España global

Hasta ahora, España no había recuperado el nivel del PIB anterior a la crisis (2008). La “Gran Recesión” le ha pasado una importante factura, sobre todo por lo que toca al desempleo, pero hay un terreno –el de la internacionalización– que apenas ha sufrido sus efectos. El Índice Elcano de Presencia Global (IEPG) del Real Instituto Elcano para 2016, que mide los resultados de la internacionalización, sitúa a España en el puesto 12º de 100 países con una puntuación de 204,1, posición que el país mantiene desde 2014 (entre 1995 y 2013 ocupaba el puesto 11º). Estados Unidos, con una puntuación de 2.456,9, consigue la presencia global más alta, seguido por China con 729,6.

El IEPG se calcula con datos objetivos y se basa en tres dimensiones (económica, militar y presencia blanda), las cuales, por su parte, están integradas por variables de diferente naturaleza que van desde, por ejemplo, la energía hasta la cooperación al desarrollo, pasando por las tropas desplegadas o el turismo. Todas ellas reflejan la presencia más allá de las fronteras. A las variables se les asignan pesos, y las dimensiones se basan en una serie de criterios establecidos por diversos expertos.

El índice no es una medida del poder de un país, ya que es posible que la proyección internacional de este sea fuerte y su influencia regional o mundial débil, o viceversa (la relación entre presencia y poder depende de su política exterior), sino que se calcula para determinar la proyección externa efectiva de los países, con independencia de su reputación o de su imagen.

En el caso de España, el 59,3% de su presencia en el mundo obedece a su presencia económica (62% en 2010); el 29,8% a su presencia blanda (23,9%), y el 10,9% a su presencia militar (14,2%). El país tiene una alta presencia global en cuanto a su posición en el mundo desde el punto de vista del tamaño de su economía (la 14ª en términos nominales) y de su población (la 30ª).

Su presencia económica se caracteriza por la fuerza de su sector servicios, un peso de la industria relativamente bajo comparado con países como Alemania, o incluso Portugal, y un peso relativo de bienes primarios mayor que Francia e Italia. Por último, España tiene una considerable presencia blanda (turismo, cultura, y, más recientemente, ciencia), que ha ido aumentando cada año desde que se calculó el primer IEPG para 1990.

Ha habido tres factores, en particular, que han permitido que España conserve su presencia global desde la crisis: el aumento de las exportaciones de bienes (que han pasado de 160.000 millones de euros en 2008 a 254.000 millones en 2016); el stock de sus inversiones directas en el exterior (516.000 millones de dólares), que refleja las adquisiciones de las empresas desde la década de 1990, y un sector turístico (clasificado recientemente como el más competitivo por el Foro Económico Mundial) que casi cada año registra un nuevo récord en el número de visitantes (75,3 millones en 2016).

Este año empezará a funcionar el tren de alta velocidad entre Medina y La Meca, en Arabia Saudí, un contrato colosal conseguido por un consorcio de empresas españolas y uno de los emblemas de la marca España en el exterior. El mes pasado, otro consorcio, liderado por Tubacex, se hizo con un contrato de 556 millones de euros para suministrar 600 kilómetros de tubos anticorrosivos a la compañía de petróleo nacional iraní para sus proyectos petroleros, mientras que en Letonia se empezaban a desplegar 300 soldados y 80 vehículos españoles en una misión defensiva bajo el paraguas de la OTAN. Las tropas españolas no habían estado tan cerca de la frontera rusa desde la División Azul (una unidad de voluntarios españoles que sirvieron en el frente del este con el Ejército alemán durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial).

El resurgir económico de España, que este año registrará la mayor tasa de crecimiento económico de los grandes países de la Unión Europea, y el mantenimiento de su presencia global llegan en un momento en el que, según el último barómetro de la imagen de España elaborado por el Real Instituto Elcano, ya no se asocia al país con la palabra “crisis”. El camino ha sido largo. La percepción que se tiene de España ha mejorado notablemente en los últimos cuatro años, sobre todo en Alemania, si bien se la sigue relacionando con los tópicos de los toros, el flamenco, la siesta y la fiesta.

Casi 500 años después de que Juan Sebastián Elcano diese la vuelta al mundo por primera vez y de la creación de un gran imperio, España ha recobrado una presencia global considerable. Elcano se habría sentido satisfecho.

The “curiosos impertinentes”: British writers who forged Spain’s Romantic Image.

Some countries have no image: Belgium and Paraguay, for example. Spain’s image is one of the world’s strongest and oldest. Close to 30% of Japanese respondents in a survey, conducted by the think tank for which I work, spontaneously associated the word ‘Spain’ with bulls and almost 20% with flamenco. What image conjures up Belgium? Chocolates? With what do we associate England?
Marmite? Fish and chips?

For centuries the bull has been the supreme iconographic image of Spain, to the chagrin of many Spaniards desiring a more modern image not associated with the national sport of bullfighting. During Spain’s recent crisis, the international media used the bull in creative metaphors to reflect the situation. The Economist, for example, put on its cover a bull wounded by banderillas placed in pairs into the muscle on top of the bull’s shoulders, in order to make the matador’s job easier, and above it the word Spain with the S falling off so it read pain.

Spain’s image dates from the 16th century with the conquistadores who forged an empire in Latin America, the Armada that set sail for England (Sir Francis Drake is a hero for the Brits and a pirate for Spaniards) and the Black Legend associated with the Inquisition of the all-pervasive Catholic Church. That image lasted through the 18th century. Spaniards were seen as intolerant, narrow minded, indolent, calculating and intensely Catholic.

The pre-eminent building was the vast, austere palace-monastery of El Escorial near Madrid, with its ashen façade, from where Philip II ran the Spanish empire and which has been called an expression in stone of Catholicism. The traditional belief is that the grill-like shape of El Escorial was chosen in honor of St. Lawrence, who, in the third century AD, was martyred by being roasted to death on a grill.

The other and very different image of Spain originated in the 19th century, and is the one I am going to talk about today. This romantic image emanates from British, American and French travellers, known collectively as los curiosos impertinentes, who visited the country and wrote about it. The term curiosos impertinentes, which can be translated as the annoyingly curious, comes from one of the interpolated tales in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, about a man, Anselmo, who tests the fidelity of his wife by asking his friend Lothario to seduce her. How the term ended up being applied to travellers is a mystery. I am going to talk about eight British writers, three of whom I met – Walter Starkie, Gerald Brenan and Robert Graves – and another of whom, the late Michael Jacobs, was a friend for many years.

According to the stereotypes forged by this romantic image Spaniards were anarchist, individualist, tolerant, passionate, impulsive, natural, generous and pagan – the total reverse of the other image. The emblematic building was the exotic, sensual, Moorish Alhambra palace in Granada, the residence of Muslim kings until the Christian conquest of the city in 1492. All women were like Carmen, a beautiful gypsy with a fiery temper, responsible for the downfall of many men and immortalised in Bizet’s 1857 opera, which brought together all the romantic clichés of southern Spain, from banditry to gypsies and matadors. Incidentally, it is still one of the most performed operas in the world. Carmen was inspired by Prosper Merimée’s novel of the same name, which sparked the French interest in Spain. The romantic image of Spain can be seen as a variation of the West’s fascination for the the East.

In the words of the late Michael Jacobs: “Spain is a country continually identified and constrained by metaphors, and there are even those who have interpreted its very shape as a protruding spiritual presence thrusting out not into the Atlantic but into the mystical imagination.”

Few other countries have produced archetypal personalities of such resonance as Carmen, Don Juan and, above all, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, whose names are continually invoked to describe the opposing extremes of the Spanish character.

The ‘exotic’, primitive Spain was epitomised by the phrase ‘Africa begins at the Pyrenees’, the idea that Spain is different, not European, apparently coined by Alexandre Dumas, best known as the author of The Three Musketeers, first published in 1844.

Some of these ideas and images fed the concept of “Spanish exceptionalism”, tainted by association with Fascism in the 20th century. The notion of Spanish exceptionalism played into the hands of the dictator Franco, who won the 1936-39 Civil War, as it explained why Spaniards, unlike other Europeans, could not live in democracy: because democracy was an unSpanish and thus a dangerous, foreign system.

The modern Spanish mass tourism industry was promoted in its first years in the 1960s during the Franco regime with the slogan, “Spain is different” (it was the only dictatorship in Western Europe apart from Portugal). More than 75 million tourists went to Spain last year, close to 18 million of whom were Brits.

The father of the curiosos impertinentes, as far as British writers are concerned, is Richard Ford, author of the two volume Handbook for Travellers in Spain and Readers at Home, published in 1845, the forerunner of today’s growth industry of travel guides, which runs to 1,064 pages of double-column closely-printed pages text, 140 journeys and a 50-page index. The original 2,000 sets costing the considerable sum for its day of 30 shillings were sold out in little more than a year. I have long coveted a copy of the first edition.

Ford, a High Tory grandee of independent means, had an opinion on everything Spanish. The scope of the book can be gauged from the sub-title: “Describing the country and cities, the natives and their manners, the antiquities, religion, legends, fine arts, literature, sports and gastronomy … with notices on Spanish history.”

Some of Ford’s comments were so caustic that the 1844 edition was suppressed. Even so, the expurgated edition is still full of comments like, Valencians are “vindictive, sullen, fickle and treacherous; in Murcia “the better classes vegetate in a monotonous unsocial existence: their pursuits are the cigar and the siesta” and Catalonia is “no place for the man of pleasure, taste or literature … here cotton is spun, vice and discontent bred, revolution concoted.” As for the Andalucian he “is the greatest boaster; he brags chiefly of his courage and wealth. He ends in believing his own lie, and hence is always pleased with himself, with whom he is on the best of terms. His redeeming qualities are his kind and good manners, his lively, social turn, his ready wit and sparkle. The provincial dress is so extremely picturesque, that it is adopted in our costumeless land for fancy balls.”

Ford travelled around Spain in the 1830s by horse, wearing gear which he recommended to adventurous travellers: a jacket of black sheepskin or lambskin, with, in his words, “a sash around the waist which sustains the loins and maintains an equable heat over the abdomen,” a cloak, and in summer “the head should be protected with a silk handkerchief tied after a turban fashion, which all the natives do. In addition we always lined the inside of our hats with thickly-doubled brown paper.”

Ford not only produced a book which in many ways has stood the test of time, with wonderful descriptions of places, bullfighting and generally perceptive remarks about Spain – apart from the insults – but he also returned to England with more than 500 sketches. Few Spanish artists had bothered to memorialise their native scene, so that the drawings and watercolours done by Ford and his wife Harriet are often the only record of buildings and localities that have vanished or changed beyond recognition. He found the hams of Montanchez so delicious and the amontillado sherry that he introduced them to England.

Too much sentimental nonsense had been written about the Alhambra, the Islamic palace in Granada, he wrote, almost certainly referring to the American writer Washington Irving, whose Tales of the Alhambra had been published in 1832. To be truly appreciated, according to Ford, the Alhambra had to be “lived in and beheld in the semi-obscure evening. The shadows of the cypresses on the walls assume the forms of the dusky Moor revisiting his last home, while the night winds breaking through the unglazed windows and the myrtles, rustle as his silken robes or sigh like his lament over the profanation of the unclean infidel and destroyer.”

One of Ford’s many acute observations which still holds today was that Spain was the country of the patria chica. Patria is first and foremost place of origin – more than mother country – and chica means little and hence something to be protected. A Spaniards’ first loyalty is often to the village, town or city where he was born, a tangible place, and not to his country: these feelings are expressed in the tens of thousands of annual fiestas that still take place in villages. He called Spain a “bundle of local units tied together by a rope of sand.” Judging by the push for independence in Catalonia, the ‘rope’ is not much stronger today. Ford called Catalonia “the classic country of rebellion, always ready to leave”.

Ford was so taken by Spain that when he returned to England and moved into Heavitree House, a rambling Elizabethan farmhouse, near Exeter he had the buildings decorated in a Spanish manner, and sent for pines and cypresses from Spain to plant in the garden and built a summer house in the Moorish style. The cornice of his bathroom was taken or perhaps I should say stolen from the Casa Sánchez in the grounds of the Alhambra. He died in 1858 and on his tombstone was fittingly inscribed in Latin the following, Rerum Hispaniae indagator acerrimus, “Ardent researcher on Hispanic matters,”

Ford was largely responsible for the publication of The Bible in Spain in 1842 by George Borrow, our next curioso impertinente. While Ford was writing The Handbook, his publisher John Murray sent him Borrow’s manuscript and he urged Murray to publish it.

George Borrow peddled and printed in Spain the Protestant Bible for the British and Foreign Bible Society, founded in 1804. He spoke several languages including Russian, and his first job as an agent for the Society was in St. Petersburg, followed by Spain which was suffering the aftermath of the ruinous Napoleonic wars and in the throes of the Carlist War.

Mounted on his thoroughbred Arab horse, Sidi Habismilk, Borrow, known as Don Jorgito el Inglés, saw himself as a knight-errant of the Bible.

Borrow called Spain “the most magnificent country in the world, probably the most fertile, and certainly with the finest climate. Whether her children are worthy of their mother is another question, which I shall not attempt to answer, but content myself with observing that, amongst much that is lamentable and reprehensible, I have found much that is noble and to be admired; much stern heroic virtue, at least amongst the great body of the Spanish nation, with which my mission lay.”

He got into many scrapes with the Catholic authorities who hounded him and at one stage imprisoned him. The Bibles were seized wherever found, and those sent from Madrid impounded at the custom house where all goods went so that a duty could be levied on them. Borrow’s reporting of such acts reinforced Spain’s image of religious intolerance at the official level, though not among the people. Not surprisingly, Borrow had hardly a kind word for the Catholic Church as an institution.

Ford’s Handbook and Borrow’s The Bible in Spain were bestsellers and went into many editions. They did much to fuel Spain’s tourist boom in the 19th century by Brits. As Ford wrote, “Though a land of adventures and romance full of historic, poetic and legendary association, (Spain) yet is withal a kind of terra incognita where the all-wandering foot of the all-pervading Englishman but seldom rambles. The beef-steak and the tea-kettle which infallibly mark the progress of John Bull are as yet unknown”.

The steady extension of the railway through Spain, particularly in Andalusia, facilitated tourism – a mode of transport detested by Ford and by his hero, the first Duke of Wellington, the victor of Waterloo and of the Peninsular War (which Spaniards call the War of Independence). The Iron Duke, who gave Ford financial support, had complained that the railway would “encourage the lower classes to move about.”

While Borrow travelled with copies of the Bible, Walter Starkie, born in 1894 near Dublin, took his violin with him when he travelled through Spain in the 1920s and 30s and was something of a wandering minstrel. He was a gifted musician and linguist, and regarded his violin as the equivalent of Don Quixote’s horse Rocinante. While walking Starkie, as recounted in his book Spanish Raggle-Taggle, published in 1934, would converse with himself. Often he would enact a conversation between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, telling himself: “Get thee behind me, pot-bellied Sancho, the true vagabond is no hiker who has visited Woolworth’s”. Starkie’s life was something of a tussle between the practical Sancho Panza part of his nature and the idealistic wandering Don Quixote side.

Starkie is hyper romantic in lamenting the passing of the “old” Spain. He had the Irish gift of the gab. Many of the conversations and stories in the book are difficult to believe, as is his claim that he retrieved from the waiting room of a railway station an umbrella he had left there many years before.

Starkie later became the first cultural representative in Madrid of the British Council (1940-54), an institution that played a part in keeping the Franco regime out of belligerent involvement in the Second World War on Hitler’s side. Starkie’s eccentricity was also a good cover for his work as a British agent. His flat in Madrid was used by the British Embassy as a safe house for escaping prisoners of war and Jewish refugees en route to Gibraltar and Lisbon.

Victor Sawdon Pritchett, born in Ipswich, Suffolk in 1900, was also walking through Spain at the same time as Starkie, but their paths did not cross. Pritchett first came to Spain in 1924 as a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, a US newspaper, and in 1926 walked through Extremadura. The journey is described in Marching Spain, published in 1928, a book Pritchett, best known for his short stories, later disowned and was happy to see go out of print until 1988, eight years before he died. Pritchett began that journey by arriving by boat in La Coruña from Southampton and then getting to Badajoz via Lisbon where he begins his journey. As the boat arrives he sees the Spanish flag in the harbour flying at half mast. He wondered what great personage had died:

“Perhaps a prime minister, an archbishop, a public man of sorts, even one of Spain’s 800 generals. It was clearly an occasion of official mourning, and no people love death as the Spaniards love it. They enjoy the evidence of death. They love the sight of a good, bloody corpse, well gashed and bruised – who can forget the revolting realism of the agonised Christs of their galleries and processions? The curious Pritchett asked a policeman who had died. “He turned on me, and his eyes were musingly half-closed like a cat’s. “It is our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. I remembered then that it was Good Friday”.

Religion comes into Pritchett’s journey quite a lot: there is Don Benito with his illicit copy of the Book of Genesis and the Scottish Protestant missionary, who had been roughed up by the civil guard for proselytising and whose house is known as the House of Ill Fame. Marching Spain is full of encounters with people, with what Pritchett calls “human architecture”, which he preferred over buildings. He rarely described a building during his wanderings.

It is not long before Pritchett encounters olive oil, and for him it becomes the smell of Spain. “Each country has its smell: Spain reeks of rank olive oil. The fumes of that oil, which is used by the peasants for lighting their fires, for burning in their lamps, and for cooking their food, hit out from every doorway with a blow that at first sickened. I struggled for two days with the stink, and then it conquered me, sank into me, and permeated my system, gripped my limbs, possessed my palate, pervaded my nose – in fact, behaved like a Spanish stare so that henceforth I noticed it no more – and ate it unknowingly – the abominable stuff.”

The Spanish Temper, published in 1954, 26 years after Marching Spain, is not a travel book in the sense that we follow Pritchett on the road, although it reads like one, but a distillation of his study of Spain and his thoughts and experiences about the country.

Spain had changed by the early 1950s when Pritchett goes back. Franco had been dictator more than 10 years. Many of Pritchett’s friends and contacts had gone into exile after the Civil War. He notes early on in the Spanish Temper that:
“Spain is the great producer of exiles, a country unable to tolerate its own people. The Moors, the Jews, the Protestants, the reformers – out with them; and out, at different periods, with the liberals, the atheists, the priests, the kings, the presidents, the generals, the socialists, the anarchists, fascists, and communists; out with the Right, out with the Left, out with every government. The fact recalls the cruel roar of abuse that goes up in the ring when the bullfighter misses a trick; out with him.”

Recalling an incident during his travels in Marching Spain when Pritchett mentioned Málaga and Seville in the same breadth, in the presence of a young man from Málaga who passionately denounces Seville as much inferior, Pritchett muses in The Spanish Temper that the “provinciality of the Spaniard is his true ground and passion, His town is not like any other town. It is the only town. And he too is not like any other human being; he is indeed the only human being.” Richard Ford made a similar point 90 years earlier.

Pritchett’s observations on the complexities and contradictions of Spanish life including the intensity of regional differences remain pertinent today. At one point he says “there is no such country as Spain.” His description of the streets lying off the Puerta del Sol in Madrid after midnight could apply to some Spanish towns and cities today.

“They are streets of small bars crowded with men roaring away at each other, drinking their small glasses of beer or wine, tearing shellfish to bits and scattering their refuse and the sugar-papers of their coffee on the floors. The walls are toiled and in gaudy colours. The head of a bull will hang there, or some bloody painting of a scene at the bullfight.”

The main difference between then and now is that women and not only men would be roaring away at one another.

Pritchett’s great friend Gerald Brenan, whom he first met in 1936, also went back to Spain after the Civil War and wrote about the country. Brenan, unlike Pritchett, had made it his home after the First World War in 1919 and left Spain in 1936. Regretting he had not gone to university because of the war, Brenan used the bounty given him as an officer when he was demobbed to buy a library of 2,000 books and had them shipped to the village of Yegen in the Alpujarra near Granada where he immersed himself in educating himself.

Like his contemporary the poet and novelist Robert Graves, best known for his autobiography Goodbye to All That, which describes his bitter leave-taking of England following the cataclysm of the First World War, one reason for Brenan choosing to live in Spain was his calculation that his small income would go further there. Graves’s “All that” included the constrictions of a public school education, the class system and British philistinism. Graves moved to Mallorca in 1929 and died there in 1985, but hardly wrote about Spain except Majorca Observed published in 1965.

Brenan returned to Spain in 1949 and recounted what he saw in The Face of Spain, published in 1950. By then he had made his name as an authority on the country with The Spanish Labyrinth, still one of the seminal books for understanding what led to that savage conflict.

The Face of Spain is written in the form of a diary. Here is an extract. “The impression that abides from my visit is of how little, after all the vicissitudes of the last 13 years, the character of the people has changed and this, to anyone who knew Spain before the Civil War, will be the best recommendation. To those who did not, let me say that there is something about this country and its way of life which makes a unique impression. For centuries a mixing bowl of the cultures of Europe, Asia and North Africa, Spain gives off a note which is unlike any other. A sharp, penetrating, agridulce strain, both harsh and nostalgic like that of its guitar music, which no one who has once heard will ever forget”.

Brenan vividly describes what he encounters 10 years after the Civil War: severe poverty, deprivation, corruption, black market, the suffocating political atmosphere of the dictatorship and the village of Yegen where his home had remained intact. The picture that emerges is a depressing one. Nevertheless, Spain continued to attract him, and he returned for good in 1953, despite being openly critical of the regime. As he expressed it:

“The Englishman, fresh from the dull hurry of London streets and from their sea of pudding faces – faces which often seem to have known no greater grief than that of having arrived too late in the chocolate or cake queue – feels recharged and revitalised when he bathes in this river.”
By river, he meant Spain.

Brenan’s next book South from Granada recounts his life in Yegen in the 1920s. It is an intimate, insider portrait of life in a village that had changed little over the centuries. The writer Bruce Chatwin visited the village in 1987, almost 70 years after Brenan moved there, and said it reminded him of Afghanistan. The analogy was apt. To appreciate what Brenan did in the 1920s you must imagine that a young Englishman decided today to go and settle in a remote village in Afghanistan 4,000 feet above sea level, like Yegen. The nearest town of any significance to Yegen was Almeria which until the 1960s was more accessible by sea than by land.

To say that Brenan was an object of curiosity in Yegen is to put it mildly. Encouraged to go to church by the local priest, despite declaring himself Protestant, Brenan was given pride of place in the bishop’s chair in full view of the congregation.

Norman Lewis, slightly younger than Pritchett and Brenan, set out in 1934 with his brother-in-law to reach Spain through France by taking with them a collapsible canoe, but they did not get very far and abandoned it. The canoe and baggage weighed more than 100 kilos and was transported on a small cart. They spent more time carrying the canoe than paddling it. Lewis was also escaping Graves’s “all that”. In his first volume of autobiography, Jackdaw Cake, Lewis describes his lower middle-class suburban London background as “an endless, low-quality dream… nothing, with chips”.

Lewis’s Spanish Adventure, published in 1935, recounts their journey through pre-Civil War Spain including the armed revolt by
Asturian miners. At one point when they arrived in Madrid by train they were caught in shooting between snipers and soldiers.
Lewis was particularly struck by the singularity of Spain’s landscape. As he later wrote:

“Its surprising combinations of desert, forest and mountains contain an element of the fantastic that is lacking in any other part of Europe. Only Spain can supply the profound and exciting sense of personal incongruity which is engendered by finding oneself in a boundless plain of billowing rock, from which all colour has been purged by the sun, leaving a panorama empty of everything but whiteness of cloud and rock and the blue of the sky. Against such terrestrial purity one is demoted to the status of a stain.”

Like Brenan, Lewis lived in a Spanish village on and off for a couple of years in the early 1950s after serving in the Army overseas and wrote about it in Voices of the Old Sea, published in 1984.

Lewis lived in the remote fishing village of Farol in Catalonia, in the last period before Spain was opened up to mass tourism. He became a fishermen, which enabled him to integrate into the village. He had a keen eye for the absurd. The village’s muleteer had trained his mule to deposit its manure only at the door of the inn, for which he received a glass of wine twice a day.

I will end with my friend Michael Jacobs, once dubbed “the George Borrow of the high-speed train era” by the conservative Spanish daily ABC. Michael left behind a substantial body of work on Spain. His Between Hopes and Memories, published in 1994, is a highly original and erudite departure from the 20th century travel writers whom he said “lamented the modern Spain and regretted the passing of rural life”. He called such sentimentality offensive. Laurie Lee, whose As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, is the most poetic account of Spain, and Jan Morris are the best-known such authors. Indeed Michael’s remark in his book on Andalusia, published in 1991, that Jan Morris found poverty “pictureseque” provoked a furious letter from her. As Michael told me: “She wrote saying there was a kind of beauty in the closeness of peasants to the soil, which only proved what I said.” Despite the clash, Morris chose his book as one of her 10 favourite books on Spain, calling it an “antidote to sloppy romanticism.”

Perhaps because of his academic training as an art historian – he received a doctorate at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and was the last postgraduate student of Anthony Blunt, the former curator of the royal art collection who was publicly exposed as a spy in 1978 – Michael took a more all-encompassing approach to his travels around Spain. He digresses on food (one of his great passions and he found the Spaniards even more obsessed than the French or Italians) and writes knowledgeably on art and literature.

In his book Between Hopes and Memories Michael looks at the unusual and eccentric aspects of Spain, often contrasting what he found with how it had been described by previous writers.

He explores the less-publicised aspects of Spain, concluding that if he had to choose one characteristic common to the many fragments that make up Spain, it would be neither “profound permanence” nor ”Moorish sensuality”, – the two opposing images I mentioned at the start of this talk – but something Spaniards refer to as cursi. This word carries a wide range of nuances: flashy, genteel, affected, kitsch, quaint and cheesy. He was interested in a Spain that contradicted and even parodied romantic images of Spanishness, an ephemeral and anarchic Spain of discothèques, pollution, unpublished poets, architectural tack, gastronomic passions, historical shams and fantastical bad taste. He could have called his book Unromantic Spain, but that title had already been used by Mario Praz in 1929.

Most of us would find not being able to drive a handicap. Michael regarded it as an advantage for the modern-day travel writer. As he told me: “It forces you to take public transport where you talk to more people. And more importantly if you arrive at some God-forsaken village in a car you can always drive on, but if you get there by the last bus or train you have no option but to seek out the nearest fonda, which is an experience that fewer and fewer people have these days. So much of tourism in Spain today involves carefully-planned journeys and paradors in the attractive towns while those of greater interest are ignored.”

The lack of his own transport and the scarcity of public transport in some of the remote places he visited led him into some strange travelling experiences, such as touring Huelva in the back of a van belonging to a rock-flamenco group called Dulce Venganza (Sweet Revenge) and travelling in La Mancha, on the trail of Don Quixote, with a photographer obsessed with dead dogs.

I drove Michael to see Camilo José Cela, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1989, and then left him to follow the same path as that pursued by Cela on foot in his book Journey to the Alcarria, published in 1948. Our meeting with Cela is amusingly recounted in the Hopes and Memories book. Michael visited the same places as Cela, and he discovered that the great writer‘s celebrated book was not liked.

“Cela would just spend a night in a village, go into a shop or bar, meet up with the village idiot or some deformed unfortunate, and – there you have it, the whole village summed up,” the son of the gardener who showed Cela around Brihuega in 1946 complained.
When Michael visits the Alhambra in Granada, he finds romantic attitudes to the palace no less prevalent than they were in Richard Ford’s day.

“A continuing fascination with gypsies, meanwhile,” he wrote, “has led to coach outings to ‘gypsy caves’, where tourists watch a sorry display of flamenco and drink an insipid glass of sangría. To complete the whole ‘romantic experience’ there is the obligatory evening trudge to the Albaicín church of San Nicolás, where row on row of video cameras wait poised to catch the setting sun as it suffuses the Alhambra’s russet-red turrets with a golden glow, a performance that sometimes inspires a spontaneous round of applause.”

Like Norman Lewis, Michael also lived in a Spanish village. He bought a house in Frailes in the province of Jaén and spent part of the year there. His experiences in this strange place – which my wife and I stayed in – are recounted in The Factory of Light, published in 2003, appropriately by John Murray, the publisher responsible for Richard Ford’s Handbook.

When he died in 2014, Michael left an uncompleted book he was writing on Diego Velázquez’s enigmatic masterpiece Las Meninas which hangs in the Prado museum in Madrid and whose mirror game of truth and illusion had fascinated Michael ever since he first saw the painting as a schoolboy. The book, Everything is Happening, was published in 2015 with an introduction and coda by his friend Ed Vulliamy. There are many interpretations of the painting’s ultimate significance. Michael follows the trails of associations from each individual character in the picture, as well as his own memories of and relationship to the extraordinary work, concluding that part of its greatness lies in there being no ‘definitive’ interpretation.

The same can be said for Spain, which is what makes the country so fascinating.

The Challenges Facing the ‘New’ Spain

When I spoke here a year ago, Spain had had an inconclusive general election in December 2015 which created a fragmented parliament unable to decide which party should form the new government. Two months later, in June of last year, another election was held which produced basically the same results. And a third election would have been held at the end of 2016 if the Socialists had not bowed at the last minute to pressure and supported Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party for a second term in office at the investiture vote last October. Spain was thus 10 months without a government. Had there been a third election Spain would have been close to rivalling Belgium’s record of the 541 days it took that country between 2010 and 2011 to form a functioning government.

Although some Spaniards joked that the country got along fine with a caretaker government for 315 days, last year was a lost one. There are pressing issues that only now being tackled but the Popular Party no longer has an absolute majority. As a minority administration it is having to negotiate its laws and reforms in a still deeply fragmented parliament, the result of the upending of the Popular Party and the Socialist Party by two insurgent parties, the far left Podemos and the centrist Ciudadanos. The challenges in this uncharted territory include:

• Deciding what to do about the unconstitutional push for independence in Catalonia. The region’s government says it will hold a legally-binding referendum on the issue in September regardless of whether the central government approves it or not.
• Cleaning up corruption in the political class.
• Making the judiciary more independent.
• Finding ways to reduce the still very high unemployment rate (18.6%).
• Reforming an education system whose early school-leaving rate of 20% is close to double the EU average.
• Bolstering the ailing pension system hit by a sharp fall in the number of social security contributors and a rapidly
ageing population.
• Coping with Brexit.

Political scene

The political gridlock reflected the teething problems in adapting to an end to the dominance of the Popular Party and the Socialists, the two parties that have alternated in power since 1982, following the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975.

Felipe González, a former Socialist Prime Minister, quipped that Spain now has an Italian-style fragmented parliament ‘but without the Italians to manage it’. The Popular Party has 137 of the 350 seats in parliament, far from its absolute majority of 186 in the 2011 election; the Socialists 85 seats, their lowest number since democracy was restored (they had 202 seats in 1982), Unidos Podemos (an alliance between Podemos and the much smaller United Left party) 71 and Ciudadanos 32 seats. Even with the support of Ciudadanos for the Popular Party (the two agreed a pact last year), the Popular Party is still seven seats short of the majority of 176 seats.

The Socialists’ problems are similar to those of other European social-democratic parties including Britain’s Labour Party. In Spain’s case, with Podemos seeking to outflank the Socialists on the left, a new party, Ciudadanos, in the centre (an area the Socialists had occupied with some success) and the conservative Popular Party offering stability and continuity, the Socialists have yet to carve out a coherent position. Pedro Sánchez, the former Socialist leader, was ousted last October in a bitter dispute in the party over whether to let the Popular Party back into office. He was against it but offered no credible alternative. An alliance with Podemos was never on the cards – Podemos regards the Socialists as part of what it calls la casta (the caste) which it wants to change.

A third election would most probably have produced an even worst result for the Socialists than in June – hence the party decided not to risk it and to allow the Popular Party back into government as the best of two bad choices. Since then the party has been run by an interim committee. A new leader will be elected in May at primary elections, and Sánchez has thrown his hat into the ring.

The fall in the Socialists’ share of the vote in general elections has been a lot steeper than that of the Popular Party. In last June’s election, the Socialists obtained 23% of the vote, down from their peak of 48% in 1982, while the Popular Party dropped from its maximum of 44% in 2000 to 33%. The two parties’ combined share of votes fell from a high of 84% in 2008, before the economy went into recession, to 56% in June.

Although it took 10 months to form a government, opinion polls show that most Spaniards do not want to return to the two-party system even if it is perceived as being more stable. As a result, parliamentary life has become much more vibrant.

Whereas populism in France, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands has produced right wing, anti-immigrant parties, Spain’s populism has taken a leftist course even though the country has all the ingredients –massive unemployment, growing inequality, an influx of immigrants and the loss of trust in established political parties– to produce a right-wing populist presence in politics.

Among the reasons for Spain’s different course are: prevalent and persistent pro-European sentiment, higher than the EU average; the Spanish are the least inclined of any European people to support returning power from the EU to the member states; they hold more favourable attitudes to globalization compared with other EU countries and anti-immigration sentiment is well below the European average. A Sprexit is not on the cards.

Other factors are the relative weakness of Spanish national identity, partly explained by the strong nationalist movements in regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, and the association of the extreme right with the Franco regime.

Spain’s populism grew out of the so-called movement of the ‘indignant ones’ who camped out in the Puerta del Sol in the heart of Madrid in 2011. Los indignados, mainly young people, protested against high unemployment, welfare cuts, corruption, evictions of families unable to pay their mortgages and other grievances.

The age profile of the electoral census is another factor. In 1981, 35% of voters were under the age of 34 compared with 21% today. This reflects the ageing of the population. Young disenchanted adults, in particular, felt that no party represented them. The indignant movement spawned Podemos.

The generational gap is profound at the political level: the largest share of Popular Party voters at last June’s elections were pensioners, while that of Unidos Podemos were the unemployed and students. The average age of Popular Party voters is 57 and that of Unidos Podemos 43. Younger people are demanding change and an ageing population is resisting it.

The generational cleavage is more acute on the left than on the right: Unidos Podemos has a much larger share of voters under the age of 35 than the Socialists.

Podemos eschews the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’, although its radical and abrasive leader, Pablo Iglesias, is widely viewed as a Leninist. Like the Socialists, Podemos also has its internal divisions. These came to a head in February when Iglesias beat off a challenge by his deputy and rival, Iñigo Errejón, to steer a more moderate course. The differences between the two boiled down to pursuing harder left policies in parliament and also in the streets, the view of Iglesias, or being more accommodating towards the centre ground, the view of Errejón.

Podemos’s ambition is to overtake the Socialists as the main party on the left: in last June’s election it got 400,000 fewer votes. Since then Podemos has fallen victim to the very divisions that led Iglesias to voice despair at the left’s tendency to get bogged down in arguments that mean little or nothing to the average voter.

Mariano Rajoy, the Popular Party’s leader who remains as Prime Minister, revealed himself during last year’s gridlock to form a government as a master of what some call ‘strategic patience’ (or, in British imperial terms, masterly inactivity), meaning that that he left it to the other political leaders to move and possibly burn themselves (the case of Sánchez and the implosion of the Socialists) while he appeared to stand still and do nothing. Felipe González quipped that ‘Rajoy is the only creature that advances without moving’. Angela Merkel said Rajoy had the ‘skin of an elephant.’

No one is confidently predicting that the government will last the normal course of four years. If the same gridlock that prevented the forming of a government hits parliament, which has so far not happened, then a frustrated Popular Party could call an early election. According to the latest Metroscopia opinion poll, the results would be more or less in line with last June, with the Popular Party winning again with 31% of the vote.

Catalonia: no let-up in the push for independence

The Catalan government’s moves to implement its pro-independence roadmap of laws needed for an independent state, rubber stamped by the region’s parliament as pro-separatist parties have an absolute majority of seats, is being countered at every stage by the Constitutional Court in Madrid.

A train crash of some sort looks inevitable as the Catalan government says it will hold a legally-binding referendum next September whether the central government agrees or not. The move is unconstitutional: a referendum can only be held with the permission of Madrid. The Socialists and Ciudadanos back the Popular Party. Podemos is in favour of a referendum on the independence issue in all of Spain and not just in Catalonia, but with Catalonia having the final word.

Artur Mas, the former Catalan president, went on trial in February along with two members of his cabinet for organising a non-binding illegal vote in 2014 on independence. Around 2.3 million people –only between 36% and 43% of the electorate, depending on which side’s figures are used– cast a ballot in that plebiscite and 80% voted for independence.

Accused of civil disobedience, Mas was banned from holding public office for two years. He walked to court and was greeted by thousands of supporters including members of the Catalan government and of the regional parliament shouting ‘independence’ and ‘you are not alone’.

Carme Forcadell, the President of the Catalan parliament, also faces charges of disobedience for allowing MPs to debate and vote on independence. Pro-independence parties, an unholy mix of nationalists and anti-capitalists, won 48% of the vote in the 2015 Catalan election.

In her view the central government is using judicial measures to interfere in the political affairs of Catalonia, as it is unable to resolve political challenges through politics. For Madrid the issue is one of the rule of law; for the Catalan government the right to self-determination. One should be careful of making comparisons with Scotland.

The central government’s ‘Operation Dialogue’, launched in January, has got nowhere. It is a dialogue of the deaf. The central government is not prepared to cede an inch, while the Catalan government views the initiative as discredited with every new charge against Catalan officials.

The Catalan crisis requires a political solution, which means changes to the 1978 Constitution on the architecture of Spain’s system of devolution. Whether such changes would satisfy the pro-independence camp is doubtful. The dilemma is that giving Catalonia more autonomy and, in particular, improving its financial relation with the central government, one of the main grievances, runs the risk of opening up a Pandora’s Box of competing demands from Spain’s 16 other autonomous regions, while leaving the independence issue entirely to the courts does not look as if it will make the issue go away.

Lastly, while on the subject of nationalism, the Basque terrorist group Eta plans to disarm on April 8.

Formed in 1959, with the goal of achieving independence for an independent Basque homeland, which straddles northern Spain and southwestern France, Eta murdered 845 people in bombings and shootings, most of them after the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975 when Spain engineered a successful transition to democracy.

Eta renounced violence six years ago and has not killed anyone since 2010. The government has reacted cautiously as Eta has yet to announce it will disband.

Around 350 convicted Eta members are in prisons in Spain far from the Basque Country or in France. Eta wants them moved closer to home. The government will only consider this once Eta has disarmed and dissolved.

Corruption

Spanish society as a whole is not more corrupt than other Western societies, although regular readers of the Spanish press could be forgiven for thinking that corruption had reached epidemic proportions. Graft is very rare among the police or judiciary, for example. Corruption among the political elites, however, is perceived as being fairly widespread, particularly in the interface between local politicians and construction companies, and is one of Spaniards’ main concerns in the regular surveys conducted by the government-funded CIS.

Spain’s judges processed or put on trial 659 people last year on corruption charges, an average of close to two a day. While high, the figure was below the 1,348 between 1 July 2015 and 30 September 2016, an average of three a day.

Spain’s latest score in the Corruption Perceptions Index of the Berlin-based Transparency International remained at 58 last year, down from 65 in 2012, its best score (the nearer to 100 the cleaner the country). It was ranked 41st out of 168 countries. Spain, however, still has a long way to fall before it reaches the position of Italy, which is ranked 60th with a score of 47.

The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks the quality of Spain’s democracy, based on various categories, above both Italy and you might be surprised to know also the US. Both Italy and the US are classified as “flawed democracies” while Spain is at the bottom of “full democracies.” The EIU’s latest ranking was produced before the arrival of Donald Trump.

The Spanish justice system is notoriously slow, but it does eventually get there. A spate of cases has come to the courts over the last year including the mega case known as Gürtel. Among the 37 people in the dock are three former treasurers of the ruling Popular Party including Luis Bárcenas, accused of salting away €8 million in various Swiss bank accounts. Francisco Correa, alias El Bigotes (‘Mustachio’), the mastermind behind the bribes-for-contracts network between 1999 and 2005, was sentenced to 13 years in jail in February

In a much smaller but emblematic trial (most corruption is at the local level), María Victoria Pinilla, the Mayor for 24 years of La Muela, a municipality in Aragon with a population 5,000, was jailed last September for 17 years for misappropriation of public funds, trafficking of influences, fraudulent use of state subsidies and money laundering. Her former husband, three sons and sister were also on trial. Despite being a small town, she managed to build a covered bullring, three museums, an aviary, an auditorium and a vast sports centre, and, among other personal luxuries, she acquired a mansion in the Dominican Republic where she rubbed shoulders with the legendary crooner Julio Iglesias.

In the Socialists’ fiefdom of Andalusia, Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán, former presidents of the region, have been formally accused in the ERE corruption case involving the alleged misappropriation of millions of euros of public money to help companies make severance payments to laid-off workers.

Even the royal family has not escaped. Iñaki Urdangarín, King Felipe’s brother-in-law, was given a six-year-and-three-month jail term in February in a landmark trial. His wife, Cristina, was cleared but will have to pay a civil fine of €265,000 as she benefited, albeit unknowingly, from illegal gains. Urdangarín used the non-profit Noos Institute sports foundation he set up to win falsely inflated contracts from regional government bodies and then banked the money in tax havens.

The judiciary

The politicisation of the judiciary and the judicialisation of politics have deprived Spain of an effective system of checks and balances and made impunity easier.

The 20 members of the General Council of the Judiciary (CJGP), the governing authority, are appointed by parliament and the Senate by a simple majority vote. As a result, they are largely beholden to the parties that appoint them.

A survey carried out by the CGJP among the legal profession found that 75% of respondents felt that the CGJP does not sufficiently protect the principles of judicial independence. The latest EU Justice Scoreboard showed that the public’s perception of judicial independence in Spain is at the bottom of the EU ranking –in 25th position out of 28 countries–.

The justice system moves at a snail’s pace. Many of the courts are in a deplorable state due to the lack of material resources and understaffing. Photos have appeared in the Spanish press showing files piled up in toilets. In one of the most notorious cases, it took 10 years for Carlos Fabra, a prominent PP politician best known for promoting the building of the ghost airport at Castellón, to come to trial on charges that included tax fraud.

Unemployment: falling but still very high

Spain is finally out of deep recession and the economy is growing at around 3%, double the euro zone’s average, but the pre-crisis GDP level (2008) will not be regained until around the middle of this year. This is something that tends to be forgotten amongst all the trumpeting of Spain’s seemingly high growth.

Record tourism and exports fuelled growth. More than 75 million tourists came to Spain last year, close to 18 million of whom were Brits, and exports were a record €254 billion. The big depreciation of sterling after the Brexit vote last June came too late to affect the flow of British holidaymakers to Spain. This year it will be interesting to see whether it has an impact.

It has taken six years for the jobless rate to drop below 20%, down from a peak of 27% in 2013, while youth unemployment (those under the age of 25) is still more than 40%. Over 1.4 million households have no bread winners. The UK unemployment rate is below 5%.

Apart from the ill-fated real estate bubble period (2002-08), Spain’s jobless rate since 1980 has always been well above that of Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the US. Even in 2007, at the height of the economic boom, Spain’s unemployment was 8%, a disastrous level by the standards of Britain. Some companies complained during the boom they could not find suitable workers to fill posts, and so the 8% figure was regarded as full employment.

Spain also has the distinction of holding the world record in the number of labour market reforms over a 35-year period. Fifty-two were enacted between the 1980 Statute of Workers’ Rights, which laid the foundations for post-Franco labour relations, and the end of 2015, and yet the labour market remains dysfunctional.

A particularly serious problem today is very long-term unemployment (more than two years); the longer someone is jobless the more difficult it is to get work.

Spain’s crisis decimated jobs, especially in the construction sector, one of the engines of a decade-long boom. The bursting of the real-estate bubble had a huge knock-on effect. These low-skilled jobs in an economy excessively based on a labour-intensive but unsustainable construction sector were destroyed as soon as the economy ground to a halt. Part of Spain’s unemployment problem is due to the nature of its economic model. This is not a problem exclusive to Spain, but it is fair to say that it is more accentuated than in other EU countries. The number of those working in the construction sector (just over one million) is still less than half that in 2008.

One of the most worrying factors behind unemployment is the large number of workers with low levels of education and hence a lack of basic skills, many of who left school early at 16 to work on building sites during the boom years. Only 25% of those aged between 25 and 34 in 2015 in Spain had completed their upper secondary education compared with 36% in the UK. At the other end of the spectrum, university graduates often find themselves in jobs for which they are over-qualified.

Education

The labour market and education are closely linked. Spain has made considerable progress in educational attainment in the last 40 years, particularly when it is borne in mind that it was not compulsory to attend school (between the ages of six and 14) until 1970, much later than most other developed countries. The country has also done better than many other European countries as regards educational mobility: about 40% of adults have a higher level of education than their parents.

The system, however, is in crisis, particularly at the secondary-school level. During the economic boom, many teenagers came to the conclusion that education did not pay, and, sadly, they were right. They dropped out of school early at 16 (the age at which compulsory education ends) and flocked in drives to work in the construction and tourism sectors, buying their first cars when they were 18 or so. The early school-leaving rate peaked at 31.7% in 2008 (precisely at the height of the economic boom) and since then has dropped to below 20%, still almost double the EU average. This is not the result of any government measure, but simply the fact that there are far fewer jobs to go to.

Even more worrying than the early school-leaving rate are what are known as NEETs –those aged between 20 and 34 who are neither employed, in education or in training–. The rate was 24% in 2015 compared to 15% in the UK. These people form a ‘lost generation’.

The education system needs a national pact between politicians, which is finally being worked on. For far too long education had been kicked around like a political football with each change of government. Instead of focusing on key problems such as the high drop-out rate or the large number of students who repeat a course before they reach 15 (which, in turn, demotivates them and results in them leaving school at 16), the public debate is an ideological one about far less important issues such as whether to increase or decrease the amount of religious instruction or introduce or get rid of citizenship courses.

Immigration

Given the hot topic of immigration in this country, the main factor that drove the Brexit vote, some of you might be surprised about Spain’s situation in this matter.

Spain’s population rose from 39.6 million in 1996 to a peak of 46.8 million in 2012, an unprecedented increase of more than 7 million in just 16 years and largely due to the influx of immigrants. Since then the population has declined as immigrants have been returning to their country of origin, because of the economic crisis. The jobless rate among foreigners is much higher than that for Spaniards.

The foreign-born population dropped by 1.3 million to 4.4 million between January 2012 and January 2016. This population peaked at 5.7 million in 2012 (12% of the total), compared with around 800,000 in 1990 (2% of the total). Rumanians comprise the largest foreign community at almost 700,000, around 200,000 fewer than in 2012, according to official figures. In 1996, there were only 2,258 Rumanians.

Whereas between the harsh years of 1960 and 1973 more than one million Spaniards emigrated, Spain during its boom period that ended in 2008 became the favoured country in Europe for migrants in search of a better way of life. To Spain’s great credit immigrants have been largely integrated into society. The country does not have any relevant xenophobic, far-right, populist parties and violent attacks on immigrants have been rare.

Tackling the low birth rate

One challenge generally not known is how to encourage women to have more children. Spain’s fertility rate is 1.32 compared to Britain’s 1.82. The difference might not sound much, but it is an important one. Last month, the government appointed a ‘sex tsar’ to find ways to reverse the decline.

Deaths outnumbered births in 2015 for the first time since 1941, setting off alarm bells. The number of childless couples almost tripled between 1977 and 2015 to 4.4 million.

The population increase that I mentioned a minute ago when I was speaking about migrants was due almost entirely to the influx of immigrants and not to the rise in Spaniards.

Spain’s fertility rate began to decline as of 1980 when it stood at 2.20. Contraception by then was widely available (during the 1939-75 Franco regime contraceptive methods and abortion were banned).

The fall has gathered pace since 2008 when the economy was headed toward a prolonged recession and couples put off starting families. Spanish women today are the oldest first time mothers in the EU, as they have their first child at 32.
The economic crisis, however, is not the only factor. Spain is not noted for its family-friendly policies in terms of free nurseries, child care and the work-life balance.

With dinner at 9pm and a couple of hours TV, Spaniards tend not to go to bed before midnight because of the long working day. This is not very conducive to procreation.

The government is considering moving clocks back an hour to GMT, which would help workers make an earlier start in the morning and end earlier.

Spain’s declining and rapidly ageing population has potentially serious long-term consequences including a rise in the dependency ratio (the inactive elderly as a percentage of the working age population). This is already exerting pressure on the sustainability of the pay-as-you-go pension system. The number of social security contributors for each pensioner dropped from 2.53 in 2007 to 2.07 in 2016. Again these figures might not mean much, but they are telling and point to serious problems in the future unless reversed.

The lack of children is also accentuating the already deep divide between urban and rural Spain. The latter has become known as la España vacia (“Empty Spain”). Those of you who know the interior of Spain, not the horribly overcrowded costas, particularly provinces like Soria, Teruel and the regions of Extremadura and Castilla León, will be aware of large areas of Spain that are practically deserted with a few scattered villages.

The legacy of Franco
More than 40 years after the death of General Franco and with it the demise of his dictatorship, Spain has yet to decide what to do with his tomb in a basilica at the Valley of the Fallen in the mountains outside Madrid, which is crowned by the world’s tallest cross – 150 metres high – and which contains the bodies of 33,000 men killed during the 1936-39 Civil War.

In the first years after Franco, streets bearing his name and that of close associates were re-named, but usually with people from before the Civil War and not with the names of Republicans, the side that lost the war, in order not to provoke the remnants of the old regime, in particular the army, at a time when the transition to democracy was taking place.

The consensus that made a peaceful transition possible was epitomised by the so-called Pact of Forgetting, an unspoken agreement between the reformist right and the non-violent left to look ahead and not rake over the past politically.

In 2007, the Law of Historic Memory, passed by the Socialist government and opposed by the Popular Party, began to address the authoritarian past. This law declared illegitimate the military tribunals that condemned people to prison or death; banned public symbols commemorating Franco and his allies; urged the Roman Catholic Church, which called Franco’s uprising against the democratically elected government of the Republic a “crusade”, to remove plaques that remembered those who had “fallen for God and Spain” (only those on Franco’s side) and ushered in the re-naming of streets, this time commemorating Republicans and exiles.

The Socialist government appointed a commission of experts in 2011 to draw up proposals for the Valley of the Fallen including removing Franco’s grave and burying him elsewhere. When the PP won the election that year it shelved the document, on the grounds that any change needed a consensus, something that remains as elusive as ever. The basilica would be a good place to finally have a civil war museum that objectively recounted that conflict.

The ruling Popular Party has long resisted any attempts to uncover the Franco past and since returning to power in 2011 has done little to implement the Historic Memory Law.

Opposition parties teamed up and outvoted the government last month and approved a motion calling for the tomb to be removed and a ‘truth commission’ to be created to examine the crimes of his regime.

Madrid, whose town hall has been in the hands of the left since 2015, is currently re-naming 47 streets in the city under the Memory Law.

On a personal note, last month I got a square in Madrid named after the émigré Spanish writer Arturo Barea, who went into exile in 1938 and lived for 10 years in Faringdon near Oxford. Barea, who died in 1957, is best known for his marvellous trilogy, The Forging of a Rebel, and for giving more than 800 talks for the BBC’s Latin American service. This civic gesture was not done under the Memory Law in order to have the support of all parties.

The square followed my organising in 2010 the restoration of his commemorative stone in Faringdon and in 2013 the placing of a plaque on the outside wall of Barea’s favourite pub in that town. Some of you might have seen a piece I wrote about this in the Oxford Times.

The challenge of Brexit
I will end on the sombre note of the impact of Brexit on Spain. The Spain-UK relation has become increasingly significant in terms of trade, direct investment, tourism, fisheries and the number of Britons living in Spain, by far the largest group of British expats in any European country, which is around 300,000 and 800,000 if one includes those with properties who spend part of the year in the country.

I will mention just one issue: the legacy rights of the expats, like myself, who have made their home in Spain, in my case since 1986. We can no longer take for granted that we will be able to continue to live and work unhindered in the country, although both the UK and Spanish governments say they would like an early reciprocal EU-wide agreement on this issue now that the Brexit process has started.

Had all expats everywhere in the world been able to vote in last June’s referendum, perhaps Brexit would not have happened but only those who have lived for less than 15 years outside the UK could do so. Yet perhaps nothing would have changed, as there were expats who voted in favour of Brexit, which strikes me as really dumb given that these people were enjoying the benefits of being a EU citizen, such as healthcare under the EU’s aegis.

Some Brits in Spain are already returning home. In the case of my wife and I, we are staying put and will have to see what happens.

Mi discurso en la inauguración de la plaza de Arturo Barea en Lavapiés

Al otorgar a Arturo Barea el nombre de esta plaza, el valiente escritor, que murió en Inglaterra en 1957 después de casi 20 años en el exilio, ha regresado, por fin, al barrio de su infancia y adolescencia. Que esta plaza lleve desde hoy su nombre, me parece algo increíble porque no tiene una denominación previa registrada en los archivos municipales, y es como si la plaza estuviera esperando para llevar su nombre algún día. Encima, a pocos metros de esta plaza están las Escuelas Pías, en la calle Tribulete, el colegio al que asistió Barea hasta los 13 años, y que vio como ardía en 1936. Además de una plaza con su nombre, habrá, espero en una fecha no lejana, una placa sobre la fachada de las Escuelas Pías. Esto es importante.

Agradezco a los cuatro partidos del Distrito Centro por haber apoyado la petición lanzada en diciembre de 2015 por Yolanda Sánchez, Isabel Fernández y yo mismo pidiendo un reconocimiento de Barea, respaldada por unas 2.500 firmas. La positiva reacción nos ha sorprendido.

Mi participación en lograr esta Plaza también parece algo de destino.
Un buen día de 2013, al pasar junto a Yolanda en el duty free de Barajas, ella me reconoció. “¿Usted dio hace poco una conferencia sobre Arturo Barea, verdad?” me espetó. “Sí, claro, ¿cómo me ha reconocido?”, respondí con sorpresa. Allí comienzo una parte del esfuerzo compartido para recobrar la memoria de Barea.

Los tres pusimos como condiciones, que se han cumplido, tener el apoyo de los cuatro partidos, porque consideramos que Barea es de todos y no de algunos, y que no se quitara un nombre para poner otro.

También agradezco a Paquita Sauquillo, presidenta del Comisionado de la Memoria Histórica, por su comprensión y generosidad en retirar su propuesta de cambiar la prominente calle del golpista General Asensio Cabanillas en Chamberí por Arturo Barea. La calle Cabanillas es una de 27 calles en Madrid que el Comisionado propone que se modifiquen.

Consideramos que Lavapiés, escenario de la obra de Barea, en particular el primer libro de su trilogía conocida como La Forja de un Rebelde, es el lugar más apropiado para conmemorar al escritor.

Doy las gracias a Beatriz Martins y Yolanda Riquelme por haber organizado unas caminatas siguiendo los relatos que Barea recogió en La Forja, y agradezco a Michael Eaude por su biografía de Barea, y a Nigel Townson por sus ediciones de las obras del escritor.

Y me alegro que estén entre nosotros hoy, Uli la sobrina por parte de Ilsa, la segunda mujer de Barea, que vive en Londres, y unos parientes por parte de Arturo que residen en Madrid.

A estas alturas tal vez algunos de ustedes se están preguntando, ¿qué hace un inglés con pinta de pirata, de vikingo, promoviendo la figura de Barea y, además, con un deplorable acento a pesar de mis muchos años viviendo en Madrid?

Mi interés por Barea remonta a los años 90 cuando leí La Forja y me quedé fascinado por la vida del autor. Años después, al enterarme que Barea había muerto en Eaton Hastings en la campiña de Oxford (mi ciudad natal), encontrar su lápida se convirtió en mi obsesión. En 2010, después de visitar Faringdon tres veces con mi mujer, encontramos la muy deteriorada lápida conmemorativa para Arturo y Ilsa en el anexo del cementerio de la Iglesia de Todos los Santos. Fue levantada por Olive Renier, una íntima amiga de los dos, unos años después de la muerte de Ilsa.

Junto a su lápida están las tumbas de los suegros judeoaustriacos de Barea – los padres de Ilsa y gran traductora de todos los libros de Arturo al inglés – quienes llegaron de Viena cinco días antes del comienzo de la segunda guerra mundial y vivieron con ellos hasta su muerte.

“Hice construir una lápida”, escribió Renier, “porque no podía encontrar palabras para expresar mis sentimientos hacia ellos. Su destino fue simbólico entre las gigantescas pérdidas que sufrió su generación: el drama de España, el de los judíos, el de la socialdemocracia en Alemania, Italia, toda Europa…”.

Regresé a Madrid y decidí restaurar la lápida como un gesto cívico para honrar su memoria. Pedí presupuesto y consulté a varios amigos escritores y admiradores incluyendo Elvira Lindo y su esposo: 23 euros por barba y ahora la lápida luce mejor en el mismo lugar. En 2013, el mismo grupo colocamos una placa en la fachada de su pub favorito, The Volunteer, en vez de sobre la fachada de su casa en la retirada finca de Lord Faringdon, donde Barea vivió la mayor parte de su exilio. Este excéntrico lord, miembro del partido laborista y partidario de la República, había convertido su Rolls Royce en una ambulancia y lo condujo hasta el frente de Aragón en 1937 donde fue usado como hospital de campaña. Alquilaba la casa a Barea en condiciones muy favorables.

Barea desembarcó en Inglaterra desde Francia en marzo de 1939, el mismo mes de la derrota de la Republica. Al pisar Inglaterra, Barea estaba según sus palabras, “desposeído de todo, con la vida truncada y sin una perspectiva futura, ni de patria, ni de hogar, ni de trabajo … rendido de cuerpo y de espíritu.” Pero por debajo del brazo llevaba el manuscrito de parte de La Forja.
Tenía los nervios tan destrozados que, cuando comenzó la Segunda Guerra Mundial, ese mismo año, y durante todo su desarrollo hasta 1945, se encontró con que cada vez que sonaban las sirenas antiaéreas vomitaba, porque le recordaban los bombardeos de Madrid durante la Guerra Civil.

Sus años en Inglaterra fueron muy fructíferos. Estaba sorprendentemente a gusto en Inglaterra, con la excepción de lo que llamaba “este maldito tiempo inglés”. Barea consiguió la nacionalidad británica en 1948.
Salvo un librito de cuentos Valor y Miedo, publicado en 1938, todas las demás obras de Barea fueron publicadas en inglés ANTES que en español: los tres libros de La forja de un rebelde en los años 40 (no fueron publicados en España hasta 1977). La Forja ha estado nunca descatalogado, ni en inglés o español.

Además, Barea daba 856 charlas en el servicio de la BBC para Latinoamérica bajo el seudónimo “Juan de Castilla” y así proteger a su familia en España.
El franquismo intentaba denigrar a Barea una y otra vez. El régimen le describía como “el inglés Arturo Beria” — deformación deliberada de su apellido como una referencia al jefe de los servicios de seguridad de Stalin que apuntaba al supuesto pasado de Barea como comunista. Barea nunca fue comunista.

Me parecía vergonzoso que el recuerdo de Barea se hubiera conservado mejor en la nación que lo recibió como exiliado que en su país natal. Salvo una calle con su nombre en Badajoz, donde nació y vivió muy poco tiempo, y en el pueblo de Novés, Toledo, donde vivió en 1935, Barea no ha sido, al menos hasta hoy, debidamente recordado en Madrid.

Lo único de Barea que ha regresado a Madrid es su máquina de escribir inglesa que está en casa de unos amigos. Otra historia curiosa. Con esta Plaza esto ya ha cambiado: bienvenido a casa Arturo.

Arturo Barea vuelve a Lavapiés, por Sergio del Molino

Me da mucha rabia no estar en Madrid este sábado, pero la vida me lleva mucho más al norte, desde donde dedicaré unos pensamientos a Lavapiés, donde me gustaría estar. A las 10.30 de la mañana de este 4 de marzo sucederá algo muy importante que probablemente pasará medio desapercibido, como todas las cosas importantes. A esa hora, la alcaldesa Manuela Carmena presidirá la inauguración de la plaza Arturo Barea.
http://revistaparaleer.com/blogs/el-juicio-final/arturo-barea-vuelve-a-lavapies-por-sergio-del-molino/