Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I heard an interesting theory on a BBC podcast yesterday - The English like people who are rude because, being so self-effacing and hypocritical themselves, they think anyone who says or writes nasty things must be telling the truth.

And so . . . on to George Borrow, the author of – inter alia – “The Bible in Spain”, his own account of his incident-packed travels through Spain in the 1830s, trying to sell the Protestant Bible in a country which then regarded ‘Catholic’ as synonymous with ‘Christian’. As I think I’ve said, I’m down in Salamanca this week attending the annual conference of the George Borrow Society, where everyone is being very Barrovian. Even the Spanish, Dutch and Japanese members. Not just the eccentric Brits.

One of Spain’s most famous writers of the early 20th century, Miguel de Unamuno, was a great fan of Borrow’s. Unamuno was a severe critic of “foreign writers who converted his beloved Spain into an excuse for trite clichés and social reflections which he regarded as completely insignificant because of their trivial content.” But enough about me. Borrow’s book he regarded as “the last great picaresque novel”. And a pretty accurate description of the Spanish and their ways. Particularly of those wielding power.

Another foreign writer – the Irishman Walter Starkie – said of Borrow that “In Spain, he interested himself in simple folk and, thanks to his profound humanity, was able to understand the complex character of the Spanish and the gypsies. Often he was insincere; he acted with excess; and he liked to give himself an air of mystery. But he was always willing to confront both the unexpected and the infinite variety of possible circumstances. And all of this gives a touch of magic to many pages of ‘The Bible in Spain’” Which is a comment with which I'd wholly agree, while suspending judgement on whether everything Borrow relates actually happened to him. Perhaps this why Unamuno saw the book as a novel, rather than a travelogue or a treatise on Spain in general and the gypsies in particular. If this tempts you to take a look at the book, click here and scroll down until you hit the right bit. You might find other stuff on the page of interest as well.

On to higher matters . . . I forgot to look yesterday – head in the Barrovian clouds – but I have checked today and can advise that the young ladies of Salamanca are not going in for the combination of short shorts and high heels so prevalent in Pontevedra. Perhaps this is because we’re nowhere near a beach. Or because jeans are de rigueur in this university city.

Finally, I was pleased to read an amusing article in Prospect magazine this month criticising the modern plague of banal viewer comments on TV news channels. As the writer said, “I’m not interested in what the public has to say. Not even the public is interested in what the public has to say. We want expert opinion.” When my password is working again, I’ll post the reference of the article. But it’s chastening to note that it was written before the lead item on Sky News earlier this week was that some American actress has posted a Twitter comment on the death of some American actor. God preserve us from this endless trivialisation.

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