An Odd Day.

I woke this morning as usual, made a couple of cups of coffee and brought them back to bed. After the coffee we got up, showered, dressed, had breakfast and then, as every Tuesday, I got ready for the arrival of the group of friends who come round every Tuesday morning for help with their Spanish.
Then this afternoon, it was Sunday. I did the usual Sunday afternoon things, which in reality are no different to all the other afternoons of the week. I had to remind myself that it was Tuesday, but I was soon back in Sunday.
This evening we sat out on the balcony to eat, and looking across the village I noticed that Rafael had left the large parasol unfurled on his restaurant roof terrace. Mentally I hoped that the wind wouldn't get up tonight, because he doesn't open on a Wednesday evening. Except of course, it isn't Wednesday evening; it's Tuesday and the parasol is open because the restaurant is open.
Why can I not get it into my head, I thought, that today is TUESDAY!
Then the penny dropped. If it's Tuesday, then it's a year to the day since my brother Peter died. I will be in Tuesday, Peter, and I will think of you, even though it hurts.


From A Distance....

From here in Spain I have been able to follow the recent UK general election with (a degree of) detachment. As a non-resident, I have no UK address from which to apply to register and therefore have no say in the election. However, until I left the UK permanently two years ago I was a member of the Liberal Democrat party, and I have found that politically an umbilicus still attaches me tenuously to the UK.
It seems ironic that after waiting and hoping for so many years, no sooner have I left the country than up comes an election that puts my erstwhile party into government. In the protracted negotiations that followed the result, I experienced highly ambivalent feelings. It is true that as a centre left party we would expect to have more in common with Labour than with the Tories; at the same time, collectively the electorate - in a gratifyingly higher turnout than for some time - had rejected the idea of a further period of of Labour government. Difficult as I might find it to accept, the Tories, with most seats and the highest share of the vote, were preferred by the voters if not actually trusted with an outright majority, and so the only honest way to let the voters be the king makers in Nick Clegg’s words, was to negotiate a coalition programme with the Tories.

The consequences of this have greatly amused me. The reaction of the right-wing press and the Tory right-wing makes me think of an eldest son who, following the death of his father, attends the reading of the will, fully expecting to move straight into the family pile and get stuck into some long overdue changes around the estate, only to be told that his father’s will stipulates that in order to inherit he has to go out and find a bride. One is found at short notice, a wedding is quickly cobbled together and the couple move into the big house.
Almost immediately, the groom’s family and their hangers-on begin the loud lament. It will never last. He has married beneath him. She needn’t think she has any say in the running of the estate. His father’s stipulation was quite outrageous. They will have none of it. They will scrutinise events for signs of discord and broadcast them to all and sundry with an air of self-righteous relish.

Lorca could have had a field day turning this into a drama to rival Blood Wedding!


On A Lighter Note

I've been a bit serious lately, so let's get back to the joys of retiring here, which of course includes the fiestas that liberally punctuate the year. May 3rd was El Día de la Cruz, the Day of the Cross. With the support of the ayuntamiento, groups of neighbours construct and decorate a cross with flowers and set it up in the street. A table alongside offers titbits of sausage, cheese, olives and the like, and a tiny glass of the village wine (there are many opportunities to build those little tots into quite a large amount over the course of the evening!). From seven o'clock in the evening onwards the perambulation from cross to cross begins. Also in attendance are - the town band which plays at each, as do the local folk musicians, then come folk dancers, more folk dancers and the children's groups from the village dancing class, all showing off their prowess. The whole village moves with these groups, nibbling, sipping and above all chatting with friends and neighbours, a real community event; or a bonding exercise, as modern day management development would no doubt describe it.


Conspiracy of Silence

Utter the word, ‘Guernica’ and it will probably be familiar to most people, if only as the title of one of Picasso’s more famous paintings. Many will also be aware that the painting was Picasso’s response to an atrocity of the Spanish Civil War. On 26th April 1937, the Condor Legion of the German Luftwaffe together with planes from the Italian air force bombed the Basque city of Guernica for over two hours, killing an estimated 1,600 people. It was market day and so the town centre was crowded. The attack took place at the invitation of Franco’s nationalist forces, and served as an opportunity for the Nazis to put into practice their theory of blitzkrieg. It is often considered to be the first occasion on which the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population was carried out as an act of war. It was not the first.

Just over two months earlier, nationalist forces under General Queipo de Llano, and including Franco’s much (and rightly) feared Moroccan Brigade, were advancing on Malaga. The city was already crowded with refugees from Ronda, Cadiz, the Gibraltar region, and all the coastal towns west of Malaga; about 100,000 people in all according to the most reliable estimates. With nationalist forces in Marbella, the flight of the civilian population of Malaga began on 6th February, on the only road available, the coastal road (it was too basic to be considered a highway) to Almeria, the next large city some 200km away. Estimates of the numbers involved vary from 60,000 to 200,000 people. Bearing in mind the number of refugees already in the city and adding the resident population at that time of some 300,000, and even the higher estimate, though more likely, may understate the true size of the refugee column of women, children and old people; all,of course, were civilians. Their sense of panic was increased by the fact that Queipo de Llano had been using propaganda broadcasts to intimidate the local population, and leaflet drops from aircraft were also used on the column.

The more affluent (or enterprising) set off by car but soon had to abandon the vehicles when they were unable to refuel them. Young children and the elderly were carried by mules so far as possible, but the great majority travelled on foot. The road they took was still the coastal road in use when I first came to this area in 1983, and so I know just how narrow, winding and exposed it was with many steep ascents and descents along the way. Progress would have been slow. The refugees were reduced to eating the sugar cane which was the predominant crop of this region; many soon succumbed to a combination of exhaustion and hunger and died by the roadside. However, worse was to come. Three ships of the Spanish navy, under nationalist control arrived close inshore and began shelling the column, soon to be joined by Italian fighter planes strafing the column from above.

Offshore were warships of both the British and German navies, attending in the role of observers on behalf of the “Non-Intervention Committee” of European nations. The British studiedly looked the other way; the Germans, it is said, joined in the shelling. The coast road was left littered with the bodies of the dead and wounded. Estimates give the total number of dead as being between 5,000 and 15,000 people - women, children, old people, and all, bear in mind, civilians.

So why was it Guernica that was remembered and not the Malaga/Almeria road? The sad truth is that it was in no one’s interests to remember it. The Republican forces in Malaga (Communists, anarchists, syndicalists, socialists and others) had been at each other’s throats on doctrinal matters rather than uniting in a common effort to stop the Nationalist advance or to protect their civilian population. The Republican high command feared a catastrophic loss of morale if news got out (and anyway, they had their own shame; they have decided not to reinforce the forces in Malaga). The Nationalists had no wish to make known what they were doing. The international community would have had to confront the shame of having at the very least turned their backs on the victims, and in some part had colluded in the massacre. The local population along the route feared for its own survival, and so it too had done nothing to help. The only help came from a Canadian doctor, Norman Bethune; Google his name for one cheering facet to the whole business.

Finally, these things are coming into the open with a growing movement here in 21st century Spain for the recovery of historic memory. Hence Baltazar Garzon’s investigation, and hence, too, the efforts of the old franquistas to silence him. On the 14th February this year the people of Motril, a town more or less midway between Malaga and Almeria, unveiled a commemorative plaque. The photo is taken from www.alifa.org/blog, on the website of Alifa TV.

The other photo is from La Desbanda website: http://ladesbanda.lespana.es/lahuida.html