Peasants who don’t know how to cross themselves

Apparently we anglocabrones used to think that crossing oneself was prerequisite to being Spanish. Here’s Juan Goytisolo in La Guardia, a short story written in the early 1950s, partly available in GBS:

From the window I saw a group of conscripts in parade dress. It was Sunday and the officers’ room was deserted. Its furniture consisted of a combination writing-desk and table, plus half a dozen chairs. Nailed up in the center of the wall was a portrait of Franco, in color.

“I know you university guys hate to rule with a big stick, and prefer to grease things up with a bit of vaseline. You’re used to city folks, to relationships between people like you and me. You don’t know what’s underneath.” With is fountain-pen he pointed to the soldiers’ barracks. “Here we get the lowest of the low: hicks from Extremadura, Andalusia, Murcia, La Mancha. Most of the recruits are practically illiterate, and some of them don’t even know how to cross themselves. In the barracks, they’re not only taught to shoot or mark time. With a bit of goodwill and a few close haircuts, they learn how to use a fork, speak properly, and behave as they should.”

Some old men from the sticks regard their military service as having put them briefly in touch with something strange and marvellous. Others don’t. As with ethnic identity, correct forms of religious expression tended to be learnt in towns and barracks.

Not much crossing oneself these days at this end of the Vulgar Latin Empire, but urban Romanians are still keeping something resembling the faith (scroll bottom). In the true, Carpathian Independent church, our chief wizard, Mr Milton, tells us to disdain gesture as idolatry engendrous of slavishness and servility.

As is usual here, “peasant” is used as a simple term of abuse. Marx is dead. Reports of his resurrection are greatly exaggerated.

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