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Spain and Portugal: Poetry



     Two deaths have occurred in succession. In Portugal, the fado singer Amalia Rodrigues died, aged 79, marking the end of the fashion for that sad poetry and song form. Fado means fate, and the sadness comes from the Islamic idea of fate and the endless sea on which Portugal gazes. She said: "I am a pessimist, a nihilist:" She was immensely popular, but she was really a sad, mixed-up woman of the people. She was favored by the Catholic dictatorship of António Salazar. When the dictatorship fell, she was charged of collaborating with it. She replied that she never thought about politics, and made amends by celebrating the end of the dictatorship with a popular song,"Grandola, Vila Morena."
     Incomprehensible to northerners was the national grief which interrupted politics. The government proclaimed three days of mourning, and the president was the chief mourner at the state funeral. It seemed like a return to the nineteenth century, when Victor Hugo was given similar honors.
     Shortly afterwards, the poet Rafael Alberti died across the Spanish border in Puerto de Santa María. He was akin to Amalia Rodrigues. Like her, he loved the sound of his voice, a common Iberian problem (cf. Fidel Castro) for which the beauty of the Spanish language is partly to blame. Alberti wrote dismal poems as he stared out at the sea. He was the last of the Generation of 27. He went to Madrid and joined the group of which fellow Andalusian García Lorca was a leading member. Whereas García Lorca was just muddle-headed, Alberti was a dedicated Communist. After the fall of the republic, he went into exile, first to Argentina, then to Rome. He was a hero in Castro´s Cuba, where his daughter still lives.
     The homage paid to him was similar to that given Amalia Rodrigues: official mourning, with messages of sympathy from King Juan Carlos and other leaders. In my experience, that whole García Lorca gang was a baneful influence on the struggling republic. Now in Spain it is almost taboo to bring up the Civil War publicly. In the Hispanic world poets have worn a halo. Once, I was swimming in the Caribbean with Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt, and I was using the opportunity to gain some understanding of his ideas. Some third-rate poet entered the water, and Betancourt exclaimed "¡Llegó el poeta!" (the poet has arrived) and he swam off to bathe in his radiance.
     The Venezuela regime of Hugo Chaves is a reaction to the confusion of the previous democractic system. Where that poet is now I do not know. He certainly will not get a state funeral. Times have changed. Hugo (Chaves) was given that name when the French poet was as admired as Napoleon in Latin America. Those two once popular first names, Hugo and Napoleon, seem to have disappeared there. This is a more prosaic, less vainglorious age.

Ronald Hilton - 10/28/99


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