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#Miscellanea: Spanglish

Journalists, clergy members look at Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco's "El Expolio", or "The Disrobing of Christ", painting during a ceremony marking its return following restoration to the sacristy of the Cathedral of Toledo January 22, 2014. For centuries El Greco was a non-entity. No one studied his startling, unconventional work hanging high in a gothic cathedral, obscure convents and Spanish museums. It wasn't until the 19th century that modern painters rediscovered the artist - who was born Domenicos Theotocopoulos on Crete and lived and painted in Toledo, Spain from 1577 until his death in 1614 - and found inspiration in his bold colours and brush strokes. Now the city of Toledo in central Spain is marking the 400th anniversary of the death of its most famous son with a series of exhibitions, conferences and concerts in the walled, medieval city as well as in Madrid. Picture taken January 22, 2014 REUTERS/Paul Hanna (SPAIN - Tags: SOCIETY ANNIVERSARY RELIGION)

It was ten in the morning and I was sitting in the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus. I had about two and a half hours left before my train journey to Madrid, and I was hoping to squeeze in a last-minute visit to Toledo Cathedral. There were only three people in the mini-van apart from myself and the driver – a middle-aged German couple dressed in matching white sweaters, and a South American lady in her mid-sixties.

As we started ascending the series of hills leading up to Zocodover Square, the Latin American woman casually muttered that nobody had told her the hotel was so far away from Toledo’s ‘centro histórico’. It was one of those unscripted remarks that people often throw up in the air – half to themselves, half-hoping that someone will hear them and engage them in conversation – and, though I didn’t exactly feel up to much talking myself, I said that until yesterday I, too, hadn’t realised that the Eurostar Palacios was over five kilometres from the centre.

‘Usted no es de por aquí, verdad?’ the South American woman asked, half-turning towards me.

‘No, soy de Gibraltar.’

We chatted some more and I learned that the lady’s name was Giannina and that she was from Puerto Rico. She told me that she had come to Toledo to see the paintings of El Greco. I explained that I myself had come to Toledo from Salamanca, where I had recently delivered a presentation about the Gibraltar border and how it is portrayed in my books. ‘Oh, so you’re a writer as well!’ she said, this time in perfect English. ‘Qué bien!’

We continued chatting until the mini-van reached Toledo, by which point we had decided to visit the cathedral together. For the next hour or so we spoke about all manner of things – Donald Trump, Brexit, the spread of right-wing populism, the Catalonian crisis, the deliberate slow-down tactics employed by Spanish border guards at the Gibraltar frontier – all the time switching from English to Spanish, attracting one or two puzzled looks from tourists and passers-by.

Finally, at around half-past eleven, I said that it had been a great pleasure chatting to her, but that I really needed to be going. With that, I turned around and strode rapidly through the cathedral’s doors, determined to get to the station in good time. As I reached Toledo’s well-known ‘escaleras mecánicas’ a few minutes later, I brought out my phone and googled the terms ‘Giannina’ and ‘Puerto Rican writers.’ It was only then that I discovered that I had spent the last hour in the company of Giannina Braschi, a famous Puerto Rican writer described by Wikipedia as “a revolutionary voice in contemporary Latin American literature” and “the author of the first ever Spanglish novel.”

‘Fancy that,’ I thought, unable to repress a smile. ‘What are the odds of a Gibraltarian writer (who mixes English and Spanish in his own writing) walking into a mini-bus and finding himself seated next to the author of the first ever Spanglish novel?’

Life does churn up some strange coincidences at times, doesn’t it?

Main photo REUTERS/Paul Hanna

M. G. Sanchez has written nine books on Gibraltarian subjects, among them novels, short story collections, books of essays and autobiographical memoirs, all of which are available on Amazon. More information on his writing can be found at or on his Facebook page. He also tweets under the handle @MGSanchez.

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