Diferencias

11 October 2008

In Jaén province, in the southern autonomous region of Andalucía, where the accent is more castellano than andalús and less likely to drop the final syllable or lisp as heavily as in Sevilla, most rented apartments are furnished & have washing machines. Clothing is dried on the terrace, on a laundry line hung between adjacent buildings, or on racks indoors. The elevation is higher, the air drier & its quality variable. Below in the valleys, ground cover & brush are raked out from under the olive trees, rows of which tromp up and down the low hills geometrically as far as you can see, and are burned in little clumps in the morning, so that taking the bus to your pueblo for school, on the higher cliffside roads, you see early dawn fog mingling with smoke & open flame. The last time it snowed here was two years ago.

Beer, wine, bread, coffee, & housing are cheaper than in the United States; bourbon, peanuts, & consumer electronics, more expensive. The local cerveza is Alcázar, sold in litre bottles discounted for the féria, and it costs only a little more than water. Supermarkets sell whole legs of cured Iberian pork, with the trotters & the close-shaved hair still on, tied by twine in displays & wrapped in cheesecloth or left uncovered, hung by the dozens; these are graded on a scale, from J to JJJJJ, based on provenance & feed – the highest quality are fed only acorns. Also sold in supermarkets are quails’ eggs, next to the hen’s eggs, and pan moldado with the crusts already cut off, and fresh fish on ice.

On the major avenues, the sidewalks are paved in stone tile, in a checkerboard pattern, rose & white – and this not just in Jaén, but in the pueblos in the provinces, in Bédmar, where my school is, and in Jimena, built on the side of a cliff. The parks are tiled or floored with packed earth, not with grass, and there are many broad-leafed trees and planted bushes. In Jimena and Bédmar, they hang strips of decorated leather or heavy fabric in a kind of curtain in the doorways, maybe to keep the dust out, or insects, or as a kind of screen in the summer.

Por favor and gracias are uncommon in comparison to the profligate courtesies of the United States – overuse is considered insincere, & the language taken as a whole is more direct. A non-native speaker translating the circuitous prefaces of English to Spanish finds the correct usage a replacement of four or five middling words for one direct verb, and the present progressive is rarely used, replaced by the present simple. Foreigners find this impolite; on the other hand, it is considered unthinkable not to greet people upon entering a room, or a store, or on the street of a small town, as the foreigners do, thinking that as long as they apologize they do not need to recognize other people except when necessary.

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