What’s going to happen next?!
In 1980 and 1981 I taught English privately to various groups of students in my apartment on the Calle del Prado in Talavera de la Reina. One student was a history teacher who, according to her, spoke the best Castilian Spanish. Her Spanish was the real McCoy, absolutely. None of this Talaveran slang, and certainly no cutting off the ends of words as the Andalucíans have a tendency to do. She was from Madrid, something she remarked upon every occasion she could get.
“I’m not from Talavera, you know. I’m from Madrid.” She pointed to herself and sighed heavily as if to emphasize this important point. She wanted me to help her with English as the other two in the group, being English teachers, were more advanced, so we decided on meeting an extra time each week to do an exchange. She would coach me with my Spanish and I would go over her English so that she would be better prepared for the group lesson. I quite liked being told how to pronounce Castilian Spanish correctly. It was so much easier than reading rules and regulations from a textbook.
“The letter ‘d’ is suave, soft, at the end of a word. Although it’s soft, it’s still there. Think of the word, ‘verdad‘.” This normally sweet older lady suddenly spoke as if she were a tyrant, giving out orders. This was a side of her I hadn’t seen for normally in the group class she was the quietest. I sat up straight, almost about to salute and stand to attention. I said the word, ‘verdad’, and out came just too strong of a ‘d’ at the end.
“Do NOT pronounce the ‘d’ as in English!” She actually did yell at me.
Oops. The pronunciation of the letter ‘d’ never had been high on my list of priorities up until that very second.
“Verda…th.” She corrected me, emphasizing the ‘th’ as in ‘this’.
I curled up my tongue and pronounced the word as closely to the way she did as I possibly could. Such a fine point, but it made all the difference to my pronunciation. Not only did she teach me the finer points of Spanish pronunciation, she also told me about her husband and some of the changes in Spanish society since Franco’s death and the beginning of the new democracy.
“My poor, poor husband works so very hard. His office is in Madrid, of course. Not here. And so much does he have to put up with.”
“He has to deal with so many people.” She lowered her head and stared at her stiletto- heeled shoe as she moves her ankle round and round, then looked up at me. With an accusatory tone she muttered, “Didn’t you say you might be moving to Catalunya, to Tarragona?”
“Yes, possibly in a few months.”
“Then, you too will have to deal with the Catalans.”
“I don’t know anything about them.”
She grimaced and threw a hand up in the air as if swatting a fly. “Let me tell you a story about the Catalans. One day, my husband, who is a very important man, held a meeting in his office in Madrid. Guess what happened?”
“What?” I couldn’t imagine where this story was leading to. What could possibly have happened?
“This Catalan man turns up at the meeting. Well, the Catalan man begins talking in Catalan. To my husband, no less. Imagine! In Madrid, in my husband’s office, this Catalan man speaks in Catalan to my husband. In the capital city of Spain! Well, I tell you.”
“Does your husband know Catalan?”
Ask a silly question, and be told a silly answer.
“Of course not! What is the name of the country we’re living in? What is the capital of Spain? What is the language of Spain? What passport do the Catalans have?!”
Before I could answer, she slapped the table with her hand. Her forehead was perspiring as she became more and more annoyed, and she grimaced, raising her eyes to the ceiling. I think I was correct in assuming that her questions were rhetorical, and that she wasn’t expecting me to answer.
“Let me tell you, Spanish is the language of the Spaniards. And Madrid is the capital of Spain. When you’re at a meeting in Madrid, you speak in Spanish. Not Catalan.” She fidgeted, played with her thick gold necklace, crossed her legs, then folded her arms. “Now, my husband, who is a very noble man, a man who can enjoy conversation with anyone, decided to get the better of the Catalan. You know what he did?!”
Gosh, maybe he punched him on the nose?!
“He answered the Catalan man in French! Imagine! That shut the Catalan man up. My husband told him that if he could speak in Catalan, then maybe we should all speak in French, or German, or whatever language we wanted. But, that since they were in Madrid, the capital of Spain, where the language is Spanish, then isn’t it the right thing for everyone to speak in Spanish?”
“Why did the Catalan speak in Catalan? Maybe he doesn’t know Spanish?” What silly questions I asked.
“If the Catalan people don’t know Spanish, then what’s wrong with them? I repeat, what is the name of this country? What is the name of the language?! Of course they know Spanish!”
“I think that under Franco they weren’t allowed to speak their language?”
“Oh, and that’s an excuse? Just because we have a so-called democracy now, that’s supposed to mean that they don’t have to speak Spanish?!” She waved her hand as if fanning herself and muttered, “What is happening to this country? What’s going to happen next? I ask you!”
It certainly seemed as if big changes were indeed looming over the Spanish psyche. With Franco gone, Catalunya was beginning to take charge of its own destiny where their own language would rule supreme. Was this what Freedom meant? To be able to speak one’s own language with dignity and respect from others? Or, was Freedom a means to an end, where rulers had the right to dictate and establish order? Whose Freedom should dominate?