Barcelona and the great European fire sale

And an explanation of why “La gata sobre el tejado de zinc” is, in metallurgical-roofing terms, an inappropriate translation of “Cat on a hot tin roof”.

These holidays I read for the first time Juan Rulfo, yet more Cela, diverse Mexican historical paraphernalia, the Carles Soldevila Guia de Barcelona which I picked up for five euros on Donceles in Ciudad de México, various other crap, and La gata sobre el tejado de zinc, also found on Donceles. Here in the original English is Big Daddy, recalling Big Mama, flush with cash, on a Cook’s Tour to Europe:

Big Daddy: They’s one thing else that I remember in Europe.
Brick: What is that, Big Daddy?
Big Daddy: The hills around Barcelona in the country of Spain and the children running over those bare hills in their bare skins beggin’ like starvin’ dogs with howls and screeches, and how fat the priests are on the streets of Barcelona, so many of them and so fat and so pleasant, ha ha!–Y’know I could feed that country? I got money enough to feed that goddam country, but the human animal is a selfish beast and I don’t reckon the money I passed out there to those howling children in the hills around Barcelona would more than upholster the chairs in this room, I mean pay to put a new cover on this chair!
Hell, I threw them money like you’d scatter feed corn for chickens, I threw money at them just to get rid of them long enough to climb back into th’ car and–drive away….

Things are bad in Spain at the moment, but not quite as bad relatively speaking as when, in the 1930s I believe, Tennessee Williams began to use the country for convenient comparative purposes.

The translation of the title strikes me as completely inappropriate for two reasons. Firstly, a “zinc” roof is made of galvanised corrugated iron, which I believe was historically far more expensive than corrugated tin (I once read somewhere that mid-19th century prices per square foot were roughly 2:1, although the increasing availability of corrugated iron and fluctuations in tin prices may have subsequently changed that) and thus an unlikely metaphor for Brick in his reference to poor Maggie’s desire to make off with Big Daddy’s fortune. Tin roofs were for really poor people. Secondly, the specific heat capacity of tin (ie the amount of heat energy required to raise its temperature by a specific unit) is roughly half that of iron, so zinc isn’t a smart material to choose if you want your pussy extra hot. Tin roof owners in hot regions tend to apply reflective coatings to, or grow plants over, the buggers, because otherwise the oven effect is so pronounced.

So why this apparently misleading translation? It’s not as if a Spanish-speaking audience wouldn’t know what a tejado de latón was: a belief in abundant Iberian tin resources was one of the big reasons behind early visits by Phoenicians and their subsequent use of Cadiz as a staging post to islands in a cold sea to the north; and the discovery of Bolivian deposits was a major factor in the decline of the Cornish industry. The best explanation I can think of is that the translator didn’t (see fit to) differentiate between the two materials, rather as in neighbouring Louisiana creole, where zenk is/was used to refer to tin.

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  1. I am very glad that even at some remove I know a man who is familar with the effect of galvanisation on tin roof prices.

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