Conversations with Hemingway (7)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

11 AM. So, Papa, more about Spain?

There is always more about Spain. I just wish you could see it for yourself — and I wish you could see it in the 1920s, as I saw it.

Nobody brought it closer than you did.

And I can be there now, if you help focus me, or someone else does — directs my attention there, you know. But the whole tragedy was lying there waiting. They’d missed the war, so they had to have one of their own, or continue dozing in the sun, and that wasn’t possible.

Not sure I understand that.

All the world was knocking down the doors. The telegraph, the radio, the airplane, the automobile, banking, foreign ideas, everything. Even tourism had its effect. You can’t keep a country like a hothouse, isolated at its own temperature. And the more disruptive the elements, the more the forces of reaction fought against change — even, or especially, when they themselves were introducing the things like radio or cars that were changing everything.

You’ve got to go back at least to The Generation of ‘98, the shell-shocked witnesses to the end of Spain’s leftover dreams of empire in the summer of the Spanish-American War. Suddenly Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines were all gone. There was no remaining excuse for not realizing that it wasn’t the 16th century any more. So – la generacion de noventa y ocho thought they’d better reform things.

But as usual, it amounted to trying to change without changing. How do you modernize one compartment? How do you put new wine into old wineskins? The result was something that nobody liked — not the peasants, not the landlords, not the workers, not the factory owners, not the church or the Army or the bureaucracy or the intelligentsia. What you had was something that no longer had any unity, any structural integrity. Instead, you had a bunch of pieces moving in different directions at different speeds.

Everybody could see that what existed couldn’t last. But nobody could see what should, or even could replace it. Nobody could see how to get from here to there, either — even when they had an idea of what “there” should look like. So what happened is what always happens when people are confused and without any agreed vision. The loudmouths and that know-it-alls and the impractical visionaries all took center stage and started to fight one another. It was like Yeats’ poem. [The Second Coming]

Politics is depressingly stupid and dishonest at best — and by “dishonest” I don’t mean just crooked financially, I mean intellectually dishonest, and full of lies. But when the crooked non-fanatics are displaced by crooked fanatics, watch out. How many times did we see it?

So when [Jose] Calvo Sotelo got killed, it didn’t cause the army revolt, it just disorganized it a little, because he was supposed to head up the government they were going to form. Probably if he hadn’t gotten killed, the army would have been left as the only power broker, and Mussolini and Hitler might not have been needed, and Stalin might not have had an opening, and instead of a civil war there might have been a coup and a few thousand shootings and that would have been the end of it for the moment. But maybe not — and if it had happened that way, would the West have waked up to Hitler in time, the way it did watching Spain bleed for three years? No telling, of course. It didn’t happen that way.

But in other versions of reality?

The part of me that you are dealing with is connected to this reality, as you are. Here, as where you are, what happened otherwise is only theoretical.

I don’t understand that.

And I don’t know that I can explain it to you. It’s too different. Anyway, that isn’t what you want from me.

We are talking about Spain, and how it blew apart. Foreign ideas destroyed it, just as they had in the time of the Napoleonic wars. All those outside forces rushed into a vacuum chamber.

And afterwards?

Well, Spain in the late 1950s wasn’t exactly a fascist country. It was very authoritarian, sure, and Franco was careful to keep the lid on, even if he had to play the Americans carefully — sub bases in return for noninterference. And I see that the liberalization finally did take place in the 1970s. So maybe all the war did was delay things a couple of generations — but actually I think (beyond what it did in disrupting the fascist dictators’ plans) it mostly held Spain firmly to its past, even while the forces of the outside world went on burrowing into the fabric, changing this and that until the essence changed. It would be interesting to be in some small Spanish town and see if much has changed. Between television — and now the Internet — and cheap travel and decent wages, and opportunities to work overseas and sent home money (and new ways of thinking, eventually), much must be very different. But I’d still bet on the old Spain being right there under the surface.

2 thoughts on “Conversations with Hemingway (7)

  1. Wow, I wish you had written my history books!

    All I remember is a bunch of events and dates — very boring. Your conversations with the participants bring history alive and unearth some of the dynamics that caused the events. These postings go way beyond the “who”, “what”, “when” and finally tell the “why” and “how”.

    Thanks

    Bob

  2. I wish he had talked more about the other versions of reality. Are you able to connect to another part of him, one that is connected to other versions, I wonder?

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