domingo, 10 de noviembre de 2013

Scottish tartans

Every time we hear the word “tartan”, Scotland is the first thought that comes into our minds. But, what is a tartan? We are talking about a piece of multiple-colored patterned cloth made of wool. However, although the tartan is straightforwardly related to Scotland, the origin of the word comes from the Old French “tertaine”.

The use of tartans dates back from the XIIIth century, when the system of clans from the Highlands lived under the power of an autocratic leader who used them. For a while, tartans were forbidden by the British Crown until King George IV visited Scotland wearing a tartan in 1822, year in which they came into use again. Another monarch who encouraged the use of tartans was Queen Victoria, who due to her love towards Scotland, designed her own tartan (Victoria tartan). Similarly, her husband Prince Albert created his (the Balmoral tartan).  

There is a distinction between the types of tartans:
1. district tartans which are worn by people from the same region in Scotland and 
2. clan tartans worn by the members of the same family, although originally clan tartans could be worn by people who did not have family ties.

The color and pattern of tartans vary across district or clan tartans. Apart from tartans, what other attire did Scotsmen wear?
                                 NOWADAYS                 PAST

*Sporran: escarcela (bolsa hecha de piel de tejón)
*Feileadhmor: tela a cuadros que se lleva en bandolera sobre el hombro y cintura. (PAST)

Curiously, nowadays many Scottish people still get married dressing in the typical Scottish clothes, which explains that there are stores exclusively created for that aim and we enjoy our sight by looking at shop windows showing varied typical Scottish wedding clothes.
Moreover, today the use of tartans is spread over the world and we can find it printed on every piece of clothes until such an extent that it has come to be related with the punk culture.

Now then, I ponder the same question everyone asks about the mystery surrounding the underwear of XIIIth-century Scotsmen ´s skirts… It’s as enigmatic as where Nessie spends his sweetest hours under the dark and deep waters of Loch Ness…

sábado, 9 de noviembre de 2013


Taking a look at this coat anyone could trace his mind back to the Roaring Twenties of the 1920’s.  At that time women fill their wardrobes with flapper dresses, cloche hats, embroidery and in general show off a more masculine look with their bob haircuts. Now then, this outfit was not only fashion-aimed, but its shape and length had a mysterious purpose: hiding the bottles of alcohol which had been forbidden in 1919.
YES! On January 16th 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified. It prohibited the manufacture, sale, transport or even purchase of alcohol. Americans did not take this measurement seriously and the prohibition turned into illegal consumption of alcohol anywhere in the country.
The question anyone asks when hearing this history fact is… why was such measurement taken in the USA? Well, there are multiple reasons which explain it. The first of all of them was because people thought that American social values were being lost. Secondly, there was one bar out of 300 people and 50% of crimes were related with the consumption of alcohol. Violence against women increased as a result of their husbands’ alcohol abuse and productivity at the workplace decreased.
Finally, in spite of the fact that there were apparently many reasons to forbid alcohol, the 18th Amendment was revoked and alcohol was again in circulation in the USA. Nowadays the minimum age for purchasing and drinking alcohol is 21. Moreover, drinking alcohol in the middle of the street is illegal, except for the places which are set up for it such as bars. That is the reason why many people breaking the rules decide to cover their alcoholic drinks with a paper or plastic bag to hide the drink and avoid cops’ fines.
                           These two images were the flip sides of the coin:

Now then, isn’t it paradoxical that an eighteen-year-old guy has the chance to enlist the Army and combat in War at that age?


After WWI, the USA is living its “Golden Age”, or as many call it, “the Roaring Twenties”. At that moment it seemed too easy for anyone to become rich through risky loans on stock and worthless real estate deals.

Parallel to this, it comes the birth of a new music style: jazz, which explains why the 20’s were baptized as the “Jazz Age”. These recently-born sounds developed in New Orleans and immediately after they travel all over the country, spreading so over any corner of the country. Jazz is based on African-American music, including traditional African rhythms, folk songs, gospel music, the blues and ragtime. Curiously, the first band which played jazz was King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators, who opened the gateway to new-coming crooners such as Frank Synatra, Tony Bennett or more contemporary artists like the Canadian Michael Bublé.
Illegal clubs called “speakeasies” proliferate. There, women with a more liberal mindset who used to wear mini-skirts, cloche hats, feathers or smoked pipes (the famous “flappers”) practiced Charleston and Lindy dances. 

Other cultural areas such as literature or movies also progress. It’s the time for “silent films”, faithfully interpreted by iconic figures like Charles Chaplin, who together with other film stars, developed their careers in the motion-picture capital of the world: Hollywood. Moreover, the year 1927 is the milestone for the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer.
However, as ying-yang, the twenties had its ups and downs and America could not end up the century without some sort of suffering.  It is a “Black Tuesday” in the month of March 1929 when the Wall Street Market Crash took place. From then on, banks closed (at least 28 states didn’t have an open bank), unemployment arose unstoppably, and people’s houses, farms and other properties were confiscated: The Great Depression has just started.
Together with this, the USA fate had something else ready for the country: huge dust storms which lasted even complete days devasted thousands of acres over the area of the Great Plains, covering the states of Oklahoma, Texas or Kansas. This became popular as “the Dust Bowl”. Consequently, around 1936, a mass exodus to the West occurred. More than 250,000 “Okies” and “Arkies” were obliged to pack all their properties and leave their ranches in search of hope and work in the West, the so called “American Dream”. Steinbeck perfectly accounts for this historical fact in his magnificent novel The Grapes of Wrath, which was adapted for film some years later. It is worthy of mention that just a century before, half million people had harshly traveled to the West following exactly the same route in search of hope. They were the famous “gold searchers”.

viernes, 8 de noviembre de 2013


The Bible had explicitly warned it: “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it shall be an uncleaned thing and they shall be childless”. And despite this, two members of two famous English aristocratic dynasties (Henry VIII from the Tudors and George V from the Windsor) disobeyed. The former married his brother’s widow for power interests; the latter married his brother’s fiancé almost under his grandmother Queen Victoria’s imposition.

After his brother’s death, Henry VIII married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. They will be the parents of the Catholic “Bloody Mary”. Soon Henry claims his divorce from Catherine since she does not conceive the so desired male heir to his throne. Evidently, the Bible’s words have been accomplished.

The Windsor monarchy was also a victim of such omen. After the unexpected death of the potential heir to the English Crown, Prince Albert Victor, his brother George would become future George V. In addition to this, he had to accept his recently-dead brother’s fiancé (Mary of Teck) as his wife. The fate had a surprise ready for them: the potential heir to the throne after George V’s death, his eldest son Edward VIII, acted as a monarch just from January to December of 1936, year in which he abdicated leaving so the charge to his stammerer brother George VI. Once again, the Bible had read these Kings and Queens’ palmlines: the “uncleaned” marriage of George V and Mary of Teck was not childless but one of his predecessors decided  to leave his royal duties in favour of his enjoyment and a peculiar French love of doubtful reputation who had been refused by his family.

domingo, 3 de noviembre de 2013

ENGLISH: origin, expansion and linguistic borrowings

Spanish students tend to wonder why their mother tongue, Spanish, is so different from English. Logically, it has a clear explanation. So now, they have the task to discover the different linguistic branches found in the following language tree and above all, the origin of English and Spanish. Maybe it will be here where the answer lies. Let’s take the challenge

Now they have to take a look at the following map and answer the next question: in large parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean English is spoken as a second language. Find out the explicit places where it happens.




Certainly there is a vast number of megalithic buildings in the USA because it seems as if the concept of magnificence for Americans was part of their perception of the world, or in other words, “Get a big donkey, whether it walks or not".

In spite of the fact each state has its own outstanding landmark, two of them call my attention especially, both of them located in two different states with a curious history behind them each one.

The first of them is the Statue of Liberty in NYC (NY state). In 1885 France gave the statue to the States as a gift to commemorate the centenary of the Declaration of Independence by the USA. The 350 pieces of the statue were moved in a total of 214 crates which were spread over Staten Island. Then they came across with a problem: the USA didn’t have the money for its set-up. However, it was not until the owner of the newspaper New York World gave a step forward, Joseph Pulitzer, that the set-up was possible. How?

His daily newspaper divulged the news; the need for money which made the assembly of the statue possible. Finally, the newspaper received 121,000 donations. From this moment onwards, 200 men had very harsh work ahead since they had to set the statue up more than 45 metres high. 
The hook-up of the statue was based on a three-step process:

1. The base of the Statue


 2. The iron skeleton designed by Gustave Eiffel

3. The hook-up of the outside layer

Some curious data about the statue are related with the proportions of certain parts of the statue: the sandal is 32 times bigger than 1 human foot, 1 nail weighs 1,6 kg or the muse that inspired the sculptor in the design of the statue’s face was his own mother! After 6 months of assembly, the statue of Liberty stayed as a gateway for immigrants coming from everywhere to New York. The current colour of the statue is green as a result of a rusting process.

The second megalithic construction is the Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Immersed in the Great Depression, the USA government decided to build this monument to give back self-confidence to the USA population. Its construction started in 1927 and was carved into a devasted corner of a 250-metre-high mountain with detonation!!! The sculpture represents the faces of four leading USA Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln at 20 meters from the bottom of the Mount.

The movie “North by Northwest” starred by Cary Grant shows scenes of a reconstruction of this sculpture since the USA government didn’t let the director of the film record any scene at the original landmark. Today it is a place of a highly touristic attraction, since they represent the pyramids of the USA.

sábado, 2 de noviembre de 2013


    If there was a feature that defined the architectural structure of cosmopolitan cities like New York is its skyline.
    Despite having a fixed idiosyncrasy culturally speaking, in this case we are rather talking about a space question. While the population increased in Manhattan Island, the physical space there decreased and so architects had to design a plan which allowed these people have a place where to live in. The solution for such an issue was the vertical construction of buildings, which resulted in the famous skyline that we pretty know nowadays.
Workers on the top of NYC
    This construction entailed some difficulty: the height of these buildings was a true challenge but… who was willing to take on the challenge? For sure taking a look at the following image gives you some hints to find it out. It became one of the most widely known icons of the “city that never sleeps” and has been emulated several times.
   Indeed, we are talking about the NY workers that walked along the steel rafters of the skyscrapers under construction. These workers were of European origin while others were Mohawk Native Americans desperate for finding a job after the Crack of 1929.        
    Apparently they had worked as sailors before having lunch atop the skyscrapers, which meant they were used to heights. This desperation explains the huge risk they took when working with no job security at all: no helmets, no harnesses neither security ties. They spent more than 8 hours on the steel rafters, having lunch when they had the chance and with no possibility to go to the toilet. The only positive side of the job is they earned 4 dollars a day, which doubled the daily salary of any worker; the negative and dramatic side of this is two workers out of five died while working up in the air.