Saturday, August 27, 2016

Big honkin' trucks. America's got 'em

PAMPLONA, Spain -- We just returned to Spain after two months in the U.S., and nothing impressed me more than the size of the popular pickup trucks, like this one, the Ford F-150.

The Ford F-150 is the most popular vehicle sold in the U.S.

This is one big truck for tough guys who like to work hard. It has "military-grade aluminum alloy", according to the ads. But don't let anyone kid you.  

This truck is also for soccer dads and soccer moms, because right after telling you how tough it is, the ads tell you that it's the safest ever. Chevrolet's competing model the Colorado is advertised as "tough" for the dads and "refined" for the moms. Brilliant marketing.

The Ford F-150 has been the top selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than 30 years.

In my unscientific, completely random, totally unreliable survey of what I thought I was seeing in the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and (mostly) Ohio and Michigan was that folks use these crew-cab pickups to commute to work, run errands, shuttle kids, and haul big toys like all-terrain vehicles (3,270-pound payload for the F-150).

All the manufacturers make their biggest profit margins on trucks and SUVs. This is because buyers' emotions take over. Ford reported that its record profits earlier this year were due to aggressively pricing their trucks.    

When logic goes out the window, salespeople can charge more. Mr. Money Moustache, the original cheapskate, has a very funny take on the whole business of Americans buying trucks. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The giants of Pamplona's Basque culture

Giants are a part of the festival of San Fermin, which takes place July 6-14.

The community center where I swim had a couple of 13-foot giants on display last week, and a sign said they would be "dancing" as part of a neighborhood Basque culture festival. Cindy and I decided to go check it out (50-second video below).

Pamplona is politically outside the Basque Autonomous Region (we're in Navarra), but the northern part of the city is culturally very Basque. We live in Etxacaboiz (etch-a-ka-BOYTZ), on the border with Barañáin, a couple of good Basque place names. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

It's “less than three weeks”, not “fewer than”

The stylebooks are wrong on the rule about less/fewer.

Here is an excerpt from a Reuters story about the Egypt Air crash that made me cringe:
The recorders are designed to emit acoustic signals for 30 days after a crash, giving search teams fewer than three weeks to spot them in waters up to 9,840-feet (3,000 meters) deep, which is on the edge of their range.
It should read “less than three weeks”.

The stylebooks say that you should use “fewer” for things that you can count and “less” for things you don’t count. You can count one, two, three weeks.

But I am with Grammar Girl on this one. She says,
Time, money, distance, and weight are often listed as exceptions to the traditional “can you count it” rule because they take less, but when you use the “singular or plural” rule, time, money, distance, and weight all fall in line.
She has a couple of excellent examples to make the case that you should use “less” rather than “fewer” in those cases.
  • We had less than $1,000 dollars in the bank.
  • We’re less than 50 miles away.
  • I can fix the roof in less than 12 hours.
The number of dollars is one amount of money. The number of miles is one distance. The number of hours is one period.

And I’ll add this one: All the wrestlers in that class have to weigh less than 140 pounds. “Fewer” would sound absurd in that case and is, of course, wrong.


Sunday, April 03, 2016

Roman holiday in western Spain

Cindy inside the Moorish fortress in Mérida. The Visigoths built on top of the Roman fort, and the Moors built on top of that. Then came the Catholic kings . . . .
From the northeast of Spain where we live, Pamplona, to the wilds of Extremadura in the southwest is about eight hours by train or by car. We wanted to visit Mérida, which was an important Roman city 2,000 years ago and has many of the best preserved buildings from that era anywhere.

Extremadura is also famous for its hams, which come from pigs that run free and feed on acorns (bellotas). In the supermarket, Iberian ham runs for about $20 a pound. But the special purebred black pigs raised on certain farms produce hams that fetch $500 a pound or so in Japan and England.

Think Ben Hur

During Roman times, people in what is now western Spain were crazy for horse racing -- cuadrigas, or four-horse chariots, were the Formula 1 of the time -- and the horses from that part of Spain were famous throughout the empire for their speed and endurance. Many of the best charioteers to compete in the Roman Colosseum came from this region.

The Circus Maximus in Mérida was not excavated until the 19th century. It's about a half mile long, so it is comparable in length to a harness racing track. It could seat about 30,000 people.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Latin dancing in Germany, Cologne cathedral and Berlin

We spent two weeks over Christmas visiting daughter Bridget in Northwest Germany, specifically Gelsenkirchen (blue marker). Took a trip to visit the fantastic Cologne cathedral (yellow marker) and spent three days in freezing Berlin (red marker). (You can zoom in on the map for more detail).

The most fun was getting to see her dance "Swan Lake" (left) in a choreography that she created, and to meet some of the dancers and colleagues.

After the New Year's Eve performance of "Swan Lake", Bridget had a party at her apartment. The Brazilians and the Cubans from the dance company, and their compatriots, got things moving on the dance floor.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Virgin of Guadalupe reveals a language mystery

The image of the Virgin in the Basilica in Mexico City.
Here in Spain my colleagues sometimes kid me on my use of Mexican expressions.

Mexicans have a tendency to add the diminuitive suffix -ito or -ita to many words in ordinary conversation: your close friends might be your "amiguitos" (little friends), "Aquí tienes algún papelito" (here's some little paper for you) or "Ven aquí en la sombrita" (come on over here in the little shade).

So sometimes I might say, "tomemos una cervecita" (let's have a little bottle of beer), "vamos por un cafecito" (let's get a little cup of coffee).

I wondered about why this tendency was so common in Mexico but not in Spain. I think I discovered the reason while reading a book about the Virgin of Guadalupe -- the most revered religious figure in  Mexico and much of Latin America.

It was a translation into Spanish of the original text from the Aztec language, Nahuatl, describing the Virgin's miraculous appearance to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531 and the sign she left him -- her image on his tunic.

In the Spanish translation from Nahuatl, Juan Diego calls Mary, "my Little Virgin" (mi Virgencita) and she calls him "my little son" (mi hijito). It turns out that the translator was struggling to find an equivalent in Spanish for the Aztec suffix -tzin, which means something like "beloved" or "revered" but also is used for children and pets. So the translator used the closest Spanish equivalent, the diminuitive suffix, -ita or -ito.

Nahuatl is still spoken by more than 1 million Mexicans, and the linguistic tendency has lived on, so that when people are being friendly, they use the diminuitive for all kinds of everyday things.

English translators of Nahuatl have the same problem, as described in an article about the original text describing the Virgin's miracle:

A challenge for the English translator is the suffix -tzin, heavily used in this text. On the one hand, it is a diminutive, used for children and pets. On the other hand it is reverential, used for lords and gods. And sometimes it seems to be thrown in merely to show that the situation, the audience, or the text itself is classy or much loved or both. It is inaccurate to equate -tzin routinely with the Spanish diminutive, which is more limited in scope, although probably somewhat expanded in Colonial Mexico under the influence of Nahuatl usage.

So my use of the diminuitive sounds funny here to my colleagues. They enjoy kidding me about other Mexican expressions. For example, the professors refer to the students here as "chavales", roughly "kids", while in Mexico we called them "chavos/chavas". Add that to my soft Latin American accent (not as guttural on the "j" sound, softer consonants), and I am charming without even having to try.

If your Spanish is good and you really want to explore the many variants of diminuitives in Nahuatl, I recommend this four-page excerpt from a book by Jose Ignacio Davila Garibi, who wrote extensively about Nahuatl in the 1920s and '30s. (Thanks to Angel Arrese for calling my attention to it.)

Hillary Clinton and the Virgin 

When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state in 2009, she made a visit to the basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City where Juan Diego's tunic bearing the Virgin's image is framed and displayed (see my photo above).

Despite the vast intelligence-gathering resources of the United States government, and the enormous staff at Hillary's disposal, she made a horrible gaffe. She asked the priest who was explaining the image to her, "Who painted it?" The priest replied, "It was God painted it."

The Mexican press let her off easy. Since Hillary and Bill are people they like, they wrote it off as an itty-bitty error.


Basque language has mysterious origins
When you say "Tepotzotlán", it's like magic 
How to spend nine weeks in Europe without losing your shirt
Columbus Day story: How he brought me to Spain
20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain
In Pamplona, they party like it's 1591 
Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite
Cordoba's main attraction: mix of Jewish, Moorish, Christian cultures  

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Celebration for Francis Xavier, born nearby, patron saint of Navarra

At a Christmas market in the bull ring.
PAMPLONA, Spain -- Today, Dec. 3, is a public holiday in all of the province of Navarra to celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier, who was born in the nearby town of Javier (just another way of spelling Xavier). He has been one of two official patron saints of the province since 1622. The other is San Fermin, whose feast day is connected with that thing they do with the bulls every July.

Francisco Javier (pronounced hah-vee-AIR) was one of the first disciples of St. Ignatius Loyola and the priestly order he founded, the Society of Jesus -- the Jesuits. Francis traveled around Japan, China, and India baptizing and converting thousands.

This year, the newly elected leftists decided to break with tradition and not host a mass honoring the saint in his birthplace, some 40 minutes away by car. That sort of thing should be the job of the church, not the government, said the new president of the provincial partliament. Instead, the secularists stayed home, campaigned for another upcoming election, and gave a medal to a local historian.