Friday, July 20, 2012

As you may have guessed

As you may have guessed from some of my recent pattern names (Alandaluz, Felicidad), I am learning Spanish. It's muy divertido - a lot of fun.

Learning about a language is incomplete unless the student also learns something about the people who speak it. I've been reading a very interesting book by Charles C. Mann called 1491. [find it here at Amazon]. In it he describes life in the Americas before they were "discovered" by Europeans. It's exhaustively researched and still manages to be entertaining.

"How does this relate to knitting?" I hear you ask. Well, I'll tell you. After learning the language on my own for awhile, I'm finally taking a class. It's great because it's filling in many gaps for me. In class we write sentences to illustrate points we learn. Last week one of mine was this:

En mi casa hay mucha lana. (In my house there is a lot of yarn [or wool].)

That is undoubtedly a true statement. It may even be a bit of an understatement. It was grammatical, too, and correctly conjugated. So imagine my surprise when the teacher did a double take and asked what I was trying to say. "Yarn," I said. I have lots of yarn.

In Spanish, SeƱora said, "lana" does mean yarn or wool. In addition to that, it's slang for money - somewhat like an English-speaking person might call it "cabbage" or "lettuce." This calls to mind an episode of Jeeves & Wooster entitled "Jeeves In the Country." It contains the following exchange between Bertie and Marmaduke Chuffnell, in which Bertie is trying to find out whether his friend's financial situation is improving:
Bertie: What about the 'oof' situation?
Chuffy: The what?
Bertie: The oof... the dibs, the do-re-mi, the happy cabbage, the oil of palm...
Chuffy: Yes, yes, I do speak English!
Now, in English it's possible to see where some of those terms come from, at least in a general sense. Dough - do-re-me. Cabbage is green. Oil of palm - greases hands so things move more quickly. But why wool? It got me thinking about a statement in 1491 that the Incas counted their wealth, not by gold or precious metals, but by maize and textiles. Gold, silver, etc. were of less importance. In Norte Chico, Peru, archaeologists have found no art, no carvings left by the ancient peoples who lived there. What they have found are mounds, and textiles. There are empty storehouses which were possibly used for storing cotton, in which case (I love this conclusion) "they would  have been, in this textile-mad society, an emblem of state power and wealth, the ancient equivalent of Fort Knox." [p. 212]

So my point is, be proud of your yarn stash. In some cultures, you might have had to lock it up.