Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Las horas inmobiles...the immobile hours


I didn’t have the use of my computer yesterday. The poor one needed to be taken to the emergency room for a quick operation. While nervously waiting for its recovery I stayed at home and revisited one of my favorite books Mon dernier soupir (My last sigh) by Spanish director Luis Buñuel written in collaboration with his long time scenarist Jean-Louis Carrière.

This semi biography is a collection of Buñuel's memories of his childhood spent in a village called Calenda, in the Aragon province, his stay at the Residencia in Madrid where he made friends with poet Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali along with many other Spanish intellectuals and artists. The reader follows his path to Paris, where his first movie Un chien andalou, made with Dali, met a total success with the French surrealist group which enthusiastically accepted him in their circle, then on to Hollywood, Madrid, Paris again...


I read this book many years ago before settling in Spain and at that time I didn't know I would one day, live in this country. It surely gave me an insight into Spain’s history. But more than anything, My Last Sigh is the captivating story of a man who loved his art, treasured his friendships, had political convictions, and preferred the power of imagination to rational thinking. Several times, I tried to find an explanation for a gesture, in This obscure object of desire, for instance or analyze The Phantom of Liberty but as Buñuel said, he didn't know himself why he had the sudden impulse to direct a scene this way. He just knew he had too.


I'm rather monomaniac in terms of books. There are always two or three books I need to read again and again from time to time. My Last Sigh is one of them, because I can open it at any page and feel drawn to such episode or thought. You will not find much detail about the shooting of his movies, the choices of actors but rather anecdotes and memories of his contemporaries. To put it simply, this book is more about the essence of a man.


Born in 1900, Luis Buñuel was the son of a rich landowner. His father left Spain and made a fortune in Cuba then came back to Spain where he established himself with his family in Saragossa. Buñuel depicts a very happy and sheltered childhood at a time when society was very strict about the delimitations of classes. According to Buñuel, his father didn't do much during the day. After breakfast, he would shave and dress, read the newspapers then would go out to check if his cigars had arrived from La Havana, do some errands, and buy some wine or caviar. He never carried his purchases (except the caviar), to comply with the etiquette. After lunch and the necessary siesta, a change of clothes was compulsory to go to the club where his father played bridge and tresillo with friends until dinner time.


Yesterday, while reading these anecdotes about Buñuel's childhood and his father's lifestyle, I remembered the very first years I spent in Spain on the coast with my ex boyfriend (a very amusing Polish/Scottish/French man). We lived practically on the beach in a very nice flat and our life was slow, filled with walks to the market, swimming and sunbathing. The only thing to deplore was the total lack of real Spanish connections.


And then one day, it changed totally. Someone told us of a very eccentric old aristocrat living near us in a former olive oil mill. We knocked at his door and this is a long story but my ex boyfriend and J. immediately liked each other and from then on, not a day was spent without receiving a call from our new found friend. Although he rejected the rigid code of his family and upbringing, and claimed himself de la izquierda (leftist), he was still maintaining su manera de ser (his way) as he used to say, which was more or less similar to Buñuel's father. J. was an antique dealer, except that he resented parting from his beautiful objects so if someone was interested in buying something he would give a ridiculously high price, so of course he never sold anything. J. got up around 10h30, then had a strong breakfast of toast with tomato and sardines. One hour later, he would call us, proposing we go to the market all together. We bought mainly fish and fruit. Then it was aperitivo time on the beach or in one of the little bars in the village. At the beginning, I found it quite pleasant to sip cold manzanilla while eating fresh grilled gambas with plenty of garlic and gradually I didn't see the point of buying food for lunch if obviously we were not going to have it for lunch as we usually ended the aperitivo around 2 o'clock. Well, we had lunch after that, at our flat or at J's mill. Naturally, we parted after lunch, to have a siesta. Around 6h30, the two men would play pool at the mill while I prepared some gin tonic. From time to time J. would invite some friends who had the same lifestyle. It was fun to watch and we sometimes had lively conversations about politics. One of my favorite things was to translate everyday a few pages of Buñuel's biography to J's friends. They enjoyed it but confessed having seen very few movies of the Spanish director. I was thankful to J. for introducing us to his world and his friends. I learned a bit about some aspects of Spanish society and its evolution. I couldn't believe my ears when one of the friends told me, on the day of his marriage, in the 50s, as he was entering the village where the religious ceremony was held, villagers were awaiting the bride and groom's families, kneeling down at the entrance of the village. This man is now happily divorced as he discovered he loved men instead of women and lives today with his former chauffeur.
We were invited a few times in his beautiful villa by the beach where he had an impressive collection of ancient books and some very nice gin too.

Unfortunately, I lost contact with J. when I moved near Granada. Of course after 3 months of farniente regime, I told my ex boyfriend, holiday is over ! Still, I keep a very good souvenir of these immobile hours spent in the mill or in some little bar by the beach, watching the sea, saying nothing, because there's no need to.


pic : portrait of Luis Buñuel by Man Ray

PS : my lovelies, I'm so sorry but I had to enable this comment moderation. I discovered a whole bunch of posts is plagued by some erotic Chinese comments. I have nothing against erotism but I thought they were just a little bit too insisting and not gracious enough.


10 comments:

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

A very enjoyable, beautifully written post Lala. Wonderful memories for you. I liked J's breakfast of tomatoes and sardines!
Catherine

Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

What an interesting post! I love rereading books....its like visiting an old friend.

Glad your computer is feeling better again....

Yoli said...

I am always fascinated by everything you share my beautful Lala.

Oh and I am sorry that you are being stalked by perv.

The Girl From Cherry Blossom Street said...

Oh yes, I love this memoir! Wonderful book!

A Cuban In London said...

Lovely post. I have seen 'A Chien Andalou' for donkey's years and have never read this memoir. I will have to include it in my books' wishlist. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

pranksygang said...

great post.. i loved the way you narrated it !

marc aurel said...

I sent you a meme and invite you to fill it in and send it on its way. For some reason I have always been fascinated by The Criminal Life of Archibaldo Della Cruz. Viridiana was very popular when I was young. A warning to us not to be too liberal.

vicki archer said...

Lovely tale Layla, xv.

Susana said...

Very nice story, Lala. It is good in life to have some "immobile hours" now and then, but it is true that at some point, it is good to move on from the holiday, and do some interesting things until the next time for a rest comes.

I discovered not so long ago that Buñuel spent time in our village, Calaceite, and even had a house here. The house is now owned by a lovely French lady, who as you, is a translator.

Linda Sue said...

Beautiful well told story of the days of LAla- This post was close to having the adventure personally- most enjoyable! Thanks you for the fun, culture and gin!

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