Spanish Bull-Boards

Archaic coats-of-arms? So out. Overtly masculine bull icons? So in.

Pamplona, Spain November 14th, 2010

Since arriving in Spain, I’ve seen the simple but striking outline of a black bull emblazoned on t-shirts, keychains, and bumper stickers. It seems to be every bit as strong a national symbol as the Spanish flag itself – in fact, the two are often combined, especially for sporting events!

There are also postcards sold here and there which appear to show a large, standing interpretation of the black bull in a field of sunflowers. Later, I was out with some friends when we spotted one by the road. It was enormous – a thin piece of metal painted jet black and standing proudly over the highway. I was starting to get curious. This was clearly a different specimen than I had seen in the postcards, and, now that I thought about it, I’d seen another one in my friend’s photographs from the Canary Islands. So there were at least three across Spain, I thought, and logic would say there were likely to be more… a good deal more.

I’ve kept my eye out on my travels around Spain, and by now I’ve probably seen close to a dozen, perched everywhere from the dry, rocky roadsides of Alicante to the lush green hills of Galicia. My curiosity was piqued. How many were there? How did they get where they were? How are they maintained? I assumed that they had been placed along the highways in order to reflect a national symbol – but after a little bit of research, I learned that the truth was precisely the opposite, and that the bulls have a long and complicated history that has taken turns no one could have predicted.

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The History of the Osborne Bulls:

It all started in the 1950′s, when the sherry company Osborne (incidentally, the second oldest company in Spain), chose a simple bull logo to advertise their new brandy, and began erecting modestly sized wooden billboards in the shape of this logo, each painted with the word “Osborne”. If these bulls sound quite different from those seen today, that’s because they were!

There were once more than a hundred 'bulls' across Spain, each held together with more than 1,000 bolts.

Soon, weather conditions required the company to switch their material from wood to metal, and they increased the size of the billboards to 7 meters. Then, in 1962, new laws required advertisements to be kept further from the roads, so the size of the bulls was double to a massive 14 meters, and they were strategically placed over flat stretches or on hilltops in order to maximize visibility.

Advertising restrictions continued to tighten, and by the late 1980′s Osborne had to remove their names from the sign and paint them plain black in order to follow regulations. This worked for a few years, until new laws said that the bulls – plain black or no – would have to be taken down.

Then, something extraordinary happened – the media and the people of Spain leapt to the billboards’ defense – a massive ‘save the bulls’ campaign was initiated. The argument went all the way to Spain’s Supreme Court, which in 1997 ruled that the bulls had transcended mere advertising icons, and were now part of Spain’s cultural identity and heritage.

The bulls were safe! Well, mostly. Some had already been destroyed before they were given protected status, and those that remain are still subject to the weather (in 2009, one of the Alicante bulls was demolished by strong winds – it has since been rebuilt) and vandalism (the only bull in Catalonia, near Barcelona, has been repeatedly vandalized by Catalan nationalists, and has not been rebuilt after its most recent destruction.)

The Osborne company itself has had mixed feelings about the bull saga. Just as the status of the bulls as cultural icons has protected them from advertising regulations, it has protected manufacturers of souvenirs utilizing the logo from copyright restrictions.

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Where are they now?

Wikipedia's map showing bulls per Spanish province.

The 89 remaining Osburne Bulls are scattered unevenly across Spain, from the greatest concentration (23) in Andalucia, to the single speciments of the Basque Country, Navarra, Catalunya, the Balearic Islands, and the Canary Islands.

For fellow residents of Navarra, ours is in the south, near Tudela.

Wherever they are located, the bulls are taken care of today by Felix Tejada and his family, in whose workshop they were first created.

/A Semester in the Basque Country of Spain

The 5 Weirdest Objects in the British Museum

London, England – August 2nd, 2010

Look to the British Museum’s “History of the World in 100 Objects” if you want an official list of its most relevant artifacts. If, instead, you’d like a very unofficial list of its most irrelevant artifacts, read on! Here are the five things that really made me laugh:

1.) This is a piece from the Lewis Chess Set, one of the British Museum’s most famous exhibits. The chess set is striking for its antiquity (it dates to viking times), its high level of detail, and the humorous appearance of its pieces. This queen is one of my favorites, as her eyes bug out and she presses a hand to her face as if worried. Apparently, however, that’s just how people carved eyes back then… and the pose was meant as a symbol of wisdom and gracefulness.

 

 

 

 

2.) I found these three human figurines in the Mesopotamian section of the museum. What’s great is the academic description below: “These are of unfired clay. Though very crude, two certainly represent males. The third might either be female or has lost a small piece of clay.”

 

 

 

 

3.) This statuette comes from the Roman section. I can think of a dozen possible explanations of what’s going on here, and frankly, all of them are pretty weird. Just check out the facial expressions.

 

 

 

 

4.) This looks like a goofy, modern pen holder (or maybe a coffee mug?).  Apparently it’s actually from South America and pretty old at that.

 

 

 

 

5.) This is my favourite item in the whole museum, hands down. It’s a secret dagger, hidden in… a similar dagger! Brilliant! So, you know, people will never suspect you’re carrying a dagger… they’ll just think you’re carrying a… dagger! Anyone have an opinion about whether or not the interior dagger could even be used?

/From the Lowlands to the Highlands

Cereal with Milk and Iced Tea

Two for one!

Iced tea with lemon... always delicious over your honey oats! ^^

The first time I saw cereal prepackaged with milk in Costa Rica, I thought I was going a bit crazy.

But, once I remembered that most of the milk sold in Latin America is super-pasteurized and doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened, I got used to it fairly quickly. And then I saw cereal packaged with tea…

Six Funny Things about the Japanese Language

Japanese is a fun language to study, for travel purposes or to enjoy Japanese culture from afar. Because the language and the culture are both quite different from those you may be familiar with, it can be a funny experience to study Japanese as well! Here are a few things that always make me laugh when I’m studying or using Japanese.

1.) If you want to say you ‘love’ something, as in, you ‘really like it’, in Japanese, you use the expression ‘daisuki’. This is made of two components: Dai (Big) and Suki (Like). Big Like!

2.) Japanese people worry a lot about being polite, and in Japanese this includes using different words to refer to things you want to honor, and things you want to be neutral, or humble about. Sometimes these ‘honourable’ version of words simply add a prefix. Other times they are completely different words. And sometimes there are even more categories than this, showing different degrees of honor!  For example, when you talk about your boss’s car, you should probably say okuruma, instead of just kuruma.

3.) One way this manifests itself is in the names for family members. Obviously, you can’t use the same word to talk about your mother or your friend’s mother. You want to show your friend’s mother respect, but since you are talking about your mother in connection to yourself, it would be rude to honor your mother (and, by connection, yourself!). So your friend’s mother is (anata no) okaasan — (your) mother, and my mother is (watashi no) haha — (my) mother.

4.) The Japanese word for Manufacturer is Meikaa. Sound it out. This is an import word. Television Manufacturer is Terebi Meikaa. Sound it out!

5.) Japanese uses different sets of numbers to count things with different shapes. These are called counters. For example, one is ichi, but one year – issai, one bird – ichiwa, one dog or cat or insect – ippiki, one person – hitori. Although there is a ‘place holder’ counter for use when the counter is unknown, and some counters are not in common use, unique counters exist for such things as: paragraphs, footsteps, nursery trees (and stocks), bows during worship at a shrine, cannons, and theatrical acts.

6.) These numbers themselves can be made up from two different original systems – Chinese and Japanese. The basic words for four, seven, and nine, however, are problematic. Four is Shi, a word which also means death. This is unlucky, kind of like our number 13, so they replace it with the euphemism Yon sometimes (and in some cases you HAVE to say yon, such as Yoji (four o’clock)). The same goes for Ku, which means suffering and it often switched out with Kyu. Seven is Shichi, which Japanese people sometimes worry gets lost floating around next to shi (four) and ichi (one), so they sometimes say nana instead!

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

Japanese is a fun language to study, for travel purposes or to enjoy Japanese culture from afar. Because the language and the culture are both quite different from those you may be familiar with, it can be a funny experience to study Japanese as well! Here are a few things that always make me laugh when I’m studying or using Japanese.