Bad quoting: The Spanish Poor

February 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Bad quoting is when I take a perfectly fine quote and put it in a bad context because sometimes irony is fun.

Today’s quote:

there are none who understand the art of doing nothing and living upon nothing better than the poor classes of Spain

When I went to Spain earlier this year, I did a walking tour in Madrid. Our tour guide said that the unemployment rate for people under 30 in Spain is 50%. I haven’t done a fact check, but everyone knows that in general the economy in Spain is doing pretty badly right now.

So where does this quote come from? Who dares to make such a politically incorrect claim?

Well, turns out it was Washington Irving, an American author and diplomat who wrote this circa 1829 when staying in the rooms of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Back in his day, the Alhambra was in a pretty derelict state and mainly inhabited by vagabonds with their makeshift shelters and claims of ancestral nobility. People were poor, but proud and happy – was Irving’s observation. He loved the Alhambra so much that he decided to move into the actual castle despite crumbling walls, open windows and doors that didn’t close; his admitted being frightful on his first night, but quickly adapted to the romanticism of living among ruins.

Here’s a fuller extract:

Here [in the Alhambra] are two classes of people to whom life seems one long holiday, the very rich, and the very poor: one, because they need do nothing, the other, because they have nothing to do; but there are none who understand the art of doing nothing and living upon nothing better than the poor classes of Spain. Climate does one half and temperament the rest. Give a Spaniard the shade in summer and the sun in winter, a little bread, garlic, oil and garbanzos [chickpeas], an old brown cloak and a guitar, and let the world roll on as it pleases. Talk of poverty! With him it has no disgrace. It sits upon him with a grandiose style, like his ragged cloak. He is an hidalgo [gentleman] even when in rags.

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