Literature

15 febrero 2008 a las 10:21 | Publicado en General | 3 comentarios

GERALD BRENAN:

In Love with Spain

By Javier Carrasco

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Gerald Brenan (1894-1987) was an English writer and Hispanist who lived most of his life in Andalucía. He was born in Malta while his father was serving in the British Army, and educated at Radley, a boarding school in England where he suffered from bullying. Travel and adventure were to be his way of life and at the age of sixteen he ran away from home with an older friend to walk to China. Between August 1912 and January 1913 they walked 1,560 miles but the outbreak of the Balkan War and shortage of money caused him to return to England. During the World War I he served in France. After the war he was introduced to the so-called Bloomsbury Group, the literary greats of the period, namely, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and other famous English writers. But he hated the hypocrisies of British bourgeois society and decided to leave the country in search of Mediterranean life. Low living costs and a relaxed way of life was all he needed.

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Thus, he came to Spain in 1919 for the first time and settled in Yegen (Granada), a little village in Las Alpujarras, not far from Láujar de Andarax (Almería). His most famous books are The Spanish Labyrinth, (1943) about the Spanish Civil War, and of special interest for us South From Granada, (1957) where two chapters refer to Almería. During the Civil War he returned to England. In 1953 he was allowed to come back to Spain besides he opposed Franco’s regime. He spent most of the remainder of his life in Alhaurín el Grande (Málaga). He received the great American writer Ernest Hemingway as his guest there.

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South From Granada is a book which mixes ethnography and travel narrative. Gerald Brenan describes customs of Las Alpujarras, its natural history, its history and his personal experiences there. He also dedicates some chapters to the cities of Granada and Almería in the 1920’s.

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As regards the two chapters devoted to Almería, the first one, titled ‘Almería and its brothels’ (houses of prostitutes) describes the time when Brenan had to travel to Almería to buy some furniture and wait for a letter with the money he had asked his uncle. At the beginning he gives a poetical description of the city: ‘Almería is like a bucket of whitewash thrown down at the foot of a bare, greyish mountain. A small oasis –the delta of the River Andarax- spreads away beyond it’. Then he narrates ‘an adventure that happened to me’. He met a man called Agustin Pardo, a broker who told Brenan his life was completely ruined by vice. This character is presented as a very boastful man, in fact later Brenan finds out he is a liar. Then Agustín proposed to visit some brothels in the town. First Brenan hesitates: ‘I could not do so because I was not attracted by prostitutes’, but, eventually he accepts the invitation on the grounds that ‘for a man of culture and education such as myself, it would be instructive’. The tour becomes a useful tool for Brenan to learn about society in Almería at that time. People seemed cursed with poverty, disease and illiteracy. The atmosphere reminds that one found in the book La Chanca written by the Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo some years later (1962). In the end his uncle’s letter arrived saying that he would not send him any money and, consequently, Brenan had to face a financial shortage once again.

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The other chapter is called ‘Almería and Archaeology’. The writer begins telling us that his visits to Almería produce a feeling of excitement on him, more than visiting Granada: ‘Certainly, it seemed that the sea was doubly Mediterranean here, and the city…contained within it echoes of distant civilizations’. Then he describes Almería in the Middle Ages, in times of Abd-elRahman III, in the 10th and 11th centuries, when the city controlled the merchant routs in the Western Mediterranean Sea. He also mentions his meeting with the Belgian engineer Louis Siret, also a famous archaeologist, who made surprising discoveries in the areas of Los Millares and El Argar from the Copper and Bronze Ages respectively. Moreover, Brenan speaks about natural history, including botany and mineralogy in the region.

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Just to finish let’s take a look on his description of Cabo de Gata: ‘About a dozen miles to the south of Níjar is the Cabo de Gata…its name is really a corruption of Cabo de Ágata, Cape Agate. Its red, waterless rocks are volcanic, and since Phoenician times have been famous for their supply of various sorts of precious and semi-precious stones. On the seashore a little to the west of that cape, at a place known as Torre García, there is a small chapel which marks the spot where the Virgen del Mar, who is the patroness of Almería, appeared to some sailors in the year 1502 and showed them where her image lay buried in the sand dunes’. In short, South From Granada, is an interesting and amusing book we all should keep in our bookcases.

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