Virgin skies

Someone pointed out last night that it has hardly stopped raining since Spain elected a leader with no experience in government. This would not come as a such a surprise if people here spent slightly more time sitting in filthy attics reading smelly old newspapers (specifically, La Vanguardia dated April 16th 1929) and slightly less time lounging in trendy bars chatting up gorgeous young things, perish the thought!

Solsonès is a huge, remote, tranquil comarca (administrative region) up in the hills whose chief town, Solsona, was described by Josep Pla as mitred, mitrada, it having had a bishop (as well as some formidable walls) earlier in its history. In 1929 it was in trouble, drought having destroyed the 1928 harvest and deteriorated the soil to such an extent that farmers had had severe problems in sowing cereals for 1929. Rivers were low, normally reliable springs were drying up, and a lack of snow in the mountains meant that there was nothing in reserve.

This was deeply disturbing to a rural population without reliable or affordable alternative means of obtaining food and water, and it led to an interesting and widely-believed rumour. Someone, went the story, had replaced the C12th effigy of the town and the comarca’s patron, Our Lady of the Cloister (Nostra Senyora del Claustre), with a fake. And it wasn’t difficult to see: the icon – previously completely black – had taken on a whitish hue.

Not so, wrote La Vanguardia. There was ample literature demonstrating that it was never black as such but “of blackish stone”, and it was naive to expect it be in pristine condition, given that it had been discovered in a heap of debris after French troops tried to burn down the church a century previously. Various dignitaries of the utmost honour and piety had been produced to confirm its authenticity, leaving only the visually handicapped in honest doubt. The lack of rain, said La Vanguardia, was probably a consequence of intense logging in the district.

Although I’ve no reason to suppose that the icon in Solsona is not original, the peasantry was right to be suspicious, since the previous 50 years had seen the wide-scale theft of objects from remote churches for sale to collectors. However, eventually it rained and the panic passed, but while the Solsonès remained susceptible to mediaeval superstitions, the duplication and diffusion of virgins in urban, scientific Spain had become non-controversial and commonplace, as the following item from the same edition of La Vanguardia demonstrates:

The “Union of Radio Listeners” has organised a contest to choose “Miss Radio, 1929” from among female Spanish radio listeners who are members or near relatives of members. Photographs, which will be accepted at our headquarters, Avenida Pi y Margall, 10, Madrid, until May 10th, will be submitted to the opinion of a qualifying Jury, composed of eminent artists, literati [literatos], and a prestigious cinematographic director, which will select four photographs to be inserted in the edition of the review “Ondas” [Waves] appearing on May 25th, accompanied by a detachable coupon for the popular vote among Spanish radio listeners, who will choose one of the four young ladies presented by the Jury.

The photograph of “Miss Radio, 1929” will be broadcast by radio throughout Europe for publication in the national and foreign Press.

The most worthy early Miss Radio I know of was Rena Jane Frew, who was awarded the title at the first annual Radio World’s Fair in New York in 1925 for her work in ham radio and as a dx’er, whatever that is – check the article by Donna L Halper on this page for more. The best-known radio girl in the Hispanosphere was, for different reasons, Eva Perón.

I haven’t found out who won the competion, nor whether The Daily Mail published her photo alongside one of its frequent puffs for Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship. I suspect not, since Miss Radios had been in circulation for at least a decade and were probably losing their novelty value.

However, the really interesting part of this for an ignoramus like me is that it was then possible to broadcast photos over the radio, and that people did so regularly. For example, on April 16th Barcelona residents would have been able to pick up signals from transmitters in London and Daventry, broadcasting respectively on 358 and 1562.5m, which between 14:00 and 15:00 promised to transmit photographs to all and sundry. There’s a very interesting history of fax-type devices on this page. Did you know, for example, that in 1939 more than 1,000 US households were equipped with fax receivers that electronically printed morning papers overnight?

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