Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's in a name?

In addition to the requisite broadening of horizons, Robert and I wanted to get some insight on where our forebears came from. A couple of our destinations were to cater to this sidequest (much like collecting all the gold Skulltulas or gathering all the necessary items to ensure you were picked as Don Corneo's lucky lady for the night), and during our pre-trip research, it was discovered that the name Sarmiento, while abundant in the Philippines, but less so in the United States or Mexico, has its roots in Spain as the family name of some of the Conversos, or Jews that decided it was in their best interests to convert to Catholicism in order to stay alive. (As it happened, the team swap was regarded with suspicion by Catholics under the reign of the aforementioned Ferdinand and Isabella, convinced it was merely to gain access to the blood of Christian babies for conducting their secret Jewish Passover rituals and other such bullshit paranoid delusions and it was those suspected of being secret Jews who were a primary target of the Inquistion, no matter if the last three generations of your now Catholic family had been baptized, confirmed and members of the church choir. Are we having fun yet?)
In Granada, a phone book was briefly flipped to reveal the presence of about six Sarmientos left in the city, and we resolved that perhaps we just were't going to get a definitive answer on the history of the Sarmientos in Spain this time around.
Flash forward to our cab ride to the Barcelona airport two days later, Robert is chatting up a storm with our driver and mentions our sidequest in Granada, and whether or not he knew any Sarmientos and if, by chance, he knew of an kosher roots. He did not, in fact, know any Sarmientos but was surprised that we didn't know what a sarmiento was! Oh, there is a thing called a sarmiento? Good sir, please do elaborate! He cheerfully informed us that sarmientos were the hard, dried wood of a grape vine, assuring us that they made excellent firewood, best used in the slow cooking of barbacoa. "Sarmientos burn for a long time!" He exclaimed, "Muy bien!" We sat in silence in the backseat, contemplating this odd bit of trivia as we drove further away from the center of the city. As we passed a low hill on the right, our cab driver (who had been enthusiastically tossing out historical factoids with every block) waved his hand towards it and expelled another casual statement, one I did not catch, but that made Robert's eyebrows raise in what I took to be surprise. I was partly right. He turned towards me, expression undecipherable, and whispered, "He said that's where Barcelona buried alive the Jews at some point, when they wanted them out of the city." We stared at each other for a few seconds, quietly pondering this, and previous statements, before the awful moment of realization of where exactly that name for the excellently burning firewood came from sank in. The wine we had been consuming sat hard and sour in our stomachs as we both tried not to spell out the inevitable conclusion, instead dissolving into what were at first uncomfortable chuckles, and later the delirious laughter of the shocked and tipsy. We later agreed that though we wanted the historical facts, perhaps we were not prepared for the actual truth.