Backish

Thanks for the concerned mails. The cooperative gave us the day off, so I’m able to report that, far from being drunk or dead, I am in fact drownded, and that neither in the Jesus Sea, nor in the Odys-sea, but in the rippling Manchegan earthsea, where gypsies wear latex and smell of Eau de Frankfurt, and where the sky is not cloudy all day–except in the early morning mist, when what is not red is blue, brown, green, and when the Renault 4 is all pinesmoke, odour of the gypsies of proverb.

The Renault 4 is being recycled into the monster (currently a richly prunable 90K), as is one of its drivers: a distinctive gentleman whose philosophical concerns transcend mere issues of life and death, and whose proximity to an engine of any nature would be of deep concern to the authorities, were they to rise with the workers. The other day, for example, he took an instruction to go back to the village to pick up some forgotten sandwiches to mean that he should reverse–eyes fixed, Mishima-like, on the sun ahead–back down the white dust track, straight onto the main road, where lorries whizzed, and thence all the way back home. I didn’t open my mouth, for death should surely be hilarious as well as beautiful.

Lots of stories this week, some of which I’ve heard elsewhere, like this Franquista labour camp joke, in which one inmate approaches another, weeping bitterly:

– Pepe, Pepe, what am I going to do? I was so hungry I ate the bread I was meant to give to the cockerel, and now they’ll shoot me for sure.
– Don’t worry, José, I ate the cockerel.

Others are new, like the story of the Manchego who is woken one morning by the machine gun unit of the International Brigades. Pulling their weapons on small carriages and singing their anthem, “Somos de la ametralladora,” they parade up to the church on the rise, where the comissar begins reading out a speech about the benefits of the new society, whose numbers are already significantly less than those of the old. Our man, hearing the tumult and the shouts of children, tumbles out of bed and rushes up to the church, gives the fascist salute, and yells “Arriba España!” “No, no,” shouts his cousin in panic, “these are the Communists. The Nationals were last week.”

My favourite, however, dates from the last Carlist war (1872-6). The story is as epic as anything Hollywood has produced, but Spanish historians’ comfortable preference for armchair theory over oral research means it will not be appearing in a bookshop or on a screen near you any time soon. The plot: A Manchego boy is wounded during the abortive 1874 Carlist assault on Santander and writes to his father telling him that the soldiers have come into the hospital and robbed him of everything: his food, his money, his clothes, his shoes. So his father straps panniers onto the donkey, packs new clothes, and walks over plain and mountain to Santander to get him back.

Themes like that drifted along outside the tiny world of newspaper reports, official documentation and urban memories sourced by great realists like Galdós and Unamuno; some of them are still drifting.

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Published
Last updated 23/09/2005

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Benito Pérez Galdós (16): Benito Pérez Galdós was a Spanish realist novelist.

Generation of '98 (23): The Generation of '98 Generación del 98 or Generación de 1898) was a group of novelists, poets, essayists, and philosophers active in Spain at the time of the Spanish–American War. The name Generación del 98 was coined by José Martínez Ruiz, commonly known as Azorín, in his 1913 essays titled "La generación de 1898", alluding to the moral, political and social crisis in Spain produced by the loss of the colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam after defeat in the Spanish–American War that same year.

Kaleboel (4331):

Markets (140):

Miguel de Unamuno (5): Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was a Spanish Basque essayist, novelist, poet, playwright, philosopher, professor of Greek and Classics, and later rector at the University of Salamanca. His major philosophical essay was The Tragic Sense of Life, and his most famous novel was Abel Sánchez: The History of a Passion, a modern exploration of the Cain and Abel story.

Spanish literature (170):

Walking (264):

Walking tours (248):


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