Half of Elliot Pauls The Life and Death of
a Spanish Town, published in 1937, describes an island life that
existed from time immemorial; half its rude and bloody awakening into modern
history by a Civil War which no villager wanted. This was the first that
the literary world had heard of this American novelist since 1931, during
which time he had lived in the village of Santa Eulalia del Rio, on the Spanish island of Ibiza.(Note* Paul lived in Santa Eulalia from 1931-1936)
Photographic portrait of Elliot Paul (1939) by his good friend
exiled Spanish painter Luis
Sketch by Luis Quintanilla of old friends Elliot Paul, Earnest Hemmingway
and Jay Allen...Quintanilla (bottom right).
Taken from Qiuintanilla's book-'All the Brave'.
Over a period of thirty years I'd read Paul's
thirty books with growing interest and admiration--about an equal number
of novels, comic mystery stories and memoirs. I'd found him mostly absent
from literary scholarship, or present only in semi-mythical anecdotes as
a bon vivant--how he'd hired a taxi to drive him from Boston to
Montreal, how he'd disguised his nakedness as a strip poker loser with
a red sash, and the gendarmes had halted Paris traffic for him. In 1988
I began to research his life and write his biography.
The book made him an important figure among those seeking international
support for Spain's embattled Republican government in its ultimately unsuccessful
defence against Franco's Nationalist rebels Elliot Paul had been close
to the 1920s Lost Generation writers and artists. After publishing three
novels in the early 'twenties, like so many of his countrymen he went to
Paris. Without royalties or remittances, he became a working newspaperman
for the English-language Paris Tribune, and in 1926 Eugene Jolas
made him co-editor of the new monthly avant-garde journal transition.
Paul could get a magazine together fast. It was probably he who put James
Joyce and Gertrude Stein into the same bed at transition and successfully
defied Hemingway's dictum that "if you mentioned Joyce twice to Stein,
you were dead." After a year establishing the magazine, arguably the
finest as well as the most prominent expatriate literary magazine of the
era, Paul returned to newspaper work, now with the more staid Paris Herald,
which gave him time for fiction-writing. Then with three more novels to
his credit, Paul vanished from Paris and from literature, an enigma to
his newspaper and literary friends like Stein, whose 1933 The Autobiography
of Alice B. Toklas (1933) muses over his "disappearance."
| FLY LEAF Map from "Life and Death of a Spanish Town"-Santa
Eulalia del Río- 1936-Random House-NewYork|
Paul painted an idyllic portrait of his life in Santa Eulalia
in The Life and Death of a Spanish Town. But surviving letters
and notes make it clear that he was broken down with severe depression
when he arrived there in late 1931, "to seek tranquillity." For
years he struggled unsuccessfully to complete a novel, imagined he might
make a living as a bridge player, lived off his second wife Camille's salary.
If he could so disguise his own condition, what had
he done with the details and character of village life in Santa Eulalia?
How true are his descriptions of the rebel Nationalists' takeover of Ibiza
and the Republican recapture of Santa Eulalia and the island, of the bombardment
of civilians by Italian planes assisting Franco--a foretaste of Guernica--of
the FAI (the anarchists) reprisal murder of the Nationalist prisoners in
Ibiza Castle and their subsequent abandonment of the islanders to their
fate under Franco? What about the high drama of Paul's alleged last-minute
escape in September 1936 with his wife Flora and her child, taking with
them in disguise the Republican leader (and Paul's landlord) "Cosmi,"
and their seeing other Santa Eulalia Republicans escaping in a schooner?
(Foto by Raymar: 1936- Valencian Republicans land at Pou Dés
Leo, Ibiza to begin the fight against Franco,
Contemporary historians seemed to credit in general terms Paul's view of
the Civil War in Ibiza, but were his "characters," to whom he
assigned significant and dramatic roles, with whom he had lived and played
for five years, fictional or real? Nothing in print or in private correspondence
could tell me. Could Santa Eulalia, fifty-four years later?
* * *
Monday evening, 9 April: fly to Ibiza, package holiday, arrive
in summer clothing to cold, rainy evening. Have selected the cheapest "tour"
and the hotel, though commanding a view of seafront and town hall on the
village square, has no heat or hot water. "Without sun, the solar
panels do not function; tomorrow will be better." I walk out into
the drizzle. My heart lifts at seeing "Cosmi's Bar," which is
not however where Paul put "Cosmi's Hotel," where he mainly lived
(he says). I go in, meet Cosmi sitting at bar, who looks blankly at my
copy of Life and Death, showing only slight interest in the book's
end papers, a drawing of the town as it was in 1936. I get nowhere. If
he is the son of Paul's Cosmi--the book's hero--what use will my
trip be? My only discovery is that "Cosmi" is a Christian name;
Paul's usage and the complexities of Ibicenco nomenclature have misled
me. Speaking no Spanish, I badly need a translator; years of English tourism
have not penetrated linguistically into this workingman's bar. I solace
myself with mussels and go to bed dejectedly under both the room's beds
damp bedclothes, and in my own. Can't sleep. No heart to begin rereading
Paul's book, so continue Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. True!
My project seems absurd. I will find nothing.
Tuesday morning, 10 April: still rain and still colder. On the
advice of a historian colleague I have written to a local bank manager
and a travel agent. I introduce myself. Both have serviceable English and
seem friendly, promising to be helpful, but neither has done anything yet
with the list of names I have sent them and have no knowledge of whether
anyone alive remembers Paul. Footloose, I walk onto Santa Eulalia's main
street, Calle San Jaime. Paul's end-paper map is followable as to street
layout, and some of the buildings are still recognisable. I show the map
to an old shop-keeper. "Mil novecientos trientaseis," I say,
hoping for the best. He smiles, points at a shop across the street and
says, "Catalina Moussona," the name of a little girl in Paul's
book, whose father was the butcher at that address fifty-four years ago.
I cross over, and introduce myself. We make ourselves understood. She is
"SeÒor Pol's" Catalina, then an "undernourished shadow,"
now at 68 compactly substantial. A passerby offers assistance, translating,
and presto, a first albeit unrecorded interview (my recorder, never yet
used, is back in the hotel; I take out my pad and scribble). "Pol"
was friendly, a nice person, "simpatico," very popular, he gave
English classes to her and a few friends (he mentions this, but I had wondered
if he had), without payment (this is new). Has she seen Pol's book before?
It has been mentioned to her. (The Franco government, of course, permitted
no translation; nor has there been one yet.) Do I wish to meet Eulalia
Noguera, at the grocery a few shops down? Do I!
Eulalia Noguera is the heroine of Life and Death, the
spirit of its rising generation, a "Spanish Joan of Arc." The
War, Paul fears, will enslave her, send her back to the Middle Ages. Today
Eulalia is lively, solid, with a great untoothed grin and strong laugh.
The reed bent, did not break, did not regress in time. In 1936 she was
Paul and his third wife Flora's home help: she did the shopping and the
cooking (she says), looked after "the kid" ("Meels").
Paul calls Flora's son "Peanut" throughout the book, but his
second name was Mills. She also looked after the family's boxer dog Moritz
("More-eeats"). In fact, she tells me, she kept him for sixteen
years--he was "one of the family." In Life and Death Paul
laments that War would turn the former pets of Santa Eulalia into wandering
scavengers. Not so for Moritz. There were other women, to do the cleaning
(not in the book). I begin to understand that when Paul married Flora in
1935, his financial circumstances changed greatly (the book does not say
this, nor does any other evidence to hand). Eulalia is too important to
chat to in the street. We agree to meet the next day, when we can sit quietly
at a bar and one of my contacts can translate from the Ibicenco dialect
of Catalan to English and vice versa. Would I like to meet Cosmi's young
son, also Cosmi? He is across the street, proprietor of the Libraria.
"Little Cosmi" was two years old, in his mother's
arms, on the last page of Life and Death, watching his father go
into exile, and now we shake hands. He knows of Paul, and the book. His
wife has a copy, in Norwegian (which she is). Would I like to meet his
mother, Cosmi's wife Anna? She has a house at the end of the main street.
We can meet that afternoon.
Tuesday noon: for Joyce's Stephen Dedalus history was "a
nightmare from which I am trying to escape." I am entering it, and
it becomes bearable, humanised. I see a grocery sign, "Las Delicias,"
and enter. The proprietor of a grocery with this name, albeit elsewhere
on the map, was Paul's friend, and his daughter Maria was one of the girls
in Paul's English class, according to the book. Here she is. My English
forgotten, no use, she says. (They all say this, apologetically.) Though
my English has taken on the structure of Spanish grammar, it is no substitute
for Spanish vocabulary. We cross the street to an estanco, where an Englishwoman
translates for us. Now we have the first proper "interview,"
with the tape recorder. "Pol" was her father's friend (true,
according to Paul), they went on "pub-cr·wels" together
(no mention of this), she still keeps some notebooks with orders Paul made
at the grocery (must see them). Paul was "simpatico" (I hear
this again and again, full of fun), they called him "Xumeu" ie
Bartholomew (as he wrote), he used to sing Ibicenco songs.
Tuesday afternoon: I meet Cosmi's wife Anna, and her sister,
both of whom figure in Life and Death. "Little Cosmi's"
wife translates. Only a few persons have spoken to them of the book, they
say, and only in passing, years ago. What happened to Cosmi, I ask. It
is outside the biographer's brief, but as the plot broke off in 1937 with
catastrophe in train, who would not want to know the upshot, however painful.
Paul expected the worst. For Cosmi it was war service, then exile in nearby
Algiers until 1955, when Franco let the politicals back. Yes, he did escape
with Paul. The ship went to Alicante (could this be?), then Nice. (The
sisters argue over Marseilles.) And yes, Cosmi's brother Pep Salvador and
other "red ones" (rojos) escaped on another boat. They use the
designation with light irony. So long have Republicans been called "the
reds," "the Communists," "Marxistas," that they
use it of their own, but with affection, humour and even a hint of pride.
Time passes, filled with details. I am inside the book. I have not been
too "leading" in my questions, though I find myself willing to
correct what they know from hearsay: personal relationships before "publishing
scoundrel" methodology. They cannot be in a conspiracy, they cannot
have memorised a banned and untranslated book.
Tuesday, 5 p.m.: I could go home happy now. The Life and
Death of a Spanish Town is true in names, in detail and in general
character. Paul would have rejoiced that despite his fears the town did
not die in September 1936. I do.
Tuesday dinner: find the restaurant which I will eat in all
week. Los Amigos. How I feel. Would the food have tasted as good last night?
All the fish and meat on display to choose from, as in the supermarcados.
I'll eat it all. At the crowded bar is an old, shiny apple-faced man. It
is Juanito "of the Royalty," the hotel which (Paul wrote) attracted
the aristocrats and "fascists." I learn that he later became
the most famous chef of the island, cooked for the military, for visiting
dignitaries, for Errol Flynn. This also is too good for passing contact,
so I ask my companion the bank manager not to speak to Juanito there and
then but to arrange an interview later.
Tuesday night: bitterly cold, very damp, but now
feels no worse than the cold shower after a sauna. Paul was something of
a manic depressive. I feel the manic touch, but sleep like log.
Wednesday morning, 11 April: brilliant sunshine. Seafront, bay,
strip of sand. Like my home town in Massachusetts, and like Paul's parents'
home town, Rockport, Mass., where he summered each year. No wonder he felt
at ease here, at home. No wonder he wrote in 1937 that it had been like
going back thirty years in (American) history.
I climb to the church which overlooks
the town. It is partly a defensive tower; there is a Moorish quality to
its architecture, partly domed. Paul writes that he saved the Church from
burned when the Republicans came from Barcelona and Valencia.
(He did, I am told later, "but it was burned nevertheless".)
The individual coffins are stacked in layers of cubicles in the adjacent
cemetery, sometimes ten high. After a time, the grave "plot"
is used for someone else: the bones go into the common crypt. The dead
like the living are all permutations of a dozen local names, some of which
are both Christian and family: so as well as the pick-and-mix of Maris,
Turs, Nogueras, Colomars, Ferrers, and the ubiquitous first names Catalina,
Eulalia, Maria, Miguel, Antonio, JosÈ you have repeaters like Francisco
Torres Torres or even Juan Juan Juan. (Perhaps Heller's Major Major Major
had Ibicencan ancestry.) Sometimes, to distinguish between them they use
their house name: Cosmi's brother was known as Pep Salvador --Pep of the
Salvador house--because there were so many Peps (JosÈs). Wives don't
take their husbands name, but like their husbands keep their patronymic
followed by the matronymic. Paul's use of "Anna Cosmi" as Cosmi's
wife is convenient for readers but incorrect: she is Anna Juan Colomar.
In the afternoon, a sharply detailed interview with Eulalia
Noguera--her "nombre completo," Eulalia Noguera Boned. No temptation
to "lead," no fear that she will answer to please me. Paul had
no money when he came; women--the foreign women--always paid for him. Unthinkable
among Spaniards, this was roundly appreciated, at least in 1990. His accordion
playing was the price of his many drinks, mostly beer, some absinthe. When
he came he was thin, then he got "big"--this perhaps the only
hint that he was ill when he arrived. Paul and Flora brought a black American
cook to the village (no mention of this in Life and Death): Eulalia
and the other girls feared her. He taught everyone "po-kÈr";
she can play it even today. She describes with feeling (as did Paul) her
brother's death from pneumonia in the first months of the Civil War. It
kept her from leaving with the Pauls, she says (this is new). Afterwards
there was poverty, no more foreigners, but there was the land and fish,
and they could eat. (So could More-eats.)
Wednesday evening: calamares natural at Los Amigos. Discover
hierbas, the local liqueur. Like Chartreuse, this will "digest"
anything, prevent all ailments.
Thursday a.m., 12 April: I sense the desire of some, not the
friends of the red ones, to disremember the events of Autumn 1936, but
the years since have been survived. By some, with dignity. Walking up and
down Santa Eulalia, I am on "Ola!" greetings terms with my survivors.
"Bon dia" (Ibicenco) I say, not "buenos dias" (Castilian).
Interview at the Royalty (once the "fascist cafÈ")
with reporter from La Prensa, newish Ibiza tabloid. He is keen on
raking up the Guerra Civil, then keen on Paul's later career, Hollywood
scriptwriting in the 'forties and semi-professional boogie-woogie and jazz
piano. Articulating my views of the book and the events for the first time,
I say, Paul was "not a red, certainly no Communist." He believed
that left to themselves the village people of Santa Eulalia would have
reached a political accommodation, with no killings. After the rebellion
was declared by the Nationalists, the local garrison had declared for Franco,
but were then overthrown by a Republican government fleet. I describe the
night when the Santa Eulalia Republicans let their Nationalist prisoners
out of the "cuartel" (gaol) so they too could join in the San
Xumeu's Day (St. Bartholomew's Day) festivity in the town square. I gesture
in the direction of the very square. The prisoners allowed out that night
were later sent to Ibiza, so Santa Eulalia would not have to try its own
as traitors, and for safe-keeping, as they mistakenly thought. The anarquistas
then machine-gunned them all down. Only on the spot of the festival itself
did I discover this interpretation. Travel justified.
Lunch at the cove where the Republicans under Capitan Don Alfredo
Bayo, who later trained Castro's forces, first landed on the island, then--guided
by Cosmi--took San Carlos, Santa Eulalia and finally Ibiza Town. Very like
Rockport, Mass. Restaurant serves uncompromisingly unsanitised paella,
full of fish-heads, bones. Entirely wonderful.
Thursday afternoon: I interview "Juanito of the Royalty,"
now eighty "and three months." I don't expect much here, but
he is the only voluble, articulate old man I meet. Many sit leadenly, wordlessly,
while the women talk and bustle. Not so Juanito, despite the embolism which
put paid to his days of creating "SoufflÈ Juanito," his
chef d'oeuvre (unmentioned by Paul), which he now describes to me
in loving, effervescent detail. It had a fountain effect, he say, pointing
at the town fountain in the square. He remembers recipes and meals better
than he remembers Elliot Paul, but his personality, unchanged since 1932,
confirms Paul's story. He had gone on as he had begun, as Paul described
him. He was never "politico," but his idea of a restaurant and
hotel could only attract one side, the aristocracy, the Church, the Nationalists,
just as Cosmi's Hotel naturally attracted the other. I am now possessed
of another strand of interpretation for the book: the two contrasting hotels,
their two eminent figures, Cosmi "the red one" and Juanito of
by and for "the Royalty."
A woman comes up to me in the street. I have been pointed out
to her by someone I have interviewed. She knows what SeÒor Paul's
book said about her (Nationalist) grandfather, she says, but he did not
die in the Ibiza castle massacre. (Paul says he saw the man with his head
half blown off.) She and her cousin run a farmacÌa. We go inside
it and I buy a bar of Magna, the Galician black soap. Symbolism.
Evening: too full of lunchtime paella to eat, but drinking appears
possible. I have followed good advice--don't meet the Expats until you
have seen the Locals. So now after the Royalty, to the Gaiety. The expats'
bar looks like it is studying to be the kind you see in films with Denham
Elliott in them. Here at the bar is... Denham Elliott, long-time resident
of the village. "Come back tomorrow," take part in the weekly
general knowledge quiz. What could be more appealing?
Good Friday, 13 April: with American cartoonist on La Prensa
Note* The author is referring to American Bob Rounkle-(now editor of
ibiza-hotels.com).... (like Paul, a working expatriate) takes me up
to the Ibiza cathedral, startling impregnable-seeming fortress, to see
the plaque to the 113 martyrs of the anarquistas' machine guns (Paul thought
239, and Hugh Thomas follows him, but there are 113 names on the wall).
The "Marxist domination" of 7 August 1936 to 13 September 1936,
the day the Italians dropped their bombs, was conducted by "the enemies
of the church and the fatherland," ie the legitimate government. Will
"liberation theology" ever remove the plaque's marble untruth?
The first name is that of the island banker, Don Abel Matutes y Torres,
shot in his hospital bed (it is alleged he was shamming, to stay out of
harm's way, much good it did him). Matutes' bank headquarters dominates
Ibiza harbour. The wall up against which the nationalist prisoners were
shot is closed off, for archaeological work, though it is Good Friday so
no work is being done.
Come to that, no work looks like being done anywhere on the
island. Every building is somewhere between a hole in the ground, a concrete
and breeze-block shell and all but, but not, finished. (There is a race
to begin building before 1992 brings tougher EC building regulations.)
The not-quite-built and the falling-into-disrepair look like meeting at
some intermediate point.
I decide to avoid the Ibiza Town Good Friday procession; have
seen Ku Klux Klan costumes before, in Seville, complete with real scourging.
Once is enough. Take the bus back to Santa Eulalia--Paul describes the
hilarious journey in Life and Death, starting any time, people and
animals together, stopping anywhere, arriving whenever. Now altogether
more expeditious. View of Santa Eulalia's old "Moorish" church,
still perched on top of all the apartment houses and hotels.
Friday night: time for holiday. The general knowledge bar quiz.
A place is kept for me. Our team of four (there are six or eight teams)
is called "Rule 43" (the news of Strangeways prison riot is the
source, I hope, but glance uneasily at team-mates). I feel that the honour
of the intelligentsia, British universities and "Eng. Lit." is
at stake. First question: what is the novel about the great white whale.
Home and wet, collecting four points for the novel, its author, the ship,
its captain. Pretty plain sailing thereafter. Rule 43 wins handily. Much
shouting and execration ("ringer!"). Prize money pays bar bill.
And so to bed.
Saturday, 14 April: protocol of Spanish beach toplessness: lying
down either way is OK, even sitting up is OK, but no walking about. Friends
at home would expect me to return with a tan, but doubted there would be
a story ("Ibiza? For research??") Have story now. To have story
and tan will do very nicely. Biographer's revenge.
Easter Sunday, 15 April: La Prensa article, all of page
4. "HAROLD [oh well] GOLDMAN, UN INVESTIGADOR QUE EST¡ TRAS
LAS LUELLAS DE LA GUERRA CIVIL EN SANTA EUL¿RIA." "Now
they will keel you," says my landlady, "too much politica."
Perhaps they will look for Harold. In the afternoon I see a bar-cafÈ
completely full of men playing cards at tables of four. It is a five-card
game. They get their cards, trade some in. There is betting. Hands are
slammed down on tables. It is po-kÈr.
Young woman on beach in flagrant breach of protocol.
Monday, 16 April: sunshine still. Make formal good-bye calls
on all, take photographs--for me, not book. Handshakes. Kisses on cheek:
they expect two, get three, ¦ la Russe, smile with amusement
(a "red one"?). Index of my euphoria. Juanito de Royalty comes
to my hotel to sit with me for my last hour, until the tourist coach comes
to fetch me to the airport. Mostly I have been treated to drinks, but now
buy him a beer. His wife, thirty years his junior, would upbraid me for
this, but she is at her siesta; he has put his off to stay with me. Each
day since my interview with him he has asked me to visit him, to show me
his cuttings and photographs, then to show me his "spiritual autobiography"
(no facts), begun the other year, to understand his dying. Life is a dream.
"Fantasmas," of the soul--"this part is for Catholics only"--of
the heart, the intelligence and the "incognita" (seemingly localised
in the genital area), having jerked the individual this way and that like
a marionette, leave him at death. The (Catholic) soul goes to God. The
body is now only "materia." Juanito is amused, casting a warm
eye on life, on death. He seems more Castilian to me than Ibicenco: a self-made
man. "øEst·n terminadas las investigaciÛnes?"
"Terminadas y no terminadas," I say, wittily. "Muy bien.
AdiÛs." We embrace. But I will never eat SoufflÈ Juanito,
and there was a time when it would have stuck in my throat.
Monday night: Gatwick. Cold and raining. I describe the week
to my wife and son, who have come to collect me, using English like the
Spaniards in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was published
after the Civil War was over and which for fifty years has replaced The
Life and Death of a Spanish Town as the popular English-language account
of the struggle. I am now "he of the biography."