A kiosk in Palma.

A kiosk in Palma.

03-07-2004J. AGUIRRE

Palma used to have lots of newsstands or kiosks all over town but nowadays, on my count, there are only five: in Plaza Mercat in front of the Law Courts, off the Born, at the top of La Rambla, in Plaza España and in Plaza Progreso.

The one just down from the Bar Bosch bus-stop almost doesn’t count because it is hidden away and you only see it if by chance you happen to walk right past it. The visual impact of good newspaper kiosks is all-important because they are an embellishment to any city.

The kiosk that was actually in the Born, opposite another round one that was the Bar Tortugas (with the the island’s best Spanish tapas), was one of the most attractive I’ve ever seen — and that includes those in London and Paris.

These kiosks aren’t just places where we buy newspapers and magazines, they are essential locations on any urban landscape.

I stopped at the Born kiosk at least twice a day: first at around mid-day to have a gander at the London newspapers, and again in the early evening to buy Ultima Horait was an evening paper in those days.

I used to have surreptitious looks through the London dailies to see if they had used any pictures or news items I had sent — if they had, I bought the newspaper. But if there was nothing that day I carefully put the paper back into its wire rack.

With twice-a-day visits to the kiosk I eventually got to know the owner and when he realised I was a freelance journalist he invited me to glance through the papers at my ease — so there was no need for those furtive fingerings of the London dailies.

I have fond memories of the huge newsstand at Glasgow’s Central Station where I bought at least one magazine every day, but my favourites were those in Paris — real cylindrical kiosks with newspapers and magazines from all over the world.

Our word ‘kiosk’ comes from the Turkish ‘köshk’ and the Persian ‘kushk’ and it has three main meanings. In Turkey it was a small pavilion or an open summerhouse. For the Persians it was a palace or a villa, but it could also be a portico or similar projection in a palace.

The pavilion or summerhouse was usually a light wooden construction, sometimes supported by pillars, with a balustrade surrounding it.

The kiosk construction travelled to European countries, and when built in a park or public gardens it was used as place to house a band. It eventually became known as a ‘bandstand’.

A kiosk was later used for different kinds of sales and services. It was frequently a light movable wooden booth that sold newspapers, refreshments, cigarettes, tickets or similar goods.

And the early 20th century saw the emergence of the ‘telephone kiosk’, an individual booth that housed a public telephone. But they are also disappearing at a fast rate in most countries since the worldwide spread of the mobile phone.

In a conversation with some Cole Porter fans, someone had a question about Begin the Beguine. What is a beguine?

Porter’s song, a 1930s hit that was one of Perry Como’s favourites, referred to a dance that was popular at the time.

Webster’s full-size New International Dictionary defines beguine as ‘a vigorous popular dance of the islands of St Lucia and Martinique somewhat like the rumba’.

But there’s a good deal more to ‘beguine’ than a dance with a rumba beat because the word also has connections with an ancient religious order in Flanders.

The French feminine noun ‘béguine’ referred to an order of nuns who, without taking regular vows of obedience, lived a charitable life similar to begging friars.

They lived together in houses known as ‘béguinages’ but were allowed to leave and get married if they wanted to.

The order was founded in 1207 in Liège by a priest called Lambert Bègue. A second béguinage’ was established in Nivelle and the Grand Béguinage of Bruges was the most extensive.

In Walloon the verb ‘bégui’ means to stammer.The priest who started the religious order was known as ‘Le Bègue’, or the stammerer.

But there is yet another layer of meaning. In French slang, ‘béguin’ also means infatuation. It comes from the verb ‘embéguiner, to become infatuated.

The term ‘avoir un béguin pour’ means to have a crush on. In one of his novels, Somerset Maugham wrote: “The girl has a beguin for you.”

Maugham was born in Paris where his father was a solicitor at the British Embassy. He spoke French before English, so he was well aware of the ‘béguin’ word.

The English borrowed the French ‘béguin’ in the early 20th century and used it to mean infatuation or fancy. It is obvious that beguine, the dance, has its roots in the infatuation sense of the word and not the Belgian religious sisters.

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