Tortilla Flat

If ever there was a book that lends itself to Spanglish for Learning Español, it’s got to be Tortilla Flat, one of the most wonderful historias in all la historia de la literatura.  So here goes, poco a poco, let’s learn un poco de español en la companía de Danny and his amigos.  Just remember, you don’t have to understand everything if you can get the general picture!


Esta es la historia de Danny and of the amigos de Danny and of the house of Danny.  It is la historia of how these three came to convertirse into just one thing, so that if in Tortilla Flat you mencionas the house of Danny you aren’t refiriendo a una estructura of wood covered with a capa de plaster and adornada with an old and uncared-for rosal of Spain.


No, when you talk of the casa de Danny it is understood que te refieres to a unit whose partes are men and from which emanó sweetness and felicidad, filantropía and, al final, a pain místico.  Because the house of Danny was not very different from the Round Table and los amigos de Danny no very diferentes from its knights.  And this is la historia of how it flowered and grew to be una organización beautiful and wise.  This historia is about las aventuras de Danny, of the good that they did with their thoughts and their esfuerzos.  Finalmente, esta historia tells of how se extinguió el talismán and how se desintegró el grupo.

En Monterrey, this old city en la costa de California, the facts are well-known and talked about con frecuencia, often distorted.  Es necesario that these episodios are recorded so that in días futuros scholars, on hearing las leyendas, don’t say what they say about Arthur and about Robin Hood: “No ha existido no Danny nor any grupo de amigos de Danny nor any house.  Danny is a god of la naturaleza and his amigos are símbolos primitivos of the wind, the sky, the sun.”  Esta historia has the plan, now and forever, to wipe the scorn from the faces of scholars and pedantes.


Monterrey sits on the side of una colina, with a blue bay at its feet and a forest of tall and dark pinos at its back.  La parte más lowest del pueblo is habitada by americanos, italianos, fishermen and canning factory workers.  But on the hill, where the forest and el pueblo blend together, where the streets are free of asfalto and the corners free of street-lamps, the old habitantes de Monterrey are entrenched like los britanos se atrincheraron in Wales.  These are the paisanos.

They live in old cabañas of wood, among weeds, and los pinos of the forest se inclinan over the houses.  The paisanos are free of commercialism, libres del complicado sistema de comercio americano, and, not having anything that can be robbed, explotar or mortgaged, this sistema has not bothered them much.

What is a paisano?  It’s a mixture of hispano, indio, mexicano and diversas clases of caucasian blood.  Sus ancestros have lived in California for the space of a hundred or two-hundred años.  He speaks inglés with an acento de paisano and español con acento of a paisano.  He is a paisano and he lives in this distrito high on the hill above the city of Monterrey called Tortilla Flat, although it isn’t really a “flat”.


Danny was un paisano and grew up in Tortilla Flat and everyone loved him although he didn’t stand out particularmente among the loud-mouth niños of Tortilla Flat.  He was related to almost everyone in the Flat by blood o fantasía.  His grandfather was un hombre importante who owned two little houses in Tortilla Flat and who was respetado for his prosperidad.  If the young Danny prefería to sleep in the forest, work on the ranchos and earn his food and his wine in a hostile world it wasn’t because he lacked familiares influyentes.  Danny was little, pallid and resuelto.  At twenty-five his legs were bowed like a horse’s back.

When Danny had twenty-five años, the guerra against Germany broke out.  Danny and his amigo Pilón took two gallons of wine when they heard la noticia about la guerra.  Big Joe el Portugués saw the glint of the bottles among los pinos and joined Danny and Pilón.

As el vino went down the patriotismo grew in the three hombres.  And when there was no more vino left, they went down la colina arm in arm, for camaradería and safety, and they went to Monterrey.  Opposite the oficina of recruitment, they cheered América and dared Germany to come and get them.  They howled todo tipo of threat against the Imperio Alemán until el sargento de recruitment woke up, put on su uniforme and came out to the street to install order.  They entraron to enlist themselves.


El sargento lined them up opposite his table.  They passed all the tests except the sobriedad one and then el sargento started to interrogar a Pilón.

  • ¿In which battalion do you prefer to alistarte?
  • No me importa un carajo – said Pilón, decidido.
  • I suppose we necesitamos people like you in infantería.  And that is how he was inscrito.

He turned to Big Joe, who started to wake up.

  • ¿Where do you want to go?
  • I want to go home – said Big Joe with difficulty.

The sargento lo inscribió also in the infantería.  Finalmente, he looked at Danny, who had fallen asleep on his feet.

  • ¿Where do you want to go?
  • ¿Huh?
  • ¿I mean which branch?
  • What do you mean by branch?
  • What do you know how to do?
  • ¿Me?  Nada.
  • ¿What did you do antes?
  • ¿Me?  Snatch mules.
  • ¿Ah sí?  ¿How many mulas can you manage?

Danny leaned forwards with an aire vago and profesional.

  • ¿How many you got?
  • Thirty thousand.
  • ¡Bring em on! – dijo.

So Danny was sent to Texas and looked after mulas for the whole guerra.  And Pilón went to Oregón con la infantería and Big Joe, as you will see después, went to stay in prison.


Reading is a great manera to advance your español.  Reading Spanglish is a great way to comenzar.  And what a pleasure for me, to re-read mi libro preferido … not just preferido among John Steinbeck’s libros, but preferido among all libros.  It makes me contenta to share it with you!


Click here for a printable PDF.Danny Prologue