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Letter from Spain #16
August, fiestas, fireworks and a deaf dog - plus Dalí, TBC research & events
I discovered last night that my dog, Molly, is as good as deaf. We think she’s 13, but as she’s a rescue dog and we got her eight years ago, we’re not totally sure.
I knew she was becoming deaf (a bit like her owner), but I didn’t realise how bad it had become. Well, bad and good. Bad, because she’ll get confused, I guess, and she won’t be the best guard dog in the world, not that she was the best guard dog in the world anyway. Good, because she didn’t hear the fireworks last night, which were part of the Fiesta of the Virgen del Vinyet. The Vinyet area of Sitges is where we live, so the fireworks were loud. In previous years, this has sent Molly cowering, shaking, trembling and trying to hide, but last night she didn’t even flinch.
We’ve got the Fiesta Mayor coming up in Sitges from 19-26 August, and then the Santa Tecla festival from 14-25 September, but hopefully she won’t suffer so much this year, being deaf. We were out at a party for the Sant Joan ‘Verbena’ fireworks in late June, so I don’t know how she was - but now I think about it, she seemed fine when we returned. You see, deafness has its benefits.
I hate the word ‘ex-pat’, but there are groups, mainly founded by ex-pats, that campaign for cancelling fireworks and replacing them with drones. Get real. If you live in Spain, you need to embrace the culture, which includes the noise and the fireworks.
Anyway … as we’re now in August, different areas of Spain are now either empty or packed. I had a discussion with a friend this week about the pros and cons of nearly all Spaniards taking most of their annual vacation during August, with many even obliged by their employers to do so. My friend hates it because he works during August … for an American company that doesn’t understand why others have shut down for the month. I’ve always thought it’s a good idea, because for the rest of the year you should be able to get hold of anyone because they should be at work. Should.
The first year I lived in Madrid, however, the ‘operación salida’ on 1 August took me by total surprise. I wrote about it in A Load of Bull - An Englishman’s Adventures in Madrid:
I’d realised something was up as we entered the last week of July. Suddenly, everyone in the office was working twice as fast as normal. No sooner had the August issue of Vogue been printed and delivered on time, than the September issue was all but ready to print as well. And then finally, on 1 August, together with forty-degree temperatures, the operación salida arrived …
And everyone buggered off!
Operación salida, it transpired, meant the ‘evacuation plan’. I’d never seen so many Madrileños trying to get out of the city in one go, and especially not on the same day. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t spread their salida operations over several days, but oh no, they just had to all set off together, even if it meant sitting in traffic for hours before they could finally get out of the city itself.
From 1 to 31 August, when the ‘operación retorno’ came into action and they all reappeared on exactly the same day again, Madrid was void of most Madrileños, all off taking the biggest bloody puente they could possibly take, and leaving just me, a skeleton staff, and all the sad, rampant Rodríguez* behind.
*In the book, I also describe the ‘phenomenon’ of ‘Los Rodríguez’ as such:
As soon as the summer really took grip, thousands of sad Spanish men became abandoned in the city. They were referred to as ‘Los Rodríguez’. Whilst a Rodríguez continued to work during the week, his wife and kids migrated to the beach or the sierra for nearly three long months of vacation. He’d normally join them, guilt-stricken and bleary-eyed, from Friday night until Monday, and sometimes longer during August. Despite looking old and lecherous amongst all the nubile Madrileñas also left alone in the city, a typical Rodríguez would spend his nights cruising the Castellana terrace bars in the hope that he might just strike it lucky.
The Barcelona Connection - Research
For those of you following this blog’s research behind The Barcelona Connection, here are a few words about Chapter 13 and the painting that the fictional Marquès de Guíxols has uncovered, which is a possible study by Salvador Dalí for his masterwork, The Hallucinogenic Toreador. In fact, here’s the reason why the Toreador painting is at the centre of the entire book …
As I wrote a few weeks back in Letter from Spain #11, ‘The Barcelona Connection’ started out as a screenplay called ‘Until The Cows Come Home’, way back in 1997, which then became ‘Madrid, Madrid’, and then ‘Hello, Dali!’ … before finally ‘The Barcelona Connection’.
In creating the story, I started with the crime, not a painting. In fact, at the very start, I was using a Goya painting in the screenplay whilst it was still set in Madrid. Dalí only came on the scene once everything moved to Barcelona. But then when I discovered Dalí’s Toreador painting and realised it could have a connection with the central crime in the story, there was no turning back. I researched the artist and the painting extensively, exhaustively - as I have also described in The Art Newspaper. I even wrote the book with a framed poster of the painting on my desk …
As I have explained in the acknowledgements at the back of the book, I became somewhat obsessed with The Hallucinogenic Toreador, which hangs in the Salvador Dalí Museum in St.Petersburg, Florida (top left below). I became even more obsessed once I discovered that Dalí had painted a study for it, which I refer to as ‘The Face’ - and which hangs in the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres (top right below). The other two images below, for interest, are from research I also uncovered while ‘dissecting’ the main painting - and I also recommend Luis Romero’s book about Dalí, also mentioned in the acknowledgements.
As for the painting found by the Marquès de Guíxols … well, Benjamin finds that it has similarities to ‘The Face’ (top right below), but I can’t tell you anymore … you have to read the book!
Next week we’ll take a look at Inspector Vizcaya and Marta Soler in Chapter 14 …
Previous links to my research notes are here:
The Barcelona Connection - Reviews, News & Events
On Thursday 28 September I am doing an event at The Secret Kingdoms bookstore in Madrid, chatting about The Barcelona Connection and A Load of Bull with Ann Louise Bateson, radio producer, former BBC contributor and presenter of the English language programme, ‘Madrid Live’. Drinks and snacks will also be served, and although the event is free, places will be limited - so if you’re interested in coming along, then it would be wise to reserve your place by clicking on this Eventbrite link. It will be a fun evening and I hope to see you there!
Another date for the diary, this time in Barcelona. On Saturday 28 October at 2.30pm, I will be participating in a roundtable discussion hosted by Barcelona City Council for their annual International Community Day, with the topic being ‘Discovering & Enjoying Barcelona through Literature’. The event will take place at the Museu Marítim de Barcelona. More details in due course.
As soon as I have news about a possible event at The Salvador Dalí Museum in Florida, I will post details about it here.
Links to reviews & articles
Here’s the link for a review of The Barcelona Connection that came out in La Revista, a publication of the British-Spanish Society.
Here’s a link to a review of the book published by the Spain in English online newspaper.
Here’s the link to an article I was asked to write for The Art Newspaper about my research on Salvador Dalí.
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