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In memory of Spain 1936


*Taken from here

Explico Algunas Cosas

(I’m Explaining a Few Things)
by Pablo Neruda

Preguntaréis: Y dónde están las lilas?
Y la metafísica cubierta de amapolas?
Y la lluvia que a menudo golpeaba
sus palabras llenándolas
de agujeros y pájaros?
You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
Os voy a contar todo lo que me pasa. I’ll tell you all the news.
Yo vivía en un barrio
de Madrid, con campanas,
con relojes, con árboles.
I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.
Desde allí se veía
el rostro seco de Castilla
como un océano de cuero.
Mi casa era llamada
la casa de las flores, porque por todas partes
estallaban geranios: era
una bella casa
con perros y chiquillos.
Raúl, te acuerdas?
Te acuerdas, Rafael?
Federico, te acuerdas
debajo de la tierra,
te acuerdas de mi casa con balcones en donde
la luz de junio ahogaba flores en tu boca?
Hermano, hermano!
eran grandes voces, sal de mercaderías,
aglomeraciones de pan palpitante,
mercados de mi barrio de Argüelles con su estatua
como un tintero pálido entre las merluzas:
el aceite llegaba a las cucharas,
un profundo latido
de pies y manos llenaba las calles,
metros, litros, esencia
aguda de la vida,
pescados hacinados,
contextura de techos con sol frío en el cual
la flecha se fatiga,
delirante marfil fino de las patatas,
tomates repetidos hasta el mar.
From there you could look out
over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel?
Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.
Y una mañana todo estaba ardiendo
y una mañana las hogueras
salían de la tierra
devorando seres,
y desde entonces fuego,
pólvora desde entonces,
y desde entonces sangre.
Bandidos con aviones y con moros,
bandidos con sortijas y duquesas,
bandidos con frailes negros bendiciendo
venían por el cielo a matar niños,
y por las calles la sangre de los niños
corría simplemente, como sangre de niños.
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings —
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.
Chacales que el chacal rechazaría,
piedras que el cardo seco mordería escupiendo,
víboras que las víboras odiaran!
Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!
Frente a vosotros he visto la sangre
de España levantarse
para ahogaros en una sola ola
de orgullo y de cuchillos!
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!
mirad mi casa muerta,
mirad España rota:
pero de cada casa muerta sale metal ardiendo
en vez de flores,
pero de cada hueco de España
sale España,
pero de cada niño muerto sale un fusil con ojos,
pero de cada crimen nacen balas
que os hallarán un día el sitio
del corazón.
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.
Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su país natal?
And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land
Venid a ver la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver la sangre
por las calles!
Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!


Soviet Saturday


This week I was directed to three wonderful sites relating to the Soviet Union. All three relate to the culture of the USSR, the first two in particular however. The appeal of these has much to do with a certain Western appeal that exists for Soviet kitsch, which I suffer from myself from time to time.

The first is a link to galleries of old Soviet posters, taken from Cedar Lounge.

The second is equally interesting in my opinion, and is about the huge collection of old Soviet books one person has collected. Take a look.

The third is a site about Varlam Shalamov, a Left Oppositionist against Stalin’s bureaucratic rule, who was incarcerated in a gulag, and wrote short stories of his experience. This site aims to gather these and any other information on Shalamov and make it accessible to a wider public. The tag line for the site is a quote from him:

My writing is no more about camps that St-Exupéry’s is about the sky or Melville’s, about the sea. My stories are basically advice to an individual on how to act in a crowd… [To be] not just further to the left than the left, but also more real than reality itself. For blood to be true and nameless.

Varlam Shalamov

I had never heard of him before, but the site and his work looks very interesting and I think I will return again and again. Check it out here.

Finally, not a blog or site, but rather a review. This week Bertrand Patenaude, author of Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky, caused quite a storm in academia by his scathing review of Robert Service’s Trotsky: A Biography. Now this book has been attacked numerous times by those on the left, with, as far as I can see, justifiable criticisms that Service has distorted the ideas of Trotsky and the facts of his life. This is the first time however, that an academic has done so in an otherwise rich field of glowing reviews of Service’s work. The review was published in the American Historical Review, and unfortunately, one cannot read it all online, but can get a hint of it here. For a response to the review read this interesting article here, which includes a response by Service.

Jorge Semprún 1923-2011


Jorge Semprún, Spanish, Catalan, French novelist, imprisoned in Buchenwald, part of Communist underground in Spain, died in June. Here is an interesting article about him. Semprún was an important writer, little known in the English speaking world. It is important we get to know him and his works. The world he lived in is fading fast, but remains very relevant for today.

‘First Contact: How not to do it’, by the Culture


Some day we will encounter alien life. It is best to be prepared for such an eventuality. Sci-fi can offer us a guide. Star Trek is generally a good guide. The Federation’s Prime Directive governs that species should only be contacted if they have developed faster-than-light travel – warp drive in Star Trek terminology.  Otherwise, the existence of alien life could throw them into disarray. There are other less good guides out there too. So, in the universe of Iain M. Banks, one of the masters of sci-fi, there exists a civilisation called the Culture. Now the culture are way in advance of us, they have abolished all forms of inequality, have no worries about need or anything like that, live in giant space ships that are controlled by super intelligent AI, and basically live life according to the rules of hedonism. They have no societal structure, have complete individual freedom, secrete drugs through their glands at will, can change sex multiple times in a lifetime, and can live as long as they like. No worries, no stress, just enjoying life. Space socialism. Anyway, you can read more on wikipedia here if you like. In one of the books, The Player of Games, they come across another civilisation, hierarchical, imperial, primitive, etc. The protagonist, Gurgeh, is visiting the homeworld of this civilisation – the Azadians – and is required to wear a robe they supply him with to a party. He notices a space on the robe, something looks missing. And it goes like this

‘That’s where your insignia would go, if you had one.’

Gurgeh fingered the bare area on the heavily embroidered robe.

‘Couldn’t we have made one up? It looks a bit bare.’

‘I suppose we could,’ Flere-Imsaho [his drone – a robot for all non-nerds] said, tugging at the robe to adjust it. ‘You have to be careful doing that sort of thing though. Our Azadian friends are always rather nonplussed by our lack of a flag or a symbol, and the Culture rep here – you’ll meet him tonight if he remembers to turn up – thought it was a pity there was no Culture anthem for bands to play when our people come here, so he whistled them the first song that came into his head, and they’ve been playing that at receptions and ceremonies for the last eight years.’

‘I thought I recognised one of the tunes they played,’ Gurgeh admitted.

The drone pushed his arms up and made some more adjustments.

‘Yes, but the first song that came into the guy’s head was “Lick Me Out”; have you heard the lyrics?’

‘Ah.’ Gurgeh grinned. ‘That song. Yes, that could be awkward.’

‘Damn right. If they find out they’ll probably declare war.’

So there we have it folks, first contact situations can be delicate. Remember to tread carefully should you ever encounter alien life. Nuff said.

‘My spirit’s meant to be free and soon now everyone’s will be.’



Recently the legendary black American artist Gil Scott-Heron passed away. He was most famous for his above song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, but in reality he was so much more. Read an excellent obituary for him here. Influenced by the likes of Malcolm X and the Black Panther party, he captured the feel of an era and inspired a whole generation of revolutionised youths, not just in the US but around the world. While we see revolutions today televised within seconds, we must remember what Gil’s lyrics really mean – revolutions will not make themselves, they are not passive, they require activism, of getting up off that couch and doing something. Something people all over the world are beginning to realise. Gil’s legacy lives on!

The Multiverse


Ever since I was about 12 I have been intrigued by the idea of multiple universes. Of course, this was facilitated mainly by the show Sliders. Anyway, for those reading this out there in cyberspace, here is a link to a post that I think gives a fairly accurate and easy to understand summary of where our current knowledge lies re the origin of the universe and the possibility of multiple universes.

The Good Fight


Despite spending the last few years researching the Spanish Civil War, this is my first post on it. I hope to have many more in future, including some on lesser known volunteers in the International Brigades. For now, check out this excellent documentary about Americans who fought in Spain. For reading material, I can thoroughly recommend Peter Carroll’s very readable and informative Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Also check out the webpage for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, and their online magazine, the Volunteer. From an Irish angle, Bill Bailey who features heavily in this documentary, was born to Irish parents in New York. Bailey was a go to guy for documentaries and books on the Lincolns, as one can see from the extracts here. One can read his autobiography here. Enjoy!