A cultural question for Conchita

Hey, Conchita! I’ve got a question for you. There’s an American popular song from the late '50s or early '60s called Rose in Spanish Harlem. It’s recorded with a Latin sound, and it talks about a beautiful girl as symbolized by a rose that grows up through the cracks in the pavement of a poor neighborhood. The verse ends, “I’m going to pick that rose and watch her as she grows in my garden.”

I never thought much about that song until I moved to the Czech Republic and found out that they have a medieval song with the same theme. The girl is a beautiful flower growing up through the paving stones of a bridge in Prague. The guy’s going to pick it and nurture it in the garden at home.

Now, how did THIS coincidence happen? I doubt that the song writer in New York spoke Czech, although it’s possible. What did occur to me was that there was also an old Spanish song with the same theme. The Habsburgs ruled Spain, a lot of Latin America and Bohemia, and there was some cultural exchange between Spain and Bohemia, for example.

Is there an old song in Spanish that has this same theme?

[color=darkblue]Hi, Jamie!

The metaphor of a flower growing in the most unlikely places or – for more contrast – in ugly surroundings, seems to be a recurrent theme in the arts. From the rose in Picasso’s Guernica to Tennyson’s little flower willing its way through a crannied wall to the light of day, it symbolizes a flicker of hope or new life emerging from the ashes.

Maybe it just goes to show that beauty can be found where you least expect it. The sad thing is that we don’t always see it, blinded as we are by so many things or because we’re always on the run and can’t be bothered to stop and really look around us. Funny, isn’t it, how we want to do so many things because life is soi-disant too short and maybe that’s what makes us miss so many other little big things. But I’m wandering away from the issue.

I can’t think of or find any Spanish song with a story similar to that of “Spanish Harlem”, but I’m sure that at least some of the phrases or lines can be found in songs or poems throughout the world and ages.

Interestingly enough, I found a Quechua name for a ‘flower that grows through cracks between rocks’: Qikyusisa. It’s amazing how a full sentence in our languages can translate into one single Indian word!

Flower in the Crannied Wall
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Written in 1850

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Thanks, Conchita. I think the image of a rose growing up through urban pavement is more than coincidence, especially when the songs end the same way, but I’ll have to continue my search.

Speaking of indigenous languages of the Americas, a Mexican student of mine said this mother was always worrying that the Nahuatl language would die out soon. He said her fears were laid completely to rest when she saw a man walking down the street speaking Nahuatl on a cellphone.