I have read and loved Federico Garcia Lorca for as long as I can remember - from the time I memorised a short poem for a primary school recital, to my final year in college when my inspiring Spanish teacher allowed me to dive deep into the moonlit waters of his world. Since then I have also directed a few of his plays, painted works inspired by his poems, and played his songs on guitar and piano.
In 1998 I travelled around Spain with the sole purpose of visiting the sites of Lorca’s life, and to experience the wonderful celebrations for the centenary of his birth. From the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid where Lorca spent time as a law student, to the beaches and coves of Cadaques where he fell in love with Salvador Dali, from the ruins of Burgos where he discovered the true meaning of Romanticism, to the southern badlands of the Alpujarras, where he encountered the Andalusian duende, the whole of Spain speaks of Lorca. But Lorca is truly inextricable from Granada, a city one experiences and remembers with all five senses. And so our days here were filled with music, words, places, perfumes, tastes and textures that reminded me of his many creations.
During our visit this time I came upon various writings and conversations about the thorny issue of the search for Lorca’s grave - encouraged by historians, intellectuals, artists aligned with the left, but opposed by Fascist apologists and the right, and also, oddly, by his own family and heirs, who appear to be unconcerned with discovering what exactly happened to him, and where his bones might lie. The mystery surrounding the whereabouts of his remains has spawned conspiracy theories, political rows and local outrage, all well documented in this New Yorker article and on El Pais by Ian Gibson, probably the most knowledgeable and authoritative Lorca biographer in the world.
A couple of days ago we drove out to the hills of Alfacar. There, on 18th August 1936 at dawn, Garcia Lorca was shot in the head from behind by an execution squad made up of professional Falangistas, amateur assassins, and teenage gravediggers.
We arrived there at twilight, and found the place arresting in that harsh, Spanish way. It’s a place out of a Lorca poem: there are olive trees, pines, rocks, and a lot of water; it’s just a few hundred meters away from Fuente Grande, the natural spring of water that runs down the ancient conduits to the Alhambra. It’s a terribly beautiful place to die.
We were told that many people in Spain still find it difficult and inappropriate to talk about Lorca’s death, whether because of his politics, or his sexuality or his envied international success. This is part of a larger political discussion about the memory of the Spanish Civil War: some people think Spain should leave the past behind and forget it all, some people think the only way to live in the present is to take a serious look at the past.
Our visit to Alfacar confirmed a great institutional resistance against such matters, or at least a rather ambiguous attitude towards historical memory. There is little in the way of memorials in a site where about 4000 people are believed to have been shot and buried in mass graves in the Barranco de Viznar, right next to the presumed spot where Garcia Lorca was one of the first people to suffer that fate. What little there is is fairly vague: “In memory of the victims of the Spanish Civil War” says one plaque, and “it is thought that the poet F. Garcia Lorca spent his final moments in a site near here” recites another - a chillingly soft way to tell the story of an execution. The memorial park, named after the poet, is artificial and pretentious - from what I know and imagine about him I’m sure he wouldn’t like it. All that is placed there in his memory is a few select quotes from what must have been a sanitised school edition of his Greatest Hits.
Today is the 75th anniversary of Federico Garcia Lorca’s death. As someone who loves his work it does matter to me where his bones are, and I think everything possible should be done to retrieve them, so that a man may be finally put to rest, and that his memory and the larger history surrounding his death may be dignified. In Alfacar the landscape screams lines form his poems, the wind sings his words, the earth cries out to be liberated. I felt an infinite sadness and pain, but also his presence, everywhere.