Category Archives: Spain

Idle Hands: Leftist Failures and Anti-Catholicism in Spain

In the overnight hours of March 22nd-23rd, a group of radical feminists set fire to the historic 18th century church of Saint Vincent in Sarrià, a place which I know well and have written about on my other blog, Catholic Barcelona. The formerly independent village of Sarrià is a pretty, well-to-do neighborhood in the north end of Barcelona, somewhat reminiscent of Georgetown here in DC. Why those responsible chose this particular parish we do not know, though its pastor, Father Manel Valls, is well-known both in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia for being the celebrant of the televised Sunday Mass on TV2, one of the main Catalan television stations.

The anonymous group which claimed responsibility for this act intended to do not only as much damage as possible to the church building, but also to wound the hearts and minds of Catholics everywhere, not just local parishioners. Mocking the part of the mass known as the Presentation of the Gifts, during which lay members of the congregation process with bread and wine to the altar and then present these gifts to the priest to be used for the Consecration of Jesus’ Body and Blood, the unnamed group sneered on their website that “by this action, we present our unique offering to the Church and its values: 3 liters of gasoline, which burned to illuminate the darkness of the night.” Fortunately for the parish, the group only succeeded in burning part of the main portal and door of the church, as shown below: next time, the parish may not be so lucky.

Direct attacks by leftists on Catholic houses of worship have been increasing across Spain in recent weeks. From a student chapel at Madrid’s most important university, to parish churches in Segovia, Tenerife, and elsewhere, anti-Catholic violence has been undergoing a real resurgence. However this particular action in Barcelona is a significant stepping up of the level of violence seen so far. Until this recent attempt at church burning, the current rash of break-ins and protests have involved offensive graffiti and signs, or demonstrations which devolved into laughable acts of hysteria and crowd frenzy. They could be dismissed as disgusting, but to some extent predictable, elements of life in a free society.

Yet the more disturbing aspect of this has been the appearance of signage and chanting, calling not only for the deliberate burning of the churches, but also the killing of the members of the clergy and religious orders, actions last undertaken during the rule of the Left before and during the Spanish Civil War. My fear is, it can only be a matter of time before the targets of assault and even destruction cease to be structures, and start to be people. It would not be the first time in Spanish history that such evils took place.

Despite pleas from Church officials and the laity that these matters be taken seriously before they are allowed to go too far, these classic, tell-tale signs of trouble seem to be taking many by surprise. It was thought in many quarters, from the media and academia to politicians and bureaucrats, both within Spain and internationally, that in this day and age there was no real physical threat either to the property of the Church or to either its leaders/adherents. Not only is this an utterly ignorant position, for anyone who knows a little about the history of Spain and its tendency to repeat itself, but it also betrays a subconscious attitude on the part of many that by not “keeping up with the times” with respect to its social teachings on abortion, contraception, or on the ordination of women, the Catholic Church in some way deserves what it gets.

The reason for this increasing radicalization is said by many to be unclear, but I attribute it to three, key points. First and foremost, we must take into account the precarious state of the Spanish economy, which has been circling the drain for some time, with market watchers worrying over the state of the country’s savings banks, increasing interest rates, and slashed growth forecasts. Overall unemployment currently stands at 20% of the population, but youth unemployment for those in the 18-35 age bracket is stuck at a shocking 40%. If idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, there is nothing like a young, unemployed Spanish leftist to do his handiwork.

Secondly, blame must be laid at the doorstep of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who recently announced that he will not be seeking a third term as President of the Spanish Government. Not only have “the Shoemaker’s” policies since 2004 led his country to the point of economic collapse, but his thinly-veiled loathing of both conservatives and the Catholic Church have been expressed through the radical social policies he has pushed through parliament, to rapturous adulation from those on the left. All the while, he has been giving the Spanish people circuses rather than bread; now they have realized that they are hungry, and by standing down for the next general election he has clearly indicated that he does not want to be thrown to them for food.

And finally we must consider what I believe to be the third cause for the increase in anti-Catholicism in Spain which, ironically enough, is the success of the faithful within Spain to stand up for themselves with the visible support of their Pontiff. The Papal Visits to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona last year drew enormous crowds – not of the elderly, though of course they were there also, but more significantly of the young. Watching streaming media coverage of the consecration of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the clearly audible and visible shock of the jaded newscasters at the presence of enormous numbers of youth overjoyed to see this elderly German priest made me smile rather broadly. And of course this summer, the celebration of the Holy Father of World Youth Day in Madrid – which will, in fact, go on for much longer than a day – is going to throw the supposedly sophisticated Spanish leftist for an even bigger loop.

The idle hands which I mentioned earlier have to up the ante if they are going to prevent the Church in Spain from having any kind of a future, and this is why those hands are putting down their placards and picking up cans of gasoline. For the left cannot claim that these young people – who have no memory at all of General Franco and the repressive aspects of his regime – are being forced to practice Catholicism or to admire the pope. The under 40′s in Spain have grown into their teens and adulthood knowing that virtually every libertine path is open to them, and yet a surprisingly large number have chosen to reject social engineering, radical feminism, and bioethics standards taken from the collected works of Josef Mengele, and instead freely and willingly choose to follow the path of Christ. The fact that a Spaniard born into modern, democratic Spain would exercise their free will to be a Catholic sends your average Spanish leftist into a screeching hissy fit.

The latest chapter in the history of anti-Catholicism in Spain is being written before our eyes; we are living under the curse of that Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” How much more violent that anti-Catholicism becomes – and I fear it will inevitably become even more violent – will depend on the willingness of those in authority to protect not only the property of the Church, but also the safety of those who work for and worship within it. Those of us who care can do our part by not only following the news about what is going on in Spain, but also by blogging, tweeting, e-mailing, and talking about it with those in our circle. And in the meantime, let us hope and pray that these attacks will stop soon, before something far more grave occurs.

The entrance portal to the church of St. Vincent in Barcelona,
after being attacked by leftists last month.

Leave a comment

Filed under anti-Catholicism, Barcelona, Catalonia, Catholic, Church, Spain

Goya and the Spanish Love of Hate

Today is the birthday of the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), and it gives me the opportunity to draw the attention of my readers to a rather nightmarish but deeply affecting work from his brush. Two men wielding cudgels are rushing at each other in a landscape, about to beat each other’s brains in. Are they fighting over a woman? Was there some insult, or act of theft? No one knows. And yet it is quite possibly the best representation, in a single image, of the history of Spain presently in existence.

Though older by a generation, in both sympathy and in a wider European context Goya can be viewed as a kindred spirit to Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Both men lived through incredibly tumultuous times, from the downfall of the Ancien Régime to the Napoleonic Wars and the unsettled politics which followed. Both were passionate, tortured geniuses whose work, as they aged and as their respective maladies overtook them – including shared deafness – distanced them more and more from the frothy, light-hearted places from which each of them began.

Goya should not properly be considered an Old Master painter, though I have seen him erroneously included in such lists on numerous occasions. As I have written about previously, the designation “Old Master” is, admittedly, to some extent dependent on an arbitrary cut-off date of 1800. Artists like Goya and J.M. W. Turner, whose work straddled the turn of the 19th century, are often segregated by more sensitive minds into a category known as the “Romantic” painters. This leaves us with a critical problem however, since much of the Rococo art which Goya himself produced early in his career, such as in his cartoons for the Royal Tapestries in Madrid, is an echo of the work of artists a generation older than he who are definitely Old Masters, such as Tiepolo.

But it is not on this lighter work that today’s spotlight falls, but rather a picture from Goya’s so-called “Black Paintings”. Painted between 1819 and 1823, these works are the ravings, in paint, of a very troubled mind. By this time Goya had already been exploring the violent and the macabre for some years, though his earlier efforts pale in comparison to these later nightmares.

In 1793 Goya went deaf following a lengthy, serious illness, and the painter whose wit and connections had made him a popular society figure – in part due to his alleged affair with the Duchess of Alba – started to turn in on himself and away from the world. He began to produce strange little paintings aside from his commissioned work, and published etchings of nightmarish scenes criticizing the follies of contemporary society, in a series known as the “Caprices”. These were followed by the “Disasters of War”, in which Goya chronicled the death and destruction wrought by Napoleon and the Peninsular Campaigns in both paint and engraving.

Yet by comparison the subsequent “Black Paintings” overwhelm these earlier works, not only because they are, nearly a century before the tortured explorations of the psyche by Symbolist and Expressionist painters such as Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele, astoundingly innovative, but also because they were private. Goya’s “Caprices” and “Disasters of War” were created for public consumption; the “Black Paintings” were not. The 14 images, some of them quite enormous, were painted directly onto the plaster walls of his house in Madrid. They were never exhibited to the public during his time there, and Goya fled to France in 1823, leaving them unfinished.

Of course there was no intent to “finish” them, per se, because they were not meant to be shown. They are, in paint, the thoughts of a man who has done and suffered much, and is haunted by what he as seen. In its way Goya’s bizarre home decorating project reminds me of a similar project by one of my Catalan ancestors, the last direct male heir in his line, who spent his declining years in the 16th century carving his name followed by the words, “a sinner”, into the walls of the now-ruined castle in which his family had lived since the days of Charlemagne.

Although today each of the “Black Paintings” has a name, so far as we know Goya himself never titled these works. The sobriquets that have subsequently been assigned to them over the course of time by art historians or the Prado Museum, where they are now housed, try to give them descriptions so that we can understand them better. Yet if Goya had been working in the 20th century or today, like many modern and contemporary artists I suspect he would not have found it necessary to actually give names to his work: the choice of “Untitled” by an artist, whether directly or through a refusal to name his piece, is a deliberately enigmatic act.

The fresco of two men about to brain each other – variously titled “A Fight to the Death with Clubs”, “Duel with Cudgels”, etc., – is one of these legendary “Black Paintings”. There is a universal aspect to it in Goya’s recognition of man’s tendency, since the time of Cain and Abel, toward violence against our brother, despite our intellect and ability to reason. From all he had seen and experienced, Goya recognized that the line between civilization and savagery is a very fine line indeed. Greed, lust, anger, and all of the other deadly sins which have accompanied us since Adam and Eve decided to play Johnny Appleseed can cause us to do unspeakable things to one another. Yet on a more personal level, this work is affecting for anyone who knows the history of Spain.

Spain can be categorized in part as an historic construct based on geographic limitations. There has existed a politically united Spain for only just over 500 years, with some interruptions, and during those centuries the peoples who inhabit the Iberian Peninsula, from Basques and Catalans to Galicians and Castilians, have been fairly constant in going about fighting with each other. On top of this, there is a never-ending battle between rich and poor, Catholic and anti-clerical, intellectual and philistine, that has led to a recognition of blood and violence as a permanent aspect of the culture. It is folly for contemporary Spain, as more and more people seek to ban bullfighting, to think that the bloodlust so much a part of the country’s character has disappeared merely because everyone now has televisions and microwave ovens.

For this reason Goya’s painting is a far more powerful mirror of the horror that is often the experience of Spain than is Picasso’s more famous “Guernica”, which seems to be the de rigeur image chosen for the dust jacket of any contemporary work on Spanish history published over the last 30 years or so. Picasso condemns the horrors of violence, yes, but his condemnation is one-sided: it is the forces of General Franco who are doing the killing, and the Leftists who are doing the dying. It is a painting which is completely unbalanced in its representation not only of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, but also in its understanding of the Spanish psyche.

What Picasso’s masterpiece fails to show, and where Goya’s is immeasurably more successful, is a reality which Spain does not like to admit but which is inherent to understanding Spain as a whole: Spaniards hate one another, equally, regardless of what side they happen to be on in an argument. They are not a gentle, loving people with one another nor, as a result, are they particularly good at organizing themselves into a nation. Insult and put-down is a skill practiced and honed from a Spanish child’s earliest days, and the class structure, while not as grossly apparent as in Britain, still informs how people treat one another in ways which in the U.S. would seem almost unimaginable. The history of Spain since 1492 is not one of a peaceful, prosperous people united by a common language and culture, but one of unabashed and often violent tribalism which has never really gone away, but merely taken on different forms.

It is in this deceptively simple yet deeply profound painting that we get a glimpse of the true character of Spain, whatever Spain actually is outside of demarcations on a map. Beyond the vibrant spectacle of flamenco dancing, glorious octopus-predicted soccer victories, and PBS’ José Andrés happily pretending that he knows how to cook, there is a very dark nature to the Spanish character which Goya understood and appreciated better than any other Spanish painter before or since. In this single image he encapsulates everything that you need to know about Spain, and he does so unflinchingly, which in itself is a supremely Spanish thing to do.

“A Fight to the Death with Clubs” by Francisco de Goya (c. 1820-1823)
Prado Museum, Madrid

Leave a comment

Filed under art, art history, Goya, Madrid, Old Masters, painting, Picasso, Prado, Spain

>Anti-Catholic Theatre in Catalonia: The Play’s Not the Thing

>A new play is premiering tomorrow night at the National Theatre of Catalonia, in my beloved city of Barcelona, entitled “Gang Bang – Open Until the Hour of the Angelus”. As if the title was not enough of an obvious clue, based on [WARNING: graphic material] the press reports I have seen, the plot is a predictably amateurish and puerile mixture of anti-Catholicism and human degradation, fed through a meat grinder. The director-playwright and the actors claim that it is not an attack on the Church, but rather exploring loneliness and spirituality through unconventional expression. They also joke that there is smoking in the play, which is what the audience should find truly controversial given Spain’s new smoking ban.

Because the production is being funded in part by taxpayer money, it was inevitable that complaints would ensue. The National Theatre of Catalonia is a prominent theatre indeed in both influence and actual size; this is not some off-off-Broadway venue. There are already calls by Christian groups for an investigation, and promises of lodging official complaints and the taking of other measures against the government in Catalonia. As often happens of course, the controversy has led to record advance ticket sales.

Much as this sort of thing disturbs us to some degree, it is also an occasion to reflect on what it means to be a gentleman (or lady) in the present age, not only in framing our response but more importantly in examining ourselves. Regular readers know that Castiglione, the inspiration for this blog, has much to say on how a courtier ought to develop himself. What does he have to say about those who shock for the sake of provocation and notoriety?

In his seminal “The Book of the Courtier” (of which title the title of this blog is a pun), Castiglione explains why it is that those of marginal abilities who are seeking wealth, power, fame, or all three, often resort to shock value to make a name for themselves. During a part of the discussion in the book as to how to behave in public, the character of Archbishop Federico Fregoso describes how people who want to become popular are often so lacking in personal humility as to make fools of themselves. “People like this very often embark on certain things without knowing how to finish,” he says, “and they then try to extricate themselves by raising a laugh. But they do this so awkwardly that it does not succeed, and instead their efforts fall flat and they inspire the greatest distaste in whoever sees or hears them.”

Fregoso goes on to criticize the equally common tendency of the under-talented to try to shock others for the sake of shocking. “On other occasions, convinced they are being terribly witty and amusing, they use filthy and indecent language in the presence of ladies, and often to their face,” he states. “And the more they make the ladies blush, the more they are convinced that they are being good courtiers; they never stop laughing and they pride themselves on the fine talents they believe they possess.”

“But the only reason they behave in such a beastly fashion,” continues Fregoso, “is because they think it makes them the life and soul of the party. This is what they think truly laudable and what they pride themselves on most. And so to acquire this reputation they indulge in the most shameful and shocking discourtesies in the world.”

One feels that Castiglione could just as easily apply such descriptions to Josep Maria Miró Coromina, the writer and director of “Gang Bang”. Mr. Miró hails, appropriately enough, from the provincial sausage-making capital of Vic, where he was born in 1977. Through Catalonia’s generous education system he has managed to earn a doctorate in literature and work his way up to the prominent position of becoming a writer in residence at the National Theatre. He has feigned surprise in press interviews at the controversy surrounding his piece, telling people that if they are worried they will be offended they ought not to come and see the play, and that such complaints are completely foreign to his experience due to his age – an oblique reference to his having been born after the death of Spain’s long-reigning dictator General Francisco Franco, under whose fist censorship held sway.

Of course, Mr. Miró’s is a very old canard indeed: so old its feathers and the bits of beak and sinew have been fed into his sausage-making machine. It is typically waved about by shock-makers as a justification for their actions, since no one likes the idea of censoring the free exchange of ideas. In this case, it is their way of seemingly offering what most people want, i.e. a sense of choice. I do not have to eat the nasty broccoli on my plate, and can instead turn my attention to the mashed potatoes and the sausage.

However the point of course is not that one is free not to see the play, any more than one wants to see how to go about getting the bits with which to make sausages. Rather, the issue here is that public money is being used. Since I do not pay taxes in Catalonia, my money is not supporting Mr. Miró’s sausage festival; I can question his artistic integrity from a financially neutral position. Those who do have to pay for it however, have every right to question why they are being forced to do so: that is no choice at all.

This type of controversy is nothing new, of course, for such controversies over funding happen in this country and in Europe on an almost weekly basis. We have seen such things in New York, in Vienna, and here in the Nation’s Capital in recent months, and fortunately there will always be good Catholics in a position to stand up and complain. Sometimes they will succeed in getting the work removed from the taxpayer’s bill, and sometimes not. At first glance, this play is just another example of more of the same.

However, in considering the context of this particular bit of offal, I believe the fact that Mr. Miró set his play on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s Papal Visit to Barcelona this past November is a more significant one than he lets on. The popular reception which the Pope received when he came to dedicate the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most iconic building let alone church, and raise it to the level of a basilica, took many of the commentariat in Catalonia by surprise. The fact that Barcelona, cradle of anarchists for the past century or more, and home to the most leftist of leftist intellectuals in the Iberian Peninsula would be inundated with people overjoyed to see the Pontiff, was no doubt itself a shock to those who thought that the Church was just about finished in Catalonia.

And what is likely even more worrisome to such people were the enormous numbers of young people, with no memory of either General Franco, the Civil War, or a time when they were forbidden to speak Catalan, excited to even catch a glimpse of this elderly German priest and to participate in the mass. Indeed, this past November was a likely preview of what is about to happen when the Pope arrives in Madrid this August for World Youth Day. If the Church as it exists in Catalonia today is no longer any real threat to Mr. Miró or those of his ilk, they would not bother to try to denigrate it. The fact that the flame may be burning low, but has demonstrably not gone out, means that the Church is not as weak as believed.

Ultimately, Mr. Miró’s efforts will fail of course. It is doubtful that any devout Catholics will go to see his play. He may succeed in further hardening the hearts of those who loathe the Church as he obviously does, and he may even convince a few unfortunate theatre-goers to go over the edge and join him. Yet one reason why Castiglione makes the point he does about those who seek to put on an uncouth show, is that no matter how much fame, attention, or popularity such individuals may gain, they know in their heart of hearts – even if they do not choose to admit it – that the more they wallow in filth, the more they disappoint those whose approval they desperately want. And in the case of Mr. Miró and others like him who attack the Church, that person is Christ.

National Theatre of Catalonia, Barcelona

Leave a comment

Filed under anti-Catholicism, Barcelona, Castiglione, Catalonia, Church, Franco, Spain, theatre

>The Church in Spain: Lessons Unlearned

>I was deeply disturbed, though somehow not surprised, this morning to read about a mass celebrated yesterday in the town of Poio, in NE Spain, near the city of Pontevedra. It provides a very vivid example of why the Church has found itself in such a very dangerous and diminished state in formerly ultra Catholic Spain. You will find, gentle reader, no greater outspoken opponent of secularism, communism, and anti-clericalism than I – as you well-know if you read this blog on a regular basis – but you will also find that I get rather upset when members of the Church engage in behavior that is not going to accomplish anything constructive.

The conservative Partido Popular, or “People’s Party”, is a political descendant of the one-party rule of General Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain from 1938 until his death in 1975; it has distanced itself from its origins, but there remain certain elements within the party who exemplify the sort of odd Spanish version of ultramontanism that characterized at least the earlier decades of Franco’s rule. The party organized a mass in one of the chapels of the Mercedarian Monastery of Saint John in Poio, ahead of campaigning in local elections which are to take place on May 22nd. This in and of itself is not the problem; lawmakers and their supporters who practice a particular faith or who wish to gather together to pray ought to be encouraged to do so, rather than otherwise. Here on our side of the pond for example, we have masses and prayer services before the March for Life, in which Pro-Life politicians and their supporters can gather and ask for God’s Grace in attacking this issue.

The problem in this particular case however, is that the sanctuary of the chapel was decorated with campaign posters promoting the Partido Popular, on both sides of the altar and on front of the pulpit. Whoever greenlighted this absolutely idiotic idea at the Monastery ought to have his head examined, and then be sent to Rome to explain his actions to the Holy Father. It would be hard to believe that even the Jesuits at (Un)Holy Trinity in Georgetown would go so far as to festoon the sanctuary of their church with Obama “O’s”.

Throughout Spanish history the Church has played a critically important role in the development of the nation. During the Roman period the spread of Christianity through the efforts of St. James and the early martyrs brought Hispania into a closer contact with the Universal Church. In the Middle Ages the monastic orders created an explosion of culture and learning, while the bishops and preachers provided the ideological zeal to fight the Muslim invaders to take Spain back from Islamic rule. During the Renaissance and the Counter-Reformation, Spanish missionaries went all over the world, spreading the Church across the planet with a speed which other countries could only partially emulate.

In effect, the Church in Spain became so accustomed to being at the center of things, including having the ear of the sovereign whenever it wanted, that it came to presume that this was its inalienable right. So when the Civil War arrived and the Church was thrown down, only to be restored to favor by General Franco, it gave in to the temptation to become the lapdog of the state, a position which unfortunately it had held at many points in the past. When as was inevitable Franco himself went, and Spain transitioned into a rather Leftist-oriented democracy, the Church once again entered a wilderness period, in which to some extent it still wanders today.

During a very long and fruitful discussion yesterday with several Catholic gentlemen of my acquaintance, one of the issues which continued to re-emerge over the course of our conversation was a concern that there were many well-meaning Catholics who have been establishing a kind of bunker or fortress mentality, rather than engaging the culture of the world we happen to have been born into. At the same time that morally they are upright and devout, prayerful people, their level of education about the world around them has become woefully inadequate, to the detriment of the Church as a whole. As one of the company remarked, “Orthodoxy alone is not enough.”

Spain unfortunately is just such an example of where orthodoxy has been thought to be enough, or indeed all that is required, and the Church lost its way by worrying too much about rules and regulations and not enough worrying about hearts and (even more importantly) minds. This is not an either-or task: otherwise we have the equally ridiculous result of Catholics who effectively make themselves their own popes through active dissent from Church teaching, which is the ultimate end of such thinking. In Spain, by allying herself to the preceding regime too closely, the Church reaped the benefits of political favor but failed to create a generation which actually understood the Faith. The Churches were full, but the minds in the pews were mostly empty. When that political power fell, as inevitably happened, the Church was so intertwined with the regime and had done such an effective job at raising sheep rather than men, that it proved unable to recover when those sheep went out among the wolves of contemporary society.

Thus it appears that despite the many lessons to be learned from their history, there are people in politics and in the Church in Spain who still have not learnt their lesson. Of course part of this has to do with the national character, and the Spanish are known for being a very stubborn people indeed, as everyone from Trajan to the Hapsburgs to Napoleon to Ernest Hemingway has remarked. And you will find few individuals more stubborn that a practicing Catholic Spanish conservative – except possibly an anticlerical Spanish liberal.

While that fortitude can be an admirable quality in many respects, the demonstrable inability to separate the Church, not just from the State, but from actual party politics, is doing a great disservice to both the Church and the Spanish people. There are many reasons, historical and otherwise, why the Church does not feel comfortable with the left-wing parties in Spain, whose membership often holds people who are radically opposed to the Church, and whose predecessors were responsible for the desecration of hundreds of churches and the murder of thousands of priests and religious in the 1930′s. Yet there appears to be on the part of some in Spain, helped directly or indirectly by members of the clergy, a desire to try to reclaim what was lost in terms of the old Church-State relationship with respect to temporal power; yesterday’s mass is a clear example of this.

Having World Youth Day in Madrid this summer is a wonderful thing, as was Pope Benedict’s visit to Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela last year. Yet having the Pope come and visit should not be occasioned as a sort of administration of the Last Rites to a devout old lady. The Church in Spain needs to understand that it cannot continue to make blatant alliances with political parties, or it runs the risk of losing the remaining foothold that it has in Spanish society, and falling into further socio-political disfavor for yet another generation of Spaniards.

I hope that when His Holiness sits down to talk with the Spanish Episcopal Conference this summer, that he encourages them to wake up on this point and reign in this sort of regrettable display.

The Cathedral of Toledo, Seat of the Primate of Spain

Leave a comment

Filed under Catholic, Church, politics, Spain

>The Great Lady of Song

>”A huge kiss for our Frank Sinatra!”

So said award-winning Spanish director Fernando Trueba last evening, during what can only be described as an avalanche of love and affectionate tributes for Maria Dolores Pradera, often called “La Gran Dama de la Canción” (“The Great Lady of Song”) because she is without question Spain’s greatest vocal interpreter of traditional Spanish and Latin American music. The comparison with Sinatra, in terms of her significance and influence in the Spanish-speaking world, is very apt, (though she is of course infinitely more attractive than he ever was.) Still performing today and as elegant as ever at the tender age of 86, “La Pradera”, as she is popularly known, began her career as a film and stage actress, but eventually moved into music, and was honored yesterday by the prestigious Instituto Cervantes in Madrid, the largest organization in the world dedicated to the study and promotion of Spanish language and culture.

The event, entitled “Maria Dolores Pradera: The Voice of the Two Shores”, recognized her contributions to the popularization and preservation of traditional songs from both sides of the Atlantic, from Mexican rancheras and Argentine tangos, to Peruvian waltzes and Catalan habaneras. Maria Dolores was honored with tributes from some of Spain’s most prominent actors, singers, journalists, government ministers, directors, and writers. Many attending the event would stand and burst into applause any time something particularly lovely was said about La Pradera, or when she herself would make a gesture or comment that garnered their approval.

Maria Dolores has always had a bit of sly humor, and as she arrived on stage she was directed to a white sofa where she was to sit and receive the bowings and scrapings of her suitors. “It makes me very happy to be here,” she said. “As I have always said, I prefer being loved to being successful, and I believe this desire has been fulfilled. I can only give thanks to life for having such marvelous people at my side. And now, if you do not mind, I am going to sit in order to listen to your flirtations.”

And the flirtations, praise, and thank-yous continued at length, with La Pradera receiving the words with graciousness and aplomb, though at one point she noted that she was trying very hard to keep from crying because “I put my make-up and mascara on for tonight.” The evening ended with an impromptu acapella mini-concert performed by Maria Dolores. She was initially joined on stage by some of the hugely popular Spanish singers who had earlier paid tribute to her, including Ana Belén, Miguel Bosé and Victor Manuel, and this choir was joined by other singers from the audience who spontaneously came up and joined them on stage.

I grew up listening to Maria Dolores’ albums, and have had the great privilege of hearing her in concert and meeting her privately – most recently over Christmas 2009, which I have written about previously. She is as lovely and gracious off-stage as on, and it is impossible not to fall in love with her. If an artist can be said to flirt with an entire audience, La Pradera is a great flirt, but she is, more than this, a great artist. She has an impeccable quality of diction and sense of timing in her singing that shows how Spanish, when properly sung or spoken, can sound far more beautiful than any other language, including French.

The first time I saw her perform, toward the end of the program the power went out. There were construction workers outside doing repairs on the sidewalk, and they had hit something which plunged the entire Palace of Music and a couple of surrounding blocks in Barcelona into darkness. We sat in the magnificent stained-glass hall for several minutes before the back-up generators kicked on.

But Maria Dolores herself was completely nonplussed by the loss of electric power. After the initial murmuring of the audience died down, she just kept on singing, in the dark, with no microphones or amplification, her voice filling the 2,000-plus seat auditorium as completely as if nothing had happened. Eventually the lights came on again, and she received a standing ovation with thunderous applause. It was a magical experience I will never forget.

Because of the world we live in today, with its cheap and ugly Lady Gagas and trick-turning auto-tune Miley Cyruses, it is a sad reality that when La Pradera leaves us, there will be no one to replace her. She is a last survivor of an age when style and substance were not strangers. Therefore, gentle reader, if you ever have the chance to attend one of her increasingly rare concerts, I urge you: do not miss the opportunity.

Maria Dolores Pradera last evening,
singing from her couch at the Instituto Cervantes

Leave a comment

Filed under Maria Dolores Pradera, music, Spain