Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Antonio Garrigues 1904 - 2004

Of the lawyer Antonio Garrigues Díaz-Cañabate, who has died aged 100, it can certainly be said that he lived in interesting times. He was a privileged observer of his homeland’s turbulent century, born under a monarchy, growing up under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, holding high office in both the republic that succeeded it and the dictatorship that followed, then joining the first cabinet of the monarchy that steered Spain back into the democratic mainstream.
Although he never joined a political party, he was close to the epicentre of Spanish politics for most of his life. Despite his signal services to the Franco dictatorship, as its ambassador to Washington and later the Vatican, he played an honourable part in the transition by softening the legal constraints on political activity and quitting the cabinet in the face of efforts by the Francoist old guard to frustrate much-needed change.
He built the law partnership he founded into one of Europe’s biggest and was a crucial facilitator of the influx of foreign capital that modernised Spain’s economy and transformed its social fabric. He chaired some of the country’s largest businesses and was noted as a writer in the fields of philosophy, theology, culture and current affairs.
Garrigues was born in Madrid, son of a successful lawyer, in 1904; his mother died when he was quite young. After an outstandingly successful studentship at Madrid’s Central University, he qualified as a lawyer and practised until 1931, beginning in his father’s practice. Under the provisional government of the Republic, the 27-year-old Garrigues was appointed director-general of registries and notaries in the justice ministry.
In the same year he married Helen Walker, from Des Moines, Iowa, daughter of a senior executive in the US multinational ITT. She bore him 11 children, three of whom died in infancy. When Madrid was under siege in the latter stages of the Spanish Civil War, Walker’s passport and the couple’s close friendship with a young American visitor, Joseph Kennedy, son of the US ambassador to London, rescued them from many a close shave. The city was defended by edgy Republican militias, and Garrigues was secretly giving what he described as purely humanitarian aid to their enemies.
After the war, he abstained from active politics, but moved in monarchist circles not closely connected to the regime and, in the 1950s, in discussion groups run by dissident priests. The death of his 35-year-old wife left him widowed in 1941. His brother Joaquín, Spain’s most prominent commercial lawyer, joined him in 1941 to set up the Garrigues law firm. The practice was later remodelled as a partnership on Anglo-Saxon lines, a startling innovation in Spain, and grew steadily. Multinationals seeking to expand in Spain made Garrigues, a frequent transatlantic traveller, their lawyer of choice.
In March 1962, Garrigues received an unexpected summons to be appointed Spanish ambassador to the United States. As Franco’s emissary to John F. Kennedy’s short-lived Camelot, he was able to use his former friendship with the president’s late brother Joe as an entrée into the inner circle; he regularly dined at the White House.
If the appointment to the Washington embassy was a particularly sensitive mission, no less was his next diplomatic posting, to the Holy See during the reforming papacy of Paul VI. There he served from 1964 to 1972, encompassing the Second Vatican Council which reassessed the Church’s stance on many issues, temporal and spiritual. A devout Catholic – he said he reached that position after a long journey from agnosticism – Garrigues was broadly in tune with the spirit of renewal and opening-up, despite the stiff resistance it met in conservative quarters at home.
He was involved in some early reformist initiatives within the Spanish establishment, contributing to a draft revision of the Francoist constitution which found no favour with his superiors in Madrid. On his return to Spain, Garrigues resumed his law practice and his other commercial interests. The law firm expanded to 1,200 partners. Garrigues chaired the broadcasting company SER, Citroën Hispania, the Spanish-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and numerous educational and cultural charities, along with an array of other directorships.
Following Franco’s death, Garrigues was appointed in December 1975 justice minister in the first government named by the new King Juan Carlos, under Carlos Arias Navarro. He was seen as one of the more liberal members of an administration that, for all the monarch’s democratic leanings, was weakly led by Arias in the face of reactionary pressures from the “bunker” of the old regime. Garrigues stood down after seven months, disenchanted with the failure to open up a broader range of political liberties. His main achievement was the repeal of the repressive laws under which Franco had sent political opponents to face the firing squad. His son Joaquín later served as minister for public works in the government led by Adolfo Suárez of the Union of the Democratic Centre, while the father returned to business, remaining active for many years.
Garrigues leaves a considerable body of writings in various genres, from articles in learned journals of jurisprudence to newspaper columns and volumes of essays: Diálogos conmigo mismo (Dialogues With Myself, 1978); Reflexión sobre las cosas que pasan (Thoughts on Things that Happen, 1984); and poetry, including En la encrucijada de Roma (At the Crossroads in Rome, 1986).
In January, on the eve of Garrigues’ 100th birthday, King Juan Carlos I raised him to the nobility as the Marqués de Garrigues. He held many other honours, among them the Grand Crosses of Spain’s premier orders – Isabel la Católica, Carlos III and San Raimundo – and of the Order of Malta, along with French and Portuguese decorations, and was elected at the age of 80 to the Spanish Academy of Moral and Political Sciences. He died peacefully at his Madrid home.

  • Antonio Garrigues Díaz-Cañabate, lawyer, born 9 January 1904, died 24 February 2004
This was written for the Daily Telegraph; I think it was published in a different form, edited together with material from other writers.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Alfonso Hohenloe-Lagenburg 1924 - 2003

The twentieth century was not particularly kind to Europe’s aristocratic dynasties, but Prinz Alfonso Ferdinand zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who has died aged 79, was not only a relic of empire but an empire builder. The profits from his Vokswagen concession in Mexico turned the sleepy Andalucian fishing village of Marbella into the hub of a vast tourist industry on Spain’s Costa del Sol.
Hohenlohe, the second son of Prince Maximilian and Piedita Yturbe, was proud that his paternal line could trace its genealogy the the Gaugrafen von der Tauber, 14 centuries ago. His mother’s title, Marquesa de Belvís, came from her Basque grandfather, who made a fortune in Mexico. Marrying into a more ancient nobility won her an invitation to the coronation of the last Russian Tsar and, for Alfonso, baptism in Madrid’s royal palace with King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia for godparents.
The son did not inherit his mother’s shrewdness in matrimony and his numerous flings and misadventures kept gossip columnists in steady work. Nor did he inherit a vast family fortune, with the Great War, the Mexican revolution and the Spanish Civil War all taking their toll.
His childhood was spent in Spain (hence the usual form of his surname, ‘de’ Hohenlohe rather than von und zu) and in the ancestral palaces in Bohemia. Having mastered Spanish, French, German and English as a child, he travelled widely in Europe between the wars. Hohenlohe qualified in the USA as an agronomist, though it was only late in life that he put those skills to work as a wine grower.
In 1945, Hohenlohe began buying up cheap land around Marbella. Winning the lucrative concession for Volkswagen in Mexico in 1953, partnership in a Texas car dealership, and in the 1960s the Volvo franchise for Spain, funded further investments on the Andalucian coast. Cars were among his many passions: he was a keen rally driver and boasted that his father had owned the first Hispano-Suiza built. Tennis and painting were other enthusiasms.
Initially, by Hohenlohe’s account, he set out to cater for the elite end of the travel market, rather than transform the Costa del Sol into a byword for package tourism. The names he wanted in his guestbook were Rothschild, Metternich, Niarchos, Agnelli, al-Saud, Bismarck, the Aga Khan – and the emerging ‘jet set’ of Hollywood. With resorts like Biarritz and San Sebastián beginning to fade, Hohenlohe saw the potential for a wholly new luxury destination and his social status gave him a head start: close friends included his schoolmate, Rainier of Monaco, and the shipbuilder Aristotle Onassis. His circle in America included Howard Hughes, Bob Hope, Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper, Liz Taylor and Frank Sinatra.
His flagship hotel complex, the Marbella Club, was joined by a string of restaurants, housing developments, hotels, sports clubs and other ventures. As head of the Costa del Sol Promoters’ Co-operative, he lobbied successfully for major infrastructural improvements in roads, airports and water supply. His conference and exhibition centre spurred the growth of Torremolinos as a mass market destination.
Over the past few decades, especially during the wretched reign of Marbella’s ex-mayor Jesús Gil, property development spiralled out of control on the Costa del Sol and Hohenlohe (who has a boulevard in Marbella named in his honour) must share part of the blame, however much he disparaged the speculative philistinism that came to prevail.
Hohenlohe took a close interest in every aspect of the hospitality industry, from the architecture to the menu, the layout of gardens or the room décor. He became involved as a consultant or a business partner in tourist developments from Florida to the Philippines, with interests in the Caribbean and the United Arab Emirates.
His public profile owed much to his turbulent private life. In Venice in 1955, after a whirlwind courtship, he married the teenage Princess Ira (Virginia Carolina Theresa Pancrazia Galdina zu) Fürstenberg, who bore him two sons, Christopher and Humbertus (an Olympic skier and singer), before abruptly running off with a Brazilian playboy. Hohenlohe pulled strings to have the marriage annulled by the Catholic church. Divorced in 1960, he had well-publicised affairs with Ava Gardner and Kim Novak before marrying the actress Jackie Lane in Las Vegas 1970. She bore him a daughter, Arriana, but the couple soon separated and were divorced in 1985.
Five years earlier, a romance with Swiss ex-model Heidi Balzer had produced another daughter, Desirée. In 1991, aged 67, he married for a third time. This proved a happy union but his Gibraltarian-British wife, Marilys Haynes, died suddenly in 2000.
After selling off most of his interests in Marbella town and his Volvo concession, Hohenlohe was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago and withdrew to some extent from the front line. He maintained a lively interest in the promotion of his award-winning Príncipe Alfonso wine label and other ventures, some of them controversial like a proposed new golf-centred village on the edge of the Doñana nature reserve.
The Spanish government decorated Hohenlohe with the Medal for Merit in Tourism a few days before his death on Saturday in his Marbella mansion.

Alfonso Ferdinand zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg, entrepreneur; born 28 May 1924; died 20 December 2003

(This was written for the Daily Telegraph - unsure whether it was published)

Friday, 28 May 2010

José Tamayo 1920-2003

As a director, producer and impresario José Tamayo, who has died aged 82, was one of the most important figures in Spain's theatre world during the past century - and during the Franco dictatorship.
He was instrumental in the careers of performers like the actors Paco Rabal, Nuria Espert and Mary Carillo, and singers Alfredo Kraus, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Montserrat Caballé.
Tamayo founded the first of his several companies - it was named after Lope de Vega - in 1946. It took audacity, and the occasional run-in with the censor, for the Madrid-based company to stage the works of authors viewed with suspicion in cold-war Spain.
Tamayo put on Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding, Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman, Albert Camus's Caligula, Bertold Brecht's Mother Courage and works by Jean Anouilh, Samuel Beckett, Luigi Pirandello and Ramón Valle-Inclán. The contrast with the staid and often trashy establishment theatre was startling.
From 1954 to 1962 he was director of the Teatro Español. His first musical was South Pacific in 1954, and Bizet's Carmen wowed open-air audiences eight years later.
In the 1960s he was the founding impresario and director of the Teatro de Bellas Artes and, through the Teatro Lírica Nacional, helped rescue the musical theatre genre from a long slide into mediocrity.
Tamayo's adventurous productions drew in new audiences and he also highlighted Spanish cultural excellence. First performed in 1966, his Antologías de la Zarzuela, showcasing a musical theatre genre rooted in 17th-century Madrid, attracted nearly 20 million spectators worldwide. A 25th-anniversary production in Madrid featured Caballé and Carreras.
Tamayo was born in Granada, where he acted in several amateur drama groups after the civil war. He then joined the Teatro Universitario Lope de Vega, where his early successes included La Vida es un sueño, the classic by Calderón de la Barca, progenitor of the zarzuela genre. Then came that first company of his own, which began with him producing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
In recent times, Tamayo's stagings included Les Misérables, with his close friend Domingo as co-producer at the Teatro Nuevo Apolo, where Tamayo was the resident impresario, A Streetcar Named Desire and a reworking of Caligula.
Tamayo was greatly admired in Spanish showbusiness. His honours included the Gold Medal of Fine Arts and royal honours. His final illness followed his collapse at the opening of Madrid's Nuevo Teatro Alcalá.
He is survived by his brother and collaborator, Ramón.
  • José Tamayo Rivas, theatre director and impresario, born August 16 1920; died March 26 2003
[FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE GUARDIAN, 7 APRIL 2003. Photo from http://www.mundoclasico.com/]

Gladys Marín 1941-2005

In September 1973, Gladys Marín, who has died, aged 63, of a brain tumour, had just arrived back in Chile from a tour of Europe when the army chief-of-staff Augusto Pinochet led a military coup against the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende.
Immediately, Marín, a leading member of the Chilean Communist party and a parliamentarian, broadcast a desperate message of defiance on Radio Magallanes. Her name appeared on the junta's most-wanted list, and she went underground, separated from her husband, the Santiago Communist party secretary Jorge Muñoz, and their two sons.
Ordered by the party to leave the country, Marín flew to Moscow in November, leaving her sons with their grandparents. Her husband remained on the run until he was arrested, with other communist leaders, in 1976. Marín was in Costa Rica when she heard that he had "disappeared" in secret police custody. His body was never found.
In 1978, Marín slipped back into Chile, and spearheaded the communist operation to infiltrate exiles to develop the resistance. Even her sons were unaware that she was back. Once, while lodging in a house on the street where they lived, she recognised one of her children, but was too afraid for his safety to give him the embrace she yearned for.
In 1980, the Communist party opted for a strategy of popular rebellion, and Marín was instrumental in the creation of its armed wing, the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR), led by returned exiles with military training. Its most spectacular action was an abortive assassination attempt on Pinochet in 1986.
Marín was born in Curepto. Her mother, Adriana, was a schoolteacher, and her father, Heraclio, a small farmer and travelling salesman. Adriana left after discovering that her husband had fathered a number of the children she taught. Marín lived with her mother in Sarmiento and Talagante, south-west of the capital, Santiago. There, she would gather firewood in the hills.
A move to Santiago brought her to the Escuela Normal, where she joined the student union. When, in 1958, the Communist party was legalised in Chile, Marín joined the Communist Youth and supported the socialist Allende's unsuccessful presidential campaign.
The following year, she met Muñoz, then a mining engineer, and they married within a year. They worked in Allende's third campaign in 1964. A year later, Marín became Chile's youngest parliamentarian, and, between 1966 and 1977, she was general secretary of Communist Youth.
Allende's Popular Unity coalition won power in 1970. Marín took part in much of the left's extra-parliamentary work - peasant movements, voluntary urban work crews and cultural groups. The government, meanwhile, faced formidably funded rightwing subversion. The army chief-of-staff was assassinated, and, in 1973, his successor was ousted in favour of Pinochet.
By the mid-1980s, the Communist party's Popular Unity allies had opted for a coalition with the Christian Democrats, a move that Marín saw as a betrayal, although the regime undertook a limited transition to democracy.
Marín resurfaced from clandestinity in 1990, and, four years later, was elected party general secretary. In 1996, she was charged with "criminal calumny" for denouncing Pinochet as a tyrannical coward and psychopath, and jailed for four days. In 1998, while he still headed the armed forces, she became the first person to file criminal charges against him. When he took up his self-awarded senate seat, Marín was one of many protesters beaten up by paramilitary police outside parliament.
In 1999, she stood as the first Communist party presidential candidate in Chile since 1932, though with only 225,000 votes she came a distant third. When, in 2001, paramilitary police evicted the party from its offices, Marín resisted the takeover with a team of lawyers, cheered on building workers who hurled bricks at the police and was injured while defending the premises.
She gave up the general secretaryship in 2002, and was elected party president. Her autobiography, La vida es hoy (Life is Today), was published in 2003.
As the gravity of her illness became known, Marín won affection in even the conservative Chilean media, and was dubbed "everyone's favourite red". The communists enlisted leading artists in a fundraising campaign to pay for her treatment and re-equip the country's health service. The appeal mobilised an extraordinary array of social groups, from Christian leftists to the indigenous Mapuche community - Marín had a profound respect for popular religious sentiment.
She received post-operative care in Cuba, where she dictated more memoirs and wrote for the party press, but deliberately returned to Chile to die. Death, she once said, held no fear for her; she had spent half of her life in its shadow. But "La Gladys", as even her sons called her, lived to see Pinochet arraigned before a Chilean court.
She is survived by her partner, the journalist Julio Ugas, and her sons.
  • Gladys Marín Millie, revolutionary, born 16 July 1941; died 6 March 2005
[FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE GUARDIAN, 9 MARCH 2005. Photo from http://www.libertad.dm.cl/]

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Ramon Margalef López 1919-2004

Ecology is recognised today as one of the main scientific disciplines at humanity's disposal in confronting the challenges of the future. This is due in no small measure to six decades of work by Ramon Margalef, the Catalan scientist who has died aged 85, and whose name is invoked whenever someone measuring biodiversity within an ecosystem applies one of their key tools: the Margalef Index.
The man himself was modest about his achievements, preferring to define his discipline as an extension of common sense. He explained: "Ecology is partly based on seeing ourselves as part of the natural world. Those who study these matters see this interdependency as something positive, not a matter for argument or conflict. And increasingly, it is seen as implying obligations: this is where we live, so we have to attend to our housekeeping and not leave the place a shambles."
As for the eponymous index: oceanographers, terrestrial ecologists and nowadays even geographers and sociologists routinely employ this calculation, based on the total number of species present and the number of individuals within each kind, to characterise a given system - a millpond, a coral reef, a human community or a maize field - in terms of its comparative diversity and to forecast its development. The versatility of the tool testifies to its author's ingenuity in the application of scientific method but only partly explains why he is among the most frequently cited sources in learned journals worldwide.
Ramon Margalef López was born in Barcelona and was still a teenager, studying in the city's commerce college while indulging a keen amateur's interest in natural history, when Spain was engulfed in civil war. He signed up to fight in the Republic's youngest fighting unit, the "quinta del biberón" (the "baby's bottle brigade"), and after his side was defeated, he found work in insurance sales until Franco's army called him up for two more ignominious years of compulsory service.
On his discharge, Margalef won a scholarship to the Institute of Applied Biology, where he excelled; by the time of his prize-winning graduation in 1949, he had already begun publishing a body of work that would ultimately run to more than 300 articles and books.
Margalef made daring use of logarithms and thermodynamics in his researches into biodiversity and his 1957 inaugural lecture as a member of the Barcelona Royal Academy of Sciences, on the use of information theory in ecology, was promptly translated for the journal General Systems and won him a worldwide audience.
Another groundbreaking article, "On certain unifying principles in ecology", appeared in American Naturalist in 1963 and this, along with his 1968 collection Perspectives in Ecological Theory, based on his guest lectures at Chicago University, secured his standing as a forerunner of modern scientific ecology in any language. Limnology, the study of lakes and wetlands, would still be in its infancy without Margalef's input.
Appointed to Spain's first chair in ecology, which he held at the University of Barcelona from 1967 to his retirement 20 years later (when he was appointed emeritus), Margalef supervised the doctorates of a whole generation of ecologists from throughout Spain and beyond. He preferred to teach early in the morning and late in the evening, to free up his days for research - yet students still packed out his lectures. When one student observed that it was difficult to absorb all the ideas and information he imparted, he promised to sum it up in a book: the result was his famous 1974 textbook, the much-translated Ecologia, which like his other standard work Limnologia (1983) runs to just over 1,000 succinct pages.
He was an enthusiast for the public appreciation of science and for the engagement of scientific rigour in environmental policy. He once said: "People talk about dumping our wastes in the ocean depths, because the ocean supposedly has an immense digestive capacity. But I believe there are dangers, since this would alter many of the ocean's mechanisms of which we are ignorant or still little aware... (our ignorance) is itself a bigger danger. On issues like this, the ecologist is often asked to give approval or offer arguments in favour. Or else the ecologist goes for an equally untenable stance, one of simple protest. Protest, itself, has to present constructive solutions."
He was a visiting professor at Yale, Melbourne, Chicago, Quebec and several other universities in Europe and the Americas and held numerous honorary doctorates as well as the foremost international garlands in his field - the Humboldt, the Ramón y Cajal, Catalonia's main public honours and the Order of Alfonso X. His citation for the Huntsman Award, the Canadian prize regarded as the Nobel in oceanography, credited him among "the main architects of the intellectual structures in which we oceanographers and limnologists organise our observations, conclusions and speculations."
Margalef died in Barcelona four days after his 85th birthday. His final work, for the catalogue of an ecology exhibition at the current Barcelona Forum, was just off the press. He was survived by his wife, María Mir, and their family of four. Tragically, María died a few days after her husband. A fitting epitaph for both of them might be a line from an interview he gave in 1992: "If God has put us on Earth, we have the right to make use of it but we might as well do so with a modicum of intelligence."
  • Professor Ramon Margalef López, ecologist, born 20 May 1919; died 24 May 2004
[PUBLISHED ONLINE AT http://www.grijalvo.com/  Photo from the Catalan government's ecology prize website, http://www.gencat.cat/premiramonmargalef/cat/index.htm ]

José Manuel Lara Hernández 1914-2003

José Manuel Lara Hernández, founder of the Spanish-speaking world’s foremost publishing group and of its richest literary prize, was a self-made magnate who transformed the industry he joined in the unpromising climate of the aftermath of the Civil War. He pioneered mass marketing, introduced Spanish readers to foreign bestsellers in translation and helped secure Barcelona’s status as the language’s global publishing capital.
The brand he created in 1949, Planeta, nowadays covers an empire of more than fifty firms spanning books and periodical publishing, distance learning, television and radio, internet design, credit management and the daily newspaper La Razón. With a worldwide staff of around 4,000, the group has a turnover around the €900m mark and leads the publishing sector in Spain, Portugal and Latin America, ranking eighth in the industry worldwide.
Yet Lara readily acknowledged he was not much of a reader, or any judge of literary merit. He trusted his wife, María Teresa Bosch, to assess manuscripts - and this proved a shrewd strategy. Spain’s first genuinely bestselling trilogy, Josep María Gironella’s family saga launched in 1953 with Los Cipreses Creen en Dios (‘The Cypresses Believe in God’), had been spurned by other houses but Bosch persuaded Lara to gamble on the 800-page blockbuster. It effectively founded the Lara fortune, selling six million in Spain alone.
Lara was born in El Pedroso near Seville, son of the village doctor. He left school prematurely and tried his hand at various trades - as a carpenter, painter, even a chorus-line dancer - without conspicuous success. When Franco revolted against the Republic in 1936, Lara joined the rebels and ended the fratricidal three-year war as a Captain in the Legion. He remained a lifelong right-winger (though he was eventually happy to publish sure-fire commercial hits like the memoirs of veteran Communist leader Santiago Carrillo).
Demobilised in Barcelona, where he first met his wife, Lara set up a training school for civil service jobseekers. In 1944, he bought a small publishing house, selling it in a deal which secured him the translation rights to Somerset Maugham and G.K. Chesterton. These he published under the Lara imprint, which he later sold to found Planeta.
Fiction was Planeta’s core business. Early successes included imports like Frank Yerby or Pearl S. Buck. Lara introduced many novelties to the hitherto dusty world of the Spanish book trade, such as mail-order sales, encyclopaedias sold on credit, book clubs and international co-editions.
The Planeta award was created in 1952, carrying the then prodigious prize of 40,000 pesetas. It is still hugely endowed - currently worth €600,000 - but for many authors, its appeal also lies in the prospect of joining the illustrious company of Camilo José Cela, Jorge Semprún, Mário Vargas Llosa, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and other past laureates. Lara tolerated the prize’s cost, for he appreciated the acres of free publicity it generated. If the list of winners is top-heavy with names signed to Planeta, it may be because any author will prefer a publishing house that invests heavily in promotion.
Fuelled by its fiction catalogue, the business grew rapidly in the changing Spain of the 1970s, with well-timed acquisitions and business alliances along the way. Famous book trade brands like Seix Barral, Espasa Calpe and Destino are all under the Planeta umbrella.
In 1994, the publisher was created Marqués del Pedroso de Lara. He is survived by the Marquesa, two daughters and a son, José Manuel Lara Bosch, who recently succeeded him as Planeta group chairman; another son predeceased him.
  • José Manuel Lara Hernández, publisher, born 31 December 1914; died 11 May 2003
[PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES, 19 MAY 2003. Photo from semana.com (Colombia). A Spanish translation is at www.grijalvo.com/Mullan/b_Lara_es.htm]

Monday, 24 May 2010

Eduardo Úrculo 1938-2003

Few artists have been more publicly honest about their private passions than Eduardo Úrculo, who has died at the age of 65. The Spanish painter and sculptor was at the peak of his creative powers and winning the international acclaim that eluded him for much of his career. The Queen of Spain opened his current exhibition in Beijing last month. As many of his paintings, prints and sculptures attest, Úrculo’s special interests included the shape and texture of a particular region of the female anatomy. One of his most prominent legacies is an enormous bronze in front of Oviedo’s Campoamor theatre, graphically entitled Culis Monumentalibus (2001) and celebrating the aesthetics of a young woman’s hips and thighs. These were recurring motifs in much of his work since the early 1970s, when his was one of the artistic voices subverting the Catholic conservatism that underpinned Franco’s dictatorship.
In retrospect, it is unsurprising that Úrculo’s exhibition in Tehran was abruptly closed down in 1978 just before the Ayatollah Khomeini assumed power. The artist’s exuberantly erotic works were thrown out of an international show in Colombia in 1970 for “affronting morality and good manners” and later that year, Spain’s culture ministry pulped a catalogue it had published when the higher echelons inspected Úrculo’s contribution.
The female form, depicted with a profoundly humanistic tenderness, was by no means Úrculo’s sole theme. Thousands of tourists pause in Oviedo’s old quarter to gaze at a solitary male figure staring into the middle distance, leaning on a luggage trunk with suitcases around his feet. This is Úrculo’s The Return of Williams B. Arrensberg (1993), known in the local Asturian dialect as “el viaxeru” (the traveller). For Úrculo, objects like suitcases, coats, benches and - especially - hats were loaded with meaning about the human condition.
Born in the Basque seaside town of Santurtzi and raised in Asturias, Úrculo left school at 14 and was largely self-taught as an artist after a bout of tuberculosis kept him bedridden for months. A scholarship sent him to Madrid in 1958 and he enjoyed early success, exhibiting there and in Oviedo and Paris, where he spent much of the next year painting inner-city landscapes. A gritty social realism alternated with surrealism and abstraction in his work up to the mid-1960s, when he moved to Ibiza and began to develop in new directions.
Úrculo travelled widely and in northern Europe he came into contact with the Pop Art movement.. The female body, eroticism, fecundity (symbolised in his work by cows) and notions of distance and displacement came to the fore. The airbrush was a favoured tool for a decade; he also made silk-screen prints, ventured into stage design and explored the still-life genre. Hats became important, often representing the implied presence of the observer: the artist himself figures in many of his paintings as a hat-wearing man seen from behind.
Intense primary colours feature strongly in his pictures, shorn of extraneous detail. Technically, his draughtsmanship was brilliant. One of his acrylic paintings, El Beso (The Kiss), is a view of a couple embracing: only the back of her straw hat and the top of his red trilby are visible, but the image is as poignant and stirring as Rodin’s explicit Le Baiser.
Úrculo’s later works reflected his fascination with city life, particularly New York. Aeroplanes and eventually geishas emerged as new motifs. His bronze sculptures became landmarks in several cities. Recently, he was rediscovering elements of Cubism.
Úrculo was on sparkling form at a leisurely lunch in Madrid’s Residencia de Estudiantes when he abruptly keeled over and died. His wife, Victoria Hidalgo, was present. They had one son, Yoann. Had the artist lived until this summer, he was due to receive Spain’s highest artistic honour, the Gold Medal in Fine Arts, from King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.
  • Eduardo Úrculo, painter and sculptor, born 21 September 1938; died 31 March 2003
[FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES, 5 APRIL 2003; also on http://www.grijalvo.com/. Picture from biografiasyvidas.com]

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Larry Trask 1944-2004

Professor Larry Trask, who has died aged 59, was one of the very few outsiders recognised and celebrated by the Basque people as a master of their extraordinary language.
Known as Euskera, it is one of the most mysterious of the world's languages - an "isolate" unrelated to the Indo-European languages which surround it. Its origins have puzzled scholars for generations, some thinking it related to the languages of the Caucasus, some that it derives from the non-Arab languages of North Africa and others believing it developed in isolation.
The obscurity of its origins is matched only by the difficulty of its grammar, syntax and pronunciation. Among other complications, it possesses a grammatical form known as the ergative case, which forces the addition of a "k" to the subject when it has a transitive verb; the form of auxiliary verbs can convey a lot of information about the subject in a sentence, and about the direct and any indirect objects.
There is a popular myth in the Basque country that, many centuries ago, Satan arrived on a proselytising mission but, after 10 years of trying to lead the Basques from the path of righteousness, he gave up because the only words of Euskera he could master were bai eta ez ("yes and no").
Trask was one of the few outsiders to succeed where the Devil had failed. He was an honorary member of the Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language, and the author of several textbooks and monographs on the subject as well as on broader themes of language and linguistics.
Trask's interests centred on the pre-history and evolution of Euskera, though on his personal website he recorded an exasperated plea for no one to come near him with some preposterous new "discovery" linking Basque to "Minoan, Tibetan, Isthmus Zapotec or Martian". Instead, his diligent scholarship on subjects such as etymology, classes of verbs, borrowings into Euskera from the Romance languages or the neologisms created by Basque cultural nationalists, brought a fresh breeze into the study of the language.
Robert Lawrence Trask was born on November 10 1944 at Olean, New York state. His family background was a blend of Celtic, German and Scandinavian, and his path towards Euskera was a circuitous one.
His first degree was in Chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, followed by a Master's at Brandeis University. He signed up to serve a year with the Peace Corps as a chemistry teacher in Turkey, but had to flee his university post in Ankara when political turmoil exposed him to danger.
In 1970 he paused for a fortnight's holiday in England, a visit that was to last 34 years. In London he made his first acquaintance with Euskera and immediately became fascinated by the mystery of its origins. Diverting his scientific curiosity towards linguistics, he not only mastered the language but developed a formidable grasp of historical morphology, grammar, orthography and other branches of his new discipline.
After completing a doctorate on the language at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Trask began an academic career which took him from the Polytechnic of Central London to the University of Liverpool, where he lectured for nine years until his department fell victim to education cuts in the 1980s. In 1988 he went to Sussex University, where he became a leading figure in its School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences.
His impressive output of academic works included Towards a History of the Basque Language (1995) and The History of Basque (1996), as well as more general studies: A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics (1993); Language Change (1994); Language: The Basics (1995); and A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology (1996).
His writings were laced with good humour and readily accessible to the non-specialist; and the modesty with which he wore his learning endeared him to students and scholars both in Britain and in the Basque country, where he made many friends.
His first wife, Esther Barrutia, was a Basque from Elorrio, and when he attended a linguistics conference in Guernica, a famous bertsolari (an exponent of the Basque tradition of spontaneous oral versifying) declaimed an instant poem on the theme of love conquering language barriers.
After they divorced, Trask married his second wife, Jan. In his final years, he suffered a long illness which deprived him of the power of speech - though he maintained a lively correspondence with his peers by e-mail.
He died just as colleagues were preparing to present him with a festschrift.
  • Robert Lawrence Trask, linguist; born 10 November 1944; died 29 March 2004 

[PUBLISHED IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH, 16 April 2004. Photo from University of Sussex Bulletin]

Juanito Valderrama 1916-2004

Juanito Valderrama, who has died aged 87, was a giant in the flamenco world, one of the most popular performers and most innovative artists in this tradition of heartfelt and dramatic song rooted in the gypsy culture of Andalucia. His chief innovation within that somewhat conservative tradition was as a writer of his own lyrics. He was an accomplished cantautor (or singer-songwriter) decades before the term became a commonplace in Spanish popular culture.
In flamenco parlance, he was a cantaor, a performer of the cante jondo, the melancholy sentimental ballads typical of the genre.
One song more than any other is associated with him: El Emigrante, written by Valderrama in 1949, is an anguished ballad of yearning for what a Spanish emigre has left behind.
The date is crucial, for this was written before Spain became a country of mass economic emigration: the emigrés to whom it refers were, in fact, the hundreds of thousands of refugees exiled as supporters of the losing side in the Civil War that ushered in Franco's 40-year dictatorship.
Valderrama was also a successful impresario, nurturing the early careers of some of flamenco's latter-day greats, such as the late Camarón de la Isla or José Merce.
It is debatable whether he deserved to be called a sympathiser with the Franco regime - a charge that tended to erode his popular appeal in the last years of the dictatorship.
True, he had - in common with many another star in the flamenco firmament - performed for the amusement of the Caudillo and his cronies, for whom flamenco symbolised a pure strain of the Spanish culture they purported to champion. But there was another side to the story.
Summoned to perform for a hunting party in Franco's honour - an offer he could not refuse, on pain of imprisonment - Valderrama was told to sing El Emigrante.
He did so with some trepidation, and was astounded when the dictator himself requested an encore, describing it as a "wonderfully patriotic" number. The singer performed it again, hoping that its subversive message would go over the heads of Franco and his hosts. He got away with it.
In reality, the lyric had been inspired by the tears Valderrama had witnessed on the cheeks of Republican exiles, moved to grief by his performance at the Teatro Cervantes in Tangier; it was a quintessential protest song avant la lettre, scribbled on the back of his hotel bill.
Born at Torredelcampo in Jaen province, Juan Valderrama Blanca Valderrama grew up a tiny man with an impish grin usually topped by a typical flat-brimmed sombrero from Cordoba.
His parents were peasant farmers, and he recalled singing as a child to their olive trees, and accompanying his father to trade horses or mules at gypsy ferias.
His talent was recognised when he won a village competition at the age of eight. In 1934 he was recruited into the touring song company of Niña de la Puebla, with which he made his debut in Madrid's Cine Metropolitano.
When the Civil War broke out, Valderrama enlisted in the loyalist ranks (in an anarchist battalion) and toured the front lines, digging trenches and entertaining the troops and the wounded.
His artistic reputation helped him escape the reprisals visited on the vanquished Republicans in the post-war years. Instead, he dedicated himself to performing and promoting flamenco all over Spain and occasionally abroad.
Valderrama performed with some of the foremost names in flamenco - Aurora Pavón, Niña de los Peines, Pepe Marchena, los Gaditanos - but from the 1950s his shows extended beyond the traditional canon.
He had a keen sense of changes in public taste, attracting derision from certain flamenco purists when he interspersed conventional popular songs, or coplas, with those of the thoroughbred cante jondo.
He defended the practice as a means of widening the audience base for the authentic sound - and as a way out of the hardships facing a cantaor passing around the hat for a few pesetas.
His sternest critics derided him for participating in the watering-down of a passionate art form into a mass-market spectacle; what would nowadays be hailed as "crossover" was seen as heresy.
Valderrama's recording career began in 1935 and lasted more than six decades. More than 1,500 songs are left to posterity, though his repertoire was larger by far.
With his accompanist, el Niño Ricardo, he started writing his own songs; a dozen of the 300 credited to his pen were major hits. Apart from El Emigrante, his signature tunes included De Polizón (The Stowaway); Su Primera Comunión (Her First Communion); and Madre Hermosa (Sweet Mother). He also acted in seven films, of middling quality.
For many who lived through the bleak years of Francoism, Valderrama's voice was very much a part of the soundtrack, and consequently he fell somewhat out of favour with the public when democracy was restored, despite his impeccable Republican credentials.
He returned more fully to the flamenco tradition in the latter part of his long career, and was an acknowledged expert on the many local variants of Andalucian song, such as granaínas, malagueñas, bulerías, soleares, fandangos or cartageneras.
His constant companion for half a century was the flamenco songstress Dolores Abril, a teenager of striking beauty who was performing as Lolita Caballero when she joined Valderrama's touring company in 1954 and for whom he abandoned his first wife.
Divorce was not feasible in Spain in those days, and it was not until 1979 that he was able to get his short-lived first marriage annulled. A civil marriage to Dolores in 1981 received the Church's blessing six years later.
Valderrama formally retired in 1994, but made occasional television appearances thereafter. On February 23, the Andalucian regional government hosted a concert in Madrid in his honour at which he gave his last public performance. Soon after, he suffered a heart attack.
He was convalescing at his chalet in Altos de Espartinas, Sevilla, and preparing for an afternoon stroll through the neighbourhood when he died. He is survived by Dolores, their daughter Blanca and son Juan, himself a noted singer and actor.
  • Juan Valderrama Blanca Valderrama, singer; born 24 May 1916; died 12 April 2004 

Imanol Larzabal 1947-2004

Imanol, who has died aged 56, was one of the masters of Basque folk song and in later years a prominent critic of the separatist group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA), for which he had previously suffered imprisonment and torture.
Imanol became a member of ETA as a teenager growing up in San Sebastian in the 1960s in the days before the organisation carried out terrorism; as a result of his involvement, he spent six months in prison followed by several years in exile in France.
In the 1980s, when ETA adopted a totalitarian terrorist policy, targeting journalists, politicians, academics and artists who disagreed publicly with its anti-democratic stance, Imanol spoke out against it and soon found his name featuring in pro-ETA graffiti as a "traitor", an "españolista", like his close friend (and former ETA comrade), the anthropologist Mikel Azurmendi. When the leader of ETA, Dolores González Katarain ("Yoyes"), advocated an end to terrorism and was murdered by her erstwhile colleagues, Imanol sang in a concert of protest in 1986. He was forced to stay away from the Basque Country from the mid-1990s.
Imanol Larzabal, usually known simply by his first name, was born in the Antiguo neighbourhood of San Sebastian, where the Basque language had been marginalised. Resistance to Franco found many forms of expression, and the 17-year-old Imanol chose his by joining a folk dance troupe, Argia. He was a dantzari until 1968, when he switched to singing.
During his imprisonment in San Sebastian, torture was routinely used on members of ETA. Imanol used his confinement to develop as a songwriter. On his release, he fled to France, where he started his recording career. During his exile in Paris, Bordeaux and Bayonne, he became a prominent protest singer.
Imanol's early records were produced to raise funds for Basque political prisoners. When the post-Franco amnesty allowed him home in 1976, he regularly performed for prison audiences. After one such concert at Martutene prison in 1985, two ETA terrorists serving life sentences escaped hidden in the huge loudspeakers that Imanol had used to blast his music across the prison yard. He was held at police headquarters until it was established that he knew nothing about the planned break-out.
While the Basque country progressed towards its present status as one of the most devolved regions in Europe, Imanol invested his energies in the promotion of its ancient language and the renaissance of its culture. He was a co-founder of the Korrika, an annual road-race that raises funds for adult classes in Euskera.
Above all he was known for his singing - one critic defined his style as "thunder harnessed". He leaves a huge volume of work, most of it in Euskera, from his first "underground" tracks written in prison and recorded in the 1960s under the pseudonym Michel Etxegaray, to last year's album, Versos Encendidos (Blazing Verses), a poignant set of 15 songs reflecting on his exile from Spain and within her borders.
His hit albums included Herriak ez du barkatuko (1974), Lau haizetara (1977), Jo ezan (1981), Orhoituz (1985) and Muga beroetan (1989). In the 1990s, he widened his repertoire to include songs in the Castilian tongue.
Despite constant insults and threats from ETA and its camp-followers, Imanol refused to quit Euskadi until his mother died in 1999. From October 2000, protesting that he "could no longer breathe freely" in Euskadi, he settled in Torrevieja, in Alicante. Imanol ventured home from time to time, giving a recital in the San Sebastian Kursaal in February 2003. His last concert was in Lasarte-Oria in January, and his last recording was of two songs in Euskera, one a tribute to the Basque composer Julen Lekuona.
Imanol died on 25 June after a brain haemorrhage: political slogans were explicitly banned at his funeral.
He was unmarried.

  • Imanol Larzabal, singer; born 11 November 1947; died 25 June 2004 

Marcelo González 1918-2004

From his appointment as Archbishop of Toledo at the end of 1971, Marcelo González was Spain’s senior Catholic prelate during 23 years that saw the church’s position transformed. He was uncomfortable witnessing the end of Francisco Franco’s “national-Catholic” dictatorship and the emergence of a vibrant and increasingly secular democracy.
The same Cardinal whose funeral homily praised Franco as “the father of our homeland” died in the company of José Bono, the Socialist Defence Minister. As president of Castilla-La Mancha, Bono had awarded González the region’s Gold Medal, and the two were firm friends; but for most Spanish progressives, within the church and outside it, González was seen as a relic of an age of reactionary clericalism.
Marcelo González Martín, son of a small businessman, enrolled in the diocesan seminary of his native province, Valladolid, at the age of 17 and graduated in theology from the Pontifical University of Comillas. He was ordained in 1941 and appointed to lecture in dogmatic theology at Valladolid, where he was made Canon of the Cathedral. His first bishopric was Astorga, in León, where he was consecrated in 1961.
His promotion as Coadjutor Archbishop of Barcelona came five years later, and he succeeded as Metropolitan Archbishop in 1967. The appointment displeased Catalonia’s Catholic laity, who launched a campaign called “Volem bisbes catalans” (we want Catalan bishops), arguing that the imposition of “outsiders” distanced the hierarchy from its flock.
González served just under five years in Barcelona before becoming Archbishop of Toledo and thereby Primate of Spain, with elevation to the College of Cardinals in 1973. The see of Toledo covers some 20,000 square kilometres and González made a point of visiting every parish within it. A relentless evangelist, he made the promotion of priestly vocations and the training of lay catechists his top priorities, opening new seminaries and training centres. The archdiocese was the first in Spain to set up its own broadcast outlet, Radio Santa María.
Although González voiced concern for the disadvantaged, he headed a Spanish hierarchy that was intimately identified with the winners of the Civil War. When Franco died in November 1975, weeks after signing five death warrants in the face of papal pleas for clemency, it fell to González to deliver the funeral homily. He made oblique references to reconciliation, forgiveness and hope – but the main thrust was “the shining light of gratitude for the immense legacy” the old tyrant left to “Christian civilisation, without which freedom is but a chimera.”
González took part in the conclaves that elected Popes John Paul I and II in 1978. He remained a vigorous advocate of conservative morality, opposing Spain’s democratic constitution because it neglected to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and opened the path to legalised divorce, birth control and general debauchery. In 1983, he made headlines by refusing Holy Communion to Franco’s granddaughter, on the grounds that her recent divorce made her an adulteress.
He retired in 1995 to his mother’s home village of Fuentes Nava in Palencia, where he died after a long illness.
  • Marcelo González Martín, priest; born Villanubla, Spain 16 January 1918; ordained 1941; Bishop of Astorga, 1961-67; Archbishop of Barcelona, 1967-71; Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain, 1971-95; elevated to Cardinal, 1973; died Fuentes de Nava, Spain 25 August 2004

Luís Nunes de Almeida 1946-2004

Luís Nunes de Almeida, president of Portugal’s Constitutional Tribunal and an ex-officio member of the republic’s Council of State, was on his way to deliver an annual lecture on constitutional law at Aix-la-Chapelle when he died of a heart attack in the Spanish hotel where he and his wife were stopping overnight.
Appointed in April last year to the office that made him the fourth most senior figure in the Portuguese constitution, he had served 20 years on the tribunal that assesses the constitutionality of laws and was its vice-president for 14 years.
His learned jurisprudence and impartiality were respected across the political spectrum, though his centre-left leanings were no secret: he served a term in parliament on the Socialist benches in the early 1980s, and played a major part in the constitutional reform that dissolved the Revolutionary Council and liberalised the economy.
In the aftermath of the 1974 revolution, he had been involved with the Socialist Left Movement (MES) and his penchant for backroom political machinations earned him his English-language nickname, ‘Plot’. In later years, he was an ally of António Guterres on the wing of the Socialist party that opposed alliance with the right-wing Social Democrats.
Nunes de Almeida had suffered a heart condition for several years and underwent a coronary by-pass. He had been through several stressful experiences in recent times. Earlier this year, he was caught up in the political crisis sparked by the appointment of Portugal’s then premier, José Manuel Durão Barroso, to preside the European Commission. President Jorge Sampaio sought his counsel on whether the situation demanded an early general election – the option preferred by a majority in opinion polls – or could be resolved by the appointment of the new leader of the majority conservative bloc, Pedro Santana Lopes, who took over as prime minister in July.
Nunes de Almeida’s name figured marginally in a long-running and labyrinthine corruption investigation known as the Moderna case, in which he and two other senior judges were alleged to have accepted fees and benefits in kind for giving classes in a private university. An investigation by the superior council of the judiciary found no basis for charges of impropriety.
The judge was a senior freemason, a member of the 33rd-degree supreme council in Portugal’s largest Masonic body, the Grande Oriente Lusitano, of which he was tipped as a future grand master. His funeral Mass was preceded by a private Masonic ritual, celebrated for the first time since 1882 within a Portuguese Catholic church.
Earlier in his career, he was a senior aide in the ministries of social affairs and industry, and chairman of the bankruptcy court. In private practice, he held several company directorships and was involved with the country’s leading business schools.
  • Luís Manuel César Nunes de Almeida, jurist, born 16 July 1946; died 6 September 2004

Juan Francisco Fresno 1914-2004

When Juan Francisco Fresno was named Archbishop of Santiago and Primate of Chile in 1983, succeeding the combative Raúl Silva Henríquez, Lucía Hiriart de Pinochet was heard to remark: “The Lord has answered our prayers”. But the dictator’s wife had misplaced her faith: Fresno, who has died aged 90, used his office to become a prime mover in the restoration of democracy.
His defining legacy was as architect of the 1985 National Accord, a pact between moderate opposition leaders and erstwhile backers of the military dictatorship, which paved the way for free elections in 1989. He was also successful as a mediator between Argentina and Chile in the 1984 Beagle Channel territorial dispute.
Fresno was born in Santiago, the fourth of five children. He studied at the city’s seminary, transferring to the Gregorian University in Rome to complete a bachelor’s degree in canon law. He returned to Chile for his ordination in 1937 and took up teaching duties at the seminary while working as a parish priest and a youth organiser.
At the age of 43, Fresno was appointed by Pope Pius XII as bishop of the new diocese of Copaipó, in the silver-mining deserts of Northern Chile, taking office in August 1958 and choosing as his episcopal motto “Adveniat regnum tuum” (Thy Kingdom Come). Promotion by Paul VI to the Archbishopric of La Serena followed in 1967, and there he made his mark in reinvigorating parish life and fostering priestly vocations.
Chilean Catholic opinion was deeply divided between left and right in the decades of the 60s and 70s, some throwing in their lot with Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity coalition and others backing the conservative forces behind the military coup that ousted the socialist government in September 1973. Fresno refrained from active engagement in secular politics, chairing the country’s Episcopal Conference from 1975 to 1977 and serving Rome’s Latin American College.
Meanwhile, Catholic activists came to the fore in the resistance to Augusto Pinochet’s junta, with the Vicariate of Solidarity becoming a trusted channel for funding and practical support to the oppressed from solidarity movements in Britain and elsewhere. Fresno’s predecessor as Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Silva Henríquez (1907-99), was a particular irritant to the regime and the ruling clique hoped for an easier ride under the new primate.
His appointment to Santiago coincided with an upsurge in resistance. The clandestine left mobilised major waves of strikes and even the right was inching towards an accommodation with democratic forces. Fresno nailed his colours to the mast within days of becoming Archbishop: “It is natural that differences should arise between people”, he declared, “but when we all seek to build a better world, we must seek a path and I believe that path to be dialogue.”
Made Cardinal by John Paul II in May 1985, Fresno served six years in the archdiocese and hosted the April 1987 papal visit. But the real high point of his archiepiscopate began in August 1983, when his palace was the scene for a secret meeting between opposition leaders and emissaries of the military regime. Within two years, Christian Democrats Patricio Aylwin and Gabriel Valdés, Luís Maira of the Christian Left and Andrés Allemand of the conservative National Union Movement cobbled together the National Accord for a Transition to Full Democracy. Fresno acted as honest broker in the first pact uniting a broad spectrum of Chilean political forces since the 1973 coup. To his great satisfaction, this laid the basis for the resounding “No” vote in the plebiscite of October 1988 that ousted Pinochet from office.
Fresno defined his pastoral mission as the pursuit of a Chile that would be “a land not of confrontation but of mutual understanding.” Reconciliation remains, however, more of a desideratum than an accomplished fact, so long as Pinochet eludes justice and the “disappeared” under his tyranny remain unaccounted for, their torturers and killers unpunished.
After his retirement on age grounds in March 1990, the emeritus archbishop, a former president of the NGO Cáritas Chile, lived modestly in a house behind the Dehesa parish church in the capital. Although blind and a wheelchair user, he continued to visit the sick and help in parochial work. He died from acute kidney failure.
  • Cardinal Emeritus Juan Francisco Fresno Larraín, priest, born 26 July 1914; died 14 October 2004

Néstor Baguer 1921-2004

Several remarkable careers ended with the death in Havana of the Cuban writer Néstor Baguer, aged 83.
First, there was the lifelong journalist and intellectual, who published his first articles at the age of 14 and went on to work for the country’s major newspapers and radio stations, a founder of the journalists’ union and, in recognition of his articles and books on the correct use of Spanish, a distinguished member of the Cuban Academy of the Language.
Next came the outspoken dissident agitator, using Miami-based news agencies and websites to campaign for over a decade against Fidel Castro and expose the miseries of everyday life under the dictatorship. Fêted by the anti-communist lobby in exile as the doyen of domestic resistance, he was an honoured guest and protegé in the United States Interest Section at the Swiss Embassy in Havana. Reviled by his former colleagues in the Cuban media, he was expelled from the Academy and his press credentials were withdrawn.
Last year, Baguer revealed his third personality. Since shortly after Castro’s 1959 revolution, he was the priceless “agent Octavio” for the Cuban secret service, infiltrating dissident circles and filing meticulous reports on their activities and funding. His espionage only came to light when he gave crucial testimony against 75 activists jailed last April for “conspiracy with the USA to undermine Cuba’s national sovereignty”. His cover blown, public honours were restored and he was acclaimed as a hero of the revolution.
Néstor Baguer Sánchez-Galarraga was born in 1921. With fellow-students at the Instituto de La Habana, he founded the magazine Siboney, writing extensively on cultural themes. He went on to study journalism and business administration in the United States, later spending eight years in Peru where he first came into contact with communist groups.
On his return to Havana in 1958, Baguer joined the opposition to the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, welcoming Castro’s guerrilla victory the following year. He became active in revolutionary politics alongside his journalistic work – for the foreign trade ministry, the national airline, the newspapers Trabajadores, Juventud Rebelde and Granma Internacional, and radio stations including Cadena Habana, Radio Metropolitana and Radio Habana Cuba. As an enthusiast for the Spanish language, he wrote several books and a popular newspaper column promoting correct usage and analysing Cuba’s creole hybrid with its African and North American influences. This earned him membership of the Academy, which elected him honorary treasurer, and invitations to conferences around the Spanish-speaking world.
His relationship with Seguridad del Estado, Cuba’s secret police, dated from the 1960s. His articles on the export potential of Cuban honey led indirectly to a trade mission to London, where he struck an advantageous deal for Cuba’s government on a purchase of dredging vessels. There, he was approached by a CIA agent whose offers of reward to help sustain the trade blockade on Cuba were politely declined and duly reported to the Seguridad.
By the time of his formal retirement, Baguer was one of Cuba’s most respected journalists. So it was extremely gratifying for the dissident groups to find him beginning, in his old age, to grumble about the hardships of life in Cuba, setting up as a freelance and filing copy to the US-funded Radio Martí and websites, like Cubanet and Cuba Press, hostile to the Castro regime. In 1993, he joined the Independent Press Association, APIC, which billed itself as Cuba’s first independent news agency, and provided an outlet for stories about human rights violations and routine privations under communist rule. His florid prose became that of an ardent counter-revolutionary. Thus, in 1997, he wrote: “Those who suffer are those of us who live here, within the monster, fighting for democracy and freedom using civilised and peaceful means”.
In reality, Baguer was one of a team – seven men and five women – assigned to infiltrate the opposition and gather intelligence on its links with foreign diplomats as well as exile circles in Florida and Spain. Some of them reached the very highest levels in the small organisations they joined: one chaired the Human Rights Party, another was Baguer’s number two in his press agency, and none of them blew their cover until last year. Baguer had renewed his ties with the secret service in the early 1990s, determined to use his journalistic skills in the service of the beleaguered revolution, even if it cost him close personal friendships.
Known among his fellow spies as “El Profe” (the schoolteacher), the elderly agent Octavio spent 11 years ostracised by his fellow professionals in the state-run media. They ridiculed him as a stooge of Washington and Miami, and when cycling to work in Havana, they hated to see him whisked past in a diplomatic limousine. He was a sell-out, a turncoat, a senile old fool seduced by the lure of the dollar. Expulsion from the Academy of the Language and the journalists’ union followed.
Baguer was warmly welcomed at the US Interests Section, where many of the dissident publications were produced – and where, he claimed, they were often drafted or corrected. He later exclaimed: “The more gross a false news story was, the more they’d pay for it. I saw these guys handing their articles in to the Interests Section to be sent on to Miami. What kind of journalist would have his copy revised by a foreign government that’s attacking his own?”
To keep up his cover, Baguer would plausibly report, for instance, that residents of Havana had taken to chopping up park benches for firewood. He collected evidence that the US National Endowment for Democracy was a major channel of funds to dissident groups, which also had backers in Miami and Madrid, and that activists were constantly quarrelling among themselves about which of their leaders was trousering the money. To the dissidents, he invariably came across as a friendly, hospitable, avuncular figure always willing to lend a few dollars or help place an article in the Miami Herald.
In March 2003, Baguer convened the National Workshop on Journalistic Ethics, a meeting of 34 dissidents in the official residence of James Cason, Washington’s most senior diplomat in Cuba. Days later, the Interior Ministry rounded up 75 people in the biggest crackdown on dissidents for many years. They were put on trial for treason, with sentences of between six and 20 years imposed. Baguer testified against Raúl Rivero, lately a cause célèbre for the pressure group Reporters Without Borders, whom he admitted admiring as a poet and writer but dismissed as a “moral ruin”.
In his last years Baguer returned to the payroll of the national news agency, AIN, and was still writing columns and preparing an autobiography – to be entitled Octavio – when he entered hospital four months ago. His loyalty to the Comandante en Jefe was rewarded with several medals and the Dignity Prize of the journalists’ union. Fidel himself, nursing a broken knee, was unable to attend the funeral where Baguer’s flag-draped coffin was escorted by uniformed Interior Ministry troops, but sent a personal wreath. Baguer is survived by his ex-wife, Nora Lamboley.
  • Néstor Baguer Sánchez-Galarraga, journalist; born 22 August 1921; died 25 October 2004

Juan Barjola 1919-2004

After a lifetime’s work which established him as the foremost expressionist painter in Spain, Juan Barjola was in his studio preparing a new series for a forthcoming exhibition when a pile of canvases toppled over him, causing the injuries that led to his death a fortnight later, aged 85. Barjola’s work addressed recurring themes – bullfighting, poverty, crucifixions, suffering, prostitution, figures of authority and wretched stray dogs – that help locate him in a distinctively Spanish lineage of tremendismo that can be traced back to the harsh realism of Goya, down through the Picasso of Guernica or the violent imagery of Antonio Saura. He was a great admirer of Francis Bacon, whose own disturbing re-interpretation of the Velázquez Pope Innocent X finds definite echoes in Barjola.
Juan Galea Barjola (he preferred his second, maternal, surname) was born to a poor farming family from Torre de Miguel Sesmero in Extremadura. His talent was evident even in childhood, so he enrolled at 15 in the arts and crafts school of the provincial capital, Badajoz. The civil war (1936-39) interrupted his education; its horrors and the squalor it bequeathed marked him for life. It was 1943 before he graduated from Madrid’s San Fernando School of Fine Arts, where he later taught colour and composition.
In the late 1950s, Barjola’s work moved away from an initial interest in sculpture and abstraction towards a dedication to figurative painting, drifting through surrealist phases to develop his mature style of critical expressionism. Although many influences can be discerned in his evolving work, from a post-Cubist reshaping of spatial dimensions to the lurid mysticism of James Ensor, it would be wrong to ascribe Barjola to a particular school at any point in his trajectory: he was rigorously unorthodox.
His restless imagination and his search for his own style excluded him from groups, though his indifference to passing fashions probably cost him a fortune. It was his constant pursuit of self-expression that had him still at work daily in his eighties, living on the outskirts of Madrid to be at a safe distance from the social whirl of the art world; he would rather stay away from an opening of his own exhibition than sacrifice a day in the studio.
His first solo exhibition at Madrid’s Galería Abril in 1957 was critically praised, though it made little impact on the market. A grant which financed a European tour in 1960 exposed him to new influences and drew him to the attention of international galleries, leading to shows in Europe, the Americas and Japan.
He had achieved global recognition by the 1970s, despite or because of his solitary and restless style. Much of his later work used a palette of black and white, within which he could still achieve a remarkably moving luminosity. The subjective expressionism he evolved could be called an existentialist style: even in dealing with oppression, death and poverty, he conveyed a humane sense of compassion and protest at the human condition, verging on sarcastic exasperation.
Barjola considered poetry the highest form of art and was proud to have illustrated collections by Rafael Alberti and José Hierro, among others. He shared the National Prize in Plastic Arts in 1985, among many honours that included the medal of his native region of Extremadura and his designation as an “adoptive son” of Asturias. He had a special relationship with Asturias, the homeland of his wife, Honesta Fernández, and donated more than 200 of his works to the principality to create the Juan Barjola Museum. It opened in Gijón in 1988, housed in a remodelled Baroque palace and chapel and exhibiting Barjola’s works over half a century while also dedicating space to contemporary artists.
In his final years, Barjola was represented by the Madrid gallery of Antonio Machón, who visited the painter during his last days in hospital and found him as lucid as ever, still preoccupied with perfection in art. In a vignette that recalled the reputed last words of Oscar Wilde, Machón said the artist gestured toward a mediocre print decorating the wall of his private ward and demanded its removal; then he breathed his last. He is survived by his wife and their only son, the architect José Antonio Galea Fernández, co-designer of the Barjola Museum.
  • Juan Antonio Galea Barjola (Juan Barjola), artist, born September 19 1919; died December 21 2004

Fernando Valle 1900-2004

THE former Portuguese President Mário Soares prefaced a biography of Fernando Valle with a vignette from the founding congress of his Socialist Party (PS) in 1973. Chairing the closing session, Valle began not with “Dear comrades”, but “dear brethren” — a slip of the tongue attesting to his lifelong immersion in Freemasonry.
At the time of his death aged 104, Valle was in his fifth year as honorary president of the PS and was almost certainly the longest-serving Mason in the world; not quite the oldest living member of the brotherhood, but his initiation dated back to March 1923. For most of his adult lifetime, both Freemasonry and socialism were clandestine undercurrents in Portugal. Valle found in Masonic life not only a useful preparation for underground politics but the vital principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”, expressed in the liberal and republican tradition of the Lusitanian Grand Orient.
Born in Cerdeira, in the central region of Arganil where he was to spend most of his life, Valle inherited both his leftist leanings and his medical vocation from his father, Alberto. Portugal became a republic when he was 10, and as a student at the University of Coimbra he mingled with radical intellectuals and was sworn into the Revolta lodge, adhering to the post-Enlightenment French Rite.
He began his medical practice in 1926, the year of the military coup that led to the fascist dictatorship proclaimed by Oliveira Salazar in 1933. As a general practitioner in Arganil, and eventually director of the Misericórdia hospital, Valle followed his father’s example by treating patients without regard to their ability to pay.
As Salazar’s Estado Novo set about extinguishing all visible opposition, members of the resistance found a safe house with the modest family doctor. As early as 1947, he supported an unsuccessful effort to form a socialist party, and on the rare occasions when the regime permitted alternative candidatures, Valle supported anti-fascist contenders. In 1962 he even stood as a parliamentary candidate for Coimbra, but spent several months in prison when the political police (PIDE) were informed of his links with the secret communist-led Patriotic Front.
Valle had several run-ins with the PIDE and was more than once dismissed from posts in the public health service. In 1971 he was dismissed from the Misericordia — but local women organised a courageous demonstration and petition to win his reinstatement. Meanwhile he was conspiring with Mário Soares and others in the Acção Socialista movement, and was the oldest of 27 delegates to make it to the clandestine congress held “somewhere in Germany” (Bad Münstereifel) in April 1973 to create the new PS.
The virtually bloodless “revolution of the carnations” that ended Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974 came shortly before Valle’s retirement. He reluctantly accepted appointment as civil governor of Coimbra in 1976-80 and refused a nomination for the presidency of the republic.
His wife Beatriz predeceased him, as did two of their six children.
  • Dr Fernando Baeta Cardoso do Valle, medical practitioner, born 30 July 1900; died 26 November 2004
[PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES, 10 December 2004. Photo from http://www.maiaactual.blogspot.com/]

Terry Baker 1936-2006

Terry Baker, an emeritus professor and one of the most-cited experts in his scientific field, who has died aged 69, had a wicked sense of humour. He once described himself as "an expert on bollocks”, though whether he was referring to his work on reproductive biology or to his engagement in academic politics was never clear.
As a scientist, Terry was a leading figure in the study of mammalian reproduction, from the structure of chromosomes to the effects of radiation on ovaries. As an astute academic politician, he rose from a secondary school science teaching post to become head of biomedical sciences and pro-vice-chancellor at Bradford University for three years from 1986, later chairing its school of life sciences.
Born in Brighton, Terry was schooled in Coventry before taking his first degree, in zoology, at Bangor in 1959. A Birmingham PhD in medicine (1964) was eventually followed by an Edinburgh DSc. Terry joined Birmingham University as a research student in anatomy, becoming a lecturer in 1967.
He moved to Edinburgh, where he concentrated on obstetrics and gynaecology and built a prolific body of journal articles on human and other mammalian procreation, under his own name and in co-authorship. Unusually among ambitious academics, he was happy to credit his laboratory technicians as joint authors.
He continued to publish up to the eve of his retirement. His first scientific paper, dealing with germ cells in human ovaries, is still regularly quoted four decades after its appearance. Throughout his career, Terry made friends among the ancillary workers at his universities: lab hands, security staff and cleaners at Birmingham, Edinburgh and Bradford were on first-name terms with him. In the arcane world of academic politics, he believed in “bullying the bullies” and usually won his way.
Lured to Bradford in 1980, he steered its biomedical sciences department from the foot to the top of the official research ratings league table. He was a gifted talent spotter in his own and neighbouring scientific fields. In between examining the testes of mice and the ovaries of Rhesus monkeys, he created beautiful wood carvings, advised numerous overseas ministries and international organisations, refereed theses and promotions at universities in several countries and earned fellowships in many learned societies.
He is survived by his wife Pauline, who is a retired local government officer, and their three sons.
  • Terence George Baker, biologist; born 27 May 1936; died 22 February 2006

Gorka Agirre 1949-2009

Four days after his 60th birthday, the Basque politician Gorka Agirre died from cancer, aggravated by the stress of two years facing accusations of acting as a go-between in the terrorist group ETA’s extortion racket. For Agirre, a nationalist to the core but a convinced democrat of the centre-right, this charge was an insult.
Agirre’s pedigree in the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) was practically aristocratic. When Spain’s Basque region first won autonomy under the Second Republic, his uncle, José Antonio Agirre Lekube, became its premier. After the civil war, his father, Juan Mari, represented the Basque government-in-exile in Belgium. His mother, María Teresa Arizmendi Ayestaran, who died recently, had fled into exile after her father was executed by advancing Francoist rebels in 1936; and his wife, Usune, was a daughter of Luis María Retolaza, another historic PNV figure who served the restored regional government as interior minister.
Agirre was born in Antwerp and graduated in economics from Louvain University. In the twilight years of the Franco regime, he moved to St-Jean-de-Luz in southern France to manage Axular, a commercial print shop that fronted the underground PNV’s propaganda press and regularly smuggled literature and people across the border.
His years in Belgium and France acquainted him with many of the more radical elements in the Basque diaspora, giving him an intimate knowledge of its underground machinations. His social circle included veteran refugees of the nationalist community alongside young activists on the guerrilla fringe.
ETA had its origins within the PNV’s own youth movement in 1959. For five decades, there has remained some ambivalence between mainstream democratic nationalism and its violent offspring, given the latter’s repudiation of autonomy within Spain in favour of a separate Basque state straddling the French border and swallowing neighbouring Navarra.
Agirre’s expert knowledge of the evolution of the separatist fringe surpassed that of Spain’s secret services and even, as his colleague Senator Iñaki Anasagasti observed, that of ETA’s own current leadership. It was reflected in his journalism, under the nom-de-plume “J. Txindoki”, chosen pointedly: Txindoki was the nickname of Joseba Goikoetxea, a long-term PNV activist who, as a sergeant-major in the new Basque police service, the Ertzaintza, was murdered by ETA in 1993. Two other officers in the (PNV-dominated) Ertzaintza, Montxo Doral and Genaro García de Andoain, were also close to Agirre and lost their lives in ETA attacks.
Such tragedies strengthened Agirre’s resolve to steer the separatists away from armed struggle into peaceful politics. He exploited his contacts with ETA leaders from the 1970s up to the 1990s and harvested whispers of intelligence from the PNV’s grassroots. Foreign journalists and diplomats looked to Agirre for a reliable steer on ETA’s current state of play.
Two years after Franco’s 1975 death, Agirre settled his family in Bilbao (not least because of his passion for the city’s football club, Athletic). He created a trust named after Sabino Arana, the xenophobe who founded the PNV in 1894, to raise funds for a head office building on the site of Arana’s birthplace.
Agirre helped set up secret meetings between ETA emissaries and the party leadership as early as 1980, failing to persuade the militants to endorse the newly-won autonomy statute. In 1988, Agirre formally joined the PNV’s executive, on which he remained until last year, under the leadership of both the long-serving Xabier Arzallus – with whom Agirre was closely identified – and his young rival, Josu Jon Imaz. His fluency in several languages helped his work as the party’s head of international relations, in which role he travelled widely – for example, attending a Plaid Cymru conference, observing Norwegian mediation efforts in Palestine or meeting protagonists in the Northern Ireland peace process. He was a delegate to the Christian Democratic International, of which the PNV was a founder member in 1961, until ousted by the pan-Spanish conservatives of the People’s Party (PP).
Following a 1992 French police raid that left ETA severely weakened, the PNV held exploratory talks with ETA’s then political front, Herri Batasuna (HB), but the latter’s refusal to disown the armed struggle created an impasse. Agirre was one of three PNV interlocutors in these talks and a later series of meetings with both ETA and HB, yielding an ETA ceasefire in 1998 based on the so-called pact of Lizarra. Broadly, the deal was that the PNV would accentuate its thrust towards sovereign independence and ETA would tone down its terrorism.
In the late 1990s, Agirre met a key figure in the Ulster peace process: Alec Reid, reputedly personal chaplain to Gerry Adams. Fr Reid had a keen interest in the Basque conflict and, with Agirre’s help, made repeated efforts to foster a nationalist front, to negotiate with Madrid towards a referendum on Basque self-determination in the absence of violence.
Spanish police were investigating the payment of protection money that ETA calls its “revolutionary taxes” when, in 2006, they covertly filmed Agirre visiting a bar in Irún, where they believed the extortion racket was based. The police specifically claimed he had a role in the handover of €54,000 to ETA from two threatened businessmen and that he had collected fresh extortion letters from the bar. His defence maintained that he merely picked up information on whether the terrorists might drop their “revolutionary tax” campaign to facilitate contacts with the Spanish government. Charged with complicity in extortion, he was released on bail of €30,000. The charges were finally dropped in May 2008 by the campaigning magistrate Baltasar Garzón, with a distinct whiff of politics lingering over the whole botched prosecution.
Agirre insisted that his dealings with ETA and its acolytes were entirely about monitoring its strategic thinking, never stooping to act as a broker for what he denounced as blackmail. Agirre made a distinction between what he called “ETA zaharra”, the old ETA that fought Franco’s dictatorship, and its current namesake, capable of targeting democrats of every stripe, including the PNV itself. The climate of fear meant that separatists who deplored terrorism tended to remain silent, which in Agirre’s view made them “passive accomplices”. He could be fearlessly trenchant in his public denunciations of terrorism; at the same time, his reputation for impeccable discretion and personal integrity gave him a unique role as a line of communication between parties to the Basque conflict.
His death came at an awkward time for both the democratic and the violent expressions of Basque nationalism. Recent elections left the PNV unable, for the first time, to form a new government in the autonomous region, losing to an unprecedented coalition of socialists and conservatives. ETA meanwhile appears on its last legs, with more than half of its 750 imprisoned members favouring a permanent renunciation of violence. If Agirre’s long-running intermediary role contributed to this profound shift, perhaps he disproved Enoch Powell’s aphorism that all political careers end in failure.
He is survived by Usune, their daughter Usoa and sons Jon and Joseba, and by his four brothers.
  • Gorka Agirre Azurmendi, politician, born 16 March 1949; died 20 March 2009

Monday, 17 May 2010

Ariel Ramírez 1921-2010

In music, timing is all: and it was the great fortune of Ariel Ramírez to reach his maturity as a composer at the time of the Second Vatican Council. The Argentinian piano virtuoso, classically trained but enchanted by the diverse folk traditions of his own land, harboured a desire to express his Catholic faith through the vernacular music of Latin America. The reforming Pope Paul VI, who sponsored the translation of the liturgy from Latin into the native tongues of the faithful, gave his personal blessing to Ramírez’s masterpiece, the Misa criolla or Creole Mass (1964).
The artist won global renown with this revolutionary work, graced by such voices as Mercedes Sosa, José Carreras or the Royal Choral Society of London. It expresses passages like the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Sanctus or the Agnus Dei in a variety of musical idioms, from vidala-baguala to carnavalito, zamba and chacarera, largely unheard outside Latin America’s Southern Cone, and deploying native instruments like the charango and bandoneón.
Although Misa criolla won platinum discs worldwide, published in more than 40 countries and recorded in many languages, its author preferred some of his later compositions. With over 300 works to his name, interpreted by artists like Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo or even Benny Goodman, he leaves a huge mark on the continent’s musical landscape – especially as a pioneer of the piano as a protagonist, rather than a backing instrument, in the folk repertoire.
Born in the central city of Santa Fé, Ramírez was encouraged in his musical studies by his parents, Rosa Blanca Servetti and Zenón Ramírez, the latter a schoolteacher and writer. At the age of 20, he had a life-changing encounter with the legendary folksinger Atahualpa Yupanqui (1908-1992), who sponsored him on a tour of musical discovery through the country’s north-western provinces.
Settling in Buenos Aires, Ramírez recorded a series of 21 double albums for RCA Victor between 1946 and 1961, when he defected to Philips. Basing himself in Rome for four years, he toured extensively in Europe, including broadcasts for the BBC and recitals in Cambridge and at the Wigmore Hall.
It was aboard a ship from Liverpool to Buenos Aires, Ramírez later recalled, that he conceived of the pressing need for a major work of religious art using the native rhythms of his homeland. A childhood friend, Fr Antonio Osvaldo Catena, came to his aid. Chairing the episcopal commission in charge of translating the Mass for Latin America, Catena proved indispensable in the long gestation of the Misa criolla.
In 1955, Ramírez founded and gave his name to a folklore company that played most of the major cities of South America. At the height of the Cold War, he led it on visits to the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Cinema soundtracks provided another outlet for his growing body of work, blending original compositions with arrangements of traditional airs.
Mercedes Sosa was the inspired choice as soloist when the Misa criolla was unveiled at Christmas, 1965. The work was toured through Europe in 1967 and 1974; recorded in a fresh version with Carreras in 1987; and brought to new audiences in Spain, Britain, Japan and Germany throughout the 1990s. It made its London debut in 1995, chosen for the Royal Choral Society’s 125th anniversary concert at the Festival Hall.
Meanwhile, Ramírez worked on a series of song cycles, notably Los caudillos, Mujeres argentinas and Cantata sudamericana, often collaborating with his favourite lyricist, Félix Luna, who had helped construct the Misa criolla. In 1981, he released a new religious work, the Misa por la paz y la justicia, which he regarded as his finest hour.
He contributed notably to the development of music in the Argentinian school system and to the promotion of open-air concerts to celebrate the country’s rich variety of musical genres.
Ramírez was also noted as a champion of copyright, spurred into action after one of his own works was pirated into the French charts. He sued successfully and launched the society that protects the rights of authors and composers in Argentina, chairing it for five terms and presiding the international authors’ rights confederation.
The artist retired in 2004 and succumbed to pneumonia after a decade of decline, afflicted by Alzheimer’s but still practising daily on the piano. Like Mercedes Sosa, whose thrilling voice fell silent last October, Ramírez was honoured with a lying-in-state in the Buenos Aires parliament. His wife for more than half a century, Inés, survives him with daughters Laura and Mariana, son Facundo – a noted pianist and singer – two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
  • Ariel Ramírez Servetti, pianist and composer, born 4 September 1921; died 18 February 2010

Friday, 14 May 2010

Emilio Lorenzo 1918-2002

As one of the "numbered academics" of the Real Academía Española, Emilio Lorenzo spent the last quarter of his 84 years as one of the chief custodians of the "purity and elegance of the Castilian language", whilst championing correct English in Spain. Founded in 1713, the academy has only 46 members of his exalted rank, designated not by numbers but by letters of the Spanish alphabet.
Born in the tiny village of Puerto Seguro, Salamanca, Lorenzo was 18 when the Civil War erupted. While he was conscripted into Franco’s army, his father was far away defending the doomed republic. The two were reunited after the war in Madrid, where Lorenzo took his first degree in philosophy and literature. After further studies in Munich, he completed a doctorate in modern philology and after some years as a schoolteacher, was awarded a chair in Germanic and English at Madrid’s Complutense university, where he ran a prestigious institute of modern languages and translation.
The English language was his second home and from the 1950s, his most important writings dealt with its influence – sometimes helpful, sometimes egregious – on the language of Cervantes, spoken nowadays by ten times the population of its mother country and exposed to the mixed blessings of globalisation.
One has only to flick through a Spanish newspaper to see a company that is a líder in its sector advertising for a director of márketing; the sports pages, of course, major on fútbol rather than the now obsolete balompié originally preferred by the RAE. A corner kick is un córner; the manager, el míster; a penalty, un penalty, and so on. Ordering a gin and tonic, the correct ginebra y tónica might earn a blank look while gintónic will produce the desired results.
Lorenzo did not resist the acceptance into Spanish of words that other languages did better; but it annoyed him, for instance, to hear wild strawberries described as salvajes – a literal translation from English – when the pukka Spanish is silvestre. He was elected to the RAE in 1980, but a bout of meningitis (which left him almost totally deaf) meant he could not take up his seat for more than a year. When he did so, it was with a magisterial acceptance speech on "the supposed sufferings and shortcomings of our language".
His major books included essays on contemporary Spanish as “a language on the boil”, or “at the crossroads”; he also wrote standard textbooks of English and Spanish, and among his translations were versions of the Nibelungenlied and Jonathan Swift. His later master work, Anglicismos hispánicos (1996), running to more than 700 pages, explored not only the infiltration of Spanish by loan words like detective, chip or by-pass but the way that clumsily direct translations from English were giving existing Spanish words altered meanings or introducing dubious grammatical innovations. In some cultured Spanish circles, the definitively correct usage of a given term is known as its emilio lorenzo.
At three universities, the Complutense, Las Palmas and the Menéndez Pelayo, Lorenzo was for many years in charge of some of the most popular – and rigorous – courses in Spanish as a foreign language.
Although an academic to his fingertips, Lorenzo was not the ivory tower type: on the contrary, he kept a close eye on newspapers and popular culture to chart the evolution of the language. He was consulted on issues of house style by at least two quality papers, ABC and El País, where the cartoonist Forges keeps up a corruscating commentary on Spanish yuppiedom’s infatuation with English, usually in a quaintly mutilated form. Even in his eighties, he was senior consultant on a handbook of terminology in telephony and mobile communications.
Many honours included the German Grand Cross of Merit, the rank of Chevalier des Palmes Académiques and doctorates from Seville and Salamanca. Sadly, English academia does not appear to have fully acknowledged its debt.
Lorenzo died in Madrid after a short of illness. Assiduous to the end, he took bundles of RAE papers to hospital with him to occupy his final weeks. Widowed many years ago, he leaves five children, numerous grandchildren and an Academy that will find it hard to fill his seat – the lower-case h – with a scholar of equal dedication to his own language and to ours.
  • Emilio Lorenzo Criado, philologist: born 10 June 1918, died 2 July 2002
[FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE INDEPENDENT, 10 JULY 2002. Slightly amended here. Photo: EFE]