“It is in the villages, in the small places, where the great stories are hidden”. It is a statement made yesterday by the writer Javier Sierra, which summarizes much of what could be enjoyed this Thursday at the Auditorium of Zaragoza. It was in the colloquium with the participation of Sierra himself, Dolores Redondo and Juan Eslava Galán. That is, three Planeta awards that addressed various issues related to the magical Spain and his works, in the context of the sixth edition of the meeting Ocultura, which is held in Zaragoza until Sunday.
The colloquium, organized by Go Aragón, also served to show before an audience made up of directors of municipal libraries how these renowned authors approached mystery, magic and traditions and how literature about magical Spain had influenced them.
The first to fire was Eslava Galán, winner of the Planeta in 1987 with ‘En busca del unicornio’. He did so by answering the question posed by the editor of this newspaper, Alfredo Cortés, who acted as master of ceremonies, about the reasons why Spain is a country with so much magic.
“There is an accumulation of cultures,” said Galán about the Iberian Peninsula, a space that is “an unknown place for the Orientals” and through which many peoples have passed, such as Christians, Jews, Muslims or Phoenicians.
Many cultures in the same place
Redondo, although he admitted that the mixture of cultures has been “very interesting”, he put his attention “not only that they arrived, but how they have been maintained” myths and legends in the territory, something that has considered that it has to do with the orography of Spain.
“But I have to say -apostilled the winner of the Planeta in 2016 with ‘Todo esto te daré- that although in our country there is an enormous wealth, perhaps the most striking thing about studying mythology and studying legends is to see how the same myths are reproduced over and over again throughout the world in very distant cultures”.
Therefore, he considered that this matter “has more to do with something more universal, that night of the world, that uncertainty and the need of the human being to look for answers to what he did not understand”. And he emphasized: “This country is very rich and, for me, a wonderful mine”.
Sierra emphasized that, for human beings, “their point of pilgrimage to enter old Europe was Spain”. And he clarified that in the territory there are not only very ancient vestiges of the first humans, but also “the opposite effect”, since the last colonies of Neanderthals are in Spain “and those people did extraordinary things”. Things like, for example, “inventing art”, which appears “in the Iberian Peninsula” and “the south of France”.
The Iberian peninsula, the “mother” of all novelists.
“Art was painted to tell stories around. I think Spain, in that sense, the Iberian peninsula, is a very special place. It was the mother, probably of all novelists, from that point of view,” defended the 2017 Planeta winner for ‘El fuego invisible’.
The appointment also served to learn how Dolores Redondo approached the world of myths and legends of the Basque Country and Navarre, a universe she explores in the Baztan trilogy and other works of her authorship. It was “as everyone should approach it, with the most traditional way, the narrative”, from the stories told to him by his grandmother.
“She loved the whole Galician magical tradition, she was of Galician origin but had been settled in the Basque Country since she was very young, and she had learned to mix and compare them, to see the elements they had in common,” he said.
In addition, she cited José Miguel de Barandiarán and Julio Caro Baroja as her “main sources”, since they were the ones who collected stories, some of them “by word of mouth”, in the whole Pyrenean area. “Sometimes -the stories- have a little variation, but they are almost the same told in a village in Aragon, in a village in the Basque Country, in a village in the French Basque Country or in Catalonia,” he stressed.
A mysterious tombstone
Eslava Galán, when asked about the theme that has fascinated him most in this Magical and Mysterious Spain, said it was that of Solomon’s table. On this subject, he explained that it all came about by coincidence, when he discovered a tombstone with Hebrew letters on it in an antique shop in Granada. It turned out to be part, he continued, of a neo-Byzantine tomb, from 1914, which was precisely in his hometown, Arjona (Jaén), which was looted in the civil war.
“Pulling a little of the matter” he knew that the one who made the sepulcher was “the baron of Velasco, who was procurator in Cortes for Albarracín”. After continuing with the investigation in the cathedral of Jaén, he discovered “that there was a kind of lodge at the beginning of the century that believed it was in possession of the table of Solomon”; not of the table as an object, but of “a mute book” from which the name of God could be deduced.
It was after Eslava Galán’s intervention when Sierra noticed the idea with which this text opens, that is, how people are impregnated with that magical and mysterious universe that Ocultura addresses and have a lot of potential to host great stories.
And, about how he was fascinated by all these issues, he said that as a teenager he read the ‘Guide to Magic Spain’, by the writer honored at this year’s meeting, Juan García Atienza. From there, Sierra said he wanted to write a book “to carry in the glove compartment of the car”, something like “a kind of Michelin Guide to Spanish mysteries.
This reference to García Atienza served for Redondo to explain how this writer came to influence her. In her case, she indicated that “in exactly the same way as Caro Baroja and Barandián”. About these figures, she claimed again their role in collecting “something that was being lost”, because in Spain there was “a current in many moments of trying to erase those pasts, because they were almost embarrassing”.
The women with the tile on their heads
At the time, he recounted how in the north of Navarre, in towns like Baztan, women could not leave the house until their children were baptized after birth. This meant that, normally, the little ones were baptized when they were only one day old, since the women had to take care of the farm chores as well. However, when the little ones were born with some kind of health problem, the priests did not want to baptize them so as not to fill heaven with souls that were not genuinely Christian.
“In Baztan there is a belief that says that your house goes as far as the eaves. Then, they would go up to the roof, take a tile, put it on their head, fasten it with a handkerchief and go to the fields to work, to milk and go to the market with a tile on their head; that way they were under the roof, under the house”, he explained.
About customs such as these, he considered that, although “they may seem absolutely absurd things”, it is good that they have been collected and preserved so that it is understood at what time these things happened and the reasons for them.
Finally, Eslava Galán noted that “many” of these issues that may seem magical, including what is considered witchcraft, “simply come from an ancient religion” prior to Christianity. Then, he recounted, there was “a series of gods, customs, rites and myths” that the priests of the new religion, that is, the Christian religion, what they do is to Christianize them. “But, of course, since they are never completely Christianized, that’s where all these myths come from,” he concluded.