Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Lorca’s grave / Third time lucky?

Excavación en el peñón Colorado, donde un equipo cree haber ubicado la fosa de Lorca
In November of last year, researchers dug at a spot called Peñón Colorado. M.ZARZA

Lorca’s grave: third time lucky?

After two failed attempts, researchers in Granada think they know where the poet is buried

Jesús Ruiz Mantilla
Granada, 27 October 2015

Upon reaching the spot, one cannot help but think of that line from Poema de la Soleá: “Tierra seca, tierra quieta de noches inmensas” (Dry land, quiet land of immense nights). If ever there was a genius who was able to create unsettlingly premonitory work, it was Federico García Lorca.
Somewhere beneath the dry land of what is now Plot No.9 in Alfacar (Granada), a barren wasteland of weeds and rocks, within a 160-meter radius – that is where the body of the playwright and poet might be.
So say Miguel Caballero and Javier Navarro, heads of the research team looking for the exact location of Lorca’s grave.

Now we have to look for a needle in a haystack. If everything had been left the way it was, we would have found the remains already”

The search is about to enter a new phase after the Andalusian government granted permission to seek out the place where the author of Poet in New York and Blood Weddingwas buried, together with other victims of a firing squad on August 17, 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
A bevy of historians, archeologists, geologists and forensic experts from Spain, Argentina and Britain are waiting their turn to dig. It will be the third attempt to find Lorca’s grave. Two earlier and much-publicized attempts both ended in failure.
The first try was in 2009, and was based on a lengthy investigation by the renowned historian and Hispanist Ian Gibson, who has written extensively about Lorca. There was a second attempt last year by the same team that is about to try again, just a few meters away from where they left off.

Blame it on the cold weather. Winter came around, and the digger that was being used at the site was required elsewhere for snow-removal duties. Or perhaps there just wasn’t enough political will to carry through with the plans. But the attitude seems to be changing, both at the local and regional levels.
The project’s finances have also improved greatly thanks to a global crowdfunding drive that attracted many donors, some anonymous. This came on top of the €16,500 in unspent money left over from a grant provided by the Andalusian government in 2014.
This time, Miguel Caballero and dig director Javier Navarro are confident that they will be successful.
“If they are there, we will find them,” says Navarro, in reference to Lorca and to the teacher and two bullfighter’s assistants who were shot and buried with him. “We’ve made progress on our knowledge of the ground, with scientific work that has ruled out certain spots.”

Federico García Lorca with his nieces.
Federico García Lorca with his nieces.

Their search is based on information that differs significantly from that used by Ian Gibson as reference.
“Our reference is the work by the Granada researcher Eduardo Molina Fajardo, published posthumously in 1983,” they say. That document, titled Los últimos días de García Lorca (or, The last days of García Lorca) was written by a man who supported the Franco side and featured testimony by people involved in the crime, besides containing a wealth of data regarding places and times provided by direct witnesses.
The son of one of the people named in the book has certified the relevance of the new investigation. Fernando Nestares, a retired general, was taken to the spot of the execution by some of the people whom he says participated directly in it.
“There were three of them,” says General Nestares. “I was taken by the assault guards to the place where they said they had killed them. One of them was named Antonio Benavides and he was a real show-off.”
According to Nestares, the victims were brought there in two trucks: “One was transporting García Lorca and the anarchist banderilleros [bullfighter’s assistants] Juan Arcoya Cabezas and Francisco Galadí. The other one was carrying Dióscoro Galindo, a republican teacher from Publiana, who was also executed.”

Some members of the firing squad were recruited for their accurate aim, while others joined out of personal pleasure

Some members of the firing squad were recruited for their accurate aim, while others, like Antonio Benavides, joined out of personal pleasure, according to Miguel Caballero, who defined him as a natural-born killer.
Meanwhile, Ian Gibson had based his research on testimony by Manuel Castilla Blanco, aka “Manolillo the Communist,” who allegedly buried the bodies. He led Gibson to a different spot around 400 meters from the current dig site.
Miguel Caballero has stated that this man’s testimony is not to be trusted, as he arrived in Alfacar in September 1936 – the crime was committed in August. “In those times of need, anybody was willing to offer a version of events in exchange for something.”
But Gibson is adamant. “Taking a foreigner there in those days was risky. I think he was there. He was convinced that he was telling me the truth.”

The historian Ian Gibson was part of the first attempt at finding Lorca's body.
The historian Ian Gibson was part of the first attempt at finding Lorca's body. LUIS SEVILLANO

The trouble with the new spot, which has been closed off with stakes, is that it is covered with around eight meters of earth due to earlier plans for a soccer field. On the same spot where researchers believe that Lorca is buried, there was once a training ground for Franco’s forces, then a motocross circuit, and finally plans for a residential estate and sports complex.
But Isabel García Lorca, the poet’s sister, campaigned to stop the construction project and wrote to the mayor in October 1998. She also sent a fax to the Andalusian premier, then Manuel Chaves. The plans were halted.
“But the main damage had already been done,” says Caballero, referring to the fresh layer of earth. “Now we have to look for a needle in a haystack. If everything had been left the way it was, we would have found the remains already.”
English version by Susana Urra.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

New mysteries surface over Lorca’s final resting place

Garcia Lorca
Federico García Lorca, photographed in the 1930s by French writer Marcelle Auclair. MARCELLE AUCLAIR

New mysteries surface over Lorca’s final resting place

Letters show poet’s friend believed his remains were moved by his family or Franco regime

Seville 20 AGO 2015 - 03:08 COT

Some deaths, such as that of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, transcend the life of the person.
As the 79th anniversary of the Spanish poet’s execution is commemorated this week, new light has been shed on the decades-old mystery surrounding his final resting place.
For years, historians have been digging in search of his body near the site in Granada province where witnesses claimed that he was shot dead by Nationalist supporters in 1936.

When Penón asked about her source, Llanos only told him it was “a high official”
But a new book by author Marta Osorio lends support to the idea that the poet may have been secretly removed long ago from its original burial place by either his family or the Franco regime.
Osorio has compiled letters and other correspondence between Lorca’s close friend Emilia Llanos (1886-1967) and Agustín Penón (1920-1976), one of the first researchers to conduct an exhaustive study into the poet’s final days.
The book, entitled El enigma de una muerte: Crónica comentada de la correspondencia entre Agustín Penón y Emilia Llanos (The mystery of a death: An annotated chronicle of the correspondence between Agustín Penón and Emilia Llanos) and published by Comares, is a follow-up to Osorio’s acclaimed Miedo, olvido y fantasía: crónica de la investigación de Agustín Penón sobre Federico García Lorca (Fear, obscurity and fantasy: A chronicle of Agustin Penón’s research on Federico García Lorca).


Writer Marta Osorio at her home in Granada in 2012.
Writer Marta Osorio at her home in Granada in 2012.

“Despite everything, Federico will live on forever – for a much longer time after all of us are dead – and if the real facts are not clarified then they will be replaced by fantasy,” wrote researcher Agustín Penón in 1955. “And passionate fantasy could become merciless.”
In her new book, Marta Osorio believes that Penón “anticipated what was going to happen from the first day” he began his research into Lorca’s death,
The author still cannot believe that “there are so few proven facts” 79 years after the poet’s death, which “leaves many questions open.”
“Not one thing has been done and no one knows a thing,” she says.
Even if Lorca’s remains are never found, Osorio believes that the authorities should embark on a search for the bodies of other Civil War victims in the area.
In her book, she describes a young Jewish-German girl who fled the Nazis in her country and was later executed by Spanish Nationalists because she had been a friend of a Socialist architect.
Osorio knows all too well the wounds that the Francoist repression left. From her home in Granada’s El Realejo neighborhood, she can see houses that once belonged to councilors, intellectuals and teachers who were executed during the Franco regime.

“If you dig deep enough, you will discover a lot of things,” says journalist Isabel Reverte, author of the documentary La maleta de Penón.Penón, a native of Barcelona who held US citizenship, arrived in Granada in 1955 with his friend, the American radio actor and producer William Layton.Carrying his beloved first edition of Lorca’s Romancero gitano, Penón knew at the time that he was in a city where mentioning “Federico’s name was prohibited,” Osorio says.
With no wish to “stir up passions” – as he later said – he began to investigate and establish the “chronology of the crime,” which took him more than one-and-a-half years to research and is now considered one of the most important investigations into the poet’s death.
After interviewing witnesses and closely inspecting the road between the towns of Alfacar and Viznar and the ditch where the Nationalists executed hundreds of people, Peñón came up with a short list of sites where Lorca’s remains could be buried.
During his stay in Spain, he met Emilia Llanos, one of Lorca’s closest friends with whom he maintained in written contact for the rest of his life.
But pressure from the Francisco Franco dictatorship made him fear that his research papers would be confiscated and Penón left for New York in 1956 with a suitcase full of documents, which ended up in the hands of Osorio.
Layton gave her the suitcase before he died in 1995.
Penón concluded that Lorca’s grave was located underneath an olive tree, around 10 meters from the highway and close to the large fountain in what is now García Lorca park.
Letters show that Penón tried to purchase the land after Llanos had told him it had been put up for sale in 1957. But two months later, they canceled their plans.
“We have to abandon that idea for now, it is not a good moment,” wrote Llanos.
Two months later, she explained why she had backed out: “The one who was once there is no longer there. Do you understand what I am saying? For a long time it has been well-known that he is in Madrid with his family. I was told this by someone who has knowledge.”
When Penón asked about her source, Llanos only told him it was “a high official” but never revealed the identity. Her letters are marked by her fear of reprisals by the dictatorship.“Yes, the site was near the olive trees but later they took him to another site,” Llanos said.
“The letters add uncertainty,” says Osorio, who adds that the Nationalists could have exhumed the body to prevent the area from becoming a pilgrimage site for those who supported democracy.
She also hypothesizes that, alternatively, Lorca’s family might have had something to do with the poet’s exhumation.
Recent digs in 2009 and 2014 by Andalusian regional authorities at the site near and around his execution failed to turn up any of the poet’s remains.
Osorio does not give official backing to any of these theories and refuses to get caught-up in the speculation over Lorca’s final resting place.
“Many things have been said and some have basis in truth but they only add to the confusion,” she says.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

New search for Lorca’s grave begins

Diggers are back in the area where Federico García Lorca's body is thought to lie.Ampliar foto
Diggers are back in the area where Federico García Lorca's body is thought to lie. EFE

New search for Lorca’s grave begins

Andalusian government says its only aim is to mark burial sites, not exhume bodies

Valme Cortés
Granada, 19 November 2014

Five years after the Andalusian government unsuccessfully searched for the body of poet and playwright Federico García Lorca in Alfacar, Granada province, diggers are back in the area.
Regional authorities have sent heavy machinery to begin excavating an area known as Peñón del Colorado, where researcher Miguel Caballero believes the unmarked grave of one of Spain’s greatest literary figures could be.
García Lorca was executed by Nationalist forces at the start of the Spanish Civil War, on August 19, 1936. His body was never found despite a years-long investigation by the likes of Irish-born Hispanist Ian Gibson, who has spent around 50 years studying Lorca.
The new search for the grave is being conducted near the road between Víznar and Alfacar, around 500 meters from the site of the 2009 dig, which yielded nothing more than a large rock.
The project is based on research by Miguel Caballero, who himself drew on field work conducted by journalist and writer Eduardo Molina Fajardo.
The remains of the author of Blood Wedding are thought to lie together with those of two bullfighters and a schoolteacher.
The excavation will cover 300 square meters and extract around 600 cubic meters of earth. Ground-penetrating radar was used to determine the patch of land most likely to contain a mass grave.
Regional authorities have been at pains to note that they are not looking to exhume any bodies – the decision on that would lie with the victims’ relatives – but simply to locate and mark the sites of Civil War graves.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Dalí and Lorca’s games of seduction

Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí

Dalí and Lorca’s games of seduction

'Querido Salvador, Querido Lorquito' is a new book compiling the passionate correspondence between the two young geniuses from 1925 to 1936

Barcelona 20 JUN 2013 - 08:40 COT

Salvador Dalí (left) and Federico García Lorca.Ampliar foto
Salvador Dalí (left) and Federico García Lorca.

"You are a Christian storm and you are in need of some of my paganism [...] I will go get you and give you some seaside medicine. It will be winter and we will light a fire. The poor beasts will be trembling with the cold. You will recall that you are an inventor of marvelous things and we will live together with a portrait machine..."
These are the passionate lines that Salvador Dalí wrote in the summer of 1928 to his close friend Federico García Lorca. Their relationship was something more than that, "an erotic, tragic love, out of the fact of not being able to share it," the painter himself would explain in 1986, in a letter to the editor published in EL PAÍS and meant for the Lorca historian Ian Gibson, whom he accused of underestimating his bond with the poet, "as though it had simply been a sugary sweet romantic novel."
The relationship between both geniuses lasted, with all its ups and downs, from 1923 to 1936 (the year of Lorca's execution at the onset of the Spanish Civil War). Besides the artistic partnership, the link gave rise to an intense exchange of letters that can now be read entirely, for the first time, in Querido Salvador, Querido Lorquito , a compilation by the journalist Víctor Fernández.
Fernández skillfully and meticulously gathered these letters, as well as the ones Lorca sent to the painter's father and sister, Ana María Dalí, and a woman named Lidia de Cadaqués, an extravagant character once described as "a paranoid erotomaniac" who served as inspiration for Dalí's "paranoid critical method."
It is not that many exchanges after all. Around 40 letters from Dalí to Lorca have survived. Only seven from Lorca to Dalí were preserved. Fernández has an explanation for this: " Cherchez la femme ." Or in this case, two women. "One is Ana María, who sold a lot of her brother's archival material after the Civil War; the other is Gala [Dalí's wife and muse], who destroyed many others out of jealousy. Among García Lorca's documents, there was a note that said: 'I don't like Gala.' Later it emerged that Lorca was an unwelcome topic at the Dalí household when Gala was around; the painter's papers include letters from Lorca that have been cut out with scissors; precious few people had access to those documents, and one of them was the painter's wife," explains Fernández.

One is trying to catch the artist in his spider’s web, the other lets it happen"

Behind all this, says the journalist, is the shadow of a homosexual impulse. The correspondence is "a game of seduction: Lorca is giving the best of himself, using his words to try to win over Dalí, who in turn wants to be at the same intellectual level as the poet. One is trying to catch the artist in his spider's web, the other lets it happen up to a certain point," says Fernández.
There is nothing explicit in the letters, not even a mention of a young woman named Margarita Manso, with whom Lorca had sexual relations at the request of Dalí, a voyeur at an encounter that the painter imposed as a condition to agree to relations with the poet. Yet García Lorca's sacrifice was useless because Dalí continued to resist, especially during Lorca's second stay in Cadaqués, in 1927, as the painter later revealed in a vulgar interview with Max Aub.
But the Surrealist painter knew he was attractive to the poet, and played with sexual references repeatedly. This is the case in a letter dated September 1928, written in the context of a piece of tough criticism from Dalí of Lorca's newly published Romancero gitano . Some scholars point to this letter as the beginning of the end of the relationship.
"There was no break, just a drift," says Fernández. The gap left behind was filled by Luis Buñuel, who was jealous in his own way and "acted as a sapper in that relationship." The filmmaker, who until then had had little intellectual and popular impact, would end up writing the script of Un chien andalou with Dalí. Lorca, who was from Andalusia, always felt the title was a reference to himself.
But after Lorca's death, he began to reappear in Dalí's drawings, explains Fernández, noting that each influenced the other's work. Lorca wrote Ode to Salvador Dalí , published in the journal Revista de Occidente . "Lorca never did anything like that for anyone else," the journalist notes. Meanwhile, Dalí allegedly reflected the poet in his paintings La academia neocubista ( Neo-cubist academy) and La miel es más dulce que la sangre (Honey is sweeter than blood). And of course there is the play on which they collaborated together, Mariana Pineda .
Dalí always had the feeling that he might have been able to prevent Federico's death. "He felt he didn't insist enough to get him to come to Italy with him in 1936," says Fernández.
When Gala died in 1982, Dalí regressed mentally to his student days in Madrid, where he first met Lorca and Buñuel in 1923. In the end, when he was refusing to eat and was down to 34 kilograms, one of the nurses who cared for him said that in all the time he was in her care, she only understood one sentence that he said: "My friend Lorca."

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Reflections on her legacy / Sylvia Plath by Sarah Churchwell

Sylvia Plath

Reflections on her legacy
Sylvia Plath 
by Sarah Churchwell

8 February 2013

Sarah Churchwell
 Sarah Churchwell 
Photograph: PR

In 1957, six years before The Bell Jar would be published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, Sylvia Plath mused in her journals: "I could write a terrific novel. The tone is the problem. I'd like it to be serious, tragic, yet gay & rich & creative." Knowing that she shared "that fresh, brazen, colloquial voice," she thought she might model herself on JD Salinger, but worried that his first-person perspective could prove "limiting". The voice that Plath eventually created is indeed fresh, brazen and colloquial, but also sardonic and bitter, the story of a young woman's psychological disintegration and eventual – provisional – recovery. The tone of The Bell Jar is not its problem, but its triumph.
An acidic satire on the madness of 1950s America and the impossibility of living up to its contradictory ideals of womanhood, The Bell Jar is a much funnier book than its reputation as the favourite novel of morbidly self-obsessed adolescent girls suggests. Among the many ironies surrounding the novel's undeserved reputation for taking itself seriously, one of the sharpest is perhaps the way that it has tended to be dismissed along gender lines, as a book "merely" for women. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the men it depicts are either toxic or hopeless? When Esther Greenwood first sees a naked man, she recalls: "The only thing I could think of was a turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed." But Plath excoriates the women who conformed to the era's rules, as well; "girls like that make me sick," Esther repeats in a refrain that becomes increasingly pointed: her society is indeed making Esther sick. Having been hospitalised after a suicide attempt, Esther has an epiphany about the way that conventional femininity was trapping all the women like her: "What was there about us, in Belsize [Hospital], so different from the girls playing bridge and gossiping and studying in the college to which I would return? Those girls, too, sat under bell jars of a sort."
 Esther has been straitjacketed by her era's rigid ideas about women and its double standards: when she is told, "what a man is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is the place the arrow shoots off from," Esther responds that she "wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a 4th of July rocket". That is Esther's declaration of independence, and she will spend the rest of the novel fighting the kinds of battles that would eventually be called the sexual revolution. Appearing in the same year as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and a year after Doris Lessing's The Golden NotebookThe Bell Jar was part of that revolution – but also a book of biting wit, mordant social observation, and a moving exploration of how a search for integrity can lead to disintegration.

Sarah Churchwell is the author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe (Granta)