A “lost” classic?

(Canscene)– The island of Ibiza is today one of Spain’s most popular resort areas, but googling its hisory reveals nothing of the bitter civil war which engulfed it and particularly the town of Santa Eulalia in 1936. The record remains, however in The Life and Death of a Spanish Town by Elliot Paul published during the height of the Civil War.

Elliot Paul who chronicled the life and death of Santa Eulalia in 1936-37

45-year-old Paul, an accomplished American writer of poetry. novels and nonfiction had chosen to settle in Santa Eulalia in 1931 after a nervous breakdown. The opening pages of his book are vivid recreations of the sights and sounds of the town at early morning, on July 14,1936: the local bus starting up, the barking of dogs, the squeal of animals being slaughtered for food and the early morning drinkers of whom there are quite a few in Santa Eulalia.

Paul writes, ”I was proud of Eulalia and of the Spanish Republic and of so many good men and lovely girls for whom vistas were opening. I liked young girls’ dresses made from faded cloth made from a mother’s hand-carved dowry chest. I respected goats and sheep who foraged on stony ground so worthily. I liked grey stones in fact. There were certain grey trees very bare in certain seasons and whose bare colours vibrated with the rocks on certain hill sides and produced a silver mystery.”

He introduces lovable, unforgettable characters like Sindik the carpenter; Guillermo the enormous blacksmith whose finely-wrought work was executed with loving care in spite of his apparently endless capacity for absinthe; Cosmi, the eternally optimistic hotelier and many othes including amateur musicians with whom Paul would join in impromptu concerts that lasted into the small hours. Their womenfolk are the mainstay of their families and stand as icons of courage.

On this particular morning, July 14, rumours reach the island that General Francisco Franco has begun a fascist rebellion against the leftist government. The citizens of Santa Eulalia like their neighbours live in a state of suspense. But as th days pass, it becomes clear that Franco’s troops have not swept the country. Resistance is strong in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. Government warships sail into Ibizan waters and temporarily all goes well for the republicans, but eventually the warships sail off to meet faraway challenges and the island is left to the mercy of fascist air bombardments.

Paul recounts his and his family’s eventual escape from the island, with Cosmi and some others, but many of his former friends are left to the mercy of Franco’s invading army. In a postcript dated July 14, 1937 he laments:

“My continuous and repeated efforts to obtain direct news of my republican comrades and friends in Santa Eulalia, the ones who could not get away have so far been without result. Those who have died I am sure died bravely. The others are fighting or dissembling in order to risk their lives for liberty when the opportunity presents itself.

“It was a privilege to be associated with such courageous and high-minded men and women, and their enemies will do well to be afraid of them as long as they are above ground.”

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