SO, YOU WANT to be Federico García Lorca? You want to be the smiling, black-haired man in a white suit, cigarette in hand, held up in greeting on a life-sized cardboard cutout by the reception desk of Hotel Reina Cristina in Granada? He was arrested here on August 16, 1936. The home he stayed in is unrecognizable, now a charmless hotel, and the cardboard cutout is a morbid gesture made by the tired-looking staff. But from the cardboard likeness, the man you want to be looks like he can charm the very stones of the vega. A massive rose garden surrounds the Lorca family home in the Huerta de San Vicente. You want to live there. You want to be held at the
waist by a young Salvador Domenech Dalí on the beach in Cadaqués. You want to lecture to a mesmerized Buenos Aires audience about the black sounds of duende. You want Luis Cernuda to do naked somersaults in your student residence in Madrid. You want to recite Romance sonámbulo late at night in a garden to Rafael Alberti. While you want to be internationally celebrated as poet and playwright in the Spanish speaking world, do you want to be dangerous enough at home to make the Falange come for you here at the corner of Calles Angulo and Tablas?
To become Lorca, you will need to be born the first child of a wealthy landowner father and school-teacher mother in the village of Fuente Vaqueros, not far from Granada on June 5, 1898, a bad year for Spain as she loses most of the last remnants of her empire: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines. Your entire creative and social life will have to take place in a crucible of divergent, often violent political views. But in the quiet of your village, your childhood will be marked by mastering the piano, by attending the grand theatre of Catholic mass, by the death of an infant brother. You will create your own altars, your own liturgies, and your own puppet shows. You will even choreograph an elaborate funeral procession through town for a dead bird.
Your family will move you and your siblings to Granada to attend school, and while the town’s gardens and Moorish walls enchant you, its classrooms and lecture halls will not. You will detest school. You will skip lectures to wander the Generalife and the Alhambra. But you will read deeply and with relish Shakespeare, Ovid, the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, as well as the Siglo de Oro staples such as Góngora, Quevedo, Cervantes, and Lopa de Vega. By the time you squeak by your exams at age sixteen, you will fall in love with the nocturnes and modernísmo correspondences of Ruben Darío. If you wish to be Lorca, you must become, above all, a gregarious performer, one who also gathers artists, musicians, writers around you. In Granada, this will take place in the Café Alameda, in a group called El Rinconcillo.
In Granada, you will continue to frustrate your father with your lack of focus and direction, not to mention your continued failures in school. Fear not, for you will stumble upon a handful liberal teachers who recognize your potential and imagination—central among them, will be two men: Fernando de los Ríos, a progressive educator and politician; and Professor Martín Domínguez Berrueta, who will take you and a handful of students out of the classroom and into the artistic and literary world of Spain. Domínguez Berrueta will take you on field trips to meet Antonio Machado in Baeza and Miguel de Unamuno in Salamanca. You will begin writing down your impressions of these experiences, as well as reflective musings on art. In 1918, at nineteen years old, with the financial backing of your father, you will publish your first book, an unwieldy conglomeration of verse and prose called Impressions and Landscapes. The book will be riddled with grammatical and typographical errors, but local reviews will praise your potential and imagination. Impetuous and self-absorbed, you will forget to acknowledge Domínguez Berrueta, the man who opened up your literary world for you. He will throw your book back at you, and he will never forgive you.
You must put Granada behind you, for Fernando de los Ríos still believes in you and is powerfully connected. He will let you loose deeper inside the intellectual circles of Madrid. You will play piano and charm Juan Ramón Jiménez while visiting him in his apartment. You will gain admittance to the prestigious Residencia de Estudiantes, an elite community of young intellectuals. Not a university, for there are no classes or exams, the Residencia will offer you lectures by the great thinkers of the day: H. G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Paul Valéry, Louis Aragon, G.K. Chsterton, Le Corbusier, Blaise Cendrars, Henri Bergson, John Maynard Keynes, and even Stravinsky. More importantly, here you will establish relationships that will become the next major generation of artists in Spain, among them Luis Buñuel, Rafael Alberti, and Salvador Dalí.
Not surprisingly, in 1920, you will write and produce your first play, The Butterfly’s Evil Spell, another endeavor heavily subsidized by your father. The cumbersome yet poetic play will survive four awkward performances before closing. That same year you will write and publish your second book, Book of Poems, a derivative volume of traditional forms parroting the Modernistas such as Darío.
Your father’s patience will grow thin, and he will demand that you complete a university degree. You must return to Granada to matriculate in courses you detest. That said, your return will afford you the chance to meet composer Manuel de Falla, who will share your love of gypsy song and culture. University degree sidelined, you will collaborate with de Falla by developing a puppet play The Billy Club Puppets, and de Falla will provide the score. You will also begin writing poems that will make up Poem of the Deep Song. Perhaps out of fear of losing your father’s financial support, or your longing to return to Madrid’s Residencia, you again barely survive your final exams.
Back in Madrid, you will juggle projects and talents: your drawing, your piano, new puppet plays and poem suites, but you will struggle to publish or stage anything. Something must change inside you. The innocence of the village, its folksongs and Catholic mass, will contrast the dandyish Madrid of the 1920s. The spiritual innocence of childhood and your sexual and artistic blossoming will also work in opposition inside you. You will admit privately to friends you love men, among them Dalí, and you will lament a loss of childhood innocence. Toing and froing between Granada and Madrid will dominate this struggle. At twenty-seven years old, you will still be living off the charity of your father. Three different manuscripts, Songs, Suites, and Poem of the Deep Song have not found publishers. In print, even critics will praise your talent while berating you for laziness. You long to escape both Madrid and Granada.
Eventually, reprieves and escapes will come. You and Dalí will form a collaboration and passionate relationship, one that the public and many of your friends will not know about. Dalí himself, many years after your death, will deny any homosexual relationship. At last, your book Songs will find a publisher, and the country will begin to celebrate your gifts. You will meet the Catalonian actress Margarita Xirgu, who will help you produce your first major play, Mariana Pineda, a tragedy about women trapped in the social conventions of Spain. Mariana Pineda, your eponymous masterpiece, will be based on a 19th-century single mother and political activist from Granada who was hanged for trying to topple the brutal regime of King Fernando VII. Dalí will create the stage designs. He will also paint your face in his paintings Invitation to a Dream and Honey Is Sweeter than Blood.
Alas, your path will diverge from Dalí’s, and not without heartache. When José Ortega y Gasset and his Revista de Occidente publishes your book of poems Primer Romancero Gitano, Dalí will dismiss it as illustrative and clichéd. Nevertheless, the book will continue to open doors for you and bring you fame throughout the country. On June 13, 1929, at thirty-one years old, you will board the S.S. Olympic and steam across the Atlantic for a lecture tour in the United States and Cuba. In New York, you will find the city both a marvel and a horror. While Harlem, African American culture, and jazz will enchant you, New York’s economic and social inequality will terrify you. You will be on the streets when the October stock collapse of 1929 goes down. While you attend English lessons and classes, you will learn no English, enjoying the hospitality of Spanish-speaking academics, socialites, and millionaires. Andrés Segovia will watch you play piano at a swanky party. One night, you will meet Hart Crane over whiskeys in a Brooklyn apartment full of sailors. Conflicting forces, enchantment, repulsion, and horror will stir inside you. You will start writing a series of poems Poeta en Nueva York, which will contain such poems as “Ode to Walt Whitman” and “Landscape of a Vomiting Multitude.” Like so much of your work, it will not appear in print in your brief lifetime. Are you sure you want to be Federico García Lorca?
Three months in Cuba will follow with its cane fields and casinos. There will be the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, and there will also be new loves, Lamadrid and Juan Ernest Pérez de la Riva. At your departure, you will vow to come back to Havana, but you never will.
You will work furiously on many works while sailing home to Spain that will never be finished, including a remarkable homoerotic play, “El Público,” which will not receive a professional theatre production until 1986. You will also return to an evermore divided country, with a progressive government estranging itself from the church and the military. Once back in Madrid, you will found a traveling theater troupe, La Barraca, which will bring classic and contemporary theatre to the common people. You will recruit university students to help take plays out of the libraries and commercial theatres of universities and cities and to perform them for the people in village squares. La Barraca will reinvent the plays of Lopa de Vega, Cervantes, and Calderón. The nationalist press will ridicule your efforts as leftist propaganda, even making reference to your sexuality by calling the troupe “Sodom on the Road.”
To become Lorca, you must keep writing, drawing material from your native Andalucía. You will restage a tragic news story from Almería as material for a play. Bodas de Sangre, about a bride eloping with her cousin on her wedding day, will explore unconventional desire in rural Spain. In the play that follows, Yerma, you will adapt the pilgrimage of Moclín, a journey childless women make not far from where you were born. And you will fall in love with Rafael Rodríguez Rapún, a handsome engineering student, who becomes a secretary for La Barraca. When he leaves you, the pain will spur you to write Sonetos del Amor Oscuro, yet another book that will not see in print until after your death.
At thirty-four, with the success of Bodas de Sangre, you are financially independent from your father for the first time in your life. You board the Italian liner Conte Grande, which will take you to South America for a reading tour. There, you will lecture on Manuel de Falla, cante jondo, duende, and read poems to packed halls. While you bask in the limelight, you long for lost innocence, Rodríguez Rapún, even a bit of peace. Perhaps fame will reach you in Buenos Aires or Montevideo. Jorge Luis Borges will find you pompous and false, but Pablo Neruda will love you, as will Juana de Ibarbourou. Without question, you will become an international literary star.
You will return to a violently divided country. José Antonio Primo de Rivera, head of the Spanish Falange, will help promote the idea that the country is in the grips of a Marxist, Jewish, homosexual, anarchist anti-Catholic conspiracy. When your play Yerma premieres on December 29, 1934, Falangists will hiss and heckle from the balconies. As you try to produce your most activist play, The Dream of Life, army generals Manuel Goded, Angel Rodríguez del Barrio, and Francisco Franco plot to overthrow the republic. When you turn thirty-eight on June 5, 1936, you will make plans to leave the country, to return to the Americas, this time Mexico. Falangists and leftists exchange political assassinations. While rehearsing for your play Once Five Years Pass, a backfiring car outside will send you cowering beneath a piano. History will keep you from boarding another ship; in order to become Lorca, its crucible will shape and trap you.
Your nerves shot, you will return to Granada to be with your family on your saint’s day, July 18, 1936. The papers, both from the left and the right, announce the arrival of Granada’s native son and famous writer. That same day, army garrisons will rise up against liberal local governments. General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano will control Sevilla and begin nationalist radio broadcasts that reach Granada. Granada’s garrisons follow suit on July 20. You will be with your family at the Huerta de San Vicente when your sister’s husband, Manuel Fernández-Montesinos, Granada’s newly elected mayor, is arrested. The military stations artillery in the Alhambra and opens fire on the working class neighborhood of the Albaicín.
On July 21, political executions begin. Throughout the first weeks of August, the blue-shirted Falangists will come to your family home, sometimes to search the premises, sometimes to beat or detain members of the household, such as your housekeeper who will be accused of being a communist. On August 9, they will throw you down the stairs and yell “maricón!”
Will you leave with a family friend in a car for safe Republican territories? Will you stay with your family in hopes that their wealth and your fame will protect you? After much debate, you will contact a fellow poet, Luis Rosales, an admirer of your work, and a member of the Falange. You will hide in his family’s house on the corner of Calles Tablas and Angulo. Shortly after you leave, the Falange will return to your family’s house, this time to arrest you. They will even dismantle your piano in hopes of finding a radio transmitter that allows you to communicate with the Soviet Union. Luis Rosales’s mother and aunts will take care of you, especially the mother Esperanza Rosales, who you will call your “divine jailor.”
The members of the Rosales family will do what they can for you, but eventually, on August 16, the Falange will find you and arrest you. From your room on the second floor, you will hear Esperanza try to send them away. Eventually, she will come to your room, ask if you want to say a prayer together in front of an image of the sacred heart before you leave. As the men take you away, you will not give Esperanza your hand, because you do not want to think you won’t see each other again.
Your family and the Rosales family will do what they can, making large donations of gold and jewelry to the military, lobbying officials to release you from the government building on Calle Duquesa, just a few blocks away from where you had been hiding. At around 3 a.m. on August 18, you will be driven out of Granada. You will pass by the wrought-iron fence of the University’s botanical garden. You will be handcuffed to another enemy of the state, a disabled school teacher named Dióscoro Galindo González. The car will take you to Víznar, a village just north of the city. There you will stay in a building called Villa Concha, once a summer dormitory for school children, now a fortified detention center for the military. You will spend a handful of hours there with Galindo González and two bullfighters accused of being anarchists. There will also be a man named José Jover Tripaldi, a devoted Catholic and one of your jailors. He will lie to you and tell you that your lives will be spared at dawn and that you will be taken for manual labor on fortifications. As the night wears on, however, he will tell you the truth, asking if you would like to make a confession. He believes he is performing a noble task by saving your soul himself since there is no priest. Before dawn, armed men will take you with the others to a place no one will ever find. It will be somewhere near a spring named Ainadamar, which in Arabic means “The Fountain of Tears.” You will be murdered with the school teacher and the bullfighters. You will not want to die. To become Lorca, you must not want to become a martyr.