mount_oregano: Let me see (Madrid)
Madrid’s bid for the 2020 Olympics lost in the Saturday vote by the International Olympic Committee! Eliminated in the first round.

Why? ¿Why? That's the question today whining on the radio, whinging in the newspapers, whipping up the television, whiffing among politicians, and whimpering from athletes.

Was it the failing economy? The corruption that monopolizes the political parties? The lax attitude toward doping among athletes? The demonstrated continuous incompetence of the municipal and national governments?

We may never know what Madrid did wrong (besides the aforementioned). We only know that we lost. Madrid is a loser. We're losers. We suck.

Or at least, that’s what I’m hearing today.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Madrid)
You're visiting Madrid, and you go for a stroll in its justly famous Retiro Park. You stop at one of its cafés, you pick up the menu — and suddenly you are scared, not just by the prices. What is this stuff?

As a public service, here's the menu in its original Spanish, the bad translation, and what you really get:

Berberechos al natural
Cockles to the natural one
Cockles in their own juice, au naturale

Navajas al natural
Knives to the natural one
Razor clams in their own juice, au naturale

Mejillones en escabeche
Mussels pick leed

Pickled mussels, in spiced vinegar dressing

Almejas al natural
Clams to the natural one
Clams in their own juice, au naturale

Boquerones en vinagre
In vinegar anchovys
Anchovies in vinegar

Sardinillas en aciete
Sardines in oil
Small sardines in oil

Aceitunas rellenas
Olives stuffing
Stuffed olives

Almendras saladas
Saliferous almonds
Salted almonds

Bon appetit.

— Sue Burke
Jan. 11th, 2012 11:40 am

Tap Qualty

mount_oregano: Let me see (ImFeelingBlue)

I bought this kitchen timer in a little neighborhood store. It works fine and looks sort of stylish, but the print on the label seems to be purely decorative. I'm not sure where the timer was made, but I suspect a country that uses a different alphabet.

Oun Meehanleal Timen ia Tap
Qualty. Manement. Timen is
Own Deaiyned. Tu House
Plastic Material Use Good ABS
(on the sides) GENUINE

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Salamanca)

Although I've lived in Spain more than a decade, every time I go past the laundry detergent section in a supermarket, I giggle when I see boxes of Nuclear Bebé, a popular brand specially formulated (according to its manufacturer) to avoid irritating babies' skin. And it gets whites and colors nuclear-bright!

The lesson, of course, is that in other countries, words don't always mean the exact same thing: connotations don't travel well.

Every time I think of a nuclear baby, I think of something different and inappropriate.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (ColorfulMe)

I saw the first poster in mid-July in the subway Prague, where I was on vacation. "Šeny Sobě" means something like "Women Themselves" in Czech, according to Goggle Translate. (Sorry for the bad lighting. It was shot from an escalator.) (Prague was great. See photos here.)

A few days later, in Vienna, I saw this sign on a bus stop near our hotel. "Braut Alarm": "Bride Alarm." (See Vienna vacation photos here.) "Sexy, laut und nicht zu stoppen": "Sexy, loud, and unstoppable."

Finally, there was this poster on a shady street near my home, "La boda de mi mejor amiga": "The Wedding of My Best Girlfriend." "¡La comedia que arrasa en todo el mundo!": "The comedy that's swept the world!"

So I went. The movie "Bridesmaids" is supposedly set in Milwaukee, where I grew up. I even had an apartment on Kinnickinnic Avenue a few blocks north of where the star, Annie, supposedly lived, a building I've gone by thousands of times.

Beyond a few exterior shots of Milwaukee and Chicago, though, the movie contained little particularly Milwaukeean — or Chicagoan, for that matter. Even the street names were sometimes wrong, which could have been easily corrected. I heard more foreign accents than Midwest accents. In sum: the movie was set in Hollywood.

Since we saw it in Madrid, the scene where Annie tries to speak Spanish got the biggest laughs. Overall, the plot lost its focus at times, and savage humor gave way to authentic tenderness. A funny movie, if a bit uneven, and you can see it all over the world.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
This 3:30 short called "036" will tell you why I think it is a pleasure to deal with the IRS. Because this is what the Spanish bureaucracy is like. Honest. Form 036... been there, didn't have that. Mierda.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see...)

We've all seen a peacock in full display. Here's one I photographed in the Cecilio Rodríguez Gardens in Retiro Park, Madrid.

And here's the other side, demonstrating the bird's effort and contortions. The large train is made up of the tail coverlets, and the tail itself is held bolt-upright to display them.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (MeAtWork)

Today is a holiday in here in Madrid, Spain, celebrating Our Lady of the Almudena, the image of the Virgin Mary that is the protectress of the city. She will preside over an open-air Mass in the Plaza Mayor and will then be carried through the streets in a religious procession.

Every city and town in Spain is protected by a patron, a representation of the Virgin Mary, or both. Every saint and Virgin has its holiday. And every saint and Virgin has at least one traditional story to go with it — "traditional" in Spanish means a story handed down from generation to generation. You might call them legends. The joy of these stories lies in their inventiveness, not their veracity.

Almudena in Arabic means "city wall" (or perhaps "granary"; official sources disagree) and is the name for that image of the Virgin Mary. There are many legends (often contradictory) about the image, and this is my melodramatic favorite:

In the year 39 A.D. the Apostle James the Great came from Jerusalem to Spain (a traditional visit not mentioned in the Scriptures) to preach the Gospel, and when he came to the town later known as Madrid (which did not exist by any name at the time; it was founded centuries later after the Moorish conquest), he gave its pious inhabitants (had there been any) a statue of the Virgin Mary (although the cult of the Madonna was actually established centuries later). It had been carved (tradition says) by the hand of Nicodemus and painted by the Apostle Luke.

When the Moors attacked the area sometime between 711 and 714 (this is true), a blacksmith, fearing that the holy statue would be profaned during the conquest, took it from the church (which didn't exist) and hid Her nearby in the old Roman wall around the town (which also didn't exist). Two candles were included in the niche with the wooden image (was that wise?) so that she would not be alone in the dark. (One source claims the image was stone.)

The Moors built a fortress on a river bluff in 852 to protect the northern approach to Toledo (this is true), and eventually a village called Mayrit grew up around it with a protective wall, (also true), and the original village church was made into a mosque (not really).

When King Alfonso VI liberated the town in 1085 (if he actually did; some doubt that he bothered. Others say he did, but he mistook the hamlet of Madrid for the major city of Toledo, somehow), the townspeople told him about the legend of the statue of the Virgin, for which they had been hunting in vain. Everyone had forgotten that it was in the wall. On November 9, the King led a religious procession, whose members included El Cid (who else?), to search for it.

But despite their prayers, they found nothing. Finally, a woman stepped forward to say she was a descendant of the blacksmith, and declared that she would give her life if they could only find the Virgin — upon which some stones from the town wall fell down and killed her (let that be a lesson: don't tempt God), revealing the statue hidden inside.

(There are other versions of the story of the discovery of the statue in which no one gets killed, but I like this one, so I'm sticking to it — although the one involving a famine has its merits. A niche in the rebuilt wall now marks the spot.)

The two candles, miraculously, were still lit, and the centuries of smoke had stained the statue's face was dark. (Many early statues of the Virgin and Child in Spain are dark-skinned. This was originally believed to be the result of aging, but further investigations have revealed that sometimes the skin was originally painted dark brown or jet black. No one knows why.) The mosque was made into a church. (True.)

The original statue was lost in the 1400s, perhaps in a fire that destroyed much of the church (it did burn) or somehow otherwise was permanently misplaced (tradition gets fuzzy here), and a new image was made in the 1500s (true), which has been retouched and revised several times (even sawed into two pieces so the Madonna and Child could be dressed in robes more easily). It is always accompanied by two lit candles (or, these days and more wisely, electric lightbulbs). Pope Pius X declared her the official patroness in 1908 and November 9 as her feast day, confirming a tradition that was (genuinely) many centuries old.

After a lot of false starts and decades of budget problems (not to mention a nasty Civil War), the Cathedral of Our Royal Lady of Almudena was erected on the site of Mayrit's former mosque (next to the famous wall — see photo) and dedicated in 1993. The Pope came to bless it, and he was showered by Madrid residents with yellow and white confetti (the official papal colors) made of chopped-up telephone directories. (Madrid recycles.)

Tradition: It has served to pass down stories as a parallel to dry, factual history — the story not of what did happen but what should have happened. As the capital city of an empire, Madrid deserved an exceptional image as its Patroness, and so it came to pass (one way or another).

¡Viva la Virgen de La Almudena!

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
Last Wednesday, the city of Madrid gave away 5000 yellow helium balloons to promote tourism:

("Ovni" is Spanish for "UFO," by the way: Objeto volante no identificado.)

Some careless recipients let their balloons go. And it made other people think they were UFOs:

A few people back in the 'States went completely loco. Of course it's a government conspiracy. Everything is:

Seriously, come visit ¡Madrid! This was only a hint of how exciting Spain can be.

-- Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (MeAtWork)

The Spanish National Library is constantly rummaging through its collections, which are of staggering breadth and depth, and it posts surprising items on its Facebook page. That's how I learned about the August 28, 1924, issue of El Sol newspaper.

That issue included the latest news about peace projects in Paris, the Rif War (redacted by military censors), tumult in the Reichstag over reparation payments, the serious illness of Anatole France, an outbreak of smallpox in Madrid – and an editorial about "The Language of Mars." The library called the editorial extravagant: "Imagine the reaction this news could have created in the Spanish population of the '20s."

The issue of the newspaper has been posted online as a PDF as part of the library's ongoing project to digitalize its holdings, and I've translated the editorial for your wonderment and edification. Remember, this was a respectable newspaper.


It's very curious that only observatories in Anglo-Saxon countries believe they've received signals from the planet Mars in response to our own signals. Anglo-Saxon countries are characterized by being more developed in spiritualism and theosophism, which doesn't mean that its peoples are more spiritualist than others. It might even mean the complete opposite. What a spiritualist hopes for is a spirit who can lift up a table so it spells out letters in Morse code with its movements; that is, what an Anglo-Saxon hopes for is a spirit who can create movements, acts of power, which we in Latin countries believe more proper to matter than to spirit. We're not saying that we Latins are more logical than Anglo-Saxons. Being logical doesn't say much, in fact. We could be if we made a somewhat inglorious concession and tried to explain the relationship between the soul and the body, since some kinds of signals require the involvement of the soul to make the brain and nervous system understand what they want to make the muscles do.

In this case, since Anglo-Saxons tend to believe that spirits can make signals in Morse Code, they now also suppose the inhabitants of the planet Mars can do so, too. The word that the Anglo-Saxon observatories have deduced from these signals they believe they've received is something like "jopp" in our alphabet. "Jopp" is no great thing. And, besides, we must remember that the Martians haven't said "jopp" to us. They've only made a number of short and long signals at us. The supposition that they know Morse code or any other is purely arbitrary. The law of probabilities is against it. In reality, it's possible to attribute a much higher level of culture than ours to the Martians without them needing to invent language, much less to break it down into letters.

Our imagination was born and has developed in accordance with our civilization, so it's very difficult for us to conceive of a world of a different nature from our own. But it's possible, for example, that the Martians are blind and instead have the gift to perceive the flow of others' energy and even their future. It's possible, for example, that the Martians have sensed the signals we've sent them without needing to have seen them. It's also possible that the Martians know our future perfectly, something that we don't know. The mystery of "where do we come from" and "where are we going" may be an open book for them. The difficulty we have conceiving of these things is due to man's deep connection to visual representations. The fact that we have three semicircular conduits in our ears is a sign of how hearing is also a visual sense for us – or spatial, to be more precise. The spatial and architectural character of music emphasizes this idea. For us, the world is, above all, a procession of shadows that come and go. Our language is only a series of signals that recount the movements of these shadows, which themselves are signals from a different, unknown reality.

It's possible that the Martians don't see these shadows but they perceive the substance that moves them. They may also know where they've come from and where they're going. It's possible, in other words, that while the sons of Earth are essentially accidental beings, the Martians are essentially substantial beings. In this case it wouldn't be difficult for the signals from which the observatories have taken the word "jopp" to be the key to all the secrets that we can't unlock. Perhaps the signals translated as "jopp" mean "God," and the Martians are telling us that we come from God and we go to God. Perhaps "jopp" means "nothing" and they want to say that they already know that we're going nowhere. . . .

[This piece also appeared in the August 2010 issue of Alexiad fanzine.]

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

Curt Teich & Co. postcard from 1948 makes it easy for you to send a message.


Feeling low_
Missing you_
Coming home_

You here_
Someone to love me_
Some kisses_
More time_
More money_
More ambition_
A post card_
A letter_

Thinking of you_
Making whoopee_
Running around_

Been well_
Not forgotten me_
Behaved yourself_
Been having fun_
Been true to me_
Not forgotten how to write_


Ball games_
Night Clubs_
Lots of swell girls_
Lots of good looking men_
Lots of fish_

With love_


Jun. 30th, 2010 06:03 pm


mount_oregano: Let me see (MeAtWork)

Here is the back of the package to a little metal puzzle I recently bought. It should really serve as a reminder to always get translations from a native speaker of the language.
— Sue Burke






mount_oregano: Let me see (Salamanca)

I teach English to Spanish adolescents at an after-school academy. Today is the last day of class, and here are some grammar points that bear repeating:

The past tense of want is not went.

The past tense of leave is not love.

The past tense of give is not gift.

The past tense of think is not thank.

The past tense of behave is not behad.

Still, those were reasonable guesses, kids. See you in September.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (ColorfulMe)

A bit of fog glowed pink in the sunrise and curled around the reeds at the shores of Spring Lake. Birds warbled, frogs splashed, and a nearby alfalfa field gently scented the air.

All that goes without saying, so the outhouse story, as I've always heard it, leaves those details out. It was simply a fine Saturday summer morning in central Wisconsin. An outhouse sat on a hill next to the graveled parking area at Spring Lake's little public boat launch.

A few miles away, our family kept a summer cottage on the shores of Green Lake. On long afternoons when the heat bugs buzzed or during breaks in late evening card games, my father and grandfather would entertain us and themselves by re-enacting one of a large repertoire of dubious tales.

Like the time they toured in a circus. They had a high dive act – they claimed – and over successive summers, the pool of water at the foot of the diving board shrank. A lot. Eventually, as Dad would pause dramatically at the edge of an imaginary diving board a hundred feet high in the circus tent, Grandpa would run an imaginary handkerchief across his forehead, wring it out, and place it on the floor. That was the target. Sometimes in their story, Queen Victoria would order a command performance.

Sometimes Dad and Grandpa panned for gold in Alaska. Or California. Sometimes they fought in the Civil War, hunted whales, or did whatever had been featured in a recent television show or was the topic of a school lesson for me or my brothers and sister.

Other stories drew on personal events. Dad and Grandpa told about the building of the cottage, about generations of childhood mishaps, or about Dad's tour in the Marines, during which he bravely kept Virginia safe from the North Koreans.

And fish stories. They had a million fishing stories. The ones that got away, the ones that should have gotten away, and the lures that could hook anything but a live fish. Once a seagull grabbed a minnow in mid-air as my grandfather cast out his bait. Again and again, on the screen porch, Grandpa would re-enact the catch, reeling in the hooked bird from the sky, ducking as the seagull's mate dive-bombed him.

Then there was the morning when Dad and Grandpa got up before dawn to haul their boat to the clear waters of Spring Lake to try for a few northern pike. After a while, they returned to the public boat launch so my father could use the outhouse. It was a sparkling lake in the early morning. They were alone, savoring a glorious start of a summer day.

"And I was sitting there minding my own business," my father would say, an aggrieved tone always in his voice, "when I felt the floor vibrate under my feet. Then I felt something tickling my behind. In an outhouse?" He couldn't imagine what that might be. He looked down into the pit. He saw nothing. He was baffled. He sat down again.

He felt a sudden, sharp pain. The bee that was crawling on his behind had stung him. As he leapt to his feet, another got him. The vibration in the floor turned into a snarl. Bees lived in that outhouse floor, and they meant to guard their home from any intrusion.

With his pants and shorts still around his knees, my father fled. Bees pursued. He hobbled down the path on the hill. Another bee stung him. He pulled up his pants, more to gain speed and protection than out of modesty. Gravel crunched under his feet as he dashed across the parking lot and shouted to Grandpa.

With the wisdom of accumulated years, Grandpa assessed the situation. What they needed was a fast get-away, and he was the man for the job.

In a flash, with the unerring skill of an accomplished fisherman, Grandpa untied the boat from the pier and revved up the old Evinrude motor. My father scrambled up the short pier with a swarm of angry bees right behind him. Grandpa carefully gauged speed and distances, and at just the right moment, shoved off from the pier. Dad leapt into the boat. Grandpa opened the throttle on the motor.

And then –

"I know," sometimes my little brother would interrupt. He'd hop off the sofa and take Grandpa's place in the story, one hand on the tiller of the outboard and the other grabbing an imaginary cap off his head. He'd swat away the last few pursuing bees as he steered the boat out into the safety of the lake over waves of laughter.

Wild America. Dad and Grandpa warned us. You never know when you might be attacked, maybe by the wolves that pursued gold hunters in Alaska, or maybe by the circus lions, or maybe even by outhouse bees. Then there was the time Dad and Grandpa tracked the Yeti in the Himalayas. No, wait, those mountains aren't in America. It was in the Rockies. Bigfoot. Dad and Grandpa almost got him....

But my mother confirmed the story about bees in the Spring Lake outhouse. She personally observed three bee stings on my father's behind. It's all true. Mom said so. She thought it was funny. Every time Dad told the story, he fought a smile and insisted that it wasn't.

"And why," he'd ask every time, still aggrieved until the day he died, "would bees want to live in an outhouse floor?"

— Sue Burke

(Published in Great American Outhouse Stories: The Hole Truth and Nothing Butt.)

mount_oregano: Let me see (Bottle o' spice)

Defenestration, an on-line humor magazine, has just published: “Seven(ish) Techniques for Unforgettable Characters,” by L. Gilbert Heedyn:

Writers may find it not very self-helpful.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Gredos1)

"Stealing flowers brings bad luck." Just a reminder for last-minute holiday shoppers.

I photographed this outside a store on Calle Cuchilleros in downtown Madrid.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (SpainAtNight)

I found this tag on a shopping cart, the kind we housewives use here in Spain when we hike to the market to buy groceries. A new supermarket opened in the neighborhood, and the lucky first thousand customers got a free cart. With all the concerns about plastic shopping bags these days, shopping carts are an old-fashioned habit that has now become fashionably green.

The cart is nice enough, but the tag caught my eye: "MADE IN THE WORLD."

Well, I hope so.

But perhaps it could be more specific about where in the world.

At least, it could specify which world.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (ColorfulMe)

I am fascinated by the running of the bulls in Spain and never miss the live coverage of the run from Pamplona. Several years ago, I learned that they run with the bulls in Leganés, a suburb of Madrid, every August. I decided to go, and my long-suffering husband went with me. This is my report.

Now I know why I'll never be as famous as Ernest Hemingway.

Few people got off the commuter train with us at Leganés. Few were on the streets — no surprise, it was dawn on a Sunday. We had a map and started to look for the city center, and soon discovered decorated streets — with piles of trash in the gutters that sparkled with the glint of crushed plastic drinking glasses.

We joined a surge of loud young people heading toward the run. Most were carrying cups of beer and bottles of oddly-colored Coca-Cola. Some of them were drunk, very drunk.

Many wore dirty, damp t-shirts, stained from drinks. The shirts were for peñas, the clubs that organize events in fiestas. I had seen men on television the day before from the Peña de 19 or the Peña de Pepina talking about how they organized the run. How nice, I thought, these young people are helping out in the fiesta. That eventually proved wrong.

I spotted the truck delivering the bulls. People were picking their spots at barricades on the streets. There was a sharp turn in the route at the corner near the Telefónica office. In Pamplona, the turn at the Ayuntamiento is always a fascinating place. The Leganés turn had big plywood boards over the railings warning that there might be challenges to man and beast. So we staked out a spot.

Above us, a man sat on the railing, which was a good two meters high, chatting with his plump girlfriend. Eventually he jumped down and joined the runners waiting in the street. He was a slim young man in his early 20s with a red farmer's scarf around his neck, an echo of people wearing red fiesta scarves. He jumped around, loosening up.

More drunks came past. Friends greeted each other, watched the runners prepare, and heckled them. A man behind the railing imitated a chicken. Runners got ready for their athletic adventure by smoking cigarets. One wore a soiled t-shirt, Que alguien me pare, "Somebody stop me." A first-aid worker watched, standing on the railing, rubber gloves on his hands. A cop waited. A cameraman for Localia TV took pictures. From down the street came music, the Spanish national anthem. The minutes continued to pass.

Then the chupinazo boomed, the firework that announces that the bulls have been released. The runners jumped. They began running down the street — or ducked under the railing. The young man with the red farmer's scarf leaped back to his spot above my head. We stood there, watching the bare street.

Soon, the thunder of hoofs approached, and the bulls ran past, thrillingly close, almost close enough to touch, black and handsome. And all alone. No runners in sight.

We began following the crowd down the street toward the bullfighting ring. We passed a lot of groups of people shouting and laughing, holding glasses of beer or bottles of odd-colored Coke. One man lay on the sidewalk, eyes closed, a placid look on his face, apparently overcome by alcohol.

We squeezed past an ambulance, and where people had crowded to look at what was going on. Someone was being put inside. A Red Cross volunteer spoke into a two-way radio. I learned later that a man had run without a shirt and fallen down on the rough asphalt.

That was the big injury. No bulls involved.

We passed a group of young people in a peña playing pop music at ear-shattering levels, and a few members danced in the street — actually, they stumbled around drunkenly. One man lowered his pants and wiggled lewdly. Another unzipped and began to urinate. Both were cheered by their friends, who were standing or sprawled on the sidewalk. I managed to read their t-shirts: Peña de Diez Años de Desgraciadas. Club of Ten Years of Disgraceful Behavior.

We walked past the loud music and, finally, when we were out of danger of deafness, we got a cup of coffee in a pastry shop. The people there were talking about the run. The woman who owned it took out a red fiesta scarf and played bullfighter with it.

A patron having his morning brandy told me, "I don't care much for the bulls, but something for everyone, right? The thing is, you shouldn't run drunk, and a lot of people do. You need to be careful, and you can't if you're drunk. One mistake is enough."

True. You might fall down and hurt yourself.

We continued on. It was 8:45 a.m. We passed another group of cheerful, noisy, falling-down-drunks, the Peña de los Guarros, the Club of the Swinish Louts. We decided to take a short detour through the heart of town, past the Plaza de España. Despite the recent hosing-down by Department of Sanitation, it smelled like an outhouse. Another drunk peña was blasting music across from a big church that somehow seemed to have worshipers despite the noise.

We passed the Plaza de la Fuente Honda. Its attractive fountain was filled with floating red plastic café chairs.

We returned to the train station and caught the commuter train back to Madrid. I had been to a running of the bulls. Any good Hemingway-inspired writer in Spain ought to do that and report back about the courage, the drama, the adventure, the poetry, the miracles and tragedies, the metaphors of life and death, and the ultimate truths of humankind.

I came away with something astonishing to tell the folks back home.

But I don't think I will.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)

A Spanish electrician is suing his former employer, a London hospital, claiming that this bosses bullied and taunted him by comparing him to Manuel, the air-headed waiter from Barcelona in the television show Fawlty Towers.

You can read all about it here:

Fawlty Towers,, was a popular 1970s show that starred John Cleese as a hot-headed hotel manager. It was also shown in Spain (dubbed, of course).

Funny things can happen during dubbing. In the Castilian version, Manuel became Italian. In the Catalan version, which is the local language of Barcelona, Manuel became Mexican.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Spice2)

This photo, which I took at the royal castle in Segovia, Spain, illustrates why you should always hire native speakers to do translations.

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