June 14, 2011
Last year Manuel looked over my book of stories about Calig for an intermediate reader I would like to publish. He was amused by an American’s view of Càlig and made some comments on the cultural content. This year he agreed to read the chapters I had written on the oral history of Càlig and correct my Spanish. (He taught primary school for many years and is now teaching adults.)
I had debated constantly about whether to write in Spanish or English, but the language I write in is somewhat determined by the audience who would be reading it and I would like for the people of Càlig to be able to read their own history. Last summer the professor from the UNED who is working on the project suggested I write in Spanish even though I said it would be hard particularly since the people I interviewed were speaking their second language and my Spanish is influenced by theirs. I struggled all year to write as well as I could only to be told this year I should write in English.
I also wanted the voices of the people I interviewed to be heard. They had talked to me in their second language because they wanted to tell me their stories and I didn’t want their voices silenced as they had been for so many years. Yet their way of speaking was not always clear and it was hard sometimes to decipher what they were saying.
Because Manuel had heard some of these same stories, he was able to make sense of them. He knew what something that didn’t make sense in castellano was in valenciano and could then use the appropriate expression in castellano. I began to feel encouraged again about the work I had done this year.
Most of all, it was fun to see Manuel act out some of the stories. He caught the spirit of the people who had originally told them to me.
It is always hard to work on a project in Spain because there are so many distractions: people unexpectedly drop by, there is a ceremony in the upper part of the village, Martha has coffee with her friends, Fabián needs his beach time, and one has to shop daily for meals because food seems to mold in the new refrigerator. When we do get down to business, it is more fun to work outside on the terrace than inside. Now we have two companions that stare at us: a dog whose head appears from the terrace on the right and Pinou le lapin on the left runs around his cage. The rabbit is quiet and the dog only barks occasionally. The swallows plunge down flying close to the rooftops. When we arrived, they were busy constructing their nests and now they’re busy feeding their young chicks.
As we write this blog, we are sitting in a restaurant next to the sea owned by good friends having just eaten grilled artichokes. The clouds are beginning to turn pink as the sun sets in the hills behind us. Any frustrations with this overwelming project are temporarily suspended.
Friday June 10, 2011.
After some 30 years, Martha decided to dig out some papers she had found in the house after she bought it. From the box stuffed in the back of a closet, Martha and Fabián pulled out a stack of yellowed tax receipts, three schoolbooks from around 1930, and old family photographs. While flipping through the schoolbooks, Martha came upon a brightly colored cartoon card of knights in coats-of arms fighting. It was an imagined scene from the 16th century in which the Catalans battled against Francis the 1st, a French King, in Pavia (now Italy) and won. On the back was an advertisement for a Barcelona chocolate, Xocolata Juncosa. Martha was astonished when she realized this was the kind of card what one of the interviewees had mentioned when recalling when she first heard in July of 1936 that war had broken out:“Great! Chocolate candy!
Martha and Fabián had a list of names from the Causa General starting in the year 1938; of people who had land or money taken from them by the anarchists for the Collective in Càlig. They didn’t know who some of the people were so they went to consult the present day Senyoret who lives on the other side of the village in the family mansion, a beautifully restored five-floor house with a large garden and swimming pool in the back. Martha had interviewed his father, the town historian, in 1991 to learn more history. The son, Juan de la Figuera, has been working on a genealogical database, which now has at least 20,000 names. Martha and Fabián were able to find out about families who had had land collectivized which the Anarchists had neglected to include in their lists.
When Fabián and Martha left it was raining and the Senyoret kindly lent Martha a beautiful light green umbrella that was a perfect match for the scarf she happened to be wearing. She did however return the umbrella a few days later stuffing it into the mail slot in the large wooden door.
Shortly after arriving, Emilio, an artist living in Càlig, showed us pictures he had taken of an old almond factory that had belonged to Joaquín Anglés. We had written about the importance of the almond factories in the thirties because they had provided women jobs that were close to their homes in the village. Amador had led worker strikes here for better working conditions and pay. A few days later, Fabián and Martha entered the old almond factory, cameras in hand, and made their way around broken boards and chipped cement steps to snap some pictures of an abandoned structure where women had sorted and cracked open almonds for shipment to distance places. There were still burlap sacks piled up against one of the walls. Later the building had been the scene of dances in the upper part of the town—the dance of the roses.
Chapter 6 on the Revolution within the Civil War is finished for now. It took a long time to sort out the information in the government document written in 1938 where testimonies were taken of events during the “dominación roja”. Martha has no way of knowing how much is correct but she got a clearer idea of the tumultuous times in the village during those first months of the War. Some testimonies corresponded to what she already knew; others were unfamiliar to her. Martha is pleased to get dates for momentous events such as the burning of religious images, when the nuns were rescued from the convent, killings of priests and Conservative extremists, and the collectivization process.
During the first three weeks the villagers experienced a profound change in their lives. The Left came into power and governed through an Anti-fascist Committee that hoped to bring about a peaceful Revolution. They lost control when Anarchists in other places like Barcelona or Benicarló began to dictate what happened in the village. That is when the ruthless killings began although no one in Càlig pulled the trigger, so they said.
Martha feels for people who were aware their friends or relatives were being killed and they didn’t know how to help them. “We hid in our homes,” one woman said. Her brother realized that if he had tried to save a close friend, he would have been killed. Only those with some authority in the new village regime could prevent a killing, such as the medical student who was the nephew of a beloved priest, “el canónigo rojo” or one of the members of the Anti-fascist Committee who saved a wealthy friend on the Right from wild-eyed Anarchists from Barcelona.
Martha is looking forward to writing up the interviews on the Collective, particularly those from the collectivists who felt those days were the happiest of their lives.
Fabián is organizing the files of the interviewees on the computer, filling in the information sheets, and digitizing tapes. We have begun looking through the journals Martha kept and finding nuggets to include both on these sheets and in chapters. Fabián is also transferring the videos from the interview year 1991-92 from the Costco DVDs to an external hard drive.
The oral history project is now backed up in cyberspace and on various external hard drives which in itself has been a lot of work.
Martha finally decided to get a new iMac after 7 years with the old one which was on the verge of being disconnected from the Internet, but it had a wonderful glare free monitor. The new Mac has great search capabilities which are essential for this project. Now if Martha can remember a quote but can’t locate the file, the Finder does it for her. If only the Mac could organize all the files for her.
What could be Chapter VI about the Civil War period is proving very difficult to put together so Martha and Fabián have resorted to working on one section at a time.
Martha has finished the part about sacking the church and is trying to deal with the stories about the killings that occurred in the first few months. The grisly details were mostly found in some official documents prepared by the new Franco regime in the village. However, two sisters and a brother I interviewed were friends of some of the victims.
One of the challenges was reading the handwriting of the government official who reported the happenings from 1936 to 1938 which were from the view of the Right.
While we did make out that a Ford truck and a Phillips radio were confiscated in the early days of the Revolutionary period, we couldn’t decipher the model of the car which was “borrowed” for two weeks for the cause.
The Revolutionaries took several pairs of overalls (the proper dress of the Left during the War) from a local dry-goods store in the plaza where the town hall is now. One day walking near there with a friend, we encountered the daughter of the owner of the store (which is no longer there). Without thinking, Martha asked her where the Anarchist casino had been which Martha knew had been nearby. She walked away without answering. Martha’s friend then told her the story of the overalls.
Some days I compare writing a book on the oral history of a village to creating a painting. Not that I am a painter, but I have friends who paint and listening to them describe how their work is going seems very similar to my project. I have to take a step back and look at where the book is going. I need to add a quote here, a citation there, like brush strokes added to a work of art. Then I must take out a repetitive statement, put in another interviewee, read more about the period. The work continues to grow. My artist friends and I create for similar reasons: an urgency to express something that won’t leave us alone. Nor do we have any idea what will eventually happen to our work.
Now if only my back wouldn’t hurt so when I am at the computer. Another lesson to be learned. Don’t ski on ice with heavy backpack when tired!
While Martha and Fabián were reading accounts of the first days of the Spanish Revolution of July 1936, Egypt was undergoing its revolution. In Spain then the problem was a military uprising and the people were defending the Republic. Chaos reigned those first few months in Càlig when bold young men of different political persuasions cleaned out the religious imagery in the church and loaded it onto truck beds and carried it to a plaza in town and to the dry river bed on the edge of town and burned it. Since the government collapsed with the Franco proclamation, the anti-Fascist committee patrolled the area. Some over-zealous young men on the left terrorized the equally over-zealous Catholic right. When the Nationalist forces attacked working class men, women and children of leftist beliefs and killed thousands, the Anarchists gave the order to kill. Fabían and Martha poured over lists of priests and extremist Catholics in Càlig who were assassinated in retaliation. It seems there were about twelve or thirteen who died at that time. Some of the official accounts and personal narrations were horrifying.
At the same time, Gitano, Martha’s 12 year old black dog, was suffering from bone cancer and barking pathetically all night wanting relief from his pain. Lana and Martha took him to Dr. Flowers who performed the last rites. Now Gitano is free to wander all the ditches he likes.
For the last six weeks Martha and Fabian have been working on Chapter Four on the first 30 years of the twentieth century, particularly the years of the dictatorship, based on the experiences of Manuel and Amador. Both had difficult childhoods, a great desire to learn, and the need to emigrate to Barcelona (Manuel) and France (Amador). During the Dictatorship Amador began clandestine activities on his return trips to Càlig, circulating anarchist materials and teaching night classes to young men so they could read them.
Although Fabian finished digitizing and organizing by theme the 20 hours of their interviews, it is still difficult to write about them because they repeated their stories and each time added new information. When writing about one of these stories, Martha has to take one part from one interview and another part from another, weaving the stories together.
Because there is so much information, it is difficult to limit. Yesterday Martha and Fabian decided to cull Chapter 4 which had become unwieldy. While we were deleting information, reorganizing information, and moving sentences around–all of which requires tremendous concentration, the plumbers began arriving to find and fix a leak. At the same time, the shower downstairs was filling up with muddy water. Another plumber came to clean out the line, cutting the roots of the mulberry trees across the street. The leak which took two groups of plumbers to find turned out to be in the flower patch on the south side of the house. The plumbers descended from the roof where they had cleaned out the back up in the basement to dig down several feet to find a broken turn off valve almost separated from its galvanized pipe. At the end of the day the pipes were replaced and Chapter 4 shortened by 10 pages.