A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

“Here”, he said unceremoniously (a boy she once knew).

He handed her a cape. A serious cape. Made of thick black wool that would shed the rain that fell in New York in the autumn and drive off the chill.  Where did he get it? It wasn’t new. But he gave it to her as a gift and she wore it all winter and into the spring. 

She wrapped it around herself and for one ot two years it was her uniform. That, and her jeans,

She did not hide her face with it. Not the way people had once done when, pulled across your eyes, a cape might cloak dark intentions. 

It was not a cape to be worn in anonymity. 

It was a cape to set one apart.  To suggest a radical stance. 

You could give a speech in that cape. Go to a demonstration in it. Organize against the war and argue for hours on end about the right way to mobilize support for a cause that was just.

And when your friends dispersed and the boy who gave it to you committed the ultimate betrayal, you could use that cape also to sustain lonely asseverations.

Libertades (y concienciación)

Ha sido un año duro. A lo largo del año no me he sentido libre para entrar al bar de siempre a desayunar (como era mi costumbre) ni de frecuentar un exquisito pero pequeño restaurante de menú. Me he resignado a comer siempre en casa, con todo lo que eso implica: el trajín y el tedio de ir al mercado, de guisar y de fregar los platos después. Malhumorada, he calculado que la mitad de mi tiempo libre se iba en esas actividades. Tampoco me he sentido libre para curiosear en las tiendas; cuando he entrado lo he hecho muy de prisa y adoptando modos masculinos: de ir a tiro fijo y a veces sin siquiera probarme lo que me llevaba (con el previsible resultado de haber gastado dinero en cosas inservibles.) Cada vez que veía que se producían en alguna tienda aglomeraciones, buscaba rápido la salida Y eso que iba siempre, huelga decirlo, con mascarilla.

Pecaba de excesivamente cauta, me dirán. No lo he hecho por exagerada, ni por un excesivo temor a la covid sino por responsabilidad, tan solo, por no querer contagiar a nadie de mi entorno, caso de ponerme mala.

He ido dos veces al cine. Una vez para ver una película sobre Unamuno y la otra, Las niñas. Y ahora me gustaría ir a ver Nomadland, pero, con el aforo que permiten a día de hoy, lo voy a pasar mal. Lo sé. Demasiada gente para sentirse a gusto. Y encima siempre hay entre el público algún insolidario que no para de comer o beber y por lo tanto se quita la mascarilla.

La pandemia nos ha exigido sacrificios –pequeños en la mayoría de los casos. Y una concienciación. Ojalá se concienciaran también algo los que se presentan a elecciones y más todavía quienes les voten.

Las costumbres que se pregonan como ejemplo del peculiar amor que supuestamente tienen los madrileños a la “libertad” han sido las de cualquier urbanita del siglo XX (sí, hablo del siglo XX : he vivido en Nueva York y en Amsterdam y pasado largas temporadas en París y en Berlín). No son los valores que van a salvar nuestras ciudades ni a la larga convertirlas en lugares más amenos: con menos ruido, aire más respirable, espacios verdes con una flora y fauna rica y variada –y con ciudadanos solidarios que cuiden de todo ello.

The things the everyday is made of

Sycamore Tree, Andrew Wyeth, 1941

Disconcertment: I say, don’t look up at the savagely pruned trees. They may grow or not. Look down, I say, you are walking. This pandemic is the mother of all repetition: using, wearing. Yet I like walking, it has its own rhythm, even a swing! Surfaces rub up against one another. One will wear out sooner than the other. Can I tread more lightly, be more economical with my boots?

Trees have sprouted leaves, though in a lopsided fashion.

Will this world be made all over again, with or without us? Or despite us?

Notes on liminality (Lorca in mind)

Arnold Van Gennep suggested that among the different rites of passages there was a subset which he termed liminal or threshold rites. In a rite of passage, he reasoned, there was first a separation from the community, followed by pre-liminal rites; then liminal or threshold rites which involved a phase of transition; postliminal rites; and, finally, reintegration into the same community at a different and higher status from the one prior to initiation.  Victor Turner later extended the concept to speak broadly of a liminal phase in between rites of separation and reincorporation. [1] Broadly speaking, in my work I have gone back to these concepts of a middle phase of ambiguity, once a limen (threshold) has been crossed, in order to focus more closely on the metaphorical rites of initiation we sometimes find in literature and art. The examples I draw upon center on Federico García Lorca and refer in particular to poetry (or drama) with a narrative component.

For me, even in the sphere of anthropology, the concept liminality implies narrative, the narration of a passage from one state or place to another, or at the very least a crossing of a threshold.  It can, of course, refer to the participants who stand in between one status (and time and place) and another, as Turner suggested, but Turner also made it clear that liminality was a temporary state to be overcome, inasmuch as a ´passenger’ in a rite of initiation would acquire a new identity by virtue of his or her reinsertion into the community.  If we were to look hard at the moment between the passenger´s old status and his or her new, prospective one, we might see that he or she exhibited traits that lay in between the two; and this, properly speaking, according to anthropologists, is liminality:  a provisional state, with an ambiguous identity or way of being on the part of participants, who exhibits the signs of what Van Gennep called a “wavering between worlds (18)”

It is with this model in mind that I have read one of Lorca’s most ambitious suites, In the Garden of Lunar Grapefruits (1923). [2]  Since it is probably not widely known, I will first trace the narrative thread that winds its way through the twenty poems or more that may have been intended for the suite. We may assume in this case that the narrator stands in autobiographically for the young poet himself.

By night a young man packs his bags, sets forth from his parents’ home, and seeks a crack in the looking glass through which to slip off on a search for the “love that I never had but which was mine”. He is bound for a secret garden shimmering high in the air, where presumably love is to be found. That walled garden is shrouded in silence and mystery.  Key poems suggest that it is a garden of life and death, where it is decided whether a soul will be incarnated and sent to earth. That is, provided two people on earth who are right for each other wish it to be so.  (Lorca seems to have been inspired by Maeterlinck’s ideas about love and romance and reproduction.) Suffice it so say that on this journey no successful encounter with a woman in the poet´s past (or future) takes place, so I have termed this the narration –in retrospect–of a failed rite of passage, in this case one of courtship and paternity. When at daybreak the night journey is over and the young man finds himself alone, stranded on the shores of the planet, he declares his soul to be like that of a child; it is both boy and girl, and he enjoins silence on himself.

Of course, we could elaborate on the differences this journey presents with respect to a true rite of passage. In Lorca’s suite no community has asked the young man to embark on such a journey. It is prompted by the individual´s own sense of crisis, by an insecurity or hesitancy about his completion of a social script that was written for him as part of his coming of age. So, strictly speaking this is a different kind of initiation, one that might or might not effect passage to “maturity” upon its completion, and it is presented as a dream or fantasy about destiny.  That means that there is no definitive “overcoming” of the limbo-like phase. Yet it was only as a consequence of reflecting on rites of passage and liminality that I was able to frame the journey properly as a testing of the protagonist.

At the heart of the story is the garden behind a wall; it lies somewhere in-between heaven and earth and life and death and it is like a busy crossroads for the generation of life. Souls traverse it and mill about:   it is a foreworld or a back of the world, where existences are restocked.  I put it this way because I believe there is a mythic idea behind this feature of the garden: I refer to the idea that the numbers of the living and the dead are held in balance (an ancient idea which we no longer entertain.)  If two lovers on earth are right for each other, a child will be born. Lovers will see a spark lighting in each one´s eyes. Lorca´s hero meets up with a woman from his past and discovers that they did not recognize one another in this way.

 It is only because I was stimulated to reflect on the similarities and difference(s) between true rites of passage and their literary imitation that I have been able to read Lorca’s suite in all its ambiguity and to interpret the symbolism of liminality.  At the end of the narrative, Lorca’s hero goes back whence he came, returning to the safety of the old, known world, and he has acquired no new, outwardly recognizable status. He has not been “reborn” in Turner’s sense. But he has changed nonetheless, because of the knowledge he has acquired, and we are now entitled to think, after his journey behind the looking-glass, that he has become someone else.  By considering the ways in which the story deviates from the record of a true rite of passage, we readers might well think that the narrator is “stuck” in liminality. From the perspective of the community, he has one foot in each of two worlds: the world of convention and the world of the ´lunar grapefruits´. In the latter a same-sex love would be thinkable and beautiful in its own right. But the narrator is diffident and signals his diffidence by mooting the idea, at the very end, that he is androgynous. Reading the closing lines by the code of his times, we see that this appeal to androgyny masks a dissident sexuality.

                Lorca’s suite was never published in his lifetime. But the issue of a failed courtship became the centerpiece of Once Five Years Pass (1935), a play which shares some of the concerns of his last suite. [3] The invisible weight of the earlier text suggests to me that there is still another sense in which we may speak of liminality in connection with literature. For psychologists the liminal is by definition what presses upon consciousness but does not quite manifest. Nor is it moveable.  It is both there and not there, determining and elusive, central and marginal, all at once.  If we think of it in reference to Lorca’s work we might conjecture that liminal experience acquires its greatest force in a literary perspective as that which is yet to be resolved, as that which is pending or imminent, always on the threshold of what is presented, and at the same time elided in representation. At a time of crisis Federico García Lorca moved most comfortably in a metaphysics that posited a liminal space with respect to the world, from before the world renews itself, or at its back.


AGUIRRE, Manuel; Roberta QUANCE; Philip SUTTON 2000.  Margins and Thresholds. An Enquiry into the Concept of Liminality in Text Studies. Madrid:TheGateway Press

QUANCE, Roberta 2008  “Lorca’s Liminal Poetics: ‘In the Garden of Lunar Grapefruits’”. In Liminal Poetics, or the Poetics of Dissent, ed. by Belén Piqueras.  Madrid: The Gateway Press. 97-115

—2015 “Proyecciones en ‘la pared del porvenir’: hacia Así que pasen cinco años de Federico García Lorca” in Teoría del duende”, ed. Enrique Juncosa. Granada: Centro Cultural García Lorca15), pp. 134-150. (Author´s translation: “Projections on the “Wall of the Future”: On Federico García Lorca’s Once Five Years Pass”, pp. 270-279)

— ed. and trans.  2018  Federico García Lorca. Selected Suites.  Liverpool UP

VAN GENNEP, Arnold  1909 (1960).  The Rites of Passage. Trans. M. L. Vizedom and G.L. Caffee. Chaicago: U of Chicago P

[1] Here and below I follow AGUIRRE et al 2000, pp. 7-8.

[2] For a translation see  Quance 2018 and for a reading see Quance 2008.

[3] See Roberta Ann Quance, “Proyecciones en ‘La pared del porvenir’: hacia Así que pasen cinco años de Federico García Lorca”,  in Teoría del duende”, ed. Enrique Juncosa (Granada: Centro Cultural García Lorca, 2015), pp. 134-150. (Author´s translation: “Projections on the “Wall of the Future”: On Federico García Lorca’s Once Five Years Pass”, pp. 270-279)

Broodthaers’s Housewife in the Pandemic


Why was I – why am I– so taken with this work by Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976), the Belgian surrealist? I saw this installation in a retrospective of his work at the Museo Reina Sofía back in 2016. A woman has hung up her coat behind the door after going out to shop for groceries. It looks like she has failed in her purpose. Perhaps she will go out again tomorrow and give it another try. That trim blue coat suggests order and circumspection: submission to convention, to uniform and propriety. But then there are those messy egg shells stuck to her shopping bag, making it –really–unsuitable for use. A contradictory object, a little like Meret Oppenheim’s famous fur-lined teacup. Is it a sign of her incompetence or her ineligibility for the role in which she has been cast? The shopper did not bring anything home from market that would serve to feed anybody. But the overwhelming feeling one gets is of frailty, of turning the inside out. Here is the breaking and spilling of life: raw biological fact imposed on a utilitarian fabric. All the mess and stickiness of nurture, in an absurd decoration, an exhibition of defeat. Or is it a kind of homage? The raw force of life is there in the guise of everyday shopping in the city ,as it once was, around 1960.

(All brought home to me somehow by a pandemic.)

Graffiti vanguardista en Zaragoza

Escena de café 1913

Zaragoza, 1916

Al día siguiente de la primera exposición en Zaragoza del pintor uruguayo, Rafael Barradas (1890-1929), los visitantes se manifestaron en los muros:



(Allí nació algo. Los muros se volvieron expresivos. )

Nobody’s Poor…

…in the books we write about artists and writers; nobody, as a rule, dwells on the subject’s means or on the way they make a living. In the early part of the twentieth century it seems it was often assumed that the artists had enough to live on through a small pension from an inheritance or that they had cajoled their family into supporting them. A certain bohemia allowed the artist to move in the same circles as the truly fortunate. Thus Guillermo de Torre, the son (like Salvador Dalí) of a notary public, rubbed elbows with Rafael Barradas (1890-1929), who died penniless.

He was Uruguayan, from a family of Spanish immigrants, and he was largely self-taught. He received some basic schooling but quickly set that aside in order to concentrate on his art. He was a gifted illustrator and in 1913, while still in Montevideo, started a journal of satire and humor called El Monigote [The little stick-man]. When he arrived in Barcelona in 1914 he was able to find work right away as an illustrator for a similar sort of journal, L’Esquella de la Torratxa. And so he managed for a while. But he was chronically broke and so when he thought he might fare better in Madrid, and took it into his head to get to the capital, by hook or by crook, where he imagined things were better, he set out on foot!

This is astonishing to anyone reading today, for whom even a walk across the center of town would be considered a feat.

That impossible trek landed him in the countryside of Aragón, where he took ill and was cured by a shepherdess: a story that might have been from Don Quijote.

How did he even get to Europe in the first place? Barradas must have had the rare gift of friendship. of giving and receiving what Hispanics call “confianza” (trusting confidentiality). A friend of his, who had been awarded a state scholarship to travel to Milan to study opera, split the award with him, and they made the passage over the Atlantic together, reversing the trend of immigration away from Europe. And thus Barradas, the vibrationist, creator of perhaps the first ismo, and one of the key illustrators of ultraísmo, who might otherwise never have come to Spain or brought his knowledge of cubism or futurism, was launched–thanks to a friend’s largesse.

(To be continued)

Lorca y la araña

Araña, Madrid, via Cadena Ser

Tuvo Lorca ideas muy contradictorias al respecto. (No es de extrañar: la ambivalencia hacia este animal siempre ha existido).

En su poesía más temprana se vale de la telaraña para evocar un paisaje de olvido, como otros poetas. En el poema “Sueño”, de 1919, la araña evoca la acción del tiempo que ayuda a restañar heridas. Hasta aquí nada nuevo.

Pero el poeta apela a la imagen también en contextos mucho menos convencionales.

En una carta a su amigo chileno Carlos Morla Lynch insiste en lo duraderos que son los hilos de la araña y se vale de ellos para comentar los lazos de la amistad:

“Entre persona y persona hay hilitos de araña que llegan a convertirse en alambres y más aún en barras de acero. Cuando nos separa la muerte nos queda una herida con sangre en el sitio de cada hilo”.

(Granada, segunda quincena de agosto de 1931 O.C: III, 1189)

En una obra de teatro inconclusa (Ilusión), de 1917:

[Al levantarse el telón, uno de los personajes, Mercedes, hace crochet sentada en una silla.]

“Luisa: A mí no me gusta hacer encaje. Recuerdo de niña las veces que me dejaba sin postre la pobre mamá por negarme a coger los bolillos, Se me imaginaba el encaje una enorme araña que venía a mí con cien patas abiertas. ¡Oh, nunca, nunca!” (O.C. IV: 1045)

Esto prefigura La casa de Bernarda Alba, donde las mujeres, encerradas, condenadas a llevar un luto de ocho años, se dedican a labores femeninas: coser, hacer encaje.

Pero no me propongo escribir un artículo sobre la imagen de X en su obra. Sólo quería señalar la ambivalencia de su mirada. Y sugerir que va íntimamente ligada a cómo se concibe la labor femenina tradicional (la elaboración de tejidos) –desde Ovidio a Emilia Pardo Bazán o Louise Bourgeois. Ese es el argumento, in nuce, de mi Obra de araña, que poco a poco va tomando forma.

How odd

Rafael Barradas 1927: —Esto es Sans. ¿Ve usted? Aquí todo evoca
revoluciones y sindicalismos (Juan Gutiérrez Gili)

How odd suddenly not to want to write anything personal. After a few years of thinking, on the other hand, that writing academic prose was pointless. Now, working under the conditions imposed by the pandemic, academic articles seem like an act of heroism. These are my thoughts as I sit in Madrid’s National Library, where I can only reserve books one day at a time for a maximum of three days (after which the book is quarantined for a week.) I wear a mask and I am encouraged to sanitize my hands. And after several months I am finishing an article on an aspect of Rafael Barradas’ s work and relationship to Federico García Lorca. I think I am finished, only to find that the topic grows more and more complex, more intricate. I wish I could follow up every new lead that crops up but that kind of spontaneity is not allowed. It needs forethought, planning. In the end I know I have limited space and I cannot say it all in 8000 words. I say, not without some justification, that the mystery of friendship is always too delicate to pin down through evidence. I must content myself with assembling the facts as they are and standing by my original intuition: I will argue poetically. By which I mean, I will continue to build a paper around an intuition that is the unfolding of a metaphor that caught my eye some time ago.

How is any of this “heroic”? Not because of the pandemic. But because the act of checking and rechecking sources and facts, of making sure that what you say is accurate and that you have thought about your conclusions and how you interpret the facts–all of that stands nowadays in stark contrast to the flurry of words we find everywhere that are opinion. Without justification or reasoned argument. Plato warned about doxa.

A (modest) academic text is a cure. And it, too, like a piece of more personal writing, can be heartfelt.

Rosario del Olmo no sale en la foto



Tenía que ganarse la vida y le gustaba escribir.

Como no podía permitirse estudiar en la Universidad, empezó a leer por su cuenta y se hizo miembro de la Asociación de Escritores Revolucionarios, que veía con buenos ojos a los autodidactas.

Estaba orgullosa de ser socia del Ateneo de Madrid, donde todos los hombres de la vida política, artística y literaria debatían asuntos relevantes. El Ateneo estaba a tiro de piedra de las Cortes (en la calle del Prado); a veces los políticos no tenían más que cruzar la calle para seguir hablando de lo suyo. Decidida como estaba a instruirse, Rosario se convirtió en una asidua de la Biblioteca y allí la fotografiaron para un reportaje especial de la revista Estampa sobre la nueva generación de creadoras (soñaba con publicar un libro). Fue una de las entonces relativamente pocas mujeres del Ateneo, presidido en aquellos momentos (entre 1933 y 1934) por Miguel de Unamuno.[1]

Su gran oportunidad como periodista le había llegado el 8 de diciembre de 1933 cuando entrevistó al  poeta y ensayista republicano Antonio Machado, con la intención de que este se pronunciara sobre los deberes del intelectual en tiempos de crisis. Los dos se encontraron en el Café de las Salesas (en la calle que hoy se conoce como Conde de Xiquena), núm. 17. Se trataba del café favorito de don Antonio, donde los camareros sabían todos cómo le gustaba el café y dónde se sentaba. Cuando el fotógrafo Alfonso les hizo la foto a los dos, sentados en la mesa , quedó eternizada la imagen de una mujer orgullosa y contenta del trabajo que había hecho. El poeta, en cambio, con el sombrero puesto, miraba benévolo pero discreto como si tan solo cumpliera con un trámite.  Se echaba de ver que el poeta estaba acostumbrado a que le retrataran y la joven periodista, no. Esta no estaba segura siquiera de dónde había que sentarse para el retrato.  Se quedó en un sí y no:  se la ve sentada en la esquina de la foto pero a cierta distancia del gran hombre, dejando un hueco entre ellos donde hubiera cabido otra persona. En el fondo del espejo, demediado y algo cadavérico, como dice Andrés Trapiello, esperaba muy tieso el camarero Braulio.

Muchos años después alguien se encargó de recortar la famosa foto de Alfonso.  (Esto lo descubrió Trapiello al dar con el negativo de la foto original). Así se eliminaba ese ambiguo espacio que la periodista había dejado a su lado, que la separaba modestamente del entrevistado. Pero por desgracia se eliminaba también el pequeño papel de Rosario del Olmo y con él la huella de una vocación femenina. El recorte de la foto, con su nuevo encuadre, realza la semblanza de Machado como retrato, según ha visto  también Trapiello,  y no como mero registro de un acto puntual. Alfonso captaba de esta manera  una imagen que definía al gran poeta en su singularidad.

Pero en la hemeroteca se conserva la prensa con la foto original y se puede consultar la foto y la entrevista tal y como se publicaron en su día. La periodista tenía motivos por congratularse. Antonio Machado reconoció que en tiempos como aquellos años treinta, con la República en apuros, y la derecha en el poder, el escritor bien podría decidir usar su pluma para defender una causa. Machado se decantaba por la creación de una “comunión cordial” entre los ciudadanos. Llevándose bajo el brazo ese mensaje Rosario del Olmo, la joven comunista, se daba por satisfecha. Y esa es otra cosa que la foto íntegra nos permite sopesar.


Posdata: Rosario del Olmo estuvo unos quince años encarcelada después de la guerra por su actividad política. Murió olvidada en Madrid en 2000.


Machado y Rosario del Olmo entrevista




“Deberes del arte en el momento actual” [Entrevista a Antonio Machado por Rosario del Olmo], La Libertad, 12 de enero de 1934, p. 5]

“Las mujeres en el arte” [por Emilio Fornet], Estampa, Núm. 324 [Madrid], 24 de marzo de 1934  [Mujeres retratadas:  Delhy Tejero, Rosa Chacel, Maruja Mallo, Rosa Arciniega, Sara Hernández Catá, Rosario Velasco, Rosario del Olmo]

Mendoza Martín, Irene.  “Rosario del Olmo: Periodista politizada” in La Historia, lost in translation?: Actas del XIII Congreso de la Asociación de Historia Contemporánea, ed. de Damián A. González Madrid, Manuel Ortiz Heras y Juan Sisinio Pérez Garzón (Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, 2017, pp. 3065-3076.  PDF en https://www.academia.edu/33124477/ROSARIO_DEL_OLMO_PERIODISTA_POLITIZADA


Blog de M.R. Giménez: “Antiguos cafés de Madrid y otras cosas de la Villa”



“Antonio Machado y Rosario del Olmo”. Blog de Fernando Gambides:


“Hemeroflexia. La realidad novela sola,” Blog de Andrés Trapiello



[1] No tenemos una lista completa de las mujeres ateneístas, ni mucho menos, pero a lo largo de los años han ido saliendo nombres (Emilia Pardo Bazán,  Concepción Arenal, Carmen de Burgos, Blanca de los Ríos, Clara Campoamor, Victoria Kent, María Lejárraga, Margarita Nelken, Rosa Chacel, Carlota O´Neill, Carmen Martín Gaite y otras).