A long lunch with a contemporary witness

The old shipyards behind the building where I live, pictured in the 1960s

Today I was invited for lunch by a 90-year-old lady at her home in the neighborhood. She is mentally and physically still quite fit and above all not afraid of the coronavirus that has caused havoc around the world. So we enjoyed each other’s company without a mask.

For me the hale nonagenarian isn’t just an old friend of the family and one of the last survivors of her generation, but above all an interesting contemporary witness.

Five years old when the Spanish Civil War started on July 18th, 1936, she remembers how little food there was in Valencia, a Republican stronghold and one of the last cities to surrender to the victorious Nationalist troops led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco (1892-1975) in spring 1939.

She also heard gruesome stories about the atrocities committed against members of the clergy in a country with a very strong Catholic tradition, but also an extreme hate against the Church unknown in Portugal or Italy.

The friars teaching at a nearby institution of higher learning had their testicles cut off by Leftists, which placed their dreadful bounty in jars and showed it around.

This inhuman practice was relatively widespread during the fratricidal war and part of the severe religious persecution openly encouraged by the government that also included burning down archives, churches and monasteries.

Florentino Asensio Barroso (1877-1936), Bishop of Barbastro, a town in the northern province of Huesca, was one of those that suffered the same savage torture and was later shot.

Although the years after the conflict were hard and the reconstruction of Spain was basically accomplished without foreign help, as the nation at the beginning of the Cold War became a pariah state for almost a decade, she stated that the basis for her modest wealth was set in the Franco era, something that her progressive only son just can’t admit.

Though conservative and a declared Vox voter, she regretted that her mother took her out of the school she first attended and placed her further education in the hands of nuns. According to her own words, under their tutelage she basically only learned to sing and pray…

That’s why she still thinks that teaching young Spanish women to cook, sew and stich in a newly built housing complex managed by the Female Section of the Falangist political movement led by Pilar Primo de Rivera (1907-1991) was actually a very good idea that should be revived.

How much the general attitude towards illegal immigrants has changed in Western Europe became evident when she told me that her late husband, who was looking for work in the land of the tulips in the late 1950s, was rejected at the Dutch border despite wearing a suit and showing a bank excerpt to prove that he had enough money in his account to use abroad.

The police simply didn’t believe that he was on a pleasure trip and send him back to Paris, where he spent the whole night sitting on a bench at a train station before a fellow Spaniard already there succeeded in getting him into the Netherlands. At the end, both could only find an occupation as dishwashers.

Compared to the current invasion, when people mostly without a passport, though almost never without a handy are allowed into significant parts of the European Union just because they claim to be persecuted, it’s hard to believe that we are talking about the same continent!

Our four-hour-conversation could have lasted much longer, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome and said goodbye in the late afternoon. I sincerely hope that before my return to Taiwan, scheduled for next month, there will be another chance for a very pleasant chat.


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