Tuesday, March 10, 2009

He lives in the coffin. He drinks of the blood.

A recurring theme in this blog is the way that traveling can bring out different facets of one's personality. The combination of novelty, anonymity, and sometimes sheer necessity, leads you to do things en route that you might never consider at home.

Despite that promising opening, there are no major confessions to follow - sorry to get anyone's hopes up. But a small illustration is provided by my behavior in restaurants and cafés. Back in the U.S., my preferred interaction with waiters is to as cordially brief and to the point as possible, a probable reaction against the "waiter as buddy" model adopted by far too many eating establishments. Here in Spain, it's quite the reverse - I will engage even the surliest of waiters in conversation. Partly it's a desire to see if I can make a dent in the surly exterior, partly it's because the reason I'm here is to converse with Spanish people (so waiters qualify). It helps to know that one is anonymous - what have I got to lose - and there's always a readymade excuse. Since I generally have something that I'm reading, underlining the unknown vocabulary words, if nothing else I can always ask what a particular word means.

The answers to this opening line can range from brusque and boring to engaging and entertaining. One of my favorite recent responses was in answer my asking the meaning of the word "ataúd". The waiter puzzled for a moment as to how best to explain, then broke into a wide grin and explained:

"El ataúd es donde vive el Conde Dracula" (it's where Count Dracula lives).

I couldn't have put it more succinctly myself.

The little coffin shown in the picture is on display in the Alcazar, the old fortress/museum that is one of the highlights of Segovia, which we visited on Sunday. The story that goes with it is a sad one. At some point in the castle's history, a particularly unlucky royal nanny had the misfortune to drop the baby princeling in her charge from the ramparts. Rather than face disgrace and certain death as punishment, she flung herself to her death after him. The coffin is alleged to have contained the little royal remains (seems kind of unlikely). One imagines that the nanny's remains fared less well.

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