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Whether verbal or physical, the rhetoric of ostentation was but one aspect of an inflexible code of conduct based on social hierarchies. Both conspicuous consumption and conspicuous munificence reinforced cultural superiority. In Spanishruled southern Italy, this conduct was called “Hispanism”—spagnolismo. Embodying the lowest rank of the old feudal aristocracy, the escudero roams around Toledo as if waiting to spend the deficient balance of his miserable life. Ironically, religious texts about indigence only validated literary fictions.

Below the remembrance of things lost, the belly churns words as the only activity that can somehow measure human survival. As the symbolic site of existence, the stomach seems to speak in a novelistic lexicon that is meant to secularize reality. In fact, language appears to be the only thing that is as ubiquitous as hunger itself. The art of survival thus foregrounds icons in which the literal and the symbolic—gold and golden—coincide, just like bread and Eucharist on the altar. When the nonnative poor are escorted out of town because of the meager harvest, Lázaro curtails his begging.

Some believe that this unequal exchange is the source of most evils in society. It certainly was so in Toledo, where Lázaro crossed paths with an escudero who had never experienced, whether by choice or by accident, the world of mercantile exchange. 9894 At the Margins 3/7/03 1:28 PM Page 36 3 • Inconspicuous Consumption     They say, and in this I hold my tongue, that such, Sancho, my friend, was the error into which your country fell: refusing to understand that honor lasts as long as a full purse.

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