18 July 2018

International music festival 2018

Alcalá's annual music festival takes place slightly earlier this year, with the first event on 31 July.  All events start at 10 p.m. and are free unless otherwise stated. 

Tuesday 31 July, in the castle: Family event with story-telling accompanied by classical music.

Wednesday 1 August in the Plaza Alta:  Candle-lit flamenco spectacle with guitarist José Carlos Gómez.

Thursday 2 August in the castle: literary readings from members of the public, with a performance by singer-songwriter Juan Luis Pineda.

Friday 3 August in the patio of SAFA (off Plaza Alta): Classical/flamenco pianist Dorantes.  Tickets available at the door: €15 seated, €10 standing.

Saturday 4 August, Plaza Alta: Flamenco gala with singer Rancapino Chico and friends.

Sunday 5 August, SAFA patio: Classical concert with a 10-piece orchestra from Seville, including Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

08 July 2018

R.I.P. Carlos Perales Pizarro, 1958-2018

Alcalá is mourning the death on 3 July of historian Carlos Perales, who dedicated his life’s work to to uncovering the truth about events in and around Alcalá during the Civil War and under the Franco dictatorship, long concealed under Spain's Pacto de Olvido (Pact of Forgetting).

Carlos died on 3 July, shortly after falling victim to an aggressive cancer.  He was the brother of one of the leaders of the re-emergence of socialism in the province after Franco’s death, the politician Alfonso Perales (who also died prematurely of cancer, in 2006), and was President of the foundation formed in his brother’s honour. He himself was a life-long socialist, joining the PSOE in 1976 as soon as it became legal again after Franco's death. He leaves a wife, two children and numerous other relatives, many of whom live and work in the town.

Carlos was born in Alcalá in 1958, and studied Modern & Contemporary History at the University of Cádiz.  Until 1999 he taught at the Valcárcel school in Cádiz, formerly an orphanage and hospice, then went on to work in local government at the Diputación de Cádiz. He was reponsible over the years for areas such as education, equal rights, consumer rights and international co-operation. It was there that he pioneered the Historical Memory service, later emulated by other provincial governments.

Valcárcel in Cadiz, where Carlos taught history.
In 2007 the PSOE government passed the Historical Memory Law to give rights to the victims and their descendants on both sides, including State assistance to exhume victims of repression buried in mass graves.  This gave the green light to local and regional authorities to formalise the work Carlos had already been doing for some years.  As a long-standing member of the PSOE, he became regional coordinator of the Historical and Democratic Memory service for the party across Andalucía.

Being honoured by the University of Cádiz in 2014

Carlos was a Councillor in Alcalá from 2007 to 2011, when he set up the citizenship participation scheme and the programme of summer visits by children from Saharaoui refugee camps in North Africa.

A couple of years ago I translated two of Carlos's fascinating and very moving accounts of repression in Alcalá for this blog:

Pedro Valle Barrera: A Story of Repression
Juan Perales León, the Anarchist of Alcalá

Demanding government funds for the recovery
of mass graves in Andalucia, August 2017

Below are translations of some of the many tributes paid to Carlos Perales in the media over the past few days.

Irene García, Secretary General of the PSOE in the province of Cádiz:
Carlos Perales was always sensitive to the most difficult causes, such as Palestine or the Saharaouis. Long before the current migration phenomenon called for international cooperation, he spent years working with collectives in the Diputación to try to help development in the countries of origin. 
Garcia described the intensely detailed work he put in to uncover Historical Memory, even before the law was passed.  “He did it when nobody else believed in it, even when it was a taboo subject and when it was difficult to make institutions realise its importance; he was already working with the testimonies of victims’ families and thanks to his persistence and tenacity, worked with Memory collectives to make an essential contribution to the law passed in Andalucía last year.  This law was the culmination of his work, and a source of great satisfaction for him, because it guaranteed justice to the aspirations of all those who had spent years seeking moral reparations and dignity for the victims.
Even in adversity, Carlos did not give up.  He wasn’t intimidated by his most recent setback, when during the Rajoy government he was denied permission to digitise the records of the military archive in Seville related to victims in the province.
Voting in the Law of Historical Memory in Andalucia, March 2017

García also emphasised the involvement of Carlos with the stolen babies scandal, when infants were taken from their Republican parents at birth and given to "decent" right-wing Catholics so they could be raised properly:
... he was recently engaged with a mother who was the victim of such an atrocity, and found himself immersed in a delicate search operation for a baby who had supposedly died in the San Carlos Hospital.  With Carlos, you have to remember him like that, fighting and always with a big smile, winning small battles which at the end made him great and special for all of us.
Writer and historian Tano Ramos, who interviewed Carlos in his younger days:
[Carlos was] proud to be a normal person, modest, who tried not to harm anyone, but to help and do good by whatever means he could.  He envied nobody.  He enjoyed listening to “old-fashioned” singers like Joan Manuel Serrat, Silvio Rodriguez and Paco Ibáñez.  He wanted to travel and explore other cultures.  He considered Historical Memory as a social necessity, and was grateful to all the historians who had spent many hours in inhospitable archives digging up documents to discover what happened during the Civil War and the post-war period.  No story should be left covered up, of that he remained convinced.
Carlos grew up during the later years of the Franco dictatorship and he felt the urge to argue with his friends, on a daily basis, in favour of democracy and against fascism  But he wasn’t one to place party discipline or ideology over and above his conscience.  Above all else, he said, is the human condition, which is neither Left nor Right.

Planning Historical Memory workshops in Cadiz Province

Finally, fellow historian Santiago Moreno writing in La Voz del Sur:
In a province like Cádiz, where studies on [the recovery of Historical Memory] arrived curiously late, and where many families are still afraid to tell their stories or reclaim what is theirs by right – that is, that the State return the remains of their loved ones from some mass grave – Maestro Perales threw himself into the fight for Historical Memory which endured till his final moments.  … In spite of his apparent timidity and excessive humility, he achieved in a short time – even in adverse political conditions – a historical memory policy and service that set our province as an example to be followed by other local governments.
 For years – interrupted by four years of provincial government by the PP – mass graves have been exhumed, workshops and congresses organised, books and articles published, which resulted in investigations of the history of towns in which formerly nothing was known about what happened after 18 July 1936.
I don’t recall the first time that I worked with him.  But one of the first occasions was a meeting with the CGT union, following which the Todos los Nombres project was set up.  That day was the start of something essential for Historical Memory.
Perales not only put the Administration to the service of Historical Memory – though in a democratic country there shouldn’t be anything extraordinary about this  - but he knew how to bring together new generations of professionals to work on it.  From historians to archaeologists, lawyers, anthropologists and even civil servants, I have seen with my own eyes how people unrelated to the issue became convinced of the struggle that must be continued, each in his or her own field, for the truth, justice and reparation for the victims of the dictatorship.
Maestro Carlos, how proud your uncle would have been of you, the anarcho-syndicalist Juan Perales León, who suffered in the Albareta concentration camp during that last stand against the Francoist troops!  Rest now in peace, knowing that your disciples will continue with the work you began...

04 June 2017

The Lascut Bronze

A few miles from Alcalá, in an area known as the Mesa del Esparragal, are the remains of an important city of Roman origin, Lascuta,  I blogged about it (and our failed attempt to visit it) a few years ago.  

This is where the famous Lascuta Bronze was discovered, the first Roman inscription found in Spain (189 BC).  The original, just 22x14 cm, is in the Louvre in Paris.

The Alcalá council have just erected a much-enlarged replica of the Bronze on the Paseo de la Playa, as part of the plan to make the town more attractive and interesting to tourists.

Unfortunately there is as yet no explanatory signage (these things don't necessarily happen in the logical order here), so here's an English translation.  I think it's rather nice that the early alcalainos were granted their freedom.

Lucius Aemilius, son of Lucius, Imperator, decreed that the inhabitants of the Tower of Lascuta who lived in servitude to the Hastensians shall be free. As to the land and town which they owned at the time, he ordered that their ownership shall remain unaltered, so long as the People and Senate of Rome deem fit. Done in the camp on 19 January.”

11 May 2017

A bit of political history: The "Alcalá Clan"

This is a translation of an article by Pedro Ingelmo in Diario de Cadiz, 10 April 2011. It was written after the sudden resignation of Luis Pizarro from his senior position in the Junta de Andalucía, following differences of opinion with then President José Antonio Griñan.  Pizarro is the father of Alcalá's current mayor, Javier Pizarro, and brother of Paco, owner of the Restaurante Pizarro.

The Electrician’s Seed:  How the “Alcalá Clan” was Born

The history of the PSOE in Cadiz is linked to a small town in the gateway to the Alcornocales, Alcalá de los Gazules, out of which emerged a group which had a decisive influence on the politics of Andalucía for decades.

It is not possible to explain the symbolic significance of the sudden departure of Luis Pizarro from Griñan’s government without a trip into the past.  For many, Pizarro is the end of the line, a perpetual link with the origins of Andalusian socialism.  Luis Pizarro was, and is, the patriarch of that which during the 1980s was baptised as “the Alcalá Clan”, a group of young politicians who raised out of nowhere the PSOE in Cadiz and which has had a decisive political influence, for good or for bad, in the transformation experienced by Andalucía in recent decades.  It’s true that, as in any family, one can’t talk of uniformity.  The premature death of Alfonso Perales, the most brilliant member of the Clan, friction between its most outstanding members and the passing of time, especially, have created distance between them, but their legacy remains.

Luis Pizarro
Alcalá de los Gazules is a town which sprawls over a hill overlooking the Alcornocales Natural Park.  Well into the 20th Century, it had a disperse population living in sandstone shacks with roofs made of heather branches.  They lived off the forest, from charcoal and cork.

When Luis Pizarro was born, in 1947, the wounds of the war were still open.  In that year a legendary resistance movement, or maquis, was still active in the surrounding area; that of Comandante Abril, who would be shot down two years later in nearby Medina after being betrayed by one of his own.  Alcalá, like all the towns in the region, including the nearby Casas Viejas where the slaughter took place which helped bring down the Second Republic, was a breeding ground for Anarchism.  Francisco Pizarro, Luis’s uncle, was one of forty chosen by the Falangists to be shot as a lesson to the others.  One of his sisters was paraded through the town with her head shaved after being made to drink castor oil.  The father of Alfonso Perales ended up in a concentration camp in Huelva, where he survived a form of Russian roulette in which every night the prison guards chose someone to kill.  Another survivor was Juan Perales, nicknamed the Old Colonel in honour of his military adventures.  He saved his skin during a Summary Judgement in which he was accompanied by various Communists, who were executed.  His Anarchist allegiance (“I, Juan Perales León, member of the Iberian Anarchist Federation…” [FAI]) saved his life.

The influence of Juan Perales on the town’s younger generation, who had not lived through the war, and who had inherited a disorganised revolutionary restlessness, would be one of the primary references of the Clan.  Another would be Father Cid, the priest from the El Campano Salesian school in Chiclana.  Cid inculcated in Alfonso Perales and José Luis Blanco (Pizarro, being the eldest of the group, didn’t study there) the ideas of social justice.  The third reference would be Fernando Puelles, El Nani, of whom it is said had the biggest anarchist library in Spain.  El Nani was somewhat older than Pizarro, Pepe Blanco, Paco Aido (father of Bibiana Aido) and their companions, and came from a landowning family in decline, which hadn’t reached the point of preventing him living off their income and dedicating his time to a somewhat histrionic intellectuality which the other lads contemplated with admiration.

Alfonso Perales
But neither the anarchism of the Old Colonel, nor the social Catholicism of Father Cid, nor the intellectualism of El Nani, would be as decisive for the creation of the Clan as Antonio Guerrero, an electrician from Dos Hermanas who arrived in Alcalá in 1970 for the construction of a public housing estate.  Guerrero taught these young anarchists a little pragmatism and would influence the ideology of Alfonso Perales, maintaining that grand revolutions were useless.  The poet José Ramón Ripoll defined it very well: “Perales was as revolutionary as the rest, but his dreams were tempered by a dose of reality which, far from dispossessing them of their charm, could make them possible.”
And that “charm of the possible” is what Guerrero instilled in them.  The electrician was already in contact with the Capitán Vigueras group, named after the street in Seville in which was located the lawyers’ office where Felipe Gonzales, Rafael Escuerdo or Ana María Ruiz Tagle, and Alfonso Guerra, Manuel Chaves and Carmen Romero, would meet and look for alternatives to the better-organised and more numerous Francoist opposition, but also the one with closest links to the War – the Spanish Communist Party [PCE].  And they were going to do this by re-establishing the PSOE, which in exile had fragmented until it had reached the point of ineffectiveness, which made it innocuous.

José Luis "Pepe" Blanco
The contact with Guerrero linked up Alcalá’s revolutionary cell with the “possibilists” of Seville.  It was time to abandon the town. Pepe Blanco, who had the PSOE membership card No.1 in the province, which proved the existence of this formation in the province, moved to Cadiz to study educational practice. Then the rest followed.  Alfonso Perales decided to study history and Luis Pizarro found a job in an automobile financing company, FISEAT.  In Cadiz they met the photographer Pablo Juliá and Rafael Román, and in the student flat in Calle Becquer and over coffee in the Bar Andalucía emerged the discussion forums over how to change Andalucía and uproot it from that destiny of secular backwardness to which it appeared to be doomed.

Always on the lookout was El Charro, a kind of socio-political vigilante.  The young men were involved in a clandestine activity in a somewhat slapdash manner and weren’t very careful about the erasing their tracks when they were dedicating themselves to such “dangerous activities” as distributing propaganda in factories and neighbourhoods.  It was possibly a murmur from El Charro which enabled Perales to end up participating in the legendary meeting of the PSOE in Suresnes, in 1974, the place where the PSOE was converted into a genuine alternative of power.  Pepe Blanco, as Number One in the group, should have gone to that meeting but was arrested and beaten up by the police a few days earlier.  So it was that Perales, on the eve of his twin sister’s wedding, walked out of his house with a rucksack announcing that it would be impossible to attend the event because he had to go to Pau for a conference with the historian Tuñon de Lara.  Nobody in the family understood the snub; meanwhile Perales, accompanied by Chaves, set off in the car bound for Suresnes.
The rest is well-known.  The Madrid socialists headed by Pablo Castellano counted on the old Basque UGT unionist Nicolás Redondo to lead the party, but Redondo felt himself more unionist than politician, and the Betis pact which would deliver the direction of the organisation to the Andalusians was forged.  Felipe González was named Secretary General and Alfonso Guerra would deal with the political nuts and bolts.

On his return, Perales brought the good news that that group of members of a party with no card bearing its name other than that paper which Blanco kept in a shoebox, was being called on to make their dreams come true.  An Assembly convened in the University College of Cadiz, which was dissolved by the police, established its basis.  A few days later, Perales travelled with Juliá to Algeciras to meet up with local members.  He was stopped by the police, who as a welcoming gesture gave him a punch.  He was imprisoned, and when his mother María went to the jail to pay his bail she discovered that someone had beaten her to it – one Gregorio Peces Barba.  The PSOE was beginning to look like a serious political organisation, which could count on its leaders, and which was constructing its own dynasty.  Between 1975 and 1982 that group of revolutionaries from Alcalá who discovered in an electrician “the charm of the possible” felt itself strong.

L-R: José Luis Blanco, Luis Pizarro, Manuel Chaves,
Carlos Díaz, Rafael Román, Alfonso Perales.

The resignation of Pizarro, 40 years after that decisive meeting with Antonio Guerrero, is a good moment to look back at the legacy of the Clan, with its lights and its shades, at a run-down Andalucía now less run-down, which has reduced its backwardness compared to the rest of Spain: also at its tangled mess of patronage, its ambitions and obsessions.  But that Clan has played an undeniably important part in the recent history of Andalucía.

18 March 2017

Los estraperlistas - Andalucia´s black marketeers

It's carnival time again in Alcalá.  This year's theme for Galindo's comparsa (singing group) was "Los Estraperlistas" - the men who smuggled and sold much-needed goods on the black market during a time of acute shortages. Here's a video of their performance, followed by some historical background which I translated a few years ago from an original article by local writer Juan Leiva.


The shortages of the postwar era couldn't have hit Alcalá at a worse time: the fields had been abandoned, the able-bodied workforce had been recruited into the Civil War (many young men were recruited twice over); essential goods were scarce; measures imposed by Franco's regime to relieve the famine [which often made things worse], and many other misfortunes all landed on a large part of the population. Not only was there unemployment and a shortage of work, but basic foodstuffs were in short supply. As a consequence, many people turned to the "black market".

The word for black market, estraperlo, had its origin in a game of foreign invention, a type of roulette, which permitted the banker to manipulate the game [by pressing a secret button] in order to win. It was invented in the 1930s by a Dutch Jew (Strauss) and his colleague (Perlo), and from a combination of their abbreviated names came the word "Straperlo". In Spain, in 1934, some public personalities wanted to introduce it into the Casino of San Sebastian, although the police closed it after a few hours because the game was prohibited. Subsequently the name was used metaphorically to describe the black economy and clandestine trading of essential goods for financial gain.

Food producers and sharp-witted businessmen made a killing on the black market in the postwar period. This was a hard, cruel era of Spanish history. According to some historians it lasted ten years, from 1940 to 1950; according to others, fifteen years from 1940 to 1955, and yet others claimed twenty years, up to 1960, although in a more moderate form. In Alcalá it was as bad as everywhere else. Franco's regime wanted to control the situation with three measures: an autarchic political economy, ration cards, and foreign aid from friendly countries.

The first measure was to demand from millers the maquila - the portion of grain, flour or oil which they got in exchange for the milling. This failed to be applied to all the wheat, oil and cereals harvested during the year, because an unspecified part was hidden and sold on the black market. The ration cards also ended up on the black market, because many people sold them to the highest bidder. And the goods sent by friendly countries hardly ever reached their destination, because certain bureaucrats and distributors offered them to the black marketeers.

Within this world of famine and the black market, nobody could control the fraud and trickery. Everybody knew where they could get their basic goods, but  Alcalá was on the contraband route between Gibraltar and Jerez. It was like a gateway, through which the finest foodstuffs passed on their way from the countryside and the mountains. That world belonged to a more ancient practice, of which we will speak on another occasion – smuggling.

I remember, in this respect, that there was a food made from flour, water, oil and sugar which relieved much hunger. It was called poleadas or gachas, but we children called it espoleá [from the verb espolear, to spur on]. We hated it desperately, but it quelled a lot of hunger in Alcalá. One day I went with Father Manuel to visit a sick old woman. When we arrived at the house, we found a pathetic scene. The old woman and her son were embroiled in a violent argument, the two of them fighting over who was eating more spoonfuls. Father Manuel restored order, making them each eat a spoonful in turn instead of two at a time. These scenes were repeated frequently, provoked by the hysteria of starvation. It wasn't unusual to see children in the streets with their bellies swollen with malnutrition. There were cases of children who died of hunger.