4/6/07

GERALD BRENAN: SOUTH FROM GRANADA, WEST FROM ALMERIA

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The house he rented also had to accommodate the 2,000 books that were waiting at the port of Almería ready to be brought to Yegen by mule back.

Brenan was a regular visitor to Almería, despite having to traipse some 90 kilometres from Yegen and back. He visited the city for the first time in 1920 to buy furniture for his house, which he rented from a local landlord for about £6 a year. Brenan describes Almería as a small city, an oasis of lime-coated houses on top of grey mountains at the delta of the river Andarax. His favourite part was the old town beneath the Arab castle called La Pescadería, with its narrow streets and blue and white houses.

He used to stay at a rundown pension next to the market square called La Giralda where he had to share a room with other men. The sheets were dirty with bloodstains and there was a smell of drains and rancid urine. On this occasion, apart from the acquisition of furniture, Brenan was running short of money and was waiting for some cash to arrive from back home. After a week, the expected money had not arrived and he spent the days walking through the town and ‘vega’ (meadow).

One day, as Brenan was having some lunch at La Giralda, an odd-looking man came to sit next to him. His name was Agustín and he worked as a ‘corredor’ (smuggler). When he found out that Brenan spoke French, he hired him as an interpreter for some business with an Arab.

After the business was done, as they were having a drink in a tavern, Agustin, a well-built man whose dissolute life had made him very ill, mentioned that women had been his downfall. Besides his other small businesses, he was also a sort of sales agent for all the best brothels in the town, to which he would guide the sailors when their ships arrived at the port.

Brenan was at a stage where poverty and seediness held a strong attraction so when Agustín offered to take him on a tour, he gladly accepted. They walked to the Plaza Vieja and from there they took a steep street to the Arab quarters of small, old and poor one-storeyed houses.

Here, Brenan and Agustín met a variety of peculiar characters, representatives of all levels of Spanish society from madams and prostitutes, to police officers, politicians, or muleteers and day labourers. They drank wine and talked about Spain, life and politics. Spain in the 1920s was under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and the country was in a state of social turmoil, but Brenan discovered that, even though poverty was widespread, it was not considered a shameful condition. A poor man felt himself to be as good as a rich man.

Not surprisingly, given that so much of his work involved spending long hours in the bars, Agustin was an alcoholic, but Brenan could not help giving his character romantic overtones when he returned to Yegen and wrote about his adventures in Almería. Agustin is characterised as a mixture of Alonso Quijano, the main character of Don Quijote, and Don Juan Tenorio, the Spanish Casanova.

Apart from his trips to Almería, Gerald’s main occupations were reading, writing letters and taking long walks in the mountains. Reading and writing formed the imaginative currents of his life in Yegen, and were of prime importance to him during the rest of his life. Reading was a matter of discovery and an important stage before writing. With an incredible capacity for concentration, he would often spend 10 hours reading non-stop.

At Yegen, he started to note down descriptions of its inhabitants and the village customs, and to transcribe the coplas or songs he heard. He also made notes of the books he was reading, and of his visits to Almería, as well as writing poetry and extensive letters to his friends, especially the painter Dora Carrington. His imagination was stimulated by the view of mountains, trees and streams, and the surrounding solitude and silence. The rest of the world did not seem to exist...


Extract from the article "Gerald Brenan: South from Granada, west from Almeria." published by Carlos Pranger in Costa Almeria News 08/06/2007