Hispanidad day

A lot of people here get extremely pissed off about Hispanidad Day, today, October 12th. Since it was the Romans, not the Spanish, who assigned this name to the bit of the world before the sun sets, and since every true Catalan knows that the man who set foot on a Caribbean beach on October 12th, 1492 is their greatn grandad, many of you will find it difficult to understand why. The most important reason is the (sometimes wilfully) continued association of the concept of Hispanism with its misuse by Franco’s lot: ¡España una! ¡España, grande! ¡España, libre! ¡Arriba, España!

In 1938 Langenscheidt published a collection of Spanish texts, La España Heroica, that concluded with Cara al Sol, the Falangist anthem which terminates with the above lines. One of the things that Berlin felt would help good Germans learn the language of their prospective allies was a description of the battle of Trafalgar taken from C19th historical novelist Benito Pérez Galdós’ eponymous work:

The French admiral, Villeneuve, was defeated by the English off Cape St Vincent. Afterwards the Franco-Spanish squadron withdrew to Cadiz, where they were blockaded by the numerically superior English fleet. Following repeated orders from Napoleon, Villeneuve decided to sail from Cadiz, in unfavourable conditions, and against the advice of the Spanish officers Gravina, Churruca and others.

It has been told that Gravina was of the same opinion as his colleagues, being against sailing. But Villeneuve, who had decided on it in order to undertake a manly deed that would reconcile him with his master, tried to hurt the pride of the Spanish. It seems that one of the reasons put forward by Gravina was the bad weather: examining the room’s barometer, he said, “Don’t you see that the barometer is warning of bad weather? Can’t you see how it is sinking?” Whereupon Villeneuve said dryly, “What is sinking is the spirit.”

On hearing this insult, Gravina rose up blind with rage and cast in the face of the Frenchman his cowardly behaviour at Cape Finisterre. They exchanged somewhat strong words and, finally, the Spanish admiral exclaimed, “We set sail tomorrow!”

Gravina was a perfect gentleman and a brave sailor. But he lacked the calmness and unshakeable determination that typically characterise those destined for the command of great forces. Gravina should not have given way to Villeneuve’s demand, knowing as he did that the combined fleet was in no state to fight the English.

Churruca was severely wounded during the end of the battle. Thinking of God,

whose name we heard issuing from his dry lips, he died with the tranquillity of the just and the integrity of the heroes, without the satisfaction of victory, but also without the resentment of the defeated, associating duty and dignity and making of discipline a religion; firm as a soldier, calm as a man, uttering no complaint, nor accusing any person, with the same dignity in death as in life…

The Nepomuceno surrendered, and when officers of the six ships that had destroyed her came on board, each one claimed for himself the honour of receiving the sword of the dead commodore. All said, “He surrendered to my ship,” and for an instant they disputed claiming the honour of victory for one or other of the ships to which they belonged. They desired that the acting commander decide the question, saying to which of the English ships he had surrendered, and he responded: “To all of them; for the Nepomuceno would never have surrendered to one alone.”

I haven’t read enough of the substantial secondary Galdós literature to say anything sensible. What surprises me, though, is that his aim is so remarkably close to that of his most bitter critics, the propagandists of regional nationalisms: to turn military defeat into moral victory. If I wake up in time on Wednesday, I’ll post photos of the ceremony commemorating the execution of deeply confused Catalan president, Lluís Companys, by Franco’s forces on October 15th, 1940.

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