Friday, November 23, 2012

Antonio Machado



   In Segovia I toured the house in which Antonio Machado lived for over a decade while he was a professor in the town. Antonio Machado was a 20th century Spanish poet and playwright. He was a member of the Generation of '98, a group of Spanish literary figures who wrote some of Spain's finest works.
     I first read Machado in a Spanish literature class in college, and enjoyed most of all his use of imagery. In fact, the beautiful use of imagery is perhaps what I like most about Spanish poetry. Anyways, this is to say that I was glad for the opportunity to visit Machado's residence, because I have been reading his poetry since I have been in Spain. 

Machado rented a room in this house from 1919-1931. It is located in the heart of Segovia, only a few blocks from the Cathedral. 

His room has been preserved, with some of his books laid out on the table. 

      I've attempted to translate a couple of Machado's poems, which you can read below. The first one is called "The Traveler," and the second is a poem dedicated to José Ortega y Gasset, who was Machado's friend and one of the most important Spanish philosophers of the 20th century. I decided to translate the poem because one of Ortega y Gasset's books is displayed on the table in Machado's bedroom. 

(A portrait of Machado, drawn by Picasso)

     Translation is difficult. Poetry in translation is never true to the original, because poetry, more than any other type of writing, hinges on every word and every sound. One must always make concessions when translating poetry. It is nearly impossible to produce a literal translation that maintains the meter and rhyme scheme of the poem— not to mention word order or poetical techniques that deal with sound, such as alliteration. Different problems arise depending on which language one translates to and from. 
     Translating from Spanish into English has less difficulties than translating from a non-romance language into a romance language, but problems still persist. In one of the poems below, I found it impossible render the ambiguity in the subject of a sentence. This is because Spanish has the same possessive pronoun for "his" and "its," and also because a verb conjugated in the third person could refer to "he" or "it," and without the inclusion of the pronoun, there can be ambiguity pertaining to what (or who) is the subject of the sentence. This ambiguity occurs several times (probably intentionally) in Machado's "The Traveler." Therefore I was forced to make a decision (on several occasions) as to what was the more likely subject of the sentence. Another problem with these poems was word order (or the addition of words). It was simply impossible to keep the same word order in translation without rendering the translation nonsensical. And because conjugated verbs (usually) reveal the subject of a sentence, making the use of a pronoun redundant, I often had to add a pronoun to convey the subject of a sentence. These might sound like little things, but added up, you get a translation that is very different from the original in structure and flow. So, here are my inevitably imperfect translations, side by side with the originals, so you can see all the flaws and differences in structure.

El Viajero                                                                   The Traveler

     Está en la sala familiar, sombría,                                 It is in the familiar foyer, shady,
y entre nosotros, el querido hermano                          and between us, the dear brother
que en el sueño infantil de un claro día                       who in the infantile dream of a clear day
vimos partir hacia un país lejano.                                we saw depart toward a faraway country. 
     Hoy tiene ya las sienes plateadas,                               Now he already has silver temples, 
un gris mechón sobre la angosta frente;                      and a gray lock of hair over his wrinkled forehead;
y la fría inquietud de sus miradas                                and the cold unrest of his looks
revela un alma casi toda ausente.                                reveals a soul almost completely absent.
     Deshójanse las copas otoñales                                    The autumn branches of the musky
del parque mustio y viejo.                                           and old park lose their leaves. 
La tarde, tras los húmedos cristales,                            The evening, after the wet crystals,
se pinta, y en el fondo del espejo.                                is painted, and in the depths of the mirror.
     El rostro del hermano se ilumina                                The brother’s face illuminates 
suavemente. ¿Floridos desengaños                              gently. Flowery disenchantments 
dorados por la tarde que declina?                                golden in the declining afternoon?
¿Ansias de vida nueva en nuevos años?                      Longing for new life in new years?
     ¿Lamentará la juventud perdida?                                 Will he lament lost youth?
Lejos quedó —la pobre loba— muerta.                       Far away it stayed —the poor she-wolf— dead. 
¿La blanca juventud nunca vivida                               Does white youth never lived 
teme, que ha de cantar ante su puerta?                         fear, compelled to sing before its door? 
     ¿Sonríe al sol del oro                                                    Does it smile at the golden sun
de la tierra de un sueño no encontrada;                        of the land of a dream never found;
y ve su nave hender el mar sonoro,                              and see its ship split the sonorous sea,
de viento y luz la blanca vela hinchada?                      of wind and light the white inflated candle?
     Él ha visto las hojas otoñales,                                       He has seen the autumn leaves,
amarillas, rodar, las olorosas                                         yellow, turn, the aromatic 
ramas del eucalipto, las rosales                                     branches of the eucalyptus, the rose bushes
que enseñan otra vez sus blancas rosas...                      that show again their white roses...
     Y este dolor que añora o desconfía                               And this pain that longs for or distrusts
el temblor de una lágrima reprime,                                the tremble of a repressed tear, 
y un resto de viril hipocresía                                          and a residue of virile hypocrisy 
en el semblante pálido se imprime.                                imprints itself on his pale face. 
     Serio retrato en la pared clarea                                      Serious portrait on the wall 
todavía. Nosotros divagamos.                                        continues to clear. We digress. 
En la tristeza del hogar golpea                                       In the sadness of the home thumps
el tictac del reloj. Todos callamos.                                 the tick-tock of the clock. We all fall silent. 

(Meditations of Quijote was written by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset)

Al Joven Meditador José Ortega y Gasset               To The Young Meditator José Ortega y Gasset1

A ti laurel y yedra                                                       May laurel and hydra 
corónete, dilecto                                                         crown you, beloved
de Sofía, arquitecto.                                                   of Sofia, architect. 
Cincel, martillo y piedra                                            May chisel, hammer and rock
y masones te sirvan las montañas                             and masons serve you, and the mountains
de Guadarrama frío                                                      of cold Guadarrama
te brinden el azul de sus entrañas,                            offer you the blue of their entrails,        
meditador de otro Escorial sombrío.                        meditator of a different somber Escorial2              
Y que Felipe austero,                                                  And may austere Philip3 
al borde de su regia sepultura,                                   on the edge of his royal burial,    
asome a ver la nueva arquitectura,                            peek out to see the new architect,          
y bendiga la prole de Lutero.                                     and bless the offspring of Luther4  

1 An important 20th century Spanish philosopher and friend of Machado. Gasset wrote Meditations on Don Quijote and Revolt of the Masses, among many other works.

2 A former royal palace and monastery constructed under the reign of Philip II in the 16th century. It is located 30 miles outside of Madrid, in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Almost all Spanish kings have been buried in El Escorial since its construction. It is architecturally austere, built mainly of granite with a simple exterior. 

3 King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598).

4 Martin Luther. Philip II spent much of his reign actively combating the Protestant reformation. 



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Two Weeks Of Concerts — From Bach To Patti Smith

     The six concerts I've attended in the last two and a half weeks probably all deserve their own post. But time is short and reading about music is certainly not as enjoyable as listening to it. But don't worry, I've posted links to some of the music I've heard. Here are the concerts I've attended since late October: Bach Modern (Bach and contemporary pieces for piano); El Cigala (famous Flamenco singer); Michel Camilo and Tomatito (Jazz/Flamenco pianist and guitarist); From the Vihuela to the Electric Guitar (A history of the guitar); Patti Smith; Canal Street Jazz Band.
     Madrid is proving to be a music mecca. There is an endless variety of music to choose from, and the performances are world class. Nicolas Hodges, the pianist for the Bach concert, has played with all of the world's top symphonies. El Cigala is perhaps the most famous contemporary Flamenco singer, and The New York Times selected his performance in New York City as the best concert of 2011. He didn't disappoint when I saw him— though honestly, I was more impressed with his guitar player. Here's a video of the two, and here's a video of the guitar player by himself. Flamenco is to Spain what Blues is to the United States. It has its own rhythms and scales, its lyrics are often melancholy, and though it was cultivated in Spain and identified as Spanish music, its origins are foreign. I wish I could play it.
     Tomatito famously played with Camarón de la Isla, one of the most celebrated Flamenco singers of all time. He is an incredible guitarist, and has been playing with Camilo, a jazz and Latin pianist from the Dominican Republic, since 2000. It was obvious watching the concert that they are both virtuosos. Being a guitar player, I thought the grand piano sort of overpowered the Flamenco guitar and wished it were the other way around. Here's a video to give you an idea of the duo.
    Last week, I went on a field trip (as a teacher/supervisor, woo!) with a couple of classes to a guitar concert at La Fundación de Juan March in Madrid. The concert was closed to the public, so it was a special performance for select high school classes. A musicologist gave a lecture on the history of the guitar and its predecessors, and after he had given the history of an instrument, the guitarist would play a few songs on said instrument. The instruments played were the vihuela (a 16th century guitar-shaped instrument with six doubled strings, like a 12-string guitar but smaller), the baroque guitar (17th and 18th centuries, with five strings and a small body), the classical guitar, and the electric guitar. As you might have guessed, this was awesome for me. Here's a video of a song for vihuela by the composer Luis de Milán, written in the first half of the 16th century. And here is my favorite piece that was performed, a sonata by Fernando Sor, a famous 18th century Spanish classical guitarist.
     Then on Thursday there was Patti Smith. She has a really great voice and sounds as good as ever. The band played a couple songs from her new record, but there were also plenty of songs from Horses, including my (everyone's?) favorite, "Gloria." I was able to stand right in front of the stage, and the crowd was good. For a concert without electric guitars, it sure sounded pretty heavy at some points. And of course, they played the 1978 hit (co-written by Smith and Springsteen) "Because The Night."
     And finally, Saturday, I went back to Juan March to see the Canal Street Jazz Band, who performed songs such as "Jeepers Creepers," "Saint Louis Blues" (the first time I actually heard this performed live), and "Tiger Rag."All of the musicians were from Madrid, except for the band leader, who was from California but spoke Spanish really well. This free concert was part of the Foundation's annual Jazz concert cycle.
     So, in sum, I believe I will see more quality concerts this year than I've seen ever before, and at a better price. I'm really glad I was placed in Madrid, and am pleasantly surprised at what a cultural capital it is turning out to be.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

General Strike in Spain — 14 November

     Today there is a strike. In all of Spain. That means, among other things, that public transportation is limited. I waited for 35 minutes for a train that usually runs every 4 minutes. It also means that many professors did not go to school, nor many children. My first class had two children. My second had one. 
     So why is there a strike? Put simply, some people don’t like what the government is doing. The strike was organized by the CGT, a labor union, along with other organizations around the country. Their reasons for the strike are that the government’s spending cuts and reforms are dismantling basic public services and have led to a situation of social emergency. 
     It’s true, the economy has seen better days. Several years ago, when the United States’ housing bubble burst, Spain’s did too. Yet while (some would say) the United States is climbing out of its economic crisis, people in Spain feel their economy is continuing to decline. According to the CGT pamphlet I was given, six million people are unemployed, and over 50% of people under 25 don’t have a job, 700,000 people have been evicted from their homes, and millions of people are on the threshold of poverty. 

("They leave us without a future. There are guilty people. There are solutions. General Strike!")

     So...why does an American have a job (provided by the government) in Spain, and why is that fair? Maybe I shouldn’t make myself answer such difficult questions. But it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, and I don’t feel guilty about having a job here. I’ll tell you why. Spain believes in the importance of the English language, and that people who speak it as a second language will have more job opportunities, more knowledge, and be more cultured. It’s really a beautiful thing to be investing so much money in the education of Spanish children, and with the specific goal of giving them more opportunities in the world through language learning. And I would like to think that I am playing a small part in that goal. Having native English teachers in Spanish primary and secondary schools is for Spain what having native Chinese speakers in American schools might be like. In other words, if one believes that knowledge of the Chinese language will continue to grow and give opportunities to those who know it, having a native Chinese speaker to educate American children would be a wonderful thing. 
     Secondly, the monthly scholarship I receive is being entirely spent in Spain. While the government might be giving me money, I am reinvesting it in the Spanish economy. All of it. In restaurants, grocery stores, museums, concerts, clothing stores, music stores, street vendors. The bottom line is, I’m not taking the money and sending it back to my homeland. I’m spending it. 
     So, I am receiving a monthly scholarship in exchange for teaching English to Spanish youths, and I am spending that money in Spain. I think that is justifiable. I think I am doing a good thing. And I think people should read this Robinson Jeffers poem (feel free to adapt it to apply to the country you are from):

Be Angry At The Sun
That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante's feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Ávila is two hours northwest of Madrid, surrounded by the plains of Castilla and in sight of the Sierra de la Paramera. The city is famous for its medieval wall, which surrounds the old city in impressive fashion. The wall (la muralla), has encircled the old city since the second half of the 12th century. Its 2500 battlements, 88 towers, and 6 gates have been wonderfully reserved. In fact, you can walk along the majority of the wall.

The Cathedral is actually built into the wall. It was also begun in the 12th century, yet wasn't finished until the 16th century. It was the first Gothic cathedral in Spain. 

Every time I enter a cathedral I am grateful I took "The Medieval World" with Dr. Byrne in college. Thanks to that class, I know what I'm looking at when I'm staring at the ceiling of a cathedral, the exterior, the floor plan. So I was impressed with the variety of vaulting techniques found in Ávila's Cathedral. Constructed of red and white granite, it's a beautiful cathedral. 

 I also visited the Basilica de San Vicente, built in the 12th century at the site of St. Vincent's martyrdom. It is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain.

(Nice portal.)

Also, I had castañas (roasted chestnuts) for the first time. They were meaty and good. 

Without a doubt, the most impressive part of Ávila is its wall. You can get a really good look at it by hiking outside of the walls, crossing the river, and walking up a hill until you come to Cuatro Postes (Four Posts), which is exactly what it sounds like. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Saturday a friend and I took a train to Segovia with the other English assistant from my school. Segovia is most famous for its impeccably preserved first century Roman aqueduct. It was certainly a sight to see, but was just the beginning of a wonderful day.

In the morning there was rain, which drove us into Segovia's Cathedral, begun in 1525. It towers over the small city of Segovia, rising high above the otherwise quaint streets.

After a walk through the medieval Jewish cemetery outside of town, we went to see the Church of La Vera Cruz, a 13th century church constructed by the Knights Templar. Its dodecagonal design is based on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Located on a hill outside of the city walls, it has good views of the city. 

Next we walked up another hill to get a good view of the Alcázar. The palace was originally built in the 11th century but was completely renovated in the 19th century due to a fire (it had been used as the Royal Convent of Artillery). Some say it is the castle after which the Disney logo is modeled. Needless to say, it was worth the hike out there for the view. 

Later, we went to the house of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939). It was a really nice tour and I'm going to make a separate post about it and his poetry. That's all for now. More posts on Flamenco concerts and medieval cities are coming shortly.