Richard Blair reports on his recent visit to Spain where he and Quentin Kopp joined in the opening of <<Orwell toma café en Huesca>> (Orwell Takes Coffee In Huesca).
Over the weekend of Friday 17th to Sunday the 19th of Feb. Quentin Kopp and I went to Huesca in Aragon at the invitation of the President of Aragon, Javier Lamban, Miguel Gracia, the President of Huesca and Luis Serrate, the Mayor of Huesca, as guests to take part in the opening of a wonderful exhibition entitled “Orwell Takes Coffee in Huesca”, organised and put together by Victor Pardo Lancina, a journalist and historian, who has been involved since the early part of the 2000 with the promotion of George Orwell and his understanding of events in Aragon during the Spanish Civil War. Victor devised and set up a wonderful museum in the little town of Robres, not far from Huesca and also created the Ruta de Orwell in the mountains of Alcubierre, where the trenches that Orwell and Georges Kopp fought in have been restored.
On Friday morning I had an interview with Huesca TV, before Quentin and I walked up to the museum in warm spring sunshine with Victor, his interpreter Elena Torralba and another Elena, Elena Gomez Zazurca, who was to be my interpreter for the address I was asked to give at the opening of the exhibition. On arrival, we were introduced to the local dignitaries and just had time to have a quick look at some of the exhibits and photos before the formal proceedings took place at midday.
After my address, I presented Barnhill Slates to the two presidents and the mayor, before we went inside the Museum for a tour conducted by Victor. Later on, in the evening, Quentin and I returned to take part in much longer tour given by Victor to an invited audience, during which Quentin
Richard Blair (Foreground), Quentin Kopp at his left shoulder
and I were able to explain some of the details arising from the photos and captions. When the museum closed at 21.00 we all retired to a local bar, where we relaxed with some of Victors friends and the feeling was that the day had gone extremely well. What I found most humbling was how many people came up to me to express their gratitude to my father for helping to create understanding about what happened during the time of the war. Thus, ended the first day with a trip to Monflorite scheduled for Saturday.
The day dawned fresh and sunny and after breakfast we made a visit to the Bookshop that sells a lot of Orwell’s books, this was followed by a very pleasant tour of the town and a continuation of a discussion that had started the day before about a proposal to have a statue of Orwell commissioned for the town and which would be entitled “Orwell Takes Coffee in Huesca” We had a lengthy debate as to how the statue should be displayed. I felt that he should be seen as photographed by Vernon Richards (I have since modified my stance at the suggestion of my wife, that he should be seen as he might have been dressed when he was in the trenches).
We then, that is Victor, Quent, Marc Wildemeersch (the author of George Orwell’s Commander in Spain), who had joined us the night before, our two Elenas and myself, drove out to La Granga, the farm that Orwell was billeted on and where the rats “as big as cats” inhabited the church. We were warmly welcomed by Pedro, the owner and in the course of a rather brief visit, were invited to have lunch when we come back in May with the Society. An invitation we were delighted to accept. We now had an appointment with the Mayor of Monflorite, the village where Orwell was treated for a septic hand and not far from La Granga. Most of the village turned out to see both the Mayor and myself unveil a plaque to Orwell, but not before I was cordially invited to the Mayor’s parlour to sign the visitors book. I have to say that the Mayor, a most attractive young lady and I were not alone during the signing! After the appropriate speeches
were made we all retired for drinks and tapas and I was presented with the Aragon flag that had covered the plaque.
This pretty much ended the formal proceedings and the rest of the day and evening was given over to more food and drink and another informal tour of the exhibition plus the art gallery at the museum. The evening followed on with a tour of the casino in the town square, where it is hoped to put up the Orwell statue, or rather the figure of Orwell sitting down at a table with his coffee. Finally, six of us then went and had a typically late Spanish supper, where Quentin gave Victor a Barnhill Slate as a token our grateful thanks for all the wonderful work he has put into this enterprise. This was a weekend that we will remember for a very long time.
As a foot note, on the way home Quentin and I were interviewed by the Deputy Editor of El Pais, when we arrived at Atocha station in Madrid. The article has since appeared on the web site.
The Exhibition <<Orwell toma café en Huesca>> (Orwell Takes Coffee In Huesca) continues to the 25th June in the Museo de Huesca. Use the Ruta de Orwell to explore the restored trenches and dugouts beyond the town at any time.