Images of regret – the bombing of Barcelona

Aviazone Legionaria op weg naar Barcelona

Bombers of the Aviazone Legionaria on their way to Barcelona.

Words for Julia

You can’t go back
because life is pushing you ahead
like an unending howl.

You’ll feel caged,
you’ll feel lost and alone,
perhaps wishing you’d never been born.

But always remember
what I wrote one day
thinking of you as I’m thinking of you now.

Life is beautiful, you’ll see,
despite its sorrow,
you will have love, you will have friends.

A man, a woman alone,
one without the other,
are dust, are nothing.

Therefore you should always remember
what I wrote one day
thinking of you as I’m thinking of you now.

Never give in, never stray,
never say by the side of the road
I can’t go on, I’ll stay.

Life is beautiful, you’ll see,
despite its sorrow,
you will have love, you will have friends.

And always, always remember
what I wrote one day
thinking of you as I’m thinking of you now.

José Agustín Goytisolo, Palabras para Julia;  this English translation by Johannes Beilharz.

The translation of the poem is based on the shortened version sung by Paco Ibáñez

“These words”, wrote journalist/writer Javier Rodríguez Marcos last year in El País, about the poem above, “were the bridge between two women with the same name: his daughter and his mother, killed in 1938, in Barcelona, in a Francoist bombing.” José Agustin Goytisolo was ten years old at the time.

El dia del Coliseum
In fact they we’re the worst bombing raids to hit Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. Nick Lloyd tells what happened in his excellent book Forgotten Places : Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War.
Between 16 and 18 march 1938, Italian Savoias, flying from their base in Mallorca, attacked the city 12 times. In less than 48 hours  44 tons  tons of bombs were dropped. Some 50 buildings were destroyed, many more damaged; 1200 people were injured, 670 people died,  most of them at two in the afternoon on the 17th, when a squadron of five planes swooped along the busy Gran Via. At the same time, a lorry carrying four tons of high explosives was passing the Coliseum cinema. It was hit by a Italian bomb.

Coliseum Bom

The moment the ‘Coliseum bomb’ explodes on 18 March 1938, killing 500 people. The photo was taken from an Italian plane. (Source: Centre d’Història Contemporània de Catalunya)

The explosion destroyed almost an entire side of an Eixample block – the Coliseum itself survived. Some 500 people were killed and 1000 were injured. Because of the damage many people thought that the Italians had used a new unknown weapon. “Everybody in Barcelona that day remembered where there were when the bomb fell”, writes Lloyd. “It was El dia del Coliseum.”

Waving goodbye
Well, almost everybody. José Agustin Goytisolo’s younger brother, writer Juan Goytisolo had an image in his mind of seeing himself standing on the balcony of their apartment, waving goodbye to his mother who went shopping in the city centre. Later he realized that it was just an image.

Between 16 and 18 march 1938, Italian Savoias, attacked the city 13 times

Juan was not in Barcelona that fatal day, but had been sent away, like many other children, to relatives outside the city. “It must have been an image I created because of regret”, Juan said later. “A trick played by the memory, a memory of a memory.”

British Pathe-movie about the bombing of Barcelona in 1938.

Tree of Memory
Eighty years later Barcelona is coming to grips with the reality of what happened in the civil war. There is a project for the creation of a Civil War Museum in Barcelona. And this weekend, exactly 80 years after the Coliseum bomb fell, you can see The Tree of Memory (El Árbol de la Memoria) projected on the Barcelona City Hall.

A mapping of a gigantic tree, drawn on the façade of Barcelona City Hall in short, interrupted strokes, which refers to the discontinuous bombardment ordered by Mussolini and that spread terror among the population. At the same time each stroke relates to a voice. Added together the voices end up creating a global chorus, a call to peace and freedom.
The mapping of the tree is one of the central acts of the project Barcelona bombardeada 1936-1939. Queremos la paz no el olvido (Barcelona bombed 1936-1939. We want peace not oblivion).

Romantic novel
Julia Goytisolo’s dead body was found, her hand clutching the bag with the presents she had bought for her children: a romantic novel for her daughter Marta; the stories of Doc Savage and The Shadow for José Agustín, wooden dolls for Luis, (the youngest brother,  only one year old at the time and who also became a writer) and a book of illustrated stories for Juan. Two days after her death her children heard about what had happened.

You can’t go back/because life is pushing you ahead/ like an unending howl.

Coliseum Monument

Memorial on the Gran Via for ¨the people killed by the facist bombing raids (1937-1939) during the Civil War in Barcelona and all the other towns that have been victims of other wars.” (Photo: Nick Lloyd)


The Tree of Memory/El Árbol de la Memoria

Tree of Memory

The screening will start this Friday, March 16, at 8.15 pm and will be repeated three nights, in different sessions:
Friday, March 16, from 8:15 pm to 10:00 pm (last screening). Saturday, 17, and Sunday, March 18, from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm (last screening).
Duration: 10 minutes approximately (repetition every 15 minutes).

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