from PN Review, March-April 2017
I have walked down the road on which Lorca was murdered more times than I care to remember. It takes only an hour—what an hour! —to travel from the outskirts of one whitewash-and-myrtle Andalusian village to another, from Viznar to Alfacar, and to take in some of the finest views of the mustardy-gold plains and the foothills to the north-east of Granada lined with pines. Following the eleventh-century irrigation channel—aqueduct, ditch, tunnel; water and shade, shade and water—the road, serpentine and clean of bloodstains made by the sun or the moon, takes a rest at each bend as the traveller listens to the gathering silences of the sierra. Above, the cross that marks the highest peak—and halfway down the road they took him, one on each arm.
The near-silence of a village like Viznar, one of thousands of villages of its kind across Spain, is part of its charm. Only those who have slept a siesta on a balcony giving onto its square can say, I now know what it is to feel bliss. Look up at the Neoclassical facade of the Church of Saint Pilar, and over there to see the Italianate gardens of the palace: fading murals of Don Quixote can be glimpsed through the cracks in those shutters. Lower your lips to the fountain water which even in the August heat maintains the cool taste of earth. Here, in the midsummer, midday sun, try to imagine anything other than the capacity of humankind for poetry and beauty—you will not succeed.
But I don't want to see it. The blood in the sand. I don't want to see that the palace was built with State funds given to the Bishop of Cuzco for his role in suppressing an uprising. I don't want to see that those gardens were patrolled by armed guards when the palace was the barracks in the war, when all these houses were billets. At night they rumbled through this square in their trucks. I don't want to hear what Viznar's children heard as they lay in their beds wondering what could be making such an ungodly noise at such an hour. Get away from the window, Antonio, they'll see the light. Dios mio, Dios mio. This square was only a gunshot's distance from over 1,300 hurried graves.
Viznar is, of course, not the only place in the world with bloodstains on the cobbles. Most heritage sites and postcard-sized cityscapes contain their share. A military HQ in one century becomes a luxury hotel in the next. When we pose in front of the Alhambra and smile under its impossibly romantic charm, we can forget what History barely hides from us. For who wants to think of garrotings and the cruel dawn chorus of the execution squad when eating their ham sandwich? I came to this world with eyes and I leave it without them. Yet some stories from the past petrify with time, like Lorca's death; as they turn to stone they change the way we read them. Lorca: poet, martyr, soothsayer. Now every line of his poetry seems to lead to his grave.
Lorca's grave. It could be here in this patch of scorched grass. Imagine what this circling buzzard has seen in this plot. A field is a field is a field, but we do not all take in the view with the same feeling of concordance between the natural world and the mind. A developer arrives and sees six extra digits in his bank account; the archaeologist sees her photo under the headline 'Roman Hoard Discovery'; the poet, a poem; and a researcher on Lorca's final resting place sees Lorca's final resting place. All these years after his death they still don't know where he is. The next village, Alfacar, has built a Federico Garcia Lorca park near the supposed site which is now included as part of a ghoulish tour of 'Lorca's final hours in Granada'. Is this what we come for with our digital cameras and guidebooks? Is this why we read Lorca?
Over the years I have taken many photos on this same road, el camino de la fuente, or as Google Maps knows it, the GR3101. Giorgos (whatever happened to Giorgos?), my future wife and her friend pose in one just before the sky melts from honey to tiger to clay. Our faces are grinning with the full burst of youth even though we would not see Giorgos again, even though we would soon be old, even though we were walking towards the place where Lorca was murdered, and Joaquin was murdered, and Dióscoro, and Paco. Then we married in Viznar years later and linked arms with our family for that photo in front of the same church that Lorca would have seen from the back of that truck. He knew where he was then. Oh, the grief of the hidden riverbed and the far-away morning. I think I recall my wife's grandmother telling me once about the time Lorca came to her family's house in Viznar for afternoon tea. Did she not say how he sat, on that terrace, with his legs crossed, talking animatedly about books and plays as he looked out at the early snows on the Sierra Nevada? You can see from the railings, on the mountain, mountain, mountain ...
I remember in my first year in Spain that moon-lit walk on this road on 18th August—the date they shot Lorca, our son's birthday, my wife's saint's day. Every year in Viznar the local gypsies commemorate Lorca's death with a flamenco tribute. We walked with the other villagers down the road towards the light on the hillside. That was the house where H. died, down there was the old mill, this plot was almost bought by T., but D. refused to sell it because of what his granddad did in the war. That was where Lorca is buried, one said. Over there, on that bend. The others nodded in shame that it was here, not far from their tranquil village, that Lorca was murdered. The moon bought paintings from death. On the way home a mountain goat followed us like a memory, keeping about twenty paces behind, waiting for us to feed it or chase it back, its horns floating in the darkness.
Ten years after our wedding we are in Viznar again, walking up the same road. It is 80 years since Lorca was shot here. Some keep searching for him; others know better. The crickets let their onomatopoeias linger; the frog song turns the irrigation channel into an enchanted, out of tune syringe. The breeze moves across the tops of the meditating pines: it knows no poetry, no memories, no Lorca. Back in the village square the cobbles and shutters echo the fountain's restless return.
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General Editor: Michael Schmidt
Deputy Editor: Luke Allan