The name Ian Gibson, authority on Spain’s greatest poet, Federico García Lorca, came up in a discussion with Marie over at HopsSkipsandJumps, and reminded me of my trip to visit Lorca’s village in Fuente Vaqueros near Granada. It is many years since I visited it but the memory lives on, and I still remember the heat, the stillness of the afternoon, and the sound of distant flamenco, all of which embody the spirit of the poet. Unfortunately, the photographs I took then were among those that got corrupted when my hard drive crashed some time ago but the Granada Tourist Board has been extremely helpful in providing me with a selection of images for which I am eternally grateful.
One of the tutors on the language course in Granada that I was on at that time said to me “The Alhambra is our soul, but Lorca is our heart” and I think this is true.
Granada did indeed have a deep influence on the adolescent Spanish playwright and poet and it was the Granadinos who first recognised his genius and his gift for a lyrical poetry that reflected the passion and pain of Andalucia. The landscape and the people who form the backdrop to his rural tragedies and his earlier poems lie in the villages of the Vega – the vast plains that surround Granada – and in places such as Fuente Vaqueros where he was born and where he spent his first 11 years.
Fuente Vaqueros is a village of postcard-like simplicity and when I visited, the only sound at midday was the slap of dominoes coming from an inky bar hidden behind a beaded curtain. Old man sat in the shade of the poplar trees on one side of the plaza, while the aged women of the town, las viejas, dressed in black as if they have strayed from the playwright’s House of Bernarda Alba, were busy with their looms on the opposite side. Sitting at the Bar Lorca with a copita, is an ideal way to spend an afternoon.
From the workers in the olive groves that surround the village came faint snatches of the wailing, minor-keyed cante jondo, the song full of pain which Lorca captured in Gypsy Ballads and Poems of Cante Jondo. This is España Verdad – the true Spain – where Lorca found the passionate, gitano soul of Andalucía and put it into the poetic form that revolutionised Spanish theatre in the thirties.
La Fuente, as it is known locally, is a gracious little town with a maze of narrow cobblestoned streets and alleyways. At one time this area formed part of the Kingdom of Al-Andalus and eight centuries of Moorish influence are still obvious in the whiteness of the houses, the barred windows and the flower-filled courtyards glimpsed through open doors.
The street where Federico was born has been renamed Calle Poeta García Lorca and the house in which he spent his childhood has been transformed into a Museum. It is small with few objects to demand your attention, but in the converted upstairs granary there is a fascinating collection of photographs, manuscripts and curiosities covering the poet’s life, in particular his time in New York. If you feel you’ve seen too many castles and cathedrals in Spain, this unpretentious, sparsely furnished house with its idiosyncratic collection of papers is a delight.
Across the street from the museum and facing the plaza is the monument erected to the poet by Cayetano Anibal, and if you sit on the stone seat in front of the monument, with just a little suspension of disbelief, it is possible to see the square as Lorca saw it – a meadow full of wild flowers, grasses and lizards. Here he watched the women wash clothes in the fountain; here it was he absorbed the speech and the rhythms that were to energise his plays in later years; and here it was he learned to identify with the victims of a stifling tradition.
Lorca was assassinated by Franco’s Nationalist troops shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, executed at a spot between Viznar and Alfacar. The place where he and fellow victims were shot is now the Parque Federico García Lorca, especially created to preserve their memory. If you are in Spain in August you may care to join the pilgrimage to this place with others who meet here at this time of year on the anniversary of his death.
Attempts have been made to recover his body from sites associated with his murder in August 1936 but without success, something that perhaps reflects the buried and unsettled legacy of the civil war. Excavations in Alfacar in 2009 in the Parque Federico García Lorca failed to locate his body, but close to the olive tree indicated by some as marking the location of the grave, there is a stone memorial to the poet/playwright and all other victims of the Civil War, and at the Barranco de Viznar, between Viznar and Alfacar, there is a memorial stone bearing the words “Lorca eran todos, 18-8-2002” (“All were Lorca”). The Barranco de Viznar is the site of mass graves thought by some to be another possible location of the poet’s remains.
His work and his memory were stifled under the claustrophobic rule of the dictator Franco until approximately 1957 when his works were once again open to the Spanish public, but in his own land he is now, again, hailed as a genius. His plays are as relevant today as they were in the thirties, their passion and pain as accessible now as they were then.
Meantime, the heartland of the ancient Kingdom of Granada, the cante jondo of the poems, remains the land of Lorca.
N.B. On July 17, 1936, a forty-three-year-old general named Francisco Franco launched a military rebellion against Spain’s legitimately elected government. Three days later Granada was seized by a cabal of military officers. In the three-year civil war that ensued, Franco and his ultranationalist Falangists received military assistance from Hitler and Mussolini. More than half a million Spaniards died before the Republic succumbed and Franco formally initiated his dictatorship in April, 1939. It lasted until his death, in 1975.
Lorca’s House and Museum – Tel 00 34 (9)58 516453
Fiesta of Flamenco & Poetry on Lorca’s Birthday: June 5th – Tel 00 34 (9)58 446101
Essential Reading (apart from Lorca’s work of course)
Ian Gibson: Federico García Lorca: A Life (Faber & Faber)
Ian Gibson: The Assassination of Federico García Lorca (Penguin)
Ian Gibson: Lorca’s Granada (Faber & Faber): This is a great guide book to Granada as it takes you on ten routes, step by step from his birthplace to the site of his execution outside the city via the poets best-loved places in Granada.
For the politics of Spain during the Civil War and since, anything by Peter Preston is to be recommended.
The Granada Tourist Board has an specific website devoted to Lorca and it is well worth a browse. www.universolorca.com,
Meanwhile, this video will be enjoyed by those interested in seeing images of Lorca’s life in the 1920’s and early 1930’s with people like Dali, de Falla and other artistes of that time. The few seconds of adverts at the beginning and towards the end can be quickly deleted. Do watch to the end, it’s brilliant. The video is sound-tracked by a Leonard Cohen song.