Saturday, September 28, 2019

Pablo Neruda’s Extraordinary Life, in an Illustrated Love Letter to Language

Matilde Urrutia and Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda’s Extraordinary Life, in an Illustrated Love Letter to Language


A swirling celebration of one of the greatest creative icons of the twentieth century.

Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda (July 12, 1904–September 23, 1973) was not only one of the greatest poets in human history, but also a man of extraordinary insight into the human spirit — take, for instance, his remarkable reflection on what a childhood encounter taught him about why we make art, quite possibly the most beautiful metaphor for the creative impulse ever committed to paper.
As a lover both of Neruda’s enduring genius and of intelligent children’s books, especially ones celebrating the lives of luminaries — such as the wonderful illustrated life-stories of Albert Einstein and Julia Child — I was instantly smitten with Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (public library) by Monica Brown, with absolutely stunning illustrations and hand-lettering by artist Julie Paschkis.

The story begins with the poet’s birth in Chile in 1904 with the given name of Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto — to evade his father’s disapproval of his poetry, he came up with the pen name “Pablo Neruda” at the age of sixteen when he first began publishing his work — and traces his evolution as a writer, his political awakening as an activist, his deep love of people and language and the luminosity of life.
Neftalí wasn’t very good at soccer or at throwing acorns like his friends, but he loved to read and discovered magic between the pages.
Embedded in the story is a sweet reminder of what books do for the soul and a heartening assurance that creative genius isn’t the product of conforming to common standards of excellence but of finding one’s element.
In fact, the book is as much a celebration of Neruda as it is a love letter to language itself — swirling through Paschkis’s vibrant illustrations are words both English and Spanish, beautiful words like “fathom” and “plummet” and “flicker” and “sigh” and “azul.”
Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People is exuberant and enchanting in its entirety. Complement it with Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child, written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, and On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky, then treat yourself to this bewitching reading of Neruda’s “Ode to the Book.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

Pablo Neruda / The Tiger

The Tiger
by Pablo Neruda

I am the tiger.
I lie in wait for you among leaves
broad as ingots
of wet mineral.

The white river grows
beneath the fog. You come.

Naked you submerge.
I wait.

Then in a leap of fire, blood, teeth,
with a claw slash I tear away
your bosom, your hips.

I drink your blood, I break
your limbs one by one.

And I remain watching
for years in the forest
over your bones, your ashes,
motionless, far
from hatred and anger,
disarmed in your death,
crossed by lianas,
motionless in the rain,
relentless sentinel
of my murderous love.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Ian Gibson / A life with Lorca

Ian Gibson: A life with Lorca

Irish-born scholar’s work on writer to be reprinted to mark 80th anniversary of his death

English version by Susana Urra

Jesús Ruiz Mantilla
25 January, 2016

Life with Federico García Lorca is a pilgrimage that involves carrying the load of injustice on your back.

It has its moments of satisfaction, says scholar Ian Gibson, but also its sorrows – such as realizing that some people in Spain still prefer ignorance over knowledge of what happened on the day a firing squad ended the writer’s life at the onset of the Spanish Civil War.

Ever since he was a young 18-year-old student in Dublin, Gibson has spent most of his time unraveling the mysteries that surround the Spanish author of Blood Wedding and Poet in New York. His complete works on the subject are to be reprinted this year, to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Lorca’s murder on August 19, 1936.
“He is the most famous missing person in the world,” says Gibson, alluding to the fact that Lorca’s body has still not been found despite several high-profile attempts.
Sitting inside a bar in Lavapiés, the Madrid neighborhood where he lives, Gibson explains how Lorca became the focal point of his career. “It could have been Baudelaire,” he admits. “But it was Federico who dazzled me.”
At age 76, he still doesn’t quite know why. “It was a very intimate, very profound thing that his poetry revealed to me. It had to do with the atavistic, with something primitive and instinctive. He was an eminently telluric poet.”

“It could have been Baudelaire. But it was Federico who dazzled me”

His first reading of El romancero gitano(translated as Gypsy Ballads) left a mark for life. Later, piqued by clues offered by Gerald Brenan in his 1950 book The Face of Spain, Gibson decided to investigate Lorca’s killing.
The result was his book The Death of Lorca, which addressed a taboo subject in 1970s Spain, then still under the yoke of Francoism.
Later came his main work, the 1998 biography Vida, pasión y muerte de Federico García Lorca, and offshoots such as 2009’s Lorca y el mundo gay and the more recent Poeta en Granada (2015).
“People think I’m obsessed,” he says, before admitting that maybe it is no wonder. “He is everything to me.”
Whether he likes it or not, Lorca is the central element that has enabled Gibson to approach other areas of research. It was Lorca who led him to Salvador Dalí, Antonio Machado and Rubén Darío, whose biographies he ended up writing as well.

Federico García Lorca in a picture taken by French writer Marcelle Auclair.
Federico García Lorca in a picture taken by French writer Marcelle Auclair. 

Gibson also played a role in the efforts to exhume Lorca’s body after putting forward a possible location of the mass grave in which he is thought to lie, together with a schoolmaster and two bullfighter assistants. That attempt proved fruitless, as did the others.
“I have gone over the notes, the recordings. I still think he is buried very near the memorial park in Alfacar, but I have no problem with people investigating other possibilities, like the researchers Miguel Caballero, Javier Navarro and their people are doing,” he says. “All leads must be followed, no doubt. All I am interested in are the scientific results.”
But Gibson is not just attracted to the shadows surrounding the writer’s death. He is also intrigued and moved by certain episodes in his life.
“He had this sense of abandonment during his childhood years. Perhaps there was a wet nurse. His love trauma must have come from some very deep place. Like he used to say: every abandoned child is a story that got erased.”
But there was a lot of light in his life as well: there was joy, there was music, and a passionate determination to follow up on what he called his inclinations. Nobody can be left indifferent after getting to know Federico. To study Lorca is to study inner prisons and how to escape from them.
Gibson had found a soulmate. “He taught me both to detect and to wish to free myself of the puritanical environment I experienced as a child in a Protestant family surrounded by a Catholic country,” he notes.
“If I live in Lavapiés, it’s because of him, because this is where I came searching for his trail,” he adds. “I never dreamed I would end up living here.”
Ultimately, he even applied for dual citizenship. This has been a source of joy and sadness, as Gibson cannot understand why his adoptive country sometimes seems unwilling to get to the bottom of the Lorca issue.
Not that he hadn’t been forewarned “by a great observer of this country, Richard Ford,” he says about the 19th-century travel writer who wrote the influential A Handbook for Travellers in Spain.
“In one of the passages he comes up with a dazzling definition of this country,” says Gibson: “Unamalgamating Spain.”

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 Wedding was 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.