I think my Spanish is pretty good, and so does Olga – although there’s always room for improvement, especially with the imperfecto de subjuntivo, and I’ll always have a guiri accent. Olga is my ‘Spanish conversation’ teacher. We meet once a week for coffee in a hotel just off the Plaza Catalunya, and I talk to her in Spanish for an hour and a half about Spanish politics, whilst reviewing the newspapers. For Olga, I suppose it’s a bit like having her very own weekly Andrew Marr Show, although I don’t think she knows who Andrew Marr is.
Often a word or phrase crops up that I don’t fully understand. This week, thanks to politician Gabriel Rufián, the spokesman for the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), it was ‘mamporrero’. It’s not the first time my Spanish vocabulary has been enriched (if that is the word) by Mr.Rufián. His 8-minute speech on why his party would vote ‘no’ during the investiture debate of Mariano Rajoy in the Spanish Parliament back in September kept me going for weeks. Often when he Tweets something, I find myself Googling or reaching for the dictionary – but some words he uses don’t appear. I’m thinking of inviting him along to my weekly sessions with Olga but I’m not sure if he’ll accept.
On Wednesday, during the parliamentary enquiry into what has become known as the ‘Operación Catalunya’, Gabriel Rufián came out with some gems. The Operación Catalunya focuses on the alleged smearing of pro-independence Catalan politicians during the Spanish government’s last term of office. The questions on Wednesday were aimed at the former Interior Minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, and the former Director of Catalonia’s Anti-Fraud Office, Daniel De Alfonso. Whilst Fernández Díaz got away relatively lightly by being called a ‘títere’ (a puppet) by Rufián, the former Anti-Fraud boss was called a ‘mentiroso’ (liar), ‘gánster’ (you can guess that), ‘mafioso’ (ditto), ‘corrupto’ (ditto) … and ‘mamporrero’.
I originally thought that ‘mamporrero’ meant ‘a person who clouts other people’, but thanks to the research of others using the authoritative online dictionary of the ‘Real Academia Española’, I discovered that it is a ‘person who helps horses breed, placing a colt’s penis in the mare’s vagina’.
Discussing this with Olga on Thursday, she seemed a bit embarrassed, and said I didn’t need to know the meaning of ‘mamporrero’ because I’d probably never have to say it. In a sense, she’s probably right. I can’t really imagine myself in any situation where I would end up accusing someone of being a person who helps horses breed, placing a colt’s penis in the mare’s vagina. I can’t really imagine any British politician standing up in the Houses of Parliament and saying it, either – (‘You, my right honourable friend, are the type of person who puts a colt’s penis in a mare’s vagina!’) – but you never know. Nigel Farage likened the EU Parliament to the mafia this week, so anything’s possible.
But the beauty of the Spanish language (and why I love it so much) is because the whole thing – that ‘person who helps horses breed by placing a colt’s penis in the mare’s vagina’ – can be summed up with just one word: ‘mamporrero’. Olga then said it wasn’t as simple as that. She explained that Mr.Rufián was probably using the phrase in a ‘suggestive way’, not necessarily related to horses, but perhaps ‘between men’. We decided not to pursue the definition further, because others were giving us odd looks.
On Tuesday, I interviewed Germà Bel in a debate for the ‘Our Future in Catalonia’ group in Barcelona, with the subject matter being ‘The Economics of a Catalan State’. Germà is a renowned Professor of Economics and a member of the Catalan Parliament’s ‘Junts pel Sí’ coalition group. It was a lively discussion, very well attended, and not an insulting word was uttered by anyone. Hopefully there will be more civilized discussions and ‘dialogue’ here in Barcelona. Watch this space …