On a ruinous wall I came upon a poster dating from the previous year and announcing that ‘six handsome bulls’ would be killed in the arena on such and such a date. How forlorn its faded colours looked. Where were the handsome bulls and the handsome bull-fighters now? It appeared that even in Barcelona there were hardly any bullfights nowadays – for some reason all the best matadors were Fascists.
For my final read of 2015 and last full day in Barcelona, I decided to read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. I realized walking down the streets of Barcelona and admiring the city for its relatively serene urban life, that this does not represent the history of this city which, like many in Europe, has a violent past behind it.
Through George Orwell and his retelling of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War (or the Guerra Civil) fighting against the fascist Nationalists, I was able to see another side of Barcelona, of Catalonia during one of the most terrible events in history, but which always seems to be overlooked because of the monstrous scale of the Second World War that quickly followed. Orwell’s description of his experiences makes for a truly gripping read. At first I wasn’t sure whether I would finish the book on time for Bookstravaganza if I decided to read another one, but as soon as I read the first page of this relatively short book I knew I had to finish it.
What I love about Orwell’s writing is his clarity. His honesty about his motivations and memories as a fighter in the Civil War are one of the great assets to this book. I admit, I still found myself in confusing moments trying to understand the political complexities of the Spanish Civil War – Orwell uses acronyms for the numerous warring factions, but sometimes it made it just more exasperating. That alone really made me realize how little I do understand today about an event that was so massive and yet dealt with so little in its aftermath by the international community and also by, as you can argue, Spain itself.
In one of my favourite quotes Orwell says: “When you are taking part in events like these you are, I suppose, in a small way, making history, and you ought by rights to feel like a historical character. But you never do, because at such times the physical details outweigh everything else.” I think looking upon some of the chaos we have bore witness to in 2015, I feel I must feel a fraction of this feeling Orwell describes. One more deeply dark quote from Homage to Catalonia also comes to mind: “‘This is not a war,’ he used to say, ‘it is a comic opera with an occasional death.'”
We may not be sure of what we will find in the year ahead or our roles in it, but we can be absolutely certain in one thing: there is no scale of chaos of which we as humanity have not encountered before and will not see again.
Books Read: 9