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Wednesday October 10, 2012

Baying to the moon

Why do Spanish dogs say "Guau! Guau!" when English dogs say "Woof! Woof!" ?

Ever since living in rural Majorca I’ve got used to the somewhat unusual topics that crop up at Majorcan dinner parties that would never in a month of Sundays wriggle there way to the table at a chic London soiree. And let’s not get started on the excitable and heated discussions that inevitably revolve around food and local traditions.

Take the other night. Having exhausted subjects ranging from frog populations, stone well leaks, horse manure suppliers, island incinerator pollution, political corruption, irrigation channels, donkey purchasing, the town’s one-eyed police dog, the poetry of Robert Graves, Pedro Almodóvar and where to buy the best ensaimadas (local sweet pastries) we moved on to hooch. It was gone midnight as we sat- twelve attentive apostles- discussing the merits of limoncello, the revered lemon based Italian dijestif.

The Italian in our midst was explaining how his homemade pure alcohol, lemon skin and sugar version was far superior to that made by a Spanish guest who used vodka, sugar and lemon juice. Bottles were produced and a tasting began followed by a lengthy and animated discussion and quaffing session. As the only British guests, and limocello aficionados the Scotsman and I found ourselves endorsing the Italian tipple, although the Spanish version was pleasant enough, rather like flavoursome vodka. The bulk of Majorcans at the table began handing round their latest homemade herbes, the local herb based liqueur. Some versions were dry, others sweet, while one was distinctly medicinal with a strong aniseed flavour. Thirty minutes later amid shrieks of laughter and thumping of the table, the debate continued. In the end everyone clung doggedly to the conviction that their homemade brew was the best. And who were we, mere Brits, to disagree?

By two in the morning we all felt it time to hit the hay. Standing in the vast wooded gardens of our Majorcan friends’ ancient finca, we stared up at the swollen moon and winking stars dancing on the tips of the Tramuntana hills. It was at that heavenly moment that Ignacio, a writer cum naval architect, ran back to the terrace to retrieve the Spanish manuscript of his children’s cartoon book. He wanted my help with the English translation. We stood there in the dim light glimpsing the pages. I suddenly laughed when I read one of the text balloons. Ignacio frowned. What was so funny? GUAU, GUAU, that’s what. Dogs didn’t say GUAU GUAU! That made the Italian laugh. He thought WOOF WOOF sounded absurd and said the Italian BAU BAU made more sense. We all began barking in our respective languages to prove a point and then came Spanish bird pío píos-as opposed to cheep, cheeps-and a donkey’s hee haw-or rather the Spanish ji-jo. I argued that sheep bleated an extended mè but the Spanish insisted that they emitted a plaintive beeee.

Ten animals later, we wearily set off along the long and winding track that led to the silent main road, baying to the moon-of course- as we went.

This blog first appeared in Expat Telegraph

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