This week in Bigger pictures

  Monday 6th January 2014 week 133 Spain.

    Lost in Translation?

    Well for you the fat lady might have sung but not here in Spain. Christmas ends today with the festival of the Three Kings. The festival is one of the high points on the Christmas calender. It's also the day children are traditionally given their Christmas gifts. Locally, three old guys dress as kings and are ferried around on the back of a tractor where they throw sweets to the children who follow, pied piper style. The procession then makes it's way to the local pizza house where the children are given their presents and everyone has a party. I should point out that it's only the pizza house around here. Pizza houses, as far as I'm aware, have no biblical significance. It's also not a tradition that would be encouraged in the UK because someone, somewhere, would tell us we're sending the wrong message to our children. Old men bearing sweets are not to be followed but reported to the police post haste.

    Now it's interesting I've used that phase, biblical significance, because while we all know the story: two thousand years ago three guys stumbled around in the dark before finally finding the stable containing baby Jesus, it too has little biblical significance. Let me explain.

    Nowhere in the original text of the Bible does it mention three wise men, nor three Kings for that matter, it only mentions the gifts. These could have just as easily been dropped off by a neighbour, we don't really know, it's all speculation. The first appearance of the three kings, or three wise men, or Magi was in the gospel of Matthew. Now, like me, you probably think the gospel of Matthew was written by some chap called Matthew, seems logical but we'd all be wrong, turns out no one knows who wrote it. Matthew was a tax collector and later became the accepted author even thought the text is based solely on the writings of Mark. From here, it actually gets very complicated so I'll not go into more detail than that. (It was pretty murky up till that point to be honest, Ed). Anyway it wasn't until King James V knocked up his own version of the Bible in 1604, he wasn't happy with the other two English translations, did the three kings make an appearance. At this point you’d have to wonder what else he may have added, or for that matter, left out.

On that point it's worth mentioning that the original Bible was written in Aramaic then translated to Greek, then into Latin so you’d really have to wonder, both, how closely the original text was followed and how much was lost in the actual translation. The complexity of actually translating one language into another is fraught with danger. Take this simple example: An innocent sign in a Asian hotel suggests that should you need room service, call a maid. In English that translates to: For the servicing of your needs maids are most willing. And these are two languages we know well, Aramaic was practically a lost language. It's for this reason I worry when I hear people quote the Bible as the word of God, it almost certainly isn’t and taking it too literally is simply dangerous.

    The Bible was written by mortal men, Hebrew historians, religious scholars and Kings and just like Chinese whispers, meanings get lost in time and repetition. It's a fair assumption to make that today’s versions would probably not be recognised by the original authors.





Tuesday 7th January 2014 Week 133 Spain

    Differences. -part one-

    I should warn you in advance that this one subject is likely to span the next three days. I'm never quite sure at what point to bring my daily ramblings to an end, Hazel unkindly suggested, as quickly as possible! but I've settled on about 700 words. This because I've calculated that if you sit down with a hot cup of tea, by the time you've read 700 words it's cooled sufficiently for you to drink it. How thoughtful is that?

    This odyssey has taught me a couple of lessons, well several in fact, but I want to talk about two. The biggest being we are all the same. Regardless of what country we live in, all human beings want pretty much the same thing. We want to be happy, free, live in peace and we want to raise our families so that they can do the same. Doesn’t seem too much to ask. The second, is that each nationality does have it's own character traits which makes it, unique.

    For example: I never believed for one minute the French didn't like us Brits, I thought that was just a myth spread by The Daily Mail. However, when I look back at any 'difficulties' we encountered on this venture they have all, regrettably, been with the French. Now trust me on this. I'm not being paranoid. Surely it's more than just coincidence?. It's worth pointing out that we do have a smattering of French so it's not a case of: I haven't tried, I have, but I can now cite several 'incidences'. For example: We've only even been turned away from one camp site, and rudely, and given little or no reason for it and that was in France. We've been ignored while shopping and on a couple of occasions made to feel we were too much trouble to deal with. We were also once referred to as le Roast beefs, I think as a joke but I can't be sure. I could cite other examples but it will sound like I'm moaning and, as you know, I don't do moaning. (Lets not slip into a world of fantasy just yet. Ed). Now I should immediately say, in the interest of fairness, we have met lots of French people who have been thoroughly charming and friendly, so what am I to make of all this? Well clearly I was wrong, some French actually don't like us!

Viva la difference

    Amazingly 70% of all Brits have visited France. Whereas the French rarely step foot in Britain. They accounted for just one in ten tourists last year according to the British tourist board and yet, they only live over the road, so to speak.. What’s even more surprising is that according to the Euro barometer report of 2012, 45% of French can actually speak English. This I find hard to believe. Finding someone who can speak English, or is willing to speak English, is a little like pulling teeth in France. We shouldn’t worry unduly however, because, as it turns out, they dislike the Americans even more than us and they are not that fond of the Germans. In fact I've reached the conclusion there’s not many nationalities the French do like.

    It's said the French think us insular, which is a bit rich coming from them. At least we live on an island so have an excuse, what's theirs?. But, to be fair to them, they are not alone in thinking that. It turns out so does much of Europe. I was told by a very polite Dutchman in Luxembourg that the British still see themselves as a world power. A player in world politics. There is still that element of rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves etc. Well as someone who has been practically sent death threats for daring to suggest we might one day give the Maldives and Gibraltar back, that argument struck a cord with me. I did correct him slightly however. I Pointed out that while that wasn't a universal British attitude it was, unfortunately, true of politicians.

    To be continued.............

    688 words. You can drink your tea now.




  Wednesday 8th January 2014 week 133 Spain

    Differences -part two-

    Us Brits are also accused of being insincere and occasionally rude. Fuck off! I don't know where anyone gets that from. We bend over backwards to be polite. Even more so when abroad. But apparently, that’s where the accusation stems from. We are too polite, we say please and thank you, too much. I'll be the first to admit that maybe, there’s something to the insincerity charge. We do have a habit of asking questions we don't really want to know the answer to. For example: 'How are you'? We all ask it but do we really want to know the answer? Buggered if I do. Last thing I want is someone telling me all their depressing news and spoiling my day. It's for this very reason why such phases as: 'for Gods sake! pull yourself together man!' and, 'keep a stiff upper lip old chum' and the more modern, 'Still, it's better than being hit in the face with a wet kipper were coined. It's the equivalent of politely telling someone to shut up. The English language has loads of such phrases: “What’s up?” “Can I help?” “Would you like?” “Do you mind?” “How' do you feel?” “You OK?” “Cheer up” “Why the long face”, and the classic: “Sit yourself down with a cup of tea, you'll feel better for it”. We constantly monitor the way others feel for no other reason than to be polite. And that, to foreigners, make us Brits a tad shifty.

    So yes, we do say things we don’t always mean but not because we are insincere, it's just out of social etiquette and politeness. Being overly polite is, apparently, in Europe, as bad as not being polite at all and I'm very sorry to say that.

Germans at play, I'm guessing they have had a few.

    Monitoring how other people feel is not an accusation you can lay at the door of the Germans. They don't fuck about. They like to get straight to the point. They might ask you a question but in the interests of German efficiency they'll also sometimes provide an answer. Such as: You are unhappy?....... yes! You have missed your train?...... no?. Germans don't waste time, nor words, like us. I do wonder if this is partly due to their language which is famous for it's compound nouns. All languages do this to some extent but the German language really takes the biscuit. For example: Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän, or the now little used, Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. (Real words). It's perhaps because of words like this that Germans have come to understand the meaning of: less is more.

    In some respects Germans are like us. They are a tad reserved and have a legendary fondness for order. Like us, they are not a gregarious people by nature, least not until they've had a drink. This is not because of any short comings but because all peoples living in the northern hemisphere aren’t, it's to do with the weather. Germans are to the point and direct. Which means you know very quickly where you stand with them and that’s a good thing. I like that. If you do something they don't like they will tell you. I like that too. If they invite you to stay with them it's because they want you to. But there are some huge differences. I was once in a German house visiting when, with hardly a word spoken, they all suddenly went to bed, it was mid afternoon. I thought it was something I said. I sat there looking out of the window till they all got up again, because the chap that brought me also went to bed. I also once sat in a chaps house when his German wife, who I had only just met, walked naked down the hall from the bathroom. I almost choked on my tea fingers. He pointed out that in Germany nudity is not a big thing. “Zee body ist goot vid nein clothes on”. Which I agreed with, but still..... a warning would have been nice.

    To Be Continued.........................




 Thursday 9th January 2014 week 133 Spain

    Differences -last part-

    Last week we watched an excellent flamenco act at the local bar, you may have seen the photo I posted. Watching the mixed audience was as interesting as watching the flamenco dancer and said much about our two different cultures. While us Brits sat there watching like we might an airport noticeboard, the Spanish were clicking their fingers, clapping their hands, stamping their feet and generally having a good old time. This is typical of peoples from the southern hemisphere, it's due to the climate. (More on this theory another time). Us Brits were also enjoying it but you'd never know it from looking at us. One Spanish lady simply joined in with the dancing. They, like the flamenco, are a passionate and lively bunch. When I stand in the queue at the local supermarket I'm reminded of this. It never ceases to amaze me that almost everyone is either chatting to a friend, or a neighbour, or someone, judging by the volume, seemingly the other side of the store. Even the check out staff are often in conversations with each other. In the UK stopping to chat to the check out staff and holding up the queue would be frowned upon. Here, it's part of the cut and thrust of everyday life and it's brilliant. I've said it before the Spanish love to talk and they do it rather well. Get a dozen Spanish chatting and it's like a competition to see who can be heard.

    They are also disarmingly polite. The other day, and not for the first time, I was apologised to, -on this occasion by three garage mechanics in unison- for not being able to speak my language. I tried to stop them, to say it was I that should apologise to them for being a lazy git and not learning their language sufficiently, but once a Spaniard starts a sentence a bullet's about the only thing that will stop him from delivering it. In the UK you'd never get a garage mechanic to apologise to a foreigner because he couldn't speak their language. In truth, it's tough enough getting plain English out of one of them.

    For me the Dutch are in a class of their own. I’ve yet to find one Dutch person you can't talk to. Who doesn’t immediately come across as friendly. They all speak excellent English, seem keen to chat and within minutes you feel as though you might have gone to school with them. What I will say about the Dutch, unlike the Spanish, is that they seem neither capable of shouting, nor approving of it. We had an experience in a high street in Holland where someone shouted and the street practically came to a standstill, quite surreal. It was like being in a film where the towns folk had been taken over by aliens.

    My experience with eastern Europeans having travelled through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuanian is that while they are friendly, polite and seemingly very willing to please, I couldn't shake the feeling that some looked at me with slight suspicion. It was as though I was perhaps once a member of the KGB. There’s a respectfully restrained quality to their politeness. I had the feeling that if I’d asked for their name they would give someone else’s and then ducked under the counter. This I presume so you don’t confiscate their tractor or send their uncle to a Gulag.

    Done! Obviously the last three entries are just my impressions. They are neither right nor wrong, nor probably stand up to much scrutiny. It's how people have come across so far to us, in our travels. Others may have had a different experience and therefore come away with a differing view.

    But whatever, I'm just so bloody glad we are all different.



Friday 10th January 2014 week 133 Spain

    What's on my mind.

    One day, and sadly not in any of our lifetimes, your sexuality will interest no one other than yourself. Trust me on that. What's holding that day back is intolerance and religion. Leviticus 18:22 written 2600 years ago says: 'Having sex with a man, as one does with a woman is detestable. -This translations, there are several, is taken from the third book of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, is said to be 'The word of God'- Leviticus seeks to ban around eighty such practices. They were addressed to the 'Tribe of Levi' who were the priests in the Jewish faith and had the only right to teach the Torah and given to Moses. Many of the practices were punishable by death. Here are just a few worth a mention, some of which I'm sure you've already thoughtlessly broken this morning.

    Eating fat. Not combing your hair. Tearing your clothes. Eating an animal which doesn't chew cud. Eating Eagles, Vultures, Red or black Kites, Ravens, Gulls any type of Hawk, Horned Owls, Screech Owls, little Owls, Great Owls, White Owls and the Desert Owl. Also Ospreys, Cormorants, Storks, any kind of Heron and finally Bats and Hoopoes. Going to church within 33 days after giving birth to a boy and within 66 days after giving birth to a girl. Picking up grapes from the ground in your vineyard. Holding back the wages of an employee overnight. Mixing fabrics in clothing. Trimming your beard. Cutting your hair at the sides. Owning dodgy weighing scales. Getting tattoos. Bearing a grudge. Consulting mediums or spiritualists. Not standing in the presence of an elder. Mistreating foreigners and that old perennial, planting different seeds in the same field. Some of those, quite frankly, look like they bit of an afterthought but all genuine.

    However, clearly God wanted his flock to look smart and tidy, was a serious bird fancier and liked people to be paid on time. Personally, I'm surprised God, being the Creator didn’t have other more pressing issues on his mind, and felt so concerned about the well being of Hoopoes he felt compelled to mention them, by name, to Moses.

    God: “Moses?”

    Moses; “What?:

    God: “Did I mention the Hoopoes'..... don't think I did”

    Moses: “What more birds already ?”.

    God: “Have a look”

    Looking down the long list Moses replies “Erm...Yep, yep no worries, just after bats.”

    God: “ Good, I like Hoopoes”.

    Come on, this is not the word of God but of bird loving Religious scholars out to keep the masses in order. Don't believe me? Ok. Here’s a couple more which raise far more fundamental question. God, according to the Leviticus, also forbade you having sex with your neighbours slave and selling an Israelite slave. Thus making it morally right to have sex with your own slave and sell them providing they weren't Israelite. God didn't condemn slavery nor the horrors that went with it. Still not convinced? Ok. He then forbade you to have sex with: Your sister, aunt, mother, neighbours wife, step-mother, granddaughter, sister in law and daughter-in-law. Now, like me, you may have noticed that it only refers to men having sex, and not women. It doesn’t, for example, condemn gay sex between women?

    2600 years ago women had very few rights. It was a male chauvinistic world. Men ruled, women knew their place and obeyed. They were little more than slaves themselves. God mentions just about every type of freaking Owl, but only refers to woman in the context of sexual objects for men and nothing about equality.

    600 years later Jesus said `Love your neighbour as yourself.' He didn't say providing he/she is not gay. No, his message was clear, precise and simple. However many people choose to ignore his words of love and peaceful coexistence in favour of the dubious words of Leviticus 18:22 and more recent relgious prophets. So I'm left with this question, why? I have a simple theory and it's this: people are either homophobic, ignorant or simply intolerant but far more hide behind Leviticus 18:22 simply to feel righteous. As I said, one day all this hysteria will be behind us.

    You have a good weekend and if I have any readers left after that little lot I'll see you Monday.





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