Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Ghosts of Spain

As a child I first visited Spain in the late 1960's. General Franco was Caudillo (Leader) and I recall that travel reps' advice to British tourists would include warnings not to mess with the Guardia Civil, not to joke about the tricornio - their three-cornered hat - and absolutely do not be rude or disrespectful about Franco himself. I returned to Spain as a teenager in 1977, two years after Franco's death and the gift shop shelves still full of plastic bulls, flamenco dancer dolls, sombreros and donkeys were now joined by gaudy souvenirs such as playing cards featuring topless women and little rubber toys which, when you squeezed them, would produce an oversized phallus. Even then, to a dumb British teenager, it was clear that Franco's death had been the catalyst for breakneck change in the national psyche. So why, in a country where history confronts you around almost every corner, do we know so little about Spain under Franco's dictatorship and the Civil War which put him in power four decades earlier?

Ghosts of Spain - Travels Through a Country's Hidden Past is a book, published in 2006, by Giles Tremlett, historian, author and journalist based in Madrid and provides a fascinating insight into the country post-Franco. If, like me, you want to learn more about Spain then I would venture that the book is essential and enjoyable reading.

Federico Garcia Lorca - Spanish poet (1898 to 1936): In Spain the dead are more alive than the dead of any other place in the world: their profile wounds like the edge of a barber's razor.

As Tremlett says, "Spain has a wealth of stories to tell....the story does not go stale either, for Spain changes at breakneck speed". Certainly the transicion from dictatorship to democracy in just three years was nothing short of remarkable. "The Spanish people, relieved, embraced democracy in record time, consciously fleeing their own brutal past and burying it in silence....which it did by smothering the past, an unwritten el pacto de olvido, the pact of forgetting. But scratch beneath the surface and this silence hid more than just fear or shame, it hid the fact that Spaniards did not, still do not, agree on the past. The argument disguised by this silence remains that Spain has two versions of who was to blame for the Civil War. There remains two Spains. If the transicion was a success, it was because Spaniards made a supreme effort to find consensus. That effort was driven, to a large degree, by the Civil War ghosts still haunting so many Spanish households".

The book covers, amongst other things, How the Bikini Saved Spain (the development of tourism), the characteristics and claims of the peoples of Catalonia, Euskadi (Basque Country) and Galicia, the Mean Streets of Flamenco and the art of enchufe (being "plugged in"). It is a great read and offers Brits an insight into Spanish national and regional characteristics and differences and how Franco's unwitting legacy was to ensure that current generations understand old conflicts are best resolved with words, not violence.

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