporting source for the Castilian toponym, one or two books are offered, but other editors note that these books simply repeat the spellings used during the Franco years rather than establish a modern precedent for a Castilian toponym.
I'd argue (though I haven't ventured to do so in the pages of Wikipedia) that while in the cases of Gerona and Lerida, there is some historical precedent for the use of a Castilian toponym (both are provincial capitals and as such were considered important enough to have Spanish names; Sardañola del Vallés is nothing more than a translation, invented for political reasons and within living memory. I'd also argue that given that the Castilian toponym is never used, and that the Spanish government and the National Institute of Statistics both use the standard 'Cerdanyola del Vallès', the Castilian toponym is nothing more than a relic of days gone by. Finally, in Spain, it is up to towns and Autonomous Regions to decide official names. According to both the Town Hall and the Generalitat, the official name of this place is Cerdanyola del Vallès. It seems to me that there is little linguistic or toponymic justification for the Wikipedia entry.
But what's in a name, anyway?
Read this excellent article about the bizarre website, the Vagina Institute. Samara Ginsberg, whose blog is also well worth a look, delved into the site's clear belief that there is a vaginal ideal to which women should aspire. Having a look at the site (obviously, not safe for work), I get the distinct impression that it's the work of a man. It has a fairly smart design, but contains many obvious spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as some fairly unnecessary close-up photos. Though it claims that it wants to help women to understand more about their bodies, it became obvious almost immediately that the real aim of the site is to trick women into insecurity and even cosmetic surgery.
Regular visitors to thebadrash.com (yes, both of you) may have noticed the image I have in my sidebar. The words (and the intention) are fairly clear: "This machine kills fascists". What may not be immediately obvious is the source of the image. It's a cropped version of a great photo of Woody Guthrie, the slogan sellotaped to his guitar.
I've long had a great respect for Guthrie. His songs about the country, the working class and especially the Spanish Civil War are simple, sweet and genuinely life affirming. Sadly, many of my favourite songs (like the one about the battle for the valley of Jarama) were recorded either on a tight budget or live, with bad equipment. Guthrie, of course, was one of Bob Dylan's greatest influences – and while I adore numerous Dylan songs, Guthrie came from a simpler time when the fight for workers' rights still felt like it could be won.
The concept of a guitar killing fascists came so far before the popular rock bands of the 1960's. Its representation of the idea of expression destroying repression is still valid today. I wonder if you can buy his records in China.
I've always thought that musicians like Ted Nugent who openly eschew the rock'n'roll philosophy are cheating themselves as much as they cheat the people who buy their records. Whether they like or not, they owe their careers to the work of people like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. They remind me of the fascists who sometimes demonstrate in Madrid: there's something weird about right wingers adopting the discourse of the left to promote their ideas. I'm not trying to claim ownership of a means of protest. I just think it's kind of perverse when arseholes use methods they'd happily ban if they had the chance.
Nugent, incidentally, is a fairly odd individual. His music is terrible, he's involved in 'hunting' trips which consist of killing creatures whose meat isn't eaten, and he obtained custody of a 17 year-old girl so he could continue fucking her. Like I say, odd chap.
I've been switched on to the concept of blog solidarity today. Apparently, it's where you name seven other blogs with whom you feel that you share a sense of solidarity, presumably on the basis of politics, ideas and quality of writing. Graeme at South Of Watford was kind enough to name me as one of his choices. Funnily enough, I once penned an effusive blog post about South Of Watford which never saw the light of day. I was on the verge of declaring it 'the champion of Spanish blogs' or something when I realised that I had possibly been drinking. Naturally, I regret choosing not to publish the post as Graeme has now successfully trumped me. Thanks for the honour.
So now I'm left to pick six other blogs with which I feel solidarity.
My first choice is Chis's Le Flâneur. Though we don't agree on everything, I always think that we're trying to help each other toward the right direction. Sadly, he still doesn't realise that I'm right.
I'll do my best to add more soon.