May 1, 2009


Got back from Spanish class yesterday, shaken and not a little stirred. Because of Jesús.

Jesús, you may recall, is our teacher. I’ve added the italics because he spends more class time talking about (through?) his personal problems than the other stuff (like teaching us?). Currently, it transpires, he’s trying to resurrect his broken engagement (he and Dolores were due to marry this summer and move into a new apartment until, that is, the development company he’d gone with went bust and lost all their money).

He’s since been virtuously trying all sorts of surprises and jollies to tempt her back. Trips to the cinema (though suffers from claustrophobia), trips into the countryside (despite bad dose of hay fever), trips shopping (hates shops, period). He even declared he was planning to take her to Granada today (a bank holiday) to tour the Alhambra. Until, that is, he discovered demand is so great (8,000 visitors a day) there’s currently a minimum two week advance booking requirement. So no point going there then.

Almost saintly in fact. But perhaps not quite enough. And the reason for yesterday’s outburst.

Dolores has apparently laid down a precondition of her own. Namely, if they do get back together and if they eventually marry, any daughter will bear the name of her grandmother, a family tradition.

Well, OK, we all shouted at Jesús. Fair enough, what the hell’s the problem then? What’s in a name? After all, take a name like Dolores for instance, that sounds fine, doesn’t it?

The problem, he replied seething, isn’t in a name like Dolores - full, legal name “Maria de los Dolores” (Mary of Sorrows) because it can so easily be shortened.

By now, some of us were starting to lose the thread and not a little patience. Yes, and…?

At last, he got a sufficient grip to carry on. No, the problem lies, he rasped, in her grandmother’s full, legal name - “Maria del Socorro” or Mary of Perpetual Succour or, simply, Succour

And this problem, he explained, goes all the way back to Franco who, rather like Lloyd Webber over half a century later, had a hand in trying to deal with it. He (Franco, that is; Lloyd Webber didn’t, to the best of my knowledge, go quite so far) issued many decrees, some bad, others more so.

One of the worst - and still prevalent - states that all baby girls not christened after a saint (like Teresa, Agnes etc) or religious concept - “Concepción” (Conception), Encarnación” (Incarnation) - either had to add “Maria” to the first name (so Ana suddenly became Anamaria) or to a shrine/ site of vision: thus “Maria del Rosario” (Mary of the Rosary), "María del Pilar" (Mary of the Pillar), "María de los Ángeles" (Mary of the Angels), "María de la Luz” (Mary of the Light) and so on.

And, Jesús added, the “Maria” problem isn’t just confined to baby girls. It can also be added to a boy’s name as in the case of former prime minister, José Maria Aznar, whose nickname, Pepe (Joe), offers yet another historical conundrum. Everyone assumes that’s derived linguistically - albeit bizarrely - from José (Joseph). Nothing of the kind, snorted Jesús. In fact, it’s derived from the pronunciation of the initials P.P. - since in monasteries during the reading of the Scriptures, St Joseph was always referred to as Pater Putativo, or simply P.P., putative father of Christ.

During the bank holiday weekend, I know Jesús will be in high dudgeon and deep contemplation. And I also know that, instead of doing the homework he’s set for Monday’s class, I too will be in deep contemplation - of ways to solve the intractable problem that is Maria.

P loves Spain (possesses, I swear, a solar-powered psyche) and has recently been talking up the advantages of acquiring Spanish nationality. However, since under Spanish law this would necessitate two surnames - hence Nora Johnson Johnson and The Johnson Johnson Diaries - this got, from me this time, a particularly withering look…


Anonymous said...

So, basically, there is no separation of church and state in Spain?

But I like the sound of Nora J-J. You could be a gangsta, and write rap lyrics in your novels! Wouldn't that be cool?? (Or do I sense just a tiny bit of disagreement over there?)

Nora Johnson said...

Pinklea: There is, in fact, a clear constitutional distinction between Church and State but the implementation is much more problematic with the right wing opposition party than with the Socialist governing one.

And, yes, the gangsta image certainly has an indefinable appeal: Nora J-J rappin’ on YouTube! And when I eventually hit that big writer’s block in the sky, having rapping as an extra string to my celestial bow may well come in useful…

PS Nora J-J or something a bit more on-trend - say, Puff Girl or Puff Momma?