Remembering Octavio Paz

images (1)An entry in Maria del Mar’s blog brought to my mind what is in the media now: the 100 anniversary of the birth of Octavio Paz. So let me copy here one of Paz’s poems, as well as two paragraphs from his speech in acceptance of the Nobel Prize. You could ask, why? And I will answer: because languages are not separate vessels, but always in communication. I admire Paz as a poet; not much as a thinker. But there is no doubt about his mastery of the Spanish language: he wrote poetry that shimmers like a gold medal in the sun; he wrote prose that is precise and rhythmic and passionate. We can learn from this. And once we become more adept at tasting the fecundity and beauty of our native tongue, it will be easier for us to perceive those qualities in any language.

Habla deja caer una palabra
Buenos días he dormido todo el invierno y ahora despierto
Habla
Una piragua enfila hacia la luz
Una palabra ligera avanza a toda vela
El día tiene forma de río
En sus riberas brillan las plumas de tus cantos
Dulzura del agua en la hierba dormida
Agua clara vocales para beber
vocales para adornar una frente unos tobillos
Habla
Toca la cima de una pausa dichosa
Y luego abre las alas y habla sin parar
Pasa un rostro olvidado
Pasas tú misma con tu andar de viento en un campo de maíz
La infancia con sus flechas y su ídolo y su higuera
Rompe amarras y pasa con la torre y el jardín
Pasan futuro y pasado
Horas ya vividas y horas por matar
Pasan relámpagos que llevan en el pico pedazos de tiempo todavía vivos
Bandadas de cometas que se pierden en mi frente
¡Y escriben tu nombre en la espalda desnuda del espejo!
Habla
Moja los labios en la piedra partida que mana inagotable
Hunde tus brazos blancos en el agua grávida de profecías inminentes

Comienzo con una palabra que todos los hombres, desde que el hombre es hombre, han proferido: gracias. Es una palabra que tiene equivalentes en todas las lenguas. Y en todas es rica la gama de significados. En las lenguas romances va de lo espiritual a lo físico, de la gracia que concede Dios a los hombres para salvarlos del error y la muerte a la gracia corporal de la muchacha que baila o a la del felino que salta en la maleza. Gracia es perdón, indulto, favor, beneficio, nombre, inspiración, felicidad en el estilo de hablar o de pintar, ademán que revela las buenas maneras y, en fin, acto que expresa bondad de alma. La gracia es gratuita, es un don; aquel que lo recibe, el agraciado, si no es un mal nacido, lo agradece: da las gracias. Es lo que yo hago ahora con estas palabras de poco peso. Espero que mi emoción compense su levedad. Si cada una fuese una gota de agua, ustedes podrían ver, a través de ellas, lo que siento: gratitud, reconocimiento. Y también una indefinible mezcla de temor, respeto y sorpresa al verme ante ustedes, en este recinto que es, simultáneamente, el hogar de las letras suecas y la casa de la literatura universal.

El sentimiento de separación se confunde con mis recuerdos más antiguos y confusos: con el primer llanto, con el primer miedo. Como todos los niños, construí puentes imaginarios y afectivos que me unían al mundo y a los otros. Vivía en un pueblo de las afueras de la ciudad de México, en una vieja casa ruinosa con un jardín selvático y una gran habitación llena de libros. Primeros juegos, primeros aprendizajes. El jardín se convirtió en el centro del mundo y la biblioteca en caverna encantada. Leía y jugaba con mis primos y mis compañeros de escuela. Había una higuera, templo vegetal, cuatro pinos, tres fresnos, un huele-de-noche, un granado, herbazales, plantas espinosas que producían rozaduras moradas. Muros de adobe. El tiempo era elástico; el espacio, giratorio. Mejor dicho: todos los tiempos, reales o imaginarios, eranahora mismo; el espacio, a su vez, se transformaba sin cesar: allá era aquí: todo era aquí: un valle, una montaña, un país lejano, el patio de los vecinos. Los libros de estampas, particularmente los de historia, hojeados con avidez, nos proveían de imágenes: desiertos y selvas, palacios y cabañas, guerreros y princesas, mendigos y monarcas. Naufragamos con Simbad y con Robinson, nos batimos con Artagnan, tomamos Valencia con el Cid. ¡Cómo me hubiera gustado quedarme para siempre en la isla de Calipso! En verano la higuera mecía todas sus ramas verdes como si fuesen las velas de una carabela o de un barco pirata; desde su alto mástil, batido por el viento, descubrí islas y continentes – tierras que apenas se desvanecían. El mundo era ilimitado y, no obstante, siempre al alcance de la mano; el tiempo era una substancia maleable y un presente sin fisuras.

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The most unconventional politician

A mixture of English and Spanish, but worth watching. José Mújica, president of Uruguay, is probably the most unconventional president in the world, specially when affairs are more and more controlled by shadowy corporations and financial powers. Akin to the great figures of Latin America’s liberation theology, and despite some controversial opinions and measures, Mújica identifies politics with idealist justice and human solidarity. Living in a poor house and giving away most of his salary for charity doesn’t seem the line of behaviour of state presidents around!

A delicate balance

Undoubtedly, two years would be necessary to tackle the C1 in any appropriate fashion. But we have what we have and that’s it. To this shortage of time now we add the looming presence of the certification exams. We have been concentrating on preparing for them lately (second term exams, mock oral examinations, etc.), but trying not to give up the kind of classes and methodology which I think are best (drama improvisation, talking about health). It’s a delicate balance, because we have lots of things to do in this coming two months. But we shouldn’t forget our original format: dynamic, creative, humanistic, with tasks aimed at real life and developing our skills as native speakers do in the context of the liberal arts colleges. We should try to keep it living. And this includes you keeping at writing in your blog!

By the way, about this delicate balance and, more in general, about the very identity and raison d’être of the Official Language Schools, next month I will be giving a plenary lecture at the Conference of Official Language Schools of Andalucía, to be held in Málaga. The title is self-explanatory: Los niveles C en las EEOOII de Andalucía: ¿Academias certificadoras o centros de enseñanza humanista? Here you have a link to the programme to see what the hot topics are in our branch of education. In the lecture, as I already did in Córdoba in January, I will be using examples from activities we have done, as well as from our blogs. So your are well-known, and not only for writing poems!

A little homage

This is how the news of Suarez’s death was presented in an international TV channel. In retrospective he was a mountain among little hills in the political scene of modern Spain. Now he is treated as a hero and a symbol; in his time, he was attacked and betrayed. Spanish history at its best.

Three brave souls

Three brave souls have watched Babette’s Feast and written a post about it: Estrella, Lidia and María del Mar. You can have a look at what they have written, which contains several valuable insights. They seem to have enjoyed the film considerably. And this is not too surprising, because, even if it is so distant from a usual commercial movie, it is a masterpiece and a true example of art. Even in Danish.

Isak Dinesen, cooking and art: Babette’s Feast

E.M. Forster, the great English novelist whom we got to know in the first term had a famous motto: Only connect. That is, look for the ways in which people and themes can be connected in life, reflecting the underlying linked web of reality. So, let’s connect Isak Dinesen with cooking, in the form of one of her best-known stories, Babbette’s Feast, which was adapted to the cinema in an Oscar-winning version. The film is in its original Danish (with spells in French), but has subtitles in English. So, here we have a new experience: practicing English through fast subtitles. The film is a wonderful tale about the power of art to elevate the spirit, unite people in a higher spiritual realm, and open a window into the intricate and ultimately merciful workings of destiny. Art, according to Dinesen, can sometimes do what superficial, ritualistic religion can’t. And the artist, in this case, is no other that a chef in disguise. If you enjoy it, maybe you can write some reviewing notes on your blog.And if anyone is interested in reading the story (only 15 pages), it is here.

On your blogs, with real appreciation

Although I don’t speak about it much, I follow all of your blogs regularly. Some of you have been doing a very good job at maintaining them active and alive. Keep it up! And try to spend some time looking at what your classmates are writing or sharing.

During these past months there have been many posts that I have really enjoyed. I specially remember those which explained your reactions to reading Mandela’s Way (Estrella’s beautifully personal piece comes to my mind, for example). There are many texts and materials from your blogs which I could mention here, but it is precisely those posts which involve yourselves as persons, and not only as minds, which I tend to appreciate more.

Recently I have admired this one, authored by Paco Blánquez, who -in one piece- wraps up inversions, semantic fields and his genuine reaction to the story of the Syrian refugees and the poem by Sa’adi which I included as a comment.

Not only does using what we learn helps us to improve our English: incorporating ideas, feelings and experiences makes us grow as persons. The first will assist us in succeeding with the C1; the second, beyond it.