dimecres, 25 de novembre de 2009

Voluntaris per la llengua

My post today is dedicated to my mother, a "voluntària per la llengua"; a language volunteer in the capital city of my area, Figueres.

What is a language volunteer?
A language volunteer is someone who helps newcomers in Catalonia improving Catalan by giving them the opportunity to speak in this language in a natural context. Learners must have some knowledge of Catalan and volunteers have to be people who usually speak Catalan. Both should have a minimum of 1 free hour a week during 10 weeks. No BA, no MA, no certifications are needed: just the will to learn and to help learning.

Volunteers and learners or, simply "parelles lingüístiques" (language couples) meet, as I have pointed out, once a week at a place of their convenience. Some places (bars, restaurants, museums, etc) are volunteer-friendly and language couple might get discounts or special offers if they go there. A volunteer-friendly place will usually show this sticker near its door:

Besides meeting once a week to talk in Catalan, language couples are encouraged to take part in the cultural local activities promoted by the Consorci per la Normalització, Lingüística (Consortium for Linguistic Normalisation) which is the organisation in charge of coordinating the whole initiative.

Language volunteering is an initiative by La Generalitat (the Catalan government) to promote the use of Catalan. Though direct government implication in the programme began in 2003, the idea comes from university language volunteering, which began at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in 1996 and rapidly extended to other Catalan universities.

This is indeed a great way to promote Catalan, as opposed to boring, imposing language policies. Besides, volunteers and learners enrich themselves culturally and help the former see "the other" as an equal and the later can fully integrate in Catalonia, as the language will no longer be a barrier.

My mother became a language volunteer in March-April this year. She first was a volunteer for a very smart Moroccan girl until June and, since last week, she is a volunteer for a Colombian and a Polish girl. She is so happy people are eager to learn Catalan and she takes it very seriously. I believe she passed on this will to me too, as I am thinking to become a volunteer too! I just hope I find some free time ;).

By the way...my mother and "her" learners have become locally "famous" (just joking) because of this picture in one of the local newspapers in my area:
This is the main page of the local newspaper "Hora nova" (New hour).
My mother -in the centre- with the learners.

Hora Nova's main page taken from the paper's website
Voluntaris per la llengua official webpage: http://www.vxl.cat (only Catalan)

dissabte, 21 de novembre de 2009

Joan Salvat-Papasseit: simple is beautiful

There was a time, around the tenths of the 20th century, when Modernism gasped its last breath. Europe was shaking and art needed to reflect that: the time of the Avant-gardes busted out. They were a new form of art which was expressed in many different ways: Pablo Picasso chose Cubism; Edvard Munch, Expressionism; Salvador Dalí delighted the world with Surrealism, Joan Brossa tried new ways of linking sculpture and poetry, etc. And finally, Joan Salvat-Papasseit experimented in a new way of writing poetry called "cal·ligrames" or pattern poetry.

Joan Salvat-Papasseit was born in Barcelona in 1894. He came from a humble background and soon sympathized with socialism and anarquism. He wrote, besides social critique in Spanish and Catalan, beautiful and simple poetry. Unfortunately he was easily ill and died, aged only 30, of tuberculosis.

Although he didn't have a long life he left an imprint. His poetry is, as I have pointed out, usually simple and easy to understand; its plainness makes it survive across time. This is what makes it, in my opinion, wonderful and amazing: through easy words it is capable of creating very powerful images and awakening strong feelings in those who read it.

It is precisely for this fact that in the sixties Papasseit's words were recovered by Catalan songwriters of la Nova Cançó (the New Song) to raise their voice against Franco's dictatorship. What these songwriters did was putting music to Papasseit's poetry. One of his poems, "La casa que vull" was given music by the well-known musician Lluís Llach and, though I may not be able to fully appreciate it as I was born too late for that, I am sure its lyrics had enormous political power sang in front of an audience who claimed desperately for freedom.

Here you have the song and the lyrics:


La casa que vull,
que la mar la vegi
i uns arbres amb fruit
que me la festegin.

Que hi dugui un camí,
lluent de rosada,
no molt llunys dels pins
que la pluja amainen.

Per si em cal repòs
que la lluna hi vingui;
i quan surti el sol
el bon dia em digui.

Que al temps de l'estiu
niï l'oreneta
al blanc de calç ric
del porxo amb abelles.

Oint la cançó
del pagès que cava;
amb la salabror
de la marinada.

Que es guaiti ciutat
des de la finestra
que es sentin els clams
de guerra o de festa
per ser-hi tot prest
si arriba una gesta.


The house that I'd like,
the sea must see it
and surrounded
with trees and its fruit.

You'd get there through a path,
shining with fine dew,
not far from the pines
by the raindrops smoothed.

If I need some sleep
the moon will be shining;
and when the sun comes
he'll say me good morning.

And in summertime
the nest from the swallow
will be at the whitewashed porch
accompanying the bees.

I'd listen to the song
of the peasant digging;
I'd feel the salty air
from the deep blue sea .

I'd see town
from the window
I'd hear the buzz
of war and of feast
so I can get there
when something occurs.

As I have pointed out, Salvat-Papasseit is well-known and present in school nowadays. In fact, one of his book, "El poema de la rosa als llavis" (The poem with a rose on the lips) is a mandatory reading for students. Also, he is known for his "cal·ligrames" or pattern poetry: he made poems with shapes. He was pure genius -for me-, above all, with this poem:

LES FORMIGUES. Camí de sol, per les rutes amigues - unes formigues. --> THE ANTS. On the sunny path, through friendly routes - some ants. (It is a pity the rhyme is lost in English!)

Yes, it is so simple, but I would never have thought about creating it!

dimecres, 18 de novembre de 2009

La senyera

Four red stripes on a yellow background: this is the "Senyera" or Catalonia's flag, a symbol of identity with too many socio-political implications. But today I am only going to talk about its origin.

Legend says that the flag comes from the 9th century. At the time Catalonia did not exist as we know it today: the northern half was composed of different counties and the southern half was part of the Muslim Caliphate of Córdoba.

The story tells that Guifré el Pilós ("Wilfred the Hairy"), count of many Catalan counties, was helping the Frank king Carles el Calb ("Charles the Bald") to fight the Normans and was mortally injured. The king approached the count's deathbed, and Guifré asked him for a coat of arms. The king then soaked all his fingers but the thumb into the count's open wound, and pressed and moved them down on the surface of a golden shield, thus creating the emblem of the four stripes on a golden/yellow background.

This could be a typical picture to illustrate the legend of the Senyera

Real history is far from that. Only by knowing that Carles el Calb died some twenty years before Guifré el Pilós, one knows that the story cannot be true. Besides, sources say that it appeared for the first time in a XV century book.
The true history however, is not still clear. One thing is for sure: some bear a relationship with Guifré el Pilós (the legend had some truth in it after all!). One of the theories says that it has its origin in 878, when Guifré was invested count of Barcelona, whose symbol included the red stripes and the golden background. A second theory argues that it is a primitive coat of arms from the counts of Carcassone in France, who were descendants of Guifré el Pilós. And even a third theory exists, in which the origin of the Senyera is attributed to the Pope: red and yellow are papal colours and Aragon and Catalonia were his champions. Hypothesis left aside, what we now for certain is that the earliest proof of the Catalan coat of arms is a minting from count Ramon Berenguer IV in 1150.

As I have pointed out, Catalonia as such was not an entity in medieval times. First it was little counties in the north and part of Córdoba's caliphate in the south, then the counties united, afterwards, Aragon and the counties did so too and formed the crown of Aragon, later Muslims were expelled from the South of Catalonia and the conquest of Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia and the south of Italy began. It is for this reason that other flags in the areas I have just mentioned have the same basis as the Senyera. The four stripes on the golden background, representing the old crown of Aragon, also appears in the coat of arms which forms part of the Spanish flag, together with symbol of other old reigns in the Iberian Peninsula.

- The
Senyera at the beginning taken from http://www.kukuxumusu.com
(take a look at their webcards section!)
- To view images of the flags with the same basis as the Senyera,
visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senyera
- To view an image of the Spanish coat of arms,
visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Spain

dijous, 5 de novembre de 2009

Just for laughs (I)

I remember when I was learning English (many many years ago now) that I enjoyed lessons about idioms a lot. Not only because remembering them was a challenge that I like to take but also because at first and if taken literally they made no sense to me.

Later on, as I was developing my passion for translation, I discovered the playfulness of language and I began to find making literal translations of idioms (from Catalan into English and Spanish, or from Spanish into English)
extremely hilarious.

As today I had a very busy day and worked a lot, I want to have a good laugh, so I would like to do some literal translation here. I hope you have a good laugh to!

Ser un somiatruites > To be an omelette dreamer
(To be a daydreamer)

N'hi ha per llogar-hi cadires!
> You could even rent chairs with this!
(I can't believe it / this is incredible -in a negative context)

No sabeu el pa que s'hi dóna > You do not know the bread that is given
(You do not really know what is this about)

El més calent és a l'aigüera > The hottest things are still on the sink
(The most important things haven't been done yet)

Cada dos per tres > Every two per three
(Very often)

Fugir cames ajudeu-me > To run away legs help me
(To run away very fast from something -implies fear)

Ser més llarg que un dia sense pa > To be longer than a day without bread
(Something which is really long)

Estar tocat del bolet > To be touched by the mushroom
(To be nuts)

Ser un tap de bassa > To be a pool's lid
(To be very short)

Allà on Jesús va perdre l'espardenya > Where Jesus lost his shoe -or "espadrille" following the online terminolgoy centre Termcat
(In a place which is difficult to reach)

A la quinta forca > In the fifth gallows/hayfork
(Far far away)

Remenar les cireres / Tallar el bacallà > To mix the cherries / To cut the cod
(To be in a position of power)

These are just a few examples. If you find this funny, let me know and from time to time I might be posting funny or curious language things like this!

PS: By the way, in Catalan, the word idiomes, which is very similar to idioms in English means...languages! Idioms is translated as frases fetes ("done sentences").

diumenge, 1 de novembre de 2009


When I was a child I did not know what Halloween was about. In fact, I never heard that word until I began studying English at 10 and even then I did not understand clearly what exactly was. Things now have changed and Halloween is pretty common. However, what we celebrate in Catalonia on the 31st October and 1st November is La Castanyada and we eat panellets, which both fall under the celebration of "Tots Sants" or "All Saints Day".

La Castanyada
La Castanyada, consists in cooking and eating chestnuts. In Catalan, castanya is a chestnut, and "castanyada", means "eating chestnuts" (yes, we weren't very original in the naming...) Traditionally, the official date of this tradition is on the night of the 31st October, but you can do "Castanyades" all autumn long, until chestnuts' season finishes. You can cook chestnut in several ways -in the oven, on a pan in the cooker, etc-, but in my opinion, the best way to cook them in a special pan with holes in it on a fireplace (or barbecue) using a herb called "palla de vesc" which you gather on paths' borders. To properly cook them this way, you have to make a deep cut on the chestnut's peel so they do not explode and place them in a bowl of water for a while. This while is usually the duration of a proper meal. Then, you put the chestnuts on the special pan on the fire with some of the herbs. As the herbs burn, you add more. All the time you have to keep an eye on the chestnut to make sure they "sweat" properly (ie, they look wet) and keep moving them. After about 30-45 min they will be all black outside and cooked. Finally, you place them on a piece of cloth for a while and eat them, opening them by the cut. Be careful, they burn! They are simply delicious. Chestnuts can be accompanied by a sweet wine called Moscatell, typical from Catalonia and Spain or Garnatxa, also a sweet wine, from my area, the Empordà.

Els Panellets
On Tots Sants, 1st of November (today!), we eat a sweet thing called
panellets (no translation available, in literal English "little breadies"). The word might come from "pa" (bread) but panellets are sweet and do not bear any relationship with bread: they are in fact marzipan balls coated with pine kernels or smashed almonds. At home, my father is the "panellet maker". He uses a traditional recipe, which does not use current or sweet potato, which is an ingredient most people use to do them. I love these panellets, and yesterday I had a panellets-cooking session with him.

I made pictures and videos so you might try to do them :).
Here are the basic ingredients for the dough, according to the traditional recipe (my father adapted the quantities, so please if you want to make them, ignore the 3 eggs on the video and stick to the following quantities):

300 g of almond flour (or if you know how to do almond flour, 300 g of raw almonds)
2 eggs

250 g of sugar


(Text in Catalan: Per Tots Sants, Panellets. Per fer la massa dels panellets necessitem aquests ingredients: farina d'ametlla, sucre i ous // Text in English: All saints day, the day of panellets. To make panellets' dough we need the following ingredients: almond flour, sugar and eggs)

Elaborating the dough:
- Separate the eggs' yolk from the white.

- Whisk the eggs' white until they look like foam.

- With the sugar and a little bit of water, prepare some sugar syrup.

- Keep a little bit of syrup and mix it with the yolks.
- Mix the rest of syrup with the almond flour.

- Add the eggs' whisk to the mixture and mix again.

- Take the yolk-syrup and add it to the mixture, keeping a little bit for later on.

- Mix until the dough is homogenous and leave it rest 60-90 min.

(Text in Catalan: Ja tenim la massa feta. Hem reservat una mica de rovell amb almívar per "pintar" els panellets un cop estiguin fets // Text in English: We've already prepared the dough. We've kept a little bit of yolk with syrup to "paint" the panellets once they're ready to cook)

Coating the panellets:

- After the dough has rested, we can proceed with coating the dough.
- On different dishes, spread pine kernels, almonds and smashed almonds.
- Take small chunks of dough and make little balls with them.

- Coat the balls with the nuts.

- Creativity is allowed and panellets can be coated with coconut, or filled with quince jelly or mixed with hot chocolate to create chocolate panellets. You can do panellets of whatever you like (or think you will like)

Cooking the panellets:
- The oven must be heated some minutes before placing the panellets.
- Panellets must be placed on an oven plate, in which we need to spread some butter to avoid panellets from sticking on the plate.

- Once all panellets are placed on the plate(s), and just before cooking them, take the rest of syrup-yolk you left aside and, with a spoon, put some of the mixture on top of every panellet ("paint" them, as my father says).

- Place the plate full of panellets into the oven. Cook them for about 10 min at a temperature of 180ºC. IMPORTANT NOTE: as you may have realised, some measurements are vague (a little bit of this, a little bit of that)...sorry, this is how we Catalan/Spaniards work :P. And the cooking time of panellets is vague too: I wrote 10 min, but the best thing you can do is keep an eye to them and take them out of the oven when the yolk on top is a bit brown).

There is only one thing left to do now: ENJOY EATING THEM! Bon profit ;)

PS: If you try to make them, let me know or send me pictures :)

Special thanks to my father, the great panellet cook!