May 14, 2011

Spain Vignettes: Poquito a poco entendiendo

May 6, 2011. Sevilla.

I woke up and got ready in the attached bathroom, and woke Attu up. After she came out, we woke Neeto. In the ruckus we were creating, the other three kids got up as well. The girl, who Attu thought was German because she was reading a German book, brushed and left with her bags. The young-looking kid got up and went out. I can’t remember if he brushed his teeth, but certainly hope he did. The third chap called Sebastian was from Chile. He looked remarkably like a young Raul. Yes, the only Raul that matters, to el madridismo.

We hadn’t eaten in more than 12 hours, and our dinner the previous night was barely a snack. I was mighty hungry and had to eat something, so I went to the other hostel building where the kitchen was. Attu decided to stay back and wait for Neeto. In the kitchen, there were four people. Sebastian and another guy called Sam, from Michigan. He had just finished school and was traveling before he resumed his job search. He had already spent 3 weeks in France. Like we all suspect, the French do not like to admit they know English until they have seen you try to speak in French. He said he had a great time in France, and his girlfriend had spent time in Paris with him. Tina was from Australia and asked where Sebastian was from. He said Chile (pronounced: chee-lay). She didn’t understand, and then when he repeated himself, she automatically corrected him “Oh, Chili!” she said. Sebastian shook his head and laughed “No one understands me when I say Chile”. Tina then realized her mistake “D’uh of course you would be pronouncing the place right, you are from there!”
The conversation turned to creepies and crawlies for some reason. Tina spoke about leeches, and how you had to get them off you with salt. I told them about how as a kid we were careful about leeches, and that the only way we thought it could be removed from your skin was by cutting it in half. I then spoke about the stink bug infestation. Sam mentioned how New York was teeming with bed bugs. Sebastian didn’t know what a bed bug was.

Sam and Sebastian had already spent the previous evening together, and were planning on walking around the city. Tina was traveling alone. She asked if she could join them. By then Neeto and Attu had arrived for breakfast. Sam asked if we wanted to join them too. Of course we did.

As it turned out, Sam had been on a walking tour the previous day. So we elected him our tour guide. He actually remembered quite a bit from his tour and was an excellent guide. We started at the house of the American painter who made the association of bull-fighting with Spain famous. He took us to a statue of Don Juan, the famous libertine, who apparently every region in Spain stakes claim to. There was also a ‘Don Juan’ terrace that he pointed to as a prominent theater, opera and movie reference for romantic scenes.

He showed us a cross on the side of a building. Two crosses actually, which were the sole surviving crosses from a devastating earthquake in the 17th century. He said while southern Spain was hailed as a melting pot of Jewish, Christian and Muslim populations, they had always lived in different parts of the city and didn’t mix. The Jewish quarter had narrow streets, designed to keep the buildings cool. There was one particular street, with five names. I noticed a shop with flamenco shawls at decent prices, which we would go back to later in the day. One of the names for the street was Calle de la muerte (death). The legend is that during the Christian annihilation of the Jews, there was a Jewish woman Susona, who told a Christian man that she loved, of her dad’s plans for armed response to the Christian murder of about 4000 Jews a few days prior. The man, a soldier, promptly informed his superiors, who were prepared when the Jewish response came. Susona’s entire family and roughly 2500 others perished, her love was not returned, and so she cut her head after asking that her skull be hung forever as a reminder to the people. The street was renamed Calle Susona and her skull hung there for about a hundred years. After which the city officials decided it was too gruesome to have the skull around and replaced it with a plaque instead.

We then walked to the Plaza Espana, where we saw women in flamenco dresses, and the cutest kid in a bright orange flamenco dress, which was arranged in such a fashion around her crib that it looked like she was swimming in frills. She took a few tentative steps, and as I lifted her up in my arms. Spanish parents, particularly in Andalucia seem to be fairly relaxed. I am not sure if I would have tried lifting a stranger’s kid in the US, but like another friend who visited these parts had said, it reminds you so much of home that you would dare to do so.

We found a menu del dia place for lunch.

Sam described how he met a Canadian guy in Madrid, who had remarked that he had met an American douche-bag earlier. Sam explained. Apparently, the Canadian had asked where the other American was from, and he said “Tennessee. Where are you from?”
The Canadian replied “Canada”.
D-bag: “Oh. I am sorry. Which part?”
“Quebec, a French-Canadian region”
“French-Canada? I am doubly sorry.”

We all wondered why such a small minded person would even bother try seeing the world. And heck, how can a guy that lives in Tennessee look down upon others?
Sam had been an exchange student in Chile, near Santiago, where Sebastian is from.
While we ate, I am not sure quite how this happened, but the conversation turned to how many languages were there in India. I said “Hmm more than 1400”. To Sebastian’s shocked face Neeto added “Well there are 18 official languages, but the rest includes dialects and other languages not in official use”. The concept seemed entirely alien to him.

“But why would you have that many languages?”
“Well we have a rich history, each people had their own language”

“But you are one country. Doesn’t it make things difficult, having that many languages?”
“Yes, but we are used to having a lot of languages”

“Why are you one country then?”
“Thanks to the British actually, they helped unite the many scattered kingdoms into the cause of the freedom struggle and unify the country under one identity”

“But if you have so many differences, do you have one identity, really?”
“We have other things to unify us besides language. The most recent example is when we won the Cricket world cup and that brought the country together in support of the team”

“Why can’t you just pick one language and do away with the others?”
We are completely shocked now, our turn at having an alien concept presented to us.
“So, firstly, our languages have existed for thousands of years and each major language is spoken by millions of people, you can’t really expect people to throw away their history because language is so much a part of you. Secondly, after Independence was won, our leaders promised that each language and religion will be respected and that’s why each region agreed to be part of the union. If not, we might have been many different little Indias today. That’s the idea of India. Pakistan, founded at the same time was based on a different idea, that of a Muslim state”.

I tried to remind him that even in Spain, for instance, four languages are spoken, Castilian, Catalan, Basque and another that I can never remember the name of (Galician and one more, Aranese). And there has historically been conflict because Franco tried to impose one language on the entire country. Sam then tried explaining to him that the Basque separatist movement was quite violent and ongoing. Actually, a few months ago, the ETA had agreed to lay down arms, but that was beside the point so I didn’t bring it up.

“What about religion?”
“Well, we don’t have an official religion, all the off-shoots of Hinduism are practised, and obviously the other major religions of the world”. We listed all of them. “At this table, one is a Sikh, the other two are Hindus..but we are not both the same Hindus, we practice our faith differently and celebrate different festivals”
“Like there are Episcopal, Presbyterian and other types of Christianity” Tina added.
Sebastian had some more questions about the movie industry, and yes, most of the major languages have their own movie industry as well.

Tina then talked about how her stomach had shrunk because of doing weed constantly for about 3 years, and Sebastian had some questions for her too. He explained, “I decided not to do weed anymore. I suffer from complete memory lapses when I do weed. I decided about 5 days ago”. To which I asked, “But what if you don’t remember that you decided not to do weed?” Cue laughter.

We dug into her spinach croquettas and caramel dessert because she couldn’t eat anymore. The food was decent, especially the arroz con mariscos dish which was placed in front of Attu and we had to remind her once again that if she didn’t eat quickly there wouldn’t be any food left for her to eat. When I tried to make sure Tina’s spinach croquettas didn’t have any beef, Sebastian asked about beef. Neeto said Muslims and Christians ate beef, as you would expect. He then asked what happened to the cow’s meat when they died of natural causes. Attu said they were cremated. I actually didn’t know what happened; I thought there was a black market for the meat or something of that sort, so I learnt something new as well.

After we had answered all his questions, he turned to Sam and said “I had never spoken to an Indian about India before today…. You learn a lot when you travel”.

Sam added “Especially when you travel alone”.


Title: Pokito a poko is a song by Chambao. Its one of my current favorites, and I was mighty pleased when the commie caseta in the Fiera played this song.

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