Health Warning: This is not a tweet-length post. It may be better absorbed with your feet up, a chocolate digie and a cup of Ovaltine in your hand. Or if you prefer, go to the bottom of the post and you'll see a link to the audio version you can download. Either way, Go Slow and expect only the unexpected. READ MORE...
In book 2 of the Forgotten Stories from Spain, we look at George Orwell and his contribution to our understanding of the state and how the past can be manipulated in order to determine both the present and the future. Now, before you run off thinking this has nothing to do with Spain, stop! Because you would be wrong, as it was in Spain that Orwell first began to witness these ideas in action.
George Orwell and Accountability
Tony Benn once recommended that we should ask our leaders 5 Important Questions:
Now, it strikes me that where I to sit, there are few countries in the world that could offer a positive response to any of these questions.
But things were not always like this. Once upon a time - for a fleeting moment in history - Spain enjoyed a flourishing democracy unlike anything the world had seen before, but it lasted just a few months. One man, however, witnessed that moment and wrote down the lessons he learnt in 3 majorly important books:
It's an Orwell Feast!
1984 and the Spanish Civil War is the second book in the Forgotten Stories From Spain trilogy, the first being the Ambulance Man and the Spanish Civil War (2nd Edition), and the final book: The Bank Robber and the Spanish Civil War - due out at the end of next year.
The Forgotten Stories series looks at particular moments during the civil war, and explores their relevance back then, and now. If you want to read the full story, grab both the audio and ebook here. If you want to learn an anarchist phrase or two: read the section below. Or if you'd like to collect some Anarchic Spanish Civil War Images, then check out the offering here.
Anarchic Sentences to slip into the conversation:
Posters to Collect and Swap!
Some of the images below can be found in the new book: 1984 and the Spanish Civil War. But not all...
On the anniversary of the creation of the International Brigades in Spain, the GazpachOmnk presents a very special interview with British International Brigadista: Sol Frankel.
One warm and sunny October evening, many moons ago I received an unexpected phone call. "Could I give a talk on Living in Spain at a sea-front Hotel in Almuñecar, on the Granada coast?" The presenter had fallen ill and they needed a quick replacement.
That same evening I stood in front of a group of British pensioners attempting unsuccessfully to satisfy probing questions on oily food, the availability of fresh milk and why more Spaniards don't speak English. At one point I managed to lever the subject away from British culinary needs and onto Spanish Culture and Spanish history. Immediately, someone began to snore, several couples shuffled out towards the bar, whilst the rest passed round a packet of Fisherman's Friends. One man, however, sitting at the front, looked up and waved his walking stick in my direction as I started to talk about the British volunteers in the Spanish Civil War.
"Yes?" I said. He signalled for me to approach .
"I remember," he said, thrusting the stick at me as though it was a rifle, "the only weapons we had then were antiquated Russian rifles that had come via Mexico."
"You remember?" I said.
"Yes, of course." He replied. "Why wouldn't I? After all, I was there."
An Interview With Sol Frankel
Sol is a small man of medium build, wearing a faint grey moustache, fragile glasses and a warming smile. He leans on a worn walking stick. His right arm hangs redundant at his side.
I found him sitting alone at a table in the cafeteria the following day. He looked a little unsure as to whether I would come for the arranged interview, but when he sees me his face breaks into a welcoming smile. I go to shake his hand, but it is too late. I forgot about his damaged arm. But Sol, even at 88 years of age, is quicker than I. His left arm shoots across and clumsily grasps my right. His eyes smile, and I relax. I pull up a chair alongside Sol who is clutching an A4 envelope to his chest. "Not many people ask about this part of my life any more," he says. "Especially younger people."
I had left my dog tied-up outside the hotel. So I asked if he wouldn’t mind moving out to the terrace, so as not to leave the animal alone. Whilst we sit down outside, he immediately springs back up. "I'll go get us a tea," he offers. Before I can respond he has disappeared back through the Hotel lobby doors.
Whilst he is inside, I glance at the documents he has left on the table. An International Brigade membership card is dated 1937. It is a little faded by the sun, and crumbles at the edges of the pages. It carries no photo, but plenty of official Republican stamps on its delicate surface. This is the first time I have ever seen an official document from that period. The first time I have ever held in my hand an authentic document from the fateful Spanish Second Republic. I felt it ought to be in a museum, but glad it wasn’t. Underneath the card is a group photo of soldiers at the front. One man, with a characteristic moustache is smoking a pipe between several other men. He wears a hat titled in a rebellious fashion and looks familiar. Another man is bare-chested. Above him is an arrow that someone has drawn and the word “killed” scribbled above.
East London To Spain
Born 31st March 1914 in Stepney, East London, Sol describes himself as a typical anti-fascist, so prevalent then amongst the Jewish working classes living in the midst of the inner city. I begin by asking him about what motivated him in going to Spain to fight for a people he knew nothing of.
"I was a member of the anti-fascists," he explains, telling me that he had volunteered to work for 5 weeks in a camp for 3000 refugee children from Bilbao. He recalls the time as formative, digging latrines and teaching English to the adults that had accompanied the children.
It was after this, as the civil war continued that Sol approached the British Communist Party to volunteer for the International Brigades. They lent him the fare to get himself to Paris by boat. France and England had signed a policy of non-intervention in the Civil War (though both countries were continuing to sell arms to the fascist states as well as conduct business with Franco´s Nationalists). Officially though, neither country could be seen to help the Republican cause and so, when asked on the boat over to France about his destination, Sol had to pretend he was visiting an uncle in Paris. He recalls that once there, he was met by the French Communist Party who provided him with a ticket to the Pyrenees. On the train towards Spain he was told to keep his head down as French Police would be looking for foreigners making their way to the border. "But they weren’t all bad", he adds smiling. "I remember some French Police giving us the Communist salute as we peered out the windows when the train departed from some of the stations."
At the border he was taken to a series of safe houses whilst gradually, more volunteers joined him from other countries. “There were three or four of us from Britain” but many others from France, Italy and even Germany. Eventually a coach arrived one night and about 70 of us went into the mountains."
From where the coach left them, they had to walk in a single file for 7 – 8 hours across the Pyrenees until they entered Spain. Sol remembers that they were issued deck shoes for better grip and to make less noise, meanwhile his boots were tied together by shoe laces and hung around his head. He also remembered after the long walk through the night, his first glimpse of the Mediterranean at sunrise. The distinct blue of the sea was a sight he still remembers vividly. Finally, another vehicle took them to Figueras where they were all housed in the town castle for a few days before being moved on. Finally, he was later moved to Gerona and then Albecete where he undertook his training.
“Most of us had done some military training” he recounts, “so were already familiar with a lot of it. We worked in companies according to where you were from. The training lasted two weeks before being moved to the front. For some reason I stayed for four weeks. I was lucky I suppose”
Running at the Front
Sol was a sergeant with 18 men under him. One of which he remembers was Lewis Clive who went on to become the company commander. After his 4 weeks training, Sol was moved to the front as part of a company of 650 men. He remembers the day clearly. He rests both hands on his stick and leans forward: "That first day on the front was one I will never forget."
It was his 24th birthday and the group had walked straight into a large Fascist tank division. “The tanks were Italian and as close to me as that tree is over there,” he points his rifle-stick at a palm tree no more than ten yards away. "Out of the 650 men only 90 made it back to the camp." Sol picks up his tea, pauses, his cup suspended above the table, his eyes searching for some meaning in the events of that day.
"What happened?" I ask.
"They were all captured or killed."
"How did you manage to get away?"
The cup remains suspended in the air. Slightly shaking, he lifts the tea cup to his mouth and takes a sip. He looks back to me. " I ran." He said and his endearing smile returns. "I could run really fast in those days”.
After that, he was given the job to hold a mountain pass near the mouth of the Ebro. The most vivid memory of this time was when the bridge was blown up and they couldn’t get the equipment across. "Who couldn't Sol?" He looks up. His eyes are unclear. "Some people", he says. His details are vague. He is trying to recount a story from 65 years ago. Certain events are clear, others have left him a long time ago, inhabiting other places now.
I tap on the photo lying on the table. "That you?". "Yes", he replies. “ He points at the rifle in the picture. "We used Russian arms that had come via Mexico. A lot were not very good and there was a shortage of ammo.”
“And how did you receive your injury Sol?” I finally ask.
Sol lifts his stick-rifle and takes aim at two pensioners shuffling up the steps from the beach. “I was shooting facing this direction” he recounts, propping his bad arm onto the table. “When suddenly I felt a pain in this arm. I had been shot through my right arm from the back.” He puts down his weapon and rolls up his sleeve to show a scar on either side of his upper arm. “Bullet went right through see? It felt like I had been kicked by a horse. A couple of mates held me up and helped me to where a stretcher could get to me. Eventually an ambulance came and took me to the infamous cave hospital. From there I was eventually moved to a Hospital in Barcelona. I stayed there 3 days. I remember we were bombed every night in that hospital. I thought I would be out in a couple of days and back to the front. But the bullet had severed the muscle and the nerves. So I was moved to the International Brigade hospital. From there I was eventually returned home."
"And what was it like to get home?"
Sol smiles. "We received a truly warm welcome on return at Victoria Station. Hundreds, if not thousands came out to greet us. By that time, of course the International Brigades had been disbanded as you know.”
(In a futile attempt to persuade Franco to stop accepting Italian and German assistance, the International Brigades were disbanded and sent back to their respective countries. Many, such as the German and Italians volunteers had no country to return to. It was a controversial decision. Meanwhile, Franco continued to receive International support.)
International Brigades and Spanish Recognition
Sol digs into his envelope he has been carrying with him and produces a yearly bulletin from the members of the International Brigades. “Did you see the memorial sculpture on the south bank?” he asks handing me a leaflet.
"Yes, Ive seen it Sol".
“And did you see this?” Sol produces from his back pocket a life membership card for the UGT (UNION GENERAL DE TRABAJADORES), and from the envelope again a letter from the Spanish Government offering him Spanish Nationality in thanks for his sacrifices made.
“I didn’t take them up on that because it would have meant giving up my British Nationality."*
"It stops many of us taking up Spanish Nationality Sol."
"Silly really. Isn't it? Otherwise, I would have.”
“Do you always carry this stuff around with you Sol, when you come to Spain that is?”:
“When I come to Spain yes. Although, not many people ask me, or are interested these days. Do you know I was interviewed for the David Leech film,? I was interviewed by students of Paul Preston."
"No, but I'll make a point of seeing it Sol".
"Yes," he says. "You should see it." His arm goes limp again. His eyes look out to sea as though he were searching for something. "No, not many people ask me now. You see there is not many of us Brigadistas left. Probably just about 20 now." He rests both hands on the top of his walking stick again and looks over to me. His eyes flicker and he says: "You know, each year we still get together."
Then his smile fades a little as his chin drops onto his hands. "But each year there are less and less of us. Once upon a time we would have a meal and spend a few hours together. Now we just meet for a drink and don’t stay long. We are all getting on a bit now you see.”
4 FINAL NOTES
1. This Interview between Sol Frankel and the gazpachomOnk took place on Saturday 26th October 2002, Hotel Helios, Almuñecar, Granada.
2. Sol Frankel died on 18th May 2007, aged 93.
3.* It would not be until the controversial 'Ley de Memoria Historica' that it would be legal for International Brigade Volunteers to hold both Spanish and country of origin nationality.
4. For more stories on volunteers in the Spanish Civil War listen to audio snippets on Norman Bethune (the Ambulance Driver), or George Orwell and his experiences in Catalonia
Felipe and Che Guevara's Notebooks
He remains, with Garcia Lorca, one of most well remembered poets of the generation of 27
It is said that several of Felipe's poems were found in the notebook of Che Guevara's when he was finally captured by the Bolivian Army and the CIA.
Want mOre stories on Characters From the Spanish civil war? Read about the Ambulance Man, the Spy and the Exodus below.
What does the name Orson Welles conjure up to you? The voice behind War of the Worlds? The voice behind Findus Peas? Or the creative genius of Citizen Kane? Well how about this...think not Orson Welles but Awesome Well - for thats where the great man ended up: lobbed down a well on the outskirts of Ronda in Andalusia.
This is the story of how the best film director of all time (British Film Institute) - a man remembered for his love of wine, food, beards and cigars - built a relationship with Spain that spread over the course of his entire life.
Hemingway and "The Spanish Earth"
Some say it all began when Orson arrived at the age of 17 in Seville and fell in love with the city, the romance and the bulls. Others say it happened at a later stage, when asked by Hemingway to narrate the classic film in support of the Spanish Republic: The Spanish Earth.
Orson was chosen to narrate the film because he had become the voice of his times. He could convince you that the Earth was being invaded by Martians, or that Carlsberg is "Probably the best lager in the world" or that frozen peas were something to salivate over in the supermarket.
But such a voice can be too good, as he was to discover later in life. Hemingway, came to a similar conclusion and ended up narrating another version of the film, saying Welles was too dramatic and his voice shifted the focus away from the real issues underlying the film. Whatever the true reason, Orson's love affair with the country had begun and wouldn't end until his body would be tossed down a well in the deep south of Spain.
Around the World with Orson and Paola Mori
Perhaps..."Getting things done are more important than living a certain way, being a certain thing. "
In 1955, Welles married Italian actress Paola Mori, a woman he would share not just his living quarters near Madrid, but later his well-shaped tomb in Ronda. The same year as the marriage, a British Rediffusion TV project proposed that Welles travel to different European locations, exploring and commenting on the culture and peoples of each place.
Called: "Around the World" Welles set off to the Basque country for one episode. In this fascinating insight into the land during the 1950's Welles narrates, contemplates and ponders on culture, quality of life, pace, progress, technology and fiestas.
The Around the World Series was not a great success, eventually it would be cut back from its original number of episodes to just 6. But it consolidated Orson's connection to the region, and to Spain in general that would stay with him until his next grand project about the Iberian peninsula: Don Quijote.
Filming in Spain 1: Don Quijote Goes to the Moon
Filming in Spain 2: Treasure Island and Chimes at Midnight
In 1964, he began to work with film producer Emiliano Piedra who had wanted to collaborate with Welles on a version of Treasure Island to be shot in Alicante. Welles agreed in order to get Piedra to work with him on Chimes at Midnight - his classic Shakspearian compilation. Although he had no real intention of shooting the Treaure Island film, he did write two screenplays in the 1960s, eventually forming the basis of the 1972 film in which Welles played Long John Silver (Shiver mi' timbers laddie)
Welles and Piedra filmed Chimes at Midnight (7.9 IMDB) in Colmenar, then Madrid, Pedraza, Soria and parts of the Basque country. - eventually completing the film in 1966.
Like so many of us today, Welles was man who would start a thousand projects, but complete only so many. Projects would last decades and whilst they dragged on, he would start others, such as this story about the world of the bullfight. Watch this incredible bit of Wellesian propoganda as he pushes for funding about what appears to be an autobiographical piece, introducing the ideas of Reality TV that would come back and haunt us in the 21st century.
Towards the end of his life, permanently broad-hatted and with a cigar clenched Clint-Eastwood-style between his beardy-lips, Welles spent more and more time in Spain, pursuing his passion for food, drink and life as well as his fascination for la corrida.
An Awesome Well in Ronda
On October 10, 1985 George Orson Welles died from a heart attack on the same day as Yul Brynner and the same week as Rock Hudson died. Hollywood pondered on the synchronicity and mourned the loss of such giants.
Despite having wished his body to be buried in one of the small villages that appeared in Chimes at Midnight, Welles' body was instead cremated and two years later, the remains of both Welles and Paola Mori were dropped down a well on a small finca on the outskirts of Ronda - a patch of earth owned by an old bullfighting friend - Antonio Ordóñez.
Adios Don Orson
Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.
Welles was a creative machine: He filmed 13 full length films, 14 short films, 7 TV series and worked on 14 unfinished films. He starred, wrote or produced over a 130 productions in all and 100's of radio programs.
Some argue that a man such as Orson, a man with big appetite and a curiosity for life would never be content in the USA. He would need to stretch himself into other cultures and into other lifestyles. Of all the countries in Europe, Spain was the one that unaccountably tugged at his heart.
In the final conclusion of his visit to the Basque Country in Around the World, Welles looks starrily into the sky during a firework fiesta on the streets of the town. Then slowly he looks back at the camera and says: "Here in the Basque country people do not end their stories with 'and so they lived happily ever after'. Instead they say 'And if they lived well, they died well.'"
Welles looks mournfully back up to the sky and in his face you see the desire to do so too. Did he live well? He most certainly did. Did he die well? Not exactly, but he did end up in a well. And in Spain. Maybe that counts for something.
In Search of Orson
In 2005 Kristian Petri made a short documentary called The Well, in which he travels through Spain looking for the legacy of the large bearded one.
Unfortunately, the very day I posted this article the video was removed from Youtube. It may return. let me know if it does. Its worth watching.
"What's happening now is what happened before, and often what's going to happen again sometime or other”
Orson and the Peas
Watch this great animated short of out-takes on Welles reading for the Findus Peas advert. Hilarious, charismatic and obstinate, Welles was off-screen as difficult as on screen. If the Link
“We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.”
Discover the rarer stories from Spain - artists, fighters, medics, travellers, anarchists and car designers in this great series of articles, PDF's, novels, audio-books and videos from the gazpachomonk - exclusive to Speaking of Spain.
People say you can’t kill an idea, but you can. For that's what happened in Spain in 1937.
No other political or social ideology would come close to the anarchist movement of 1936 in Spain, yet by 1937 the movement had not only been dealt a death blow, but its very existence had begun to be eradicated from the minds and memory of popular history in a chilling pre-run of Orwells 1984.
How could this happen? And why - 80 years later - are we seeing the shoots of the movement once more arise between the down-trodden soles of the disenchanted and unemployed in Spain? Read More here.....
Why Orwell is essential to understanding Spain today. More here - Forgotten Stories From Spain
Find out More about the ebook and audio
Forgotten Stories From Spain Book HERE
AND WATCH THE TORTILLA VIDEO HERE