Spanish On My Window SillWednesday, August 06, 2008
alféizar. (Del ár. hisp. *alḥáyza, y este del ár. clás. ḥā'izah, la que toma posesión).
1. m. Arq. Vuelta o derrame que hace la pared en el corte de una puerta o ventana, tanto por la parte de adentro como por la de afuera, dejando al descubierto el grueso del muro.
2. m. Arq. Rebajo en ángulo recto que forma el telar de una puerta o ventana con el derrame donde encajan las hojas de la puerta con que se cierra.
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One of the results of the Spanish American War (1898) that directly influenced my family on my mother's side who all lived in Manila is that the Philippines became an American protectorate. But it took a while as guerrilas fought the Americans in a pratracted and bloody insurgence. My grandfather Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena was a lawyer who in his short life (he died in his 30s of a heart attack shortly after climbing the beautiful volcano, Mayón) did everything to try to defend his beloved Spanish language from the encroachment of American English. But he did not loathe the Americans, just their language.
It seems that a particular American judge was his friend, my grandmother used to tell me. Civil proceedings at court were all held in English so my grandfather used a translator in his litigations. Many a time, my grandmother loved telling me, "Your grandfather would stop and tell the judge that the translator had it all wrong and that he had said something else. And then he would correct him." The judge would then smile at Tirso and say, "Tirso you speak perfect English, you don't need a translator. Let's stop this charade." His pleas were to no avail and Tirso gave lectures all over Manila and in Spain in defense of his beloved Spanish. He even wrote a book. His efforts were rewarded with membership (rare for a colonial or creole not born is Spain) in the Real Academia Española. For many years the huge diploma hung in my house over a wall in the picture seen here with my grandmother the day of my first communion. While in Mexico in the middle 70s my uncle Tony (Tirso's son) took the diploma over my protest and I never saw it again.
Last night I began Carlos Ruiz Zafón's El Juego del Ángel . Like his other novels and in particular La Sombra del Viento it is set in early 20th century Barcelona. His books are easy to read but I take longer than usual to read them because I savour his use of the Spanish language. A word, which means window sill in English, alféizar caught my eye. I began to dream on how the word came into the Spanish and wondered if my grandfather would have used it or noticed its beautiful sound. After all ojalá which is the word we voice to mean I hope comes from the Arabic and it means if Allah wills.