The Orwell Society field trip to Barcelona and the trenches, 17th – 19th May 2013

Introduction

It was a great pleasure for Liz and I to plan and take 11 other OS members, including Richard and Eleanor Blair on this visit. I have invited all those who came to make a contribution to this year’s report. To put their contributions in context I have provided an outline of the timetable below. The visit starts in Barcelona and moves to sites of the trenches in two areas of Aragon, before returning to Barcelona for a final night. 

There was a lot of press, TV and Radio coverage of our visit while we were in Aragon. We will also provide some links for you.

I do not know when we will run the next tour, but it is likely to be in 2015, if not next year. For those OS members who wish to do all or part of the tour, our guides will be happy to make personal arrangements with you. I will provide full contact details at the end of the report and keep them available on the web site.

 

Programme

  • 16th Gather in Barcelona and have an opportunity to get to know the other members of the party over dinner in a Catalan Restaurant
  • 17th AM and PM. A guided tour of the Ramblas and nearby locations to learn about the context of the Civil War as well as the particular events of May 1937. This year our guide, as he said shamelessly using the names of George Orwell and Georges Kopp, managed to obtain permission for the first time to visit the Poliorama. This is the building owned by the Academy of Sciences, on the roof of which George Orwell was posted as a sentry in the May fighting. T
  • 17th Evening. We went to the Benjamin Franklin International School. During the Civil War one of the buildings was known as the Sanatori Maurin. It was the place where George Orwell convalesced after his neck wound.
  • 18th. Drive to the Ruta de Orwell Visitor Centre at Robres in rural Aragon to have a conducted tour with our guide Víctor Pardo Lancina a journalist and historian, who was a leading spirit in creating both the Centre and in the reconstruction of the trenches we were to visit. Visit the trenches sites of both sides in the conflict in the Sierra Alcubierre, which is where George Orwell was initially posted.
  • 19th Visit several key sites including La Granja, Monflorite, Hermita de Salas and the Tierz trenches near Huesca. Return to Barcelona.

MEMBERS: Richard and Eleanor Blair, Quentin and Liz Kopp, Christian and Veronique Lehmann, Jason Crimp and Anita Coppola, David Ford and Vanessa Pilny, David Harding, Les Hurst and Joe Luttrell. 

George Orwell and Eileen O’Shaughnessy with members of the ILP unit on the Aragon Front outside Huesca, 13th March 1937George Orwell and Eileen O’Shaughnessy with members of the ILP unit on the Aragon Front outside Huesca, 13th March 1937

Richard Blair’s report

THURS.16th MAY: Having all met up in the late afternoon/early evening and with introductions all round, we set off for our first dinner together. Arriving at a busy Can Margarit Restaurant, just off the Ramblas, the majority of us settled down to the house speciality of rabbit, washed down with good quality house wine. Nick Lloyd, our guide for Barcelona, joined us for a most convivial evening.  As with Spanish tradition, we didn’t finish until some time after midnight. 

FRI.17th MAY: At 9.30am  we all gathered on a sunny, but cool morning and set off with our organiser, Quentin Kopp (hereafter I shall call him Quent) to see where his father, Georges Kopp was imprisoned after Orwell had recovered from his neck wound. We were now in time to meet Nick Lloyd at 10.00 at the top of the Ramblas in the Place de Cataluña. Nick Lloyd does Civil War/Orwell tours of the places that were relevant to Orwell at the time he arrived in Barcelona. He thought it would take about 3/3.5 hrs; in the event we didn’t finish much before 4.00pm. However, his journey through the beginning of the Civil War was fascinating and he explained how Orwell saw events unfold.

I have to explain that our group were extremely well read on Orwell and Homage to Catalonia and that our stops were, by definition, long and intense. The highlight of the tour was the invitation by the Academy of Sciences and Arts to go up onto their rooftop to see where Orwell had spent some time on observation duties. This was something that is denied to ordinary tourists and we are very grateful to Nick for having been able to secure permission with the Academy. The senior Academy staff who met us were most gracious in their welcome and we thank them for allowing us to go up onto the roof.

Orwell's view from the Poliorama of the Hotel Continental and the Place de Cataluña

Orwell’s view from the Poliorama of the Hotel Continental and the Place de Cataluña

I think they were equally pleased to meet us as the Orwell Society.  Lunch was taken on the hoof as time was moving on. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with visits to three more sites, the first where a church had been damaged and restoration didn’t happen until the fifties, followed by going to the square of St Phillip Neri, where there had been a massacre, with bullet holes in the walls.  In fact, it had been a bomb blast dropped by Fascist planes, killing 20 or so children and the blame was levelled at the Republicans. Our last stop was to a billiard hall, where Orwell was issued with his firearm. This ended Nick Lloyd’s part of the tour.  In the evening we all went to the Sanatori Maurin, on the edge of the city, where Orwell recuperated from his neck wound. This is now the Benjamin Franklin International School, where we met 4/5 dozen people who had been invited to meet us. After seeing where Orwell had been in the old part of the Sanatorium, we then had about 1.30 hrs of question and answer time, plus a press interview. Thus ended the first day at 8.30pm. It had been very intense and highly educational. 

At the Sanatori Maurin BFIS

The Group with Guests at the Sanatori Maurin (BFIS)

SAT. 17th MAY: Today we picked up two 9 seater hire vehicles and set off at 8.30am for Robres in Aragon and the museum of the “Ruta de Orwell Centre”. We arrived at 11.45am to be met by Victor Pardo Lancina and his interpreter, Elena. His was our guide for the next 2 days. We spent 2.30 hrs going round the museum Victor has helped set up. This was devoted to Orwell and the other principle people involved with the war. Victor was also responsible for reconstructing the trenches that we were to see later. The setting up of this museum has taken place over many years going back to 2003, the  centenary of Orwell’s birth. Victor has had to fight considerable inertia from local and national government as there still seems to be a collective amnesia amongst higher authorities as to what happened between 1936 and 1975. This was another fascinating element of our tour and was followed by an excellent lunch. Mid afternoon saw us arrive at the trenches a few miles/kms from the town of Alcubierre.

It was from here that Georges Kopp rode his black horse up to the trenches at Monte Irazo, everybody else walked! We were greeted by both press and local TV. and after visiting the trenches and seeing where the Republicans were dug in, Quent and I were then interviewed. What a strange sensation it was to walk in the footsteps of my father as he looked out over what was then a barren landscape. All the trees and shrubs had long gone for fuel. With time slipping into late afternoon, we then headed off to see the Fascist trenches at San Simon, where they seemed to have had better facilities. They also commanded more of the countryside and had better communications. We ended  day two by driving to the Albergue de Monegros, an extraordinary building standing high up on a hill with a 360 degree view.

We enjoyed another typical Spanish dinner. 

The view from Monte Irazo (wrongly named Monte Trazo by Orwell).The view from Monte Irazo (wrongly named Monte Trazo by Orwell).

SUN. 18th MAY: Even for the Spanish, the weather was cold and so it was this morning, but it  improved as the day went on,  turning warm and windy by mid afternoon. After breakfast we were on the move again by 8.30am, driving to sites in and around Huesca, a city held by the Fascists and nearly surrounded by the Republicans. We arrived at the church that Orwell was billeted in, where the rats abounded and the floor was covered in muck. We were welcomed by the farmer and his wife, who owned the church. This charming couple were thrilled that we, the Orwell Society, should visit their premises at La Granja. We had a tour of the church, still in use for private functions (Rats and excrement removed I am glad to say – Quentin), and saw the repaired bullet holes in their farmyard gate. Also there were the local radio and TV. and Quent and I were invited to say a few words. 

The Chapel at La Granja

The Chapel at La Granja

Taking our leave the next stop was the little village of Monflorite, where Orwell was treated for a poisoned finger and had to recuperate for over a week. During a short coffee break, we were able to see the papers with reports of our visit to the trenches at Monte Irazo.

Richard reading in the trenches overlooking Huesca at Tierz

Richard reading in the trenches overlooking Huesca at Tierz

We now moved onto our last stop, pausing briefly to see another Civil War site at the Ermita de Salas, which were the trenches overlooking Huesca at Tierz and it was in this area, though nobody is absolutely sure, that Orwell was wounded in the neck by a sniper. From here he was taken to the Sanatorium Maurin. Here, at 3.00 pm we finished our tour with a reading from Homage to Catalonia, one of several that I had done over the past 3 days. The final climax was a wonderful lunch in Huesca starting at 3pm and finishing at 6pm. Here we said farewell to Victor and Elena, both of whom had worked tirelessly over the preceding 36 hours. Victor’s knowledge of Orwell in Spain is prodigious. This only left us to drive back to Barcelona, the last half in a thunderstorm, and to say our goodbyes, reinforced by some quite powerful white Muscatel wine given to us by the farmer at La Granja. 

Coffee in Huesca - for us if not Orwell and comrades

Coffee in Huesca – for us if not Orwell and comrades

SUMMARY: This was, to my mind, a very well organised event and all thanks to Quentin, who has taken a lot of trouble to make sure that everything went according to plan. We must also say thank you to Liz for being so cheerful and laid back. I’m sure she was instrumental in helping Quent with some of the organisation in the background. A big thank you must also go to those who were with us, for making sure that everybody turned up on time and for making such a wonderful contribution to the overall knowledge of Orwell in Spain. There is no doubt that this field trip can be done again, say in 2 years time. 

CONCLUSION: Quent and I have discussed if there are any areas that might be improved, and our conclusion was that the Barcelona segment would be better if it was done over two days. This was a very intense part and we feel that members would benefit if we went a little slower and gave people time to do their own thing whilst in the city. Another suggestion made by Quent was to somehow get all the explanations from the photos, which are in Spanish in the Ruta de Orwell Centre, and have them translated into English so that they can be put alongside. I think that apart from the Spanish, the most likely visitors will be from the UK. Any suggestions?

Richard Blair, 28th May 2013

Anita Coppola

Some feedback ref the trip … as requested.

I’ve been thinking about it & quite honestly I don’t think it was too intensive. The purpose of the trip was to do all that we did, not to ‘sightsee’, so in that respect, the fact that there wasn’t any free time wasn’t really an issue for us. And, as you know, we really enjoyed it.

However, Liz’s idea of spending 2 nights in Aragon is a good one, though how to make it work? Driving over on the evening of day one perhaps, which would make it a long day…. especially for the driver! And have the visit to the school on the evening of the returning 3rd day?

Or, elongate the whole thing over more days, though that impacts on numbers of days holiday people have, which may be less inviting. Or, start in Aragon…. & people to make their own way there initially!

Whichever way it’s done, others will think it could be done differently. So, best idea .. flag up the links to Nick & Victor on the website .. & encourage individual trips?!

In conclusion …. You did a brilliant job & I was really pleased to be a part of it. Thank You.

Final Note

Some Members may wish to see the “Homage to Catalonia” sites as part of a private holiday or as two separate visits to Spain, i.e. Barcelona and then Aragon. Or similarly they may wish to see them, but not be able to match the time they are available with an OS run visit.

Anita Coppola, who came on our visit this year, has suggested that Members should be able to have help to organise their own visits, by being given a list of contacts, which I have provided below. If anyone would like help with organising their own visit, they may of course contact me at quentin@aqkchangemanagement.com

Guides

Nick can offer a variety of tours and has an excellent knowledge and resources to help visitors to understand the context and background to Spain which led to the Civil War as well as the particular events in Barcelona, including of course the May 1937 scenes described in Homage to Catalonia. Nick runs regular tours which he can tell you about as well creating bespoke tours to meet individual’s interests in these events.

  • Huesca and Alcubierre – Victor Pardo Lancina email vparlan@ono.com mobile ‘phone number +34655833018 Victor is a journalist and historian. He was one of the principal people involved in creating the Ruta da Orwell Visitor Centre at Robres and in restoring the trenches in the Sierra de Alcubierre and on the ridge above Tierz, which commands the plain where Huesca lies. Like Nick, Victor is highly enthusiastic and very knowledgeable and is able to create a visit to suit your needs. Victor has very limited English. I therefore suggest that any communication, which is not in Spanish is also addressed to his Translator, who teaches English in a local school. She is Elena Torralba  email elena_torralba@yahoo.es and mobile ‘phone number +34645774577

Hotels and Restaurants

 

  • Barcelona – Opera Ramblas Hostel – Barcelona email info@operaramblas.com web site http://www.operaramblas.com ‘phone +34 93 318 82 01 This Hotel is 50 metres off the Ramblas on the Carrer Sant Pau beside the Opera House. The Metro Station Licieu is on the Ramblas opposite the Carrer Sant Pau. This is a simple and clean hotel in a very convenient location. It does not have any catering, but is close to plenty of cafés and restaurants. It does have a very convenient set of luggage lockers and safes for valuables.
  • Barcelona restaurant – Can Margarit , Carrer de la Concòrdia, At Olivera 21 (Barcelona) web site http://www.bcnrestaurantes.com/eng/barcelona.asp?restaurante=can-margarit ‘phone +34 931 770 740. You can book on line on the web site. This atmospheric restaurant is mostly patronised by local people and serves traditional Catalan food. It is our first night venue. It can be reached from Licieu metro in 3 stops to Poble Sec (L3)
  • Aragon – Alberguemonegros email contacto@alberguemonegros.com web site http://www.alberguemonegros.com/ ‘phone +34660760753 This hotel, which is a magnificently restored building, which has 360 degree views towards Zaragoza and the Sierras is a wonderful location to stay in when in this area.
  • Restaurants in  Aragon – I suggest that you ask Victor. He found us excellent restaurants, which offered stunning value in Alcubierre and Huesca.

3 thoughts on “The Orwell Society field trip to Barcelona and the trenches, 17th – 19th May 2013

  1. Very interesting. Thank you. I am sorry that I couldn’t join the group.

    The Spanish Civil War is highly relevant now, because things are repeating themselves in 2013 in Syria.

    TB

    Like

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