27 Apr 2009

Now what?!

Oh dear:Oops! There goes my plan for writing up my thesis! Now what do I do?! :p

26 Apr 2009

Arab influence in the languages of the Iberian Peninsula

While writing the previous post I called my mom up to confirm the date of the Moorish invasion of Spain (711), preferring human contact to the dryness of cyberspace. :p Apparently it resulted in her doing a bit of web-browsing and she just e-mailed me the link to a very interesting article on the influence of the Moorish invasion on the development of the Romance languages in the Peninsula, as well as the incorporation of certain arab terms to Spanish languages.

If you're at all interested in history (particularly that of Spain), or linguistics (particularly Spanish) then I recommend you go check it out at the Cervantes Virtual Library (in Spanish / Castilian):

La invasión árabe. Los árabes y el elemento árabe en español

In brief, it mentions how the Spanish Romance languages (i.e. Castilian, Catalan...) developped in regions that were soon reconquered after the invasion (the north: Asturian mountains and the Pyrenees) while in Islamic Spain (the Kingdom of Al-Andalus) arab was spoken in parallel to a Mozárabe dialect which has since been lost. Arabic is so different to Latin languages that there was no real fusion of the two to create a unique Spanish Latin-Arab tongue, but the traces of the arab presence can be found in many words (and the names of many towns and regions such as Alicante).

For example, many spanish words starting with al are actually a fusion of the arabic al -which is an article- to the Latin root word: almeja (ar. al- + lat. mitulu the mussel).
Also a result of arab influence was the changing of meaning of certain latin terms to reflect the equivalent in arabic. The much used (in the Middle Ages and Renaissance) term hidalgo which denotes the person to be honorable, of noble lineage, comes from fidalgo, hijodalgo and finally hijo (son) which corresponds the arab term ibn meaning "son of" or "related to" (kind of like "Mac" or "Mc" do in Ireland and Scotland).
Then there are the words (~4000) that were directly imported into Spanish (and from there to other languages) from Arabic, covering all fields of human activity such as:
* Science: algorítmo, cifra, álgebra, alcohol, elixir...
* Institutions: alcalde, alguacil...
* Commercial activities: tarifa, aduana, almoneda, zoco...
* Construction: aldea, alcoba, albañil, alfombra...
* Domestic / Recreation: ajedrez, tare, taza, alfiler, almíbar...
* Agriculture (the arabs were truly innovative in this field, particularly in irrigation systems): acequia, aljibe...
* Plants: alcachofa, algodón, alfalfa, azafrán, azúcar, aceite...
* Mineral products: azufre...
* War (due to the continuous battles with the Christians): alcazar (castle-fortress), tambor, alférez, barbacana...
I'm sure you've recognised more than a few of these in the English language as well! (sugar, safron, sulfur, barbican, alcohol, algebra...)

After that it mentions mainly pronunciation which I won't go into. So much for being "brief"! Hope it was at least mildly interesting! ;o) To decorate I've chosen some photos I took during my last trip to Granada (I think I've only been about... 5 times?), in the Alhambra, one of the treasures of Arab architecture and my favourite place in Spain!.

Moros y Cristianos... a bit of Alicante madness!

I wanted to write about this rather peculiar and unique Spanish holiday last week, while I was participating in it, but too much work and getting over the fiesta itself kind of put a damper on my writing time!
Flag bearers of various Comparsas and the town of San Vicente starting off the parade.

Although celebrated in some other areas of the country, Moros y Cristianos is an event almost unique to the province of Alicante (previous link for wikipedia, more details at the Spanish wikipedia). It's a festival that commemorates the reconquest of Spain during the Middle Ages, a process that took seven centuries after the initial Arab invasion in 711. It officially ended in January 1492 when the "Reyes Católicos" Isabel and Ferdinand conquered Granada, the final Moorish kingdom in the Peninsula. As an anecdote, the treasure obtained by this victory, and the elation of the victory in itself, was the necessary boost for Isabel to give a certain Cristobal Colón the green light for an expedition to find a route to the Indies by sailing west... ;o) but I disgress!

What this festival/event recreates is the capture of Spanish territory (usually the town in which it's held) by the Moors, and then the reconquest by Christian troops (usually under the guidance of a Saint, most notably St George) a few centuries later. This is represented by a series of parades in which the "armies" of Moors drive out the Christians, that evening there is a "battle" and then the next day the Christian "armies" drive out the Moors. People (from kids to their grandparents) in the town belong to a "Comparsa" (an "army" or "battalion"?), either Moorish or Christian (Moors are usually more popular due to the more elaborate costumes), and pay a tidy sum of money to cover the expense of their costumes, and the maintenance of their headquarters where they get together to plan the event, organise dinners and during the holiday itself get together to feast and party (and drink like sponges!) after the parades. The comparsas have mostly historically significant names (from different moorish kingdoms or tribes, different Spanish kingdoms or Christian armies). They each have their typical costume/uniform, but sometimes they wear more elaborate ones, particularly if that year they have the honour of being the first or last group in the parade. The first group gets the "Capitanía", or captainship / kingship, the leader of the armies. Last group gets the "Alferecía", I guess the King's General? There's one of each for both Moors and Christians, and the roles get rotated between the different groups over the years (and within the group someone is designate capitán or alférez or embassador). These four comparsas usually have much bigger representation on the parade that year, with the "boato" composed of dancers and extra musicians (every group is accompanied by marching bands) and sometimes acrobats (depends on their budgets). Traditionally a more religious event (with an important role played by the local patron Saint), over the past several decades it has become much more festive and the traditions (such as allowing women to participate) become a bit more lax (in many towns, not all, see Alcoy).

Lasting several days, the big event is over 2-3. Day 1 hosts the parade with the Christians starting first followed by the Moors who are "chasing" them out of town. That evening there is an "embassy" where the Moorish Captain (or King, depends on town) sends his Ambassador to the Christian Captain/King and promises leniency to the population if they surrender (lots of proclamations in old Spanish, sounds very poetic!). As this never happens a "battle" ensues. The Christian troops are chased by the Moors, each shooting in the air an old firearm (arcabuz, dunno the translation, think renaissance-type musket) loaded with gunpowder, and damn those things are NOISY!!! The Captains continue the affair with a swordfight, ending with the Moors taking over the Castle. Then the next day the same events take place in the opposite order: first Moors being chased out by Christians, with in the evening (or next day) again the battle for the castle. At some point there will also be a flower offering by the different groups to the patron Saint.

In two towns in the Province the event has been declared of "International Touristic Interest": Alcoy (the most famous -and spectacular- with an important tradition passed down from father to son, held for over 150yrs during the feast of St George -San Jordi- on April 23rd) and La Villajoysa (in July, they actually set up a "desembarco" or "landing" of the Moorish troops!). I've never been to the holiday in La Vila, but I have been up to Alcoy twice and yes it is magnificent (but rather crowded)! But although the parades are always open to anyone willing to stand for several hours along the parade route (in some places you can find chairs), these fiestas are very much a local event, and if you want to get a real "feel" for them (and have a damn good party that night) then usually you need to know someone involved. So although Alcoy is supposedly the "place to be" for Moros y Cristianos, I prefer going to San Vicente del Raspeig (has celebrated "Moros" for almost 30yrs), the town smack next to Alicante (separated by the highway) where I have several friends who belong to Moorish Comparsas. And as I don't feel like scanning my old photos from Alcoy, all the ones you'll see here are from SanVi this year.

One of the main benefits of going to San Vicente for "Moros" (other than I have a place to crash for the night) is that it always takes place on a weekend! The Patron Saint honoured during the event is San Vicente Ferrer, whose feast day is the Monday a week after Easter (Alcoy is always around Apr. 23, San Jordi, they get all that week a holiday). And believe me, when participating fully in the madness that is "Moros" you need a day (or two, or three) to recover! In my case... I just saw the parades Sat & Sun (this year they decided to have each group parade just once, Cristians on Sat, Moors on Sun) as well as the "Embassy" Sat night, and only went out that night... well all day Monday I was still feeling like a zombie! Must have had something to do with the fact that I only slept 3h the day before (went to bed at 9am Sun, got up at noon). ;o) But the "ambiance" makes for some of the best parties I've ever been to!!! The music just keeps you dancing until the DJ gets tired and kicks you out by turning the music off and the lights on (between 5 and 7 am depending on the Comparsa where you're at).

The pictures in this post are some I took last year during Moros 2008. Those on the right are Christian comparsas, those on the left Moorish. Over the next day or two I'll put up some photos from 2009 to illustrate all this for you, and if I can find some video or musical material online as well. Hope it makes all my bla-bla-bla come alive! ;o)
Woah! Browsing the web in search of a "poster" from this year's holiday (which I haven't found), I've come across a blog dedicated to Moros y Cristianos! If you want to try out your Spanish, go check on Fiestas de Moros y Cristianos, they've gone into great detail about Alcoy's holiday this year, with plenty of pictures from there and other towns, and I've found one of Arcabuceros!!! So go see what that weapon looks like and if anyone knows the name in English please tell me! And hey! they've got a post on the final battle in San Vicente which I missed (daytime session, I had classes to teach, sigh!). Some good daylight shots of the "fighting" (enjoy, mine are all at night so dark and fuzzy!)

23 Apr 2009

Día del Libro!

Did you know it's World Book Day / Día Internacional del Libro today?!

Literature and those who bring it to us have been celebrated on this day since the UNESCO declared it so in 1995. Although we must have been ahead of the times in Spain since it's been celebrated on this date since 1930 (particularly in Cataluña).

So why April 23rd? What's the big deal with this one date? Well, talk about major coincidences... turns out that two cornerstones of Western Literature died on the same day! Any guesses as to whom??? Those would be Shakespeare and Cervantes, one in England and the other in Spain, but both died on April 23 1616. Definitely a date to be marked!

So what are you waiting for?! Go out and read a book already!!!

And leave me a comment to tell me what you're currently reading! ;o)

From the UNESCO website:
"23 April: a symbolic date for world literature for on this date and in the same year of 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Maurice Druon, K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo. It was a natural choice for UNESCO's General Conference to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. The idea for this celebration originated in Catalonia where on 23 April, Saint George's Day, a rose is traditionally given as a gift for each book sold."

->Actually the tradition is that girls give guys a book and guys give girls a rose. Much as I like roses, I think we lose out on that deal! :p

22 Apr 2009

Happy Earth Day!!!

Hmmm... although looking it up in Wikipedia turns out this date is only marked in the U.S., elsewhere we get a different date. Oh well, any excuse is a good excuse to stop and think about this ball of rock we live on and the impact we have on the rest of the biosphere!

So just take a moment to think about your lifestyle and see if you can spot things that need improving in the environmental domain. Do you separate your trash? Recylce? Remember to turn off unnecessary lights around the house? Not over-heat nor over-cool your living space?

Every little bit counts!

I'm going to sign off with a reminder of some of the beauty to be seen around us... particularly in Spring, and even in such an arid region as the one I live in.


Mimosas in bloom:

New growth on a tree felled by a storm last winter:
Mediterranean pine Pinus halepensis:
Teeny, tiny flowers on a willow tree (¿? at least I think it's a willow... trees aren't my forte!)

And this one I have no idea what kind of tree it is (other than a member of the Leguminosa family due to those seeds), but just love it because of its beautiful Spring colours!

Note the 3 seasons on one branch:

dried seed husks from last fall,early spring pink/purple flowers, and green summer leaves that are already starting to take over...

20 Apr 2009

Movie Madness: Looking forward to the Blockbuster Season!

It's so frustrating the way Hollywood seems to have divided up the year into 3 movie seasons: Blockbusters in the summer, "Serious" or "Prestige" films (i.e. Oscar-bait) in the fall and early winter, and then mostly lame, empty films in late winter and early spring (with the occasional surprise). This often results in my not finding much to tempt me into the movie theatres for almost half a year, whereas during the other half I'm running around like crazy 'cause I don't have time to get to all the movies I want to see! Thankfully here in Europe (or Belgium and Spain where I've been living these past x years) I've also got European fare (and every once in a while something from even further away) to help me tide over the doldrums (and make the rest of the year even more hectic). Then there's also the fact that although most of the "big" blockbusters (i.e. the tentpoles) have a single international release date, all the other films get spread out over the calendar a bit better here than they do in the U.S. (this has allowed me to catch up to some of this winter's "serious" fare recently).

So, why this sudden movie-calendar rant? Well, I came across a couple of articles (Summer 2009 Preview, parts 1 and 2) by Noah Forrest over at Movie City News (part of his column "The Frenzy on the Wall") that reminded me that we're due for a change in the movie weather, and that Blockbuster Season is about to start!

Now I'll be the first to admit that most summer blockbusters are like a meringue, full of air and empty inside... but aren't meringues yummy?! Sure, an overdose will send you to the dentist with cavities, but there's something about them that keeps us going back for more. It could be looking for the one gem in the bunch (some damn fine movies have been discovered in blockbuster season, in spite of all their booms and bangs and shiny lights), or it could be just looking forward to some pure 100% escapist entertainment that lets us just forget the world for a couple of hours and enjoy the movie/actors/effects etc. You could be looking forward to the next instalment in a series (and we know how much HWd likes those!), happy to be reunited with old friends. Or you could be intrigued by such and such excellent (previously "serious") actor and wonder whether they've sold their soul for a paycheck or are actually guiding you to a top-notch blockbuster. Whatever the reason, this is the season the movie industry depends on to make most of its profits, what with holidays (so more time available to go) and possibilities of repeat viewings. These movies cost a fortune to make (sometimes up to 10x the budget of a "serious" film), but they're hoping to get that back and more... at least enough times to cover the ones who end up losing money (inevitable, some of them are really crap!).

So I've been going through Noah's calendar of movie releases (dates for the U.S. obviously; we'll see how long it takes them to cross the Atlantic), and these are the ones I'm most looking forward to (clicking on titles leads to trailers on YouTube -for those I could find). How 'bout checking into the comments and sharing the films you're looking forward to this summer?!
* Wolverine (May 1)- Why? 1- I really enjoyed the X-Men movies (the 3rd not so much) with their great balance of a meaningful story, good acting and smashing special effects. 2- Hugh Jackman! ;o) 3- I actually saw parts of this being filmed when vacationing in New Zealand last year (South Island stands in for British Columbia apparently)!!! So I'm going to be scrutinising the film to recognise landscapes, mountains and the farm and helicopter that I saw and were made to be blown up! :o)
* Star Trek (May 8)- O.k., I'll admit it, I'm a big Trekkie! Not so much a fan of the original series (I have trouble getting past how dated it feels), I grew up with Captain Picard and the crew of Next Gen, got caught up in intricate story-telling with DS9, enjoyed Voyager, and got bloody frustrated with the ending of Enterprise. And I am damn curious as to how they're going to "reboot" this mythic series. Looking forward to seeing both the "old" and the "new" Spock. And am looking forward to JJ Abrams action packed take on the origins of the first crew.
* Terminator Salvation (May 22)- If we ignore the 3rd movie (as the wonderful series The Sarah Connor Chronicles did!), we've got an excellent premise in the first two and some great storytelling (let's also ignore the bad 80s hair!). Moving this story forward, past Judgement Day, is risky. It becomes less "be careful, technology must be controlled, or it might some day take over the world", and more your typical post-apocalyptic scenario with a hero (our old friend John Connor) who is the last hope of the human race. And although it's been told before... I'm still looking forward to it! Christian Bale being the number one reason for that. Also curiosity as to how they'll move the story forward (in comparison to T:TSCC). Will miss the "Governator" though!
* Public Enemies (June 1)- Johnny Depp. Need I say more?! ;o) O.k. then, Christian Bale (double dose this summer, yes!)! Add in the lovely and talented Marion Cotillard and I'm really looking forward to Michael Mann's new period film about a bank robber! Hmm... this one actually doesn't feel like a summer flick, which is good news to me!
* Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 15)- Best book in the series (except perhaps for Prisoner of Azkaban), and from what you can glimpse in the trailers we're finally going to get some more quidditch!!! Am still pissed off at the studio for delaying this one... we should have had it at Thanksgiving!!! grrrrrr

* Julie and Julia (Aug 7)- Meryl Streep... she's good in anything! And Nora Ephron has brought us some delicious films in the past, so looking forward to her latest. Although from what I've read I'd better head straight to a meal after this one! It's said to make you hungry what with all the cooking and food on display! ;o)
* Inglourious Basterds (Aug 21)- No those aren't typos, apparently it's the correct quirky spelling for Tarantino's latest explosive outing. I'm not a huge Tarantino fan (I tend to cringe at excessive effusions of blood), I just judge each film as it comes. But the trailer looks like a hoot and after Burn After Reading I'm looking forward to Brad Pitt showing his acting chops in another odd-ball role!
* The Boat That Rocked (Aug 28)- new British comedy by director Richard Curtis (of Love, Actually and Notting Hill fame). All I know is the trailer is a blast and we'll be guaranteed at least 90' of excellent music! Am actually hoping we get this sooner as it is from this side of the pond... fingers crossed!

Am also curious about (but wary of):
* Angels and Demons - Dan Brown is a lousy author who knows how to weave a good yarn, but once you know how it all ends revisiting it is boring. Still curious about it, wondering if Tom Hanks will be as wooden and artificial as in DaVinci Code... will probably wait for the dvd.
* Up, new Pixar outing. Every year I drag my heels at going to see these, each time I come out pleasantly surprised!
* Whatever Works - New Woody Allen film... Hmm... never sure what to expect from him with his recent work. Loved Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Admired Cassandra's Dream. Loathed Scoop. Good points for this movie: no Scarlett Johansson! :o)
* The Post Grad Survival Guide - no idea what this is about, but the title intrigues me! Stars Gilmore Girl Alexis Bledel.

Trekked out...

Note (26/05/09): am changing the date on this thing so it's no longer on the main page... damn thing can be a bit annoying if heard repeatedly! :p

oh my!...
So this is what I'd look / sound like as a Vulcan?! No thanks! :p

Create Your Own

17 Apr 2009

And here I thought release dates...

... were just a continental Europe problem (particularly in Spain).

And now I discover (via a Guardian interview) that Werner Herzog's latest Oscar-nominated documentary film Encounters at the End of the World is only now being released in the U.K.!!! Hmmm... that explains why I haven't been able to order the dvd off Amazon yet! :p

I saw this back in December (thankfully in VO, love Herzog's quirky german-accented English narration!) and thoroughly enjoyed it! So if anyone reading this is in the U.K. then head over to catch it on the big screen (those polar views deserve the big screen treatment). For those in the U.S. Netflix! And I'll keep on waiting for a zone 2 dvd to be available... I want to watch it again (and again and again) and then dive into the (hopefully) plentiful extras.

It's not another penguin-friendly film (although there's a potential penguin "suicide" sequence that is goose-bump inducing). Herzog says it himself in the introduction, he's interested in people, in what makes them tick, in what is it about them and about the Antarctic that makes them want to spend so much time in such a harsh and isolated environment. The cinematography is grandiose (with those landscapes how could it be otherwise?!). The underwater sequences are creepy. The film is moving, poetic and amusing; and speaking as one who has spent time on an Antarctic base... very real!

12 Apr 2009

Semana Santa

I'd say Spain's pretty well known at an international level for the Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations, namely all the processions that take place in various towns and cities, mostly in the south, some better known (i.e. tourism hot spots) than others. For those who don't know what it's all about, here's a glimpse into one of the biggest religious events of the year.

Holy Week takes place between Palm Sunday and the Saturday before Easter Sunday. It's a time to commemorate Christ's entrance to Jerusalem, his final days of life, including the Last Supper (Holy Thursday) followed by the Passion (Holy Friday) and then the Resurrection (Easter Sunday, starting the new liturgical year). In many places in Spain at this time you can practically breathe the religious atmosphere in the air thanks to the various processions, particularly in Murcia (not for the sculptures by Salzillo) and Andalucía and most small towns.

So what's the big deal with these processions? What are they all about? Despite my mom's going on and on about them when I was growing up, I didn't quite "get it" until I moved to Spain over a decade ago and my second Easter here was invited by a friend at college to spend the holiday with her in her (very small) town Cieza (province of Murcia). And there it hit me. WOAH! It's like I said earlier, you can breathe in the religious atmosphere with the air. Every day during Holy Week (except for Saturday) several "cofradías" (devout Catholics who come together in a Church and devote themselves to the care of one -or more- representations of Christ, the Virgin or the Saints) come together as a brotherhood and take the religious images (Christ, Virgin or Saint(s)) out of the Church and walk around town with them. These statues are placed on "thrones" (or floats), richly decorated with cloths, candles, flowers etc, and are CARRIED by the "nazarenos" (penitents and other people who carry the thrones or walk in front of them during the procession, they typically wear tunics and some kind of head covering -either a hood and/or a cone-shaped hat which represents a rapprochement with Heaven). They are usually accompanied by either a full marching band or just drums, and are followed by the parish priest and other religious authorities as well as any of the faithful who care to join in. Sometimes it's just one group going out, others several come together from different churches, but all in a certain order that makes religious sense. Basically it's like seeing the Gospels come to life before your eyes! The statues tell you a story. So my guess is the origins of this tradition had a double function: to give the people the chance to show their respects for the Christ/Virgin/Saints, but also as an educational tool, helping people visualise a story they couldn't read for themselves (as not only most people couldn't read, but the bibles were all in Latin!).

Some processions are rather joyful, particularly on Easter Sunday - La Gloria - when frequently they have the images "dancing" by jiggling the thrones, having them bow down, or even running with them. Others are more solemn, most notably that of the Passion on Holy Thursday at (or around) midnight, when the statue taken out is that of Christ Crucified. This one is usually called "La Procesión del Silencio" and is done in the dark (all the lights are turned off in the town along the procession's path, street lights included, only illumination comes from the penitents' candles) and in complete silence, only accompanied by the beat of a solitary drum. This one gives me goosebumps every single time (have seen 3).
It's definitely an experience I'd recommend living through at least once, whether you are religious or not. Best in smaller towns and of course Sevilla. But for the latter you'd better be ready to find a spot along the route to watch them from early on... some people show up hours before because it gets very crowded!

I took these pictures during two processions on Holy Thursday in Callosa d'en Sarriá, a small town in the south of Alicante, next to the Murcia border. The processions are supposed to be "better" in the neighbouring town of Orihuela, but we went here as a trip down memory lane for my mom. She lived in Callosa for a couple of years as a kid and participated in several processions after her confirmation.
The first shots are from the procession of the "Virgen de la Macarena" while the later ones are from the "Procesión del Silencio" that took place an hour later, both leaving from the Iglesia de San Martín. You can see them better (bigger) if you click on them.