Russia Celebrates Obamas’ Divorce

The biggest news on Russian TV is that the Obamas are getting divorced. Every newscast on the most popular state-sponsored channel has been gleefully mulling over this news for days. I get the feeling the Russians are on the verge of organizing public festivities to celebrate.

Does anybody know where this is coming from?

God Has It In For Me

So I just discovered that a book titled History of the Nation and Spanish Nationalism was published in Spain last month. It’s 1536 pages long. Costs EUR 37,05. Of course, none of the libraries in our sharing system have it. And even if they did, what’s the point of checking out a book of this length, especially if you plan to use it for years to come?

I have resisted every temptation this holiday season but this is one to which I am about to succumb.

Falling. . . falling. . . fallen.

Regional Stereotypes I

Regional stereotypes are very weird. I never have the slightest idea of what people even mean by them. They sound like they are spoken in code. Yesterday at the Christmas Eve dinner, for instance, I mentioned that I had lived on the East Coast for several years.

“The East Coast!” one woman exclaimed. “People are very rushed there.”

“Yes, very rushed!” another guest said. Everybody looked at me for confirmation.

“Rushed?” I asked, unsure of what people were trying to communicate to me.

“Yes, rushed,” one guest explained, probably thinking that my English was a little limited. “You know, rushing, running around all the time, always in a hurry.”

Everybody looked at me in eager anticipation.

I realized that people would not settle down until I confirmed this vision of rushing East Coast folks. These days, whenever I go to a social gathering, somebody always announces, “She has a PhD! From Yale! And a bunch of other degrees! And she speaks many languages! And she has lived in different countries! And she recently got a prize for her book!” After that, people look at me like I’m an oracle, speak in hushed voices whenever I enter a room, and check every statement they make against my reaction. This makes it absolutely impossible for me to contradict anything anybody says because that might carry an inordinate weight and hurt feelings. So, of course, I said, “Yes, they sometimes rush.”

To me this stereotype is extremely weird because it seems completely random and meaningless. If people were to say that East Coasters are stuck up and condescending, I would not agree with that but I’d know where this idea comes from. Rushing East Coasters, however, make zero sense.

The same thing happens with other regional stereotypes. Every time I meet a man from a Southern state, he tells me, “Well, you know what they say about Southern men!”

“What do they say?” I ask.

This invariably makes my interlocutor look confused and upset. After a lot of verbal wrangling, I usually manage to make him reveal something along the lines of, “Well, Southern men, we are not like other men, we are gentlemen.” The a new struggle over what it means to be a Southern gentleman ensues.

I have come to realize that a regional stereotype is not supposed to conceal any meaning. Its entire point is to give people a chance to say, “Oh, those Southerners / Midwesterners / East Coasters, etc., you know what they are like!” The statement means the exact opposite of what it says, namely, “I have no idea what they are like, and I don’t care to find out.”

Another Damn Post on the Civil War!*

OK, I know everybody is fed up with the Spanish Civil War by this point but this is my new research topic, so gear yourself for at least 3 more years of this, folks. I will try to make it as painless as I can.

Today I just had to share with you this priceless quote from Anthony Beevor’s classic volume The Battle for Spain (which, to my shame, I’m reading now for the very first time):

In the tense spring of 1936 on his way to Madrid University, Julián Marías, a disciple of the phil­osopher José Ortega y Gasset, never forgot the hatred in the expression of a tram-driver at a stop as he watched a beautiful and well-dressed young woman step down onto the pavement. ‘We’ve really had it,’ Marías said to himself. ‘When Marx has more effect than hormones, there is nothing to be done.’

The story may well be apocryphal, but it’s still very funny.

* The title of this post references the title of Isaac Rosa’s ¡Otra maldita novela sobre la Guerra Civil!