After living for many years in Yegen, a small village in the Alpujarra of Granada, Gerald Brenan left in 1934 and with his new wife, the American poet Gamel Woolsey, bought a house in Churriana, a village close to Malaga.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Brenan and Woolsey decided to stay on at first, but the situation became so dangerous that they finally returned to England. There, Brenan produced The Spanish Labyrinth, a key work analysing the causes of the Civil War.

On his return to Spain, ten years after the war ended, he and Gamel travelled through the south of Spain up to Madrid and he kept a diary of his impressions of Spain under Franco's dictatorship. Drawing on his knowledge of Spanish life and customs, he wrote The Face of Spain, a book that gives an accurate image of a country still under reconstruction after the war and governed by a dictator.

On the 7th of January 1953, Brenan and Woolsey finally returned to live in their Churriana house, which they had left in charge of their servants, Antonio and Rosario. The house and the garden were miraculously intact after the war and very much the same as when they had left, except that they had a couple of tenants occupying the ground floor, an Englishman and a French woman. Brenan and Woolsey were happy to be back, although the tenants refused to leave, which created an uncomfortable atmosphere as well as making the home less convenient to live in.

In those days, before the tourist invasion began in the late 50s, promoted by Franco’s new policy of slowly opening Spain to the world through tourism, Churriana was a quiet backwater of a village, with only one car. Spain was still poor and children were hungry and dressed in rags. This austerity was reflected in Gerald Brenan’s house, which had a certain touch of posada discomfort: tepid food, dishes scrubbed clean in cold water, cheap wine poured into smarter bottles, no fireplaces, no bathroom or any running water in the house. There were hundreds of cats and a lavatory that was flushed by emptying a jug of water into it. The house and tropical garden were large and had attracted the Brenans because it reminded Gamel of the estates she had known in the south of the US during her childhood. There was a romantic cobbled courtyard with orange trees and a fountain where doves splashed and cooed.

Publicado en Olive Press West 26/08/2007

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