Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Goya in Urdu and Spanish

This word came across my tumblr feed via my lovely daughter. It was one of a list of 11 untranslatable words from other languages. You've probably seen others of this sort. I am now in love with this word and may have to learn Urdu. 

I'm a big fan of cross-language connections. I'm a Spanish teacher by day and a novelist by night, so I guess it only makes sense that I'm also a huge word nerd. Bilingual puns make me giggle ridiculously.

Goya, which we are told above means "the transporting suspension of disbelief that can occur in good storytelling" in Urdu, is also a word in Spanish, or, more accurately, a name. It's the name of one of my favorite Spanish painters: Francisco Goya. I first learned of him when I was a college student studying in Spain for a summer. It was 1992, a big year for España--they had the Olympics and the World's Fair. I never made it to Barcelona for the Olympics, but I did make it to the World's Fair in Segovia. 

Goya was featured as part of the Spanish art exhibit. Many of his most famous paintings were collected all in one room. I had no idea how special that was at the time. Thinking about those paintings now, I think that the man is accurately named, even in Urdu. His paintings are transporting in the same way that the best storytelling is, even if he didn't tell his stories with words. 

Some of his paintings have lingered in my imagination, telling their stories and making me weave my own:
La maja desnuda is one of my favorite paintings ever. Back when I had my very first public email account, on The Well (showing my age to mention it, I know), I was (or whatever the tail was--I think I've forgotten).

I think the appeal for me lies in the rich details--the way the sheet is folded under the legs. The expression on the woman's face, which can be read a hundred different ways. The demure position of her thighs revealing only what she chooses to reveal. The way her breasts roll out to the sides in just the way that real breasts do. The directness of her gaze, with no shame or shyness evident.

It has a sister painting: La maja vestida (very similar, but the woman is dressed). The existence of the dressed painting has led to some interesting theories about the history of this painting. I'm no art historian and don't know the true history of this painting, but I've always liked the legend that the clothed version was done for the lady's husband, and the nude for the painter himself.

Another favorite is Tres de Mayo, 1808.

This one has very specific history behind it, which I am somewhat familiar with thanks to my college professors. It depicts a firing squad punishing Madrileños who were part of an uprising against Napoleon's army and French occupation of their city and country. 

It's very easy to tell whose side Goya was on. The light guides your eyes to the man in white and yellow and his sad, but not frightened or cowed face. In contrast, the French soldiers are a faceless line of men, almost indistinguishable from one another. 

Want another kind of story? View "Saturn Devouring His Son,""The Colossus," or the collection of etchings called "Los Caprichos" (especially El Sueño de Razón). 

Goya was quite the storyteller. If I could paint something half as good with my words . . . .


  1. "Goya" is also a brand of Puerto Rican foods and spices, named such because the owner was a big fan of Francisco.

  2. I have seen Goya products on my supermarket shelves. I had no idea that they were actually named for the artist. How cool!