November 20, 1999

We met over a postcard. It was September 1, 1996 and I had been on the internet for about six months. We both used to hang out in chat rooms through IRC and one day I asked people to send me postcards from where they lived. I collected postcards, you see. I was also fascinated about knowing more about other places, languages and cultures. He sent me a private message asking me for my address and promised a postcard from Montreal, where he lived. All I knew about Canada at that point was that it was the land of the totem poles and grand British buildings (I had been to Victoria, BC, when I was 7 years old). I also had vague notions that some parts of the country spoke French. So we started talking. We found we had much in common. So we started looking for each other every night. Soon we were talking for 3-4 hours every day. Sometimes for 8 hours straight. We had exchanged pictures during the first week but he avoided telling me his age. I knew he was much older but didn’t know how much. But it didn’t matter when he could read my mind and finish my sentences from 7,000 miles away. We soon discovered we were soul mates, we fell in love. Eleven months later I would come to Montreal to take an English course and we would meet for the first time. We were 100% comfortable with each other from the very first moment, there was no awkwardness or embarrassing silent moments. People who believe in re-incarnation might be on to something; it feels like we’ve been together for generations. We married as soon as I graduated from university in Brazil and today we celebrate 9 years of marriage and we are as in love and as attentive to each other as in those early days. We are so comfortable that we forget our anniversary every year. The only reason we remembered in the first year was because my mother called. Thank God for modern technology – I was able to write this post a week ago and post it today, before I forgot again.

Happy anniversary sweety.

PS: we talked so much that first day when he asked me for my address that I think we both forgot what initiated the conversation. While he sent me many postcards, letters and gifts later, that initial postcard was never sent.


Thank you for the anniversary wishes! To celebrate, we went out to La Palette, a little French bistro at Kensington Market. We had been there before for lunch and were very impressed so decided to try it for dinner. French food always does it for us. It takes us back to some of the most romantic dates we’ve had. It’s not just the food – it has to do with the ambiance, the sound of the French language, the lingering meal… We had the $50 five-course tasting menu and although it was very good, I’m not sure it’s a better value than the $32 prix fixe menu. The wine? A Spanish one to take us back to our days in Spain…


In light of the recent riots sparked by the death of an African immigrant in Spain, I couldn’t help but share with you J. N. Hillgarth’s very wise and learned concluding words to his very good book The Spanish Kingdoms, 1250-1516:

“No date can be set for the end of medieval Spain. The tensions created by the past are still alive. Recent events have shown that historical diversity can survive the accidents of dynastic marriage and the centralizing mania of centuries of bureaucrats. In the present day [the book was published in…] the traditions of the crusader-conquistador and that of dialogue are still alive. The Civil War of 1936-9 was seen by the winning side as ‘the crusade of Spain. But the contractual (pactista) strain in Spanish thought, strong in the Middle Ages, not only in the Crown of Aragon and Navarre but in Castile, has also continued to exist. One hopes that the policies of a new generation will turn, in the phrase of Julián Marías, to ‘a scrupulous respect for reality’, that options often exercised by Spaniards in the past will revive, that hegemony will be again replaced by diversity, conflict with convivencia, and that the ‘catholic diversity’ Arnau de Vilanova admired in 1306 will return to Spain. The only contribution historians can make to such a goal is to expose outgrown myths, to abandon, for instance, the practice of seing the medieval history of Spain as one of eight centuries of Reconquista, ending in a united Spain under the Catholic Monarchs, rather than as the chequered pattern of alternatives it actually was, a pattern in which the conquering Christian strain is unintelligible apart from the other threads with which it was involved.”

One of most interesting aspects of history in general are the myths that evolve and become unquestioned and accepted truths. Every country has their share of myths. Brazil still firmly believes in the myth of racial democracy, Canada is often portrayed as a nation that has always been peaceful, tolerant and progressive, while Europe in general – Spain is not alone in this – likes to look at its past as marked by homogeneity and unity. Nationalism as an ideology is hard to shake. I still believe that the future will be in the hands of those who embrace diversity. And this is where the study of history can be helpful.

Shall we teach Canadian history?

[I posted this originally in my history blog, but think it is of enough interest to my non-history friends to post here too]

This discussion was in the Globe and Mail this past saturday. I don’t know how long the Globe will maintain it online, so I made a pdf copy for you here:Should we can Canadian history?. I’m still agast at the first piece in the discussion – I didn’t think anybody still spoke out loud about history as a western-led progress, the “advancement of civilization” led by our male, white, European forefathers. I think my eyebrows glued to my hairline at that… How can someone even suggest that “music, science and political philosophy are all largely Western achievements”???
One thing from the article that I found VERY interesting and that wasn’t reproduced in the online version is what students are expected to walk out of school with, if they take all their history courses. This is according to Ken Osborne, a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, who has spent his career training history teachers. Here is his list of the core points:

  • Canada has a long aboriginal history predating Europeans’ arrival and aboriginal peoples occupy a key place in our history
  • Canada was once a colony of France, then of Britain – and French-English duality is a defining characteristic of the country
  • Bilingualism, multiculturalism, regional diversity, federalism and parliamentary democracy are defining characteristics of Canada
  • US relations have been a formative element of our evolution
  • Immigration is a major factor in Canada’s development
  • International events play an important role in our past
  • History as a subject is characterized by ongoing debate and interpretation

Those are all VERY important points and certainly things I learned in my Canadian history classes at university. Hats off to any high school teacher  who has been able to pass on these core points to their students.

History blog

I find myself wanting to get into the more technical details of research and teaching but don’t really want to do it here. This blog was created more as a place to keep in touch with friends & family, most of whom are not historians and are not all that interested in that sort of thing. I also wanted the posts related to that to be in a blog focused on that theme so all the links & categories could reflect the central theme. So I created a new blog for that: Peregrina Historiae. Drob by! Leave a comment!

Monks, kings, markets & calçots

Yesterday was amazing! We drove through wine country, discovered a gorgeous thirteenth-century monastery, wandered through the market at Valls, and drove through half the region searching for calçots.

I can´t wait to tell you all about it but since I´m at work right now, I´ll direct you to Alan´s blog, where he talks about our day and shares some of the beautiful pictures he took.

The Great (Ecumenic) Mosque of Cordoba?

The Great Mosque of Cordoba can be seen as a symbol of the many layers of Spanish history and of all the peoples that carved this nation. After the Muslim conquest of the Spanish kingdoms, Abderraman I ordered the construction of a mosque on the site of a Visigothic church (which was itself built over a Roman temple). When Cordoba fell back into Christian possession in the thirteenth century, it was turned back into a church.

Earlier this week, the president of the Islamic Association of Spain, Mansur Escudero, wrote a letter to Pope Benedict XVI requesting that Muslims be allowed to pray in front of the mihrab* of the great mosque, alongside Catholics. Escudero alleged that the shared use of the building would help bridge relations between the two groups and would follow the example set by the recent visit by the pope to the Hagia Sophia in Turkey. The bishop of Cordoba quickly issued a press release denying the request saying it would only cause “confusion” among the faithful. His exact words are interesting: “sólo generaría confusión en los fieles, dando pie al indiferentismo religioso”.

What does he mean by “indiferentismo religioso”? That people wouldn’t be able to tell the two religions apart? Well, maybe stressing the things we have in common wouldn’t be so bad. But god-forbid we make a muslim seem less alien to a christian… That would be too revolutionary.
I think the Church lost a great PR moment here. The Great Mosque of Cordoba is mostly a tourist site these days. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit it every year. Catholics don’t find it a practical place in which to do their worship. That role is played by more local parish churches. Allowing the Mosque of Cordoba to be used as an ecumenic temple would be mostly a public-relations effort that would probably disturb few Catholics and fit well with all the efforts of interfaith dialogue pioneered by the late Pope John Paul II.

When I first moved to Canada, I was surprised to find that the local Catholic church shared the building with a Protestant church. One could go to mass at 9 AM or attend a Protestant service at 11:30. Martin Luther and Jean Calvin probably turned in their tombs, but I thought it was great. It shows respect towards each other and reminds us that we have more uniting us than we do separating us.

As a Spanish tourist said when asked if Muslims should be allowed to pray in the building, “Es de sentido común, es la mezquita de Córdoba”. A couple from Valencia added that after all, the Muslims also have the right to pray.

*a mihrab is a niche in the middle of a building that indicates the direction of Mecca

Mansur Escudero praying by the mosque of cordoba

photo © El Pais

Catalan language and poetry

Sept 11th was an important holiday for Catalunya. While the rest of the world talked about terrorist attacks and the loss of liberties those entailed, Catalans remembered the date in 1714 when its armies surrendered to the Spanish forces led by Felipe V. Many foreigners laugh and shake their heads – “why commemorate a defeat?”, they ask. Because it wasn’t a simple defeat. The date marked the beginning of suppression of Catalan language, culture and institutions by a centralizing Spanish monarchy that wanted to punish Catalunya for picking the wrong side on the war of succession to the throne. So the date has become an important day to commemorate freedom (llibertat) and Catalan culture.

Young Catalan at Sant Cugat Flags at Saint Cugat

As Alan mentioned on his blog, when we took the train that day to go hiking nearby, we were given a little hardcover book of Catalan poetry. It is entitled Catalunya en vers: mil anys d’història a través de la poesia and it is basically a collection of poems that mention Catalunya as a nation. Since nationalism was the criteria, most of the poems hail back from the nineteenth century, that golden age of nationalism.

I have to say I was very disappointed. For a book that wants to talk about “a thousand years of history”, it completely ignores the middle ages. The oldest poem in the book is from the seventeenth century. As a medievalist, I cannot let that pass without saying something. There was no dearth of poets and writers writing in Catalan between the 13th and 15th centuries. Just think of Ramon Llull or Ausiàs March.

It always amazes people when I tell them that not only Catalan is a language in its own right (and not a dialect of Castilian as some assume), but it is also one of the oldest of the current languages spoken in Europe. Scholars hail about the early development of English citing the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. Well, Ramon Llull was writing his mystical novels one hundred years before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales just as Ausiàs March and his contemporaries were writing beautifully a hundred years before Shakespeare.

Here’s one of Ausias March love poems:
Així com cell qui en lo somni·s delita
e son delit de foll pensament ve,
ne pren a mi, que·l temps passat me té
l’imaginar, que altre bé no hi habita.
Sentint estar en aguait ma dolor,
sabent de cert que en ses mans he de jaure,
temps d’avenir en negun be’m pot caure:
aquell passat en mi és lo millor.

Del temps present no·m trobe amador,
mas del passat, que és no res e finit.
D’aquest pensar me sojorn e·m delit,
mas, quan lo perd, s’esforça ma dolor,
sí com aquell qui és jutjat a mort
e de llong temps la sap e s’aconhorta
e creure·l fan que li serà estorta
e·l fan morir sens un punt de record.

Plagués a Déu que mon pensar fos mort
e que passàs ma vida en dorment:
malament viu qui té lo pensament
per enemic, fent-li d’enuigs report,
e, com lo vol d’algun plaer servir,
li’n pren així com dona ab son infant,
que, si verí li demana plorant,
ha tan poc seny que no·l sap contradir.

Fóra millor ma dolor soferir
que no mesclar poca part de plaer
entre aquells mals, qui·m giten de saber
com del passar plaer me cové eixir.
Las! mon delit dolor se converteix,
dobla’s l’afany aprés d’un poc repòs,
sí co·l malalt qui, per un plasent mos,
tot son menjar en dolor se nodreix.

Com l’ermità qui enyorament no”l creix
d’aquells amics que tenia en lo món
e, essent llong temps que en lo poblat no fon,
per fortuit cas un d’ells li apareix
qui los passats plaers li renovella
sí que·l passat present li fa tornar;
mas, com se’n part, l’és forçat congoixar,
lo bé, com fuig, ab grans crits mal apella.

Plena de seny, quan amor és molt vella,
absença és lo verme que la guasta,
si fermetat durament no contrasta
e creure poc, si l’envejós consella.

From 200 books to 200 registers

On Friday, March 3rd I passed my comprehensive exams. Aimed at providing a solid background for future research and teaching, the ‘comps’, as they are fondly called, involve reading about 200 books over a period of 9 months. I averaged one and a half books a day towards the last few weeks of reading. While I had a healthy attitude towards the exams in the beginning, towards the end I totally freaked out and reached rock bottom somewhere at the end of January. I couldn’t eat or sleep properly, I cried for no reason, I was convinced my academic carreer was over before it even started. They would finally discover what a big fraud I am… “If I can pass this” I thought “research and writing my thesis will be no problem”.

Maybe I spoke too soon. Or maybe things haven’t changed that much. Or maybe we need to convince ourselves, in a graduate program, that the next stage will be easier in order to move on.

I’m now doing my research. Instead of two hundred typed books I need to read two hundred manuscript books (chancery registers). Instead of modern English, French or Spanish I now have to read highly abbreviated Latin and medieval Catalan and Aragonese.

Suddenly, I miss the comps…