31 October 2016

Shhh, don't mention the abstention!

After 316 days Spain has a government again.  The general elections in December 2015 and June 2016 saw the conservative Partido Popular (PP) win the most seats, but not enough for an overall majority, and the various parties failed repeatedly to organise pacts with each other.  

Mariano Rajoy, leader of the PP, needed the support of the other parties in last Saturday's investiture vote to allow him to form a government.   The anti-corruption party Ciudadanos agreed some time ago to vote Yes, the anti-austerity party Podemos would always vote No. Until recently, Pedro Sánchez, leader of the centre-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) insisted that it would vote against it too: "No means no". But a coup within the party last month, led by Andalusian leader Susana Díaz, saw him forced to resign.  Ostensibly to avoid a third round of elections, the PSOE general committee agreed to abstain, which was enough for Rajoy to win.  Sánchez resigned his seat in order to be able to vote No, and will stand in the forthcoming leadership election.

Here in Alcalá de los Gazules there is an air of betrayal and muted rage - few people want to speak out.  Below is an abridged translation of an article published in the online newspaper La Voz del Sur, in which the writers compare this silence with the "omertà" observed by those loyal to the Mafia.

The Cradle of Andalusian Socialism: between 'omertà' and indignation
A trip to Alcalá de los Gazules, a town in the La Janda region of the Province of Cadiz, which for decades has been one of the epicentres of the foundations of the PSOE's political power in Spain.  Here they are holding their breath in the land of the Perales, the Pizarros, the Blancos, the Aidos... in the week in which the Socialists, led by an Andalusian woman, awarded the government to the PP for the first time in the history of the democracy.

Sicily has a word to define the regime of silence and loyalty to the mafia: omertà.  Alcalá de los Gazules, christened by others as the "cradle of Andalusian socialism" and for years one of the biggest centres of the foundations of political power in Spain, seems to be living these days in a self-imposed silence.  Many of the inhabitants of this white village felt deeply that no must mean no.  However they feel they must remain quiet or say little about how "no" turned out to be an abstention (which in this case was the same as saying yes).

Kept going by cork and livestock, with a scrapheap of construction workers who lost their jobs after the crash, and with a brutal population decline since the middle of the last century, the town appears indifferent (superficially) to an investiture in which Mariano Rajoy will once again be president of the government thanks to the abstention of the PSOE.

"Of course people are indignant, but I prefer not to speak" commented Maria Luisa, of Curro Japón's butcher's shop in the covered market.  But she added;  "Personally I think it's terrible that the PSOE allowed Rajoy to govern, but what else could they do.  The town is very divided.  There are many disillusioned PSOE members and many who don't even want to talk about it.  Me, I don't like politics."  Manolo, the greengrocer, confessed "I'm PSOE, I have an opinion but I'm keeping it to myself.  We can't go eleven months with no government in Spain.  It's what Pedro Sánchez should have done before ... don't photograph me."  He doesn't believe that his party is definitively shipwrecked.  "The PSOE isn't finished.  There will be people who can revive the party, we have to had it over to the younger ones with fresh ideas,.."

Between the greengrocer and the butcher, Isabel, a regular customer, is taking a rest.  She takes out a packet of Ducados, lights up and says defiantly: "I am a socialist, this is the cradle of socialism, and here everyone is outraged but nobody wants to say anything.  Rajoy again?  All that's left for me is to not vote.  Felipe [Gonzalez, former president of Spain] and Susana [Díaz, current president of Andalusia] are the ones who set it all up.  At the end we're left with nothing."  She added: "As for me, I don't care whether I speak out, I'd tell her to her face if necessary."

But Isabel is an exception among those we spoke to while walking through the town.  The vast majority passed over the topic, or offered a timid gesture of approval when asked what they thought about the abstention.  "In the towns there is still an ingrained fear of taking sides, it's as if the agricultural workers still depended on the favours of the politicians", said another local who wouldn't even give their name.  In Alcalá, one of the "universities of Spanish politics", this unwillingness to speak comes as a shock, hiding behind the excuse: "I just don't talk about politics".

Up in the Alameda, the central square of the town, there is little movement on this Wednesday workday.  Even the old folks' centre is empty of its usual domino-players.  "It's hardly worth me opening" complains the proprietor of its cafe.  We throw the question at him: "What do you think about the PSOE allowing the PP to form the government, for the first time in the democratic history of this country?"  The only local who was propping up the bar promptly got up and left.  "The insurance for being self-employed is really expensive, and whoever gets in, it's going to be the same. I'm telling you the truth, neither Rajoy nor Sánchez nor anyone.  I'm staying neutral because I know that whoever gets in, it will be the same."

From Alcalá came the first MP for Cádiz in the new democracy, one Manuel Chaves, and from here also came the woman who became the Minister for Equality in Zapatero's PSOE government.  She then went to the USA to work with the UN.  Her name was Bibiana Aido, and her father, Paco Aido, was the first mayor of the renewed Democracy in this town.  In Casa Pizarro, famous for its wild boar stew, they speak of their illustrious guests as if they were visitors to the theme park of Andalusian socialism.  "Here we have fed Felipe González, Guerra, Manolo Chaves, Rubalcaba..." remembers Javi Pizarro, current owner of the family restaurant.  His uncle is Luis Pizarro, who held public office for 37 years - one of the most long-standing salaried politicians in the country and Manuel Chaves' right-hand man during a good part of his period as president of the Junta de Andalucia.

The hundred-year-old Party is living through an internal war such as nobody can remember.  "I'm not political, I don't know if what they are doing is a good thing or a bad thing", remarked a customer in Alcalá's Real Madrid supporters' club.  The waiter didn't want to talk either.  Others turned a deaf ear while drinking their beer and reading the sports paper.  "We aren't political", said another customer, as if inviting us to desist.  In the street, retired construction worker Antonio Garcia did speak:  "I'm a socialist, yes.  Right now I'm not very happy with them.  I don't look well on what they are doing, but I believe that they have done it so there won't be a third election..."

Caricatures of PSOE politicians at the St John's Eve
bonfire celebrations
We return to the area which is known as "La Playa".  In Pizarro's, a handful of customers order beer and tapas.  "Before, we had twelve staff, now there are six" said the owner.  While serving a tapa of wild boar, Javier Pizarro admitted that "before, I was PSOE but with Zapatero I made a clean break; I voted PSOE in the town because my cousin was standing as mayor, but I vote for Rajoy.  They are all the same, but the only PP supporter in my family is me."  First cousin of pop-singer Alejandro Sanz (Sánchez Pizarro), the innkeeper lamented the decline of the town.  "It's nothing like it was twenty years ago.  In the 1940s there were 16,000 inhabitants, today there are scarcely 6,000.  It should be one of the richest towns in Spain, others like Medina and Vejer have made a lot of progress.  It has been left in the hands of God by the politicians we've had, though now my cousin is doing reasonably well."

Paradoxically, the PSOE lost the mayoralty in 2011 through an "unnatural" pact between the PP and the IU [United Left].  In 2015 the PSOE once again occupied the mayoral seat; the current holder is Luis Pizarro's son Javier "Pata" Pizarro Ruiz.

Pedro Sainz de Andino
enjoying a Christmas drink
From the Alameda the lawyer Pedro Sainz de Andino, "favourite son" of Alcalá, looks unperturbed over the streets.  Far from the abstentions, this illustrious Alcalá man was founder of the Spanish stock exchange in 1831, but perhaps he could not have imagined that half a century later would be born the party which made his native town famous.  The families of the so-called "Alcalá Clan" strengthened the roots of the socialism of Pablo Iglesias Posse.  The clan started on its path in the Transition period, in a flat in Cadiz where they met amongst cigarette smoke and their study books: the Perales, the Pizarros, the Blancos, the Almagros ...

"Alfonso (Perales), he was a real politician, he fought for the people, not of the Left nor of the Right, with ethics and with morals.  Like Suarez and Anguita.  Now they only want to live the story. He was in politics to help people, not to sink them", roars the owner of Casa Pizarro.  During a posthumous homage to this historical socialist leader, Chaves came here and affirmed that "the people of Alcalá are in charge".  And so it goes on.  With much less power - like the PSOE itself - but in charge nevertheless; keeping quiet, immersed in their contradictions but keeping afloat, perpetuating the saga, keeping the network as closely knit as possible ...

Did I mention that Alcalá de los Gazules is twinned with the Sicilian town of Bisacquino?  It's there on a sign on a bend in the road as you arrive in the town from the A-2003 from Jerez.  A mere coincidence.

Juan Carlos Toro
Paco Sánchez Múgica
29 October 2016

26 August 2016

"Los Ranger's Black" - The Rhythm of the Sixties

Manuel Caro Rios, one of the founders of "Los Ranger's Black"  has just written up the history of Alcalá's much-loved '60s rock band, which I have translated below.  The original can be found here.

Their repertoire reflected the appeal of all things English in a country just emerging from the most repressive years of the dictatorship.  British pop songs were starting to be played on Spanish radio.  Miniskirts, psychedelic shirts, pachouli oil, gin & tonic, American tobacco were wildly trendy,   Alcalá artist and sculptor Jesús Cuesta Arana, a big fan who designed their stage sets, wrote about them:
In this [culture of modernity] the Rangers burst forth in Alcalá de los Gazules, which was used to a different kind of rancher.  Four kids jumped on the sonic bandwagon of the times. It was like a kind of alcalaíno Beatles. They did more than cheer people up with their music and self-assurance;  they brought freshness, new winds and sensations to an era of anxiety.  They openly challenged the moralizing and hypocrisy that never got the better of them. They travelled from Cadiz to many villages, playing in concerts and fairs. 
The name also reflects the anglophilia of the age.  "Rangers" = rancheros, a common enough profession around Alcalá.   The fact that there is a superfluous apostrophe and the adjective follows the noun are unimportant.  The band learned the English lyrics phonetically, often having no idea what they were singing.

On 9 September Los Ranger's are doing a gig on the Paseo de la Playa.  This is their second "comeback", following a performance on the Alameda three years ago which the whole town turned out to see.  At that time, they hadn't played together for over forty years. The surviving members of the original line-up were joined by two of Manuel's sons, Victor and Javi, and a lively group of female backing vocalists.  Here's what they sounded like.


The group was born in the years 1961-62. At that time the charcoal industry, which for decades had been extremely important in the local economy, was coming to an end due to the arrival of butane gas. This led to an increase in poverty, already widespread, and also to the emigration which the town suffered from around 1967 as a result of the shortage of work. The “Choriceros” (the name given to the men who went into the countryside with their animals) began a new activity which consisted in digging up cepas de brezos [bulbous roots of heather plants used to make tobacco pipes] and taking them to the pipe factory which was set up at that time. There they cut them, baked them and sent them to Barcelona where they were made into pipes. The cork harvest, livestock and crop cultivation (very important in those times) constituted the rest of the town’s economy.

In this environment, with students having to go to Cadiz to study for exams because there was no secondary school, at least for those families who didn’t have the means to send their children away to some fee-paying school, the group came into being.  As well as a musical group it was an important youth movement. “Los Ranger’s” wasn’t just four people. It was practically the whole of Alcalá’s younger generation, a big percentage. Many people came to our gigs. They helped us set up the stage, carry the equipment, and even our distinguished friend Cuestarana painted some impressive “Tiffanys” [Art Nouveau-style backdrops]. Our beloved and unforgettable Juan Romero, used to hit the roof when he went to get paid, because the entire fee had been spent on beer, wine and pinchitos morunos [meat kebabs].

The initial idea of the group came from Juan Manuel Rodríguez González “Juan Ulloa” and Santiago Romero Vera (brother of the fondly remembered elder Sister of the Beaterio, Maria del Amor). They both played the harmonica at that time. They asked me if I would accompany them on guitar. We did some canciones melódicas [popular Spanish ballads] and we weren’t too bad. When Santiago’s family moved to Seville, Juan and I started afresh with both of us playing guitar. On occasions we were joined by our dear friend Paco Álvarez Mateo, R.I.P.  Paco always said nothing sounded better than a group with two guitars and a bass.

We were missing something very important for any group: the drummer. We decided to talk to Juan Romero Díaz. Our unforgettable Juan Romero, he of the fried potatoes. In his youth, Juan had played in several orchestras, such as the “Orquestina Alcalaina” formed by Andrés Guerra Jobacho, Paco Puelles and himself. They also played serenades at saints’ days, birthdays etc. for whoever hired them.

At first, he was very unwilling. We were just two lads and he was a mature man with children of our age. But his love of music won him over and eventually he accepted.  Later on, his son Pepe Romero, R.I.P., took over ownership of the drumsticks and became our definitive drummer.

It was the age of the most brilliant music of the ‘60s, with the Beatles and the Stones in all their splendour, and with a whole lot of solo singers who still endured, as did the songs that made them famous.

Isabel Viaga “Beli” also joined the group, as our first vocalist. We lost her to emigration as well, when her family went off to Barcelona. Occasionally we had the support of Ana Jesús Rodriguez, Juan’s sister.

This was a little-known stage in the story of Los Ranger's. Juan and I were living in Cádiz. At that time we were taking our first steps in the capital, and rubbed shoulders with some pretty good groups like Los Simun, Los Abunai, Los Teka, etc. We played in the University, in the Plaza de Mina and in the competitions which took place on Sundays in the Gran Teatro Falla. There are still some posters of those events.

Shortly afterwards our Rangers "Canario” [native of the Canary Islands], Carlos Sánchez Ortega, arrived in Alcalá.  This gave us the opportunity of incorporating a rhythm guitar and a keyboard. Moreover, unlike most groups, we were able to interchange our instruments. He also brought his voice, giving the group a style more in line with the requirements of the time.

Los Rangers around 1968.  L-R: Manolo Caro Ríos, Carlos Sánchez
Ortega, Juan Ulloa, José Romero, Manolo Lazarich
In 1969, Juan went off to do his military service and in January 1970 it was my turn to do the same. Matias Muñiz, our substitute bass player, subsequently emigrated to Catalonia.

Then Carlos’s family flew to the Canaries.

Later on, our drummer Pepe Romero died. It was a big emotional blow, and very painful for us.

But we never stopped being Rangers. It’s something that we carry deep inside us. Carlos far away, Juan and I, have always stayed faithful to our friendship and between us there has always been an extra, eternal link formed by the strings of our guitars.

We will die being Los Ranger's, and leave behind to our descendants this story, forged in difficult times, but full of music and magical happenings.

21 August 2016

Pedro Valle Barrera: A Story of the Repression

Pedro Valle Barrera was a child victim of the vicious repression carried out by Franco's forces during and after the Spanish Civil War, known as the White Terror. His uncle was executed, his father was imprisoned and his mother had her head shaved, for being on the Republican side. By some miracle he escaped the organised massacres of refugees at La Sauceda and on the 'Road of Death' from Málaga to Alméria. 

In 2009 Pedro recounted his childhood memories to J. Carlos Perales Pizarro, who transcribed and published them. This is an abridged translation of Pedro's story. The full version in Spanish can be found on the Historical Memory website Todos los Nombres.

Pedro was born in 1928 to Francisca Barrera and Juan Manuel Valle Recio, in C/ Sánchez Flores, Alcalá de los Gazules. His grandfather Pedro Valle Marchante worked with cattle; he was well-educated and gave lessons to the agricultural workers who lived around the Finca del Torero. Valle Marchante was related to Diego Valle Regife, who helped set up a branch of the socialist party in Alcalá in 1886, in affiliation with the agricultural workers' union, the UTC. In 1887 he was arrested and charged with being implicated in an anarchist plot, but the judge ruled that it was not a crime to belong to a workers' party. He set up a school to educate and organise agricultural workers, but his activities were short-lived as he continued to suffer harrasment from the authorities.

Pedro's maternal grandfather, Barrera, lived next door to Valle Marchante. He was a woodsman and a carpenter, felling trees and making carts, ploughs etc from wild olive, oak and ash. Pedro's father, Juan Manuel, and his uncle Diego began working with Barrera. Juan Manuel and Barrera's second daughter fell in love, and they were married.

During the summer of 1936, Valle Marchante moved from the countryside into Alcalá, as he did every summer, to work on the cork harvest. His family went to stay in Jerez. Immediately after the uprising, the Falangists came looking for him there, because he was a member of the UGT union and had close links with the Socialist party. His mother, terrified, said he was away working. She decided to take the childen to San José del Valle to stay with the Barreras, but because of all the rumours of arrests and executions they could not stay there for long.

One night, with the help of a donkey, Barrera, his five daughters and two grandchildren set off for La Sauceda, a tiny remote village in what is now the Alcornocales Natural Park. It was still in the Republican zone, and on the escape route towards Málaga, Many other families took the same decision. It was the end of the road for many of them.

The remains of La Sauceda, now a centre for activity holidays
Once we were getting close, they settled me down and I fell asleep. My grandfather went down to the hermitage to take a look around and after a while he came back with five or six men. They were Socialists. One of them took me up on his donkey and we all went down to La Sauceda. There were lots of people there. Some were living under the trees, others in shacks. They slaughtered cattle there, under the orders of the Committee, which were then shared out so people could eat. There were thousands of people. We were there quite a while.
But La Sauceda did not remain a safe haven for long. It was discovered by Franco's troops, bombed from the air, and survivors taken to the nearby Cortijo de El Marrufo, which was being used as a concentration camp.  Many ended up in the mass graves located in the Valley of La Sauceda. Fortunately the Barrera family managed to escape in time.

Excavation of a mass grave, Valley of La Sauceda
Given that things were getting worse with the war, we set off towards Jimena, where we spent the night. The next day we went towards Casares. I remember very well crossing the Guadiaro river, because the water was deep and my grandfather helped us across. I don't remember whether we slept in the campo or in Casares. From there we headed to Málaga. But from the mountains, when night fell, we could already see a lot of traffic along the coast; lorries and military vehicles. It looked as though Franco's forces were arriving at Estepona. There they set up their front line. My father and my uncle Diego stayed behind in Estepona.
Barrera, his daughters and the two grandchildren continued on their way to Málaga. Pedro remembers happily how he and his mother got a lift in a car which took them into the city. It was the first time he'd been in a car. In Málaga they met up with his father and his mother's brother. Diego arrived later, having been wounded fighting in Estepona. He had an injury to his wrist.

Refugees on the way to Málaga
They took refuge, as Pedro recalls, in a convent near the Calle Larios. It had been abandoned by the nuns and was being used to shelter the many families who were arriving in Málaga, fleeing the advance of Franco's troops.
The convent was full of people, it was amazing. When they started bombing Málaga, we could hear the bombs and the shells from the sea and from the planes. Of course, a bomb fell very close to us. Everything collapsed around us. The children were crying, as you can imagine.
They took refuge in the mountains, fleeing from the coast because of the bombardment from the sea.
From there, my grandfather went down into Málaga very early every morning to see what was happening. My uncle Diego, who was wounded, stayed with us. He did go down to get treatment, but he always waited till my grandfather got back, as a precaution. We got news of possible dangers. My grandfather told us he had seen dead bodies in the streets and elsewhere.  
One morning, my uncle Diego lost patience and, trusting that nothing would happen to us, went down to Málaga for treatment without waiting for my grandfather's return. I remember my uncle gave me a kiss. He loved me deeply and I him, to this day. He kissed me goodbye. We never saw him again. They took him prisoner. I think it was around 23 or 24 February 1937, when Málaga fell. They executed him.
Then my uncles were put in prison as well. My uncle Luis was in there the longest. My uncle Francisco was ill and as soon as he came out of prison, he died. And my father was in the concentration camp at Albatera, in Alicante. 
Pedro and his remaining famly left together with a grand caravan of women, children and old people for El Palo, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Málaga on the road which led to Almería; the notorious Road of Death.  Its story is well documented and its consequences were as grave, if not worse, than the bombing of Guernica, with at least 20,000 casualties. Pedro reminded us that that it was there that Carlos Arias Navarro, the butcher of Málaga, became famous, and not when he announced Franco's death many years later.

Again, the family had a lucky escape.  When they arrived at Torre del Mar their way was blocked by Nationalist soldiers. They could not continue towards the safe zone, so they set off, on foot, back to Alcalá de los Gazules. 
My mother went to my grandmother Francisca and told her what she knew, because the poor woman had no idea what had happened to her sons. Nothing of Diego, nor Luis, nor Francisco, nor my father. From Alcalá we went once more to San José del Valle. My grandfather had to present himself to the Civil Guard and the Falangists there. They put him in prison. All the women had their heads shaved, but they weren't forced to drink castor oil [a common and humiliating punishment for Republican women, as it made them soil themselves in public] because there wasn't any. My grandfather was in prison for a few months and meanwhile the rest of us suffered more calamities.
Republican women, heads shaved to identify them as traitors

Back in San José del Valle, the young Pedro helped his grandfather the woodworker.  Everyone was permanently hungry, living on whatever they could find for the pot.
At that time I was about 13 years old. My mother was ill, mainly from hunger and shortages. What little she had, she gave to me. I ate whatever was edible, the stems of brambles, grass, and even orange peel. I slept under the trees. A cockroach even got in one of my ears. I went up for the clothes that my mother washed for us. There were wolves, even. I was afraid. The wolves wouldn't kill me because they weren't hungry. At that time there was more food for them than for us.
Meanwhile Juan Manuel Valle Recio, Pedro's father, had graduated as a lieutenant and went once more to the front.
There he bumped into his brother Luis, who had been injured in one of the battles. My father carried him on his back, walking all night. They had to cross a river, I don't recall which one. Desperate and with no strength left, not having met anyone who could help them, my father even thought of shooting Luis and then himself.
But eventually they arrived in Valencia, from where women and children were being transported out of the country by ship.  Pedro's father was unable to escape, and was again taken prisoner. He was sent to Albatera, a concentration camp in Alicante, where he met his brother-in-law and uncle. The prisoners were stripped and beaten, and suffered conditions of lice-ridden squalor and near starvation. 
My father told me about a dog who squeezed through the wire fence of the camp. They were so hungry they caught the dog, killed it, roasted it and ate it.
Juan Manuel was eventually transferred to the prison in Jerez, because he was registered as resident there.
About my father's stay in prison, my memories, though distant, are clear. My mother occasionally took advantage of a driver who travelled regularly to Jerez, and visited him in prison there. Sometimes she took me with her. But I could hardly see my father. It was so dark in there, behind a metal grille which stopped you being able to see clearly. I could hear him quite well, but I could hardly see him. My mother visited him mainly to take him food. There was much hunger. I used to set traps, snares, caught rabbits which my mother would stew and take to my father. One day when we went, to her surprise, they told her that it wasn't necessary to hand over the basket because he would shortly be free. And so it was, within half an hour my father came out. He was destroyed, thin, emaciated. He'd been in prison from 1938 to August 1941. He was not quite 38 when he came out. His body was covered in boils, he could hardly walk. 
His brother Luis was more fortunate, as he ended up being transferred to Alcalá de los Gazules.
You could see that the jailer was a very good person and when I went to see my uncle Luis, I found him eating with the jailer's family. He was the only person in the prison, and that trust would become very important.
Luis left prison in 1944, and died in August 1980.

Of their brother Francisco, there is a certificate signed by Isidro Castro Puelles, mayor of Alcalá de los Gazules, on 15 May 1939 stating that according to the records held by the Municipal Guard, “he was affiliated to the Socialist Party, and had propagated it actively".  He was incarcerated, but became ill in prison and died shortly after his release.

The fourth brother, Diego Valle Recio, was judged and condemned under the Emergency Summary Proceedings in Málaga.  In his statement, dated 17 February 1937, he declared that his name was as stated, he was 31 years old, single, agricultural worker, born and raised in Alcalá de los Gazules, lived in C/ Sánchez Flores, Son of Pedro and Francisca. That he was able to read and write.
“That two weeks before the uprising he joined to the Syndicalist party, and was given the post of Treasurer. That when the Nationalist Movement happened he was in Alcalá de los Gazules, where there were no disturbances, and he hadn't taken part in any kind of disorder. That even in that town there was no kind of struggle.  That the workers decided to get away from the town, going in a group to Jimena, Estepona and from there, having enlisted in the Pablo Iglesias Battalion with which he was at the front at Chorro, without having entered into combat, that because of illness he was evacuated and came to Málaga, where he presented himself to the Military Command.
Witnessed and ratified but not signed because of the injury suffered in his right hand.”
Three days later he was found guilty of military rebellion  under Articles 237 and 238 of the Code of Military Justice, and sentenced to death.

Standing, L-R: Juan, Luis and Diego.
Seated: Pedro Valle Marchante and Francisco

12 August 2016

Juan Perales León, the Anarchist of Alcalá

This is the testimony of Juan Perales León (1914-2003), recorded in “Todos los Nombres”, an aural history project about people who suffered under the Franco dictatorship. It was set up by the CGT (a trade union) and the Andalusia Association for Historical Memory and Justice. Juan's life story was recorded and transcribed by his nephew, Carlos Perales, who has kindly given me permission to publish this translation. The original Spanish transcription is here:


I have translated verbatim the first and last sections, which relate to Juan's life in Alcalá, and summarised the parts relating to his military career and imprisonment in Jaén.

Alcalá early in the 20th Century

When I was five years old, my father died. There were three children – your father, a sister called Francisca, and me. Francisca died here in Calle Real, in the door of your father's shop. She died bleeding, I don't know where from. She was very young, maybe ten or twelve, perhaps more. My father was a muleteer. He had his donkeys, his mules, and we were financially well off. He died in a flu epidemic. He returned from a trip to Jerez, delivering charcoal, and he was already ill. I remember that when he started to remove the harnesses from the animals, some neighbours who were older than me helped him, so I climbed on a chair and started to try and help him too. He fell ill in the bed. I don't remember his features much. There were no photos of any kind. I remember the funeral. The funerals those days were basic, a box lined with cheap black cloth. One of his good friends, Don Pépede, was very strong and wanted to carry the box on his own. He didn't want anyone else to carry it. Years later, he was killed by a brother-in-law in C/ los Pozos. They dressed me in a black smock with shiny black buttons.

My mother sold the animals, and for a while we had a food shop in C/ Villabajo. Don Antonio Caballero's school was there. Later, years later, things got bad, we lost the shop and were destitute. My mother worked cleaning houses. We [children] went to the campo to work. I remember that in the mornings we had to watch the cows, the pigs or whatever there was. In winter when it was icy, my feet would besoaking wet. It was very cold and I'd wait for the sun to come out and warm me up. I went home every two or three days. I changed my clothes, I was given a hunk of bread, and I returned to the campo. I earned very little. As well as watching the livestock, one did whatever one was told; fetch water, gather firewood, all the things children had to do.

I got tired of the campo. I became an apprentice shoemaker. My first teacher was called Juan Ramón. Then I went to another shoemaker who was called “she of the cat”. I was about 12 or 14 then. At school I learned to write without knowing anything about spelling. I could write a little, and could add up, subtract and multiply, but I didn't learn division until later.

We had to move to Cádiz, my mother, your father and me. We lived first in C/ Arboli and then in La Viña. Life in Alcalá was very bad. As my mother was working, I was fed by another family. I had lunch with them and at night I went home and ate what my mother made. At that time almost all meals were based on bread, mainly crusts, and leftovers from the houses she worked in.

We returned to Alcalá. There were few possibilities in Cádiz either. I went to work as a waiter with an uncle of my mother's who was called Dominguito “El Conilato”. A very formal, serious man. He slept very little, almost always in a chair. He was always taking naps in that chair. It was a tavern where the rich people of the town went, those who had country houses and livestock. People who in the morning drank their glasses of brandy and then glasses of wine, the best there was. Later, after lunch, in the evening, they came back and drank coffee, which was very well made. Then more drinks. It was a select clientèle.

On 14 April 1931, young as I was, I had no knowledge of the Left or the Right. The Republic was proclaimed, and there was a demonstration which passed through the Alameda with the Republican flag. I came out of the café and joined in the spontaneous gathering. I started to shout "Long live the Republic", imitating the older ones.

Declaring the Second Republic in Madrid
I remember that when I was very small, we often used to go to the Quintana rubbish tip to play. Nearby lived an old man with a beard, and he was a Republican. They called him “Tio Valverde”. His whiskers frightened us. I remember this man's funeral. He died during the Republic. He must have been much loved, because many people were there.

After the demonstration, I didn't go back to the tavern. I didn't dare go past the Alameda. They were handing out lots of little Republican flags. The first mayor was José Sandoval and we children stuck close to him, the one in charge. We thought he would be the salvation of the poor. There was a meeting, and someone called Pizarro spoke. I remember him saying he had grown up with no education, and always had a pen and a book. I remember that part of the meeting.

A UGT [trade union] centre was opened. All the children used to go there for the novelty. I couldn't join, because I was still too young. Then another centre opened, which was the CNT [Confederación Nacional de Trabajo, the anarcho-syndicalists' union]. They let me join. There people met and talked. The most knowledgeable of them were the ones who organised everything. What I wanted to do was get a job, but perhaps because I wasn't old enough, they didn't give me work. Along with another youngster in the same situation, we wrote on the wall in the Calle Salá with bits of charcoal, in protest. We rebelled. It was my first act of rebellion.

Once inside the CNT, they formed us into groups Libertarian Youth groups so that we could develop awareness of what anarchism was. We managed to sign up those kids who were a bit special, who had a greater awareness, who were looking for something superior. Anyone who got drunk, treated their family or girlfriend badly, or was always putting their foot in it, couldn't get in. We would not admit them. When someone wanted to join, we consulted each other. They called us the "eagle chicks of the FAI" [Federación Anarquista Ibérica].

Here in Alcalá there were six or seven groups of Libertarian Youth and in each group there were eight young men, almost all of them working in the campo. Those who were better educated were the leaders, those who could read and write. Our mission was to prepare ourselves for the new society. We read many anarchist books and magazines. The CNT then was culturally very rich. The men were very well prepared. We had our library and went to the post office all the time to pick up books. Many books arrived. We educated and trained ourselves. To be a revolutionary was not just about firing shots and beating people up. We impregnated ourselves with pure anarchism. Although we couldn't put it into practice, it was what we wanted and we would fight for it. We thought we were the best, and the best ideas were ours. I still think that. The CNT had more members and we were younger, because in the UGT there were hardly any young people.

The Libertarian movement was very strong in Alcalá, Medina, Casas Viejas, Los Barrios, Jerez, Paterna, Jimena. We had contacts in all the towns. Sometimes there were strikes. They consisted in going out to the farms with sticks so that those who were working there would go on strike. When we came back, the Civil Guard would be waiting for us and sent us to jail. We were locked up many times, every time there was a strike. This happened during the Republic. Sometimes they beat us up. I remember one time when a civil guard, Molina, beat the shit out of your father on the Alameda.

The events at Casas Viejas were very close at hand. We had news that there was going to be an attempt at revolution. We thought we were sufficiently strong to win. We thought we could do it with the town and Casas Viejas would lead the movement. We waited to see the smoke signal from Medina, and there was smoke, but it wasn't the signal. They rose up. They were alone, isolated. We sent someone from Alcalá to make contact with them. A young lad, Joselillo Malacara, he ran like a greyhound and never got stitch or got tired. He was there, and when he came back he told us what had happened. They sent the Civil Guard and the Assault Forces. Directed by Captain Rojas, they started to throw stones wrapped in cotton soaked in petrol, and Seisdedos' shack caught fire. One of Seisdedos' daughters, who they called la Libertaria, escaped through one of the windows. I think there was a donkey there, and the donkey took the shots. Seisdedos died there in the shack. “Casas Viejas on one great day made a revolution, a few libertarians implanted anarchism” was a lovely song that was sung about it. The events became famous throughout the world.

Massacre at Casas Viejas(Benalup)

In Alcalá, something else happened that I remember well. They were working on the road to Paterna. There was little money for wages and they gave vouchers instead. These could be exchanged for food in a shop, which was like a private house. It belonged to Rodrigo Delgado, who became Mayor during the Republic. He was well known, a good person. The Mayor at that time was Antonio Gallego. People were tired of vouchers, because sometimes they needed things that weren't in the shop. As a protest, we met up in the Alameda to deliver a petition to the Mayor. The answer from the Republican Mayor was not as expected, and the people mutinied. There was a pile of cobblestones along the railing of the Alameda and they started throwing them at the town hall. The Civil Guard arrived to quell the protest, and the people ran off. I went into the inn. I ran upstairs and hid under the bed so they wouldn't see me. I didn't come out of there till two or three in the morning.

When the Movimiento [Nationalist Movement] came, I was about to complete my military service. I was conscripted in 1935 and served in the Victoria Regiment in Málaga. I came home around 18 or 20 June 1936. When I arrived in Cádiz I remember that I visited one of our companions who was in prison in El Puerto de Santa Maria. He worked in an ironmongers and had taken some money, but for the organisation, for the CNT. I went to El Puerto with his mother on the steamer. It was the first time I'd been on it. Back in Alcalá I went to work on the cork. I was out there a few days, on Monte Abajo. They gave me the sack. Then I went to work as a reaper at the Cortijo Puelles. We were still the Republic then.

I lived in Calle Cádiz, and from my house I heard people talking about a demonstration. I went down Calle Villabajo. My mother shouted at me not to go. I went, believing that it was my own people. When I reached the post office I could see that a demonstration was coming through the Plazuela, but they were right-wingers. They were shouting and carrying shotguns and rifles. It was a fascist demonstration. In your very house, they were guarding these weapons, rifles, bullets and pistols. One of those at the head of the demo was a doctor, Herrezuelo, who had treated me many times. I hadn't known that he was a right-winger. Seeing that the demo was not what I had expected I went down the Palomino alley. I was afraid they would catch me and arrest me. Messengers were sent to different places, warning those who were working on the cork that there had been a fascist uprising and that Alcalá had been taken over.

Days later, the bombing began. It was said that there had been a mistake by the fascist air force. They thought Alcalá was Ubrique or Jimena, and bombed it. Fear made many people flee to the campo. My mother, Kiko and I went to the olive grove at la Zúa. Your father had already left town. Many people left, but I didn't. I didn't know what to make of it all. One of the tactics of these people is to help themselves to everything left behind by those who fled. Later, as if nothing had happened, they would come back and kill them. They killed many people. They also killed the parents of young men who had fled, as a reprisal. That's what happened to Guillermo. His father and brother left, and they caught and killed the mother in reprisal. Another, known as Cabrero, was Manuel Delgado. He left as well. They killed his father. I was afraid they would kill my mother, so I didn't leave. I waited here to see what would happen.

I was hiding in the campo, and one day when my mother went home she found under the door an order for me to present myself to the army as a soldier. I didn't know whether to go off to the mountains or go into the army. Eventually I went into the town with the idea of taking flight, but I had a girlfriend and I wanted to say goodbye to her. She lived in C/ Real. I went to the bar of Montes de Oca. There were night-watchmen posted on the pavements and I sat down with some of my cousins who were there, with the idea of seeing the girl and saying my goodbyes.

I was sitting there in the yard by the bell tower when in came a Civil Guard and Corporal Linares, who was well-known. They touched me on the shoulder and I heard “Perales, the corporal wants to talk to you.” I stood up and moved away from the group. I was 21 or 22 years old. He took me by the ear and pulled it a few times, asking me where I had been. I explained that I had been with my mother, in Pedro Puerto's place in La Loma, we'd gone there because of the bombs. He insisted that I had been in Ubrique. The tugs on my ear were getting stronger and stronger. Ironically, he kept saying that I was a communist or an anarchist. He gave me a few blows with his stick, right there in the middle of the street. The people at the bar went inside, scared.

Then they told me to go. I asked whether I should go to the prison or to my house. To your house, he said. I thought he would apply the Ley de fugas [summary execution of runaways]. I took advantage of the arrival of a woman, dressed in black, walking beside her thinking that at least they wouldn't shoot me. I walked as lightly and as slowly as I could. I didn't want to run. I was terribly afraid. My life was at stake. When we arrived at the Palomino, I went down the alley again towards C/ Las Brozas. Then I went running up C/ Cádiz and instead of going home I went to the house of my aunt Ana Perales. I fell onto the bed and passed out. When I came to, I asked my cousins to see if anyone was keeping watch on the roads leading out of the town. I had decided to flee, but I couldn't. Those people had posted guards all over the town. I had to stay put.

The next morning, as I had the order to present myself to the army in Cádiz, I got up early to take El Correo, the post-bus. I arrived half an hour before it left. I went into Vicente's bar. I ordered a glass of anise. There was a man there called Pizarro, who was a shoemaker and who wanted to put a Falangist badge on me. I wouldn't let him. Then Corporal Linares turned up again, and greeted me with “how are things, good Spaniard?” I explained that I was waiting for the post-bus to take me to Cádiz so I could enlist. Fearfully, I answered the two or three questions he asked me, and he left. I couldn't drink the glass of anise. I was truly terrified.

I arrived in Cádiz and joined the “Company of Transients”, as it was called. I was there for quite a while. The fascist insurgency was already functioning in this area. One afternoon the whole battalion was mobilised and we started to climb into the lorries. It would be around August 1936. We went to take Alcalá del Valle. That was when I thought for the first time of changing sides. We were on our way to Alcalá del Valle when the Republican planes arrived and bombed us. We all jumped out of the lorries and took shelter wherever we could. Together with another man from Alcalá, Juan Diaz “Pichorto”, we made our way towards the Republican zone, but on the way we saw some Falangists already retreating, and we retreated too. They hadn't taken a single prisoner. Just one woman, who was in a lorry with the lieutenant. Everyone had gone off into the mountains, in the direction of Ronda, and according to what they said later, there wasn't a soul left in the town. Entire families had taken flight.

From Cádiz, they moved us to Algeciras. We were there for a few days. Then they took us to La Linea. The Moroccan troops had been there, and it was full of lice. Inside the barracks I found many anarchist books that had been requisitioned from houses. I chose one, I don't remember the title. I took advantage of my time on guard duty on the sands to read it. There were even the clothes of the Moroccan troops who had been shot for raping women there in La Linea, From there, we were moved to a customs guardhouse in La Atunara, behind the cemetery. And later to Guadiaro. That was a very quiet front. The enemy, who to me were friends, were a great distance away.


At this point, Juan and some of his colleagues broke away from the Nationalist army and went to join the Republican troops, brandishing a sock tied to a rifle as a white flag. He described it as one of his happiest moments during that period. He became a training sergeant for a battalion of Libertarian Youth and fought in many battles, including the fall of Málaga. In Alcaudete (Jaén), a few miles from the front, he met his future wife, Manuela.

In April 1938 he was shot in the face while retrieving some grenades and guns abandoned by the enemy. His jaw was badly damaged. Another battalion rescued him and took him to Castellón for treatment. He could not eat or speak. He was operated on by a surgeon in Valencia, and during his recovery he went for a walk and met someone from Alcalá, Fernando Monroe, and his wife. They were selling fruit from a cart. They took him to their house where he met many more refugees from Alcalá. He gave them the bread and oranges that the hospital had given him, because he was still unable to eat them himself.

When the Civil War ended, Juan wanted to leave the country, but because he couldn't eat properly he couldn't escape through the mountains. He was dependent on a civilian family to feed him, and he was putting their lives at risk by being there, so he turned himself in to the Nationalist army, saying that he had been injured in combat and taken prisoner by the Republicans. He was locked up in very unpleasant conditions but Manuela was able to visit him. She had had his child.

Juan was a political prisoner in Jaén for four years. He describes the solidarity amongst the prisoners, sharing their meagre and often putrid rations, though many died of hunger. Because of his condition he was given bread and 2 litres of milk a day, more nourishing than the standard prison mess. One day his mother sent him a food parcel from Alcalá; his family knew he had been injured but didn't realise that he couldn't eat properly. The parcel included turrón and hazelnuts. The guards were very suspicious, thinking he was exaggerating his condition to get the milk and bread diet, but he explained that he hadn't told his family how bad his injuries were.

Provincial jail, Jaén

The prisoners organised themselves according to their affiliations – communists, anarchists, Republicans - with their own committees. The prisoners attended classes in mathematics, drawing, accounting etc. The teachers were prisoners themselves. Juan went to all the classes, to help pass the time, and said that the little education he acquired he owes to that prison. 

Later, he and his colleagues were transferred to a convent. Conditions were as bad in the convent as in the provincial jail. There were no formal classes there so they organised their own, those who had had some education taught the others. Juan taught people how to read and write. Food was vary scarce, and those who suffered most were those from far away who didn't have families to bring supplies for them. The water supplies froze in winter, and everyone was riddled with lice There were many deaths.

One day a small group including Juan were returned to the provincial jail and tortured. They had no idea what they were being punished for; they only found out because a guard knew the family of one of the prisoners. It turned out that a prisoner at the convent had made a false accusation that they were plotting to escape, thinking he would get more food. Eventually he confessed.

When someone was sentenced to death, their names were read out and they were taken from the cells to the chapel for confession. There was often confusion with similar names. One night Juan heard his own name called. He thought his time way up, but it was just someone telling him to go and collect his milk ration.

Months passed and eventually the day of his hearing arrived. He had not been summoned to give a declaration before then, possibly because a comrade who worked at the court had managed to keep his document at the bottom of the pile. The later you were judged, the more lenient the sentence. However one of the judges turned out to be his grandmother's brother, Pedro Ruiz from Cádiz. They got talking about Alcalá and he did not have to make a declaration. Ruiz was sent to Cádiz but he recommended him to another judge, who heard his declaration and believed his (made-up) story. A few months later he was called into the office and told he was being offered his liberty conditional on a signed statement. He refused to sign, saying he had committed no crime. He was taken back to the yard where his comrades thought he was crazy. They convinced him to sign and he was set free in December 1942.

He lived with Manuela and their two children in Alcaudete (Jaén), selling pictures and enlarged photos. He was too weak to work in the fields. He kept up his connections with the CNT, helping distribute anti-fascist propaganda, and the military police continued to harass him. In July 1945 one of his colleagues denounced him under torture. He was arrested, beaten up and imprisoned for two years for subversion and distributing illegal propaganda. He was transferred to Guadalajara prison, which was even worse than Jaén. There was snow on the ground and they had to go out on work-camps. He only had espadrilles so he wrote to his cousins in Cádiz, who were shoemakers, asking them to send him some shoes. They didn't answer. Afterwards he always wondered why not, but didn't ask.

The food was so bad and scarce that a group of prisoners went on hunger strike for eight days. Finally the governor said that the food and the treatment would improve so they relented. But after a short time things returned to as they were.

The prisoners communicated with each other by writing messages on tiny rolls of paper passed through holes in the walls, made with bits of wire, from cell to cell. The holes were then filled in with breadcrumbs and chalk.

Juan was finally released in November 1947.  He made his way to Madrid and got a train to Cádiz.

Alcaudete, Jaén

I headed straight to where my wife was. I arrived in Cádiz and took the post bus to Alcalá. I didn't recognise anybody. It had been twelve years since I'd left. I think some people on the bus recognised me, but they avoided contact. I was just out of prison and I was a Red.

My wife and my mother were waiting for me. It was very emotional, with hugs and kisses. Some relatives came to the house to welcome me. Others, people I'd known before, even right-wingers, did not refuse to acknowledge me. Even Alberto, Chiquito the shoemaker, who was a Falangist and a good man, came to see me with his brother. However, the people of the Left, my friends, shunned me. I'm sure it was out of fear. The only one I went around with was your father.

My difficulty in chewing complicated what sort of work I could do. I had to work. I had to do something. I had nothing left. I kept in contact with the house where I'd stayed when I was selling pictures in Alcaudete. I wrote to them and told them what had happened, that I was a political prisoner, not a common felon. I had an enlargement of a photo taken when I was a soldier. I was thinking about taking up the sale of pictures again. La Moma, who went selling clothes in the surrounding countryside, was very knowledgeable and was well-known. For the first few days I accompanied her, I felt protected and she helped people to accept me without fear. I took little things that people needed, and then I went with my pictures. I offered to do enlargements and thus I was able to earn a living and set up what would later become “La Joya”.

This is my story.

11 July 2016

Sweet treats - tocino de cielo and sultanas de coco

Last month at a party we were invited to try two of Andalucía's traditional sweets. They are often made together, because one uses the whites of egg while the other uses the yolks.

Tocino de cielo literally means "fatty bacon from heaven" yet it contains no bacon, no fat and is definitely an earthly pleasure.  It is made with sugar and egg yolk, and the first written record of it is dated 1324 in Jerez de la Frontera.  The reference to tocino comes from its appearance, creamy-yellow with a brown "skin".

Jerez has always been a wine-growing region, and egg whites were used to clarify the wine in the barrel.  The leftover yolks were taken to a local convent where the nuns turned them into this heavenly custard.

Although tocino de cielo can be found all over Spain, Jerez council have applied for it to be given its own protected designation of origin.

Another way of using up the spare egg yolks was the candié, derived from the English "candy egg" (most of the sherry bodegas were British or Irish owned). A couple of yolks were beaten into a glass of sweet sherry, sometimes with sugar or cinnamon added.

During the famine years of the 20th century this was a cheap and popular way of increasing children's protein intake. Many jerezanos today have fond memories of this childhood treat.

Recipe - Tocino de Cielo

For the caramel:
150g sugar
1 cup water
Squeeze of lemon juice

Boil the ingredients in a small saucepan on a medium-low heat, stirring regularly until you have a dark amber colour. Remove from heat and set aside. 

If you don't want to make your own caramel you could use 3 tbsp golden syrup or the Spanish equivalent, miel de caña.

For the custard:
125g water
250g sugar
7 egg yolks

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and put in a tray of water as a bain-marie. 
  2. Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a saucepan and leave on a low heat for 20 minutes to obtain a thick syrup. Let it cool. 
  3. Put the yolks in a bowl and mix them gently. Add the syrup little by little and stir without beating until it’s all mixed in. 
  4. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove any unwanted lumps of egg white. 
  5. Spread the caramel over the bottom of a 10x20cm tin and pour in the egg mxture (you can also use individual silicone moulds.)  Let it rest a few minutes.
  6. Put the tin into the bain-marie and cook for 30 min or until set. 
  7. Once cool, put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. To serve, innvert it onto a plate so the caramel is at the top.
Sultanas de coco are a good way to use up the egg whites, since you presumably aren't going to be clarifying sherry with them.  Just to confuse you further, these little coconut cakes don't contain sultanas, which are pasas in Spanish.  They are of Arab origin and it is documented that Abd-ar-Rahman III, first Caliph of Córdoba in the 10th Century, offered them to his dinner guests. The Sultana was the Caliph's wife.

These tasty little cakes are popular today all over Spain, often produced and sold in convents. They are also known as coquitos or coquadas.

Recipe - Sultanas de Coco
250g grated coconut
250g icing sugar
Whites of 5 eggs
Yolks of 2 eggs, beaten
Drop of vanilla essence
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. 
  2. Beat the egg-whites to stiff peaks and carefully mix in the beaten yolks (save a spoonful for glazing), vanilla essence, coconut and sugar. Leave for half an hour in the fridge. 
  3. Put the mixture into a pastry bag and squeeze into little peaks on a baking tray lined with oven paper. They should be quite small and not too high, because they cook very quickly and you don’t want them raw in the middle. 
  4. Paint them with the rest of the egg yolk mixed with a little water. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. 

06 June 2016

Castillo de Alcalá - restoration complete!

Like most Andalusian hill-towns, Alcalá used to have a castle.  It was built by the Moors in the 12th century, at the highest point of the town with commanding views in all directions.  When the Christian king Alfonso X "El Sabio" reconquered the town in 1264, the castle was extended and remained in use for the defence of the town for many centuries.

Unfortunately most of it was destroyed by French soldiers during the Guerra de Independencia (Napoleonic Wars).  Both the French and the Spanish troops wanted it because of its strategic position as a lookout post. The Spanish tried to repair it for this purpose but didn't have the materials.  The French managed to occupy it in September 1811, but when they were forced to retreat they blew up the walls to stop the Spanish using it.  All that remained was the keep (known as la torre de homenaje in Spanish).

The keep was declared a site of historical interest in 1984, but remained basically a pile of rubble until restoration work began in 2005, using European Union funds and administered by the Diputación de Cádiz.  Work continued in four stages until it was finally completed earlier this year. Although based on the original layout, there was too little of the structure left to restore to its former state, so modern features have been incorporated.

The grand opening took place last weekend, coinciding with Alcalá playing host to the Feria de Ecosistemas y Bosques de Cádiz, with guided tours and theatrical dramatisations for children and adults.

The castle building won't be left open to the public on a daily basis, although you can walk round it and enjoy the views.  Anyone interested in a guided tour should contact the town hall (tel. 956 42 81 48 or send a message via their Facebook page

For some great photos of  the castle and this weekend's activities see Pedro Martin's blog Alcalá a través de mi objecto.